Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Changed Men

I think you all should know what I've been up to lately. I'm writing a Bible Study on the Book of Jeremiah. It's one of my favorite books, and I'm loving it. Should be out some time in 2008. The thing about daily writing on a project that is due -- well, it makes blogging a bit more of an obligation. And I'm behind, I confess.

In my reading, I just started the book of Deuteronomy. You'll remember that we always ask three questions of scripture. What does it say (what are the actual words?) What does it mean (to the original listeners) and What does it mean to me (this is the application point). We should never jump to apply scripture until we've FIRST gone through the examination of the text.

You'll note that Deuteronomy is written by Moses, and he actually speaks in the first person. "We turned from, we went west, we camped," etc etc. The book begins with a review of the path the Jews took from Egypt (and slavery) to the point the book begins (about to move into the promised land). It really is a book of review, and it contains some of the most inspiring and valuable text in the entire Old Testament. Don't be discouraged before you even begin!

Before I move on though, I want to make one more comment about the book of John. Chapter 19 ends with the most amazing paragraph;I don't think I've ever noticed before. This is the description of Jesus burial. Joseph of Arimathea (who had been a secret disciple) and Nicodemus (who had come to him at night) both participate. The NLT says it this way, Joseph "asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body down... Together they wrapped Jesus' body in a long linen cloth with the spices, as is the Jewish custom of burial... and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there."

Here is the miracle of that paragraph. These guys lived by fear. What if people know that I follow Jesus? What if someone catches me speaking with him? They had let fear dominate their entire relationship with Jesus. But somehow, through the course of Jesus' influence, his words, his presence, perhaps even his death, Jesus changed these guys. Note that Jesus isn't buried by the 'good ol boys.' Instead, his SECRET followers come out of hiding to do the deed. The disciples spend the next few days shivering in a locked room.

What is it about Jesus that changed these two? His power? His wisdom? His love? We won't ever really know what ONE thing influenced them. But something did. Something changed them from wimps to lions, ready to face even Pilate because of their love for their savior.

My question: Has he changed you? How?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The really big one

I've almost finished the book of John, (I'm at chapter 20) and I must confess. I'm not reading three chapters a day. The last seven chapters are my favorite, and I find that I really love to savour them -- turning the ideas over in my mind, imagining how they sounded to the very first people who ever heard such controversial words...

Beginning with Jesus' washing of his disciples feet, in chapter thirteen, the next pages are almost entirely written in red ink (in most Bibles) indicating that they are the direct words of Jesus. It seems no matter how many times I read these passages, I find myself stopped short by these kinds of statements:

You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you.
You didn't choose me. I chose you.
Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me.
The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the father.
You can ask for ANYTHING in my name, and I will do it, because the work of the Son brings glory to the Father.

And then this one: The world's sin is unbelief in me. (John 16:9)

That's a tough one for most long-time believers. We think we can list sins, like making a grocery list -- from greatest to least. We classify people based on the seriousness of their sins; we even classify testimonies based on which believers came from the most sinful past. It's as if we are facing a sick patient, and we want to focus only on the symptoms.

Jesus goes right to the cause of the disease. Unbelief.

Jesus' words throw a monkey wrench into tradictional thinking. It forces us to realize that the ground at the cross is completely and perfectly level. The BIG sin, the real sin is unbelief in Jesus. That is the fatal wound that festers into the symptoms we know so well. But whether you were raised in the church, or on the street -- all of us came to that one place where we had to deal with WHO JESUS IS!

All of us went through a period where we didn't believe. Whether blissfully ignorant, or willfully defiant, we lived in a world without Jesus. Some moved from there to a world labled, "Maybe." Maybe he is worth considering. Maybe the pastor is right. Maybe there is something more to life than this.

Then we came to a point where we made a decision. Either you decide, "No Way. I'm not going to believe that stuff." (my brother Bill is here) or you make a completely different choice.

Jesus is who he claims to be.

But when you deal with the world, Jesus tells us not to be distracted by the symptoms of the disease. Remember the root cause. Unbelief. If you will work toward showing the world who Jesus is, God will take care of the symptoms...


Saturday, July 14, 2007

From Darkness to Light or, The Power of Opposition

John Chapter 9 tells perhaps my favorite healing story.

Here, Jesus heals a man born blind... He spits on the gound, makes mud and applies it to the man's eyes. Then, he tells the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

From the moment his sight is restored, people begin to ask questions.
Are you the same man who was born blind?
Who healed you?
Where is the one who healed you?

And then, he experiences opposition. The Pharisees say, "Jesus is not from God. He works on the Sabbath."
They pepper him with questions.
Who do you say that he is?
Were you really born blind?

This poor man, who has just been given his sight is pretty clueless. "I think he's a prophet," he says of Jesus. (Note, I "think")

They call in his parents and grill them.

Then they call the healed man again. The harassment begins again.

