Archive for February, 2011

Do You Love Me?

February 26, 2011

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,  “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,”  he said,  “You know that I love you.”

Jesus said,  “Feed my lambs.”   John 21:15

Three times Peter denied he even knew Jesus; three times he was given a new scenario in which to declare his loyalty.  In the law one who betrayed or cheated another person had to restore four fold, Jesus only asked tit for tat.

But…

The wording in the text is lost in translation, as many of you probably know.  The first two times Jesus asked Peter,  “Do you love me…” He used the agape‘ form of the word “love” which raises the stakes quite a bit higher for him.  Peter for his part was humble enough to realize he couldn’t answer back with the same wording and chose the brotherly love word phileo instead.  For those who don’t know, the Greek words for “love” have four different meanings, but in this instance we’re concerned with only two of these.

Vine’s dictionary explains it this way:  “The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17.  The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the “love” that values and esteems (cf. Rev. 12:11).  It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.”  p. 382.

The whole incident comes down to wording.  John shows Jesus being subtle in His question when at first He asks Peter,  “Do you have an unselfish love for me?”  Peter answers that he loves Him like a brother or family.  The second time goes the same then suddenly Jesus switches questions,  “Do you really love me like family, Peter?”  This why Peter felt hurt by the fact his Master questioned even this kind of love in him.  I’m sure Peter wondered where Jesus was taking this conversation, since He seemed to be feeling him out.  The third question probably startled him and shook him quite badly.

Most people when they use this type of exploratory questioning are using it to put the person who betrayed them in their place.  There might have been a little of that in Jesus’ motives, but the place He wanted to put Peter wasn’t the one the rest of us desire.  He longed for Peter to come to humility, whereas the greater number of us want to humiliate them and stomp on their self-esteem.  Instead, Jesus sought to open Peter to his own foibles, show him the road to restoration and give back a sense of belonging to the mission.

Many of us have heard about the word differences and preachers expound on what the significance of this story happened to be.  I agree with the general consensus that Jesus intended to give Peter three questions for three denials.  But to my way of thinking Jesus had another goal entirely in mind, for He wanted to remind Peter self-sufficiency failed when the chips were down and a person is staring at a gun barrel in their face.

Every instruction Jesus gave after Peter’s replies focused on service, did you notice?  Agape’ is the sacrificial, service oriented kind of love so Jesus revealed what He wanted for Peter’s life from that point on.  “Feed My lambs.” The seemingly insignificant among us, the children, the little ones.  Though children were highly prized by the Jews, they weren’t considered to be important in spiritual matters until they came of age.  Sure they were instructed in the Torah and wisdom of the rabbis but their value to the community and nation of Israel could only be assessed once they reached adulthood.  Jesus desires us to reach into the worlds of those who aren’t movers or shakers in the broader sense and bring them to the place where they can be fed heavenly bread; such as these make up the kingdom of heaven.

“Take care of My sheep.” This instruction differs from feeding in that it means to care for the whole person rather than just one aspect.  The job for a disciple of Christ is to care for the whole person not just give them the gospel information.  This means in practical terms that like a sheep, which needs good pasture, protection from the elements and predators, we as servants of God must look out for our fellow believers—especially if we are called to leadership.  I’ve owned several animals and one thing I can tell you is that if you are not social with them, they will not trust you with anything but their food.  A good owner is not only the supplier of the basic needs but a servant of the hearts of those he/she feels responsible to.

Dad and I owned a horse named Frosty.  She was originally a brood mare for a friend of ours,  Quarter Horse/Appaloosa, and definitely gorgeous.  This little mare had personality in spades.  My dad treated her like one of the family and they even had a game when carrots or sugar were offered.  Dad would come to the paddock to give her something special and Frosty would sniff, turn her nose up and begin to act like it wasn’t good enough.  The whole time Dad would dialogue with her,  “Oh, so you don’t want it, huh?  Well, I guess…” and as he started to walk away she’d trot back up to the fence and look anxiously until he glanced back (knowing she was doing this) and acknowledged her.  This would go on a couple of times until she accepted the treat and gave him a horse kiss.  Then he’d talk to her, groom her or just simply hug her.  That mare was the most gentle animal with children I’ve ever seen.  Adults made her nervous but with kids she was careful and sweet, always watching out for them.

It was the relationship Dad developed with Frosty which made this scenario a routine they played almost daily.  She flirted with him, played with him and, at times, followed him around like a puppy.  He served her and she adored him.

Jesus asked Peter to serve His sheep in this way.  To become more than just what the world considered a leader of people to be.  To go beyond human ideals, to be like Jesus Himself, who gave Himself for His sheep to the point of death.  But when He said,  “Feed my sheep” to Peter after his protest,  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you,” I think it was to tell Peter to start first at the basics, preaching the gospel.  The other duties would come naturally as he grew in the Lord through the Spirit’s power.

Our Master accepts us as we are, which means He knows our limitations and will accept what we can give.  However, once we start on that path to service, we will be given more and more responsibility because God wants us to be whole.  A fragmented heart gives only out of the areas where there is something to give—or hands out its brokenness instead.  As God’s Spirit serves the soul He changes and adjusts the broken spots, replacing parts (spiritual surgery) where possible (meaning somethings won’t be whole until we are glorified) and sewing up the open wounds or stubs of spiritual limbs that are missing.  In our brokenness He becomes our prosthetic legs, hands and arms through the relationship to the body of Christ.

No one is ever completely whole this side of Jesus restoring all things when we receive new spiritual bodies.  If this is true, then when Paul tells us each person completes a part of the body of Christ, he’s reminding us that none of us are the whole enchilada.  We all have missing parts, numb appendages and useless tools when we come to Christ.  These things are not made whole right away but Jesus instructed us to work together for the good of the kingdom of God by completing in the body of Christ what is lacking.  You might be an eye, I might be a foot, but without both parts neither of us can work the work of God.  Yet if we work together under the direction of the Head, which is Christ, we can go places.  A foot can travel but without the ability to see where its going it will bump into stuff and hurt the body.  An eye can see things but has no power to travel anywhere on its own.  The eye is not more important than the foot, neither is the foot more important than the eye.  In Christ all are of equal importance.  It is the world that values one thing above another not the followers of Jesus.

