Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 27

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Saving Self.

Everyone loves a hero, don’t they? Heroes make us feel like there is hope for our species. Deep inside, we want to believe we are heroes just waiting for the opportunity to reveal our true selves—like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent—bursting from our commonplace garb, revealing our altruistic selves. But altruism, says psychology, is nothing more than one of three evolutionary survivals: survival of the fittest (meaning ‘oneself’), survival of the genes (meaning ‘one’s children or close relatives’), or survival of the species (meaning ‘humanity in general’). This cynical view strips humanity of its soul making us nothing more than animals at best and machines at worst. So we struggle, wondering whether there really are any heroes, whether there is any hope for our species.

The gospel writer, Matthew, brings us to Chapter 27, the second-to-last chapter in his biography of Jesus Christ. In the first 26 chapters he has recorded Jesus healing the sick, restoring the socially outcast, reviving the dead to life. Jesus has drawn from His limitless resources as Son of the All-Powerful One to bring healing and hope to those in His daily walk who, by faith, are willing to be healed. But an antagonism to Christ has been slowly revealing itself. There was the edict of Herod, upon hearing of the Bethlehemic birth of one “born king of the Jews”, to kill all infant boys in Bethlehem; there was Satan’s devilish oppression of Jesus during His forty-day fast in the desert; there were the religious leaders who attempted to put obstacles into Jesus’ path wherever He journeyed and who plotted his murder; and there was Judas Iscariot’s greed-inspired betrayal of his Lord bringing about Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

And as Jesus, naked, torn and bruised by the Roman soldiers’ merciless beatings and floggings, hung suspended on his cross, the cruelties took voice; the oppression culminated in the hated-filled accusations flung at him by other cross-hanging prisoners, by passersby and by the religious icons of His day.

“(S)ave yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

What was the crux of these angry and hateful charges? The general mob and the ruling social religionists were expressing a twisted ideology of heroism. Real heroes, they claimed, save themselves first. Real heroes always submit to the three evolutionary survivals, all of which are based on self-centred considerations. And real heroes conform to our ideas of what supernatural power should look like. In other words, if you really are God in human flesh, Jesus, you’d better behave they way we expect, or else leave our lives, our neighbourhood and our planet up to us.

What they never expected was that this Son of God was the embodiment of altruism itself. He was following God’s agenda, not mankind’s. He was saving us at the expense of His own life, taking on the full weight of God’s just wrath against a rebellious species. He was and is the Hero we all need more desperately than we often know.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus was suffering from a psychosis of self-injurious behaviour. There was something in the horrific death that would benefit Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was that joy? It was the joy of enabling people like you and me to be back in right relationship with God; it was the joy of giving us a real choice of heaven over hell; it was the joy of filling eternity with eternal-living humans who finally realize their true potential as worshipers of the living God and as accomplishers of tasks more satisfying than our old cursed world could ever supply.

So let’s come to the cross of Jesus today. Let’s see Him as He truly is, the hero of our souls and rescuer of our lost humanity. Let’s invite His Spirit into our lives today; and let’s live out a continuation of His mission of loving God and loving others well. That’s what Jesus’ heroism is all about.

(Photo credit; By yorkshireman – http://pixabay.com/de/kreuz-gespeichert-strand-ring-631002/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762052)

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A SEEKER’S STORY: Conclusion (John 3:1-21)

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The night was over. The first rays of the morning sun were sending shafts of sunlight in through the windows. The flickering light of the lamp had gone out, and Jesus and Nicodemus rose from the table and stretched. Their discussion had required all those hours of exploration—Israel’s teacher had needed time to ask the Master questions a thinking person wrestles with. Jesus’ words were rich with truth and understanding, concepts Nicodemus would need to mull over on his own.

But it was clear to Nicodemus that this talk had been a study in contrasts. Jesus had shown Nicodemus the dividing line that separates inclusion in the kingdom of God from exclusion from it; spiritual birth from physical birth; eternal life from mortal life; and living in truth and light from living in evil and darkness.

Jesus doesn’t offer any neutral zone – Nicodemus understood that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were many more topics they discussed, but poor old John the disciple could only transcribe for us these twenty-one verses from the conversation. Perhaps he even nodded off sometime after midnight and missed the last few hours of talk. It wouldn’t be the last time that would happen to him.

Regardless, we can be confident that the extent of the conversation John did transcribe was precisely the part God intends for us to hear. There’s probably more in these verses than a person could grasp in a lifetime, and they are as pivotal to us as they were to Nicodemus two millennia ago.

