Posts Tagged ‘believe’

January 19, 2015

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

The implication of the word “became”, of course, is that The Word was something other than flesh from the beginning. Jesus later declared to Nicodemus God was spirit, which follows that Jesus was spirit before the incarnation.

Just so we’re clear about history and the legends of human religions, incarnated gods were not all that unique as a teaching. Every major religion has its incarnated god who does something special to reveal the Creator’s will. Oddly enough, the god incarnated usually justifies the doctrinal stance, lifestyle or specific practices of the said religious future.

What does this say of Christianity?

Christian thought grows out of the teachings of the apostles who distilled the message they claimed to have learned from their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently the writing of the four gospels (or more, if we include The Gospel of Thomas and other apocryphal writings) spoke of a need at the time for four different styled versions similar in content. Two thousand years later we find ourselves attempting to make sense of the original intent which distance and opinion have twisted or obscured to a greater or lesser degree.

The first thing to attack for detractors of Christian teaching is the incarnation of the deified Jesus, called the “Anointed One” to set Him apart as the Messiah Savior. It stands to reason those who object to this basic tenet taught first by the gospels and subsequently the Epistles would cast doubt on it vehemently. It’s the easiest target to doubt. The moment, however, one recognizes the apparent dichotomy or outright fantastical nature of the gospels’ claims a reaction sets in which defines what the person does next.

Stop right here to reflect how we react to doubt about our favorite teacher.

The first reaction to objections for anyone who believes whole heartedly is defensiveness. We humans cast about ourselves like cornered animals desperately looking for an answer or anything that will shut up those telling or yelling at us about what they consider to be myth–at best–and outright manipulative lies–at worst. How to justify such a belief in a fantastic story such as Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension in an age of science turns many into blubbering defeated believers or hard headed ignorant champions–neither of which is helpful.

I do not see why we beat each other up so much about an issue which at this time in history is pretty much moot. All the evidence doesn’t point away from or to a god or our God creating. Creation just is; we just exist; everything was made by some power more vast than we can imagine and probably more simple than our imaginations allow for at any given argument.

We know light travels at 186k+ miles per second, which then signifies for the creationists a real conundrum when we see exploding stars so far away their light is only now just reaching our best telescopes. I don’t know how far away they are and I’m not gonna’ argue the point except to say our ignorance keeps us looking like fools whenever we make assertions about the age of the universe. We don’t have the biblical authority to draw conclusions about timelines and limits because what we call the Bible is written without a timeline in mind. I mean, just look at the story of David in 1 & 2 Samuel. The incidents skip back and forth along the timeline depending on what the author’s point is. Genesis gives a symbolic/metaphorical timeframe in the seven days of creation because before the sun’s creation God created light. Days on earth can only be measured by its rotation around the sun. Therefore the first two days of creation were not earth days by our measure but something wholly other, which suggests (and I believe demands) we understand creation differently than tradition would dictate.

Atheists claiming conclusive proof there is no god or the Judeo-Christian God specifically have the burden of proof to present. If our God is spirit, then their assertions must first rule out the spiritual dimension before they can conclude anything for certain. I don’t say they are foolish for being atheists, merely their choice is not a fact set in stone but an interpretation of the facts already known. It’s easier not to believe in anything–ok, may be not socially–than deal with all the myriad claims of gods and goddesses running amok in history and human idealism. I don’t blame agnostics or atheists for their stance since I share their disillusionment and doubt since most religions misrepresent their doctrine of peace with genocide or war.

The stakes in this game we call life are not only high but vital to how we conduct ourselves during our time on earth. Belief in anything defines and directs not only our outlook but the interaction we have with other human beings. I’ve noticed on nearly every occasion I interact with other people about strongly held beliefs that each one looks on everybody else in the conversation with either outright disdain, sympathy, condescension, or worst of all pity. Each one of these responses grow out of an opinion based on a strongly held belief in one’s own view of reality–or it’s counterpart insecurity. Each perspective of reality, however, might be (and is to my grasp of reality) debatable. Since strong debate has already occurred in history to the point of killing millions of people over it, I would say we’ve about exhausted our arguments and methods of convincing others.

The best argument for Christ has to be the way it changes the believer.

And when I say “has to be” I’m not asserting that it is the best argument for a given debate but the only one capable of demonstrating the truth of what is taught in any debate. Unfortunately, with over 1 billion fragmented believers fractured even further into a combination of large to small denominations we have a credibility problem. The loudest voices rule the public discourse as a general rule. It makes no difference whether or not these people shouting down the opposition come from a knowledgable point of reference or not since what they do sets the stage for the observer.

