May 31 - Peace

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31 – Peace

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave. “ (John 14:22-31)

This passage is filled with great teachings and assurances from Jesus, but today I want to focus on peace.  “Peace I leave you … my peace I give you.”

Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Right now there are so many of us who yearn for some sort of peace.  Maybe it is as obvious as having a loved one in a war zone and we pray for peace to come so they can return to us safely.  Or maybe it is a cancer scare or another health scare for ourselves or someone we love. Or maybe our job situation is extraordinarily stressful and we can’t see a way to escape from it.  Or maybe there isn’t a job available. Or maybe our home life is filled with stress, due to a spouse or even a child.

It is hard for most any of us to say that we know true peace.

We lose sleep, we snap and bite at the people around us, we explode with unexplained rage, we jam our feelings down inside, hoping to hide them away, we dull the pain with pills or alcohol, food or any other type of addiction.

We are not at peace.

Yet Jesus not only promises peace, He promises His peace.

There are bumper stickers and postcards that say, “Know Jesus; Know Peace.  No Jesus; No Peace.”

It’s more than just knowing Him … it’s the next part of the passage in John.  “I do not give as the world gives … Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.”

We won’t know peace when we try to do it alone, when we try to find it in the things that are familiar to us.  We won’t know peace when we are attempting to cope with all of the mess around us by ourselves in our own way.

It is extremely difficult to step away from the problem and release it.  Jesus may call on you to manage the physical properties – whether it is taking the chemotherapy for cancer, or treatments for another ailment, or leave an abusive situation.  But, we don’t have to be responsible for it all by ourselves.

He wants us to learn to trust Him and in that trust, in the open relationship that we have with Him … the conversations (yes, out loud), the prayers, the pleadings, we will find peace and we will find hope.

May 30 - Never Orphaned

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30 – Never Orphaned.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

I don’t care how old you are, when your parents are both gone, it is a strange and lonely feeling.  You can hardly call me an orphan as I don’t need them to take care of me in any physical manner, but I do sometimes need their support and love. 

When you turn your life over to Jesus, His Father becomes your Father.  He knew that the separation that occurs because He isn’t physically around would be difficult for His disciples and for each of us. 

Notice that there are many ways He offers comfort.  Three to be exact and they line up quite nicely with the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit will come and act as an advocate.  He will live with us and be in us.  Jesus will come to us.  When the world can’t see Him, we will still see Him.  Because He lives, we will live.  Then, finally … we will be loved by the Father.  All of these things are offered to us to comfort us and guide us through a life without direct physical contact with our Father.

Our parents try to offer us a lot so that when they are gone, we can function on our own.  Jesus goes much further than that.  We don’t have to try to function on our own – we have the entirety of the Trinity that stays with us in varying ways.  We are never spiritual orphans, we are never alone.

May 29 - Believe the Evidence

May 29 – Believe the Evidence

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:8-14)

If you aren’t going to believe what you hear with your ears, believe what you see with your eyes and experience in your life.  Then do the same in your life!

We’ve been trained to not trust what we hear.  Politicians offer glorious platforms as they make their way across the campaign map and the moment they reach office, the platforms are set aside and the real agendas come out.  We don’t trust them any longer because the words they speak don’t line up with the actions they perform.

Kids test their parents all the time.  Rules are set down, boundaries are pushed and the rules get set aside because it is too difficult to fight with the kids all the time.

It’s a constant struggle to make your actions the same as your words.

Jesus knew that the words He spoke were sometimes too far over His listeners’ heads, but He knew that His actions would make sense to them over and over. 

The same thing happens for us.  What we do will always speak louder than what we say.  If we say we are a Christian and then gossip or promote our own self-interests, or do any number of things that we know are wrong – the message of Christ gets lost in the morass of our lives.

Jesus calls us to do the things that He did.  Now, wouldn’t that change the world!

May 28 - We Can Know the Way

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 28 – We Can Know the Way

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7)

This is one of my favorite verses and I have to tell you that I’m a little disturbed that the only time it gets used anymore is to question whether or not a member of another faith is going to make it to heaven.

While that probably an appropriate use of the verse, we lose sight of the reason Jesus spoke these words.  Thomas’ question was an important one.  “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

The way to the Father is with Jesus at our side.  He tells us that since we know Him, we know the Father.  He makes the path familiar.

I’ve made the trip between Omaha and my cabin so many times, that I know exactly which exits have the things I need.  I know where to find the rest areas and if I need food or gas, I know where the best things to eat are found and the best prices for gas can be had.  I am very familiar with this trip.  Every once in a while, I try new routes so that nothing is boring.  Then I will travel those until they are familiar.  Sometimes I encounter roadblocks (construction) or end up making side trips I hadn’t planned to make because of an accident (once it was simply cows that had gotten out of their field) or other event.  But, I know what things look like between here and there.

We don’t know what things look like between here and heaven.  We have absolutely no idea.  We know Jesus, though.  He knows the way.  He is the way.  Because we know Him … we can know the way.

May 27 - The Perfect Place

May 27 – The Perfect Place

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

How many rooms do you need?

