Archive for October, 2010

So…What is Truth?

October 29, 2010

“Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?”  Pilate asked.  John 18:37b, 38a.

What is it about us that makes finding truth so hard?  Pilate could philosophically ask a question like this because more and more the wisdom of his day played with the idea that truth was relative to the place you were born, the gods you served and what rank you held in society.  Notice, however, Jesus’ statement eliminated all other truths as irrelevant without being filtered through Him.  I don’t know if he was genuinely interested in the Jesus’ answer or attempting to shut Him up by presenting an unanswerable existential argument.

So, what if Jesus’ statement is true?  What do we do with it then?

Here we have a great conundrum, for if we take Jesus at His word and trust that He holds the keys to truth, then anyone who disagrees with Him has false information.  We cannot simultaneously believe Jesus is the Messiah, God, Savior of the world and greatest teacher ever born, and deny anything He teaches.  Of course, the best means of getting around this is to deny the authenticity of the source material, which, if we take that argument to its logical conclusion, means we don’t have anything to trust—period.  You can’t distrust the source material and at the same time trust it to be true.  The argument I’ve heard from some has gone,  “Well, I believe the love part but I don’t believe the judgmental stuff, those were man’s additions.”  That’s about as logical as saying gravity holds us to earth but makes us float.

At the same time, we do have to be discerning about the text.  It’s hard to determine what is truth or fiction, I grant you that, but picking and choosing which part of the text is authentic and which isn’t based solely on our preference destroys any authority it has.  The only reason this kind of picking and choosing would be attractive to us at all is so we can sidestep the commands which don’t agree with our preference.  Those who practice subjecting the gospels to their own personal filter make themselves the highest authority on truth and thereby deny Jesus anyway.

Pilate’s argument makes sense where trust has been eroded.  Yet if we look closely at what Jesus had to say about truth, we cannot help but catch a glimmer of what is being taught.  Notice the phrasing,  “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Anyone who sides with the truth listens to Him.  In other words, a person who pursues truth will recognize Him for a truth speaker and eventually see Him as the source of all truth.  He claims to be the Way, Truth and Life.  He is the essence of truth; anyone siding with truth sides with Him whether they know it or not.  There are many people in the world who side with truth, they just don’t know Jesus yet.

If we take Jesus at His word, the only way to be on the side of truth fully is to follow Him.

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The King of What?

October 27, 2010

Jesus said,  “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!”  said Pilate.

Jesus answered,  “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”   John 18:36, 37

For a long time this text has been a source of redirection, because it points out what many times we as Christians forget:  Our citizenship is in God’s kingdom and the country of our origin or nationality is meaningless outside of this truth.  It also points out the fact that Jesus wouldn’t let His disciples fight a war on His behalf—against the hated Romans (pagan government) or against the Jews (God’s old covenant).

There’s a lesson in this understanding for everyone willing to hear it, for we too often think state of our prosperity in the here and now is an indication of God’s favor or displeasure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Old Covenant made earthly prosperity a sign of God’s favor, though not a foolproof sign, since many unrighteous people were incredibly wealthy in the Bible story.  Christ turned that “doctrine” on its head and changed the meaning of what prosperity in His kingdom looked like.  The evidence of our wealth comes not in the form of money or power on earth but in evidence of Christ in our lives.

Understanding who Christ is to us is vital; understanding what He offers is imperative.

Unless we grasp what He does and doesn’t offer as perks and benefits, our service will be based on a false understanding, which means we will be serving under a false pretense, though not His.  The kingdom of heaven doesn’t come with our careful observation because it is from another place, it grows in the presence of His people not in a building, nation or religion.  The details of His kingdom are found in the fruit.  The fruit is an indication of the type of vegetation planted in His field.  Our goal setting nature many times puts misunderstandings of Scripture in high places of priority, to the discouragement and loss of many.

