Posts Tagged ‘faith in Jesus’

An Ounce of Prevention…

May 27, 2010

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.  They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.  I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.”  John 16:1-4.

In all my years of teaching the Word and testifying to others I have never been so discouraged as when I hear preachers avoid this text by preaching the “good news” instead of the good news of the kingdom.  The church of Jesus seems almost paralyzed by reality for we go to one extreme or another.  Either we have a martyr complex and torture ourselves or we believe in heaven on earth—sans the trials and tribulations.

Faith isn’t faith until it’s tested.  Thoroughly tested.

That means anyone who claims their faith preempts them from suffering has lied to themselves and everyone else, for faith is forged in the fires of adversity and opposition.  Jesus’ warning to the disciples set them on a road of trust through the trials they all faced later that night and for the rest of their lives.  He knew how hard it would be, for the enemy of their souls would send every messenger of discouragement that could be found to knock their foundation out from under them.  He wanted them to stand no matter what so the only way to ensure this was to warn them about what they faced.

Many a man stands afraid but determined in the face of war, calamity or a personal protection issue, but set these same men up in front of peers who ridicule, mock and undermine his intelligence, manhood or stubbornness, and most will crack like thin ice.  And the sole reason is they haven’t put God first; instead they’ve built an idol up of their own image.  We imagine ourselves, and thus believe, to be staunch defenders of moral virtues and godly habits, when much of the time we’re posing for our rat pack/neighborhood.  I know I’m sounding critical but I think it’s necessary for us to take off the rose colored glasses and see things as they are rather than as we prefer them.

Jesus’ first sentence in our text,  “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray” is key to our understanding of why it’s vital we teach tribulation theology in our services.  If we don’t warn people of the opposition they will face, we are guilty of false advertising.  By being “careful” with the more unattractive elements of the gospel, we set our students up to fail when the wind blows real hard.

“But,”  I’ve heard it argued,  “if we tell them all the truth too soon, they will be frightened off!”

True.  But do you want your church weakened by this?  A church not founded on the Rock Christ Jesus is doomed to fail—if not in this age, the age to come—for this teaching is not mine or some martyr based theology we can take or leave but the words of Christ Himself.  We have to warn everyone who comes to Him they will face opposition and then be there to encourage them when it happens—and make no mistake, if they are living out the gospel in its true form, they will face opposition.

Do we trust love based on the feel good moments in our lives with someone?  Is it the love that is expressed in happy moments that stands the test of time or that which goes through the worst life can throw at us?

I think we all know the obvious answer to those two questions.  So why do we think faith is any different?

We in America haven’t face persecution for following Jesus, which means we have a hard time registering what that would look like.  The day is fast approaching, however, when this will be our norm.  Are we ready?  Have we taken this warning to heart and realized that the world hates Jesus in His glorified form and anyone who wants to be like Him?

Consider this a friendly warning, then.

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Mixed Reactions

February 4, 2010

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  John 11:45-47.

Again we have the Jews mixed reactions and I’m surprised by the negative reactions every time.  It doesn’t make sense to me that anyone would be threatened by Jesus’ power to raise the dead, but here they are.  What was so threatening about Christ’s ability to raise the dead, heal the sick or interpret Scripture?

John doesn’t mince words about those who betrayed Jesus, he calls it how he sees it.  In one way I wouldn’t be surprised if he was disappointed in the extreme with his countrymen.  They rejected the one whom he called “messiah” and Lord after all.  John wrote his gospel, from what I understand, originally in Aramaic, which means it probably was meant primarily for Jews.  The Jews fought the Son of God, in John’s presentation here, every step of the way.  Yes many received Him, but most rejected and hounded His every step, finding fault and looking for any means to get rid of Him.

I wonder how anyone could reject Jesus after such a miracle.  Does it makes sense that these men went away appalled at what they had seen, so worried in fact that they went straight to the Pharisees, who called a special session of the Sanhedrin in conjunction with the chief priests to troubleshoot what they obviously considered a problem.  I mean, listen to their reasoning:  “What are we accomplishing?”  they asked.  “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Does this make sense as an argument at all?

Jesus is being condemned for making people whole, for healing their bodies, resurrecting loved ones and teaching everyone the way of God.  Yet these men see nothing but a threat; nothing but trouble and their fear of the Romans is either an excuse or a real issue for them.  But nothing gets under my skin like Caiaphas who goes on to say,  “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Ok, hold on just a second there, Maynard!  What the heck are you talking about?  You’re saying if Jesus doesn’t die, the whole nation will perish?  (Stay with me for a minute here, guys, before you move on.)  He’s talking murder for no other reason than that Jesus’ power has grown too much to go unnoticed by the Romans and that if He’s not eliminated, their oppressors will destroy the Jewish nation.