Mom told us of a home that she lived in as a child in upper New York state.  It was an immense home with 21 rooms (not including kitchen, utility rooms or bathrooms).  I could not imagine something that large.  Most homes we lived in had a living room, dining room, office (maybe), family room (maybe), and three or four bedrooms.  That was plenty.

I think of the dormitories I lived in throughout college – nearly all of the rooms were created for more than one person to occupy.  I was thrilled when I got a single room.  The number of rooms that were available at the University of Iowa was mind-boggling, but they weren’t permanent living spaces and they weren’t created and prepared for me.

Every time we moved into a new home, the first thing I would do (once I was given leave to spend time in my space) was adapt my room to my taste.  I would hang my things on the walls, put up my bookshelves and fill them with my books, get everything put into my desk and my dresser, fill the closet with my clothes, make my bed and arrange things to my satisfaction.  It wasn’t prepared for me, but I made the best of what I had.

Jesus promises that eternity will offer a place for each of us prepared exactly for us.  This place that Jesus is preparing for us will be perfectly tailored to each of us.  It’s unimaginable, but it’s true.  The thing of it is … this perfect place is all about us being with Jesus. 

He knows me better than I know myself.  He knows my needs and my desires.  He knows my passion and my fears. He knows exactly what I will need as I enter eternity.  He has prepared that place and He will be in it with me.

May 26 - Unlovable? Not to Jesus.

May 26 – Unlovable?  Not to Jesus.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:31-38)

The beauty of Jesus’ forgiveness and patience is that it is boundless. We deny Him, we betray Him, we go our own way, we make huge pronouncements of how we are going to follow Him and then forget them within a few moments.  But, in all of that, Jesus understands and continues to love us.

This is a love that is difficult for us to comprehend.  If anyone did all of those things to us, we’d walk away from the relationship and never look back.  But, Jesus never walks away and He is always ready to hold us – even if we have been the one who walked away and attempted to destroy the relationship.

Jesus knew that Peter wasn’t going to be able to live up to his pronouncement of love, but that didn’t change how Jesus loved Peter.  This story serves to remind us that Jesus is willing to love us – even when we fail miserably. 

We may fail to love those who have wounded and hurt us, who can’t seem to follow through with their commitments, who say terrible things about us to others, who betray and deny their relationship with us - but Jesus never will. 

He will always love us – even when we are unlovable.

May 25 - Judas. In Control?

May 25 – Judas. In Control?

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

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

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “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, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:18-30)

It’s like a standard story plot, isn’t it!  A close friend of the hero betrays him and everything turns upside down.  However, in this story, the hero is prepared for the betrayal – even knows which of his friends will do it and how it will happen.  It’s part of the plan.

How do you explain to the world, though that there will be one among those whom are entrusted with Jesus’ life while on earth who will betray Him to His death?  When Jesus chose the twelve who would follow Him, there would be one who would never have the chance to spread the Good News of His transformative power. 

As I thought about that, I realized that we all have the choice to be Judas or Peter.  It wasn’t just the fact that Judas betrayed Jesus one time, it was that he would never again have the chance to tell people about the new life that can be found in knowing Jesus personally.  He cut himself off from the source of life and the opportunities that awaited him in the future.  Betrayal led to Jesus’ death, Judas’ death and the death of one man’s positive impact on the world.  The other disciples were able to experience the joy of telling the world about their relationship with Jesus.  They found so much in that joy that they suffered incredible pain.  Judas stopped before he even had a chance to get started. 

Judas’ life was centered in the minutiae.  He was worried about the money, he was worried about himself, he was worried about how all of Jesus’ teachings would impact his little world.  So, he took control of the situation in order to maintain status quo in his little world.  With Jesus arrested and gone, the world he had created around himself might stay within his control and offer a sense of normal.  He didn’t want to experience anything more than what he was familiar with.

As disciples we are called to reach beyond our small lives to tell the world about Jesus – no matter the cost.  It’s an exciting life.

May 24 - An Example

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24 – I Have Set An Example For You

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:1-17)

Jesus did all of this to help His disciples understand what serving each other is all about.  Wow.

There are people like Mother Teresa whose lives are offered in service to others.  Stories of her sacrifices on behalf of others are legendary and beautiful.

There are so many other stories that are just as beautiful, but not necessarily legendary because no one really knows about them.  Those people don’t talk about the things they do for others. A friend who shows up with food and treats when you’re unable to take care of those things yourself.  A young man and his friends choose to sleep at night in a vacant building with homeless because the fact that they are there impacts the housing board. Kids taking time out of their day to collect food and items for a shelter.  Neighbors offering to paint a house for an elderly woman on a fixed income.

All of these things happen every day with very little acknowledgement.  They are done without any desire for glory or praise – simply because a servant heart fills a person.

Jesus wanted us to learn how to live as servants to each other.  To learn that it is never about us, but about those around us who need us to act in their lives with grace and love.

Today … as you watch the world around you – think about who it is that offers you this gift without need for accolades and who you might be able to offer this gift to.

May 23 - Judgment, Gossip, Punishment. Too much?

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23 – Judgment, Gossip, Punishment.  Too much?

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)

There are a few ‘favorite’ writers that capture my attention each day when I read their blogs.  This morning two of them spoke to my heart … but the funny thing is, God spoke first while I was in the shower and when I came out, His words were reinforced by theirs.