Like any metaphor it can be taken so out of context the meaning is lost to nonsensical reasoning.  Some will see this text as a license to check out of society and cut themselves off from human interaction.  They will see it as seeking holiness, but really it has nothing to do with anything but their fear or loathing of where they came from and its influence.  The other reaction is to attempt to dominate the world for Christ.  To do this, of course, they need to ignore Jesus’ explicit reply to Pilate about His servants not fighting to establish an earthbound monarchy.  And, again, these same types will take Paul’s instruction to Timothy completely out of the context he put it in and decide being a soldier for the Lord means to go forth and conquer for Jesus.

Paul used his statement to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 2:4) to make a point about how much we as believers were to allow the world’s priorities to affect our own.  Like a soldier believers are to maintain a certain distance from the world’s politics and prioritize the kingdom of God, which is a spiritual reality not based on who’s king or president.  This doesn’t mean we are not involved and don’t care about these things, for spreading the gospel depends on political goodwill to some extent.  Yet our motivation is never to establish a nation built to harbor and sustain Christians alone since that would fall into the category of building a “holy state” much like Islam has attempted to do.

Jesus made it clear to Pilate He had no intention of overthrowing the Romans, nor would His servants (us) in the future.  The kingdom of heaven is one which conquers the heart of a person and rules absolute despite the world’s views, pressures or political state around them.

The premise of any belief dictates what we feel about ourselves and the god we choose to follow when we reach the outcome.  If the profit or loss we experience is based on monetary gain or success, our understanding of our favor with God will follow the rise and fall of our financial flow.  If, however, it is based on the more intangible growth of our character, faith and grasp of the holy, we will see wealth even in the smallest blessing.  Jesus told His disciples to put their investment in treasure which wouldn’t rust, be stolen or be eaten by moths—doesn’t sound like He wanted us too invested in things from the here and now.

At the same time, He instructed them to invest “ungodly mammon” to make friends for the kingdom of heaven so they would be welcomed into eternal dwellings at the end.  Our Master fed more than 5000 people using just five loaves and two small fish with 12 baskets full of broken pieces left over.  If we don’t get the point He made to the disciples about this sign of God’s will in our lives, we will go through our troubled times fearful and desperately worried that we have done something wrong so that God withdrew His favor.  But when we understand the lesson of the loaves, it becomes clear that the rise and fall of our place in the world makes little or no difference to our favor in God’s eyes.  Our grasp of our worth is set and the need to worry about our circumstances nil, though we should demonstrate what I like to call “a proactive faith” in these times, which means we actively seek in faith an answer to our dilemma while we trust God for the outcome.  In other words, we knock on all the doors within our range of ability so that we leave nothing God presents in our path undone.  It may be that none of the doors will hold the answer because He has something else in mind, but that is just the beauty of the miracle-based life.

Jesus made a point earlier in the book of John we should reiterate here.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you:  ‘No servant is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”  John 15:18-20.  They crucified the Son of God.  If this is how they treated the Master of the house, what will they do to the servants?

Every disciple except one died a martyr’s death.  Many had their goods confiscated, their property taken from them and friends killed by lions for the sake of the name.  How could these people endure these things if their understanding of God’s favor was based on possessions or wealth?  Paul and Silas rejoiced that they were worthy of suffering for the sake of Christ; Peter and John celebrated their beatings with prayers of praise that they were counted worthy to experience a portion of the sufferings of Christ.  What we hold on to in the here and now must be thought of only as tools for the kingdom, not its wealth or rewards.  Our reward is eternal life through Christ and a peace which passes understanding.

So, You Think You’re the King?

October 20, 2010

Pilate went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him,  “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,”  Jesus asked,  “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?”  Pilate replied.  “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”

The dialogue here continues to  fascinates me.  I really don’t know from the questions whether or not Pilate was really interested in the answers, but it’s evident he had heard rumors.  Up to this point the Jews hadn’t even accused Him of anything let alone told Pilate about Jesus’ claims to be king—at least from the record here—so either Pilate was assuming or he had heard rumors about Him.

Jesus’ answer to Him is telling.  First off, though I can’t say what was going through Jesus’ mind at the time, He’s either confronting Pilate’s presumption on the charges or simply testing him to see how interested he really was in the answer.  Was Pilate struck by Jesus’ bearing and attitude to the point of being impressed He was a king or had the talk about Him around Israel filtered up to his offices?  One thing’s for certain, after years of deliberating civil cases, a person working as a judge gets a feel for the guilt or innocence of the accused and accuser.  I think Pilate sensed Jesus was innocent not only because of the time of day (early morning, which meant the Jewish kangaroo court must had happened in the middle of the night) but also because he didn’t trust the Jews.