Obviously they weren’t thinking at all—even Caiaphas who so vehemently called the rest down for not doing so.  With Jesus as their commander and chief no army could stand against them for long because He could raise the dead, heal the wounded and feed the soldiers from nothing.  That doesn’t sound like a bad proposition for a king to me.  These men had to argue this at one time or another because if it occurred to me, it had to pop into the minds of someone in that crowd.  Yet their conclusion came down to this one issue:  They would lose what they had carefully preserved if Jesus took over the nation. 

Hmmm…that sounds a bit like something else I know.

I’ve discovered a trait in human nature that puzzles and troubles me, for I practice it as well unconsciously and I bet you do too.  We preserve our present understanding of reality with a vehemence bordering on fanaticism too often.  In other words, many of us hold to our pet doctrines with a fervor and zeal unwarranted by Scripture.  The power we gain from our “knowledge” is protected at all costs and anyone or anything that gets in our way is either avoided or eliminated as a threat.

The men in the Sanhedrin were of such a stripe.  They liked their nation as it was and wanted more of the same (mainly, I suspect, because they were in power and didn’t have to deal with the problems they created for the poor).  They expected, longed and planned for a messiah who could come to pat them on the back for their endeavors and not change a thing except to honor them all above everyone else for their faithfulness and wisdom.  Jesus rocked the boat, shook them out of their small-minded dream world and rebuked them for their misinterpretation of God’s Word.  That would make anyone angry.  Every addict resents being confronted with their condition, hates the people who reveal their secret obsession, and fights like mad to cling to the very thing that’s killing them.

What did Jesus call the Pharisees and leaders of Israel?  White washed tombs—pretty on the outside but full of dead men’s bones (which I take to mean their graves were not filled with just their own rotting corpses but others they had taken with them).  He never let them off the hook but shined a brilliant and blinding light on their attitudes and deeds.

Jesus’ kingdom is not like any world government we can imagine for it is one of the heart, soul and mind conformed to His.  That difference alone eliminates all other options and turns our spiritual eyes to the halls of heaven where He lives.

Caiaphas’ argument might have sounded off even by human terms, but John concludes something completely different.

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.  So from that day on they plotted to take His life.

Prophesied?  That means God was speaking through Caiaphas!?!  What’s going on here?  God doesn’t use ungodly men but those willing to do His will, who submit to Him in humility.  This man was plotting to kill God’s own Son and using religious sounding logic to do so for political ends.  How could God speak through Him?

The position is the key.  John points to the position not the man as the key to grasping why God would speak through such a man.  Despite his murderous intentions, Caiaphas still wore the mantel of high priest and as such became the oracle of God as necessary.  I’m pretty sure from this context he misused his position on more than one occasion for selfish gain.  Indeed, from Christ’s rebuke of the leaders, we can conclude these men of the Sanhedrin were instrumental in the injustices in Israel and the misinterpretation of Scripture.  They took the insignificant and played it like a key truth, for which our Master condemned them most stridently.

Anyone of us can become such people when our hearts are entangled by what the world offers.  How does John put it in another of his letters,  Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.  1 John 2:15-17.

What we value will be where our hearts live, for where our treasure is there our hearts will be also.

Jesus is the pearl of great price; His kingdom is the treasure hidden from the casual observer.  Why?  God wants only those who sacrifice all to find Him.  Loyalty and love which are given at the cost of all we have is the only kind worthy of His acceptance.  God is not interested in fair-weather friends or those just out for the reward.  The only servants He will commend to His kingdom will be those who have lost all this world has to offer for what He offers, and that means a changed heart and mind.

A Lost Argument

January 22, 2010

Jesus answered them,  “Is it not written in your Law,  ‘I have said you are gods’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world?  Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said,  ‘I am God’s Son’?”  John 10:34-36.

Nothing convinced them.

Ok, here’s a rabbit trail…how come these guys couldn’t capture one man?  I mean how hard would it be to surround Jesus and hold Him?  I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do so because the timing wasn’t right, but still, it seems they attempted several times to grab Him and failed.  Until Judas, of course.

Jesus’ argument appeals to the Jews’ commonsense, practical side.  In a nutshell His answer to them picking up stones seems to be,  “Hey look, you’re out to stone me for claiming to be God’s Son, yet you did ask if I was the messiah or not and I answered.  You didn’t like my answer but the miracles I perform testify that my claim is true, so why would you stone me when the evidence that I’m speaking the truth is in my favor?  Even your own Law called the prophets and servants of God ‘gods’ so why condemn me for the same claim since I work miracles beyond what anyone in Israel’s history has ever been able to do?”