We’re (I’m) pretty good at judging people.  I have a good idea of the difference between right and wrong and I can make sure that differentiation is obvious to everyone else around me.

That’s called gossip, by the way.

When someone fails miserably in life, I judge them.  It’s a pretty common response.  When someone succeeds, I can quickly choose to judge everything else about them so that I bring them back down to a level that makes sense.

I suspect that God would actually prefer we not do things like that to the people around us. And honestly, it is so unhealthy in so many ways.  When we gossip and sit in righteous judgment regarding other people’s failures, what we are telling those around us who listen to our words is that in a heartbeat we could be judging them.  We are no longer a safe person because are interests are obviously not in their best interest.  I can tell you that there are a number of people in my life in whom I no longer trust because of their incessant need to belittle and judge others – thinking that they’ll impress me with their self-righteous view of the world.

There are people that I don’t trust to have my back because I know that as soon as it is turned, they’ll tell others about my failure.  They would rather impress everyone around them with all of their knowledge regarding any situation than just holding information between them and God.

Pete Wilson talked this morning about his need to ‘fix’ people and within that need comes judgment.   He had to figure out that he wasn’t God and fixing those around him wasn’t his purpose in life – it’s what God does.

John Fischer wrote about the complete opposite of what we expect from God, which is guilt and punishment and that God takes delight in us because of the work Jesus did on the cross. 

So … judgment – guilt – punishment.  These are things that we don’t have to take on ourselves or place on others.  The One who is responsible for that is God and He delights in us. 

How does that change your day?

May 22 - Risking Separation

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22 – Risking separation

Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
    “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:37-43)

Sometimes it isn’t easy to follow Christ.  Even if we call ourselves Christians, we find that actually following Christ doesn’t work out quite like we think it should.  It isn’t easy to follow Him in our churches, much less our jobs or in social settings.

Those who wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah were frightened of being put out of the synagogue.  And who could blame them?  That was the center of their earthly existence.  The family wasn’t as important as the synagogue.  For centuries, the Temple was the link for every Jew to God.  If they weren’t allowed to be there, they weren’t allowed to establish a relationship to God.  Everything went through the hierarchy of the Temple … and the synagogue.  Consequently, that was a lot of power held in the hands of a few.  If you read the Old Testament, you see how that corrupted the Kings of Israel.  And by the New Testament, it was corrupting the priests … and the ruling council of the Jews.

Later on, we see it corrupting priests and popes.

Why?  Because we are sheep.  So many of us rely on others to lead us and when that happens, we give them power over us.  God wanted to lead His people, but they called for a King.  Saul wasn’t a great King, David was much better, but soon the corruption was practically inherent in the monarchy.

God wants to lead each of us, but John tells us that those who worried about being put out of the synagogue were more worried about human glory than that which comes from God.  They were worried about what people thought of them … and gave the leaders of the synagogue power over them.

God wants to care for us and lead us.  Sometimes that is difficult because it leads us away from what the rest of the world thinks is appropriate.  Many times we are too afraid to move away from the norm because we want the approval of humanity.  When it comes to risk … this is a big one.

May 21 - The Choice

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21 – The Choice

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. (John 12:27-36)
If we want to do anything in this world, sometimes we have to face things that we would rather avoid. 

I hope that none of us actually believes that Jesus was looking forward to His torture and crucifixion.  Just as we don’t anticipate death until we are closer to approaching it, there is no way that Jesus, as a human, wanted to face what He knew was coming.

The thing is, He actually could have said, “Father, save me from this hour,” and if He meant it, everything would have changed.  He could have saved Himself and allowed the world to go to hell. 

But, it was to save the world that Jesus came to earth.  It was to offer hope that He continued to move forward to the crucifixion.  It was to honor God that He did any of this so that we could understand what complete and unfettered obedience really is.

We make choices every day to do things that seem distasteful or difficult.  We whine about having to make those choices, complaining that it all seems so unfair.

The glory of it is that we GET to make those choices.  We are living a life that is a gift and we live in hope because of a choice that was made long ago.  Do you understand that there was a choice made by Jesus?  He made it for us.  When you have to make difficult choices – who do you make them for?

May 20 - Here and Now, There and Then

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20 – Here and Now, There and Then

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:20-26)

Death is just one of those things that freaks a lot of us out.  Even though I wait expectantly for the moment I arrive in heaven, I’m not in a terrible hurry to get there.  I enjoy life.

One day during an extremely stressful period in our lives, Mom and I were driving through Omaha past a beautiful cemetery.  The lawn was perfect, trees were gently swaying in the breeze, there seemed to be no hurried pace.  I just quietly mentioned to Mom that it looked so wonderful.  For some reason, the tone of my voice or the exact words I used startled her.  She turned on me and asked, “You’re not planning something crazy, are you?”

No, I just loved the idea of the peace and quiet that seemed to exist beyond the gates into that cemetery.

Now, when I was growing up, cemeteries really creeped me out.  I suspect it might have something to do with the horror stories I read.  You can’t imagine the number of them that had bad things happening in darkened cemeteries! 

Death scared me then and I’m not in any hurry to approach it now.

