Friday, April 30, 2010

BAPTISM OF SUFFERING

Luke 12:
 49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."


Jesus refers to a baptism that He must endure, though it would be very painful.  It was a coming baptism of suffering.  He had at this point already been baptized in water by John.  John's baptism dealt with people coming back to God's heart.  Jesus had been baptized to show his humility and identity with the people of God.

To be baptized is to be completely immersed into something.  When believers are baptized, they are symbolically being renewed to God.  The burial in water reminds us of Jesus’ burial in the tomb.  Our past sin and darkness is being put to death because Jesus suffered for us.  His death took our sin away.

Jesus would experience a complete immersion into suffering.  He was not looking forward to the pain, but understood that it was completely necessary to change the human condition.

The raising out of the water reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead.  We come out of the water symbolizing that there is new life and change.  The old has passed and the new has come.  Jesus’ resurrection made it possible for us to live a new life, dissimilar from the previous.  As Jesus rose from the dead, baptism reminds us of our coming resurrection.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CONTROLLED BURNING

When we lived out in the county on Holden Road, we had over an acre of yard around the house.  At the road, there were ditches ten feet deep.  It was not feasible to cut the growth in the ditch with my lawn mower, so I would look forward to burning it each year.


Occasional fire keeps things in check.  It burns away the dead material which allows new growth to take over.  Burns also kill the non-native plants which are intolerant to the fire.  

The deep-rooted native plants are capable of withstanding the heat and are not affected.

The benefits of a natural fire far outweigh the temporary charred-earth appearance.  The black only lasts for a week or two but the benefits of the controlled burn last much longer.  Among them are:

·         Nutrient recycling
·         Helps with seed germination by exposing soil to the sun earlier in the year.
·         Controls non-native plants and invasion of woody plants[i]

Jesus came to bring a controlled burn on the earth.  It was God’s desire to burn away that which was dead and did not belong in His domain. 

Luke 12:
 49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

 

Sometimes the call to follow Jesus brings your family connectedness into question.  To whom is your ultimate allegiance?  Who must you separate from to find a new identity in God’s promise?  Jesus was a prophet with a message for the family-nation Israel.  His words would be hurtful-- just like the prophets God sent in ancient times to correct and restore their identity as God’s children. 

His fire was God’s judgment.  It had not yet been kindled, but the day of fire was approaching when God would burn away all that was not useful to His Kingdom.  God is going to burn away false securities in families.  Jesus looked forward to God re-ordering human relationships by separating good and evil influences.

Through the Old Testament era, God focused on His special family—Israel.  It was necessary to send prophets who would speak burning, passionate words from the heart of God.  Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, because of his many tears for God’s family.

Jeremiah 5:
11 The house of Israel and the house of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me," declares the LORD.
 12 They have lied about the LORD; they said, "He will do nothing!  No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine.
 13 The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them."
 14 Therefore this is what the LORD God Almighty says:  "Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.

There were so-called prophets in the land, but there words were powerless.  God was empowering Jeremiah to speak words that would burn.  Jesus’ message would cause dramatic change when listened to and permitted to burn. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

FROM LONER TO PATRIARCH


 Abraham belonged to a Chaldean family, the geographic location of modern Iraq.  From his place in the clan, God called Abraham to leave the country and find a new identity.  Abraham was an imperfect man with no hope of raising a family with his barren wife.  And yet, he became the father of nations with an endless line of descendants. 

Abraham’s defects of character caused him to lie and manipulate.  He lied more than once thinking it would save his hide.  He grew impatient with God’s timing and schemed together with his wife Sarah to start the family tree with their servant Hagar.  Ishmael was born and a rift grew between Hagar and Sarah.  Later Sarah would bear Isaac, the miraculous child of a barren old woman. 

It was Isaac’s turn to carry on the call to be a new family that God had given to his father, Abraham.  The sins of Abraham were handed down to his son Isaac, who also lied and manipulated to avoid conflicts.  Eventually he grew to face conflicts and was blessed by God. 

Isaac had children, too.  One of them was Jacob who constantly was at odds with his closest brother Esau.  The sibling rivalry may have been an infection spread from father Isaac’s tension with his half-brother Ishmael. 

Abraham’s lies and schemes found their zenith in his grandson Jacob.  His very name meant ‘deceiver’.  While the sins of the fathers were passed down, so was the promise.  God would take Jacob and challenge him to become Israel.  His changed identity would only come after struggle and responsiveness to God’s voice.  Israel would become a reconciler making peace with his estranged brother Esau.

