Posts Tagged ‘the gospel’

“One of You…”

March 17, 2010

After He had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified,  “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant.  John 13:21, 22.

The confusion gets worse when Jesus answers John’s question about who the culprit was, with,  “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.  He identified Judas but the disciples were not even close to tracking with Him.

Their reaction to Jesus’ assertion shows how our mental context plays out in our understanding of reality much of the time.  It’s the same reason why in an accident report there are always discrepancies in the stories where two or more people are involved or witness it.  The disciples were in a another frame of mind, one which had nothing to do whatsoever with a crucifixion or betrayal.  They brought their context with them, the preoccupation with which they functioned, and inserted it into the conversation without ever stopping to consider whether or not it fit the subject.

Understanding Scripture takes concentration, focus and a willingness to suspend our own agenda for the sake of one which may not have anything to do with our current state of being.  In other words, it takes us out of our own context and plops us down in another.  The disciples’ thoughts were a million miles away from any idea that Jesus might die within a couple of days from this meal.  It never crossed their minds because the context in which they lived was one of seeing the miraculous messiah, who changed water into the finest wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands from a small basket of food and walked on water with a command over the elements that baffled the mind.  Their context wasn’t ready for His suffering or death; nor could their spiritual house withstand the storm of humiliation and loss they were about to experience.

I guess this is one of the many reasons why I harp on this subject so much.  I find the general Christian teachings about how life should be, out of step with Christ’s teaching to the contrary and the whole of Hebrews 11 where it tells us not to get discouraged when we suffer.  In order to gain membership, many have set the church of Jesus up for a rude awakening as well as a fall, because they teach a feel good gospel—much like motivational speakers do for their audience.  The message becomes about the here and now instead of the hoped for reward of change.  Our true hope looks forward to a city not built with human hands, which God has built us.  I am wary of people who preach a self-help gospel, one which makes us feel good about ourselves—the “I’m okay, You’re okay” teachings of pop psychology has no place in a Christian church.

Why?

We’ll study this more in depth when we reach John 16, 17, but for now suffice it to say that Jesus promised not only peace, joy and love to His followers, but with them persecutions.  When we ignore the latter for the sake of teaching the former, we do so to our own hurt; we set ourselves and others up for discouragement or a shipwrecked faith.  Our faith is for the purpose of helping us through the worst our world can throw at us and remain standing.

Jesus overcame the world for our sake—and by “our” I mean the whole of humanity throughout the history creation.  What is expected of us is to follow suit; to stand firm though the heavens fall.

Yet the context in which we live speaks to us louder than the one God creates.  We see the world’s wealth and compare the message of Jesus with it and think somehow they match up, when they don’t.  We compare lifestyles with the world only to see that pieces of the message don’t match up with it so we create a hybrid religion made up of both, which then sets us up for a split personality spiritually.

What’s our mistake?  Comparing the message and life of Jesus with the norms of the world.  The disciples heard Jesus say to Judas,  “What you are about to do, do quickly” yet it never even entered their minds what He meant.  The words didn’t compute; the actions of giving Judas a piece of bread dipped in wine flew by their consciousness.  How did they interpret the words and actions?  Some thought He was sending Judas out for more supplies for the feast, others didn’t track at all.

John later gives us a clue how to clear our minds of everything but the priorities of God.  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.  Subtract the world’s priorities and immerse ourselves in the kingdom of heaven and we will see clear enough to grasp what role we are to play in the here and now.

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Who Knows Who

January 16, 2010

“I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  John 10:14, 15.

I find the wording here fascinating.  Did you catch it too?

Jesus put the believer on par with His Father in knowing Him.  Yet I don’t think He’s talking about the depth of knowledge here, rather He’s pointing to the fact of it.  Those who know Jesus recognize Him wherever they meet His influence.  In this way they are like the Father because they are aware of Christ at all times.

But who is the hired hand in this parable?