So Jesus accepted Peter as he was and asked him to do the basic service of feeding His sheep.  Just like Dad with Frosty, though, in the process of taking care of the sheep, talking to them, troubleshooting their problems and caring for their needs, Peter would grow to the place where even the lambs would benefit from his love for Jesus.  Feeding the lambs is the job of discipleship.  In the Great Commission Jesus told us to make disciples, not just preach the gospel.  The difference between them is simple, one develops a relationship with those who accept Jesus as their Savior; the other is just concerned about information or numbers.  Neither method can replace the other in the kingdom of God, so our job is to grow into not only preachers, teachers and leaders, but caretakers, medics and doctors of the soul.

Our example, the way we live, is the best sermon anyone can hear.

Breakfast!

February 24, 2011

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them,  “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore.  It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them,  “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask Him,  “Who are you?”  They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.  John 21:9-14.

It always strikes me how practical Jesus seemed to be.  On the one hand He already had fish and bread cooking on the coals; on the other, He had the disciples bring some of the fish they caught (by His power, I might add) to fill out the meal.  First He gives them a miracle, then makes a meal for them from nothing as well.  In other words, the fish and bread on the burning coals were just as much a miracle as the ones in the net for the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  Yet here Jesus was with food already prepared—and I’m sure no one saw Him fishing on the lake.

We need to recognize Jesus whenever we see Him in our circumstances.  The disciples didn’t ask the man feeding them who He was because they knew the trademark of how the Master worked.  Earlier in His ministry He’d done something similar after the fishermen had worked all night.  They caught so many that time both boats were in danger of sinking.  He began His ministry with a catch of fish and now was ending it with same thing.

Why?

I think it was to remind them of where the power for their success would be coming from and what they could count on in the days ahead.

Hudson Taylor, one of the most successful missionaries to China, worked nearly seventeen years for one convert, who backslid shortly thereafter.  In the course of his labors for the Chinese he lost his first wife to sickness, lost support from many in the churches in England and generally showed not an iota of profit for the kingdom of God by humans standards of measuring such things.  His ministry looked like it was about to end because he himself got sick and discouraged.  A few years later, because of God’s power through this determined man, he saw over 100, 000 people come to know the saving grace of Jesus.  Nearly twenty years of seemingly fruitless work would discourage anybody; this kind of investment brings ridicule and censure from those who look to make quicker profits for the kingdom.  Instead Hudson planted his roots deep in the land where God called him, giving the people of China where he lived an example of Jesus they couldn’t ignore.

Towards the end of his life, Hudson Taylor made this famous quote,  “God’s work, done God’s way, in God’s time, never lacks God’s provision.”  (It’s been a long time since I read it so I might have a word or two wrong.)

What is the lesson of Jesus making breakfast for the disciples?  Just this:  Being faithful in our work might not appear profitable to anyone who watches Wall Street Christianity for Kingdom gains or losses, but it yields fruit if coupled with the power of God.  It isn’t the method, folks, it’s the Lord’s power that matters.

The Prophetic Fish

February 23, 2011

Afterward Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias.  It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,”  Simon Peter told them, and they said,  “We’ll go with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3.

Fishing can be boring work until a fish strikes or the nets fill up, and then it’s pretty intense work.  Peter and the other disciples worked at something they understood, i.e. fishing,I’m not sure what inspired it exactly, may be they were broke and just needed something to get them by, I don’t know.  What I do know is Peter wanted to go out.  Fishermen worked at night in that day, so possibly with such a lot to think about, he just wanted to keep his body busy while he thought through all the strange happenings of the last week or two.

Another thing that struck me is five of the twelve disciples were named (the sons of Zebedee were James and John) but two weren’t, which means they might have been part of the 72 or more other followers.  I wondered why John said it this way.  Why not just name them?  Dunno, but he didn’t for some reason.

Anyway the main fact that stood out to me was their own natural efforts produced nothing. It’s almost symbolic  Jesus came along after a full night of no results and in one moment changed the outcome.  My first reaction, of course, centered on the fact that they were trying in their own natural strength to do something ordinary and failed.  John didn’t necessarily emphasize this as the point, I guess, though since he took the time to mention them catching nothing, it is significant.  No, the real point is Jesus doing the impossible with improbable odds.  I don’t know if the guys had been just using the left side of the boat or not, but there’s no reason why the right side would seem to be any better unless it was facing east and the sun put a shadow on the left, warning the fish an enemy was above them.

Jesus takes the situation and turns human logic on its ear—again.  I like it when He does this because it speaks to me of a higher logic than man seems to be able to fathom.  I don’t know if I’m a miracle junkie exactly, but it always thrills me to see God work in the most illogical and off-the-wall ways.  The right side of the boat versus the left side doesn’t seem to be a logical choice (unless there’s some reason like shadows), so the guys probably just thought,  “Oh, what the heck!” and did it.  When the net filled up (John makes it sound like that happened pretty quickly), they were unable to haul in the catch.

The lesson?  Our efforts (casting the net) coupled with God’s method and purpose always equals miraculous profit.  Yet even then we might slave all night long trying to do what we have in front of us and not see any results except sweat and fatigue.  Sometimes God comes through at the beginning or in a “reasonable” time, then at other times He waits for 11:59:59 p.m.   I don’t understand the “why” though I’ve attempted to several times.  What I do get is that God pushes us to our limits for sheer the purpose of stretching and growing us.  It’s not like we have this faith thing down anyway.  Most of us don’t like to think on anything that doesn’t fascinate us (our passions which come easy to us) so He uses our weakest point in order to keep us from mistaking our efforts for His blessing.