Israel’s kids became the twelve tribes of Israel.  That was some family.  Jacob’s sins were handed down to his sons who lied and schemed against their brother Joseph.  Sin and salvation all in the same house—this was a pattern that Jesus recognized in the family-nation known as Israel.  Is your family not a peculiar mix of sin and salvation living in co-existence?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

LONERS LEARNING ABOUT COMMUNITY

God’s eyes are watching loners.  He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.


He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows.  The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging.  The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity.  Where will the widow and orphan belong?    Who will provide for them?  Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family.  He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin. 

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots.  The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren.  But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

HAPPILY EVER AFTER BELONGS TO THE NEW WORLD



When Jesus was born, Simeon prophesied to Mary about the revolution coming to Israel through her son.





Luke 2:
33The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."


The prophecy indicates that Jesus would expose what was in the hearts of people.  The sword would divide in such a way that some would rise while others fall.  

Jesus would be spoken against in the context of His people Israel. 

Not even His own mother Mary would escape the sword of Jesus.  Her heart would be penetrated by the sword.  This would prove to be true as she walked with her Son and witnessed the persecution against Him.  His strong words would hurt and correct even her.

So that no-one takes on a persecution complex and blames their dysfunction on others, Jesus gives us a clue to the way through misunderstandings and tension that result from following Him.  Those who lay down their lives, find their life.

When you find yourself in conflict, lay down your life.  Give yourself away.  Take the servant role, not the master.  As much as it is possible, be at peace with everyone.  Turn that other cheek.  Go that extra mile.  When your spouse does not share your beliefs, love them anyway.  Do not turn your back on your family, even when they are wrong.

Following Jesus does not always end ‘happily ever after’ in every relationship.  There will be tears to be wiped from our eyes when we see Jesus.  Some of the tears will be for having endured great difficulty and hardship in this world.  Happily ever after’ belongs to the new world.

In learning to let go of our fearful demands, we possess a new quality of life based in God’s love.  The sword of Jesus’ words severs us from fear and frees us for love.  We do not have to be understood or accepted in order to know God’s peace and abiding Presence.  It is in losing our self-centredness, that we find the joy of being Christ-centred.  



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SURGICAL PRECISION

The power of Jesus’ words have a holistic effect on the hearer.  The sword is able to cut through all things human and reveal what is inside.


Hebrews 4:
 12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
 14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

As the secrets of the heart become exposed by Jesus’, there becomes a division between truth and falsehood, love and lies, purity and sinfulness. 

There are times when following Jesus will cause you to be on your own, distinct from your family.  In times when we are feeling threatened or abandoned we have an identity with Jesus who understands our condition.  We do not run from our family when lines are drawn, but run to Jesus who will equip us with the grace we need to stand. 

Sometimes it is your sin and weakness that causes people to mock and shun your faith.  They see disconnect between what you claim to believe and the brokenness of your condition.  This causes them to speak against the power that you have surrendered to.  In our broken state we cry for God’s mercy on our soul.  The sword of God’s Word penetrates us like a surgeon’s knife to bring correction and healing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

THE SWORD OF JESUS' WORDS

In John’s Revelation he has a vision of Jesus.  In the description, we see a Jesus who appears as a warrior.


Revelation 1:
16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

The sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth.  This is clearly a reference to the power of His words.  When He speaks, the truth comes out and it has authority.  The sword is a symbol of governance and justice.  

It is not the threatening words of a free-acting thug, but the authorized decrees of the King that has ultimate power.

In the first chapter of John, Jesus is called the Word of God.  The power of God is communicated through the speech and actions of the Christ.  To say that Jesus is the Word means the highest truth is found in His message.  When John saw the resurrected Jesus, he was afraid.  Sometimes the presence of Jesus in your life can strike fear into the hearts of those closest.  You are not trying to draw lines, but the awareness of Jesus in you causes a sword to be raised.  Jesus’ truth is an authority against the broken thinking and godlessness of the world.

Friday, April 16, 2010

THE SWORD IS DRAWN ON FAMILY

Following Jesus supersedes the values and understanding we place on the family unit.  Jesus’ own example towards his family would be disappointing to those who idolize family values.  He was the twelve year old that left his family to stay behind in the Temple at Jerusalem.  Jesus prioritized the people who came to see him over his own family members.  His family did not understand him and questioned his sanity.

