John 14:9-10 and Seeing God

passion supperOne of the hardest ideas to understand in Christianity is the Trinity, the idea that there really is only one God, but in three distinct persons.  It is a topic we may never fully understand, but it is one that makes the best sense of what we see in the Bible.  Look, for example, at this passage in John

 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever 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 the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works.”

In this passage Jesus lets us know that through him the Father is made known.  What Jesus did and said while he was on earth was exactly what the Father wanted him to do and say because it was actually the Father who was speaking and working in the Son.

This is confusing, but comforting.  Especially when we look at what Jesus says a few verses later.  As he is talking about the Holy Spirit coming to his followers, he says

Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (14:23).

Now this idea is expanded to the Holy Spirit as well.  When we receive the Holy Spirit in our lives as we become believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we have God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelling in us, making their home with us.

Certain traditions within the history of the Church have said we should have “Jesus in our hearts” or the “indwelling of the Spirit.”  What Jesus says here is beyond all of that.  Jesus says that when we become Christians, the entire Trinity dwells in us.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reside with us and have fellowship with us.

I find this very comforting because I know there are times when it seems like God is remote and distant, like God does not know or understand what is happening in life.  With this statement, Jesus reminds us that no matter what we go through in life (and since this was right before he was arrested, he was preparing his apostles for some very difficult times and persecutions) Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be with us.

Thanks be to God!

John 9:1-7 and Who is Jesus?

jesus.healJesus gets asked several times throughout his ministry who he is, what authority he has to do what he does, and what he actually means by what he says.  Many times his answers are not direct.  This miracle is another instance of Jesus showing all around who he is, but not in a completely direct manner.

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.  While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.   While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

There are several things going on in this passage.  First, Jesus shows how illogical it is to assume bad things happen to people because of sin.  This man could not have sinned before he was born so that he was born blind, nor would God have punished him for the sins of his parents.  God holds people accountable for their own sins, not someone else’s sins.

Second, Jesus shows that he is God.  Just two verses before this miracle Jesus answers his accusers with the statement, “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am” (8:58).  With this statement Jesus tells the religious leaders questioning him that not only is he the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 3, but because of that fact he is also the One who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis.  I Am is the divine name of God, and by Jesus using that name for himself, he is telling them he is their God.

Then, immediately following that exchange, we have this miracle.  Here we have a man whose eyes did not form properly.  He was born without working eyes; he was born blind.  Jesus, the I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, finds this man and takes dirt from the ground to heal him.  Actually, he takes dirt from the ground to create new eyes for him.  He shows everyone that he creates just as he created in Genesis 2:7, where God took dirt from the earth and created man.  Jesus takes dirt from the earth and completes the creation of this particular man.

For all who are paying attention, Jesus just demonstrated that he is, in fact, I Am.

John 8:31-36 and Being a Disciple

jesus1There are a lot of references in the New Testament to being a disciple of Jesus, of being one of his followers.  This one in John gets to the heart of all the rest.

 Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?” Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is.  Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.”

If we are faithful to Jesus’ teaching, then we are his disciples.  Being a disciple is not made up of simply attending a church service or reading a Bible.  It takes the commitment to actually put into practice in our lives what Jesus teaches about how to live.  Then we will be disciples.

And through that kind of living, we will be set free.  We will be free from the power of sin in our lives.  This does not mean that we will be free from the effects of sin in the world–others’ sins or our own that we have committed before this.  It means that we will no longer be trapped in a cycle of sinning that seems to have no way of escape for us.  Those sinful actions that were so easy to ensnare us will become increasingly less powerful in our lives as we faithfully follow Jesus.

As we try to follow Jesus’ life and teachings to the best of our ability, he will give us his grace and power through the Holy Spirit to follow him even more fully.  This becomes a never-ending cycle of becoming more and more like Christ–loving all those around us, praying for all, serving all.

