18 August 2010

Jesus Trusts Walking On His Father's Path

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus knew he had to undergo great suffering.  Jesus knew he had to be killed.  Jesus knew that on the third day he would be raised.

How would I live knowing this would be my fate?  How would I live knowing that I will undergo great suffering and die at the hands of the religious ruling class?  Would I walk down a path that had been laid out for me knowing that the path would lead to being given over to be judged by the very same men I was meant to save?

In the back of the disciple's minds, from the time they joined Jesus in his ministry, they must have been wondering, "Is Jesus the one?  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Is he the one promised by the Living God to restore our people?"  When Peter confirms that yes they have discovered what their Father in heaven has revealed to them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus goes on to the next teaching.  Now that they know who he is, they must now know where he must go and what he must do.

This must have rocked them to their core.  Jesus is the one.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Son of the Living God.  Jesus has come to restore our people.  What?!?  He's going to undergo great suffering?  He's going to be killed?  This is not what happens to our Messiah.  He's supposed to go to Jerusalem and restore the kingdom of Israel.  We will be his royal court as Jesus establishes his rule over the earth.  Surely, Jesus is testing us somehow?  This makes no sense.

Our older brother Paul once wrote, "...we walk by faith, not by sight."  In other words, we follow a path that was not of our design, but the design of the one we put our confidence and hope.  This means we do not know where the path leads because we have never been there.  Paul often uses walking to describe the Christian life.  It really is a journey.  When we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, we begin a journey on a path not built by our hands into strange lands we have never laid eyes upon.  

Even though we have never laid eyes on the path, Jesus tells us that it is not a path of nomads.  We will not wander aimlessly.  This path leads home.  This path leads to our Father in heaven.  Jesus reveals that way for us.  All of us were born into, raised among and living in a world of futility, suffering, darkness and death.  None of us have seen absolute meaning, joy, light and life.  How can we get to a place we have never been and don't know where it is?

That's why Jesus was sent.  He came to show us the way from death to life.  And that means we follow him.  We are to walk down the same path he has walked.  We will see this healer be beaten.  We will see this teacher be mocked.  We will see this exorcist be cursed.  We will see this one who raises people from the dead be killed.

How?  Why?  Because that is the way of where we live.  What do we expect when we reject the one who gives life?  Can we expect anything less than death?  What do we expect when we reject the one who is light?  Should we expect anything other than darkness?

If we want to move from a place of death to our home of life, we need to follow our Messiah and not lose sight of where he is going.  We must not lose heart when our neighbours feel rejected that we are moving away.  Hopefully, we can convince them to move with us.  But some will not be convinced.  Some do not see Jesus as the Way or our Father in Heaven as loving, but see them both as something other than who they have revealed themselves to be. 

Instead, they will react with their heart language.  They will hate us.  They will mock us.  They will beat us.  They will do whatever it takes to show what a mistake we are making even if that means killing us.  They did that to Jesus.  What did he do to deserve his execution at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities?  If they did that to our Lord, what will they do to his servants?  But even if our wildest dreams come true in rejecting the Kingdom of God, even if we become the ruler of this world of death and suffering, what have we gained?

But, no man is the giver of life, our Father in heaven gives life.  It must be His way, not our way.  He is the author of life.  He is the creator of life.  He is love.  He is light.  If we cannot be with Him, where else should we go?

Hear the words of our older brother Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

16 August 2010

Jesus Is The Messiah, The Son of the Living God

Matthew 16:13-20

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

What distinguishes Jesus' assembled people from every other group in the world?  Jesus' assembled people (or church as it is translated here) is distinguished by our belief that Jesus is the anointed one, the very Son of God, sent by the Living God in order to save His people.  Anyone who believes this in their heart, soul and mind and naturally exhibits this belief through their strength is a member of Christ's body, His church.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is something other than the anointed one, the very Son of God, sent by the Living God in order to save His people are not members of Christ's body, His church.