I don’t think it’s a God designated position by choice, instead the person chooses tending sheep as a throw away career.  In other words, they might be just about anybody who either falls into service in the kingdom or chooses it out of pressure or a desire for its fringe benefits.  These types of people don’t really know their own Master for they run at the first sign of threat to the flock.  The comparison couldn’t be more poignant for the leaders of Israel than if Jesus had spelled it out.  The leaders of Israel had no real knowledge (as a body of leadership) of God.  They bought into the Law out of self-preservation and ancestral loyalty.

What started this discussion?  The blind man’s healing.  Jesus is telling the leaders and Pharisees (who were an influential sect in Israel at that time) they were acting like hired guns, ready to cut and run at the first sign of real danger. 

So how does this apply to the man born blind’s situation?

As far as I can reason it out, they assigned the punishment for sin on people like to the blind man out of ignorance and getting an easy answer to a difficult problem.  Answering why there the righteous suffer alongside of the guilty gives any good theologian a headache.  Coming to a workable conclusion, even if it has holes we can see, is better than none at all.  Plus, the Ten Commands seemed to be saying just that anyway when it brought the sins of the fathers onto the children clear down to the third and fourth generation.  (See Exodus 20:4-6)  This command, though, focused on the sin of idols, which they took as a blanket statement.

The problem with the Pharisees’ (and others’) reasoning is they ignored Ezekiel‘s dismissal of their own conclusion in three places where he quotes God as saying,  “The man who sins will die…if his son repents and does not follow his father’s evil, he will not suffer for the father’s sins.”  (My paraphrase).  So why would they cop into such an easy out if this were true?

Simple:  they were hired guns.  They liked the esteem being in the public service brought them but they cared very little for the burden of humanity.  In other words, they were not of God’s heart just God’s chosen people.  Anyone who cops out of studying the Word in depth to find God’s heart will rely on extreme conclusions—or they will lean that way.  There are so many books written which address why the righteous suffer it’s amazing.  I mean just a simple study of the book of Job should send these Pharisees running for their pens to rewrite their commentaries.  Job suffered despite being found a righteous man.  There was no sin in his family he didn’t cover with a sacrifice nor was there any outstanding problem God needed to deal with in him.  The fact that Job learned humility and a greater trust in God through his experience didn’t mean that he was unrighteous by God’s standards.

Have you ever noticed children when they play always end up with a leader?  Depending on the nature of this child the play will be free or dictated.  The more power a child holds over the others the more whimsical their demands and harsh their judgments.  The saying  “Absolute power absolutely corrupts” applies even here because we cannot hold it without becoming drunk with it.  The Pharisees and leaders were in a position of being unquestionable by the common people.  The average person did not read in that era, though most men memorized a book of the law for bar mitzvah, they probably didn’t read on a regular basis.  The leaders could reveal or withhold information as they chose; emphasize this over that and generally dictate the game being played.

Jesus came to shake up this apple cart.  He goes onto say,  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from my Father.”

The people from other “pens” must mean the gentiles, for Jesus reached out to them as well.  The thought of the day was that God would not even lift a finger to help a gentile unless that person converted to Judaism.  And that could be true, to a certain extent.  Jesus, on the other hand, came as an ambassador to reconcile all people to God.  The Jews were supposed to live as the priests of the nations, dispensing God’s message of grace, mercy, righteous living and justice to the world.  They failed to do this because they grew proud of their status as “the chosen people” and looked with disdain on the world around them.  The pendulum had swung from their past desire to imitate the other nations to thinking they were better than.

God didn’t look at the world that way.  His purpose for Israel wasn’t simply for them but a means of redeeming the world as whole.

The difference between those truly converted to the gospel and hired guns is the former take on the heart of God for the world in order to build God’s kingdom for eternity.  The hired gun does so build a kingdom for this world alone and cares very little about what comes after that.  Jesus, however, came to give us life to the full, and those who follow Him will grab this principle with both hands to dispense it to others being saved.  We will be like Him, have His heart in us and take on His purpose.