For that is what this freedom in Christ really is.  It is a freedom to obey God.  It is a freedom to serve others.  It is a freedom to share God’s love with those around us.  It is also a freedom to see the Church grow and a freedom to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

All of this rests on our faithfully obeying Jesus’ teachings, though.  It is impossible to be a disciple of Jesus in word only.  Faith requires action.  It is likewise impossible to experience freedom in Christ if we only honor Jesus with our words and not our lives.

May we all be truly free in Christ!

Luke 20:20-26 and Caesar or God

11764378_1I love the story of the attempt to trap Jesus by talking about taxes.  It is so obvious that this would be a no-win scenario if Jesus were to answer the question in the yes/no way in which it was presented.  And it is wonderful how Jesus demonstrates that wise as serpents aspect to the faith in his response to the questioners.

The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor.  They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is.   Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them,  “Show me a coin.  Whose image and inscription does it have on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.

This is a conundrum of a question.  If Jesus appeals to the Jewish identity and surging nationalism and says not to pay taxes, then the authorities can hand him to the Romans to be tried for treason.  If, on the other hand, Jesus says to pay taxes, then he would lose credibility with his Jewish hearers as they feel oppressed by Rome and do not like collaborators with the enemy.

Yet look at what Jesus says.  He does not say, as so many have interpreted this passage, that it is ok to have a division between our religious lives and our civic lives.  That would be contrary to the very heart of the Gospel message that, in Christ, we are new creations and now live in the kingdom of God (albeit not fully).  When we are in Christ, our ultimate allegiance is to God and we are held to God’s standard for all of our lives, civic and religious.

Rather, Jesus says that the coin was made in the image of Caesar and has Caesar’s name on it, therefore it should be given to Caesar.  The implication then is that we ought to give God what is made in the image of God and has God’s name on it: us.  Let the rulers of this world have all the rocks and hunks of metal they want, but give your very lives to God.

This is why the questioners were speechless.  How do you argue against such piercing logic?  And how do we defend ourselves before God for not completely obeying this statement?

I am speechless as well.

Luke 13:6-9 and Second Chances

Jesus constantly offered forgiveness and second chances to all people.  It did not matter who the person was or what that person did.  This is seen with tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, religiously boastful and prideful, and even those who tortured and killed him.  In fact, a case could be made that one of the biggest messages of the entire New Testament, thanks to Jesus, is that God gives second chances.

Now look at this parable from Luke:

James_Tissot_The_Vine_Dresser_and_the_Fig_Tree_700 Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none.   He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’   The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer.   Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’”

The fig tree was a symbol for Israel throughout the Old Testament (especially in the Prophets).  Now that we exist on this side of the resurrection, it can be a symbol for God’s people which include non-Jewish people who are Christian.  Paul uses the image of an olive tree in Romans to get at the same idea.

The fruit would be a life in relationship with God; one that produces repentance and acts of mercy and charity towards others.  It is a life of faith where the faith is strong enough to change the way of life to be conformed to Christ’s call on our lives for obedience.

And look at the final sentence.  There will come a point when the opportunity to begin producing fruit will be over.  There will come a time when there will be no more time for second chances.  God offers us every opportunity we could have to turn our lives around, but those opportunities are not infinite.  At some point in the future, there will be a harvest (either the end of the world or the end of our lives individually) and our time will be up.

Make the most of today, because we do not know if we have tomorrow.  If you need to take God up on his offer of a second chance, take it.  God reaches out to us with love, but we have a limited time in which we can respond to that love.

Use your time wisely.

Luke 10:38-42 and Greatness

Imacon Color ScannerOne of the most interesting scenes in the life of Jesus for me is the interaction with Mary and Martha.  It is so real. Having three daughters of my own, I have seen similar arguments around our house.

While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message.  By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”  The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”

One explanation of this I have recently seen is that Jesus is approving of Mary’s rejection of traditional gender roles.  This is a danger of allowing our own culture and our own perspectives to control how we approach the text.  Gender roles have nothing to do with this passage.

(I should say here, however, we all bring who we are and what we have experienced to the text.  And those experiences and knowledge do inform how we understand the Bible.  Yet it is through the witness of the Holy Spirit down through the ages and across the churches that help us understand how to properly interpret Scripture.  Otherwise we come up with radically different ideas, some of which may be valid and some of which may just be goofy.)

