Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NO JESUS ALLOWED


If you knew that talking about Jesus would cause people to shun you, would you keep your faith to yourself? What if admitting belief were cause for you to be harassed, beat upon and possibly imprisoned or executed? 



When we think of the courage of believers in oppressive places, we admire their unbending determination to remain faithful and to share the hope they believe in.

As Canadians, we live mostly in freedom to share our faith. We have no death squads or laws prohibiting religion. Nonetheless, there are voices that respond harshly and quickly to one’s sincere belief in the resurrected Christ. If like myself, you have a mix of believers and non-believers in your list of Facebook friends, you will see a range of thought and antagonism toward a person’s sincerely held beliefs, be they Christian, atheist, humanist or other.

Religious people who speak without love or respect may embarrass us; and so we say nothing. Why be confused with those people? It seems sensible to say very little. What would it take for us to be transformed into people who could speak with authority and a compelling message of hope?

Rev. David Wells is the general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies Of Canada and has said that we need a new apologetic. We cannot speak gracious truth to culture in the language and values of fifty years prior. How else are we to be truth-tellers in an age of strong opposition?

Jesus said,

Luke 6:
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.


I do not know if some of my Facebook friends who reject my faith actually hate me. Perhaps some do. They may be more likely to exclude me or occasionally insult. They may think I’m covering up and am actually quite the hypocrite.

In the first centuries of the church there were persecutions by Rome against the early believers. In 110 AD a governor names Pliny the Younger reported to the Roman emperor that, "The contagion of this superstition has spread not only in the cities but in the villages and rural districts as well; yet it seems capable of being checked and set right." [i]

He viewed the Christian faith as a superstition and passing fad that could be challenged and brought to justice. These foolish cultists could be corrected. Pliny the Younger wanted to maintain the political correctness of his day.

How bad were the persecutions against early believers? There are historical documents that tell us of the horrifying tortures and punishments inflicted upon some of the Christ followers. We can read about the inhumane treatment and see its reoccurrence throughout history (including today).

And yet, the earliest Christians were quite bold in their proclamation of the good news of Jesus. They seemed to gain the same confidence that Jesus had in speaking truth and confronting the darkness, even at their own peril. How is that Jesus and the early church could speak in ways that stirred up such hatred, exclusion and insults against them?

If we will speak with gracious truth to our world, we would do well to understand how Holy Spirit is involved. Jesus and the early church were empowered by Holy Spirit to speak freely in an antagonistic culture. These first century hillbillies spoke with authority and it baffled the traditionally educated powerbrokers. How was this even possible and does God want to do it again in your life?



[i] Epistle 10 (to Emperor Trajan), 96 (in Bettenson et al, Documents of the Christian Church, p. 3).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

MANNA OR THE MAN


The loaves and fish crowd were familiar enough with their ancient history to compare what Jesus had done to the miracle of manna being provided in the desert. They revered Moses and recounted his miracles. If this was a new Moses, they wanted more proof.






John 6:
32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”


Jesus begins to change the focus of the story from God’s past provision to the present opportunity. The manna in the desert came through Moses. Jesus is not offering to repeat history, but to unfold something greater to them. The mysterious nourishing Bread of Heaven is here to bring the world to life.


John 6:
34 They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”
35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.


God’s fine print is being articulated along with the price tag of commitment. Jesus puts himself at the center of God’s plan. He tells them he is this mysterious bread from Heaven. He is the one who will satisfy their hunger and thirst for God.

He had told them as much, but they had not yet believed what they were hearing. They saw Jesus perform miracles, but their previous understanding of God was being challenged and overthrown.

This was not a remote God from a distant past. Jesus was talking about God being active here and now. In fact, God will cause people to run to Jesus and be forever held in his grasp. Jesus claims to be sent to them from Heaven. The moments following this teaching would determine who would run to Jesus and who would run away.

Here is Jesus’ offer to receive us and nourish us with eternal life. It’s the same truth we remember at the Lord’s Table. His sacrifice feeds us in a lasting way. Have you run to Him? He promises that he will hold you and never let go.



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

FINDING SOUL FOOD


Before feeding the crowd with loaves and fish, Jesus had given thanks to God. Maybe that was to be expected but not really appreciated. Didn’t they all have their prayers and meal rituals? 



The most obvious fact was missed. Jesus thanked the Father for making the meal possible. It came from God.

