15 June 2010

Jesus Comes Through

Luke 8:40-56

"Don't be afraid; just believe..."  I am afraid a lot.  Sometimes, I just think too much about endless possibilities and things going pear-shaped if I decide to step out and do it.  As a consequence, I do very little.  

As a theorist, I am tremendous at coming up with wonderful ideas.  Ideas aren't bad things. Ideas are the raw material for many wonderful systems and inventions.  But ideas without implementation are like minerals that sit out in the middle of the outback.  Until those minerals are mined, refined and built into something useful, those minerals are worthless.

This is the problem with fear.  Fear is a spiritual cancer.  Fear paralyzes us.  Fear causes sloth, bitterness, depression, regret, anger, jealousy, etc...  Worse, fear keeps us from realising our true potential in Jesus Christ.

Do you notice how many times beings from heaven tell human beings not to be afraid.  It seems to be the standard greeting from angels, "Do not be afraid..."  Paul tells the Roman church that we are not given a spirit that makes us slaves again to fear but we are given a Spirit of sonship.  Paul later tells his protege Timothy that we are not given a spirit of timidity but a Spirit of power, love and self-discipline.  Fear truly is a spiritual cancer because it keeps us fulfilling our destiny of producing fruit that will last and doing the good work that our Father prepared in advance for us to do.

Fear seems to have come up a lot lately in these accounts of Jesus' ministry.  To review, fear led the people in the Gerasenes to ask Jesus to leave.  Fear came over the bleeding woman when Jesus discovered that she was the one who touched him.  And now, Jesus tells the father of a dead 12-year-old girl, "Don't be afraid, just believe..."

The bleeding woman (who had a 12-year ailment) was actually an interruption to where Jesus was going.  A religious leader, a synagogue ruler by the name of Jairus, begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter.  Jairus must have been overjoyed when Jesus granted his request.  Furthermore, we discover that time is of the essence.  Jairus' daughter is gravely ill.  They could lose her at anytime.

As a father myself and one that is prone to impatience, I can imagine Jairus' heart leaping into his throat when Jesus suddenly stopped.  I can imagine what was going through his mind as Jesus searched for the person who touched him.  "In the midst of this crowd?  Is he crazy?  Why is he so worried about someone touching him?"  I certainly won't judge Jairus and put thoughts against the unclean woman who interrupted this important journey.

As Jesus is still talking to the now clean woman, Jairus' worst fear comes to past.  He is sent word that his daughter is now dead.  His heart must have felt as though it sank into the pit of his stomach.  They were too late.  She was gone.

"Don't be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed."  Remarkably, he does believe.  This powerful community leader had the opportunity to publicly chastise Jesus for stopping on the way to healing the one he loved.  But he doesn't.  Instead, he leads Jesus who allows his disciples Peter, James and John to witness what will happen to Jairus' daughter.

What kind of feeling is it to go from absolute despair to absolute relief and joy?  Jairus and his wife were blessed people indeed.  Despite extraordinary circumstances, Jesus does exactly what he said he would do for Jairus and his family.

Why does Jesus tell the parents not to say what happened?  It's not like Jesus hasn't raised the dead in public before.  Remember the widow's son?  My guess is that Jesus knew by the Holy Spirit that word of this event would endanger the religious leader's family and possibly Jesus' ministry and journey to the cross.

Father, thank you for giving all of us who follow your Son, Jesus, a Spirit of Sonship and power.  Thank you so much for the words of our Lord, "Do not be afraid, just believe..."

14 June 2010

Jesus Cleans the Unclean

Luke 8:40-48

What do we truly know about ourselves?  What do we truly believe about Jesus?  Is what we have done consistent with our stated answers to those two questions?

As we have already seen, faith is addressed a lot in Jesus' ministry.  What is faith?  The writer of Hebrews defines it as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  The Christian faith is the assurance that Jesus came so that we may have life and have it in abundance.  The Christian faith is the conviction that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

As the old saying goes, "Talk is cheap."  It is easy to tell people what we believe, but it is entirely another to live what we tell others what we believe.  Do we believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?  Do we really believe that Jesus is the one who was sent to save us?  Is he the Messiah?

