Posts Tagged ‘disciples’

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.


I Tell You the Truth

June 24, 2010

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”  John 16:20.

Jesus didn’t fault them for not understanding what He meant because He spoke in a figurative language—coded for them to understand later.  Yet He did explain how what was about to happen would impact them and gave them a promise.

The follower of Jesus will be out of step with the rest of the world in general because the world either wants God dead or worships a different god.  How can we be in step when they want something that goes against the very essence of our belief?  But that is only the first step out of sync with the rest of the world for we move onto want purity in our dealings with other humans, to conforming to the mind of Christ and becoming set apart for God.  It isn’t just a belief system we’ve worked out but a complete mindset along with a lifestyle change.

This is something I’ve been chewing on for a long time now.  The sense that we are not allowed as believers to feel the pain, that somehow we’re supposed to be stoic and laconic about trials seems completely ludicrous, though the church has taught such nonsense for a long time.  Pain hurts.  I know that’s not a revelation but I’ve noticed we feel guilty about hurting or feeling anything when the negative crops up in our lives.  Read the Psalms and we see that godly, stalwart men ached for their nation, struggled with discouragement, anger, bitterness and depression which led them to cling to God in hope through faith.

While Jesus is away, we will experience doubt, frustration, rejection, loss, suffering and death.  He promises such a life for those who follow His example.  Anyone who doesn’t experience this can count themselves fortunate to have dodged the bullet.  However, throughout history, those who followed Jesus were not the secure rich as a general rule but usually the poor who had no hope except God.  If any one of us has roof over our heads at all, we can count ourselves blessed beyond measure because the Son of man had nowhere to lay His head and promised those who followed Him the same (see Matthew 8:19-22).

The world wants Jesus either in the grave or robbed of His power to judge, command or affect their lives in any significant way—except may be winning the lottery.  Everyone wants God to bless them with good, but few want to obey Him though the storm rages around them and the waves crash into them..

The world will rejoice and celebrate the cross while we mourn its meaning and rejoice because of His resurrection.  Yes, we find our glory in the cross but not as a piece of jewelry, rather it speaks to us of love so great humiliation and death could not silence it.  The cross is our glory only because it stands for righteousness untainted, unwilling to give into evil and conquered by the resurrection and the Life.

Why won’t we remember the former things nor will they come to mind?

Like woman who holds her child in her arms for the first time after hours of hard labor, the pain of the past is forgotten in the joy of the babe in her arms.  May be “forgotten” is the wrong word, though Jesus used it; probably ignored is a better term for what she feels.  The pain becomes insignificant and wholly irrelevant by comparison.  The hope promised, once realized in fact not just in faith, will erase the past by sheer weight of joy, glory and brilliance.

Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:3.

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  Philippians 3:8, 9.

No Excuse

May 19, 2010

“If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  John 15: 20b-23.

Taking this sentence by sentence we get a better picture of what Jesus is trying to communicate as a whole.

For one thing, those who try to separate out the the disciples “opinions” from Jesus’ actual words fall into the category of anyone who disobeys the teaching of Jesus.  If they don’t obey Christ’s teachings, they won’t obey the disciples, for the the latter know the message first hand so their writings hold more authority over what was said. I find it fascinating how many times I hear from even “believers” about certain texts being compromised or mishandled over the years, little realizing we have first century documents which have the original texts in them.  This should make us wonder what people are really saying when they cast doubt on the Scriptures.

What their doubt says to me when they object to the ultimate authority of the Scriptures is they want something our Bible forbids.  In my experience it all boils down to this eventually because compromise grows at the heart of every objection.  My rule of thumb is:  If it doesn’t make sense to me or I don’t like the point I seem to be getting from the text, there’s something wrong with my understanding or my heart.  But the only reason to think this way is, of course, if I accept the Bible as God’s message to mankind.

Despite all the Jews’ claims to the contrary, Jesus said they didn’t know their own God.  The smoke screens on their own lives and additional teachings surrounding the originals left the very people who knew the Scriptures the best blinded by the veil of distaste for their own Him.  Their ancestors couldn’t handle the glory of God in its fading brightness on Moses’ face, and neither could they.