The natural order of things could have taken over with those guys out on the boat—fishing is fishing, after all, and once a person does it for a lifetime, they kind of get a handle on what does or doesn’t work.  These guys knew their business well enough to make a living at it, still they caught nothing.  The miracle might be their lack of catch as well as the 153 large fish.  God displayed His glory by preventing them from exercising the natural results of things for the purpose of catching them for Himself.

What was Jesus’ message to Peter at the time of his calling?  “From now on you will catch men.”

Peter didn’t sin or doubt God’s will or disobey his calling by going out on the lake to fish.  He did what he saw in front of him.  I don’t know what he thought about the situation now that Jesus was risen, but from his choice to fish it might be he thought the whole parade was over for them.  You know, Jesus told them He was returning to the Father so what should they expect to do once He was gone?  The fun was over, the work all done, so back to the old grindstone…or may be he just felt like fishing cuz it was familiar and quiet, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, this miracle shook their world up and pushed them in a different direction all together.

Jesus had another reason, however, for coming that day.  Peter.  The man probably had been feeling like a complete traitor since the night in the high priest’s courtyard.  Jesus came to take this burden away from him.

Catching the fish was just a fun way of getting their attention.  On the other hand, may be God purposed it to make another point at the same time—you know, two birds with one stone.  Either way, the impossible catch and the net’s improbable strength (holding together with all that weight) became a prediction of what the disciples could expect in the coming years.  They would turn the world on its proverbial ear and do it not by the human method of invasion or war but by living, teaching and preaching the message called the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven.  They would catch human fish in a supernatural net powered by the Holy Spirit and held together by the love of Jesus.

 

But These are Written So That…

February 18, 2011

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.  John 20:30, 31.

It’s not for the sake of the story John records all these different snapshots of Jesus’ ministry, but to inspire belief in those who read or hear it.  Let’s face it, some people are just good story tellers, so the only purpose of their writing is just to tell an entertaining story.  John makes it clear he’s not interested in just entertaining his readers because it’s more important to convince them of the truth about Jesus.

Yet even with this goal in mind, we can see he understands how hard it is to accept the truth of what he’s saying.  What John writes above in our key text comes in context with the story of Thomas’ reluctance to trust the testimony of the other disciples.  He’s making the point in order to encourage those who have not seen Jesus risen in the flesh to believe and trust the testimony of those who have.

It’s a tough sell, quite frankly.  Once the world was cut off from direct contact with the spiritual realm we became dependent on our senses to tell the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies, imagination versus reality.  We don’t know who to trust, really, for we search the spiritual dimension through all sorts of sources trying to penetrate the thick veil closing us off from it.  Some of us might be able to hear the voices and see flashes of the other side but generally we’re blind to it.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead claimed acid opened his mind up to alternate realities.  The first reaction from many of us is,  “Yeah, I’ll bet!”  But what if certain drugs do take down the inhibitions and normal walls God built into our psyche to keep us from contaminating the spiritual dimension?  What then?  It’s quite possible that a portion of those we call “insane” who suffer from schizophrenia (a state of being out of touch with corporeal reality) somehow tap into both dimensions to their own confusion.  Could it be that those who hear voices may be listening in on two different worlds at the same time and their inability to be in just one causes them to splinter?

I don’t know.  I do, however, believe in a multi-dimensional creation where what we call the “spiritual” realm is but one one dimension of many.  We do know from Scripture angels travel from their dimension to ours and remain solid here, which makes them pan-dimensional beings—able to exist in all dimensions as part of them.  Whatever the truth is about these things (and I’m just attempting to expand our thinking on what is possible) belief in anything outside of what we can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch is going to be a hard sell with anyone who’s lived on this planet for a while.  The charlatans selling everything from insights into the future to who we should marry abound—some are even good enough to be pretty accurate.  The ones to be wary of, though, are those who tap into that alternate reality and have somehow learned to navigate it without Biblical guidance or boundaries.

Why?  I mean why be wary of those without a Biblical basis for their information?  Character.  Jesus teaches character above information, contact with the alternate dimensions and humility over power.  Those who seek to contact or use the spiritual realm without a solid character will glory in the power they feel they’ve gained over it—a delusion by the way.  No one controls what they don’t have full knowledge of, therefore trusting what we have wisps of information about or mere phantoms of contact with is risky at best and downright foolish at worst.

John gives us some answers in his gospel which, if we trust his word, open up reasons to believe in Jesus.  He even quotes Jesus arguing with the Jews about these reasons and his quote of the Master has Him saying,  “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.  But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”  John 10:37, 38.  Jesus gives everyone plenty of reasons to believe but never forces such a thing down their throats.  He could, because He’s just that powerful, but He chooses not to in order to give people free will.

I’m sure the disciples had plenty of stuff to tell people about Jesus, though none of us know any of these stories outside of the gospels—unless we go to the Apocrypha.  I’m not a big fan of it myself because the books don’t jive in tone, subject matter or theme the way the canonical books do.  Even the Gospel of Thomas seems to be more of a fairytale about Jesus than a real gospel.  That’s just my take on it, however, you’ll have to decide for yourselves.

The point for me is:  Unless it gives life to the one who hears, it’s probably just a nice story.  The gospels record things Jesus did in story form, but every single thing carries the wait of convincing those who read them to believe that Jesus is the Christ and to give life to those who claim His name.

“My Lord and My God!”

February 17, 2011

Thomas said to Him,  “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him,  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:28, 29.

There are those in the world who try to prove through the Scriptures that Jesus was just an angelic-like being sent by God as the sacrifice or example of the way to God.  They deny He is part of the deity as well as dismiss certain texts which might even infer such a thing.  In fact, they explain away any texts which seem to directly state His spiritual nature might be anything more than being just a little more powerful than angels.  Most people believe He was a great teacher and a good man, but they can’t accept Thomas’ testimony about Him.