He said troubling things about family commitments and relationship to those who considered becoming his followers.

Matthew 10:
34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
   " 'a man against his father,
      a daughter against her mother,
   a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
    36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.’
 37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The love and obedience that Jesus calls for is given greater priority than our earthly obligations to family.  Jesus asks that we evaluate to whom our allegiance is due.  We must choose to go all the way to follow Jesus or else we have missed His point.

The history of persecution around the world has certainly proven the words of Jesus.  There are countless stories of people who have been betrayed and even put to death for going against the beliefs of their family.

That being said, Jesus is not out to destroy families, cause followers to abandon responsibility or damage people.  But He is saying something here that puts the pressure on His followers.  What is this sword in His hand and why does it swing your way?  What does it mean for your own family to become your enemies?

There are other places in Scripture that a sword is mentioned in reference to Jesus.  In examining these passages, we can learn something about the sword Jesus’ possesses.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

EVALUATING YOUR FAMILY

As an adult, what value and attachment do you attribute to your biological family?  


Most children assume that their family of origin experience is normal.  In this environment we learn to understand affection, communication, conflict resolution, daily routines, and expectations and so on.

As children gain their independence and start to evaluate how they will live, they will build or rebuild based on the foundation they’ve been given.  They will act and react on the values that their family established.

Further along, many have wrestled with the realization that their family was not always right.  What do you do in relationship to parents or siblings you no longer see eye-to-eye with?  Some will spend decades trying to be ‘other’ than what their family was.  Some parents will suffer great regrets for ways they feel they have failed their children.

All in all, the family model applies tremendous gravity to your life—you will be pulled in directions set out for you from an early age.  You may endeavor to change direction, but always with an awareness of how you were shaped. 

There are books, organizations and seminars devoted to ‘The Christian family’.  There is endless advice on marriage and parenting available for Christians today.  But does our idealism about the family find reality in the Scriptures?  There are just as many bad examples as good in the Bible.  Perhaps a better focus should be on how to be a follower of Jesus in the context of your family.  How do the teachings of Scripture cause you to think and act out in these personal relationships?

Monday, April 12, 2010

FORGOTTEN FORECAST



They did not know what He was talking about.  Why was the meaning of His words hidden from them?  He was telling them point blank what would happen and they just did not get it.
 

Luke 18:
31Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.33On the third day he will rise again."
 34The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.


There are times when repeating the truth seems to fall on deaf ears.  Something deeper is required for one to be persuaded.  The disciples heard it over and over.  They were not convinced until they saw Jesus after the resurrection.

They were so convinced after it came to pass, that they gave their lives to preach His death and resurrection.  Is it likely that they would go to the ends of the earth with Jesus’ message of Resurrection if they were not persuaded?

Everyone in the world is trying to persuade others of their rightness.  Are you any different?  Do you not have agendas and views that you want others to validate? 

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is often questioned and rejected by people who have not opened their mind to the possibility of God working in ways beyond their understanding.  In short, words do not convince them to believe it. 

It is only because of God’s Spirit coming into us that we can believe.  The disciples believed when they saw their friend come back from the dead.  We believe when the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead empowers our faith.  We may not have seen the historical Jesus in the flesh, but God’s Spirit persuades us to believe what others were completely convinced of.  The Resurrection made believers out of half-hearted followers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

AFRAID TO ASK



When the plans of God and the path ahead contain pain and suffering, we might miss part of the message. 

Mark 9:
30They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

In this instance Jesus clearly states what will happen to Him.  But were the disciples persuaded that it would literally happen?

Jesus had told them many things with symbolic meaning.  He would tell parables to illustrate God’s story.  His conversations often revealed things that people thought were hidden and unspoken.

When he talked about his suffering and resurrection, the disciples were afraid to delve into the meaning.  What were they afraid of?  Were these the words of someone who was becoming mentally unstable?  Were they afraid to talk about the real possibility of His martyrdom? 

Did dissociation from His words hold back the fear that they too might suffer and die for following Him?  There are reasons why we fall short of believing His words.

Jesus was being direct and literal in His words.  They would have been more comfortable if He were speaking figuratively of some abstract truth. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NO BETTER WAY THAN GOD'S WAY



What does it take to be persuaded of truth?  The disciples were not easily convinced.  They may have followed Jesus, but they were not about to lose their own discretion and opinions.