Harvest Time

July 13, 2009

“Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  John 4:38.

What does Christianity have to offer the world that they would even want?

Not much in general.

I know that sounds pessimistic but don’t think I’m being down on our gospel just realistic about the world itself as a whole.  I’ve watched the methods people use to “reach” out to those around them and shake my head in amazement at the foolishness we bring to the table.

First off, the world manipulates others for their own advantage not the other way around.  Yet Jesus turned this principle on its head and commanded us to be servants.  The principle goes the same for our witness.  We are not to use manipulation or coercion of any sort but to let our lives shine as examples of the grace, mercy and supernatural power of the God we serve.

The harvest is out there so we don’t have to run around frantically searching for people to convert.  And anyway it’s not our job to convert anybody.  The Spirit of God has come into the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, our job is to go out find those willing to respond to the Spirit’s invitation.  Manipulating them by fear tactics, intellectual superiority or a number of other methods just wastes our efforts.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be well informed or armed with the gospel of truth, rather I believe we accomplish nothing when we think that our prowess in these methods bring about conviction.

The work of God is supernatural not earthly.

Notice our text above gives us a great hint:  “Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

The law and prophets suffered, struggled and searched for the truth; many of them died for the sake of that truth.  The disciples would be the ones to reap the benefits.  Even John B suffered for his message as did Jesus.  Jesus isn’t saying, however, the disciples wouldn’t be put through trial and persecution, rather He pointed to the work of bringing in the harvest of souls desiring eternal life.

Planting seeds for the kingdom of God brought on harsh problems for the people of God throughout history.  They were many times killed or exiled by their own families and countrymen.  Yet their efforts were never wasted for God’s word will never return void of profit

Jesus told His disciples to go out into the world as witnesses, at the same time He instructed them to become as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  Serpents never attack unless they are cornered, doves are at the mercy of those who catch them and helpless to escape once held.  So we are not to fight the evil in the world, but be a living example counter to it.  The power of our witness comes not from our words as much as it does our example of a changed attitude and life.  The fact of our sinful fallen state (putting us on par with the rest of the world) allows those around us to see first hand the power of God in a life.  They “witness” the changes in our natures, methods and attitudes, wondering what kind of power could do such a thing.

The harvest is constantly ripe.  We don’t have to wait for it to ripen because different fields come to maturity at various times.  Even in the most infertile ground we can find pockets of growth and places to plant seeds.  Instead of thinking it is our efforts alone which accomplish the work of God, we must recognize our effectiveness comes from God in us.  We are conduits of His message and presence in the world.

Jesus called us “salt” of the earth.  We flavor and preserve the dead and dying so that God doesn’t destroy the planet.  Just like in the days of Noah and Sodom, God will not destroy the world until the salt is so thinly spread it ceases to be effective.  Noah was only ,one man amongst a world of people willing to follow the Lord; Lot was merely one servant in twin cities who stood for God.  Each saved a small amount of their loved ones from impending disaster.

So will it be in the Day of Judgment.  The believers by that time will be so few their presence will fail to “flavor and preserve” the world from the Judgment.

What is to be done about this problem?

Nothing, for we cannot prevent it.  Our only obligation to the world is to keep working and harvesting where we find the ripe grain, which means we must be involved, engaged and exposed to the world in order to recognize the harvest when we see it.  It also means we must live our lives out in the open so that those searching for Christ’s way will find it easily.  Our examples of Christ to the world are not sinless but displaying the grace of God growing us into ever increasing righteousness, which then gives those trapped by evil hope for themselves.  This is our means of planting seeds and harvesting the fruits.

In the message of the gospels, who plants or reaps matters very little for their work is of equal importance and interchangeable.  The only thing that matters is to make sure both happen when the opportunity arises.