“Am I a Jew?” means Pilate, to me, had only heard rumors through the servants, dignitaries and others in his courts instead Jewish gossip hotline, so all he had was a vague impression from talk around his palace.  In his mind, whatever answer Jesus gave would decide his course of action.  His query held more to it than mere curiosity—I mean if it had been me, I would want to know who this man claimed to be and how he handled the question.  Jesus’ answer, however, probably wasn’t what Pilate expected.  Instead of declaring emphatically His innocence and railing against the Jewish leaders, the Master simply probed him about his motives for asking such a question.

Pilate decided to be direct:  “What is it you have done?”

Or:  “What did you do to make those people out there angry enough to kill you?”

The fact that he asked Jesus for clarification on the point of His arrest signifies he saw no guilt, tell-tale signs or evidence from the people outside He had committed a crime.  So was this question his way of looking for clues as to what the man before him held behind the mask of innocence?  A judge learns not to trust appearances alone, thus the probing.

Jesus didn’t answer to divert attention away from His condemnation but to probe Pilate’s heart for any opportunity to plant the truth of God in it.  When He did answer the question He directed Pilate to a spiritual kingdom rather than an earthly one.  When Jesus said,  “My kingdom is not of this world…” Pilate probably heard a man out of touch with reality and thus harmless to the Roman government.

The Master, even here, concerned Himself with the man’s soul rather than anything tangible to the human reasoning.  For Jesus, the spiritual man was (and for us, still is) the really important part of his humanity.  The physicality, power, prestige, position and wealth were so fleeting in the eternal perspective as to dwindle to insignificance.  Our sense of what’s important mirrors either the Jews or Pilate—church or state, take your pick.  Humans cannot seem to grab onto the spiritual reality without making a religion out of it and developing intricate guidelines for success in it.  Those focused on the state will either go completely political or make their personal “kingdom” the all consuming interest.

Jesus, however, points us to the spiritual as the reality we need for our foundational reality.  I don’t think even most Christians handle this truth very well for the evidence of what we accept or fight about displays a different story to the world around us than we believe we’re telling.  I find it hard to balance the two views—i.e. being a spiritually based person while living in a physical world.  The mission of Christ is to reconcile the two parts which were separated at the fall.  This, then, is our journey and greatest witness for the kingdom of heaven; our mission is to live connected ever more completely to the spiritual reality of Christ while living it out in the physical realm.

One Little Candle

October 13, 2010

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heave.

I was nineteen when I committed my life fully to the pursuit of the Jesus; twenty-one when I finished the nursing program at the Walla Walla Community College and headed for Bethel, Alaska, to work in Phillip’s Alcohol Treatment Center.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my life by this time, for my passion was to help people know Jesus through music and teaching—or just simply help them if they refused Him.  I didn’t know how exactly to reach the goal or what steps to take to become the musician/minister I dreamed of being, but I knew I needed a job where I could touch those who struggled with life.  One of my older brothers offered me a job as a detox attendant at this small town’s treatment center, which was PATC.

Now I had no desire to work in a place like this, for me it was a step in the right direction but not a passion.  The pay was good and the opportunity to affect people off the charts—or so I thought at the time.  Reality set in within three months of working there, which means I began giving into despair about any positive influence I might have dreamed about.  Not only were the clients almost impervious to my ministrations of love, counsel and spiritual insight, the staff were almost as bad, though a bit smarter about being drunk or high in public.  The situation became more and more hopeless for me because, at 21, my idealism was being shattered by real life and the sense that people without hope or any chance of change without Jesus would leap at the opportunity I represented disappeared in a puff of logic.