This is why the account of the faithful woman who suffered from bleeding for 12 years is such an important account.  According to the Law, anyone who had a bodily discharge of any kind were to be away from the general population because they were unclean while that discharge was occuring.  This may seem like a cruel law, but it was made for the health of the general population.  Today, we would call this quarantine.

According to Dr Luke, people had tried to cure the woman of her hemorrhaging without success.  What hope must have filled her heart when she heard about this new teacher who healed all manner of ailments.  She came to believe that Jesus could heal her.  If she could ask him, he would heal her.

But there was a problem, she wasn't the only one who wanted to see Jesus.  By now, what Jesus was doing was known throughout the region.  And, just as the woman must have feared, there was an entire crowd pressing around Jesus when he returned from his journey across the Sea of Galilee.

What could she do?  She wasn't allowed to be around others and certainly not in a pressing crowd.  If someone discovered her and found out that she was hemorrhaging, she would be found guilty of breaking the law and endangering the public.  She would be punished possibly to the point of death.  She knew Jesus could heal her, but she didn't know how he would react to what she had to do to get to him.

She apparently had so much faith in the healing power of Jesus that she knew that all she had to do was touch him.  Nobody, not even Jesus, had to know that she was there.  She would bravely go low through the crowd and touch him and she would be healed from her twelve years of isolated suffering.  In this respect the crowd is an advantage since all kinds of people were touching Jesus, so surely he wouldn't notice.

She had faith in Jesus.  We know she had faith because of what she did and what she risked.  She was right in her faith and she was healed.  But, she was also wrong and he did notice.  Being caught by Jesus, she had to confess what she did and why she did it.  What relief must have filled her heart when she heard after she begged Jesus for mercy, "Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace."

After he said those words, her faith in Jesus grew stronger because she truly understood who he was.

What do we truly know about ourselves? What do we truly believe about Jesus? Has what we have done consistent with our stated answers to those two questions?

Father, I want to believe.  Please help me with my unbelief.

11 June 2010

Jesus Helps Those Who Need Help and Strikes Fear in Those Who Don't

Luke 8:26-39

When anyone sees Jesus in action, there will be a reaction.  The positive reaction generally comes from those who have had their lives profoundly changed by what Jesus has done for them.  The negative reaction generally comes from those who do not like or can not deal with how Jesus has changed the world around them with those same changed lives.

What a shock it must have been for the disciples when they landed on the southeast shores of the Sea of Galilee.  A crazy, naked man came charging at Jesus.  I wonder what they thought of this man.  I wonder if by now they smiled at such a man coming at Jesus since they had seen him heal and help all kinds of people.  "Well, let's see what miraculous thing our teacher will do now!"

We are told a bit about the man's history.  For the town's protection, no doubt, the townsfolk would help the man as best they knew how.  They tried to guard him and imprison him without success.  He lived among the dead and behaved more like an animal than a human.  It is quite disheartening meeting people that I feel are beyond help.  I start to despair and wonder what God will do for such a man.  We are reminded, however, that the light of Jesus shines brighter when it is applied to a truly dark situation.

Again we see that demons are not at all confused about Jesus' identity as they call him "Son of the Most High God"They fall at Jesus' feet, begging him not to send them "back to the abyss"Once again we are reminded what happens to angels and men who reject the rule of the King.  There is a lot about demon possession that I don't understand.  Was Jesus being merciful to the demons by affirming their pleas to not be sent into "nothingness" and sending them into the herd of pigs? 

What a strange sight for those who tended the pigs.  First, they see the local crazy charge a stranger who just landed.  I wonder if they lurched to help or whether they hung back for fear of their own safety.  I'm sure nobody quite knew what to expect from the naked lunatic, but nobody anticipated what really happened.  Who knows whether they heard the conversation between the demons and Jesus, but it certainly was a shock to suddenly see their herd rush away and kill themselves.

Did they understand what just happened?  Maybe not, but they certainly had a chance when them and others came back to the spot and see the naked crazy man was no longer naked or crazy.  "When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid."  

Normal can be defined as what we are used to. The biggest obstacle for all of us who try to personally help people is to convince them that life can be better.  When someone lives with or around any kind of dysfunction for long enough that dysfunction becomes what is normal.  We learn to adapt and cope and are convinced that it simply can't get any better.

