Mary sings of her God who has brought down rulers from their throne and lifted up the humble. The salvation song speaks of justice coming to the earth through God. Professor Scot McKnight says these words of Mary are so subversive that “the government of Guatemala banned this song or prayer because the authorities thought that it might incite the oppressed people to riot. An Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman says, “No wonder Jesus was a radical. His mother sang him protest songs for lullabies.”[i]
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
From nursery rhymes to top 40 hits, every song tells a story. Behind the songs are the feelings and thoughts of writers musing over the matters of life.
Every century of time has been filled with men and women who wrote songs and shared them within their respective communities. We have a rich history of traditional Christmas songs borne out of worshippers from every generation. To understand the writer’s own story adds depth and clarity—their story informs our own experience of the songs.
When Mary visited her ‘also pregnant’ cousin Elizabeth, she was inspired to burst out in song. Luke records the words of Mary’s song, ‘The Magnificat’. In the words we hear the hope of the poor and oppressed. God is aware of human need and has responded.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Human approval can become a deadly snare. Jesus knew well that the accolades and flattery that people gave him was easily forgotten or dismissed by them when the circumstances and pressures on their lives changed.
Think about the fact that we devote ourselves to praising Jesus and yet he is not easily fooled. He saw the Jewish leaders praising one another, but with a conspicuous absence of God’s Love in their hearts. It’s easy to create a loveless system of approval. A simple checklist can be used to validate who is in the club and who does not belong.
The love of God on the other hand, messes with our best planned system of safeguards. The religious establishment could not accept Jesus. To do so would dismantle the empire they were constructing.
The religious leaders deliberately chose to ignore the evidence. For whatever their reasons, they refused to believe that God would send the Messiah to have the kind of ministry that Jesus had. They had a preconceived notion of what the Messiah "should" be. Since Jesus did not work as they expected, they chose to reject Him rather than rethink their position.[i]
Even though Jesus had claimed that he was appointed by the Father to be their judge, he redirects them to a judge they knew intimately. Their judge was the Law of God given by Moses. If their hearts were open to the love of God, they would have seen that the Law requires a Savior.
Moses himself fell short of entering God’s Promised Land. Moses was a repeat law-breaker. The severity of the Law’s demands called for a perfection that no-one had obtained.
Jesus challenges the very core of their belief system. He tells them they do not really believe Moses after all. Jesus earned his cross by challenging the darkness of entrenched religious pride.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
If Jesus’ claims were fringe theories, the religious leaders would have dismissed John’s words as well. But they saw John the Baptist as being reliable.
They were not ready to accept Jesus on the basis of their laws of verification. To believe Jesus would require a dismantling of their mindset and assumptions.
Jesus thrusts his challenge deep where the sun does not shine.
What a claim! Jesus calls the Father to the witness stand.
The God whom the Jews claimed as their authority for everything has something to say about Jesus. But will they accept God’s testimony? They have not had a firsthand encounter with the Almighty and have relied on Bible study thinking that will save them.
For all their claims of doctrinal purity and careful scrutiny of God’s Word, they missed the obvious. The Word of God continually points to Jesus, the suffering servant who would save Israel and bring Shalom to the world.
The Word of God without the Spirit of God leads you away from God.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I know that there are some who deny the Christian faith and write it off as a fringe theory. They examine a hypocrite, a wayward fanatic or an imbalanced view and dismiss the whole thing as a pack of lies. There are plenty of fringe theories to use against the faith and always will be. Gossips thrive on the reasons to dismiss the followers of Jesus.
Beyond gossip, there are genuine seekers who are examining the faith for themselves to see if it is true. They are willing to examine historical truth. They can accept archaeological truth and eyewitness accounts. Hearing a personal experience and change in someone’s life becomes a stepping stone towards accepting God’s presence and work in the realm of humans.
There were plenty of Jews in Jesus’ time that looked at him as a fraud or delusional madman. Jesus challenged his enemies with a call to examine their basis of belief. He appealed to the greatest figures in their system to get them to think about how they evaluate him.
It is a common fact of law that witnesses are used to verify truth. Courts of law do not come to a judgment in cases of ‘he said / she said’ unless they agree on the facts (in which case, they might not be in court). But if one of the parties has a witness that can verify what was said or done, the judgment will be influenced by the testimony of a reliable witness.
God does not need a witness or the testimony of a human, but Jesus approaches the legally-minded religious leaders in terms they understand. Jesus acknowledged that he was not believable to their minds without there being a witness to verify his testimony. He referred to John the Baptist. They had already investigated John and asked for his evaluation of Jesus. John pointed them in the same direction that Jesus was taking them.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Over the years, I have heard some intriguing rumours about myself and the church I pastor.