At the time, being raised in a pacifistic denomination and trained to non-violence all my life (despite my older brothers’ bad influence), I began to see the need for situational violence and became quite adept at demonstrating said ethos when confronted with a particularly difficult person.  The warning shot across my bow that I was slip/sliding away from being a pacifist came in the shape of a skinny alcoholic named Andrew who decided he would try to put his knee where my nose was and proceeded to grab me by the hair in an attempt to yank my face in range of it.  Since I hate bloody noses and saw no reason to comply, I grabbed his wrist, yanked out a handful of hair from my own head his hand was firmly attached to, and proceeded to twist his arm in a police hold where the arm is firmly behind the participant, the wrist bent at a right angle by my right hand and my left hand slammed down on his elbow, which was facing the ceiling at this point.  I put enough pressure to make sure the pain cut through his inebriated state and asked him if it hurt.  He slurred a “yes” and I told him if he ever touched me again I would break his arm.

Shaking from anger and horror at how easily I had gone to the “dark side” I escaped from the main room to the office where fell on my knees in frustration and tears.  A while later I came out to check on Andrew and saw respect and not a little fear from him and the rest of the clients in the room.  It made me sad.  I had misrepresented my Master—again!  Would I never learn?!?  I still have no idea how Jesus would have dealt with the problem, yet at the time I thought I should have acted differently.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later where we find me in a discussion about the validity of Scripture and accuracy of the historical Jesus.  Believe me, my education in the SDA church prepared me somewhat for such arguments (this one was friendly by the way) but nothing prepared me for the sheer volume of information my two opponents and fellow workers joyfully threw at me.  It was like every piece of information knocked me a step backward till I finally stood with my back literally against the wall.  They spoke of the disparities in the gospels like theologians (which they were of sorts, both theology students from BYU), discussed the finer points of the rejected “gospel” of Thomas and generally shook my faith in my own grasp of the historical authenticity of Scripture I grew up with as a child.

I hung my head in frustration, shame and completely defeated, since I couldn’t answer their questions or reply to their doubts knowledgeably enough to make any dent in their position.  My determination to follow Jesus, however, remained firm for the reason I gave them as a reply.  This is roughly what I said:  “I can’t answer most of your questions and I have absolutely no idea what the “Q” gospel is, but I know one thing for certain:  the teachings of Jesus have made a difference in my life and I’m a better man because of them.”

Both their mouths dropped open and they looked at each other.  Both said,  “You’re right.  Of all the arguments you could have used, that’s one that is the most true, because you’re the most different person we’ve ever run across.  You’re kind to the clients, caring about the staff and generally more cheerful than anyone we know.”  I was a fairly new follow of Jesus and, as I’ve said, I know I didn’t display the most godly attitudes to the folks in the detox center, yet these men told me I lived in complete contrast to the norm of the others in the workplace.  These men knew my history at the place, since one was the director it and the other a fellow supervisor, yet they saw a difference in me despite my failures—and there were plenty of times I came to work not very cheerful, by the way.

I didn’t see it but they did.  I thought I was a complete washout as a Christian example; they saw me as an honest one.  I saw my struggles with morals and attitudes as a complete failure; they saw my efforts as a testimony to the power of God in my life.

I learned a valuable lesson that day:  It might serve a good purpose to be theologically sound, to be the best apologist possible and be able to take on the world as to the historical validity of Christ, but, the most important thing in following Jesus is to be like Him.  His teachings have to make a difference in us enough to be even a small (like I am) light to contrast the darkness.  I’m still not very bright, not influential or powerful in the gospel like some are, but the scope of my influence has nothing whatsoever to do with my efforts.  One little candle may not be enough to light the whole room, but it shines in the darkness and shows up the shadows in it.  One little light might not seem significant enough to make a difference, yet it is enough to keep us from barking our shins on the furniture and other obstacles  in the room.

I was told by my brother, Tom, years later that one of the clients went on to become a nun and helped many women out of their bad lifestyles and habits.  She told Tom that Tracy (brother) and I influenced her with our hugs and kindness.  To this day, though I remember the hugs and her wiping her alcohol soaked face on my flannel, I’m not sure what she meant by “kindness” because I don’t remember all the much in the way of interaction with her besides trying to keep her hands off my zipper.  She was always ribbing Tracy and I by saying,  “White boy better than Eskimo, eh?”