The Way to Understanding

February 27, 2009

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate; rebuke a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”  Proverbs 9:7-9

I am always amazed by the lack of teaching on this principle of wisdom.  The sheer belligerence in the Christian church has garnered as much persecution as our stance for Christ in recent years, I wager, for obnoxious presentation, pride and condescension result in division not wisdom.  In keeping with Proverbs’ stance on these last methods we must conclude that anything which smacks of arrogance, pride or obnoxiousness steps outside the character of Jesus and therefore opposes His message in practice if not opinion.

In our modern world mocking the gospel, Jesus, religion and those who practice it seems to be the norm for our society at large.  I see debates arranged between prominent religions leaders in the Christian faith and those who oppose it and wonder what the justification is for such displays.  Since there is no scientific proof or conclusive evidence for Jesus being the Way, Truth and Life, I see these debates as totally futile bordering on imbecilic for they accomplish very little, if the goal is to convince the world to believe in Him.

How can we practice a method which derives its methods from scorn and ridicule.  Mocking another person’s belief takes a sense of superiority and complete disregard for them as people.  It shows a lack of concern for their feelings as individuals and wholesale disrespect of their beliefs, which translates into looking at them personally as complete idiots.  Yet I’ve also know many a Christian who practiced this same attitude and method towards those who disagreed with them.  Since these practices are outside the mandate of Christian love, I cannot see how being like the world is any advantage.

Sure, I’ve met many an agnostic and atheist who looked down on anyone who believes in God or gods period.  I’ve argued with them over such stringent views as they present only to be derided and ridiculed for my pains.

Jesus told us how to handle such rejection:  Leave without fanfare, go outside the town and wipe the dust off our feet as a testimony against them.  This will be seen by them as silly and idiotic, but in God’s view we are testifying to their judgment.  The Christian ethic forbids wars on behalf of Christ for we aren’t to resist one who is evil but move on from them; if we can’t move on because they imprison us, we are not to let them close us down or destroy our open natures in Christ.  However, we can be quietly godly.

Some believe we must preach even to those who will not hear, Paul calls this beating the air to no purpose.  We cannot teach anything to anyone who will not start at the basic premise in our next passage:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.  For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.  If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.”  Proverbs 9:10-12.

Fearing God is the starting point for wisdom.  Learning to know Him intimately is the only means to understanding Him.

The place where wisdom begins is right where many fall off.  We can’t even begin a discussion with people who reject God as supreme or ridicule any belief in Him.  In these cases our best argument is our very life–how we live and handle relationships.  The growth in us because of Christ will speak louder than all the preaching or pressure of argument.  Yet we also cannot conclude a person is a fool just because they happen to reject the idea of a God or gods.  Why?  Simply because we don’t know them.  We have no idea what brought them to the place they now stand because we have no information until we listen to their journey.

Arrogance leaves no room for humility.  If we remain arrogant as followers of Jesus, we will be broken down.  At first, just a little, then if we remain stiff-necked, completely with no repair.  (See Proverbs 29:1.)

One of the lessons I learned from experience is that rebuke is easy but useless when applied to someone who does not practice wisdom or respect for views different from their own.  A person so engrossed in their own opinion is not interested or open to any viewpoint outside their own.  Proverbs claims these fools are only interested in airing their own opinions.  I wonder how many Christians fall into this category, for we many times listen less than we push our sales pitch for Christ down the throats of others.

There is a need in our education of the church to teach careful instruction, wise presentation and a sense of respect for other people’s right to believe what they will.  We must follow our Golden Rule, which our own Master commanded us to practice, to do to others what we would have done to us.  This means in an argument or debate we remain respectful though our opponent may not, we remain careful of their person though they might refuse, we remain understanding of the truth of our walk by faith though they ridicule or scorn our stance.  And we do all this without becoming scornful, derisive or any way condescending.

That’s what it means to follow our Master and our greatest weapon against the darkness.