Archive for July, 2010

The Fruit of Betrayal

July 30, 2010

When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was an olive grove, and He and His disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples.  So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.  They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.  John 18:1-3.

What does one do with this kind of situation?

Jesus prays in the upper room then heads out to the olive grove to pray some more.  John doesn’t record His struggle to deal with the ordeal headed His way as much in the garden as he does the trial and resurrection.  His gospel was written long after most of the others so I think he left out details they covered to focus on some of his own personal insights and experiences.  One thing is pretty certain to me about John, he still hurt deeply for his Master and felt the betrayal of Judas keenly in his old age.  It’s not that I think he still resented Judas but I doubt if there was any give in him—no sympathy for sure.

The Master must have had habits during the Passover or when in Jerusalem which a person who knew Him well could count on, for Judas knew the very spot to take the soldiers.  His betrayal of Jesus was working itself out at this point, taking on momentum and coming to a head.  As I sit here thinking about the story, I keep wondering why Judas did it.  It doesn’t make sense that a disciple so close to the center would turn traitor on somebody like Jesus, who’s very presence spoke of power.

What reasoning would someone have to turn traitor on a healer, miracle worker and teacher of Jesus’ stature?  Jealousy?  How could that be it when Judas performed miracles himself in the name of Jesus?  Envy?  Anger?  Resentment?  What could drive a man to betray innocence for a few pieces of silver—the price of a slave in the market of the day?  Did Jesus do anything to warrant such a response from one of His twelve?  He rebuked Judas over the woman’s gift of perfume, but would that cause a man to go to such lengths to get even?  May be.  We don’t live in a revenge society or one which values public face in the same way as they did in Christ’s day.  In those days a man could kill another for a public insult and sometimes get off with a slap on the wrist if it was proven in his favor.

I’ve heard sermon after sermon trying to come to grips with Judas’ motives, intentions and reasoning.  Since we don’t have a note left by the man himself, I guess we’ll never know for sure.  John does record, however, Judas stole from the community money pouch (of which he was treasurer oddly enough) and lied enough to be called a liar—a name which signifies a habit.  Perhaps Judas didn’t arrive at betrayal all at once, instead he slowly went there by increments and baby steps.  Later when he threw the silver at the high priests feet, we know he felt remorse and chagrined at the outcome of his actions.  Why?  Didn’t the situation turn out like he planned?

Judas’ mistake was no different than the other disciples (or our own for that matter) when it came to understanding either the mission of Christ or what His future held.  All the disciples were filled with angst every time Jesus even mentioned His death and torture, to the point that Peter rebuked Him openly about it.  They weren’t listening or weren’t willing to grasp the truth of what had to happen.  If none of the other disciples understood what the chief priests and elders had in mind for Jesus, it’s hardly surprising that Judas didn’t either, since he was one of the twelve.  Which means Judas probably didn’t realize he was betraying Jesus to his death nor did he suspect the outcome to go so violent.  His reaction to the high priest’s callous retort tells us of remorse gone bad.  He couldn’t face himself and so took a way out of living with what he had done.

I think this more than any other piece of information rules out hate on the part of Judas.  I also don’t think the betrayal was about money really because Judas threw it back as if it were tainted.  Judas hadn’t intended or expected (if his reaction is any indicator at all) his Master to hang on a cross or be handed over the Romans to be beaten and executed or he wouldn’t have given Him over.

What do my actions of betrayal say?  What do yours?  Actions don’t always speak to motivations so it’s hard for us to pinpoint the reasoning which inspires such choices.  I can however make a pretty bold statement about the general motives for sin:  we get some kind of gratification out of it in the short run.  It’s either this or we’re insane—the latter is possible but the former more likely.

Pride of place, superiority, image control, love of public esteem, and host of other strokes for our egos may seem harmless enough, but when they betray the foundation of who we represent, we sin, become a Judas, Peter, or at best one of the twelve who ran away.  Jesus predicted His disciples would all betray Him when the soldiers came, during the trial and at the cross, none of them believed it of themselves.  I watch people a lot, observe their attitudes and notice the high opinions many of us have about our own worthiness (sometimes despite our claims to the contrary—or perhaps because of them), fortitude or loyalty.  It scares me quite a bit when I hear someone claim they will not fall away when tempted or threatened.  Self-preservation being what it is, I don’t see many people who can stand through the fire without panic—or at least being terrified.