What recurring sins in our lives would we rather not bring into the light where they can be seen clearly for what they are?  I struggle constantly with sexual lust which has been tempered over the years to not include every woman I come in contact with.  In fact, I’ve grown better at listening to the Spirit when it warns me I’m headed down that rabbit trail.  This doesn’t mean, of course, the lust problem is gone necessarily, because it pops up in other areas of my life or in other ways, but God is dealing with this recurring sin and I’m seeing deliverance.

My confession is not so I can be clear in front of you who read, it’s so you can understand the method by which we accept the authority of God’s Word in our lives.  The Bible tells us lust is wrong.  Sexual lust occurring just in one’s mind Jesus claimed was adultery just as much as having physical contact with the other person.  For me to be clear before God and to acknowledge Him as both my authority and Master, I have to look at every instance of lust as going against His truth and therefore sin.  I love God and believe He is right and I am wrong where we disagree on lifestyle or morals, yet this doesn’t mean I’m not craving to get my own way now, in the moment.

The Bible doesn’t grade sin like humans do either.  Say for instance we think a head of state is guilty of worse sins than a man who steals bread.  In effect, we are correct, but not taking in consideration the faith factor, for we lost Eden over a piece of fruit.  Let that last piece of information sink in and adjust our thinking, because if eating a piece of fruit put a death sentence on our heads, mass murder cannot bring anything more.

The point is Jesus’ teaching through His disciples is sacrosanct, though not unquestionable.  We must believe the Word spoken to us though we might not have a correct understanding of it at all times—and in some cases, never.  Our understanding is not the problem as much as our hearts’ willingness to obey what we know.  We must live up to the light we understand.  I don’t think God requires us to live up to anyone else’ grasp of things.  I make it a practice now and teach everyone I have influence with never to live out something in Scripture I don’t have a handle on.  In other words, if I practice it wrong, I may misrepresent the kingdom.  At the same time I believe we must wrestle with the Scriptures, challenging our own grasp of the texts constantly so that through our continued exposure to it, we scrub away the scales on our eyes.  Somethings take this kind of study.

On the other hand, somethings we won’t actually understand until we begin to live them out.

Jesus declared the Jews to stand condemned for their rejection of His word, Himself and through Him, the Father.  Their sin remained because they understood the message and rejected it in favor of their own preference.  Sound familiar?  It should because the Christian church at large constantly wrestles with this problem.  Someone gets a “new” understanding then makes their whole teaching pivot on this one thing—which means they have made a godling out of a teaching.  Our world pivots around the Savior not a teaching.  Everything we hold to be true, we hold lightly since we know how cloudy our judgment can be at times.  We also know our understanding of the universe has changed dramatically since Jesus walked the earth.  Just this truth alone should give every believer pause in their strident march to convert the world to their POV.

We must rightly divide the word of truth, live it in such a way that our lives are open books of God’s healing and restorative power and walk humbly in the knowledge that we are all sinners saved by the grace and mercy of the Christ who died for us.  Claiming to accept Jesus means we accept His teaching, which, by default, means we accept the disciples’ take on it too.

The Wish Factor Context

May 6, 2010

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.  John 15:7, 8.

I don’t know about you , but telling a child to “ask whatever you wish” is a fairly dangerous idea from my experience.  The list could go on and on and on and on…  The clever way Jesus proposes we ask, however, is first to set up a condition for the answer,  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” places a qualifying clause on getting an answer.

God’s character and nature is taught in every Christian church around the globe.  I’m not gonna’ debate whether or not they get it right (the law of averages and human nature dictate we all have it wrong somewhere in our equation), what I would like to do, however, is debunk this idea that God doesn’t like to give us good things—or won’t.  The answer to our wish list is always a “yes” in Christ when our lives are open to Him and follow His word.

I don’t like conditional generosity because it usually smacks of earning something that should be given free (and many times the person giving owns the receiver), but on this one I have to agree.  A person who will misuse the gifts of God for selfish ends can’t be trusted with them.  Now there are many types of gifts, as we well know, so we have to qualify again what we mean by them in this context.  Since God sends His rain on the just and unjust alike, we can’t think what is natural is out of God’s gifting to humanity at large.  Jesus speaks to that which can only be found through submission to Him, the connection with God’s nature growing out of being conformed to the mind of Christ.