Jehovah’s Witness and a few other “Christian” cults and sects claim the Jews misunderstood Jesus’ claim to God-hood and that He wasn’t claiming anything any other human couldn’t.  In other words Jesus wasn’t God but a god, a Son of God no different than anyone else in Israel or believers today.  I don’t buy this argument for one minute because John 1 makes it quite plain that Jesus created the world, which anyone who read Genesis would know only God could do.  No, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father in a unique way outside of human capability or possibility.

Yet I need to clarify His example demonstrated what we could have as well.  We can be one with God through Jesus Christ—may be not as God, but as gods.  He set us an example of what our lives could be like if we just opened to the Spirit of God.

A truth we often miss from this text is Jesus statement “and Scripture cannot be broken”.  I don’t know why it’s passed over so often, may be because we assume it’s truth or get sidetracked by the issue between Him and the Jews.  Whatever it is we need to burn this truth into our minds.  Scripture cannot be parcelled out or piecemealed it has to be taken as a whole to be understood.  The seeming dichotomies and paradoxes which exist in Scripture deal with God’s efforts on behalf of sinful human beings not His desire for the universe at large.  This truth is one of the main reasons I encourage people to study the Law and prophets once they get a handle on the gospels.  Without an understanding of the past, we can never really grasp the present or the future.

At the end of the day, Jesus left Jerusalem for the other side of the Jordan, where John began his ministry.  I don’t think He did this just as means of getting away from the Jews.  In fact, as I read the text it seems to be a subtle reminder of John’s testimony about His identity as the messiah.  Those who followed or met Him there concluded that John was right.

Have you ever been to a place where the past comes up to remind you of a truth or something special that happened there?  I think the Jews would have been even more inclined toward this way of remembering because they were to put marker stones (see Joshua 4:1-9 as an example) everywhere God did something special in order to remind themselves of His work on their behalf.  This place where John’s ministry began reminded them of his testimony about Jesus and they could say,  “all that John said about this man was true.”  And in that place many believed in Jesus

Why is it the those outside the seats of power, the center of learning and social hubs accept Jesus where the powerful, educated and socially aware do not?

It has to do with arrogance, in some cases, but I also think that many of us become so fat with our own brand of religion, politics or popularity that we simply don’t want anything more than what we have.  God’s approval or disapproval means nothing if we are already wealthy in the world’s view of us.  I still see dissatisfied, dysfunctional people and unhappiness in that camp, but I know their arguments.  Most just don’t want God to interfere with what they want to do while at the same time they expect Him to keep them out of trouble, secure their lives and make them happy.

If Scripture cannot be broken, then we have to conclude no one can be happy, satisfied or trouble free outside of obedience to God.  Nothing which does not equal eternal investment will give satisfaction beyond the moment.  No blessing of the moment which is not sanctified by the Spirit of God will last for eternity.

The Jews loved the praise of men (see John 12:43, Luke 11:43) but ignored the praise of God.  They craved power, prestige and wealth thinking these things were a sign of God’s favor, all the while refusing the heart God wanted them not only display but to create inside.  Thus they rejected Jesus for temporary profit.

We who believe give ourselves over to the humble carpenter who came not in grand style, flashy parades or a beautiful person.  He shows us that the ordinary of God is of more value than the empty profit the world offers.  A person who becomes beautiful in spirit grows in worth not only to God but others around them as well as themselves.

The Work of God

August 19, 2009

Then they asked Him,  “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered them,  “The work of God is this:  to believe in the one He has sent.”  John 6:28, 29.

That’s it?!!!  Just to believe in Jesus is all that’s required?  Wow, that’s easy.

Wait a minute, I detect another play on words here.  Let’s see if I can work this out, so if I believe in Jesus, then that must mean I trust what He says to be true.  If I believe Him to be telling the truth, then that means I must follow what He says to do, be and think. 

Bah!  It’s a trick answer!

Not that I really feel resentful about this being true, but you get the point, I hope, that many people do.  They come to Jesus’ party for the free food and drinks, then come to find out they must wear the robe of His righteousness in order to stay.  It just isn’t fair in their eyes, and it’s something no one in the believers camp can explain to their satisfaction either.  Those who look for a free ride into heaven without anything required of them won’t like the consequences of being with Jesus for His very mission is to change us back into the original design—with a couple of modifications.

The reason this statement by Jesus is important is what He was about to say next would challenge them to their core.  For them to really become His followers (not that many really desired this, I’m just saying it for the sake of the discussion) they would have to accept what He was about to say.  Their beliefs were about to be challenged and they would be required to step up or step off.  I know many today who don’t like this view of Jesus because it excludes them and many others due to their lifestyle choices, but it is part of His message.

