Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prayer (John 14-16)

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14 

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7 

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16 

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23,24
* * * * * * * * * * 

Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples on prayer is pretty eye-catching: five times he says,  “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” I see three question begging to be answered: What does it mean to ask in God’s name; do Christians get anything and everything they ask for; and ultimately, how should we pray?

I am going to address this by walking us through what’s commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. After my dad died, I really struggled with the concept of prayer. Lots of people had prayed – and felt really confident that God’s plan was healing – and yet he died. I spent years reading about prayer, talking with others, and regaining my footing in this area. The Lord’s Prayer was huge to me during this time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to pray or how prayer worked, but I knew Jesus said, “Pray like this.” So I did.

Jesus offered this prayer to his disciples as sort of a model. There’s nothing magical in the recitation of it, but in it we see foundational principles in how to pray, and why. Some have claimed we see the whole of the gospel message revealed in this prayer. Perhaps that is so. At the very least, this prayer offers some answers to the questions I raised earlier.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

In This World You Will Have Trouble: The Reality Of Persecution (John 15-17)



John 15:18 – 16:3 “If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason. Don’t forget what I have spoken to you: ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you… The time will come when they will kick you out of the synagogue because some believe God desires them to execute you as an act of faithful service.”

John 16:32-33  “Be aware that a time is coming when you will be scattered like seeds…In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”

John 17:14-14  “I have given them Your word; and the world has despised them because they are not products of the world, in the same way that I am not a product of the corrupt world order. Do not take them out of this world; protect them from the evil one.”
                                            _____________________________________

Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night of his arrest. Basically he was telling them, Expect persecution.” He was right. Hebrews 11 gives quite a list of what happened to not only these disciples but many who claimed allegiance to Jesus: wandered in deserts and mountains, lived in caves, tortured, sawn in two, jailed, flogged, chained, put to death by the sword and stoned. They all were killed but John, who was terribly tortured and imprisoned.

In this specific warning to his disciples we see a broader warning to all who will be his disciples. We may not all experience the exact persecution the disciples or the early church did, but because the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the Kingdoms of the World, those who love the world will despise followers of Jesus; the church can expect to be despised, broken apart, scattered and persecuted. Though Jesus has overcome the world, “in this world you will have trouble.”  “Trouble” of some sort is clearly a reality that has haunted followers of Christ throughout history, including what is happening to the global church today.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Glory Of God (John 13-17)

In the book of John, Jesus is constantly telling people to glorify God, and He is glad that through the salvation of people He himself is glorified. And then he says God will glorify those whom he has chosen, called and justified.[1] So, if you are a Christian, you believe God is glorious; you believe He knows it and wants others to know it; and you believe that God wants to make you glorious. The language of glory and the reality of glorification is directly connected with God and with us. I don’t know about you, but I think that all sounds exciting even as I feel a little – maybe a lot -  uncomfortable.

Why? Because I don’t think we have a great understanding of glory. That’s not the Bible’s fault. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we see our fallen world distort or ruin our perspective on what makes something or someone glorious, and how we should respond.

So let’s talk about glory and glorificiation, because we are going to need a biblically grounded view of this if we are going to have a true view of God and of ourselves as followers of Christ. We will begin with a small sample of verses from the book of John that capture the biblical use of the word ‘glory’ as it relates to God, people, shame, suffering and hair.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus' New Command: Why Loving Our Neighbors As We Love Ourselves Is Not Enough (John 13,15)

John 13-17 is John's last lengthy recorded conversation of Jesus talkining to his disciples. Judas has left to betray Jesus; time is short. These chapters give us a condensed focus: “Remember this.” While Jesus highlights a number of different themes from these chapters, my focus is on what he had to say about loving others well.

One of Jesus’ most famous teachings is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This was a brilliant distillation of all 600+ Old Testament laws. If you do the first properly, the second should follow naturally. If you don’t do the second, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t doing the first well either.[1] This summary of the law raises two immediate questions.
  • “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everybody is your neighbor, even those you most dislike for religious and cultural reasons.[2]
  • What does it mean to love your neighbor “as yourself”?  Didn’t Jesus just say we have to die to ourselves? How does this work? And there may be an even more haunting question that comes with this: “What if I don’t love myself? Does this mean I can’t love other people?”