The truth is my spiritual taste was more like “salt-lite” than real salt at that time.  Religion still dominated my horizon more than a relationship and connection to God.  I still thought my efforts to obey the Law were somehow part of the changing process, instead of the real means to obedience which is being in touch with the mind of Christ.

I didn’t win the argument about the historical Jesus, know a fig about the “Q” gospel (though I’m more familiar with the idea now), or understand any of the philosophical conundrums brought on by the stories in the Bible—like the Ark holding all those animals, etc.  What won the day, however, and turned out to be a great lesson for me in the process, was the basic fact that I was different from the world in both attitude and expression, even though it was a small difference.  Strange as it may seem, I handled things in a kinder, gentler, and wholly more compassionate manner than anyone of my fellows, and they noticed.  I didn’t.  All I could see were my failings.  They could see my distress and genuine desire for godliness, and appreciated the realness of my relationship with Jesus.  Nothing else convinced them more effectively than the daily grind Christian life I lived in front of them—completely unaware as I seemed to be of it being as effective as it turned out to be.

So the lesson for today is:  Even a little Jesus in the heart makes a big difference in the world.  Let it grow to fill the heart with nothing else and the effect becomes downright amazing.  I’m still on the journey to this goal, but I get to see glimpses of what His presence in my life does in the world around me every now and then, which simply astounding.

“What?! You Think We’re Lying?!?”

October 9, 2010

So Pilate came out to them and asked,  “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If He were not a criminal,”  they replied,  “we would not have handed Him over to you.”

Pilate said,  “Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,”  the Jews objected.  This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled.  John 18:29-32.

It’s interesting that Pilate actually gave them permission to judge Jesus their own way, but they were interested in humiliating Him beyond the means provided by the law through stoning.  From this text I gather they wanted Him crucified to make it seem He wasn’t even worthy of dying as a heretic Jew, they wanted Him to be treated like a gentile.  I don’t think the Romans would have cared if the Jews had taken Jesus out and stoned Him to death—what’s one less Jewish man to them but one less possible troublemaker?  In fact, from Pilate’s indifference to the case at first, I think He suspected they wanted to kill Jesus.

What other reason could they have of making sure the Romans condemned Him?  They already had laws which took care of those issues they needed to deal with in civil court, so why go to all the trouble of putting the case on the Roman radar?

They wanted to watch Him suffer to the point of complete and utter rejection as a Jew.  To be crucified in the mind of anyone Jewish from that era signified the ultimate rejection of God because in the Law it said,  Cursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree. Hanging Jesus on a cross would symbolize God’s rejection of Him in the eyes of the Jews and strike His name from His tribe, family and nation.  Sure, these leaders could have arranged for Jesus to be taken somewhere private and stoned to death for heresy, but that wasn’t enough for them, because they wanted to utterly destroy His influence.  I’m sure they executed people all the time without telling the Romans, and the Roman authorities in turn, probably ignored any evidence of it unless it affected their absolute power over the populace.

The words:  This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled, simply confirm my suspicion about their intent.  The Jewish leaders pursued capital punishment, the heaviest version of this being crucifixion, which usually meant a tree.  The Jews held that a man hung on a tree was cursed, thus the fact of Jesus hanging on a tree would leave no doubt He was under God’s curse.  Never mind they couldn’t convict Him of anything treasonous or even blasphemous, these men were determined to rid themselves of a thorn in their sides.  Not only that, but in a propaganda war, facts such as seeing Jesus on a cross would leave doubt in the minds of even the most dedicated followers.

The addiction humans have for sameness is pretty well documented.  Those in power have always exploited the fear of change to rid themselves of unwanted people in their way—or punish those whom they perceive slighted them.  So it’s not so out of character for these men to crave the sameness of their national identity, spiritual and civil power as well as the culture that had developed since their return from exile.

But Pilate didn’t ask about their earnestness or honesty, he asked,  “What charges do you bring against this man?” I surmise their own guilty conscience caused them to answer,  “If He were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to you.” They avoided the question by protesting their “flawless” character, a thing Pilate knew to be a complete facade.  Standard practice in courts all through the history of mankind—even kangaroo courts—someone had to present the charges against the accused or it would be thrown out.  The Jews gave this defensive reply to Pilate’s question because they heard the skepticism in His voice, or they felt guilty for bringing an innocent man to trial.