Then, Jesus shows up.  Our pigs drown themselves and our former local crazy man is all dressed and sane.  The locals have a chance to process this and they simply can't.  We are told they told Jesus to leave because they were overcome with fear.  Were they lamenting the loss of the pigs, some food and profit?  Were they happy at all for the man?  Why were they so afraid to the point of asking Jesus to leave?  We're not really sure.  All we know is that Jesus shows up.  All they know is being changed and they simply can't handle the change.

What also jumps at me in a story that has many things surprise me is that Jesus never stays where he isn't wanted.  He doesn't argue.  He doesn't plead his case that he has come to proclaim good news.  He doesn't start preaching to the locals, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  He simply got into the boat and left.  Jesus never goes where he isn't invited and he never stays where he isn't wanted.

But, that doesn't mean that he leaves the local people to their fate.  Of course the man wanted to stay with the man who saved his life.  Wouldn't you?  But the last remarkable reaction in this account was when Jesus answered, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you."  Apparently he didn't have to know all the teachings of Jesus to follow Jesus.  He didn't have to personally be around Jesus for a set period of time to tell others about Jesus.  He simply had to understand how much God had done for him through Jesus.  After some of his family and those who had known him and perhaps tried to help him had the chance to process the change Jesus had made, they could listen to his testimony and put their own faith and lives in knowing the one, true God and the One He had sent. 

08 June 2010

Jesus Is Relaxed

Mark 4:35-41

"What one word would come to characterise Jesus' posture in life?"  asked author and lecturer Dallas Willard.  "I want to suggest to you that Jesus was relaxed."

It took me a bit to process this because I never thought about Jesus as relaxed.  He was certainly full of love and compassion.  He certainly taught with great wisdom and authority.  Whatever he did was certain and with purpose.  But, I never thought about Jesus' posture in life.  Relaxed?  Really?

Living next to the ocean and venturing out into it a few times has certainly given me an appreciation of its size and power.  The sea can easily overpower the most experienced seaman.  Knowing this helps me empathise with experienced fishermen who were suddenly being bobbed about in the middle of a 22km x 12km lake.

The sea was greatly churned up.  Waves pounded the now helpless vessel.  Water was starting to come over and into the boat.  The experienced seamen were scurrying about doing whatever they could just to survive the storm.  Where was their leader and teacher?  Asleep...on a cushion...near the back of the boat.

If I were them, I would wonder if Jesus was in a coma.  How could he sleep through the motion, the sound of a rough sea, high winds and men shouting frantic orders?  Is he that tired?  Surely he knows what is going on. "Teacher don't you care if we drown?"

I'm not sure what they expected Jesus to do.  At the least lend a hand trying to tie everything down.  Maybe they expected him to say a prayer that God would somehow spare them through the storm.   Whatever they wanted or expected Jesus to do was exceeded by what Jesus didThen, they were really afraid.

First, we may expect that he would pray to his Father to forgive sins.  But, we read that he just forgives the sins himself.  Certainly not the place of an ordinary prophet.  Now, we may expect that he would pray to his Father for his friends to be delivered from the storm.  But, we read that he just calms the storm.  "Who is this then that even the winds and the sea obey him?"

While they are staring all around them and processing all this, Jesus gives this mild rebuke.  "Why are you afraid?  Why do you still have no faith?"  Isn't this harsh?  These weren't children jumping on a chair at the sight of a mouse.  These were experienced seamen in legitimate danger.

What were they to have faith in?  Their Father in Heaven and the one He had sent.  Maybe they must be disciplined to realise that even when things don't turn out okay, even if they end up crucified upside-down, stoned to death or ran through with a sword, things are still okay because God is still God and Jesus is still Jesus.  Having faith in Jesus doesn't mean we will now avoid the storms but that the storms aren't stronger than the one who has been sent to save.

Jesus certainly knew that he would not be taken from this world until the mission His Father sent him on was complete.  This was the same teacher who taught us to not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow would take care of itself.  I guess Mr Willard is right, Jesus is relaxed.  May I have the same attitude in me that is in Christ Jesus.

07 June 2010

Jesus Trains Future Teachers

Matthew 13:51-53

Imagine a small business person not well-known or highly-regarded in the community, considered uneducated by the academic class of the time, suddenly chosen by the greatest teacher of all time.  Imagine such a person being a hand-picked apprentice of someone with the wisdom, power and authority of Jesus.