The fire of resistance is the best meter for finding one’s true self.  Those mountaintop experiences might help us absorb what we’ve learned but they don’t teach us as much as relationships do.  Judas found out who he was and it horrified him.  His action of choice, however, was to commit suicide instead of change.  The other eleven betrayed Jesus in various ways too, but after they saw themselves in the mirror of the cross, they chose to change.

I Know You

July 28, 2010

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent me.  I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  John 17:25, 26.

The “they” and “them” of this text is the disciples.  He’s saying something pretty profound about His knowledge of God and to whom He has revealed Him.

We need to make understanding the contrast between who knows and who doesn’t a point for reflection everyday, because the world doesn’t know God and really doesn’t care to.  I know even the world might object to this conclusion from the text, but watching it for so many years as I have, the truth is they don’t care really.  So many in the church (and I’m including all denominations by the way) don’t really know Him either and aren’t interested, it seems to me, beyond a basic salvation theme.

Jesus revealed the Father’s heart and made it known to His disciples, who then passed on that knowledge to us.  We, then, pass on what we know to others who are being saved.  It’s a ripple effect of the stone thrown in the water 2000 years ago, which means eventually all of us become pebbles in the hands of the Almighty being thrown in parts of the world pool where we make the most splash and ripples bless as many as possible.

The problem for many of us is we think witnessing comes down about quoting Scripture and door to door sales.  It’s these two methods or we get the brilliant notion a store front gospel reaches the world most effectively, along with all the window dressing and flashy lights.  None of this makes any difference in the long run since knowing God comes from spending time with His people, first, then in His Word of truth, second.  I know a lot of evangelists think it’s just about getting the crowds through the doors, but true evangelism is discipleship—disciple being the root of the word discipline, which despite its obvious twists in modern perception, means at its heart training in righteousness.

Becoming like God is not about our efforts to be like Him, study about Him or imitation of Him, but submission to the way He thinks.  In other words, we begin to think like Him only when we submit to His mind, then and only then do we become like Him through study and imitation.  Just as thought preempts action, so how we think preempts any attempt towards change.  The gospel speaks about changing the heart and that we have to put forth a super effort to do so; what we get wrong in this equation is not the end but the means of reaching that goal.  Our first job is to conform to the mind of Christ, which comes through submission, because only then can we live out how we think in the world.  The greatest witness of God’s mind will always be those those who demonstrate  it in their daily lives.

Think about how Jesus revealed the mind of God to the disciples.  Through teaching, certainly, but what did He do to reveal the Father?  Jesus came to earth in real time, with real human problems, emotions and options.  His daily routine is not talked about much in the gospels but we do know He traveled from place to place with His followers.  This means to me they saw Him when He was dusty from travel, smelled like a barn from sweat, probably swam in the rivers to clean up and wash the outer layer of dirt off, and generally did everything a normal person had to do in the world.  They knew when He used the outhouse, got something stuck in His teeth and whether or not He snored.

We don’t get to see all of these things, and if we did, it would be even harder for us to believe in His divinity.  Yet, where was and is the power of Jesus?  His word of truth revealed through the Spirit.  Elijah thought it was through miraculous intervention, thunder and lightning and earthquakes until God corrected his misapprehension in the still small voice.

The God who makes stars explode talks to us in a still small voice.  Why?  Why a stillness?

The Hebrews were terrified of God when He thundered from the mountain.  Smoke, fire, lightning did nothing to endear Him to them, so He chose to operate through other routes and reach us by unconventional means.  Jesus is living proof of this truth for He came not as a conquering hero but a carpenter from a small town with a bad reputation.

He knows God.  Keep this in mind when His teaching or example shows us something extraordinary or unexpected.  There’s a reason for all of Scripture, every story, every example of God working with mankind.  You or I may not get them all but they matter because they reveal something about God we need to know.  Jesus knew God and revealed Him to those who traveled with Him because they cared.  No one can expect to be given privileged information without the key to the person revealing it, which is trust.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  2 Corinthians 4:1-4.  Now you know why our unbelieving friends find the gospel so hard to swallow.  We also know why so many Christians follow cunningly devised fables.  The veil remains where unbelief resides and submission to the god of this world continues.