So what other reason would occur to Pilate to make him suspect these leaders of something underhanded?  If his question brought out their defensiveness, it means they had tried to abuse the system on prior occasions.  In other words, they had attempted (and most likely succeeded) in railroading others who offended them or threatened their absolute power over the government of Israel—with Rome’s permission, of course.  It also means Pilate had refused on occasion to be manipulated by their shenanigans (the Jews and Pilate had a long standing contentious relationship that ended in Pilate being replaced years later by Caesar).

Pilate probably wasn’t all that interested in justice if it went against his ambitions, but where it met up with his career security, he most definitely didn’t want to jeopardize his reputation with those above him.  When we look at a public court we see (hopefully) impartial people judging by the established laws from the facts alone not bias, preference or bribery.  This type of court has only been a reality for the last century for most American/European citizens, and even that history has been rife with payoffs and scandals.  Attempting to make Pilate into some kind of saintly judge who got railroaded by politics is to misunderstand his character and history.  The man could be coldly efficient when facing military or civil trouble, and downright bad news if you crossed him.  His interest in Jesus probably went no further than curiosity at this stage, though as he got familiar with the case and things unfolded he grew more fascinated.

Pilate also knew the only reason why the Jewish leaders brought criminals or people they judged as dangerous to them to a Roman court:  capital punishment.  Rome forbid capital punishment to be carried out by any government but their own—a means of enforcing and reminding their subjects of their supremacy.  Pilate knew they wanted to kill the man they brought to him, he just didn’t care to be bothered by their idiotic (to him) religious wrangling.  In effect, he was giving them permission to punish Jesus in any way they deemed sufficient as long as they didn’t kill Him.

Their reply basically forced his involvement in the case, and I would guess, irritated him somewhat.  His reluctance to be involved or just plain indifference to their request to judge Jesus shows he thought the Jews’ to be a nuisance.  He had already experienced their power with Rome, since they had complained several times about his heavy handed methods and uncooperative attitude.  Their sheer persistence and his capitulation came as a direct result of the reprimands from his bosses.

All this sets up the scene which follows.

Straining @ a Gnat…

October 2, 2010

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor.  By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace, they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.  So Pilate came out to them…  John 18:28, 29a.

It’s almost comical due to the sheer absurdity of it that Jews worried more about defilement by a gentile governor than crucifying an innocent man.  It speaks loudly to the blindness brought on by religiosity sans the Spirit of God.  The leaders, elders and priests set out to commit public murder with a legal tenet to justify it—knowing full well they were doing so otherwise they wouldn’t have taken Him by night—yet they refused to “defile” themselves by entering a gentile court.

I don’t object to religious practices or zeal because doing something right over and over is a good thing.  What I hate with all my soul is the use of religion to railroad hidden agendas or political bias wrapped up in a holy language.  The moment I hear the phrase,  “We just want to honor God…” when religious people force their bias on others who disagree with them, the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I want to run screaming.  This is the logic they used to crucify my best friend, Savior, Lord, God and example.  They couched their evil intentions like bad biscuits swimming in yummy gravy.

Why couldn’t they leave Jesus alone?

I really don’t know.  The gospels claim it was because of envy, jealousy and feeling threatened, but why would they feel this from a man who showed by every observable action He had no political ambitions?  All they had to do was listen to His teaching and see He wasn’t out to establish a new kingdom with them dethroned.  No, what drove them to this madness was not human but the powers of darkness.

Here’s the truth of religion:  in itself religion is innocuous and amoral because the word simply points to a life lived by a specific discipline.   Within the boundaries of love it becomes a force for good, since it practices good habits.  Outside of love, however, it becomes a tool of evil, painted to look like something honorable but full of selfish ambition.

