23 January 2011

Jesus Is Hated

 John 7:1-8

You are wrong.  What you are doing is evil.  What you are doing is making the world worse.  Stop it.  Stop it now.

It isn't exactly a feel good message is it?

Years ago, my apartment was a mess. There were dirty dishes in the sink. There were dirty clothes on the floor. A dusty layer coated most of my possessions. And, there were roaches crawling here and there.

I always knew I had to clean it up, but I never seemed to have the time or the energy.  I worked.  I studied.  And my apartment just got worse.  I knew it could have been a lot better.  But, after a little time it became normal and I got used to the smell.  And, I convinced myself that it wasn't that bad as I learned how to eat and rest within my mound of filth.

When the place a person lives in gets to such a state, one of the worst fears that flashes through them is for someone to see it. If they turn on that light switch and reveal just how bad it is. I feel ashamed. I then feel angry because I don't like the idea of being looked down upon. This is MY house. This is MY life. How dare you put your nose where it doesn't belong! This is when I start to hate and despise that person and I see them as my enemy. My pride has caused me to value my filth over someone who knows that my life should be better.

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.

This is the cold, hard reality about Jesus that challenges many caring, loving people.  There are a lot of Christians who rightly see Jesus as the great physician and the good shepherd.  They naively believe, contrary to Jesus' teachings, that most people are accidentally lost.   They mistakenly think that if they would just help people in Jesus' name then Jesus and his church will grow in popularity.

This was the thinking of Jesus' brothers, "Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." 

They grew up with Jesus.  They had spent time with their older brother as children.  It's hard to think of the wisdom and the power coming from one who worked beside them in their dad's workshop or caused mom and dad so much grief the time everyone thought he was lost, but was found in the temple and didn't seem to care that mom and dad were worried silly.

And so, they didn't really believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Besides, he wasn't acting like the Messiah.  Sure, they had heard he was doing wonderful things for people.  But, he was doing them in the rural areas.  They knew that if anyone wanted to become famous throughout Israel, they had to go to Judea and Jerusalem.  There was a big festival where all of Israel would gather.  Surely, now is the perfect time for their brother Jesus to make a big splash.

But, as Luke correctly points out, they neither understood nor believed their brother and/or the Messiah.  They thought the intent of the Messiah was to be widely known, in other words, to be popular.  But, Jesus makes it clear in his response that the intent of the Messiah was not to be popular but that the intent of the Messiah is to save.

Jesus knew, more than anyone else, that in order to save people, you have to meet people where they are, turn on the light and show them that they are in trouble.  He had to show people that they are wrong.  That what they are doing is evil.  That they are making the world worse.  For their sake and the sake of everyone in the world, they had to stop it and stop it now.  Only when they stop struggling and fighting the lifeguard, can the lifeguard bring them to safety.

Jesus knew, more than anyone else, that when you meet people where they are, when you reveal them as evil, a lot of people will turn on the very one that is trying to help because their pride allows them to value their filth over the very person who is trying to help.

Some people don't like being told that they must change.  Some of us don't respond with kindness to those who challenge how we spend our money, how we ruin the reputations of others, how we harm themselves and others by their sex lives, how they cheat and steal, how we waste our lives in activities that are good for nothing or no one.  Some of us do not respond with "Yeah, you're right!  Thank you so much for loving me and introducing me to someone who really loves me and wants me to live."  No.  Instead some of us respond with "How dare you?  Just shut up.  You are now my enemy.  I want you to die so that you will shut up."

Jesus came to save.  Jesus is hated.  He sent his disciples in order to save.  They are hated.  In the face of such hatred, Jesus kept loving, kept teaching, kept showing people who his Father in Heaven truly is and what life truly is.  In the face of such hatred, Jesus' disciples keep loving, keep teaching, keep showing people who his Father in Heaven truly is and what life truly is.

Our Father in Heaven, please teach me how to love my enemies and how to pray for those who want to harm me.  Thank you for saving me.  Thank you for using me to save others as I have been saved.

11 January 2011

Jesus Teaches About The Reality of Forgiveness

Harold Copping (British illustrator, 1863-1932),
"The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant."
Matthew 18:21-35

Watching children try to manuever around life is sometimes wonderful and sometimes painful.  There's hardly any toddler who hasn't had the goose egg on their skull from trying to get their legs to support their weight.  There's hardly any mother who doesn't have wet-wipes in her bag just waiting for the next mishap.

All of us have gone through the disappointment of red ink on a school assignment.  We have suffered the humiliation of dropping a ball or not being able to run fast enough.  Each of us have felt the rejection of our dreams.

Growing up is hard.  What happens when you assemble a group of people who are growing up?  There are a lot of awkward moments.  There are many mistakes.  There are tears, fights and tantrums.  There are cuts, scrapes and scars.  What is an assembly of people who are growing up?  The church.