Since Jesus began his ministry, people have always debated the identity of Christ.  This man's authoritative teachings and his miraculous power lent itself to that ultimate question.  How important is this question?  Apparently, Jesus thinks it's the ultimate question.  It is the Kingdom of God citizenship test.

What crazy answers people discussed.  The recently beheaded John the Baptist (as Herod believed)?  A prophet that lived over 700 years prior like Elijah or Jeremiah?  There are many wise sounding people who proclaim their belief in Jesus as a prophet or a good teacher alongside Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, etc...  To classify Jesus in this way is to believe that Jesus offers sound teaching and advice, but you can easily find this kind of wisdom elsewhere.  

To believe that Jesus is the anointed one is to believe that our Creator had a real purpose in sending Him.  To believe that Jesus is the anointed one sent by the Living God to save His people is to believe that we need rescuing and Jesus is the one sent to do the rescuing.  To believe that Jesus is the Son of the Living God is to believe that we can come to know our Father in heaven through this anointed, sent Son who has a unique relationship to His Father in heaven.

He is not a zombie prophet.  He is not just a teacher.  He is not just a healer.  He is THE teacher.  He is THE healer.  He is THE messiah, the anointed one sent by the living God to save His people.

When Peter says this, Jesus uses the term translated church for the first time.  He acknowledges that Peter is blessed.  He acknowledges Peter's earthly father, but says that this knowledge was revealed to him by his Father in heaven.  Jesus worked tirelessly in revealing who he was to his disciples.  He taught.  He healed.  He blessed.  He forgave.  But, he never said to his disciples, "I am the messiah, the Son of the Living God."  Apparently, they had to come to that conclusion by their heavenly Father as they witnessed his Son's work.  And, his instructions to his disciples suggest that their friends and neighbours had to come to believe he is the messiah in the same way as well.

 So how much of what we believe is God's revelation and how much is our own free will?  I don't know.  To me, it's like asking how do we know when to breathe or how does our body know what to do with the food we eat?  It's not important to know how exactly it works.  Sometimes, we just need to rejoice that it works.  Because coming to the belief of who Jesus is is everything.  That belief is the seed in our hearts that changes us from the inside out.

"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

What about you?  Who do you say I am?

13 August 2010

Jesus Continues to Work Patiently

Mark 8:22-26

This is the only recording of Jesus progressively healing anyone.  The man who could heal from a distance, drive out demons quickly, heal all manner of diseases and deformities instantly apparently had a bit of trouble healing this man's blindness.  Why?

The four recorders of Jesus' ministry did so with care and purpose.  They not only wanted us to know what Jesus did, but the teachings Jesus would give not only through his words but through his actions as well.  Jesus did many things that we do not know about.  But we do know about these that we may be able to understand what being a disciple of Jesus entails.

The gospel of Mark is essentially the gospel of Peter.  Mark wrote down what this fisherman turned disciple told him.  One of the reasons why Peter is often portrayed as Disciple Foot-In-Mouth is because an older Peter is looking back on his days with Jesus with great humility and remembering how much he had to learn and grow in order to be who Jesus wanted him to be.  Through Peter, we see a group of disciples struggling to grasp what Jesus was trying to teach them.  They would have moments of brilliance followed by moments of shame and vice versa.

This is comforting for me to know since my life is filled with moments of brilliance followed by moments of shame.  Don't misunderstand, I would like the moments of shame to be eliminated, but it is good to know that many people go through such ebbs and flows even people who spent all their time with Jesus.

If we want to know what the Spirit is reminding us through this unique healing, we must look at what all good Bible students look at:  context.  The disciples are not fully grasping the meaning of not one, but two miraculous feedings.  The religious leaders are still asking for a sign from Jesus even though he is giving them signs all the time.  Jesus is about to ask THE question of his disciples when they would pass with flying colours only to forget who he is a moment later.  They are about to see something truly incredible and react to it with old religious thinking.

My brother and sister in Christ, come over here, sit down and look me in the eye for what I am about to tell you.  Are you sitting?  Is your heart and mind prepared?  