When we have the mind of Jesus, we know the will of the Father, which then means we know what we can and can’t wish for, then in turn what God will answer.  Since God cannot sin nor be tempted to sin (sin being a denial of His sovereignty), we must conclude anything which smacks of greed, self-ambition, lust or immorality is outside of the “whatever you wish” category.  What we can wish for in Christ, however, takes us into a territory unrealized by the average experience.

As we get to know the mind of God, we begin to understand how protected we are in Christ.  Our lives are of infinite value to Him therefore we know He wants us to enjoy our lives, become happy, content and satisfied with good things.

I need to digress here for a minute because I, along with my teachers and mentors, thought the Christian life was about suffering, a constant martyrdom which only had its reward(s) in the afterlife where we would be (bored) for eternity.  Getting to Know the word of God debunked this view for me like the reference in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus created all life by design, not by accident.  Things didn’t just accidentally fall into place with Him at the helm of creation.  Instead, He set out to create not only living organisms but the characteristics and parameters by which they would operate.  He had in mind a complete picture of what He wanted the human existence to look like.  So when He says He came to give us a full life, He knows what that should look like…which means we won’t unless we have Him and His word as a constant presence in us.

Notice one other thing from this text that’s of utmost importance:  Jesus doesn’t simply tell us His word must remain in us and then we’ll be able to ask whatever we wish, but He must live in us as well.  The combination of Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit and His word is where we find our knowledge of the truth for without the Spirit to guide us into all truth, we will pervert the meaning because we will misunderstand its intent.

I confess I haven’t sweated in prayer over the things God has promised to provide us.

I can hear some of my friends asking,  “Why would you need to?  I mean, didn’t you just say God wants to give us good things?  Don’t you believe in grace?”

The reason we need to wrestle in prayer, I’ve discovered, is our closed off spiritual condition will not open without it.  God is pouring  out His blessing through Christ on the world, but the world (and, sadly, many believers like me) don’t receive it because of those crusty hard spots closing off our hearts.  We think somehow that God should be able to bless us despite the blockages but He’s just being pissy about it.  God made the rules of believing and receiving for a reason.  As He told us through Jeremiah,  “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” I don’t think He’s speaking about a perfected, healed heart in Christ but all the heart we have available for the effort.  The time we spend opening ourselves to the Master will be time where the crust is chipped away—not by our own efforts, mind you, but through His presence coming in to break apart the stuff that hinders us.

You and I have sin to reckon with on a daily basis which hinders not only our growth but our reception of God and His word as well.  Jesus spent all night in prayer; the prophets fasted and prayed for days on end.  The method isn’t there to earn something from God, however, but a means of opening up the heart so we can hear Him.  I don’t know about you but I have a lot of clutter in the way of my spiritual eyes and ears that distracts me from comprehending God’s will for my life.

If in the past every prophet, servant of God and Christ Himself had to seek God’s will in this way, what will we accomplish if we don’t?  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3.


Pseudo Objection

February 14, 2010

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected,  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  John 12:4-6.

Do you detect a little resentment in John’s testimony about Judas?  Or is it something else?

John loved his Master ardently, but I don’t think by the time he wrote his gospel there was any resentment for Judas, just disdain.  That may sound unchristian to some, yet they fail to realize that just because a person is sold on God’s love it doesn’t mean we don’t dislike, disdain or stand up to certain things.  I can honestly say I hate what the some “Christians” in history have done when they misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ and turned it into a means of gaining power, destroying enemies and “converting” heathen.  The weapons of our warfare are not of this world and Jesus’ kingdom is not either, otherwise His servants would fight, no, we are from another place now; we belong to an alternate city.

John disliked Judas’ hypocritical concern for the poor.  Last night as I read this passage again, I wondered how John found out Judas had his hand in the group’s cookie jar.  Did he catch him at it and tell Jesus or did the Master tell him later?  I don’t really know, but somehow he figured it out.