What would anyone see in a real church photo?  Some smiles and some missing teeth.  Some suits and some jeans.  Some nice heads of hair and some bald.  Some with limbs and some with no limbs.  Some with absolute joy and some with stern seriousness.

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  These are my fellow heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I didn't choose them.  They didn't choose me.  But here we are in the same house living together.  Sometimes it is wonderful.  Sometimes it is not so wonderful.

Anyone who reads the history of God's people know this is the case.  For example, Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin and encouraged her to be with another man.  Judah got drunk and had sex with a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter.  Moses flew into rage and killed a man.  David killed a man so that he could have sex with his wife.  Paul hunted down and killed Christians.

The only one, in fact, who looks any good at all in the history of God's people is our Heavenly Father.  His grace, mercy and forgiveness shine through time and time again as He rescues and helps His people time and time and time again.

With the backdrop of God's family history come another motley crew chosen by our Lord, the disciples.  These uneducated fishermen, tax collector, rural zealots, etc... knew they were a part of something very special.  They were witnessing things they never dreamed possible.  They knew the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  And, they started thinking about their own place in it.  And so, like most immature people, they started arguing with each other about who was the greatest.

Jesus hears their bickering and tells them how to be great.  He also gives clear instructions of how to deal with brothers and sisters who sin.  Peter then comes in with a logical question, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?"  In other words, how many times should I put up with someone who hurts me?

Anyone who has lived with a family knows that grace and forgiveness must be a part of the home.  It's a very short term relationship without it.  Good parents have asked their children to apologise to each other countless times.  Good marriages are laced with much grace and forgiveness.

Forgiveness says "I know you are better than this."  Forgiveness is hope.  Forgiveness has faith in the one who mercifully allows us to grow in His grace.  Forgiveness loves the other because we always see the other's best potential and not the past misses of the target. 

As Paul says, "Love keeps no record of wrongs."  During the opening scenes of the film "Almost Famous", the mother of 11-year-old William Miller encourages him, giving him lots of praise.  The older daughter asks, "What about me?"  The mother responds, "You are rebellious and ungrateful of my love."  Instantly, you can feel the remaining air coming out of her and she deflates within her seat.

When we refuse to forgive someone, we label them.  We tell them actively and/or passively that this is who they are.  And, being the social creatures people are, especially when we draw so much identity from the ones we love, we begin to believe that we are the label.  We see ourselves as others see us and respond to that label in our own way.  We start living out our lives as stupid, mean, hopeless, gullible, loser, ugly, hateful, etc...

Our Father in Heaven, however, doesn't see us this way.  He reaches out through His Son Jesus and says, "I know you are better than this."  He quickly picks us up when we bang our head into the coffee table.  He hugs us when we had a hurtful fight with a sister.  He tells us its okay after we wreck his car after just getting our driver's license.  He walks with us every step of the way as long as we want him to as he teaches us everything we need to know about life.

Darwin says that if we the strong must rid themselves of the weak for the good of the whole species.  Karma says that we are living the lives we are supposed to live.  Karma allows castes.  It is perfect justice to have those who have much not help those who have little because they deserve it.  It is easy to leave when we are hurt.  It's instinct.  It's self-preservation.

Mercy and forgiveness is what allows us to be better people.  Mercy and forgiveness is the philosophy behind hospitals and schools for all.  Mercy and forgiveness allows those who have to help others to have as well.  The realisation of God's mercy quickly sheds any veneer of pride and arrogance that keeps us from loving one another.  It's better to stay when we are hurt and use our pain to remind others that they are better than what they have done to hurt us.

Our Father who is in Heaven, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

05 January 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Help Each Other To Be Great

Matthew 18:15-20

Bring a group of people together for any sustained length of time and there will be trouble.  This is what the church is:  an assembly of people.  The church is not a building.  The church is not an event.  The church ("ecclesia" in Koine Greek) is an assembly of people.  Therefore, to put the opening sentence another way, establish a church and there will be trouble.  Why is there fear of commitment?  Because we don't do it very well.

As soon as we decided to go our own way and stop following our Father in Heaven, we got lost.  As soon as we stopped listening to the instructions of the Creator, we tried to hide from him, we failed to take responsibility for our actions and blame each other, and made life much, much more difficult for ourselves.

That's why Jesus came:  in order for us to have life to the full.  He came to save us.  He came to save us from our sin (our rebellion against God; missing the mark).

And so, Jesus speaks plainly to his disciples about what happens when one of them sins (misses the mark).  He doesn't tell a parable.  He doesn't give a riddle.  He doesn't ask a question that we are to seek the answer to.  Why?  Because Jesus wants to be clear on this inevitably important circumstance within his church.

Yes, sin is inevitable.  We are imperfect creations striving to mature under a perfect Creator.  Someone who is a part of a church who sins does not show a church that has failed.  It's not the act of sin that disproves the effectiveness of making disciples.  A church is failing when it fails to deal with the sin, especially when it fails to deal with the sin in the plain manner that Jesus prescribes.