As I’ve said before, the Jews broke their own law having Jesus’ trial at night.  By this they were already spiritually unclean and unable to take part in the Passover, which means going into or staying outside of Pilate’s court held no meaning anymore.  I don’t doubt for a minute they were zealous for the Mosaic Law nor do I deny they were highly religious.  Where I think they made their mistake wasn’t in their belief in the Law but in the misunderstanding God’s intention for it.  Or, may be some of them did understand it they just couched it in rabbinical rhetoric in order to circumvent its commands in certain areas.  Whatever the case, these men loved their national identity, religion and traditions to the point they were willing to deny the Son of God and all He stood for in order to keep these things—to the extreme place of no return where they murdered Him legally.

Sound familiar?  America and a host of other “Christian” nations claim to offer freedom of religion, economy and a sense of national identity not based on race, but powerful people steeped in religious tradition and not given to the love of God for all humanity have generally inspired many evils over our history.  They continued slavery by claiming (mistakenly, by the way) that the blacks were children of Ham, who was cursed by Noah.  Then when that didn’t work anymore because of the emancipation, they began to turn to “science” in order to claim the blacks were one step away from monkeys or at least not far above the Neanderthal, barely human.  I once heard a man claim that a black man’s brain was smaller by weight than any other nationality—and this man claimed to follow Jesus.

And this is just one example of our foolishness where we wash our bias, prejudice and unholy hate for otherness in a basin of religious language and argument.  It’s no wonder the world resents and hates religion for the history of its traditions have justified many evils.  Not that the godless have done any better.  Stalin was a Socialist, scientific and an atheist, yet look at the atrocities he perpetrated on his nation.

Granted it has been solid, good Christians who fought for abolishing slavery and host of other inequities over the years, I’m not bashing Christians (I am one).  No, what bothers me isn’t the religion itself but how people will use it to abuse, ostracize  and hold down others.  Persecution over the years has always had its roots in religious or ideological differences, though mostly greed, lust for power or fear has motivated the greater portion of it.

Jesus died because somebody decided He was a threat to them.  Never mind that He actually uttered no threats, only criticized bad traditions which gave the law and God a bad name, and generally helped people with His power.  Remember, these men were so outraged by Jesus they planned to kill Lazarus, the penultimate example of His power and best argument for God’s favor on His life and teaching.

I guess the warning here for me is beware of religious bandwagons because they tend to have agendas not based in Christ’s kingdom but furthering someone’s profit here on earth.

Peter’s Next Move

October 1, 2010

As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked,  “You are not one of His disciples, are you?”

He denied it, saying,  “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him,  “Didn’t I see you with Him in the olive grove?”  Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.  John 18:25-27.

John must have been paying attention to something else or he figured enough had been said about Peter’s denial because he ends the story with the rooster crowing.  Another gospel recounts Peter rushing out and weeping bitterly.

Peter, in my read of this story, must not have seen himself as denying the Master because it was only when the rooster crowed that he recognized what he was doing.  I believe he was playing the secret agent or whatever passed for that character in his era.  Human logic considers lying a must in certain situations, but as I sit here picturing what Jesus said about the subject, I get the feeling that anything other than the truth is considered denying Him.  Look at this text and see if you don’t draw the same conclusion:

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.  But he who disowns me before men will be disowned by the angels of God. Luke 12:8, 9.

I wouldn’t doubt that Peter’s reaction after the rooster crowed grew out of his horror of being disowned by Jesus.  His subterfuge might deceive those around him but it wouldn’t stand in the higher court of God.  Now I don’t know Peter’s intentions here, no one does, because we’re not told his thoughts during this incident.  What I know is my own mind and some of those around me, so my conclusion is drawn from the experience of watching people (me included) justify their choices in these kinds of situations.  Peter’s act simply stemmed from our natural self-preservation bone.  Nothing he did would have been abnormal to you or me in a similar circumstance.

The lesson, then, is to acknowledge the Son of Man before men no matter what threats confront us to the contrary.  Peter failed miserably, but that failure God used to demonstrate the Savior’s mission of redemption and restoration.  You and I have denied Jesus in actions, words or thoughts somewhere in our day—if we fail to think or behave like Him, we have denied His authority over our lives—yet Peter being reconciled should give us hope that our God is slow to anger, not holding the sins of anyone against them and longing to restore us to fellowship.