Someone thought I was a dealing drugs and the church was my cover. Someone else heard I had quit and the church was shutting down. Another time it was alleged that the place had burned to the ground.
I hope the gossipers were relieved to learn that none of these things were true. I know I felt better learning that ‘my cover was not blown and that the doors were still open’. It’s sometimes laughable when you consider the gullibility we have to believe things based on hearsay and half-truths.
Before we hasten to judge ‘gossips’ let us bear in mind that most people will at one time or another accept something as true without having the all the facts. There may be times when we want to believe something just because it makes us feel better, and not because there is any substance to the allegations.
The entertainment industry makes obscene sums of money in the gossip genre. Tabloids, documentaries and television/radio shows attract millions of viewers and listeners with ear-tickling, judgmental claims about conspiracies, indiscretions and ‘The truth behind...’ Truth is often a casualty for the sake of ratings and sales.
Conspiracy or fringe theories go to elaborate lengths to prove that the prevailing opinions are wrong. The world will end in 2012... Roswell and Area 51... Who shot JFK? Americans were behind the 911 twin tower collapse... Elvis Presley is alive... Y2K will cause mass destruction and we will face a global crisis.
What are these fringe theories?
A fringe theory is an idea or a collection of ideas that depart significantly from the prevailing or mainstream view in its particular field of study. Examples include conspiracy theories, ideas which purport to be scientific theories but have little or no scientific support, unproven alternative claims about medicine, novel re-interpretations of history and so forth. Some fringe theories may in a stricter sense be hypotheses, conjectures, or speculations.[i]
Sometimes, a fringe theory is finally verified and becomes accepted as true. At one time the roundness of the earth was a far-fetched and disputed theory. Today it is widely accepted in the scientific community. A modern fringe theory is that the earth is flat and not a globe.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The inclusiveness of allowing a man to judge humanity shows the Father’s heart to be not only above, but among the earth’s people. Jesus gives us a judge who understands our weakness and speaks our languages.
Jesus never claims to act or think independent of the Father. Even though the Son has been given authority, He still references his plans and judgments with the Father. It is difficult for us to imagine such a loving, intertwined cooperation. We are quickly prone to become independent and self-important.
In verse 28, Jesus tells the listeners not to be amazed by the coming resurrection and judgment. Jews believed in a resurrection of the dead. This would not be a new revelation. What was amazing was Jesus’ claim to be involved directly in judging the dead and determining their eternal conclusion.
If they were amazed at Jesus’ words, the power of amazement could be a deterrent to acceptance. When we are amazed, we are transfixed. We are stuck at surprise when we need to move on to the requisite change.
Jesus did not want the Jews to think of him as a grandiose, exaggerated leader with amazing powers. He wanted them to accept that He was their Judge and respond soberly in their thoughts. His claim to be Judge should motivate them to repentance and faith.
Their amazement at Jesus kept them focused on interpretative understandings of God. They were shocked at His words and actions instead of soberly weighing the Scriptures to see if Jesus could indeed be their Messiah.
Jesus was the only Son of God. He came to bring many sons and daughters into the Father’s House by adoption. The Scriptures describe what our inheritance will be as brothers and sisters of Jesus. We co-inherit the world to come when the earth is finally brought under the complete dominion of King Jesus.
We have the awesome privilege of being called God’s children. There is no need to live with an orphan heart. Orphans over-compensate for their lack of parents by growing up independent and lacking in trust.
The Holy Spirit is at work in you to confirm that you have been adopted and have a loving, inclusive Father who wants you as His child.
Friday, December 18, 2009
It was apparent that Jesus’ self-identity was inseparable from a relationship with the Father. He was an obedient son who patterned his life after the Father.
Listen to how he describes their connectedness.
Jesus’ obedience to the Father is matched by the Father’s loving interest in His Son. The Father’s love is demonstrated in telling Jesus what He is doing.
A good father does not shoo away curious children, but finds ways to teach them and include them in things that matter to the father. Like a son who had learned his ways from dad, Jesus was able to heal the man at the pool of Bethesda. The Father was telling Him what needed to be done.
Clearly Jesus’ words were considered blasphemous by the Jewish leaders. Jesus was claiming to have the power to resurrect and give life, an attribute only ascribed to the Almighty. The healing of the crippled man demonstrated God’s power at work. Jesus did not just attribute the healing to God, but claimed responsibility for it as the Son of God.
Jesus further claimed that God did not need to judge humanity because the role had been assigned to Him by the Father. Jesus claimed the right to judge the earth, something only God could do. If honor was due God as the judge, it was also due to the Son acting on his behalf.