But, Jesus promises us that if we serve Him, we will follow Him into heaven.  He will be there waiting for us.  And at some point in the transition between the here and now and the there and then, we will yearn for eternal life more than we love life on earth. 

May 19 - We Remember Jesus

May 19 – We Remember Jesus

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:  “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” (John 12:12-19)

There’s nothing more fun than seeing a popular celebrity in your home town.  Even a minor celebrity is kind of cool.  A lot of us have ‘celebrity sightings’ in our history.  We talk about them with our friends and exaggerate the stories just a little bit for the entertainment value.

We also love to tell stories about a friend who has made it big in their field or a hometown acquaintance that made it.  When we knew them, we didn’t think much of them, but the day that they get noticed, we remember every detail of our association with them.

Jesus’ disciples were obedient and followed Him, learning from Him and experiencing all that He had to share with them, but they still didn’t really understand the impact of who He was!

John tells us that after He was glorified … after He had died, come back from the dead and went up to heaven … the disciples remembered all of these details.  They remembered the crowds going wild when He came into Jerusalem.  They remembered the celebration of a man they hoped would save them from the oppressive reign of the Romans.  The reflected and remembered the man who had loved them and then they recognized the eternal impact of Jesus Christ.

We have the benefit of centuries of hindsight.  We don’t have to look back and remember details about Jesus, we have the stories of the disciples when He was on earth and we have stories about how He touched our lives today. 

Don’t wait to tell those stories.  People need to hear them now. 

May 18 - Do You Kill Joy?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 18 – Do You Kill Joy?

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:1-11)

You’d think that being the Son of God would pretty much assure you an easy life, wouldn’t you!  Every time Jesus turned around, someone was there to make annoying statements and force Him to get involved … even His disciples.

A lot had happened and He was finally able to relax at the home of His friends, Mary, Martha & Lazarus in Bethany.  Mary, who had moved Jesus to tears at Lazarus’ death had to have been incredibly grateful for the return of her brother and the fact that Jesus cared for them so much.  To show her gratitude, she washed His feet with scented nard or perfume and dried them with her hair.  A beautiful moment, right?

Wrong. Judas got nasty about the fact that she hadn’t given him the money instead to share with the poor.

Isn’t that the way it always happens?  I have been in more churches where the nasty-mouthed, complaining, nagging meanies control not only the money but the activities of the church.  If something incredibly wonderful happens, they show up the next day with complaints that will ensure it never happens again.  Judas not only stole money from the coffers, but he stole the joy of that moment from Mary and from Jesus.

Then, to top it off, poor Lazarus had a death sentence laid out on him because Jesus had brought him back from the dead.

There was no joy in the simple (and profound) moments of Jesus’ life. Everyone had their own agenda and were willing to reduce anything good so that it could be destroyed.

Do you encourage joy or do you move immediately to the negative aspects?  Judas’ words sounded as if he were just being practical.  Does your practical nature strip joy out of a situation? 

Jesus came so that we may have joy and that we might have abundant life.  Share that with each other today!

May 17 - The Needs of the Many

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17 – The Needs of the Many

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him. (John 11:45-57)

Spock said at the end of Start Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  Isn’t it interesting to find ancient biblical text showing up in contemporary science fiction?  Caiaphas set the stage two thousand years ago, didn’t he!

We see evil in the character of Caiaphas and it is a little disturbing to recognize that he was balancing the fate of an entire nation against the fate of one man. 

If you think about that a little more deeply, it is also interesting to see that Caiaphas recognized how one man could affect the entirety of the nation of Israel.  But because he was also concerned with his own power struggle and saw that Jesus could set the path of the world on a course which would eliminate him as its leader, he made a decision to eliminate him.

He justified his behavior to the ruling council, but something interesting happened.  Instead of rescuing his nation and establishing his own rule over them, he destroyed the one man who could have saved them.

This isn’t a bad lesson for us today.  We work so hard to keep the world moving around us the way that we recognize.  We operate from the confines of our very narrow minds.  It is easier to say no to something that might be a bit outside our box and might change things radically than it is to embrace something new.  We justify our decisions and then sit in our place ready to fight off anyone who attempts to bring change.

Jesus Christ didn’t make it easy on the leaders of Israel.  He challenged them and He continues to challenge us. So … do we act like Caiaphas when He calls us to be or do something quite differently than our status quo?  Do we fight His call with everything we have or do we respond like the twelve disciples and follow Him?

May 16 - He Stinketh!

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16 – He Stinketh!

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)

The King James version says, “Lord, he stinketh.”  I can’t get through this verse without giggling.  When we were growing up, our cabin didn’t have running water and we had an outhouse.  Every summer we would arrive after the place had been closed for the winter and open everything up.  One of the first buildings that we opened was that outhouse.  Everyone needed to use it and quickly!  Dad wasn’t great about stopping.  That door would open and even though he had used lime before closing it up, mom invariably would turn on him and say, “Frank … it stinketh.”  And it did.

Martha was the sister who believed that Jesus could do anything.  When the reality of the situation hit, though, she figured that things were going to be ugly before they got better.  She was fine with Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead, but not fine with the smell that comes from behind a stone closing a tomb.