When it comes to living life to the full, Jesus is the standard, not us.  When we decide to follow Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, it is not an instant transformation.  We do not become perfect.  Do you want to know why the church is full of hypocrites?  It's because we are.  The church is full of hypocrites, but the Head of the Church is not a hypocrite.

This is why we are saved by grace.  This is why we are to grow in grace.  We cannot save ourselves.  We cannot grow on our own.  We need him.  We need his patient working with us so that we can all learn to live life to the full.  I am so grateful for His patience with me.  I know that my children are maturing and learning how to live a life of love, joy, strength, beauty and peace.  I am so grateful that my Father in Heaven wants the same for each of us.

Listen to the wise words of our dear older brother Peter:

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

10 August 2010

Jesus Resources The Help...Really!

Mark 8:1-21

“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?"

I am fairly thick.  My Father in Heaven has helped me time and again whenever I have taken a step of faith and left my family exposed.  And yet, I still worry.  Maybe I don't worry about my well-being as much as being dissatisfied with where I am and wonder why He has brought me to this point in my life.

So I can empathise with the disciple's lack of memory.  It is comforting and disturbing at the same time that these men who were eye-witnesses to some of the most amazing events in human history still fumbled around with what Jesus was attempting to teach them.  Wouldn't I remember that wonderful day when Jesus fed a larger crowd with five loaves and two small fish?  Wouldn't it be the natural reaction to a similar situation to expect a similar solution?  "Teacher, here are seven loaves of bread, which is more than the five we had before and a few small fishes.  This crowd, which is smaller than the crowd before, has been here for a few days.  Can you please help us feed the crowd with this food?"

Alas, Jesus' Jewish disciples ask, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”  Not only had they forgotten distant history when their ancestors were fed with manna from heaven, but recent history as well.  Maybe some events are so miraculous, it is only natural to assume they can only happen once.

When it comes to following Jesus, when it comes to immersing each other in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, when it comes to doing everything that Jesus commanded, when it comes to loving our neighbour as ourselves, the problem is never, never ever, never never ever lack of resources.  

The only thing that prevents us from loving our neighbour as ourselves is not loving our Father in heaven with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  The only thing that prevents us from loving our neighbour as ourselves is not knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

Fact of the matter is that the Spirit of God is actively working all the time.  The problem isn't God.  The problem is us.  Our minds are dull.  Our perception is limited.  Our hearts are hard.  Our eyes have glaucoma.  We are hard of hearing.  Our memories fail us.  The reason we think our Father in heaven isn't working, isn't blessing, is an absentee father is not because he is distant.  He has always been there, all along.

From a worldly point of view, God's active, loving blessings to us make no sense.  Why would he care?  I certainly wouldn't care if I were him.  So, we "logically" explain him away.  All of us at one time or another have decided that we can live better without him.  Maybe to acknowledge his providence is to acknowledge his will for us.  And, we stubbornly refuse.  We live in a world of pain and death and it is difficult to see any other way.

"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."

Father, I don't want to be ignorant.  I don't want to be hard or stubborn or blind or deaf.  I want to see your glory at work.  I want to remember how you have loved and blessed me so that I can run to where you want me to be.  The future is bleak without you and is eagerly anticipated with you.  Thank you for always working.  How can I help?

08 August 2010

Jesus Causes All Kinds of Talk

Mark 7:31-37

Jesus is His Father's Son.  Jesus listens to His Father and His Father alone.  Jesus does not follow the foolish, ignorant whims of men.  He knows who He is and He knows who His Father is.  This is noted time and again as I read through the recordings of Jesus.  In fact, I was about to title this post "Jesus is His Father's Son", but was lead to a different title since Mark seems to make a different point about people talking in this short account unique to Mark.