On several occasions I have spoken to street preachers running the gamut of emotional pleas with their mostly reluctant, bemused, amused, or offended audience. The general consensus from all of them is that they are called to preach to save the unchurched/unbeliever from hell. Now while I can’t dispute their claim to their particular calling, my understanding of Jesus’ teachings lead me to believe shouting out to strangers about love while speaking of punishment for refusing Him is about as effective as telling a stranger’s child you love them while abusing them in some way. Both are manipulative and harmful, belying the very love we claim to support.

And it may be I’m wrong, that the God I serve believes in bringing in the lost by hook or by crook; scaring the hell out of them or throwing them into the darkness to suffer.

From the teachings and stories of how Jesus interacted with acknowledged sinners I don’t think “scare them into heaven” is the gospel’s message though. A city on a hill just shines it doesn’t attack other cities, the jungles or wild places around it. It offers safe haven to citizen and traveler alike with a loving acceptance–albeit disengaged–of its detractors and its supporters. It witnesses to its characteristics by lighting up the darkness–not for the purpose of contrasting itself to the darkness (which happens by default) but to see clearly. Those who don’t want to see clearly will leave the city or try to destroy its light. Those who ache to understand defend it by becoming part of it, adding and increasing the reach of their own light.

How does all this rhetoric relate to the incarnated Jesus?

The greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was life transformation. Those who focus on healing miss the point. Those who decry the world’s sin miss the point. Those who attempt to shout down the opposition miss the point. Anyone who declares the gospel as a means to world domination or wealth have missed the point. The message of the gospel can be summed up very simply: If we love God through Jesus, we will value not only ourselves but the people around us more. The value we place will not be merely utilitarian but wholesale care for the inner and outer person. We will be changed from demanding our own way to finding ways to lift our lives out of the the traps, holes we or others dig for the purpose of setting artificial limits. The teachings of Jesus tell us we will learn to live to the greatest possible limit of our beings. We will not attempt to change the world through means historically proven to fail human progress. We will not ever disparage truth for past held opinions or limited perspectives, but will embrace it fully.

Gospel of John: The True Light

January 5, 2015

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13 NIV)

Light does certain things for us we take for granted. In a spiritual sense we use the words “revelation” or “reveal” to indicate something hidden or unnoticed being brought to our attention. Of course physical light doesn’t necessarily reveal anything hidden behind or in something else as much as it simply dispels the darkness enough to see. What light doesn’t do physically is rid our world of shadows, for it is through the use of shadows that we see dimensionally.

So here’s a conundrum we face as Christians who believe Jesus gets rid of all darkness: darkness is not evil in and of itself. Those who do evil use it to hide their intentions, actions, or the extent of the consequences, yet that only makes it an amoral tool. Therefore shadows cannot be said to be evil either since they reveal the shape of everything around us. Shading is a technique of the artist; God being the originator of art used it to great effect then created eyes that would recognize what it meant.

If shading is not evil, then what does the true light do?

To understand the answer to that question we have to quote Jesus for the clue to light’s mission: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20 NIV) Right. Now we know the reason those who practice evil choose the darkest shadows–to hide their evil. In contrast, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:21 NIV)

Those live by lies prefer shadows because it’s harder to see contrast where light is faint. Of course a good liar prefers a little light in order to sell the lie with just enough truth to fool the buyer.

John the Writer answers his own dilemma later on, which means we are getting ahead of the story here a bit. But establishing why those in darkness hate the light right from the beginning allows us to follow John’s reasoning better, I think. Jesus, The Word, is the true light which came into the world, and though the world was made by Him, it did not recognize Him as anything more than a man. Nor does the world at large acknowledge Jesus as anything more than a good man/prophet in the present either.

What’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that Jesus came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. Now that is a failed mission if ever there was one.

I dare say none of us likes being told we are someone or something other than who or what we truly are or desire to be. Jesus, by John’s testimony here, is God, Creator, The True Light, and Savior of all mankind, yet the very people He chose as keepers of this truth, refused to receive Him as such. In fact they rejected Him outright.

No discussion of light and darkness would be complete, however, without a glance at one of the more revealing statements Jesus made.

““The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23 NIV)

What we’re able to see–be it an issue of healthy eyes or darkness so deep nothing can be seen–determines what we consider light. Someone raised in the gloom of the deep forest and never seeing the direct sunlight would consider even minor increases in light to be great revelations. Another person living in open where they experience the sun’s rays in full force would look on the other’s little rays as weak. Perspective dictates what we consider to be great light.