Why?

I don’t know all the reasons, of course, but the main ones are the plain ones.  First, if Jesus is God, that means everyone should listen and respond by obeying what He teaches.  Second, if they accept Jesus is God, there’s no more question about life in general, for life begins to take on a specific definition once it’s expectations are outlined.  And Jesus outlines life pretty thoroughly.

Thomas exclaimed Jesus as his Lord and his God.  Jesus accepted his statement without any form of rebuke for its content.  In fact, the only rebuke we see in His reply to Thomas centers on a question of faith not His identity.  So by this text alone we know John set out to establish Jesus as not only God’s Son in human form but also in deity.

Jesus’ real focus, however, is the nature of belief and faith.  Earlier, in John 17, Jesus prays for those who will believe in Him based on the testimony of the disciples.  Thomas got off easy, for sure, since he got the evidence most of us feel we need.  The Christian of today, however, must believe based on the teachings alone.  There are those, of course, who set out to prove the truth of the gospels by working miracles or doing outrageous things like handling snakes, etc., but the absolute best evidence for Christ is a life changed for the good by Him.

Years ago, when I was about nineteen, a Kirby (vacuum cleaners) salesman came to our house and demonstrated the latest and greatest model.  We were all impressed because, I mean, it was and still is a great machine.  I don’t remember how the subject came up but this guy started talking to me about working for the company, explaining techniques and praising its benefits.  I worked there 3 weeks and sold one used model so low that I didn’t earn any money at all.  Needless to say I quit.  Later, a friend tried to get my family into Amway.  My dad was convinced we could become rich so he began to buy the product and was gungho for quite a while until it became clear you couldn’t just socialize with your friends anymore but were always waiting to sell them on the product.  The other disadvantage was that to make money one had to get a lot of people buying and selling the products before even a hint of profit became significant.

The hype of these two businesses didn’t equal the sales’ pitch.  The backlash against door to door sales is still being felt today and online marketing has taken over a lot of the personal contact.  I know a man right now who has invested most of his retirement into online schemes for the last 10 years without seeing any return at all.  I’ve asked him why he keeps up with such a known scam and he says the risk is worth getting rich and comfortable.  The problem with all these get rich quick schemes is their glossy sales’ pitch pulls our eyes away from the hard work, sacrifice and dirty underbelly of those further up the money chain.

Jesus’ teachings never promise riches but more likely rejection, loss and persecution this side of glory (see John 15:18 to 16:4).  The difference between the get rich gospels and the teachings of Jesus is simple:  peace and hope.  Our hope isn’t based on getting some now but investing in a lifetime of wholeness.  The gospel changes our perspective on life itself, adjusts our values to match our hope and gives us peace no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.  In other words, instead of money and possessions becoming the reward/evidence of our success it is just another tool to use for His kingdom.  Believers need money to complete projects, continue to build the kingdom of God and raise families, but the closer they grow to Jesus through His word the more they realize who really supplies it all.

The message is clear from our text above:  those who believe based on the testimony of the disciples and Jesus’ teachings (which comes under the testimony of the disciples too) will find a special blessing.

Why?

Simply because one must suspend a truckload of reasonable doubts to give oneself over to the truth His Word proclaims.  At the same time, I wonder if Thomas’ need and Jesus’ willingness to meet that need doesn’t say something pretty astounding about God’s heart toward the doubters among us.  For one thing, if Jesus represents the Godhead, then God’s attitude towards doubters who have reasonable problems with belief is more merciful and gracious than most Christians are led to believe.  For another thing, if He met Thomas’ need for proof, He will have to meet others with something similar to be fair.  In other words, I believe when Jesus comes again before He sits in judgment on those who will and won’t be saved, many who doubted before will accept Him on sight as true and fall down like Thomas in humble acknowledgment.

To condemn people for lack of faith in a religion misrepresented so often is to condemn the guiltless.  If the only examples of Jesus are a greedy pastor, judgmental believers, morally challenged “Christians” or a power-hungry eldership, can you blame someone for being not only confused but reluctant to believe in someone who has such bad representatives?  I don’t.  If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it, then our first order of business is to work toward that end over anything else.  God will judge the world, so let’s leave that to Him.

Thomas’ confession of Christ came after clear evidence that Jesus was alive.  What’s our reason for believing?  Unless someone can claim to have seen a vision of Christ or met Him on the road to their own personal Damascus, we have to rest our faith on the testimony of men who died 2000 years ago.  Not only that, the merits of the gospel records have to be trusted despite the shadows of doubt that swirl around them.  To deny real questions exist about the authenticity of the gospel is to be blind and foolish, in my opinion.

Now here comes the good part:  Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who believe just based on the testimony of the NT gospels and writings.  I don’t know what form this blessing takes and, quite frankly, I’m pretty unconcerned about it—curious but not overly anxious to know.  Whatever form the blessing takes God doesn’t tend to be less than extravagant.

As far as Thomas is concerned, traditional history claims he died a martyr for his Master.  Seems he was pretty convinced, huh.

Thomas

February 15, 2011

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him,  “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them,  “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”  John 20:24, 25.

What happened to Thomas to make him doubt the other disciples’ word?  Were they constantly playing tricks on him or what?  No way to tell.  I only know that he doubted their testimony to the point of telling them unless he got physical evidence to the contrary, he considered them either lying to him or collectively insane.

A lot has been made of Thomas’ doubt, so much so that down the through the years calling someone a “Doubting Thomas” is part of our English way of saying it’s hard to convince a person of the truth.  But ask yourself this:  Why wouldn’t he take the other disciples’ word for it?  Something happened in between the lines that we aren’t privy to because when a guy doubts the word of 10 other men on any subject, something’s either up or wrong with him.  May be he’s not quite so crazy though.  In his day and age superstitions ruled to the point people in general accepted all sorts of outrageous “truths” that couldn’t be verified witnesses.  Thomas may just have been one of the sane ones who watched the trends with a growing sense of healthy skepticism and avoided rumors.