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dying To Live (John 12)

You may have heard of an autobiographical book (and eventually a  movie) called Eat Pray Love written by Liz Gilbert in 2006. Here’s a brief synopsis thanks to Google:
“Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.”
This was not the first time Gilbert had discovered something about herself. In 2015, Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Times in entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict.”[1] In it she describes what she found out about herself in the years before the events Eat Pray Love.
"It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.… If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different… 
Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always… 
In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for… If you asked me what I was up to, I might have claimed that I was a helpless romantic — and how can you judge that? If really cornered, I might have argued that I was a revolutionary feminist, taking brazen agency over my own sexuality… 
For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop…"
She then tells a story about meeting a man to whom she was really attracted but whom she resisted. She stopped her pattern of destructive behavior. As far as one can tell when the article ends, all is well. It’s heart-breaking to read, but there’s an apparently happy ending. Then she traveled on her quest for self-discovery as chronicled in Eat Pray Love, which culminated in her marrying someone new. Then, one year after her perhaps too hasty article about her move into maturity, this appeared in the New York Times[2]:
"Ms. Gilbert, speaking directly to her readers in a Facebook post, said that after 12 years she was separating from José Nunes, the Brazilian importer whom she met during her travels and later married, and who was a central character in the book… In April, Ms. Gilbert said that she missed travel: “I’ve never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to come to this earth and miss.”
So there was no happy ending. In her journey of self-discovery she discovered things about herself, but to what end? To what purpose? The act of discovery is not enough. One needs to discover not just things but true and good things – and then allow those things to transform you.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” 
 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...” 
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." 
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying 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 deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]  
 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?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"  
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Meeting of Misery And Mercy (John 7 - 8:12)

In the story of the Woman Caught In Adultery, we see Jesus embody God’s perspective on how to balance judgment and mercy.[1] We will first look at the context of the story, then at the person of Jesus, and finally why this story matters to us. Let’s start with some background information that begins to unfold in Chapter 7.
  • This happened on the day after the eight day celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacle/ Feast of Booths. The Jews lived in huts during this time to commemorate how the Israelites lived in tents during the Exodus.
  • Moses had commanded that during the days of this Feast the law be read, so this was an annual, purposeful focus on the Law of God.
  • The main purpose was to thank God for his provision during the past in the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43) and in the present as seen in the harvest just completed (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
  • The people were reminded of their profound dependence upon God for provision. They would recite Psalm 118:25 every day: “O Lord, defend/rescue/deliver us, and prosper us.” 
  • They had a ceremony in which four different types of plants were brought to the altar. These four plants symbolized four different kinds of Jews. One plant had a good fragrance and a good taste, symbolizing knowledge of the Torah and good deeds. One only had fragrance (only good deeds); one only had taste (only knowledge of the Torah), and one had neither.
  • There was a series of water offerings each morning in the temple, commemorating the provision of water in the wilderness. When Jesus tells them to come to him to drink (7:37-38), he is linking himself to God’s provision in the Exodus.
  • Menorahs would be lit in the House of Water Drawing, which was in the Court of Women in the temple. People would dance and sing, “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven.”[2]
  • Jesus' proclamation that he is the light of the world (8:12) linked him to the feast's lamp-lighting ceremonies that commemorated the pillar of fire during the Exodus. The morning that Jesus is challenged is the morning that four festival lamps in the court in the Temple ("The light of the world") were put out.
  • Jesus had been teaching from, among other things, the book of Isaiah, and he quoted a prophecy about the Messiah and used it to refer to himself.
So Jesus has been claiming to be the Water and the Light and quoting a revered Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, all to show that he is the Messiah for whom they have been longing. The good news was that the God whom they worshipped during this feast was with them. Many of the people were starting to believe.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

“For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.
 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” (Philippians 4:1-9)

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.
And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.