Where I Am

July 23, 2010

“Father, I want those You have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory You have given me because You loved me before the creation of the world.”  John 17:24.

I just thought Jesus’ request was an interesting insight into His mind.    In a way, He’s like any other friend I know who wants to show off his dad’s cool car or the new bike he just got.  The disciples were His friends, not just students, close buddies, people He ate with, slept out in the open with, talked to about mundane things like a rock in the sandal or the weather affecting some activity.  He shared His heart with these guys and wanted to let them in on His “glory” which translates as who He is in the original context, His kingdom off earth or in another dimension all together and generally the joy of His company throughout eternity.

He’s eager for us to come hang out too, which is amazing to me.  The God of the universe is anxious for us to see all the cool things He can make, to show off in the most child-like way (that unself-consciousness of celebrating the thing rather than desiring street cred from it) the wonders of creation.

The Full Measure of Joy

July 22, 2010

“I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.  I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  John 17:13-19.

That’s some prayer.

He said these things to fill us with His joy.  If so, He has an odd idea, by most people’s standards, as to what brings joy.

The word “sanctify” pointed to trial by fire, if I read the context correctly.  Jesus said of Himself,  “For them I sanctify myself” to the purpose that we “may be truly sanctified” through His efforts.  The word of God sets us apart for service and separates us out of the world.  If He means the cross as the means of sanctification, then what does that signify for us?  Remember He kept saying all through chapter 15 “If they persecuted me…” and warning us of the fire to come.  Peter later warns us again,  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12, 13.  For some reason, the modern church (and dare I say throughout the whole history of it) seems to be sidestepping this issue or glorying in it, instead of taking it as par for course.

If we reject the world to accept Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised that the world begins to hate us, for He stands against much of the world’s pleasures, since they misuse or misappropriate His creation.  Sometimes I’m a little dumbstruck by the vehemence toward the Christian message.  Not even going into the assumptions of Richard Dawkins, I hear so much out there that either misquotes Scripture or outright denies its authority and tramples it under foot.  I’m ashamed to say that many who reject the church have good reason to do so too, for someone within it misrepresented our Lord to them.  The weak minded believer cannot stand firm when the weeds planted in the church come knocking.  It just stands to reason they will fall away without input from healthy sources of Christ’s family.  It is one of the many reasons every apostle commanded us to be watchful, careful and ready to help the weak or fallen.

Jesus didn’t say these things to scare us but to fill us with joy.  We aren’t to go about expecting persecution, and by that expectation almost inviting it!  No, our lives are to remain wedded to His character of living out loud despite the voices—or better yet, without them entering the equation at all, for they grow more unimportant as we grow up in Christ.  His joy fills our minds and hearts so much that we cannot even consider going another direction, since we love His truth.

Yet this sanctification process comes with a caveat or two, the most important being God’s truth, His word.  Jesus makes it pretty clear we are sanctified by God’s truth and that truth is found in His word.  The word used for sanctification has a participle attached to it which make it an ongoing process.  In other words we continuously grow because we study His word.  His word is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword (it cuts both ways), which means we don’t believe in dead doctrine but living truth.

Jesus’ intent was never to take us out of the world or keep us out of trouble with it, but to protect us from the evil one, which must be protection from his influence not from persecution.  Notice His main objective is to make us stand for God no matter what—not in defiance of the world except by default of standing for God.  Our lives are only lived in the positive by being pointed toward the light.  The purpose is so that we learn to live for something rather than in reaction to things.  Our motivation for what we do has nothing to do with the world at all.  I would go so far as to say the moment we step into the aura of Christ we step outside of the world’s POV; not that we let go of it right away or that it lets go of us, that takes time.

Unfortunately for many of us who long for nothing more than to escape the travails of being surrounded by the world’s values, motives and anarchy, we get to stay for whatever duration God plans for us.  Part of it is for our witness to the world about Jesus; part of it is the fire of resistance to our choice hardening our resolve to live for Him no matter what the reaction.  His glory is revealed as we remain true to His word.  The fact that we believe it is truth is not our testimony to the world at all, rather it is us living what He reveals from the Word of Truth that testifies to the those around us.  Being able to quote Scripture isn’t as important as living it out in real time.