Those who object want a softened truth, one which requres very little from them and allows all to be saved—whether they conform or not makes no difference.  Dietrich Bonhoffer calls this type of Christianity “cheap grace” because it doesn’t demand anything of the follower except to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  James refutes this assumption (one reason some would like to elliminate his book from the canon) by exclaiming,  You say you believe in God?  Good!  Even the devils believe and tremble!  Belief isn’t enough for eternal life because one can know God as supreme and still refuse to worship Him as such or submit to His authority.

Notice the answer is in the singular the question is in the plural.  They were willing to do great works for God to earn His favor but to actually have to change…that’s just asking too much.  Ok, we might be willing to change a little, you know, conform to a modified version of love…”as long as I can stay similar to the person I like to be.”  We humans like being Knights in Shining armor.  In fact, I think some of us believe it’s better to be the Black Knight or bad guy than to be an obscure nobody, such is our skewed vision of living.

To be important in the kingdom of God one thing is paramount, ultimate and final in our reach for eternity:  To believe the One God sent into the world.  Just one work to be whole, one person in whom we place our faith, and trusting with all our hearts what He has to say.

The Jews questioning Jesus were looking to be heroes of the kingdom through gallant deeds and quests, they looked for a Messiah who also met those goals.  Jesus disillusioned them quite badly by making it far more simple in choice, though incredibly difficult in scope.  All they had to do was believe in who He was and act on that belief in faith.  It wasn’t what they were looking for, instead they demanded a sign—this right after eating the big dinner on the other side of the lake.

What do we demand of God in order for us to believe and trust Him?  Do we come at Him with conditions, addendums and quid pro quo?  What do we have to offer that’s so special the God of the universe would even consider making a deal with us?

Only ourselves in the shape of a heart willing to serve.

The Sign

June 7, 2009

Then John gave this testimony:  “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him.  I would not have known Him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,  ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”  John 1:32-34.

Amazing testimony.

How do we know this is true?  WE don’t.  All we do know is the author claimed to believe it as truth, in fact, going so far as to say he was a personal witness to these things.

John A uses the testimony of John B’s experience by the Jordan as evidence and a way to persuade reluctant thinkers of Christ’s mission making a claim that even the Baptist accepted Jesus as Messiah.  Most of the people accepted John B as a prophet and thus this would add weight to John A’s claim about Jesus.  It is also important to note that John A was a disciple of John B.  The Holy Spirit coming down in a form of a dove would also resonated with the Jews because a dove was a poor man’s sacrifice for a sin offering when a lamb could not be afforded. So God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit demonstrate their unity with the mission of the Son by all becoming sacrificial for the sake of man. 

In the Jewish understanding of things, calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” would be a radical idea, for a lamb died for the sins of a family or individual. John B’s proclamation probably shocked some people into re-thinking their view on the sacrificial system of the past 1000 years or more. This meant that John B prophesied Jesus death—though not necessarily His resurrection.  Using both the sacrificial lamb and the dove as symbols of God’s desire to save all people—rich and poor alike—probably wasn’t lost on those who listened.

When Christ died for man, God died.

Again, God died when Jesus gave up His spirit.  How this is possible clearly cannot be explained by humans because it is beyond us.  Those who doubt the message based on this lack of understanding need to ask themselves why?  I don’t understand quantum physics and I doubt very many people do, but I do know from the evidence of its calculations that, for some reason, it works.

The same rings true for Christ.  I may not understand all the mysteries of Christ, but I know they work, and, in fact, if I did, I would be God.  If God’s thoughts are far and above anything I can grasp or understand, then the fact that I don’t shouldn’t surprise anyone.  I wouldn’t want to serve a God that I could completely figure out in one or two passes over His letters to me.  I would imagine He will always be above and beyond my understanding or thought processes because He’s the biggest, brightest and deepest individual in the universe.

One more thing to ponder: Jesus grew up human and needed reassurance just like us.  There are several passages in John A’s book that indicate this is so when the Dove sat on His head or shoulders, it reassured Him of His mission.  He may have had faith in it, but God sent Him evidence to make it clear.

John A’s gospel was written at the end of the 1st century and should be regarded as a companion (of a sort) to Revelation. Jesus’s inner workings are revealed in this book as no other. We get to see inside the mind of God in relationship to man. The beauty of this truth should not be underestimated because Jesus said things in the presence of His disciples that John makes clear.

This, if you haven’t realized it yet, is why John is one of my favorite books in the NT.