Anyone who’s been to church for more than 10 years has heard at least one sermon on Thomas, it’s standard fare with preachers who want to promote faith.  Yet I don’t know that I blame him for his doubt.  Jesus’ resurrection was impossible by any standards we know exist.  No one I know has done it, though I’ve heard rumors and met a couple of people were clinically dead and resuscitated, but that’s not the same as being dead 3 days and coming back to life.

No, Thomas gets a bit of a bad rap for being skeptical, and may be it’s well deserved.  At the same time just look at the situation a little more.  Here are ten (eleven if you count Thomas) who loved their Teacher with a passion.  His death hit them all pretty hard, leaving a great big hole in their hearts where confusion and panic lay just under the surface at all times.  No matter what anyone wants to say about it these guys were ripe for a big hoax because this is the prime time when things like this happen.

A week after the initial meetings with Jesus Thomas comes to hang out.  Again Jesus enters without knocking or requiring the lock to be opened.  Just as with the first time He surprised the disciples by just appearing and gives the hippy greeting,  “Peace!”  But this time it’s specifically Thomas He’s come to meet, for the others were already convinced.

Then He said to Thomas,  “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”

It’s usually the last sentence which people interpret as a rebuke.  I’m not so sure anymore that it was—and if it was, Jesus wasn’t being impatient with Thomas’ doubt but giving him a way to believe.  In other words, if it was a rebuke, the tone was gentle.  Yet Jesus came to give the last of His disciples the evidence he needed to believe, that has to say something more than just rebuke.  It shows something more than a mere effort to dispel the doubts of one man.

Jesus loved Thomas, evidenced by His efforts to replicate the upper room experience for him.  Teachers abound who condemn doubt, skepticism and reluctance to commit to anything of which we’re unsure, but wholesale willingness to believe is just as dangerous.  I see people buying into this trend or that and I have to wonder why.  Humans are desperate for the miraculous or, in our terms, magical.  We separated ourselves from the source of all that is miraculous in Eden, then spent the next several thousand years looking for something—anything—which will give us the power to work outside the natural law.  The only problem?  Humanity looks for the supernatural in anything in an effort to circumnavigate God, which won’t work since He’s the source anyway.

The church of Jesus does it in a more sneaky way.  Instead of horoscopes or incantations, they find passages in the Bible that appear to guarantee wealth, healthy and smooth sailing if they speak this certain way or perform these specific actions.  Unfortunately, those who teach this type of nonsense ignore the other Scriptures which tell us those who follow Jesus will possibly experience loss, persecution and sometimes death for the kingdom of God.  God will take care of us as a testimony to the world of His presence in our lives, but in this age (I’m assuming the next age will be after Jesus comes) at least we will suffer to a greater or lesser degree, depending on where our individual paths lead us.

According to John, Thomas’ immediate reaction was to say,  “My Lord and my God!” This speaks loudly to the man’s willingness to believe as well as a certain amount of humility when confronted by the truth.  No one should ever call Thomas mule-headed because he wasn’t being stubborn necessarily just cautious.  Or, from the context that’s what it seems to me to the best explanation.  Jesus’ willingness to give him the evidence he needed to believe, however, demonstrates God’s heart pretty clearly.

Do you see the heart of God towards us in this story?  We have a person reluctant to believe anything he hasn’t seen with his own eyes, heard with his own ears or touched with his hands, and God meets him where he is to give him what is needed to believe.  Jesus told Philip,  “Have I been with you such a long time and you don’t know me, Philip?  If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus embodies the heart of God in human flesh, performing the will of God and therefore demonstrating the heart of God.  If He was willing to reach out to Thomas in order to convince him, what should our hearts be towards those who struggle with faith?  He is our example, the first born of the dead and our Master, whom we are to imitate.

No, our method of choice should always lean to the side of grace rather than judgment.  In fact, if we are going to make a mistake, let it be on the side of grace rather than condemnation.  I pray always for a good balance when it comes to wisdom in the judgment/grace arena, but many times I’m just too absorbed by the rabbit trails or blind to the spiritual reality to make a good judgment.  It would be better for us to leave all judgment to God except what He has commanded us to meet out in the church to keep it from falling into spiritual lethargy.  A church besieged by un-confessed sin and continuing in a state of un-repentance is a church turned tepid.

I guess what I’m trying to say is:  When in doubt err on the side of grace rather than judgment; for the measure of mercy we use will be what is given to us at the Bema seat, pressed down and shaken together.  If God went out of His way for everyone by sending Jesus to live among us, perform miracles, die and rise again, the least we could do is be more anxious to save than to condemn.

A Gift, A Commission and A Burden

February 11, 2011

Again Jesus said,  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that He breathed on them and said,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  John 20:21-23.

Wow!  What a heavy responsibility to put on the disciples, and I bet they didn’t really grasp the significance of it at the time.  They were probably just too overjoyed to see Jesus alive and well to register anything much beyond that fact.

The instructions, however, are pretty heavy as John records them here.

First, we get a condensed version of the great commission—Jesus sending His disciples to the world to find those who will respond to His message.  The wording of His marching orders single out a truth we must acknowledge first before we go off to work for Him.  Notice the phrasing in the command,  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Taken in the context of His life’s work and how He approached saving the world from itself there’s no other way to read this other than to accept a non-combatant, do-no-harm-to-anyone, and working from His standard method of opening up the gospel to whatever place He entered.