It was never the persecution that brought us joy but His presence with us through it all.  Knowing we are safe in His eyes brings a comfort that supersedes the situation of persecution.  Peter in the text above goes onto point out that no trial is pleasant while it lasts but it does produce fruit in those who allow Christ to sanctify them through it.  The comfort of these words, however, would not be a reality unless we planted them in our hearts through the Word of Truth.  The process is so simple many miss it because they only keep the big feast in mind and not the daily diet of dining on the word of God.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27.

Scripture Fulfilled

July 18, 2010

“While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”  John 17:12.

The wording in the last sentence is important to knowing what Jesus understood about the disciples at that moment.  He knew one of them would betray Him and that all of them would run away when the going got rough, yet He also knew not one of them was lost except Judas.  He predicted Peter’s denial—knew he would do it not just once but three times!—and told all the rest they would fall away on account of Him.  Yet here He is extolling them to His Father as found and secure.

It would seem Jesus sees things quite differently than we do.  We see loyalty as unswerving, constant and steady, while our Master looks to the outcome of the life.  In this He has the advantage of being outside of time and knowing the end from the beginning.  We, however, do not, yet we can learn something from His perspective.  Just because people fail us doesn’t mean they aren’t loyal or do not love us.  In fact, looking at how the disciples repented we should respond the same with our friends, family and fellow believers, since Jesus promptly restored every one of them without hardly a word of rebuke.

I’ve been chewing on the means Jesus said the Father used to protect His own.  “That name You gave me” sounds suspiciously like a surname.  In middle eastern culture and even our own Western history a surname identified you with a family, tribe, a city-state or the lord of the specific area from which you came, and most likely in our country, what profession your ancestors practiced.  It was an identity in and of itself that spoke volumes to whomever you gave it.  Studying the history of surnames would be interesting, if only for the reason we have in this context, for we would learn that most last names derived from a person’s association with some trade or person.  For example, we know a lot of people were smiths (worked with metal) because of the amount of “Smiths” in the phone book.  Names like Vandusen or Van Heerden are Flemish names which tell which village or city a person is from—the prefix “van” is pronounced “faun” and means “from”.  In the Scriptures the prefix “bar” means “the son of” and so declares the lineage and connections.

It’s vitally important we get an understanding of what it means to belong to God in more than name only, yet it’s just as vital we understand what it means to wear the surname of Christian or God’s son/daughter.  Whoever wears a surname represents that patriarch of that family to those present wherever they go.  The people who already know the reputation of the name will judge whether a person wears it accurately or not and if they bring it honor or dishonor.  It’s one of the reasons God gave us a command that said,  “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain,” because we tend to wear names as empty jewelery—like a rapper or pornstar wears a necklace with a cross on it.  To them the cross is a cool ornament (I even heard Madonna call it “sexy”) no more no less.

Yet not everyone who wears the name represents God’s voice.  It’s sad really to even have to acknowledge that people are completely narcissistic about even this, but it’s true.  Jesus did warn us, though,  “Not everyone who says to me,  ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” So we shouldn’t be too shocked by the fakes and charlatans running around out there.  His parable about the wheat and weeds suggests we will constantly face this dilemma.

Jesus, however, claimed the name of the Father protected His own.

Judas claimed the name but lost his life.  The more I think about his outcome the less I believe it was set in stone like many predestination advocates claim.  The truth I see here is that once set on a course of narcissism it’s incredibly hard without supernatural interference for anyone to avoid betraying everything and everyone they value.  Judas’ future was set in stone when he hardened his heart to the message of Christ.  I’ve heard many reasons as to why he betrayed Jesus and they are an interesting study, for sure, but none of them matter as much as the outcome of his actions.  Why would he hang himself if he didn’t value Jesus’ good will?  And the truth is we aren’t given his motives anywhere in Scripture only his actions.  Throwing down the money at the high priest’s feet could have been an act of repentance, instead Judas hanged himself—in this case the ultimate act of a coward and narcissistic life.

Here’s a man who traveled with the Master day in and day out, proclaimed His kingdom and performed miracles in His name.  How could a he who’d seen the dead raised, several thousand people fed with barely enough to feed one person and heard the teachings explained without the symbolism do something so heinous?  He knew Jesus’ attitude towards sinners for it was he who tried to humiliate the woman at the supper just a few nights before, and therefore it had to be pride that kept him from turning to Jesus at that moment of truth.