That last statement what we consider to be light actually being darkness is scary sad. At the same time how would some of us know? I mean, when a person is kept in a prison of ignorance, shame, oppression, or whatever how can they know anything different? Yet it also goes right to the heart of the issue of availability in the sense that if true light is available but is refused in favor of darkness, then what can be said about someone’s perception?

Psychologically, lots.

For instance, a person conditioned to darkness receiving light for the first time would react instinctively to shield themselves from it. All we have to do is just walk into a well lighted area in the morning from a dark bedroom with sleep in our eyes to experience that issue. Light hurts us the first time we experience it with our eyes wide open–and anyone walking around in the dark knows we don’t have to squint to see so our eyes must be open wide.

Yet Jesus’ assertion “if what you consider to be light is actually darkness, how great is your darkness then?” confronts our notion of truth. As I have grown in understanding of what is versus what I wished to be–or was taught should be, it becomes clear that expectation, while being good on the one hand, clearly spoils the pot for reality on the other. A person who is taught that they can do anything will find out one day what “anything” means. Everything about our existence demands limits. A bird cannot be dog, a dog a cat, a man a monkey, and so on. The limits of intelligence in one species might be the very form given to another. Perception notwithstanding reality demonstrates a need for caution where truth and wishful thinking meet.

Jesus extends the “right” to become children of God. The Jews are natural descendants of the patriarchs chosen by God to be His people–children. We, through our Savior, become so by incarnated nature of the blood of Christ. The blood carries the identity, the stamp of the being. We take on His nature through the blood making us Children of God. In a similar way as Christ we experience resurrection or “rebirth” as it were through and incarnation.

John’s discussion of this subject pretty much dominates the rest of his book.

Gospel of John 2–The Word

December 15, 2014

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)

Unpacking a passage like this might seem like it takes some thought, I guess, yet this one is pretty simple to think through.

First, the repeated word is “Word” so we have to try make sense of that for a moment. If we take just that sentence by itself, we wouldn’t know who or what “Word” signifies. Just because the translators capitalized it doesn’t mean the original did. So to understand what the author is trying to say we have to know the context.

Taking this in the context just of the whole Scriptures Christian generally accept, Word could signify God speaking a word of power–like in magic where the wizard or sorcerer has a word that unleashes magic. And quite frankly without the rest of the passage that’s exactly what it sounds like John is presenting to us.

The next sentence (and verse), however, dispels any notion of a magical word of power. On the contrary John identifies the “Word” as a “He” not an it. This changes things quite drastically because now we have to look at the previous sentence in the context of a being with a sentient identity. The Word is a He, a person or being, a “who” not a “what” and that being was around in the beginning with God and was God. If He was with God in the beginning and the God we believe in is eternal, then the Word is eternal as well.

The third sentence takes this thought a step further: The Word is a He and created all things, with emphasis on the fact that nothing that exists came to be without Him. What we are presented with is a being of immense power, immortality and deity.

So we know a few things about Him now: He’s God, eternal, the Creator, and hangs out with God. That last one could be confusing since the text claims the Word Himself is God, which not only suggests but implies there is another being with that title hanging out in the universe.

Now we know the who, but the “what” is still coming.

Since the Word created all things, it stands to reason then that in Him is life. To put it another way this guy holds life in Himself, the bare essence of it, the source of it, and is the dispenser of it to all living things. John uses light as an example of what this means because light reveals things hidden in darkness. When it shines into a dark place it dispels and moves back sightlessness, showing what was unseen. One small candle reveals much about a room. Oh it might not take it over or completely dispel the gloom but the outlines of every object in the room is clearly seen because of it. Darkness has no power in the presence of light.

The Word then is the source of revelation. Anyone who understands truth is affected and touched by the light. A darkened understanding grows out of a place where there is no light. God spoke “Let there be light” and there was light. A word from God turns on the lamp of the universe; John is claiming the One who did the former turns on the lamp of the heart.

Which one is more difficult?

The heart, for it has a choice about receiving it.

The problem is no one can resist the will of God once He’s set the word in motion–spoken it. The light will rule everything, like a flow of lava coming down the mountain inexorable and steady, or the sun which shines whether or not we are turned towards it. Even the dark side of a planet or moon is affected by the rays of the sun… Planets or beings far away from our solar system will be affected by the light of it regardless. However, the light from God’s Word will either rule a heart or destroy it.

Does that last sound cruel and tyrannical?