All along people around Jesus were confident in His power, but unsure about how this was all going to play out.  On the other hand, Jesus was completely sure!  He had taken an extra two days to get to Bethany.  He spent time with Mary and Martha, comforting them.  He didn’t allow the urgency of the moment to stop Him from being where He needed to be and talking to whom He needed to speak with.  When the time was right, He rolled away the stone and called Lazarus out.

When I see a need, I want God to deal with it immediately.  I want Him to fix it, bring comfort and peace, heal, bring joy … whatever … right now!

Jesus knew that things were going to be ok and He knew that the timing would be perfect.  No urgency, no stress, no pleading … just gratefulness for God’s blessings.

I think there’s a lesson in there for me.  Because when it comes to that … I stinketh.

May 15 - Jesus Weeps for Us

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15 – Jesus Weeps for Us

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:17-37)

Jesus hadn’t raised Lazarus from the dead yet and Martha said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah …”

This is the kind of faith we are called to have – the kind that shows up before Jesus has performed a miracle, the kind that believes He can do anything. 

If you read this passage, you get a different picture of the other sister, Mary.  When she sees Jesus, she falls apart and blames Him for allowing Lazarus to die.

Did Jesus berate her for her feelings or her accusation?  Absolutely not.  Her grief took Him to the point of tears.  He hurt for His friend.  He wasn’t angry that she didn’t have faith that trusted He would have done something.  He just wept.

I don’t think that we understand the incredible depth of compassion Jesus has for us in every circumstance that we face.  We can be angry and wounded without fear that Jesus will turn His back on us.  More than likely He will weep with us. 

You know, before I spent time in the passage, I thought that Jesus wept simply because his friend, Lazarus had died.  That’s not it at all.  He wept because of the pain that He saw in His friends.  He weeps for us when we hurt.  He loves us that much.

May 14 - The Death of Lazarus

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14 – The Death of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:1-16)

If you heard that one of your closest friends was ill – to the point of death, you would do everything possible to get there before they died. Right?  Absolutely.

Now, wouldn’t it be amazing to know that when you’re with Jesus, the fear of death no longer has a stranglehold on you?  When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He was completely confident that his sickness wouldn’t lead to death … or would it?

He stayed for two more days after getting the message, even though we are assured several times that Jesus loved this family.  He obviously loved them a lot. 

His disciples probably thought He was afraid of going back into Judea because the Jews might stone Him for blasphemy.  When it came time to set out on the journey, they were a little startled! 

All of these things happened because Jesus had a plan.  That plan grew out of His incredible love for these twelve that followed Him.  After all they had been through, He wanted them to experience something spectacular.  He wanted to show them that God’s love transcends even death. 

It occurs to me that there wouldn’t be too many families around Him who would put up with what will happen in tomorrow’s lesson.  Martha and Mary aren’t going to be terribly happy with Him, but because of their love for each other … they’ll understand.

Jesus wants to show you … and me spectacular things.  Sometimes these things rise out of the ashes.  The disciples, Mary and Martha were desperate for Jesus to heal Lazarus.  But, He had something bigger planned.  It was going to take a lot of trust on their part and they were going to have to experience grief and even death. 

Could you let something awful happen so that Jesus could bring you a spectacular experience? 

May 13 - Believe What I Do.

May 13 – Believe What I Do.

The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there. (John 10:33-42)

I always hated that saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”  It never felt honest.

In this passage, though … Jesus says, “If you don’t believe me, believe what I’m doing.”

His miracles were done to point people toward God.  They weren’t done to make people think that Jesus was some magician or to bring Him fame or money.  They were representative of the love that God has for humanity.

Everything that Jesus did was to point people toward His Father.  Everything He said was to teach people about the great love that God has for us and to bring them into a relationship with God.

There will always be people who harden their hearts toward Jesus Christ.  There will be those who accuse Him of being a liar, or a lunatic.  There will be those who try to dismiss Him as simply a good man or another of the prophets of God. 

He asks people to look beyond words to the things that He is doing.  The fruit of His work. 

Our words may fall on deaf ears when we spend time talking about Jesus to others.  They don’t want to just hear pretty words coming from us.  The moment that we put our words into action, they will pay attention.

The world wants to see what we do – not what we say.

May 12 - Winter? Jesus Brings Spring!

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 12 – Winter?  Jesus Brings Spring!

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (John 10:22-32)

Why do you suppose that John mentions that it was winter?

It might have something to do with the next statement, offering a reason for His teaching in the portico.  Maybe He moved in under the portico to get out of the wind.

Or … it might have something to do with the idea that He was teaching to a people that were living in a spiritual winter.

The last two winters have been awful.  Cold, dead, dry, colorless, and they seemed to never end. 

Jesus brought spring.  He is the Word of creation

The Jews in these passages were too blind to realize what it was that He was offering.  They had been living in winter for so long they were snow-blind.  They couldn’t see beyond the bleakness of their lives.

For centuries they had only known one way to approach God and they had it so ritualized and legalized that they couldn’t imagine a God big enough to do something incredible.  In fact, they were so upset that Jesus asked them to look at God with different eyes, they were prepared to kill Him.

