Posts Tagged ‘doubt’

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.

Gospel of John Introduction

December 12, 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. (John 1:1-2 NIV)

The above two verses start this gospel off with a bang rather than an apologetic whimper. John (or whoever wrote it) doesn’t mince words about what he thinks of the person he’s presenting us: the God who was with God created all that is was also the Word and is a He.

In the last several years I have heard many talks, read a few articles, and generally been in discussions about the nature of Jesus and His mission. And while I cannot stop these–nor want to–through writing down my own grasp of this gospel, I do believe in the clarity of the text.

The authenticity is another matter entirely.

Some “experts” would disparage the gospel and authorship casting doubt on its message; some would take it at its word verbatim without question and interpret the message traditionally. There are, obviously, several combinations of the two main opposing views, of which I will be but one. What you get with me, however, isn’t wholesale acceptance of tradition or outright rejection of it but what I get out of the text. My grasp of theologians colors the interpretation I present–namely, put 7 theologians in a room and you will get several different interpretations from any given text; varying from minuscule to wildly different.

For reasons I will probably repeat ad nauseum over the many devotionals growing out of this book I accept the book as authentic. Whether it is true or not is a completely different matter and just as completely unprovable without irrefutable testimony either side. I love the message John (again, assuming authorship here) weaves throughout the storyline. The message itself is so forceful in its gentle presentation the reactions to it stand to reason. John doesn’t mince words about what and who he believes Jesus to be. And therein lies the difficulty for those who believe they pursue truth but don’t accept Jesus as anything but a myth, at worst, or a good man at best.

If Jesus is but a myth, then the message attributed to him can be dismissed as pretty but not binding. If he is a good man, we can accept some without swallowing the whole. If He is actually God incarnate, we have a problem, Houston! Truth that big demands attention to detail and understanding the message.

Unfortunately, here’s where perspective raises its little ugly, interfering, and confusing head.

As many people as there are in the world there are as many possible interpretations of anything known. Recognize and please accept that I am but one. Humility aside my interpretation of this book grows out of a love for its message, first and foremost, but second, I have accepted it as truth. Do I understand the original intent perfectly? Nope. Am I the last word on what is written? By no means! I know just enough of theological methods to get myself into trouble probably–and sometimes that also means I can get out the same way.

So as I study the text I accept it has true to itself, whether the book is authentic or not, whether the authorship is authentic or not, and whether or not it remains true outside the context of its own micro-universe in the real world of flesh and bone.

For those interested I presented a study of this gospel on this blog before which encompassed 2008 into 2009, I believe. You are welcome to compare my thoughts, then, to see growth or difference and discuss them if you wish. I would find that fun and enlightening.

“My Lord and My God!”

February 17, 2011

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas

February 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Your Friends close and…

March 15, 2010

“I am not referring to all of you;  I know those I have chosen.  But this is to fulfill the Scripture:  ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ ”  John 13:18.

How hard would it be to know your betrayer was one of your chosen close friends and not react to them every single day in a stiff or resentful manner?  On top of that to know when you chose him or her that they would betray you to your humiliation, abuse and death?

From what I know of Jesus’ knowledge about Judas I believe He understood from the beginning who he was and what he would do.  This info enlightens the way I approach the “enemies” within my own life, although I don’t know of anyone at the present time who would go this far in their pursuit to hurt me.  Still, I wonder how the Master did it without constantly treating Judas differently.  We know He didn’t make Judas stand out because none of the disciples had any awareness of who the betrayer was at the Last Supper.  If Jesus had done even one thing to him to identify him as a threat or possible problem besides give him the piece of bread at the end, the other disciples would have circled like vultures to take him out.

The division amongst the disciples on who would be the greatest in the kingdom merited rebukes by the Master several times.  This means, in the context of our discussion, that Judas hadn’t been called out yet nor had he shown his true colors.  The old saying, however, of “keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer” stands true even here.  Jesus took every opportunity to turn Judas from his destiny—not that I believe his “destiny” was set in stone necessarily without a choice to the contrary.  Instead, Judas’ constant choices made his destiny certain.  God’s foreknowledge didn’t make Judas’ action inevitable, rather God knew the character of the man and the decisions he would make so the prophecy fit the event.

Judas’ story didn’t have to end the way it did, however, for he could have repented and come back for a full pardon.  The Master forgave all the disciples for their cowardice and denial, how could Judas’ sin be any different?