Here’s the truth as I see it: Darkness allows the overgrowth of fungi, mold, mildew and a host of other unhealthy things on this planet the heat and light of the sun keeps in check. Without the Light of Life to infuse health to the heart and mind a human being will become destructive, self-absorbed (disregarding anyone else), use to excess, or hoard the gifts and resources God created to the hurt of not only him or herself but others. In other words they refuse to live in the light where it will limit the more negative side effects of the sinful nature because they prefer the autonomy of darkness. Since the light is life–hence the “name” “Light of Life”–those who refuse the light will get darkness, the end result of which is death. No life on earth survives without the light of the sun; no life survives in spirit without the Light of Life.

If I read the article right, geneticists have found the DNA lifespan switch. From what can be known about it they say the average switch is set to approximately seventy years. At this point not a lot is known about how to turn it off or on without unhealthy side effects–who wants to survive to a hundred and twenty with arthritis or some other painful condition? But the fact that there’s a switch at all leaves a question hanging in the air: Why this time limit?

As believers in the Judeo-Christian Scripture and God we accept ipso facto that there is a Creator who thoughtfully designed all that is so that nothing we see or know can be an accident of evolution. Yet if our conclusion from the factoids we know and the Bible we read is erroneous, then what does it say about nature’s evolution of the time switch? What would be the survival or purpose in the evolution of such a switch in our species specifically? The God of Judeo-Christian values limited our lifespan in order to limit out ability to do evil, if such was our desire. What would nature’s purpose be?

I have no idea except that everything in nature has a similar switch which ends one thing in order to bring life to another.

In our belief system, however, life is like turning on a light switch. The moment we are conceived the switch is turned on and goes off when we die. Yet in this passage the context uses the word “life” a different way than mere existence. So what does that mean exactly to us?

More thought is needed, methinks…John must expect to explain what he means by this later. I think for now he’s just trying to peak our interest like any good author.

How Real Is Jesus?

March 7, 2011

…Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6.

So how real is  God to us?

How much do we really believe the stories and teachings we read in the Bible?  I mean, our understanding of what we believe should define how real our view of the God in Scripture is—and when I say “define” I mean demonstrate in action.

How far do we take our faith in Christ?

When we read the stories of how Jesus raised the dead, healed the sick, fed the hungry and generally blew away all the natural laws we thought were set in bedrock, how much do we take them to heart for our own lives?

The promise above is crazy unless God can really fulfill it.  There’s no point believing in a God who can’t perform or take our lives to their final outcome, is there?  Think about it:  If God performs miracles, then what’s standing in the way of our moving forward on the path set before us with confidence?

James 1:6-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed about by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

James 2:18, 19, 26 But someone will say,  “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Being afraid of failure stops me dead in my tracks.  I have always claimed to hate failing the Lord, yet I think using His name in this “motivation” sometimes masks the fact I don’t want to look like I believed in vain.  If that sounds unclear, let me make clearer:  I hesitate to risk at times because I don’t want to look foolish spiritually, and that is because I’m judging the success or failure of a spiritual venture based on the world’s profit/loss perspective.  For instance, every prophet, person or martyr who died for serving God looked like a failure right?  Jesus looked like a failure, as did most of the apostles, if you get right down to it.  I’m scared to look like I failed in the eyes of those I value because I’m afraid they’re right.  And what if they are?

We’re faced with choices in the Kingdom of Heaven’s Investment Firm that don’t serve to increase our standing in the world much, if at all.  I have to admit, it makes me really nervous sometimes to step out—especially since I’ve been chastised by good Christians for the apparent “failures” of the past.  Yet any adventure means risk; that’s why we call these journeys “adventures” because they aren’t safe nor are the outcomes sure beyond a calculated risk.  We have to step out in faith and hope that circumstances bring about success.  In Christ, however, how we judge success or failure isn’t based on the same criteria.  The disciples preached the gospel and were eventually martyred for it.  By 99.9% of people’s judgment about what makes a person successful or not, this outcome seems like a big setback.

Jesus, on the other hand (the right hand of the Almighty), sees their outcome differently.

A person who obeys His command to preach the word in season and out of season (a message sent through the apostle Paul) then dies for their efforts is celebrated as a hero in God’s kingdom.  Why?  Because they did the job and left the results to Him.  Working in God’s field means we aren’t worried about the harvest nor are we responsible for the profit margin.  The only problem for us comes when we care about the work so much that we begin to worry about the profit and take things into our own hands by using methods we know are tried and true in the human experience.  In God’s work, He gets all the glory for the outcome.  What we receive is bonuses for doing our part in that work, but in reality we aren’t ,needed just included.  Or may be I should amend that conclusion:  He could just “Wow!” the whole earth with a display of His power and dispel all doubt, but then most would serve Him without love, devotion or any real willingness from a heart given over to His way.