Remembering how Jesus approached His ministry on earth is vital for us to understand when we put forth efforts to do the same.  He is our example for what is and isn’t required.  When He came to the world there were no armies marching, no fanfares, parades or anything the world celebrates as power to bring His kingdom to power.  Instead our Master showed concern for relationships, restoring people who were broken in either body or soul—or both at the same time, and generally preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God.  In the gospel of Matthew we see a theme Jesus develops as He taught the people.  This theme focused on the message,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at near.”  Matthew 4:17.

Everywhere we look in the gospels Jesus gives us hints through stories, illustrations by healing and miracles, and a living example of His kingdom’s decorum.  When we read the word “repent” most of us have a visual of someone who’s been a great sinner coming down in humility to the alter to receive salvation.  But the word is a military term which means “about face!” or turn 180* and march in a different direction.  In other words our entire focus changes when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Think about His words to Pilate,  “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. (Peter tried that remember by hacking off an ear which Jesus replaced)  But now my kingdom is from another place.”  John 18:36.

Expanding on this notion of the Lord’s army refusing to take up worldly arms in order to conquer it, we must recognize how diametrically opposed this modus operandi is to the norm of world takeovers.  As I typed this, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians wandered into my consciousness, so let me quote it for it fits here:  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

What are the weapons we fight with then?  If we can’t use political muscle, human authority, or any form of weapon the world might imagine to threaten the rest of humanity into capitulation, then what the heck is left?  I think Ephesians 6:10-20 spells them out quite well.  Our best defense (represented by the armor) is to know truth, have our hearts protected by Christ’s righteousness, being always ready to travel for the gospel of peace, building up our faith in Christ so that we cannot be struck by the arrows of doubt and despair, a full knowledge of salvation to protect our minds from hopelessness, and finally the word of God, which is in John’s words Jesus Himself.

A belt holds the sword, the garment together and keeps things generally in order so the robe doesn’t get in a soldier’s way  and tangle the sword or shield.  A helmet protects the head from being bashed in by heavy objects or cut by a sharp instrument—such as another sword.  Need I go on?  Think of the practical applications of a soldier’s gear and then see how that works as weapons against the evil one.

Nowhere in all the words of Jesus did He command us to fight for our rights to worship freely nor was our efforts to spread the gospel based on military or political power.  The gospel is about bringing peace to the world not creating more wars for it to fight.  Paul warned Timothy not to get caught up in foolish arguments or quarrels because a good soldier doesn’t allow himself/herself to be entrapped by civilian affairs.  The world’s “civilian affairs” center on temporary priorities while those concerned with the gospel focus on the eternal.

Next Jesus breathed on them and said,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I’m pretty certain this is where C. S. Lewis took the significance of Aslan’s breath being powerful for the Chronicles of Narnia.  Quite a few of the things that happened in those books in any miraculous way started with Aslan breathing on the children.

Lastly Jesus gives the disciples a burden heavier than most imagine.

Choosing to forgive or not a person’s sins takes wisdom beyond normal human fickleness.  When it comes to another person’s salvation, our understanding of forgiveness is essential—no, heavier than that, imperative to the practice of something which plays with eternal life or death.  In other words, we can’t afford for someone to go with the mood they’re in that day, whether or not they ate something that didn’t agree with them or a whim.  Christian history is riddled with examples of powerful men in the church abusing this sacred trust.  Some, though not all, did so with a careless disregard for those they condemned—for believe me more people have been sentenced to hell by the “church” than probably deserved to be.

I’ve watched pastors or elders who held a biblical bias for judgment condemn the weak and thus harden them to the voice of God by sheer stupidity and love of power.  On both sides the hearts were hardened because grace and mercy were ruled out as standards of judgment.

I’ll speak my heart on this and let it go.

The only people who should remain unforgiven live in the camp of the unrepentant.  If we are to forgive anyone who asks 77 times (in one version) or 70×7 (in another), then what do you think God’s preference is concerning forgiveness?  A person who refuses to repent doesn’t desire forgiveness and such a gift of grace would be wasted on them.  In fact, it would do them no good except to may be enable them to do more wrong.

I’m pretty sure the disciples understood this fact because the gospels each record Jesus’ teaching on eager forgiveness.  Jesus’ warning also comes on the heels of most of these instruction,  “You will be judged in the same way you judge—only it will be pressed down and shaken together for you.”  The bottom line is God will not put up with any kind of harsh attitude towards sinners.  If He came to seek and save that which was lost, we can have no other attitude if we claim to follow Him.

In all three of these commands, Jesus desires our hearts to be transformed by His own mission to earth.  Paul declares Jesus gave the apostles the ministry of reconciliation.  The great commission was not a declaration of war as the world understands it, but a declaration of peace.  If we create peace in the hearts and minds of those who come to Christ and teach them the ways of peace, what happens to the wars and strife in their circle of influence?  It ceases to be—at least these people won’t be the direct cause of such (which means they will not instigate strife, however, others might to oppose them).  The only true peace mankind will ever know will be brought about by the power of God; the best weapon against hate is a love stronger than death.

Our Commander is the Resurrected One, the first fruits from the dead and the source of love.  Guess who won the day…

Jesus and Locked Doors

February 10, 2011

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said,  “Peace be with you!”  John 20:19.

The exclamation point suggests to me Jesus decided to surprise the disciples—which might even been fun for Him, I know it would’ve been for me.  So He comes into the room despite the doors being locked against unwanted intruders and viola! gives the disciples the scare of their lives as well as the hippy (my bias, okay?) greeting “Peace!”  In my minds eye Jesus grins at them when He just appears in the room.

Okay, that last part was me editorializing, I know.

“Entrance is everything, you know,”  a musician friend of mine told me once, and it’s true.  God never shies away from a grand entrance or an original appearance.  He knows effective ways to get our attention and takes steps to pull out all the stops when necessary.