By inference we can conclude two things:  Judas had no real concern for the poor and he saw a year’s wages being squandered on Jesus when it could go in the group fund where he could then take his share.  His argument for the use of the money fell on deaf ears as far as Jesus was concerned because His retort/response sharply rebuked Judas and anyone else in the room thinking the same thing.  Expensive perfumes were used for special occasions in those days and this one would have been part of the combination of spices and perfumes bought for Lazarus’ burial, I’d assume.  Why else would she have it except for this purpose?

“Leave her alone,”  Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

How was it intended?  Mary didn’t understand Jesus’ predictions about His imminent death, so she wouldn’t have bought it or saved it for such a purpose.  I think Jesus hinted her that her gift being given at that moment had been intended by the Father to be a burial present for His Son.  Mary’s impulsive worship of Jesus took on a means of her repentance for doubting Him and devoted love for His gift to her family.  I bet Lazarus and Martha both knew about Mary’s intentions—you know family always seems to sniff out our secrets—and approved for there is no recorded rebuke coming from them.

Yet Jesus’ rebuke held in it a barb stemming from the Law (there were lawyers and Pharisees present).  Deuteronomy 15:4-6  However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.  For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.  You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

Jesus pretty much rebuked the whole Jewish nation at this point.  While the Pharisees and teachers of the Law blamed the poor for their circumstances, Jesus blamed the greed and power-hungry leaders for their hateful practices of debt collection and extortion.  What caused the poor to remain poor in Israel?  The wickedness of the wealthy who took without mercy or grace.  Why was Israel a subdued state under the thumb of a foreign ruler?  Because they ignored the plight of their brothers and oppressed the poor not only in financial matters but going so far as to convince them it was their own fault they were in their current state.  (Remember Jesus’ speeches in John 9?)

Many in the room were as guilty of pilfering God’s storehouse as Judas.  The Law commanded mercy and cancelling of debts, the sophistry of the teachers of the Law and rabbis helped them create loopholes in God’s commands, and because of this the poor would always exist in Israel.

Mary’s “waste” was seen by God as something refreshingly open handed and whole-hearted.  She gave more than was required to mirror her gratitude and she was praised for her actions.  The men around her barely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah—at best a powerful prophet—and stood condemned with Judas.  Mary, on the other hand, demonstrated her faith by giving something of great value to not only her but her family.  Where would she get a year’s wages to buy such expensive perfume?  She was a woman, and since the reference to the wage obviously pointed to a man’s earning capacity, it meant she had either spent someone else’s money or the family had bought it for a purpose.

Again, the fact that many affluent members of the Pharisees and teachers from Jerusalem attended the funeral suggests that some of them also attended this dinner as well—those that could be trusted.  I’m pretty sure Lazarus’ family knew Jesus was being watched and, having connections in Jerusalem, who opposed or supported Him.  After being raised from the dead, I’m also certain there wasn’t anyone in the room who weren’t supporters as far as Martha and Lazarus could tell.  Yet this establishes their influential status and thus Mary’s situation actually takes on a bigger significance because her actions were not those of a cultured woman in her day.

Judas thought to sound pious, which meant after three years of travelling with his Master he either didn’t know Jesus very well or he was trying to impress the Pharisees in the room.  It certainly would have been dense of him to not know Jesus’ attitude about money since he was the keeper of the money pouch and heard pretty much every teaching the Master gave.  So my leanings are that he wasn’t worried about impressing Jesus as much as the people in the room.  Smokescreens are quite common among thieves, for they use piety and seeming generosity to disguise their true intent.
The contrast could not be more stark; the sides more split in two.  Mary on the one hand giving a year’s worth of her own family savings to lavish a gift on Jesus that would not feed anyone, bless anyone else, and she could get no street cred from at all.  Her only thought was to honor her Master with something beautiful.  Judas on the other hand cared about his reputation and pocket book.  He wanted to look good and steal them blind without anyone knowing.  This makes him a liar and a thief, for his whole objection was a pose to fool those present.

Which one did Jesus commend?  Go and be likewise…

Worshiping the Wrong Prophet

December 30, 2009

Then they hurled insults at him and said,  “You are this fellow’s disciple!  we are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.”  John 9:28, 29.