That last truth might sound like it’s a small problem in view of the greater issue of establishing the kingdom of God, but it’s not.  In fact, for Jesus, it was the most important issue about the judgment.  Remember the sheep and goats parable?  A lot of the goats were actually workers in the field of God along side the sheep.  The difference between the sheep and goats came down to being known by God—which is an intimate knowing of Him living inside us.  It might sound like a superfluous distinction but for Him it’s the most vital contrast.  A heart given over to His way of processing and living is different than someone who buys into the contest for the prize at the end of the age.  One does it for a reward at the end of time, the other does it because they want the reward of His presence now.  One wants the crown, eternal life and whatever loot they can garner through high performance, the other considers Jesus to be the reward.

With this contrast it’s easy to see why some lose their faith from lack of “evidence” when their prayers aren’t answered the way they expected.

What if God chooses not to heal?

What if God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we asked them?

What if God doesn’t perform the miracles we put all our faith into believing?

Well, we need to ask this question:  Who’s in charge, God or us?

We need wisdom from heaven, that’s evident. 

James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Anyone looking for the reward of eternal life alone misses the point of the gospel.  Jesus told the Jews,  “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say,  ‘Here it is,’  or  ‘There it is,’  because the kingdom of God is within you.” That word “within” would be better translated “among” or “in the midst of you” and the “you” is a collective pronoun not singular.  The kingdom of God is where the King is; and if the King is living in the hearts of His people, then there is where we will find the kingdom of God—among His people.  The Rich Young Ruler turned away from Jesus because he was looking for physical evidence of his own salvation through what he could earn.  In contrast, the adulteress followed Him gladly because the world held nothing for her but loss or Jesus’ acceptance.  The kingdom of heaven is nothing without a “king” to rule the “dom” part of this equation.

When I build a house, I can see the results pretty early on.  At first, however, it just looks like a bunch of dirt being piled in one place or another during the foundation phase.  Once the walls go up, it’s easier to see the structure for its potential finished look.  But even then what kind of trim or paint we use will change the final aspect of it.

So with the kingdom of God.  Without all the different personalities and perspectives in the church, we inevitably get a skewed outlook of Jesus.  The only complete picture is taken with the whole body of believers in a snapshot or painting.  To look at one believer with all his or her warts and brokenness the picture of Christ looks disjointed, broken and unwholesome.  Taken as a whole, however, with all these warty, broken people completing in each other whatever the other lacks, we see a beautiful picture of how the kingdom and mind of God works.  We don’t all have to agree to be one.  We don’t all have to look alike to be family.  We don’t all have to work in the same space to be accomplishing for the same goals and Master (Paul and Barnabas had to split over a “sharp disagreement” for example).

The outcome of the work of God is His responsibility.  Ours is to be faithful members of His body and continue working His works.

So how does God carry on this work in us?  How do we follow Him in faith through the ups and downs of our lives?

Just like any investment we will buy stock in the Kingdom of Heaven Savings and Loans in order to get a return on the “heavenly money.”  The problem comes when we dictate what that “return” should look like.  If Jesus told us,  “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world,” then being doubtful about our circumstances when it looks like we are going to fall is faithless.  If trouble and tribulation is a part of the experience of those who follow after Christ, then to expect something else is contrary to our faith in His Word.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or sword?  As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:35-39.

In the body of Christ we find the reality of heaven lived out.  If we willingly take on the role of being visible for the Master with all our warts, sores and brokenness as well as growth in the wholeness His presence brings about in us on display, the presence of God in the body of Christ, making us whole individually and as a group, will demonstrate to the world how real God is to us.

How real is your God?  Can your God do this?

The Trouble with Belief

July 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Lazarus?

January 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

Two more days to what purpose?

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

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

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

He loved all three of them, yet…

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

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

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

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

To Become Blind

January 3, 2010

Jesus said,  “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see may become blind.”  John 9:39.

The Pharisees claimed they got the message, which was their mistake.  If you or I claim we can see truth, we’re held responsible for it; our response, our actions taken, even our opinions about it come into play.  So their question,  “What?  Are we blind too?”  leaves them un-reconciled to God because they didn’t accept the One He sent.  Sure they were hanging out with Jesus, sure they were listening to His teaching and debating various points, or approving where they deemed it sensible to do so, but they never let Him become their master.

After all the miracles, teaching and the constant example of His life being lived out in front of them, they came to the same conclusion about Him (probably:  good man, prophet but not the messiah), therefore their sin remained.  Their claim to being able to see the light, which was probably true with Jesus standing right in front of them, left them no excuse for not accepting it whole-hearted and with enthusiasm.

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

Hard words.  True, but hard.

Jesus, by the way, didn’t admit they could see only that they claimed they could see.  So what was this “sin” He was talking about?