I believe people cover Jesus, God and Holy Spirit with a religious veneer of human perception of holiness—you know, ascetic, austere, solemn, humorless, with the only expression on Jesus’ face reflecting one of the following emotions:  joy, righteous indignation, sorrow, disappointment, mercy, or judgment.  There might be a few more, but never does anyone consider that may be God likes to have fun with the situation He’s involved in because that would be almost sacrilegious to suggest in their view.

The disciples were startled, to say the least.  Jesus, in one gospel, had to reassure them He wasn’t a ghost and ate a piece of fish to prove it, after which He encouraged them to touch Him.  I like the fact God isn’t offended by our skepticism or disbelief.  In this instance, Jesus’ resurrection stepped waaaaay outside the experience of anyone in the room—and, I dare say, the world—so He wasn’t giving them evidence out of an attitude of “you need proof?!  you faithless disciples!”  No, Jesus understood because He saw how cut off from the spiritual reality we have become.

C. S. Lewis wrote a book called “Out of the Silent Planet,” which is one of my favorite scifi stories, where he speaks to God’s action of putting a quarantine on our world to protect the rest of creation.  If man had eaten from the Tree of Life immediately after the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God’s faithfulness would’ve kicked in and we would not have been cut off from the spiritual dimension.  I believe, however, that our quarantined condition explains why many people struggle with what is and isn’t real, the hole in the human soul is something religions have been trying to explain for eons and why science has tried to explain it all as primitive nonsense and psychological carry overs from our just-out-of-primate phase of evolution.  Many forms of mental illness stem from physical damage to the brain and body, but some forms may also derive from the spiritual wound self-inflicted in Eden.

Jesus resurrected form—the marriage of physical and spiritual—showed us what to expect from our salvation.  Anyone who wants to know what kind of body we get at the resurrection only have to look at the gospel’s accounts of Christ’s resurrected body and it will give them the basic idea.  The fact that bolted doors couldn’t hold Him out of the room is no surprise to anyone who reads scifi because we know our physical reality is but one dimension among many and solidity just a result of being firmly ensconced  in our.  From the perspective of other dimensions our solid walls are simply a collection of atoms which may or may not be seen and moved through at will.

Okay, enough theory, fun though it is, what matters is that Jesus moved through doors, walls or just opened a portal inside the room from whatever dimension He happened to be in at the time.  Which, I have to say, is just too cool!  Not to belabor the point but to emphasize it, I think He had a blast doing it too.  It certainly created the desired effect on the disciples and won them over to hope.

Some people today want to recreate the miracles of yesterday—meaning NT times—in order to support the claims of the gospel.  I say instead of that, let’s allow God to do whatever He needs to do in us and with us to create fresh evidence for His gospel.  Everything the disciples saw after the resurrection was completely outside their experience and they lived the rest of their lives in total devotion because of it.  Yet they did some pretty crazy new stuff too outside of anyone’s experience too.  When I say,  “God wants to do a new thing,”  I mean He wants to work through each of us individually.  The work He does through us is as unique as our personalities and gifts.  Part of His goal is to include us in the fun—think what party crashing would be like if you could just appear in a room.

Many have suggested God respects locked doors and the heart is always locked from the inside with no handle on the outside.  I suggest God will respect our choice without the locks, and, at the same time appear in our hearts to shine a little light through the windows of our minds—like sunshine comes into a dark room to make it brighten—unless we pull the shades.  He won’t come live with us without an invitation, but He will knock in some unique ways.  And when we’ve atrophied our will to the point that we no longer have the ability to open the door to Him, He will just appear next to us on the floor where we’ve fallen, if we call to Him for help.

Jesus doesn’t need to break the door down, He can ignore it as if it doesn’t exist and take care of business where He’s welcome.

“Don’t Hold Onto Me”

February 8, 2011

Jesus said,  “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them,  ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”  John 20:17.

I looked up the phrase “Do not hold on to me” because in the back of my mind there was a little tick that claimed there was some significance to the word(s) used here.  I was right to do so, although the commentary along with it seemed a little editorial—meaning inference rather than direct interpretation.  Vine’s gives the word used (the Greek “hapto”) a primary meaning, which is “to fasten to,” hence, of fire,  “to kindle.” The contextual meaning for our text is “to cling to, lay hold of,” which seems to be what Mary either had in mind or did.

Vine’s understanding of the text or interpretation of Jesus’ protest goes on to say:  here the Lord’s prohibition as to clinging to Him was indicative of the fact that communion with Him would, after His ascension, be by faith, through the Spirit.  This may well be, and Vine is far more schooled than I am in biblical languages so his grasp of what Jesus said to Mary could be true.  Yet, I don’t know.  Does His protest signify that He had just risen and needed to meet up with the Father first before anyone “touched” Him?  Some biblical scholars have suggested He needed to go straight to His Father at that moment and just wanted to comfort Mary as well as get the disciples thinking about meeting up with Him.

Did He ascend to God to get approval in person?  I don’t know.  We do know that later that day He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then the disciples in the upper room.  In the upper room He actually encouraged them to touch Him (see Luke 24:38) so something happened between His meeting with Mary and the road to Emmaus.  His words to Mary were more about,  “Don’t detain me, I got business with the Father.”  Later, His business complete it would seem, He could relax and let the disciples handle Him.

When I was young, someone taught (or may be I just misunderstood what they said) that Jesus needed first to go before the Father to get approval for His sacrifice and anyone touching Him would make Him unclean.  It doesn’t make sense to me now.  I think basically, He just wanted to talk to His Father face to face so didn’t want a long reunion with Mary—because she was pretty excited at this point.  In fact, I bet He grinned at her when He told her,  “Hold on, woman, I still have a to meet up with my Dad first!  So let me go do that first while you go tell all the disciples that I’m risen.  Later we’ll have time to catch up, ok?”  The resurrection itself must have been enough to reassure Jesus God accepted His sacrifice (it did fulfill Scripture after all), but I think He was just anxious to go hook up personally.  I’m just guessing but it seems reasonable to me, since Jesus was so personable.