Jesus still does this to His people.  He continues to ask us to look at the world through His eyes, not ours.  Through the eyes of creation, new life, springtime – instead of our cold, dead, dry, colorless eyes.  To see the world as He sees it with all of the glory and majesty that He knows exists in His creation.

Springtime has come.  The winter is behind us.  Step into the sunshine. 

May 11 - Does He Have a Demon?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11 – Does He Have a Demon?

Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21)

Throughout the centuries the world has been divided because of Jesus.  People believe He is a prophet, others believe that it is just a great story, there are those who just plain don’t want to think about it. 

He asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”  in Mark 8:29. 

The Jews had no idea what to do with Jesus.  Healing this blind man threw them.  It just didn’t make sense.

Jesus doesn’t actually give us a lot of choices.  C.S. Lewis in his book, ‘Mere Christianity’ sets out to show us that we have to make a choice.  We can’t just state that Jesus was a good man, a prophet, a nice bedtime story.  Jesus wants us to believe in Him … or not.

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

The Jews didn’t know whether Jesus was a demon or not.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to them that a demon would do something like heal a blind man.

So, I toss it out to you … Who do you say that He is?

May 10 - Freedom? Really?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10 – Freedom? Really?

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:7-18)

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

There is actually a lot of freedom for us in that statement.  I remember people talking about how they figured they would wait until they got really old before becoming a Christian so that they could do all of the things they wanted to first.  Then, when their bodies were all worn out, they’d become a Christian and do the boring things that Christians do.

In ancient times, people actually waited until their death bed to be baptized.  They thought that forgiveness of sins was a one-chance thing.  Baptism was the cleansing required to forgive all their sins and it could only happen once.  Emperor Constantine, who pretty much solidified Christianity as the religion of the Empire believed that. 

Now, don’t think for a minute, that I believe this statement of Jesus is free reign to do whatever we like and we’ll be ok. 

But, what I do believe is that as Christians we are actually offered a lot more freedom than we think.  Jesus wants us to enjoy life, not get mired down in rules and regulations that the world seems to press in on us.  Remember those two commandments that He gave us.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

As long as we keep all of that and the ramifications that go along with disobeying those laws in mind, we get to enjoy life.  Just about any sinful thing that you can consider doing will go against one of those laws.  But, Jesus didn’t want us to spend our time worrying over whether or not we are doing something sinful.  He wants us to spend our time thinking about ways that we can love those around us.  He wants us to spend time thinking about ways that we can love God with every molecule of our being.

So, I think back to those who thought that living as a Christian was boring, it was better to wait until all the wild oats were sown. 

No … there is great excitement in being a Christian.  And within that, Jesus gives us permission to be free to do a great many things. 

May 9 - Do You Recognize His Voice?

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9 – Do You Recognize His Voice?

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. (John 10:1-6)

Have you ever wandered (before you were a parent) around a large department store and wondered how several different children calling out, “Mom! Mom!” get the right parents to come looking for them.

I remember thinking about that when I was much younger.  But, even as a parent, I could hone in on the right voices of the children who were with me.  I loved them so I recognized their voice – no matter where they were.

Another thing I thought a lot about was the omnipresence of God … how, out of all the voices in the universe that cry out to Him, does He recognize mine.  I never get lost in the shuffle.  It isn’t like calling up a customer service center and getting placed on hold for 35 minutes only to have to repeat every single word I said because they had lost the information I gave them initially.

Not only does God recognize my voice when I call out, but He knows everything there is to know about me and the situation I’m in.  He knows what He is going to do and He knows how to care for me.

These are the kinds of things that occupy a lot of my mind as I can only praise Him for being so much more than I can comprehend. 

I can understand only minimally because I can only separate a few voices from the crowd.  But, in a large crowd, Jesus knows every single voice and knows their needs.

He knows His sheep and we recognize Him immediately because of the intimate care that He gives to each person individually.  He hears and recognizes your voice … do you recognize His?

May 8 - Surely We're Not Blind, Are We?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8 – Surely We’re Not Blind, Are We?

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:35-41)

The Pharisees drove the blind man out of the Temple.  Because he had been healed of his blindness, he was no longer welcome among the worshiping Jews.  He was reviled and tossed away because in a moment he had gone from being blind and pathetic, to being able to see and rejoicing!  They drove him out.

Then an amazing thing happened. Jesus went looking for him. 

We are human.  We do despicable things to each other.  We toss people away, we ignore them, we treat them poorly, we say terrible things about them, we are unable to find compassion within ourselves for others, we step over people on our way to the top, we won’t listen to others because our needs or our pains are more important than theirs.  We miss out on helping others because we are too busy with our lives, our children’s lives, the lives of our friends. 

Surely we’re not blind, are we?

Jesus went looking for the man.  He’s not just human.  He wasn’t interested in promoting his own agenda or managing his life and the lives around Him.  He wanted to restore the relationship this man had with God.  That’s all that really mattered.  That’s all that really matters.

Whenever we look to our own needs and desires first, we miss opportunities to restore relationships.

Surely we’re not blind, are we?

Jesus went looking for the man.

When He found Him, He told this man what the world had been waiting to hear.  The Son of Man, the Messiah, was walking among humanity.

May 7 - Are You Trying to Teach Us?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7 – Are You Trying to Teach Us?