I struggle often with mealtime prayers. It is easier for me to focus on the food than it is to pause and reflect on who my provider is. Jesus calls us on our selfish focus.

There was a lot of energy and time exerted by the seeking crowd. Jesus teaches that they should not waste themselves chasing down miracle meals that leave them hungry the next morning. There is a soul food that satisfies. Jesus calls followers to expend their energy on the spiritual food that lasts forever. The Son of Man can give this enduring nourishment and inner satisfaction that will not be found in chasing miracle meetings or false hopes of fixing the nation’s deep problems.

And the crowd that yesterday had numbered in the thousands took it on the chin from Jesus. They nodded and were curious about this soul food Jesus described.


John 6:
28 To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”
29 Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”
30-31 They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”


It is often the price that separates those who like something and those who are committed to ownership. Anyone can window shop, but those who really need something will pay the price. Jesus says that a commitment to follow him will bring the benefits of this inner spiritual nourishment. This commitment to him is the price they must be willing to pay.

With the bulging eyes and whistles that come from seeing a large price tag, they waffle. Now they finally get concerned about whom Jesus is. The free meal was easy to receive, but this call to commitment requires that they know more about what they are signing up for.

When you are faced with the fear of commitment it is common to want another reason before proceeding. They ask Jesus to show them another sign to validate his right to ask them for commitment.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

FOLLOWING THE MIRACLE CHASERS


The miracle day gives us insight into God’s character and heart. The day after the miracle tells us something about the character and heart of the ones who were recipients. 




Let us follow the crowd on the day after the miracle of loaves and fish.


John 6:
22-24 The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”


The night before, some of the crowd had seen the disciples’ head out to sea while Jesus headed up to the mountains alone. As the new day dawned, the same crowd who had come to the wilderness to see Jesus had a greater determination to make him their King. After the teaching and the miraculous meal, they were intent in their zeal to find him. They headed to Capernaum, the home of Jesus and the disciples at this time. They found Jesus in the synagogue.

When they found Jesus, they were curious about how he had arrived there. He did not have a boat. They did not know that Jesus had rescued his disciples from the storm and had walked upon the water. But, Jesus was always surprising them. That was part of the buzz that kept the crowds running after him.

Again, Jesus was always surprising people. All of these people who had spent two days away from home following Jesus had come looking for hope and power. When Jesus fed them miraculously, they must have believed the search was being validated. But Jesus surprises them with his response to their zeal.


John 6:
26 Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.
27 “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”


Jesus sees through their religiosity and zeal. They had called him Rabbi to identify him, as teacher of God’s Law but wanted a king who would ‘put a chicken in every pot’ so to speak.

Savvy politicians understand that people want government that provides free services and overturns their corrupt predecessors who burdened them with heavy taxation, oppressive social policies and violence. Jesus presents a revolutionary option with a delicious, satisfying free lunch.

Jesus sees them as people who are motivated by ‘what’s in it for me?’ They are not really asking ‘who is doing this for me?’ They were missing out on the most important feature of the miracle. God was doing this for them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

MODERN LOAVES AND FISH


Since 1997 New Song Church has been serving meals to our community. The idea has grown from one meal a week to eleven meals a week and distributing fresh produce to all who want it. We now feed a small crowd at breakfast and lunches and up to 180 people for our Friday supper.

When I give people a tour of our Ford City campus and tell them about what we’re doing they always ask, “How do you fund what you’re doing?” The answer often surprises them. We have a congregation of mostly low-income earners that fund the efforts of the church. We get some donations from outside, but the biggest part comes from those who attend the church.

That is miraculous when you consider that our giving usually falls behind the budget we need. We are not rich enough to pay our own way. If it were not for God providing from other sources, we would not be able to do very much. God is faithful to provide us with an abundance of food and manpower from many sources.

Food is a great way to gather people and build community. I wonder how many of us who eat the food give thought to whom is giving it? The church helps deliver it, but it’s really God giving us daily bread. We are not begging God—He chooses to meet the need out of His compassionate heart.

I am reminded of Jesus’ miraculous provision of food for the crowd. He and the disciples gave something that did not originate with them. They took the small donation of the loaves and fish and fed thousands. Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus and the disciples were not able to meet the needs of the many based on their bank accounts or skill sets? The meeting of needs had more to do with what God wanted than with their ideas or resources. It’s still that way.

The food miracle still has much to say to us today. What can we learn about the heart of God by the way He responds to human need? What happens to people who have had a taste of God’s provision?

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