As near as I can construct it from the context, it was their refusal to make Jesus Lord and Master of their lives.  The contrast in this story is powerful and divides the righteous from the unrighteous like a sword piercing through the bone to the marrow, between the soul and spirit and truth versus lie.  A man born blind, rejected by his nation due to a misfortune of time and chance accepts Jesus outright because he’s healed.  Those in power reject Him outright because He doesn’t meet their expectations or understanding of reality.  The blind man’s confession of faith, based on his healing and subsequent acquittal of all guilt concerning a specific sin for which his family might be punished, is held up in stark contrast to those who merely watch the miracle take place from the sidelines and critique its validity.  Thus the guilt of sin remains on those who see the evidence before them but refuse to give into its significance.

Jesus didn’t say a person who committed a sin was not guilty of committing the sin; rather they were not held responsible for the sins committed in ignorance.  Being blind to the truth takes away the accountability to it.  Yet this doesn’t get anyone off the hook if they’ve had the opportunity to accept light into their lives and rejected it out of preference for the darkness.  At the same time, we are all held responsible for the light we’ve been given.

The Pharisees with Jesus were held responsible for the light they were being shown; the Jews in the synagogue were held responsible for the light they were shown but refused to acknowledge even a little bit.

Makes one think, doesn’t it?

So the Blind will See…

December 31, 2009

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said,  “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is He, sir?”  the man asked.  “Tell me so that I may believe in Him.”

Jesus said,  “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said,  “Lord, I believe,” and worshiped Him.  John 9:35-38.

The blind man didn’t need to actually see Jesus to know who He was, that it was He who healed him because he could identify Him by His voice, but he couldn’t have known He was the Son of Man without confirmation.  And who would he be able to trust more than the One who gave him back his sight?

Jesus sought the man out this time, however, for a different kind of healing.  The former blind man had been an outcast all his life, and just when things were looking up (literally), he got placed on the “do not associate” list again.  Our Master wouldn’t leave him drifting and alone so He went looking for him.

What is greater:  physical or spiritual healing?

Jesus said in this gospel (chapter 6),  “…the flesh counts for nothing,”  not meaning at all that our physical reality doesn’t matter to God but rather our spiritual well-being is the priority.  If the spiritual man is not whole, the physical won’t matter at all.  So the true miracle here is that Jesus met the man’s heart with acceptance and love when all his world rejected him.  Even his parents were more concerned for their standing in the community than their spiritual standing before God, for they left their son to the wolves rather than stand for what they knew to be truth:  their son had been born blind and someone had defied all current logic to the contrary to restore their lives.

Make no mistake, Jesus by healing the man born blind restored not only the man himself but his whole family as well.  By dealing with what was considered “punishment for sin” He effectively destroyed the argument and set the people straight about the consequences of sin.  Sin affects the innocent and destroys much good just by merely being in existence.  We don’t have to actively sin for us to be affected, living in a world riddled with it ensures we will be touched by its evil.  The blind man’s parents were so blind themselves they couldn’t see the blessing staring them in the face in the form of their son.

I’m not being harsh about them, however, because they were conditioned by those who were supposed to be guides and teachers of the light.  No, the fault rested mainly with those in charge of the rightly dividing the Word of truth.  They abused their authority, misinterpreted the message and misused it to further their own ends.

One last thought for the day.  When this man found out it was the very One who healed him who was the Son of Man, he worshiped Him.

The Sign of True Conversion

December 2, 2009

“If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  He who belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”  John 8:46b, 47.

I don’t know that I could stand hearing that kind of speech either.  I think it would torque my crank just a little too hard and I’d snap in self-defense.

Jesus has an uncanny knack of hitting the nail on the head.  His rhetoric couches truth in interlocking circles, revealing it in wave patterns.

The people arguing with Him were unable to hear what He said because they didn’t belong to God; Jesus said remained a mystery to them because their hearts were closed off to truth or the revelation of it.

“Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.”

And why were they unable to hear what Jesus said?  They didn’t belong to God, even though they called God their Father, but their actions of closing out Jesus’ words belied their claims and showed their hearts to be full of darkness.  Instead of fixing their eyes on the God they claimed to serve, they fixed their gaze on the forms, the customs, the identity, and their heritage, thinking (or hoping) all the while this is all God required of them.  They prided themselves in their history and proximity with God but not a relationship of any substance.

The language of Christ confused and irritated them because they were unwilling to see His words in the light of God’s presence.  The message remained unclear due to their refusal to accept what their own customs and history taught them about salvation, God and the Messiah.  This inability to hear the language of truth is inherent in all of us, for we prove our preferences over truth by constantly choosing traditional or rebellious views over the simple Word of God.