Odd retort.  I guess it follows hard on their complaint to Jesus that they don’t know where He came from, not at all saying they didn’t know His parents or city.  The fact that they “hurled insults at him” tells me they were threatened by his answers, frustrated in their attempts to discredit Jesus and angry because they couldn’t find anything else to say.

As if being a disciple of Jesus were something bad or foolish, the Jews were almost thumping their chests in superiority.  They followed Moses, a man proven by miracles and writings to be approved by God.

Wait a minute!

Did they just ignore some vital evidence standing right in front of them?

I think they did.  Here’s a man who was born blind now able to see and all they can do is insult the very one God displayed His power through in an unprecedented way.  They were being quite childish, stubborn and slow of heart to believe all that the law and prophets had written.  In fact, like most of us, they used the power of their vehemence to shut him up and shut out the call on their own hearts.

The man answered,  “Now that is remarkable!  You don’t know where He comes from, yet He opened my eyes.  We know God does not listen to sinners.  He listens to the godly man who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

At this point their pride took over and they threw him out for presuming he could question their conclusions.  Those who listen to the gospel will fall into one of three major categories:  1) acceptance  2)  apathy  3)  outright rejection.  There are, of course, mixtures of these which we won’t go into right now except to say sometimes people accept Jesus on certain levels but not on others.  The man healed gave the best argument he could ever give by being a miracle himself.  His ability to see was beyond question, his past blindness an obvious fact testified by his parents and friends, and his healer was the only one in history who had ever done this type of thing.

What’s the best way to kill a truth?  Shut it out?  Silence the messenger?  Deny it?  Spread rumors about those who support it?

We were all blind in our sins.  If we now see it is only because the Savior put eyesalve on our useless spiritual eyes and showed us the light.  Whatever the Word of God says, we adhere to.  Our study should include the whole of the Bible so that we get a balance between what is required of man in his sinful state and what God’s grace has delivered us from in order that we might become the righteousness of God.

Traditional views said God could not work through sinners.  This is accurate only in so far as it means those who are unrepentant sinners for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God except One.  Since we know that Jesus never sinned, His ability outstrips ours as the Sun outshines the moon.  Yet in Christ we take on His power, His ability, His character and His mind.  We do not become Him but like Him.  Only through Him can we “do greater things than these” for the kingdom of God.  Yet our motivation must never be the need to display “our” power through Christ but to serve the world for Him.

Ignoring his healing the Jews called on their traditional view of disease and misfortune by reminding the man he had been “steeped in sin at birth” or, in other words, completely outside the mercies of God in their opinion.  The fact that he stood there whole as a testimony of God’s grace and mercy failed to move them at all.  They didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus and nothing, not even a miracle could make them question their position.  So they did the only thing left for them to do:  insulted his background and made him an outcast.

It wouldn’t work for them because the power of a testimony that says,  “I was once blind but now I see” is far too effective and powerful to keep quiet by social pressure; especially when God determines it otherwise.  What does Proverbs say?  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”  Proverbs 21:30.  It’s complete madness to think we can silence God’s voice just by social pressure.  If God wants something done, it will be done.

The Hard Truth

August 30, 2009

On hearing it, many of His disciples said,  “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  John 6:60.

Jesus doesn’t play games with life and death matters.  O, I might call Him a “Master Chess Player” but that is a way of giving an example of His ability to win the struggle against sin and our Adversary, not a way of making the contest for our hearts seem like bet between God and Satan.  These men of the synagogue didn’t get it, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it, and why?  Because their minds were too tied to a worldview which had nothing whatsoever to do with God.

Sure they knew the Scriptures but they didn’t understand their import, meaning or purpose.  As a general rule, most people consider religion as an advice column which helps them navigate the ups and downs in the world as it is, it probably doesn’t cross their minds there is a change coming to the whole enchilada.  In other words, the change the Jews were looking for was a glorified more-of-the-same product not a cataclysmic, radical upheaval of everything they had worked so hard to obtain.  Most didn’t look for sin to be eradicated at all nor the other nations to be converted rather they thought their only thought was gain power over them.