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. (John 9:13-34)

At the beginning of this story, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned so as to cause this poor man’s blindness.  Jesus didn’t really respond – He changed the thought process of the disciples to focus on truth, not on sin.

The Pharisees could not get past the fact that something like this had happened at all! They couldn’t get past the sin, the ugliness, the darkness, the pain.  That’s all they knew to focus on because if they had looked toward God in all of this, they might have lost their power.

They took great pleasure in their power over others.  The parents of the blind man were terrified that they might be put out of the synagogue so they refused to answer when asked about it.  Who knows if the blind man was that na├»ve or not, but he questioned if they simply wanted to become followers of Jesus.

When they pushed back at him and claimed to be disciples of Moses, thereby linking themselves to God, the (formerly) blind man was astounded by the fact that they missed very simple truth.  God would not listen to sinners, and He obviously listened to Jesus by healing his blindness.  Obviously Jesus was from God.

Do we miss the simple truths of God because we lose focus?  Are we more interested in how something came to be or why it exists or how a person could have done what they did than in God’s saving grace? 

Nothing about a relationship with God is difficult … it is we who make it more complex than it needs to be.  The Pharisees came from a long line of interpreters of the Law – which was a description of the relationship God had with Israel.  They didn’t want simple because then anyone could be in relationship with God.  They wanted it to be complex.

The world needs simple.  Do we make this too complex, too difficult? 

May 6 - Who Sinned? Or Be Healed!

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 6 – Who Sinned? Or Be Healed!

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” (John 9:1-12)

Sometimes we forget what compassion is about because we’re so interested in figuring out why someone is in the situation they are in.  Is it their fault, someone else’s fault?  We are so focused on the punishment and blame-placing, that we forget there is someone hurting.  Sometimes God wants us to be a little more hands on with our care. 

One day a particularly pious parishioner had stopped by the house to chat with mom about some problems that were occurring in the church.  She wanted to ensure mom knew all the background behind the garbage, that she herself was not involved, but wanted to make sure it was all cleaned up.  Someone needed to be responsible and it wasn’t going to be her. 

As she prattled on and on about all of the various people involved in the situation, all of a sudden there was a terrible crash right outside our front door.  A car had hit a motorcycle and sent it skidding down the street.  It was a mess.  We all jumped up to look and before mom and I could react, the woman grabbed our hands and tried to pull us to our knees to pray.

I was stunned!  Praying while on the move was the appropriate reaction … not leaving the poor guy on the motorcycle out there bleeding and alone.  Mom was a little shook up, but managed to release me from the prayer so I could be practical.  I called 911 and ran outside with a blanket.  Within moments the street was filled with people to help, but that pious parishioner couldn’t involve herself with actual need … she could only manage gossip and do that from afar.

What is your response?  Do you worry about the issues behind the problem or just help deal with the problem and set aside the rest to worry about later.  Jesus didn’t want to discuss the stuff behind the man’s blindness.  He wanted to make it so the man could see.

And does anyone see the absolutely amazing confluence of His use of “I am the light of the world” and healing a man’s eyes so He could see? 

May 5 - Fifty is Not Old!

May 5 – Fifty is Not Old!

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:48-59)

Out of all the ages they could choose to use, they chose fifty?  Great.  Jesus just wasn’t that old.  And, by the way, neither is fifty.

When I turned 45 years old, my father took great pleasure in reminding me of just how old I was.  At his 45th birthday, when I was still quite young (like age twenty or something), I must have reacted in shock to his age and he never really forgot that and could hardly wait for me to get there so he could remind me.

He wasn’t around for my fiftieth birthday … I suspect that was probably safer for my ego.

What I find so funny in that exchange between Jesus and the Jews was that thousands of years had passed since the time of Abraham and they were worried that He wasn’t yet fifty?  If He had been over the age of fifty would there have been a better probability that He could have seen Abraham?

From the beginning of John’s gospel we are made aware of the fact that Jesus was with God from the creation of the world.  If we believe that, we have to believe that He knew Abraham and He was there when Abraham lived and when Abraham died.  In fact, Jesus goes on to say, “I am,” implying that He exists in every time and in any time.  This is the Divine “I” speaking … the Word of God, the Creator of the Earth.

I’m ok with a great deal of wisdom, knowledge and experience being ascribed to those aged fifty and older.  But … it still is not that old.

May 4 - Love Jesus? Love God.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 4 – Love Jesus? Love God.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” (John 8:42-47)

One of the biggest difficulties many of us face as Christians is in understanding how Jesus could have possibly been so intolerant of other faiths by stating clearly that no one would come to the Father except through Him.

In this passage, He speaks along the same theme by saying: “If God were your Father, you would love me,” clearly implying that the two are inextricably linked together.  He goes on to say that others are from the devil.

This is such a touchy subject and one that I dread taking on because of the way that it separates the world rather than drawing all people together. And much as I prefer that everyone be on the same page … Jesus really doesn’t allow that type of wishy-washy behavior. 