Whenever someone within God's people is living against God, Jesus tells us to deal with it privately, directly and decisively.

When considering Jesus' instructions, it is important to remember that Jesus is responding to his disciple's question of "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  Jesus answers initially with, "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." 

Whenever we deal with one another, we must be humble.  Regarding ourselves as servants of others is the safest place to be.  There is no competition.  There is no leveling.  In humility, we are to regard others more important than ourselves.  How do we commit to one another?  How do we become a cohesive group of people striving together after Christ?  How do we become great?  By humbling ourselves and helping our brother and sister to become great.

As brothers and sisters who share the same name, therefore, it should disturb us greatly when we think that a family member is destroying themselves by living contrary to the King.  We should hope beyond hope that we are mistaken.  We should easily think of a time when we have behaved similarly and were thankful that someone reminded us of who we are supposed to be and what we have turned away from.

Keeping this attitude, we approach the person privately.  No need to humiliate or make ourselves look better.  We aren't.  Besides, we may be completely wrong.  It is easier to have an honest conversation privately, isn't it?  No need to save face or make a show.  It's just me and you.  No cameras.  No audience.  Just us, off the record.

If you find that you were mistaken, there is no embarrassment for you.  If he/she finds that he/she is mistaken, there is no embarrassment for them.  If they stop, if they turn, you have accomplished what your King wanted you to do.  And you continue worshipping Jesus together.

But, if it becomes clear that he/she is still harming the church through their rebellion against the head of the church, then it is still private, but with only one or two others who are witnesses.  Jesus is referring to the way prescribed in the Law.  One could not simply accuse someone of wrong and expect them to be punished.  There needed to be two or more witness to corroborate the breaking of the Law.

Maybe the witnesses will show you your fault.  Maybe the witnesses will be an excellent intervention to the one you are trying to convince to change.  Either way, the desired outcome of this horrible exercise is the elimination of rebellious living.  If that occurs, you continue worshipping Jesus together.

But, if it becomes clear that he/she is still harming the church through their rebellion against the head of the church, then it must be brought before the entire church in a loving manner.  If it gets to this point, it will be a mess.  One who is standing on their rebellious pride will be incapable of acting with the humility that Christ prescribes.

"...let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Do these sound like harsh words to you?  Think about how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.  He continally preached to them to "Repent. For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"  It was up to them whether to become a part of the family.  As a part of the family, Jesus shared intimate details of the Kingdom.  He taught them about how the Spirit moved among them.  He demonstrated how they could do what he was doing. 

But, for those who insisted on being outside the family, Jesus could only ask them to "Repent.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  Trying to serve with someone who refuses to serve with you is like depending on a toddler to help put out a house fire.  You end up spending more energy, time and resources on the toddler instead of putting out the fire you were called to put out in the first place.

Churches do not exist to put on rock concerts, help us feel better, teach our children values, serve us tea and coffee, give us a ritual to check off our religious to-do list, entertain or give us friends and jobs.  Churches exist, Jesus gathers people together, for one primary reason:  to make disciples of Jesus, full-stop.

Father, please remind me to be humble, serve my brothers and sister in Christ well, and help them to be great.  Thank you for including me in your wonderful, powerful family.

01 January 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Care For The Ones He Cares For

Matthew 18:10-14

Children's ministry is one of the most important ministries of God's people.  Why?  Because Godly children are Godly people.

Have you ever been around a baby's parent?  Some fathers and mothers are insistent on showing you how smart and cute their children are by having them perform some kind of "trick" for whoever is paying attention.  "Mary.  Who's this?"  Sometimes the baby will point and say, "Gandma."  Other times the baby will not be interested in playing the game and focus their attention on what they are really interested in.

The wonderful and scarily sobering fact about children is that they are always learning.  Always.  They are not just learning when we are actively teaching them.  They are learning even when we are not paying attention.

How does this world I find myself in operate?  What do I need?  How can I get what I need?  What is important?  What is valuable?  Who should I trust?  How should I treat people who show me kindness?  How should I treat people who ignore me?  How should I treat people who are cruel?  How should I talk?  What should I do?  What should I learn? Etc...

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

Parents and all of us who live around children are given a responsibility that we will be held to account.  Make no mistake.  Our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus loves children.  Jesus tells us this plainly.  Why?  Because everything that is done to and around children has profound consequences toward the world we all live in.

Lost children are lost people.  Lost people do not know where they are going.  Lost people do not know who to trust.  Lost people are desperate.  Lost people take as many people with them so they will feel better and less alone while they are lost.  Lost people become angry.  Lost people become lazy and apathetic.  Lost people lose hope.  Some lost people don't realise they are lost until it is too late.

Be careful church.  Be careful parents.  Be careful neighbours.  "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."

Father, forgive me when I ignore the words of your Son.  Please always remind me through your Spirit.  Wisdom teaches me that many wounds will never heal completely.