If dimensions exist and time can be folded in on itself, then Jesus “trip” to the Father could have been seconds in our time and an eternity elsewhere.  The truth is we have no conception of the power of God, though we like to put limits on it often enough.  Jesus’ resurrected body was spiritual, though solid because we know the disciples touched it and He ate fish (and it didn’t drop through a ghost body like in Pirates of the Caribbean).  Mary’s encounter with Him was just after dawn on the first day of the week, which means He had risen shortly before meeting her.  Though I don’t understand what limits a physical body put on His spiritual being, it’s safe to conclude from His instructions to Mary that He needed to physically speak to the Father—though God is spirit, which opens up a whole new can of worms.  Still, we know He hadn’t done this task as yet since He told her to tell the disciples that He was about to.  Once this was done, Jesus relaxed and the disciples (and probably Mary Magdalene later) handled and clung to Him to reassure themselves of His being real.

In His message to the disciples Jesus said something which confuses some to the point of causing disbelief.  Can you spot it?  It goes, ” ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Yeah it’s that last phrase which have some Christian sects confused.  We accept readily enough that God is Jesus’ Father, but it torques our collective cranks to deal with Him calling the Father His “God”.  Yet it’s not so hard to understand when we recognize  God has to be His own God, I mean, there is no other, so logically He can’t deny Himself now can He?  There are three persons in one Godhead and we are encouraged to call them God, in the singular not plural.  The reason for this, of course, is to emphasize the unity of purpose, mind and heart of all three being one.

There are those who like to claim what is and is not possible with God.  To be blunt, I don’t think anyone knows what is possible or impossible with God except the things He spells out for Himself.  For instance, He cannot sin for He cannot deny Himself (which is how I came to the conclusion that the root of sin is denial of God not simply actions 2 Timothy 2:13, James 1:13).  It is impossible for God to deny His own nature, therefore He cannot sin.  Jesus’ claim to be God in several passages seems to contradict in our minds His calling God His God.  But God cannot claim anyone as His God except Himself, so the logic works here.

I hope that’s not too confusing or that it sounds convoluted.  It’s just that recognizing where the hierarchy of creation stops makes for some astounding conclusions.  This is one of them.

3 Days Later

February 4, 2011

Early on the first day of the week, While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said,  “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” John 20:1, 2.

Okay, I must admit, I get the anxiety Mary, Peter and John felt here.  Everything happening that week orbited so far out of their experience as to be completely outside of consideration.  Jesus gave them the keys to understanding all that was going on, but it’s one thing to have the keys, another thing to know where the locks they go to are located.  At this point they were just doing their best to cope with His death and dashed hopes.

These two guys were pretty close to the Master, though even they didn’t grasp what was going on.  So they ran to the tomb where John glanced in to see the strips of burial linen lying around.  Peter on the other hand went in to find clues and saw the face cloth neatly folded and laying off by itself, then called John to come see this oddity.  John looked and believed—what he believed we’re not told, I suspect, though, he probably realized something miraculous had happened.  From the content of the next sentence, we can surmise he didn’t even suspect a resurrection from the dead, since it says they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

It’s tough to say who Mary meant by “they” when she told Peter and John about Jesus’ body being gone, because it could mean the Roman soldiers, Joseph and Nicodemus or some other group like the leaders of Israel.  Whoever “They” were she believed someone had stolen Jesus’ body away in the night and this caused her sadness bordering on despair.  Her grief overwhelmed her ability to see, it would seem, because when two angels asked her why she wept, she didn’t register who they were.  Neither did she recognize Jesus when He asked,  “Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?” Blinded by the agony of not being able to honor Jesus in what she saw was the last time she could do so, she did not realize anything else but her great pain.  In one gospel Mary assumes Jesus is the gardener, which makes sense—who else would be out in the garden at such an early hour?

It took one word for Jesus to open her eyes.  Whether it was His tone of voice, a special inflection He used when He said her name or what, the text doesn’t say.  What we do know is all Jesus had to say was,  “Mary” and she immediately turned in recognition.

What would your reaction be?  If you love someone and are surprised by them coming through the door, what’s the first thing you do?  Well, my method of choice is big bear hug—in my son’s case (and he kind of hates this a little because I’m prickly with whiskers) he gets kissed a lot too.  I’m sure she attacked Jesus the next instant because she cried out,  “Rabboni!” and He had to protest,  “Don’t hold onto me…” because she probably fell at His feet and began hugging His legs and covering His hands with kisses.

I picture Jesus as affectionately amused by her outburst (and not a little excited by His resurrection too) and having to hold her off to get a good look in her face.  I don’t think there was any room in that meeting for solemn responses or demeanor.  She loved Him passionately.  Forget the rumors of a romance or any such thing, ignore them for they aren’t in the texts.  She loved Jesus for who He was to her, anything more than that comes from sheer speculation and inference not solid evidence.

It’s the like the world cannot let the sexual thing go.  First they make Mary Magdalene a “lover” for Jesus, then later they infer that John and He were gay.  No matter how you slice it, they bring to the story what they want to see.  Mary adored Jesus, had dedicated her life to belief in Him and her devotion showed in the early morning hours just before dawn when she came to the tomb to lovingly treat His body with its (what she considered) last respects.  That in itself is beauty, simplicity and something artistically satisfying.

Now why didn’t the other two get to meet Jesus as well comes down to they simply moved too fast.  If they had stuck around like Mary, I’m pretty sure the rest of the story would’ve been a little different.  As it was, they didn’t believe Mary when she came back to them later excited about seeing Jesus resurrected.  I can’t blame them because I wouldn’t have either nor would I have been inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt at the time.  Jesus resurrecting someone else from the dead was one thing, doing it to Himself once He was dead just wouldn’t seem likely.  Like the disciples I put too much emphasis on the instrument and not enough on God’s direct intervention.

But God the Father was involved.