Baby steps away from vulnerability and submission.  Judas wasn’t programmed by God to betray His Son, rather his background of teaching, constant choices as an adult and perspective of himself guided his choice.  John claims he was a thief, which means he was also a liar, for the two go hand in hand.  How many people do you and I know in the ministry who worry more about their financial bottom line than they do about the quality of their service to God and His children?  The moment I hear anyone claim rights to some benefits from God’s kingdom that don’t come from Scripture, I get wary and suspicious.  When we believe we have a right to that extra donut or bauble or person in the gathering we show our hearts to be filled with our own goals.  Whatever benefits me should also bless others for none of us are made to live in a vacuum but to be cups filled to overflowing with the goodness of God.  This last illustration means we must remain open vessels in order that God might fill us and the overflow thus fill others as we have been filled by someone directly above us…and so on and so forth.

I don’t think Judas was a person most would consider to be a bad man.  He was a bad guy, because he was a thief, or, rather he embezzled money from the community pouch, but in public no one would be suspicious of him because his presentation kept him in good standing.  He worked at being a good Judas salesman.  The first thing that sets off warning bells in my head about a person I meet who claims the name of Jesus is who they are selling the most—themselves or the Master.  I’m not worried about people who talk about themselves or their experiences, because that’s natural and one of the only two ways we get to know them (the other being experience by association), instead the people who send off warning bells derive power, fame and respect from God’s name.  O, they might say “glory to God” but the thing we hear about the most will be how God has chosen them to do great things.

There is a proverb which says,  The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of fools.  (Jonny’s paraphrase)  Whatever Judas accomplished in his sojourn with Christ brought God glory for sure, however, the outcome of his life was betrayal and suicide.  Let that be a warning to us to remain clear before God and our fellow humans in order that our humility may offer hope to those in need of it and the Lord’s name not be dragged through the sewage of our choices but shown as the only means of redemption in of us have.

Protect Them?!?

July 14, 2010

I pray for them.  I am not praying for the world, but those who You have given me, for they are Yours.  All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine.  And glory has come to me through them.  I will remain in this world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You.  Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name—the name You gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.”  John 17:9-12.

So why is it Jesus didn’t pray for the world?  Doesn’t He love everyone?  Didn’t He come to die for the whole world?

These questions might sound valid but they aren’t.  At least, not in this context.

Jesus came to die for all the sins of mankind, to seek and save that which is lost, but His prayer at the moment centered on those present.  In every conversation we all have context, a place of reference which may or may not include others.  The point of Jesus’ prayer was for His disciples at hand, who would that very night be facing the absolute worst scenario in their entire lives.  His concern at that moment focused on those who followed Him devoutly and stood closest to the danger.

The billboard sized question which struck me the moment I read this again, though, was,  “Safe?!?”  Every single disciple suffered persecution at the very least and all but one died pretty nasty deaths.  How is that an answer to Jesus’ prayer to keep them safe?  How in the world did God protect them by the power of His name when they died?

Our natural human concern with physical safety and mental well-being consumes most of our energy.   In a world where safety is an issue, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In this context, however, physical safety doesn’t even enter into the equation, for Jesus’ whole purpose for His disciples centered on keeping them safe for eternity.  The safety of God’s name focused on their connection with Him and ability to live in faith throughout any trial that may come.  Hadn’t Jesus just warned them that in this world they would face tribulation?  Our devotion to God and understanding of truth held the focus of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples.  Physical safety doesn’t register on the scale at the moment.

In fact, I believe all the promises of God point to this kind of protection over and above the others.  We are the ones who superimpose our obsession with the physical world constantly on the Scriptures to the point where many have lost their faith because they believe God hasn’t answered their prayers concerning their well-being.  What did Jesus tell us about this issue?  “Do not fear those who can kill the body and then can do no more.  Rather, fear Him who can throw both body and soul in to hell…” Our concern with the physical world is only natural, but that is precisely the problem.  Those who bring the world’s values to the Scriptures then attempt to understand Jesus’ words miss the point entirely then grow bitter, discouraged or feel betrayed.