If you want to love God … Jesus is a part of that package, whether you like it or not – whether you want to believe it or not.  If you don’t want to like it or believe it – that’s up to you, but that isn’t going to get you any closer to God and eternal life with Him.  Jesus doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

He asks His accusers if they have any sins that they can convict Him of … no?  Have they heard Him speak lies … no?  Then it follows that He is telling the truth and this is truth that we can’t escape.  He and the Father are one.  His words come from the Father.  He brings the truth of God to earth.

Our choice is whether or not we choose to believe.  And then, if we choose to believe – what will we do with that?

May 3 - Be Free!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 3 – Be Free!

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” (John 8:31-41)

Freedom.  It’s one of those words that gets bandied about.  We want it, we don’t seem to get enough of it. We don’t handle it well.  Some think that freedom leads to anarchy. We don’t understand what true freedom really is.

Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

These Jews that were speaking to Him in this passage didn’t understand what He was speaking about.  Interestingly enough, they informed Him that as sons of Abraham, they had never known slavery … they had always been free.  They conveniently ignored the years of slavery before Moses brought them out of Egypt and the years in bondage under Nebuchadnezzar!

Jesus, however, was talking about their slavery to sin.  Only He could release them from that bondage.  They couldn’t do it on their own.

It isn’t so hard to imagine, is it?  You and I both know that sin in our lives stops us from true freedom.  We are so focused on ignoring it or hiding it or justifying it or hoping that no one notices our sins, we can’t do the things that Jesus calls us to do!  Sin enslaves us.  It makes us fearful and it causes us to be angry and hateful. It enslaves us.

God doesn’t want us to live like that.  He wants us to live as whole human beings, able to love and enjoy His creation and a relationship with Him.  Jesus offers us that freedom. All we have to do is believe Him.

May 2 - Know Jesus, Know God

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2 – Know Jesus, Know God

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (John 8:12-30)

The power behind these statements made by Jesus is the power that created the world.  There is nothing greater than that power and nothing can come up against it.  Jesus speaks and acts with the authority of God.

It is too easy for us to ignore that power.  We don’t see it much these days.  We are expected to haul ourselves up by our own bootstraps, live each day to the fullest, make our own way in the world, be strong.  We train ourselves, our children, our friends to live as though we have to do everything alone and to be honest … we are mediocre at best.

We can not begin to imagine what putting the power of God to work in the world might mean.  It’s beyond us.  When we tap into that power – even just a little bit – we are so overwhelmed that we become satisfied and then move away again to rely on our own strength.

Jesus never did that.  Because He knew that He and the Father were one – He acted as if that were true in everything that He did. He didn’t step away from God and attempt to heal people on His own.  He didn’t speak out on His own.  He didn’t teach on His own.  Everything about Him was true because He was in unity with the Father.

Now, I fully understand that Jesus is God and thus, His power is limitless.  But we have access to that same power.  Jesus tells us that we can move mountains, that we can do anything with just the faith of a tiny mustard seed. 

Jesus always did what was pleasing to God.  There was no question of His righteousness or sinlessness.  When all of the accusations swirled around Him, none accused Him of committing sin.  People had known Him well for 33 years and no one could bring a charge against Him.

This perfect relationship that He had with the Father … as part of the Trinity was the source of His authority and power.  While we can’t begin to achieve that level of perfection, what Jesus tells us in this passage is that if we know Him … we know the Father.  Because of Jesus, we are given access as children of God.

All we have to do is know Jesus. 

May 1 - Are You Without Sin?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1 – Without Sin?

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 7:53-8:11)

We live in a world that applauds ‘goodness’ and calls it ‘without sin.’  If you live a good life and don’t do something heinous – like murder, steal, cheat (in any number of ways), or any of those things Moses got from God on a couple of tablets – you are seen as pretty well ‘sinless.’

I have plenty of friends that thing they do pretty well and don’t feel they have all that much to confess to God, so they walk to church with an upright head and find themselves looking down their noses at those who have obviously sinned in some way.

If they are successful financially or have managed their money better than others, it’s obviously because the other has sinned and they themselves are pretty good people.  If they donate to charities, serve on the church board (or any committee), take care of children in the nursery at church, attend a small group or several, go to Bible study regularly, read Christian novels and listen to Christian music on the radio and work at not cussing a blue streak – they draw a line of distinction between themselves and others who might not be able to achieve all of that earthly glory.

One of the greatest things I am taking away from reading the ancient church fathers is their incredible humility when faced with their own sinfulness.  There is no lack of understanding the depths of their need of Christ’s saving grace.  Everything about them sets their own selves aside and places Christ at the forefront.  They write over and over about how little they deserve the mercy of God and how great is His love and care for them.

These are men who lived monastic lives – didn’t go too far out of line in any situation – but were willing to admit that at every moment of every day, they were prone to sin and generally did sin.  There was absolutely nothing they could do on their own to help them make the jump over the chasm of death – it all came from the great love of God shown in the sacrifice of Christ.

May we be that humble in everything we do and in every encounter we have with others.  May we always make ourselves less and Christ greater.  May we always remember that our sin … no matter how we try to justify it or make it smaller than someone else’s is too much to get to heaven on our own.  May we never judge another.  We are great sinners – everyone of us and have no right to call out another for their sin. 

Jesus was very clear on this.  He is the only one who can lay judgment.  He is the Lord God.