If you have followed my blog at all, you know that feet in the Scriptures have a significance.  If one person throws a shoe at another, it is a dire insult which could cause blood feud.  To put up a heel against someone was to say betrayal and desertion.  It was the ultimate disloyalty in Middle Eastern culture to share a man’s bread then betray him to his death.

Though the disciples understood Jesus’ words, they didn’t grasp what they applied to or to whom.  Knowing this He told them,  “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.  I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

I don’t know if I’m reading into this or not but I see a double-edged sword in Jesus’ words, for He later instructs Judas,  “What you are about to do, do quickly.”  In other words, He’s sending Judas on a mission to the priests and Pharisees, who accepted his help and by doing so acknowledged Jesus’ identity and rejected God’s plan for them.

How can we know they accepted Jesus’ for who He was?  In the parable of the Vineyard, the tenants say,  “This is the heir.  Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”  (See Luke 20:9-19; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12.)  There’s no doubt many in the Jewish leadership grasped who Jesus was but they rejected Him because He didn’t give them the “inheritance” they wanted.  That, my friends, is scary.  By their very actions they showed Jesus threatened their lust for status and authority, which led them to murder the Son of God in order to preserve the culture they built for themselves.

Their punishment?

They lost their nation, seat of power and their children wandered for nearly 2000 years.

I am uncomfortable with dire warnings and cautionary tales, but this story confronts me with the need to be on my guard lest I reject the Son of God for the sake of my traditions or personal kingdom building.

The Words

March 2, 2010

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”  John 12:47.

What does it mean to believe in Jesus then?

Jesus mission the first time was to seek and save that which is lost—and remember “time” for Him is relative since He’s eternal, all times are the eternal “now”.  But the Jesus born in a manger was a different incarnation of the one raised from the dead.  I learned something Saturday night about Christ being the “First fruits from the dead” as touted in Scripture.  He was always at the right hand of the Father, even while He was on earth, for though He laid the power of His position aside for a time (30+ years), He never relinquished it, which means He always retained it.  Remember the passage earlier in the book where Jesus told the Jews,  “I have the power to lay it (my life) down, and I have the power to take it up again.”  The mystery of Christ is only mysterious to those who cannot accept that He is wholly God all the while being wholly human.  The seeming dichotomy is a ruse of the devil to muddy the waters.  Since the created cannot be God, goes the reasoning, how can the infinite Creator inhabit the finite created form?

The faulty reasoning is ours.  We limit the infinite by foolish assumptions and pseudo philosophical reasoning, which equals sophistry in the end.  The Creator makes the rules so He can work them to whatever ends He desires.

Rabbit trails aside, Jesus takes on the role of Judge when the books are opened and the age of sin closed.  His Father leaves all judgment to the Son, for who better than one who experienced humanity’s limitations and frailties to sit in judgment on their spiritual condition?  Yet until that day arrives, Jesus’ mission continues to be rescue not condemnation.  I would go so far as to argue that on the Day itself, He will give one last plea for repentance and submission.

Who will judge the lost?  Jesus’ arbitrary take on the Day or the operation parameters laid down in Scripture?  What will judge our spiritual state of loyalty?

“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”

It’s not like Jesus is being arbitrary here or even unfair.  The gospels record His words and those who accept them find life through them.  However, those who find nothing but confusion and hardness have been hardened from the inside out, therefore the death they hear in the Word spoken comes from their reaction to it not the message itself.  The message is life to all who will accept it.

Paul explained this further by writing,  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.

Those who are perishing hear the gospel and smell only death, for they are indeed dying and nothing can get the stench of their own decay out of their spiritual nostrils.  But to those who are in the process of being saved, the gospel is the sweet aroma of life for their spiritual bodies are healing and the process of becoming alive again.

The Bible was written as guide for us, certainly, but I suspect that it instructed Christ on His mission, timing and a host of other things we can only guess at without knowing the mind of God—something only the Lord can do Himself.  That said, we can know pretty certainly that those who follow the Scriptures as their guideline to God, will come to know what He expects of them more clearly as well.  “So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”  Which is to say, the Scriptures placed the message out there for anyone to see it but only Christ understood the whole of it and was able to apply it.  We humans, born under the curse of our own sinful desires, lose the ability to see God’s message as we harden to a bias and a myopia that is not easily cured.

He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

How do we walk humbly with our God?

But we have the mind of Christ.  1 Corinthians 2:16b.

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.