Even during His ministry Jesus never protected the disciples from rejection or dissension; instead He led them to firmness of faith in Him through this very opposition.  Again (I’ve quoted this before), Hebrews 12:3 supports this conclusion,  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Then verse 4 goes on to say, In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Our instructions are to stand through these trials not consider ourselves forsaken by God.  The presence of problems don’t necessarily say anything about our spiritual state, though there will be times when trouble is either the direct result of our sin or a consequence of it.  Trials don’t come to us because we are unrighteous but because of the name of God.  If they come for any other reason, it is because we have disobeyed Him—which in essence is betrayal of the name.

God’s protection will always focus on keeping us safe spiritually.  The test of our faith always comes in the form of physical and mental trouble, since the world’s hold on us must be broken.  We must come face to face with the how much we depend on ourselves and the physical world around us to sustain, protect and find identity.  In the end denial of self and the world’s ability to protect and serve us in any sustainable way becomes the true test of our metal.  I can’t stress enough how important grasping this is.  A time of trouble is coming even for the believer where we will either see all the catastrophes as evidence of God withdrawing His protection or non-existence.  Even if we are raptured before the worst of it hits, our loyalty must be tested to the nth degree.  Our dependence on anything and anyone besides God will be broken or we will.

That very night Jesus faced a mock trial, several beatings, the cross and death, so I don’t think His prayer was concerned with our protection financially or physically.  In light of what He faced what He prayed for must point to the need for inner strength from on high to protect our hearts from falling away.  He even warned His disciples,  “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Does it make sense for Him to promise to protect us from something He had just told us would happen to those who believed?  The confusion on this topic is epic, in my estimation.  It’s one of the reasons I harp on it so much and why it comes to mind now.

Christ was/is out to protect our lives for eternity not for the temporary time on earth.  The name of God I believe is a surname in a sense, much like Israel is  a surname for the Jews.  His name identifies us and secures us for eternal dwellings.  The rest of the dangers out there might be in our future, but only at the sufferance of God.

The Trouble with Belief

July 10, 2010

“I have revealed you to those whom You gave me out of the world.  They were Yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed Your word.  Now they know that everything You have given me comes from You.  For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me.  I pray for them, I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours.”  John 17:6-9.

As usual there is a problem with believing this outright without reservations.  The world cannot see the truth of it because they don’t accept sin as sin nor do they give God the authority over creation that must accompany such a declaration.

The biggest trouble with believing the Bible comes from studying the Law most of the time.  It’s hard to fathom why God would sanction slavery for a nation of released slaves.  It’s tough to find justification for some of the laws around diet, access to God, and a host of other things taught in the OT without an accompanying explanation of what His intent was or how to grasp the why of it.

I could argue forever against certain subjects like homosexuality, divorce, abortion, etc., but it wouldn’t make sense nor would I win any ground unless those opposing me accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  The constant effort to prove to the world the Bible’s POV simply goes nowhere precisely because they don’t accept Jesus as anything but a good man, famous martyr and possibly a great teacher.  Unfortunately, that’s where it ends for them.  If I can’t accept certain things as sin, then the Bible will make no sense to me.  If I can’t accept the covenants of the OT and NT, then accepting the validity of either is out of the question.

The Scriptures are not confusing for those who accept that the teachings contain a God given purpose, but for those who don’t like the conclusions drawn in the Word, nothing makes sense.  No amount of argument, persuasion or apologists writing reams of dissertations on the subject will convince the reluctant listener.  For every reason to believe, they will have a myriad not to do so.  As the world winds down to whatever end we have subjected ourselves to, we  will see a lot more anger, frustration, hatred and resistance toward the gospel.  The world’s biggest desire is to have a god after their own likeness only less capricious and volatile—more of a benign deity who acts like an over indulgent parent.  Unfortunately, if they don’t accept sin as it is interpreted in the Bible, they are left with a god as unpredictable and moody as they themselves are.

Jesus uses a point of reference here to which we would do well to pay attention.  “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world.” While salvation is open to all, most will refuse it on the grounds stated above and more.  I belong to Christ partly because I surrendered to the gospel message and partly because I chose to believe.  Yet if Christ’s statement above is to be believed, I couldn’t have done this at all unless the Holy Spirit empowered it.  Those who resist the Bible as anything more than just another religious book will never accept it has any validity.