Matthew 16:
 21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
 22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Peter fell into the trap that Satan still uses.  ‘When the coming reality goes opposite to what you believe should happen, resist the plan.’ 

At the surface Peter looks heroic.  He does not want to see Jesus suffer persecution and be put to death. 

But supposed good intentions became demonic when Peter began to rebuke Jesus and rely on his human wisdom.  The darkness lies in the idea that the plan of God can be replaced with a better way.

We need to guard our thoughts from thinking we can come up with a better plan than God spells out.  Jesus had told them that this must happen.  Peter had a hard time hearing ‘must happen’.  Peter also seemed to miss the conclusion Jesus gave.  On the third day He would be raised to life.

When the plans of God and the path ahead contain pain and suffering, we might miss part of the message. 

The disciples knew the fear of suffering and death.  They did not know the full hope of resurrection.  The Devil’s trap gets you to miss out on where God is ultimately leading and instead get you to look for a way to avoid the necessary hardships.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

DON'T YOU REMEMBER?






Clearly his disciples took a long time to be persuaded completely of his nature. 

It was a new day when Jesus rose from the dead and all the previous teachings, miracles and experiences had not guaranteed their understanding.  I wonder how persuaded we are when presented with the words of Christ?


Luke 24:
 1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?     6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' “8 Then they remembered his words.
 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.     12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

None of Jesus’ followers questioned the reality of His death.  With their own eyes they had observed his suffering on the cross and knew the details of his body being put in the tomb.  In spite of everything else he said and did, this inevitability did not require any persuasion.  They knew He was dead.

When the women entered the empty tomb, they began to question what had happened.  His dead body was here, but now an empty sepulcher.

The angels asked why they were looking for the living among the dead.  Even though Jesus had foretold his death, burial and resurrection they had not grasped this part of his message.  They probably thought he referred to their Jewish understanding of resurrection; that all would be resurrected at the end of time.  But this was beyond their comprehension. 

Jesus had literally raised people from the dead, but they were still in shock at his empty tomb.  The angels reminded them that Jesus had told them what would happen.  Don’t you remember what he told you? 

Sometimes being told something repeatedly does little to persuade us.    Some of our struggles may come from not accepting what God has said.  When you are persuaded that God has spoken and are willing to commit everything into God’s care, there is a notable difference.  You are able to endure with faith in God to ultimately save you.

Jesus had in fact spoken of his death, burial and resurrection on several occasions.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all report multiple conversations where Jesus spoke clearly of this.

What does it take to be persuaded of truth?  The disciples were not easily convinced.  They may have followed Jesus, but they were not about to lose their own discretion and opinions.

 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I AM PERSUADED

I wear denim cotton jeans almost every day of my life.  I am convinced that they are more comfortable than other pants and reflect modesty in fashion. 

I am so convinced of the superiority of blue jeans that I named my son Levi.


I have other kinds of pants and will wear them when social situations suggest that my appearance requires a more formal attire, but I am set in my preference.  I don’t really care what other people wear.  I believe people should dress in ways that make them comfortable.

So, I’ve shared some personal beliefs with you.  Some of you may nod in agreement while others question the relevance of me opening my mouth in the first place.

It is apparent that we all have beliefs and are curious about what others stand for.  What do you believe and how do you communicate your beliefs to others? 

I am a persuader.  I spend much of my life involved in activities that persuade others to accept the things that I believe.  I wouldn’t bother except that I have been persuaded myself. 

At what point do our beliefs move us to persuade others?  I have a deeply ingrained belief in the comfort of cotton, but I am not in the habit of defending it or criticizing those who prefer gabardine. 

With or without a public platform, you too are a persuader.  In your comments, opinions and silence on matters lies the hope that someone will agree with you.  At a deep level we all want validation of our rightness. 

Enter Jesus into the human dilemma.  He came into a world of contradiction and self-rightness.  He came to persuade us of God’s Love and the need for radical restructuring of everything.  Who would believe someone who opposed commonly held values and called for a new view of reality?

Clearly his disciples took a long time to be persuaded completely of his nature. 

It was a new day when Jesus rose from the dead and all the previous teachings, miracles and experiences had not guaranteed their understanding.  I wonder how persuaded we are when presented with the words of Christ?

 

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