Some times we look at the people around us as necessary evils.Their beliefs, practices and cultures might run counter to our own, but we don’t see them as anything more than landscape.  God wants to recreate our paradigm yet we are hanging on to this reality with all our might to the point of even arguing with Him about it.

Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them,  “Does this offend you?  What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  Yet there are some of you do not believe.”  John 6:60-64.

Ah, the key to understanding the teaching.  It makes all the difference in the world for us doesn’t it?  Or does it?  We hunger for the things we desire so hard that God many times has to deny us something so we’ll pay attention.  Notice that John says the disciples were grumbling not just the Jews.  Since he didn’t see fit to separate out the twelve from among the general category of disciples, I suggest even the twelve had a hard time swallowing what He said.  To make it even clearer who was doing most of the grumbling, John goes on to say,  For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him.  The process of elimination tells us all His disciples, including the twelve, were offended by what He said.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t present a question about where He lived with God but makes it an exclamation.  In other words He’s not pleading with them to understand or using it as an argument counter to their objections but emphasizing their unbelief.  These people would resent seeing Him in His previous glory, hate everything about His powerful heritage and reject Him anyway.

You object to my reasoning here?

These Jews had just witnessed Jesus perform one of the greatest miracles of His ministry the day before yet here they were immediately rejecting the truth His teaching.  Now wouldn’t you or I expect the power of a man to perform such a miracle such as feeding several thousand people would be enough authority for us to trust or at least want to understand Him?  Jesus knew that they couldn’t accept God for who He really is but preferred their image of Him.  In this they showed they hadn’t given up idolatry at all since they worshipped the image of God they created for themselves.

The Jews showed their metal, the consistency of their character by their reluctance to grasp what God wanted them to know through His Son, Jesus.  Jesus gave them the code to unlock His words by telling them,  “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”  The words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood pointed to a spiritual reality they refused to submit to, preferring the hard reality of the physical realm.  The Lord knew their hearts, He read them like an open book, so His purpose in confronting them was to break into their that hardened place and bring light to their darkened minds.

It is a warning to us to beware of worshiping our own image of God instead of conforming to His description of Himself.  History demonstrates mankind’s inability to accept God as He presents Himself, instead we tend to set up visions of God according to our own cultural perspectives or to the preferences of the powerful.

Jesus knew humans would never accept Him as He is, that’s why He wouldn’t trust Himself to them because He knew what was in them.  We must stop being conformed to the earthly perspective and renew our minds through the Spirit’s influence so that we may conform to the mind of Christ.  If Jesus’ words pointed us to a spiritual reality, what do we think we doing by using His truth (which in essence is the only reality there is) to make our own reality here?

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

A Case of Hero Worship

June 12, 2009

Then the  next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by he said,   “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  John chapter 1:35-37.

The very next day after John B declared Jesus to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” Jesus came by again and John B repeats his claim.  Two of his disciples heard this and followed Jesus.  What happens next might almost include a bit of humor because of the way John A wrote it.  My paraphrase would go like this:

Jesus turned around and saw two of John B’s disciples following Him and asked, “So what do you want?”

These two, looking at each other a little embarrassed and somewhat nonplussed, replied, “Teacher, where are you staying?”  They had been following Him at a distance because they weren’t sure what to make of Him.  John B called Him the messiah–at least that’s what they got out of his message–so they were curious as to what the Messiah did and where He stayed.  In the Jewish view the Messiah would be miraculous and full of God’s power which would make Him superhuman.  These two guys were keyed up by events and the current teachings about Messiah showing up because of the prophecies, then John the Baptist comes along saying it plainly that the time for the Messiah was now.  So they wanted to follow Him, but first they wanted to see if He went back to heaven, lived in a cave, dwealt in a palace (they weren’t far from the Arabian desert and had heard the supernatural myths probably that came from these places) somewhere in the clouds and just came down once in a while in order to look ordinary.

Jesus, understanding their state of mind, probably found it a bit amusing and endearing that these guys had the courage to follow Him without an invitation–out of respect for the teacher no one would presume to place himself in companionship without invitation in those days, it was considered not merely impolite to push yourself into higher strata but a crime in some circles.  John A says they spent the day with Him and even gives the time of day they began–the tenth hour.