If  we were to submit to God completely, we would see clearly.  Not at first, of course, for spiritual insight is a matter of growth not miraculous happenstance, but our eyes would grow accustomed to light.  Learning to see truth is not so much a gradual thing as it is a matter of submission.  We who claim to know Christ have a responsibility to submit to His Word without holding back.  Our preferences, preconceptions and understanding all fall under the mighty hand of God.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5, 6.

Total submission to Jesus alone allows us to see what reality is and is not.  The universe was made by Him therefore trying to understand the science or way of it is impossible without acknowledging Him as Creator.  Oh, we might grasp obvious facts about our world and the heavens, but a clear understanding will elude us, which means we will draw faulty conclusions.

Jesus told those who had believed in Him who He was the whole time they followed Him and after they quit.  The reason it never sunk in is their expectations were in the way.  They revealed their motivations when Jesus confronted them with what we all need to do in order to have life.  Jesus’ blood must wash us clean on the inside, which is why He instructed us to spiritually ingest Him.  Our spiritual diet is to consist of Christ’s body and blood.  Paul calls those who believe “the body of Christ” and the Spirit gives life to all who believe.  Unless we accept this and bring it into our innermost being, His words will remain a mystery.

The Jews leaned on their own understanding since they refused to even hear what Jesus had to say.  In the way of addition and subtraction:   Since they leaned on their own understanding, they showed they did not trust God nor acknowledge Him in all their ways.  For any of us to get our paths straight we must acknowledge, trust and lean on God for our understanding.

I believe with all my heart the reason most of us experience switchbacks in our walk is simply because we attempt time and again to combine the truth with our own desires.  In other words, being human we all try to get a little earthly joy in conjunction with spiritual realities.  Many doctrines of recent times such as “name it, claim it” or “by your words you will be commended or condemned” take these things as if they were spells we cast that God has to honor.  In the case of “name it, claim it” or the prosperity doctrine as it’s known in some circles, proponents of this “truth” ignore Paul’s warning in Philippians 4:12 where he demonstrates by his own experience what those who follow Christ will experience; namely plenty and want.  Jesus told us clearly that we will be rejected, lose our property and those who kill or persecute us will do so out of a false believe they are serving God.

So what is the prosperity we gain from knowing Christ and which the Scriptures promise so strongly?  Peace, contentment and a sense of oneness with God.  Until our hearts are given over to this, all other forms of wealth will only be a distraction and snare to us.  1 Timothy 6:10 says,  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

What faith is Paul speaking of except that which is in Christ?  Our wealth is in God not possessions.  For godliness with contentment is great gain.  There’s no other way to interpret those who pervert this truth than that they are combining the search for earthly security with that of God’s.  The inner security of one who lives by faith in the Son of God holds no interest or power over them to the point that they create ways for them to ignore Scripture for the pleasure of toys now.  In this they have the cart before the horse, for God doesn’t begrudge us earthly wealth nor have a problem with stuff, since He made it all as well as every possibility for anything we might invent along the way.  The problem here is in the emphasis not the possession.

All this is to say, the Jews and we lean on our own understanding instead relying on God.  We see a promise that God will prosper us, as did the Jews, and we think by our performance of rites and ceremonies we gain prestige, wealth and security.  In Christ it’s the exact opposite for we must first lose all of our priorities for His.  In other words, we must lay on the alter our grasp of what it means to be wealthy, respected, honored and godly for the sake of His interpretation.  Otherwise we will be rejecting God just as the Jews did.

I am not harping on money here but a way of life.  Lust for earthly wealth can come in insidious forms.  For some of us it is prestige alone which fills our cup, for others it is a nice house, car, friends, etc.  In Christ, our way of life is to be bought by the one who paid the price for our sin.  It is our first step toward the kingdom.  Money is a means to an end, folks, not the end in itself.  Jesus made the heavens and the earth so He owns it all.  This being true, those who enter His rest will share in His wealth, but first He must know He can trust us not to worship the gift over the Giver.

God provides for us everything we will ever need.  The world was made complete before a human foot ever walked on it, therefore we conclude we made to be mere caretakers of His property not owners, for in essence we are property of a sorts as well.  This means we can follow the Master into earthly poverty because we know He owns it all and will provide for us as we need it.  This does not mean we won’t experience earthly insecurity or want, since the best way to teach us dependence on His provision is to place us in situations where our own efforts fall short.  God longs to prosper us in things as well, yet He cannot as long as we cling to things as vital to our well-being.  The only “thing” which matters is sitting at the feet of Jesus, which is the better part, Martha.