What Mary is doing in this passage is being a disciple, learning at the feet of Jesus.  Luke has already shown that there were many women who followed Jesus (8:1-3) and the Greek in these verses say these women ministered to Jesus.  None of the apostles are ever said to minister to Christ.  So there is precedent for women being around Jesus in this capacity.

What Martha is doing in this passage is being the greatest among them of all.  Remember, Jesus said that the greatest disciple of his will be the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 9:48, Luke 22:24-27).  Martha is being the quintessential disciple, serving all.  In Chapter 22, Jesus will even mimic Martha’s servanthood as an example to the disciples of how they should treat one another.

The problem in this passage is not that Martha is doing “woman’s work” while Mary is broadening her mind.  No, the problem is that Martha is being a disciple, but is not singularly focused on Jesus.  Therefore, she is double-minded, frustrated, and angry.  When those emotions creep into our service to Christ, we might as well stop what we are doing.  We are no longer doing what we are doing out of love for Jesus and for the sake of his kingdom.  We are no longer truly being disciples.  We are focused on ourselves and how we are being wronged because of the perceived unfairness of the situation.

Mary had the better part not because she was not working, but because she was singularly focused on Jesus.

How is your service to Jesus?  Are you singularly focused on him, so that all that you do is joy because it is done out of love for your Savior and Lord?  Or are you bitter and angry because no one else seems to be working or helping, focusing on yourself and your situation rather than Jesus?

Serving all only leads to greatness if we do it because we know we are really serving Jesus and we are doing so with an attitude of love and joy, singularly focused on him.

Luke 5:36-39 and the New v. Old Debate

There are a few statements that can act like a hand grenade thrown into the middle of a church board meeting.  One of them would be, “Let’s quit doing what we have been doing for the last twenty years and start something completely new.”  Jesus alludes to this with one of his parables:

Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. wineskinOtherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment.   Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined.   Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.  No one who drinks a well-aged wine wants new wine, but says, ‘The well-aged wine is better.’”

I’ve seen this passage for years and always looked at it from the point of view of doing something new.  A new work of God often needs new structures for it to achieve all that God wants it to do.  This is part of the reason why church planting is usually the most effective way of reaching a community rather than trying to revitalize an older congregation.  New work needs new structures.

What I really never saw until I re-read this passage today as a part of the Bible Reading Schedule was the last sentence.  Here Jesus does not condemn those who do not want the new, but rather like fine wine, he says that the new usually does not have the same appeal as the old for those who are used to the old.  Just think about many (valid, in most cases) criticisms of contemporary praise choruses from people who are used to hymns.  The new is not as full or beautiful or potent as the old.

In this line of thought the new structures can even help preserve and save the old.  It would do little good to try and completely re-imagine a church fellowship with an older, dying congregation that does not want to change or do something new.  The endeavor would likely kill the existing congregation and kill off the attempt at something new–with the unintended result that people might think new ideas simply will not work in that particular community.

However, if a new structure is created, a new fellowship is born, it will draw new people.  AND if that new structure is a cooperative venture with the old congregation, and they are seen as complementary to one another rather than adversarial (read: no one thinks that the new fellowship is just trying to steal the old congregation’s people/resources), then, as we say in Florida, when the tide rises all the boats in the harbor go up.

There will be people that come to the new out of curiosity but would be a better fit for the old.  There will be people seeking a new fellowship that stumble upon the old one.  The two fellowships could work cooperatively with one another, sending people to each other who would better resonate with what is happening at the different fellowships.

Keep in mind, this is not just about styles of worship, either.  It can also be about vision and focus for ministry within a given community.  One fellowship might be firmly committed to helping the local poor and homeless.  The other might wish to tackle modern-day slavery with the Set Free Movement.  One may focus on ministry with Hispanics in the community, another may focus on ministry with the underground church in China.

Either way, different wineskins are needed for different types of wine.  Different fellowships can be needed for different types of ministry, even in the same community.