The judgment of Jesus is explained in this way:
So that God has the right perspective in judging between eternal life and condemnation, the involvement of Jesus is essential. He is the Son of God and possesses the identity of being God. But he is also the Son of Man, a title which signifies that he is one of us. God involves Jesus’ humanity in determining whether people will receive eternal life or condemnation.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Following Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders began a fresh smear campaign. Jesus responded to them with words that further troubled them.
The religious leaders were very concerned about the slightest infraction of the laws regarding Sabbath. But rabbinical thought faced a dilemma in understand God’s observation of the Sabbath. Apparently God worked on the day of rest.
Divine providence remained active on the Sabbath, otherwise, all nature and life would cease to exist. As regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. Since only God could give life and only God could deal with the fate of the dead in judgment, this meant God was active on the Sabbath.[i]
It’s no wonder the Jews were infuriated with Jesus. By using God’s working on the Sabbath as his justification, Jesus claimed a privilege that belonged to God alone. Jesus was making himself equal to God!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Peter Gabriel grew up with distance in relationship to his father. Later in life he wanted to close the gap, having realized his father was getting old. He decided to have yoga lessons with him, an intimate way to get close to his dad.
When Peter’s son Isaac was born in 2002, he wrote the song ‘Father Son’. Peter’s thirty-three year old daughter Anna created the video for the song.[i]
There are many who can identify with a lack of closeness to their father. Many have wanted a different relationship with their dad. Reasons are plentiful and the passage of time does little to still an orphaned heart.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ life was an inseparable connectedness to his Heavenly Father. We do not read any accounts in the gospels of personal conversations with his earthly father Joseph. There are a handful of conversations recorded between Jesus and his mother Mary, but little is said of Joseph’s words. Perhaps, he was the strong, silent type. Maybe Joseph was deceased.
Over and over, we read Jesus’ speaking of his Heavenly Father and on some rather unique occasions, the Father’s voice is heard speaking about the pleasure He feels towards the Son.
Is it possible that Jesus’ freedom from sin was linked to a constant awareness of his Father’s presence?
Could it be that our freedom is found in coming to that same state of mind? If we really knew the Father was intimately close, would we behave the way we do? Most people have done things they never would have done if their parents were present.
The Father wants to adopt many sons and daughters into His House. The Holy Spirit comes to live in us and implants a verifiable sense that we are adopted by God. The mission of Jesus is all about our adoption, linking us to our Eternal Father.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Knowing it was going to trouble the waters of religion, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. This was the work of God breaking man-made rules about Sabbath observance. Instead of telling him to come back later for the bed roll, Jesus tells him to deliberately carry it home in plain sight. What would people look at-- the healing or the Sabbath rule-breaking? It is in human nature to be more concerned about rule-breaking than the reasons behind it.
Jesus quickly left the scene and later found the man at the temple. Not knowing who had healed him, the man would recognize that God was in it and so he went to the Temple to give thanks. Jesus knew where to find him.
The miracle was overwhelmingly present in the man’s life. Jesus wanted the man to understand what had happened. The sheer joy of walking was just a beginning to living a deeper truth.
‘Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’
It wasn’t enough to celebrate the victory of healing. There was a purpose being revealed. The man had been healed so he could pursue holiness. The miracle called him beyond physical wholeness to embrace the spiritual cleansing and wholeness that God desired him to have.
We need to understand that the virtue of Jesus’ healing power is more than the removal of discomfort and dysfunction. He heals as a sign of the coming Kingdom in which everyone will experience complete physical wholeness.
The healing in this life reminds of a greater need within us. It is our sin-weary soul that needs the touch of Jesus to cleanse us and get us walking uprightly. If we fail to see the damaging effects of our sin, we can expect consequences greater than previously experienced.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
How long had it been since this man had a conversation in which he was asked what he wanted for himself? Most of his conversations were held with an underlying assumption that he was crippled and that was a foundational truth of his existence. Most who knew him would shrug and shake their head at his hopeless hope, endlessly waiting at the pool.
Jesus asks a startling question – do you want to get well? Like the angel troubling the water, Jesus asks a question that troubles the mind. Imagine asking a paraplegic if they would like to walk. It’s a question rarely asked in polite society.
Thirty-eight years of suffering—who would want that lot in life? Wouldn’t everyone want to be well? Jesus’ troubling question strikes against the fatalistic temptation to accept his condition as hopeless.
Still, the man does not respond with ‘yes’. Instead he begins an explanation of why the miracle cannot happen. He is alone without help to get him into the pool. This is a competition in which only the fast-acting get helped. And yet, it is the faint hope of a man with no other option. It is like a homeless man with five dollars buying a lottery ticket hoping to end his poverty. What are the chances?