The Jews closed the truth out by hardening their hearts to the God of the universe.

The question confronting us now is:  Who is our Father?

What to Believe?

October 14, 2009

On hearing His words, some of the people said,  “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said,  “He is the Christ.”

Still others asked,  “How can the Christ come from Galilee?  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.  Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him.  John 7:40-44.

It’s important to notice details in Scripture because the details many times reveal things that flavors our understanding of what we’re reading.  For instance, John tells us the people were divided because of Jesus not just for the story to be accurate but to remind us He came to bring a sword that would divide those who sought God with all their hearts from those who merely acknowledged Him.  Where Jesus enters the picture for anyone, division rules the day—not because their growth in righteousness causes this but because of those who stand against what Jesus taught.

Why?  Why do we see such a polarization around Christ?

I believe it’s in part due to His demand for holiness, yes, but it grows more whacked than that into our reluctance to give over our whole being to God.  We desperately want “all this and heaven too” to quote my brother.

Again, some set out to take Him by force and arrest Him, but the timing wasn’t right so no one could lay a hand on Him.

Which brings us the fact the temple guards gave for not arresting Him once they returned to the rulers and Pharisees:  “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”  Jesus’ words held them spellbound, captivated and they lost all motivation to take Him in by force.  I know it sounds ludicrous they would arrest a man just for teaching in the temple, but such was the day when those in power could incarcerate anyone they chose for sneezing the wrong way in their presence.  Many rulers killed those who annoyed them on just a whim without forethought or any regret.

The rulers sneered at the temple guards for believing or even being affected by Jesus.  Yet notice they didnt’ go hear the man themselves because I think they were afraid of His power.  Enough of them had been brought down in debates with Jesus they were a little afraid to either confront Him or listen.  Were they worried He could convince them or just keep them at bay?  I don’t know.  What I do see in this example of their sneering denial is false bravado and distance.  These men kept themselves at a distance, insulated so they wouldn’t be tainted.  Many of them hadn’t even met Jesus much less heard Him speak, so their analysis was based on remote calculations rather than first hand experience.

This type of person doesn’t scare me half so much as those who hear the words of God on a regular basis but still harden themselves to its message.

Nicodemus rebuked their condemnation of Jesus by pointing out the law forbade them to do so without a hearing.  They weren’t allowed to condemn anyone without hearing the pros and cons of the case in person.  But look at their response,  “Are you from Galilee, too?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  This argument didn’t hold water at all and they knew it because Jesus didn’t come from Galilee but Nazareth in the hill country.  Plus, the rumors of His birth were already circulated, I’m sure by this time, so His origins would have been pretty well established.  If nothing else, these men should have asked Him to come to a confab in order to explore both His origins and message to discover the truth.  Then, if they were impressed by the personal evidence, all they would have had to do is get witnesses to His birthplace, story and education.

Instead they denied Him any right to the name messiah.  Why?  Because He came out of nowhere in their estimation?  Was it due to His poor background?  Was it because He didn’t belong to any of their sects or religious schools?

No, I think these things were just excuses for keeping the Christ at bay.  They wanted a messiah to conquer the oppressors of Israel and put them in power not change their hearts, which was a mistake.  The problem with sin is the craving for it after a while.  We get so used to our present reality we forget that it’s temporary and transient.  We actually begin to believe God wants us to remain here and in this condition—albeit glorified and somewhat righteous—without a cataclysmic change, and nothing could be further from the truth.

God’s work of salvation has nothing to do with earthly power in the sense of conquering nations or establishing kings, though He does this regularly, rather His purpose for us is to give us dominion over the heart of us.  The greatest power on earth is not the one which rules others but that which rules the inner being.  Our inability to be self-controlled should warn us about our mistaken goals when it comes to developing the “perfect” church or picture of God on earth, for this is impossible in our present condition—dual natures at war.

Another thing these men refused to explore or acknowledge was Jesus’ connections.  First, both His parents were descendants of David.  Second, He was related by marriage or heritage to the priestly line of Aaron because Zechariah was John the Baptist’s dad, a priest who served in the holy of holies, which means he was of the line of Aaron.  Since Elizabeth, John’s mother, was Mary’s, Jesus’ mother, cousin, we see both the prophecies for the messiah fulfilled.  He is the king in the line of David but a priest as well, which means Hebrews 7 calling Him a type of Melchizedek is spot on.

If these men, so eager to dismiss Jesus, had investigated the evidence, they might have taken a step back and been a bit more careful throwing condemnation around.  But they didn’t because they had no desire to understand truth.

And this is a warning, I believe, to us.