Jesus takes the time to explain to you and your fellow apprentices what he either does not or can not explain to the larger crowds.  It must be amazing and scary.

After he teaches a few parables to the crowds, he explains them to his disciples.  He asks them if they understand.  Jesus wanted to ensure that those he had chosen understood his teachings.  Why?  Because these uneducated men were entrusted by Jesus to pass these teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven to others.

I'm not sure they fully knew that when Jesus talked about "experts of the Law discipled in the Kingdom of Heaven" that Jesus was talking about them.  They probably immediately thought of scribes and rabbis they personally knew.  But Jesus called these uneducated (by Rabbinic standards) men, experts of the Law.  What an extraordinary statement.

Understand that most Jews knew the Law.  For the Jew, the Law is everything.  It is how they related to their God and how they lived their lives.  So even these uneducated men had some rudimentary knowledge of the Law.  But Jesus now calls them experts.  How?

"Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."  The treasure is the revelations of the King.  The treasure is heavenly wisdom.  The old is the Law.  The new is the Kingdom of Heaven.  According to Jesus' teaching, the new doesn't make the old obsolete, but the old enhances the new.  Jesus brought a perspective to the Law through the Kingdom of Heaven that only his disciples truly understood.  Therefore, they are the new experts in the Law.

"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Understanding the kingdom of heaven and coming to trust completely in the King is everything.  Father, may all of us who have become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven wisely and generously dispense the treasure you have entrusted to our care.

06 June 2010

Jesus Teaches about Kingdom Value

Matthew 13:44-50

What does the King, our Father, want?  People who love Him unreservedly.  What is He willing to do to get it?  What price is He willing to pay?  Do we know how much each of us is loved?  Do we trust that this is true?  According to Jesus, our answer to the last question is everything.

 Do you wish God would speak to you?  He has.  He has given you his recorded history of his active participation with men over the millenia.  What is He willing to do to communicate exactly who He is and what He wants from the people He created.  He sent part of Himself, His only begotten Son, from the glories of heaven to where we are in order to live among us and teach among us.  He was willing to watch His Son be judged by the violent rebellion of mankind in order for healing and forgiveness between He and His people to begin.  He still speaks to us through His Spirit as He gives it freely to all those who believe and trust that His ways are true and are the only way to real life.  What more do you want from the creator of heaven and earth?

It really is an all or nothing proposition, for Him AND for us.  Hell is a four letter word.  Always has been..."You will not surely die..."  Some have argued that whenever, in the many times, Jesus refers to a place of eternal punishment, he is speaking metaphorically.  In other words, they say Jesus doesn't mean a literal Hell, a place where there is literally eternal fire.

Of course Jesus is being figurative.  But even if Jesus is trying to communicate a spiritual reality to spiritually ignorant beings, are we sure we should be comforted by this?  "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Fire?  Weeping?  Gnashing of teeth?  Even if this isn't how it literally is, is this a reality we want to live in?  Darkness?  Futility?  Pain?  Suffering?  Despair?  Hate?  Violence?

Fact of the matter is death sucks.  Death was never God's intention for us and he has paid whatever price he could to rescue us from death.

What does the King, our Father, want?  People who love Him unreservedly.  What is He willing to do to get it?  What price is He willing to pay?  Do we know how much each of us is loved?  Do we trust that this is true?  According to Jesus, our answer to the last question is everything.

02 June 2010

Jesus Teaches about Kingdom Potency

Matthew 13:31-33

In a free market culture, the landscape is filled with markets.  The more markets there are, the harder it is for a market to convince potential consumers of the value of their product and/or service.  Some marketing theories logically suggest that a loud, big introduction is needed in order for that market to grab the attention of enough consumers.  Further still, the marketing must include as many testimonials from as many influential, charismatic people as possible in order for potential customers to give serious consideration to their product/service.

Sadly, I think many churches have bought in to this kind of thinking.  In a free religious culture, the landscape is filled with churches/temples.  The more churches/temples there are, the harder it is for a church/temple to convince potential consumers of the value of what they have to offer.  Some church marketing theories logically suggest that a loud, big introduction is needed in order for that church/temple to grab the attention of enough potential members.  Further still, the church marketing must include as many testimonials from as many influential, charismatic people as possible in order for potential members to give serious consideration to their service.

But Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of Heaven isn't introduced into a foreign land through the spectacular and it doesn't influence through the ascetically beautiful.  Jesus compares the Kingdom not to great architectural works or powerful armies.  "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed...The kingdom of heaven is like yeast..."

Consider Jesus himself.  He was conceived in a young, poor girl engaged to a poor carpenter.  His birth was announced by angels to shepherds, not kings, but shepherds.  He was born in a small town before moving into a small town with not much of a reputation.  Unlike most of our traditional depictions of Jesus as a tall man with long, flowing hair and deep, blue eyes, Jesus was more than likely, if the Bible is to be believed, rather plain looking.  "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." 

Most of his ministry was spent moving through rural regions from small town to small town preaching good news to the poor.  His disciples were poor, uneducated small businessmen and people who had struggled through physical and spiritual ailments for most of their lives (and their family and friends).  Yes, he performed many miracles and healed many people.  But he did not choose who he would heal based on their potential influence, but simply on whether they believed he could heal them.

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?  Apparently, according to Jesus, something that starts very small and when sowed grows to be something quite large where many created beings come and find their need for rest and shelter.  Apparently, according to Jesus, something that starts very small and when kneaded into the dough, does not completely change the substance of the dough.  Rather, it turns the dough soft and larger and flavourful.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the big and spectacular, except that not everyone has the capacity for the big and spectacular.  But, all that is needed to change a dark place is to bring in the smallest of lights.  All that is needed to change a despairing people is to bring the smallest of hope .  All that is needed to change a hostile land is to bring in an attitude of hospitality.  All that is needed to change a selfish people is to bring the simple gifts of love displayed through generous service.  All of us who are created in our Father's image, in the King's image, are capable of these things.

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to.

01 June 2010

Jesus Teaches about The Kingdom and Evil and Suffering

Matthew 13:24-30
Matthew 13:36-43

Why does God allow evil?  How does a good God tolerate suffering?  If he is all powerful, if he is all knowing, why is his creation the way it is?  These questions have been asked almost as long as man has inhabited the earth.

From a personal perspective, I'm partially glad that God does not exact instant justice since there have been times I have been the reason for suffering among my neighbours.  There have been times I did not regard the revealed ways of the Lord not out of ignorance, but because I wanted what I wanted and I didn't care who I hurt or who I cheated in order to get it.

"Did God really say that?...You will not surely die...You will be like God..."  These have been the lies we have happily consumed from the beginning.  The insidious nature of evil is that according to God's Word, evil is not a created entity.  Evil is a distortion of good.  Just as there is no such entity of darkness and cold.  Darkness is scientifically explained as a lack of light.  Cold is scientifically explained as a lack of energy or heat.  Evil can be measured as a lack of goodness.

This is why reasonable people conclude that we don't live in a black-and-white world, but in a gray world.  In a sense this is true.  When we try to define objects as good or evil, we fail because we forget that God created the world and called it all good.  It wasn't until we listened to the fallen angel, Satan, that God's good world became distorted because we used His generous gifts not for His good purposes, but for our own wants and desires.

For example, sex is a very good, generous gift from God, but when we distort that gift outside of God's purposes and use it for our own desires, sex results in suffering.  Alcohol is something to be enjoyed by his creation, but when we distort that gift away from God's purposes and use it for our own desires, alcohol results in suffering.  Amphetamines in the hand of a caring doctor can be used to relieve suffering.  Amphetamines in the hand of a greedy drug dealer is used to spread suffering.  Money and other material blessings are just that - gifts from a generous God.  But outside of God's purposes for those things, they quickly morph from blessings to curses.

What does our Father want?  He wants his image-bearers to mature and bear fruit, fruit that will last.  

Why does the King allow evil and suffering?  "in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them."

Elsewhere in our Father's Word we read that the blessed man is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season.  Our family planted some fruit trees over two years ago.  They do not produce fruit yet.  It will take many years of care and provision for the trees before they will grow strong, tall and fruit-yielding.  For many of us, it takes a lifetime before we are truly the people worthy of being His image-bearers.  

Until that day, we must trust in our Father, in our King.  It is not our job to harvest the crop.  It is simply our job to take the nourishment our Father gives to us, grow to the point where we can share those blessings with others. 

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to...