But it is noteworthy that the deaf man's friends, who are from the same region as the naked demoniac Jesus helped, wanted Jesus specifically to lay his hand on him to heal him.  Instead, Jesus takes the man aside (I normally don't choose cartoon pictures for my posts, but this one from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website is the only one I found that was away from crowds.) and performs his own method.  We sometimes get so hung up on method that we forget to who we are worshiping or praying to.

Our Father is not so concerned about our methods as he is looking for hearts who know and love Him.  That's what He prescribes.  That is what brings answers to prayers.  "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."   Let us not be so hung up on how we do things that we forget about who really answers prayer and gives blessings freely.

"Be opened."  How wonderful and simple a command.  Sin has so marred God's creation.  It seems to be tangled up in our own mess.  And the more we struggle to escape on our own, the tighter it grips us.  This man couldn't hear and he couldn't communicate clearly.  How wonderful that this man who couldn't hear the stories about Jesus was brought by his friends to Jesus.

I am sure the man knew he was being taken to be healed.  I am sure he could feel the hope of his friends as they took him on this journeyHe could surely see people being healed by this man.  And then Jesus took him aside, away from his friends and the crowd.  I wonder if "Ephphatha" was the first word he heard that day?  Jesus caused him to hear and to speak clearly.

Curiously, in the same region where Jesus tells the reformed demoniac to tell people what God has done for him, he tells the deaf man's friends to tell no one.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Could it be that Jesus wants the focus of his healings to be on His Father?  Maybe.  Was it because his fame would make his larger mission harder?  Maybe.

But while Jesus could give sight to the blind, sounds to the deaf and speech to the dumb, even he could not control the reactions of people to his actions.  I can't be that hard on the friends.  What would I do in that circumstance?  Could I keep silent on the most wonderful thing I had ever experienced?  I doubt it.  Yes, Jesus is Lord and we need to listen carefully to his instructions since he is Lord and we are not.  But, I can certainly understand why the more Jesus insisted on silence, the more people would proclaim the news anyway.

The footprints of a Lord, the evidence of a kingdom that is at hand is changed lives.  As Christians, we marvel at how our Father through His Son has changed our hearts from stone to flesh, has changed our lives from futile to meaningful and has changed the way we relate to each other from loathing to loving and we proclaim to all we come in contact with that we are all witnesses to someone who has the power to even turn death around.  

I really do love being a follower of Jesus!


06 August 2010

Jesus Challenges Seekers

Matthew 15:21-28

In this account, Jesus is not seeker sensitive.  First, Jesus ignores her.  Then, Jesus says she's the wrong nationality.  Finally, Jesus calls her a dog.

Wow.  What happened to all that love and compassion?  Maybe Jesus is just tired and is letting his guard down?  I don't think so.  As we have seen, Jesus does and says everything with purpose not just for the one he addresses but for his disciples as well.

Whether we acknowledge them or not, everyone has needs.  Everyone.  Everyone comes to Jesus because they want their needs met.  This is why people seek Jesus.  They want Jesus to solve their problems.

The problem is that some people see gods as good luck charms.  This was certainly the Gentile (non-Jewish) understanding of deities.  If I sacrifice this, if I do this, if I pray these words, then my god HAS TO do this, this goddess MUST bless me.  But if a god is controlled by the actions of the people who worship him/her, then who is the god and who is the worshiper?

The Israelite understanding of God is quite different.  It is God who created the heavens and the earth.  It is God who commanded Abraham to move to a foreign land.  It was God who promised land, nation and eternal blessing through Abraham.  It was God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  It was God who gave them the commandments.  And it is God who will send a deliverer who will establish his kingdom on earth.  We compel God to do none of this.  God loves us and freely gives us his wonderful blessings of his own accord.

Jesus does solve our problem.  Jesus solves our real problem.  He restores our relationship to our Father in heaven, the One, True, Living God who gives us lovingly gives everything we need from his rich grace.  When that happens, everything else gains proper perspective.  "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."  "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well."