Whatever absurdities might appear in Scripture it is no more ridiculous than some of the claims made by the NRA, anti-gun advocates, PETA, extreme right or left, or Gay pride (I’m not saying these people are ridiculous rather that some of their claims are outrageous).  Truth stands unaffected by opinion, though too often it gets obscured by it.  For example, the industrial revolution sought to conquer nature and subject it to technology; the results being pollution, longer life expectancy (though not necessarily better), destruction of the very elements on earth which keep it alive or thriving and an unwarranted arrogance about our accomplishments.  Even with all our technology the best, most beautiful and effective oxygen machine on earth is still a tree which God made.

Now I’m not here to argue against any of those organizations I mentioned, merely to use them as examples of how far we will go to convince others of the rightness of our cause.  The best argument for Jesus is a change in our attitudes and actions.  Anything else is sheer tit for tat without any real authority to come to a conclusion.

Look who God gave Jesus to work with, by the way.  Twelve men who represented everything pedestrian in human society, with no influence or power of any kind in their culture.  One was even a thief and traitor.  In most people’s drive for political power and esteem they tend to focus on friends who already have power and influence in high places.  Jesus chose neither of these types.  God stacked the deck against Him so thoroughly that only a miracle would make it succeed, which just goes to show His method of winning.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.  It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written,  “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Now This is Eternal Life

July 8, 2010

“Now this is eternal life:  that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”  John 17:3.

The first time I read this verse I had one of the “Aha!” moments in Scripture.  I wondered at that point why anyone would complicate the process or access to God when Jesus spelled it out so clearly.

Seems simple to me.

And it is, if you know the Greek word used for “know” here.  According to Vine’s it means “to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand,” or “to understand completely.” He goes onto contrast two words generally translated “know” from Greek to English, The differences between ginosko (No. 1) and oida demand consideration:  (a)  ginosko, frequently suggests inception or progress in “knowledge,” while oida suggests fullness of “knowledge.” If you have a Vine’s, you can read the rest of the discussion later, but the gist of his conclusions about the difference between the words used is that we are progressing in knowledge where as Christ is complete.  Jesus knows the Father in His wholeness, while we are growing in that knowledge through His revelation.

This suggests to me believers continuously seek to know God and constantly grow in that knowledge.  At the same time it doesn’t mean mere study or intellectual pursuit, rather we make the knowing more personal, intimate.  There is a great difference between knowing God exists and knowing Him personally.  I know a lot about Him through the stories of Scripture but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a relationship.  I know a great many people, for example, since I play and sing at several churches in my area, yet this “knowing” doesn’t mean I am personally acquainted with their daily habits, personal preferences or private outlook.

Jesus doesn’t consider anyone to really know God unless they own Him as such.  Like James 2:19 declares, You believe there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder. Believing there is one God, One Creator and Savior doesn’t mean anything unless obedience follows.  A belief must evidence itself in the life or it is dead—worse than useless.  I’ve seen people argue over the nature of God, His teachings and doctrinal differences with attitudes that belie their claims to faith.  When the Word tells us the fruit of knowing God is gentleness, kindness, self-control, etc, then we behave the same way as we did before we understood, we display our disbelief and lack of faith.  I’m not saying the change happens all at once nor am I even inferring we do an about face overnight.  The suggestion of our text above speaks to a growing knowledge resulting in a growing change in our behavior.

Yet Jesus makes it clear eternal life is easier than we sometimes know.  We complicate salvation too much and too often.  For some reason it’s hard for us to accept salvation as simple, so we design all these hoops a convert must jump through in order to even be baptized.  No one starts off life as an infant completely aware of all there is to know, why would we think coming to Jesus would be any different?

Growing our knowledge of God should be directly connected to a growth in our attitude and change our behavior.  This change might be by degrees or baby steps, but it happens.

One last thing this reminds me of before I quit.

New believers should be nurtured along in both their understanding of God and the correction of their lives to conform to His Way.  The sign that a long time believer is immature in their walk with God is when they feel they have to constantly remonstrate a new believer or “discipline” them for their mistaken ideas or less than desired attitudes and behavior.  If Christ died for all of us while we were yet sinners and in this showed a mercy beyond anything we know, how can we be harsh with those under our care?