This time though, the healed man moves forward in his understanding of Jesus. "I know this. I was blind and now I see."

They abuse him, cursing.

"He healed my eyes and you don't know anything about him! God doesn't listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear thouse who worship him and do his will. Never since the world began has anyone been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn't do it."

They throw the healed man out of the temple.

Later, Jesus comes to the man and introduces himself as the Son of Man. The promised one. the Messiah -- all these are shown in his words, "I have come to judge the world. I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind."

The healed man falls down and worships him.

Here is what I notice...

In the face of opposition, the healed man's understanding of what has happened to him does not weaken. Instead, as he is abused and grilled and cursed, his understanding of Jesus grows. And, even when he doesn't understand completely, he professes what he DOES understand. In the process of opposition, he moves closer to God.

And, in the process, this same profession moves the Pharisees further away from God. His DIRECT experience with Jesus confuses and threatens them. They must discredit him, or discredit Jesus.

Then, hearing what has happened to the poor man, Jesus comes to reveal himself to the man. And the man worships.

My application?

I think that opposition helps to grow strong believers. It helps us crystalize our understanding of the Kingdom and the King. In the process, VERY OFTEN, those who opose us do not grow from our testimony. We should not expect them to.

In the end, Jesus often reveals himself to us. And we grow closer to him as our spiritual eyes are opened. And worship is the natural result of the entire process.

I'm now reading "Heavenly Man," a story of the persecuted Chinese Home Church movement. The pattern found in John 9 permeates the history of the house church. Through opposition, they grew in understanding, strength and worship. Jesus reveals himself in the process. In the end, they WORSHIP the one they have come to know.

Perhaps, as James says, we should embrace persecution. It made all the difference in the world for the man born blind. Instead of a prophet, he came to own his Savior. It grew the Chinese church by leaps and bounds.

What about us? Bette

The Seven I AMs

I hope to write two blogs today. The first will be nothing much more than observation. In the second, I want to comment on perhaps my favorite scripture passage... Observation first.

I've read through John 13 so far; I'm finding myself going more slowly than usual. Part of that is the responsibility of writing for you all. I want to listen carefully, to think about what I read, and to try to see something there that will bless you. Part of that is the speed of summer. LIfe just tends to get away from me. You too?

Did you know that John is the only book where you can find the seven, "I AMs?"

I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again.
I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't be stumbling in the darkness.
I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
I am the resurection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die like everyone else will live again.
The last two are still to come in our reading...
I am the way the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father, except through me.
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so that they will produce even more.

If you're someone who has yet to actually read the Scriptures -- as I've noticed so many critical blog writers are -- these are pretty powerful statements. There isn't much wiggle room here.

Many observers put Jesus in the same box as Martin Luther King, Bobby Kenedy, and Moses. He was a good man. He left a legacy. He influenced the world.

But to paraphrase CS Lewis, Jesus has not given us the "good man" option. Perhaps he was crazy. Perhaps he was a liar. But no one who was a good man would make the outrageous statements we find in the book of John.

Either he was who he said he was, or he was a lunatic, or a liar. It's up to each of us to gather the evidence and come up with a verdict. Good man won't cut it.

As for me, I'm thinking of taking these seven I AM statements and meditating on them for a while. They are so powerful. And taken together, I think they show us a portrait fo Jesus that leaves much food for thought...

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Line in the Sand

I'm into John 5, and I'm trying hard not to comment on the same ol' same ol'.

This is not to say that some of the scriptures where others camp are NOT important. But, I love to see new things. Things I haven't seen before in the Word. Here's today's example:

Maybe you're old enough to remember the first Gulf War. When we came to Kuwait's defense, Bush said, "Today, we draw a line in the sand." He meant that Sadam would not be permitted to cross into innocent countries (Kuwait) and claim her resources as his own.

It seems to me that Jesus draws a similar line in John Chapter Three. Let me show you the dots on the line.

The New Birth. Those who are born of the Spirit on one side. Those who are not on the other.
The Son. Those who believe in the son on one side. Those who do not on the other.
Trust. Those who trust in the Son, on one side. Those who do not, on the other.
Light. Those who love the light, who want to do right on one side. Those who flee from the light - who love the darkness, and who want to continue to sin on the other.

I've never noticed that John 3 portrays a theme, one carefully stitched between the verses. The theme is CHOOSE. Jesus himself creates an indelible line in the history of man. That line will forever seperate mankind -- not just by time (as in BC, or AD), but will seperate us by something much more critical.

John 3 tells us clearly where God wants us to land... He sent his son so that we could have eternal life.

Johny Cash's old song doesn't work for this line; this is a line we cannot walk.
We cannot wish the line away.
We cannot deny that the line exists.
We can't blame the human condition on other issues -- economics, education, race, privilege, culture.

Jesus is the line in the sand. On which side have you chosen to stand?