This man was persistent in face of impossible odds. Jesus asked the question that erupted the hurts of the crippled soul. “Do you want to be well?” The question triggered an articulation of why the plan was not working. This man appeared to have no possible solution but positioned himself as close to hope as he could. He did want to be well.
Matthew Henry said:
Monday, December 7, 2009
We can hear the story of the great banquet and realize that it paralleled Jesus’ life.
John tells us of a time when Jesus was on his way to a great banquet, one of the religious festivals held in Jerusalem. Big parties were part of the religious observances of Israel.
Like the servant in the banquet story, Jesus is found in places where the blind, lame and paralyzed would be found. The great banquet of Israel centered in the Temple. Jesus is travelling to the Temple, but not without gathering those whom the Father desired to be at the table. This was not a place that most people would frequent. It was a place that many avoided for fear of contagion, offensive sights and the belief that sinners there were cursed and judged by God. Jesus went there intentionally.
John Piper writes:
Most of the marginalized people at the pool of Bethesda would not receive a warm welcome at the Temple grounds. Even though there was a celebration taking place, they may have found more hope at the healing pool of Bethesda. If it was their fortunate day, they might be healed and set free from their disabilities. It happened to others, so why not hope for their chance?
Jesus went to a place of desperation. ‘Bethesda’ was a name which meant ‘house of mercy’ or ‘house of grace’ when translated. To people who had no help or hope, it was a place with the slim chance of mercy or grace being found. A slim chance is better than no chance, so the chronic crowds gathered there and waited.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
From the tribal fire to visits at your uncle’s house, generations of children have wanted in on the conversation of adults. When they are not told to go play, they are curious about their parents’ generation and prior. They want to hear the stories that explain where we came from and share in the laughter of their jokes and past mishaps.
Jesus was a masterful storyteller. He knew the family history of Israel and he created moral tales that brought their issues into sharp perspective.
One of his famous stories described a luxurious banquet for which the Master sent out his servant to find guests. The instructions were specific. Find people who are crippled, injured, diseased and blind. Give them good reasons to come to the table.
In this story God’s heart of love is revealed. God wants to gather broken people and honour them in His presence. This is the heart growing in His children. We are to gather broken people and honour them with hospitable, dignifying love.
In the parable, Jesus saw himself as the servant. He had come to the world to gather broken sinners into God’s House. Most of Jesus’ stories illustrated his mission. They were not so much fictional tales as auto-biographical allegories. He and the Father were at the heart of the stories.
We can hear the story of the great banquet and realize that it paralleled Jesus’ life.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Apologetics - the art/science of presenting reasonable defenses for the Christian faith.
When my son Levi accepted Jesus at the age of 4 or 5, he ran out onto our front porch and yelled to his friends playing in the street, "Hey guys, I am a Christian!!!"
He's now 14 and in Grade 9. Yesterday he was in one of his classes when a discussion broke out about God.
Many opinions flew around the room.
One of the girls stated, "If there is a God, why would he make us as imperfect creations? Why would a good God allow us to do bad things? That would be an evil God."
Without forethought, Levi's hand shot up. He wasn't sure what he would say but felt the need to say something. He paused and then addressed the teacher.
'Miss, is there such a thing as darkness?'
'What do you mean Levi?'
'If I turn off the light switch, what happens?'
'It gets dark.'
'So Miss, is there such a thing as darkness?'
'Why, yes there is.'
Levi responded, 'There is no such thing as darkness. It is just an absence of light. And Miss, is there such a thing as cold?'
'Yes, there is such a thing as cold.'
'Actually, cold is just the absence of heat. The problem of evil and darkness in the world is just an absence of God's love.'
The class sat stunned in silence for a moment. Levi experienced what the Scriptures describe as the Holy Spirit giving you the words to say. The logic and insight amazed his fellow students and the Muslim teacher who commended him for these thoughts.
I am amazed by God's work through my kids.
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- VIRGIN MARY'S PROTEST SONG
- LOVELESS RELIGION
- THE FATHER AND THE WORD TESTIFY
- CALLING JOHN TO THE WITNESS STAND
- GOSSIP AND FRINGE THEORIES
- HERE COMES THE JUDGE
- JUDGE JESUS
- THE GOD WHO BREAKS MAN'S SABBATH
- LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
- BEYOND ANGELS AND HEALING POOLS
- COMPETING FOR WELLNESS
- WHERE CRIPPLES SWIM
- HISTORY BEHIND HIS STORY
- LEVI, THE APOLOGIST
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