Growth won’t happen for any of us overnight, I think we have to accept the problems that come with everyone’s stumbling efforts to submit to Him.  I am the same but not the same as I was.  In other words, I’m recognizable as Jonathan Varnell but have grown towards Jesus in such a definite way that my whole attitude, and thus my behavior, has changed.  That said, I’m still not like Jesus enough to have “arrived” in any sense of that word, and every point of growth in understanding Him makes me realize how far I need to go.

Thank-you, Lord, that Salvation’s simple and You work with infinite patience for those who choose Your Way.

Reasonable Authority

July 5, 2010

“For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him.  Now this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.”  John 17:2, 3.

The Son has been given authority to give eternal life to everyone God has given Him.

If this seems like circular logic, it isn’t.  Jesus gave up His authority in order to demonstrate that God in the form of man could resist sin, bless humanity and show God’s heart.  He did all of these things, of course, but once He did God returned His authority in full.  I’m not certain how He laid His divinity aside in order accomplish this, which doesn’t make much sense in the human realm of “logic”.  However, if He’s God, then what we think of as impossible or improbable ain’t no thang for Him.

The purpose of His authority now is to give eternal life, judge the lost and recreate the heavens and earth.  His first priority, however, is to save for eternity those who come to Him, which means giving them eternal life.

Jesus Prays

July 3, 2010

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You.”  John 17:1.

Let’s just stop right there.

Jesus’ prayer starts off with a curious statement of glory.  I’ve talked about the word “glory” before somewhere in the last several years, but it bears reminding ourselves of what it means.  To glorify anyone is to honor them by speaking about what they do or who they are.  In other words, Jesus was about to go to the cross and asked His Father to glorify Him through the experience so that He could return glorify the Father.

Being hung on a cross was anything but glorious.  I think we’d be hard pressed to explain how such a horrible death could in anyway be seen as glorifying anybody, let alone Jesus.  I’ve heard the detailed explanations of what happened on a cross, the nails (spikes, more like it), the suffocation from the position, the thirst, hunger and slow death from hanging there for days.  I don’t know how anyone could find any glory in such a death.  It’s not like He heroically fought off a cohort of Roman soldiers or defended a city against attacking marauders, saving everybody.  All Jesus did was submit to a very humiliating trial and death at the hands of politically savvy people who hated His influence.

It’s not like He didn’t know what was in store for Him either.  Crosses lined the main road into Jerusalem as a warning to the Jews to toe the mark the Romans drew in the sand.  The stench of death and horrific images would be enough to make anyone run for cover.  The Romans put reminders everywhere, in every major city to discourage rebellion against their rule.

Jesus prayed about being glorified in this way.

Or did He?

What was it about the cross that glorified the Son as well as the Father?

It wasn’t the instrument of death at all, to my mind, that brought both glory.  Instead it had to be His innocence, submissive attitude and mission to save mankind from their sins.  The method of His death, though not necessarily incidental couldn’t be a main focal point of this prayer.  The cross was horrible and a product of evil minds, so in and of itself its glory was its shame.  Nothing about it spoke of joy, salvation or blessing of any kind, therefore it had to be Jesus’ goal of saving the human race through such an ignoble death that brought Him glory.

The Father glorified the Son through the cross by accepting the sacrifice as sufficient, thus declaring Jesus’ work to be complete and beyond merely satisfactory.  The fact that Jesus suffered on the cross just made His death and submission that much more a testimony to His character.  The cross settled the issue of sin’s viability in one fell swoop and established forever the rightness of God’s purpose and will for mankind.  No longer is there any question about what God is willing to do for His creation; no longer can there be any question about His love for us, for while we were lost to Him, lost to sin and rebellious, He sent His Son to die for us.

It’s one of the reasons the gospel’s enemies fight against the cross historically and logically.  They want Jesus alive and well somewhere married to Mary Magdalene so they don’t have to acknowledge Him as God and Savior—for to admit the former means they would have to submit to Him as the ruling authority, first and last word on everything moral and its antithesis.  To admit the latter would declare man’s sin and lost condition, which would mean a need to be saved from our own end.

Jesus’ prayer spoke of the ultimate chess move in the effort to reconcile man to God.