John doesn’t identify the two men at first, and when he does, he only identifies one of them.  But we know from the context of later passages that the other one was probably John A himself.  By the time John A wrote this gospel, he was probably in his later years and everyone knew the stories so well that he didn’t need to identify himself.  In fact, I wouldn’t put it past John A to have a bit of a perverse (a clean perversity) sense of humor about the whole thing which drove him to purposely leave himself unidentified in the story where it was unimportant that anyone pick him out of crowd.

Thus begins in John A’s words the gathering of the first disciples.  Andrew went to get Peter, then Jesus meets Philip, who lived in the same town as Peter, Andrew and John, who then goes and tells Nathanael.  Nathanael shows his Jewish prudishness here by being staunchly critical of Jesus’ home, Nazareth.  Most of us know that Nazareth was up in the hills, a small town which harbored and supported the thieves and zealots.  Why God chose to live in such a place I can only speculate, but here’s my take on it:

Jesus showed by the place He grew up that it was possible even in the worst moral, political and poverty stricken geogrophy to live a righteous life.  He purposely placed Himself in the worst conditions to disprove those who might say He had an advantage of upbringing and environment–which the people today would have done in order to discredit the account.  Human beings don’t fair so lucky, however, because our environment has a lot to do with how we turn out.  So when Jesus lived there, He blew the argument out of the water that a person from a given background couldn’t live differently than what their environment dictated.

Nathanael was an honest man.  I think he knew it and prided himself on it because when Jesus mentioned the fact of his devotions under the fig tree, he grew amazed and proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of God; You are the King of Israel!”  People who don’t have any guile or falsehood in their character are gullible for superficial evidence. Jesus must have been mildly amused again because He replied, “You believe just because I said I saw you under the fig tree?  You will be seeing greater that that.”

John A knew Jesus personally, professionally and spiritually.  We get insights into the way His mind works through this book and John A opens up a window into a personal Jesus.  The reason we actually know some of Christ’s mind at all is because of the book of John.  Those who critique the Christian belief system quote the book of John in their critique of Christians for the purpose of saying they don’t live up to the teachings of Christ.  The critics knock us because we are not loving like Jesus, a truth about Him we most emphatically learn from this book.

But the world’s view of love is always extreme. It’s swings to either pacifistic inaction or tough love hardness. Christ balanced both and showed a sense of humor with it.  In His humor, however, I don’t believe He was ever mean, just poignant.

At least that’s my take on this subject.

I learned something recently about the call of Nathanael that kinda wowed me:  Mothers of Jewish children would place their babies under fig trees to be protected from the sun.  This way the mom could work and keep an eye on her little one without endangering them.  Jesus, in one commentator’s interpretation, wasn’t speaking about a recent event in Nathanael’s life but telling him He had known about him from birth.

Now we begin to understand why Nathanael responded the way he did to Jesus’ claim.  And then we get some inkling of Jesus’ dismissal of such evidence as all that surprising when He said,  “You think my seeing you under the fig tree was so miraculous?  Wait till you see what’s coming!”  All of us could probably use a dose of this kind of instruction.

A Sound Investment Strategy

May 24, 2009

“The master commended the dishonest manger because he had acted shrewdly.  For the people of the world are more shrewd in dealing with there own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Luke 16:8, 9.

Last night Jerome taught on this text (you can hear his teaching on it here) and it struck me just how clever our Master Jesus really was and is.  Sometimes we forget to connect the dots with Christ’s teachings, thinking His subjects jump around a bunch of times in random sequence without really being intertwined.  Jerome reminded us last night that Jesus demonstrated the vital connection between the Prodigal son’s tale and this subject of the shrewd manager.

For one thing (and I’m ripping you off a little here, Jerome), Jesus shows how much the Father’s heart longs for His children to come home and become part of the family again through the tale of prodigal son.  But what He also goes on to say in the Luke 16:1-15 is quite different than it seems He said in the wayward son’s story.  What He says here speaks to how we deal with the gifts given us here on earth.  The younger son wasted his inheritance then returned to be welcomed home sure, but hard on the heals of this story Jesus warns His disciples about squandering their gifts.  The rewards will be lacking in the kingdom to come because the gifts were not invested in eternal goods. 