Jesus is constantly looking for people who understand this perspective.  For Jesus to truly heal us, we must see that it is his way not our way.  He is Lord.  We are his servants.  He does indeed serve us in a wonderful way.  But, he serves us on his terms, not our terms.  Do we believe this to be true?  Is this what we put our faith into?

Despite the fact that Jesus ignores her, says she's from the wrong place and calls her a dog.  She keeps coming.  She keeps seeking.  Where else is she going to go?  To who or what else will she turn?  Her daughter is being tormented by a demon.  Jesus can set her free.  She sees Jesus as her only hope.

Does she turn away in disgust for this insensitive, heartless Jew?  No.  Instead, she acknowledges his words as true.  Yes, I am a dog.  And you are my master.  And even if I am not a child in your house, I am still in your house.  And, being in your house is where I want to be.  Outside of your house, there is despair.  Inside your house, there is hope.  I would rather be in your house and get scraps than be outside your house and have nothing.

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Our Father in heaven, may we all have the faith of this Canaanite woman.

01 August 2010

Jesus Prescribes Life Under God Not Man

Mark 7:1-23

Each of us is made in God's image.  We are not to try to create a god in our image. 

Why do we try to fashion God in our image?  For those who can convince others that their image of god is the true God, then they can control them.  For those who put their hearts into a created image of god, it may be easier and make them feel better about themselves if they are able to choose any course of religious actions instead of follow the God they are not in control of.  For many, it is much easier to assume a "proper" posture of the body when praying to a deity than come to know the one, true God and the one that He has sent.

Several years ago, I went to Montreal.  In Montreal, I went to a place called St. Joseph's Oratory.  Inside this shrine was a preserved heart of a saint who performed miracles long ago.  All kinds of people would line up to light a candle, pray, and be blessed by the heart.  For the truly devoted, they would climb up many stone steps that led up to this shrine perched on the side of a hill on their knees.  Then they would truly prove to God that they were worthy of whatever blessings they wished for Him to bestow upon them.

But, what have they truly proven?  Nothing has changed except their knees.  This ritual hasn't helped them know God more or love him more.  This ritual hasn't led them to love their neighbour as themselves.  Ultimately, the ritual results in scraped knees and little else.  And there are countless, empty rituals around the world where people are showing their devotion to a god made in our image.

Here, we see Jesus sternly warning against such empty religion.  Jesus' disciples did not wash their hands before eating.  These young men, who worked with their hands in their professions (since they were not picked to be teachers) did not wash their hands before eating.  This caused consternation within the religious community.  Jesus was one religious teacher among many.  They all had disciples (students).  Religious teachers would discipline their students into following all kinds of rituals so that they would know God better.  But, there was no external evidence that Jesus' disciples had any religious discipline.  What kind of a religious teacher would have such undisciplined disciples?  Especially one with the growing reputation of Jesus?

Jesus, however, makes it very clear to the religious critics and to his disciples, that he has no regard for any form of foolish, empty, external religious shows.  Jesus is not interested in scraped knees or washed hands, he's interested in clean hearts.  Jesus replied,  “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

How crazy is it to devote our lives to practices that are in vain?  How foolish is it to extend time and energy on any religion that is in vain?  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  For people who want to leave behind mindless, foolish religion this is indeed good news.  We can now spend our energies on our Father in heaven who loves us and desperately wants us to know and love Him.

How can we know Him?  He has carefully crafted His Word over thousands of years through several different authors inspired by God's Spirit.  He has given to us His Son, who has lived among us in order to show us who His Father is.  He has given to us His Spirit who works in concert with His Word and His Son in order that we may live the life that He has given to us to the absolute fullest.

Jesus is not interested in the contents of our stomach or the scars on our body or the cleanliness of our hands.  He is deeply concerned about the cleanliness of our hearts.  "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Father in heaven, thank you for freeing me from vain religion and worship.  Thank you for helping me to truly know you and love you through the gift of your Son, Jesus.  It would be foolish of me to try and craft you in my own image.  Thank you for continuing to transform my heart into one that truly honours you and loves all others.