What are these eternal goods?  Jerome pointed out it was the friends we used our worldly wealth to bring to the light.  At that great party where the bride (the church)  meets the Groom (Jesus) will we have used our worldly wealth to His purpose of saving those we come in contact with or squandered it on temporary pleasures in the here and now?  The younger son represents those who have squandered their gifts on making a name for themselves or gaining security only for this life.  When the son was welcomed back, he had no friends except the father to be glad of his return.  Sure the servants celebrated but not from a personal connection to the son, rather they were just glad for the Father. 

One other thing that struck me, though Jerome didn’t emphasize it as much:  The jewels in our crowns are not a physical thing in the sense of actual rocks, for what man values, God despises as worthless.  No, the jewels are the people we have invested in for eternal returns.  Paul speaks to this by saying,  For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed you are our glory and joy.  1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.  The crown we work for as believers is not a hat with jewels in it but people in whom we have invested our time, energy and money.  Let’s exhaust all our means for the sake of showing the attitude of Jesus who invested everything He had to save a world that doesn’t really seem to want Him.

If we invest in earthly security more than eternal, our rewards will be small, for earthly security is fleeting and temporary at best.  Our reward in heaven is the friends we make for the kingdom here and now.  So let’s exhaust our means and energy on the family of God—and by that I mean increase the numbers of disciples.  I believe Jesus tells us we need to be as shrewd about eternal investments as the world is about earthly.

The Mission

May 23, 2009

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.  John 3:17.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now one we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  2 Corinthians 5:14-16.

It’s imperitive that we latch onto these truths and keep them foremost in our minds when dealing with the world.

Look at what Jesus told Nicodemus.  If this is God’s heart for the world, who, I might add, didn’t even acknowledge or know Him, then what should our outlook be?  Paul said in just a few verses before the one quoted above,  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men (verse 11).  He says in Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Both these statements should cause us to re-evaluate our attitude toward the world and God’s intentions for it.

Christ taught and His disciples demonstrated a balanced connection with the secular world.  Strange as it might seem to many in our current mindset Jesus never instructed us to conquer the world for Him or go about ruling it.  Instead He told us to go make disciples, a far more personal and involved task.  The method of teaching someone else means I have to learn the truth I’m recommending well-enough to instruct them.  The root word of discipline is disciple, which points to one who follows a specific teaching.  Knowing this should set us on the path to a better grasp of our relationship to people without Jesus around us and the church.

The confusion always comes in the form of extra-biblical teachings and practices.  The one I’m thinking about this minute is indulgences, a Catholic teaching found no where in the Scriptures.  (Of course, there are many more that derive from Protestants as well, this one just happened to pop into my head.)  Understanding the blood of Jesus subtracts any notion that we can buy our way into sin allowances.  There’s no reason to practice such a tenet because Scripture makes it clear God wants us to become pure, and for those who fall there’s forgiveness and restoration.

The purpose of Jesus’ death is simply to reconcile man to God and man to man.  Anything else is the work of the devil to confuse the issue.  This simplistic truth, however, isn’t opposed to deeper truth in Christ or the mysteries of God.  But my point is what Allister Begg keeps reiterating constantly,  “The plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things.”  (I may have gotten that backwards, but you get the idea.)  Revelation aside, most of the Scripture is pretty blunt and startlingly plain.  I believe it’s one of the reasons why those who like to live outside its instructions resent it so much—no where to hide from its truth.

We don’t need more rules, regulations or methodolgies to be effective in Christ.  The Bible is quite sufficient for such a task.  What we do need are teachers who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15b) and are not given to odd revelations, adding or subtracting from it.  There are plenty of these latter types who forbid people marry and order them abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  1 Timothy 4:3.

Reaching out to the world with any other than the pure Word of truth means we failure to reach them for God at all.  Our task is simple:  instruct those who belong to Christ in life and godliness according His teachings.  We don’t need to complicate or add to it.  There’s plenty of work to be done with just His Word alone that we really don’t need to create more. 

If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn, what do His followers think they are doing when they practice condemnation?  So our understanding of the world at large should reflect Christ’s mission statement, which was?  To save the world.