It really all boils down to what and whom we choose to believe, says Jesus. He repeats this concept some six or seven times to emphasize it. To believe in the redeeming work of Jesus as the sole means of restoring our right relationship with God is not random; it is not haphazard, wishy-washy, or ignorant. It is the informed conviction that Jesus not only has the answer to life’s biggest questions, but He is the answer. To entrust our one and only chance at life to the One and Only Son of God is the most rational response any person can have. It is also the most difficult, because it involves admitting that His ideas, His ways and means are better than ours. And sometimes His ways are going to feel a bit uncomfortable.

We’re going to have to live day-in, day-out lives following a God who prefers us to be humble rather than proud, relational rather than detached, honest rather than superficial, and searching rather than apathetic.

It sounds a little daunting, doesn’t it? Again, Jesus draws a clear line for His followers and seems to expect more of us than is humanly possible.

Exactly the point. Jesus’ final words recorded for us of His conversation with Nicodemus explain that those who choose to live in His light are not independently capable of living that way. He says that the kind of life a Jesus-follower lives “has been done through God.”

That’s the amazing mystery. It’s the promise He makes and never withdraws: His Spirit will literally live in us and strengthen us for the challenge and adventure of eternal life. It’s the only way we can live that kind of life. That is the gospel according to Jesus.

Go dig out a Bible and pour over the gospel of John for yourself; see if it’s true. Mull over the life and words of this amazing God-man Jesus and see if He doesn’t turn your life upside down, like He has done for countless others. No one remains in the neutral zone when it comes to Him.

A SEEKER’S STORY, Part 3

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Part 3: To Believe or Not To Believe (John 3:12-18)

“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe;” Jesus challenged His nighttime visitor. “How then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” In this third look at a seeker’s shrouded visit to interrogate Jesus, we see the tables have been turned; Jesus now questions his examiner. He uses a rhetorical question to shed light on the real problem behind Nicodemus’ confusion – it is his refusal to believe. It is a challenge that transcends the moment in which it was asked.

Every one of us, here and now, is a recipient of that same question: “If you live life as if visible evidence is valid but invisible influences on life are suspect, how do you imagine you will have the capacity to understand eternal things?” It’s a good question for our empirical scientifically-based generation. We tend to make the assumption that scientific evidence bypasses and even negates the need for belief. In reality, though, there is a point at which we give mental assent to evidence before embracing that information as part of our domain, is there not? We believe a fact before we are willing to act according to it. Belief is an essential part of learning. It is the mortar for the brick construction of our life story.

Famous atheists would like us to believe (irony intended) that belief is an antiquated, self-destructive tool used only by fools and tyrants to access power. They lead us to believe that real, authentic, critical thinking occurs without the need for belief. They want us to believe that their form of thinking is without beliefs. Must we believe them?

Nicodemus, in fact, had earlier admitted a belief he held. He said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God…” He was willing to believe Jesus was a good man and a good teacher. That was easy. It required no investment of soul on his part to admit that. So why was he coming to see and question Jesus under cover of darkness this night? Did he suspect there was more to Jesus than just ‘good teacher’?

Jesus responds to Nicodemus by offering an explanation so clear and succinct it has become the pièce de résistance, the capstone treatise of the entire New Testament, if not the Bible. He says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Think those words through carefully.

For God so loved the world’—God’s love and compassion is directed to every soul on planet earth: that’s not only Nicodemus: it’s you and me and billions of others.

that he gave his one and only Son’—Jesus is the unique Son of God, not merely a good man or teacher, but fully God and fully man, the only one capable of paying the terrible moral debt humanity owed.

that whoever believes in him’—yes, belief is rational, foundational, essential and individual.

shall not perish but have eternal life.’—the new ‘born again’ spiritual life has literally no end. There will be no perishing or cessation of life when the physical body dies.

In Jesus we see a beautiful blend of ‘earthly things’ and ‘heavenly things’. He is God-with-us, and His offer of life comes with the condition that we believe in Him – the entrusting kind of belief that requires we ‘put all our eggs in one basket’. It’s all or nothing with Jesus. Start believing Him and there is no end to the changes that will begin to happen in every aspect of our lives. Belief is not for the faint of heart, but it’s everything for those who believe God could love them. Do you believe it?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg)

EASTER LOVE-WORK, Part 3

Recognizing Peace

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Worldwide, it’s the Passion Week. Something about this week leading up to Easter resonates deeply with the souls of many people. Some may not know even why. Movie producers have provided the film ‘Son of God’ in anticipation of this week. We recognize that there is something otherworldly going on, but we’re not entirely sure what it is. Who is this Jesus? Why can’t people just let His story die?

Following the exultant shouts of Hosanna with which the people welcome Jesus that first Palm Sunday, He continues to climb the path toward Jerusalem. He knows the people are ecstatic today. He rejoices with them. But He knows more than that; He knows the crux of their passion. He knows the soul of their nation and the heart of their city Jerusalem, and it saddens Him. Luke 19:41-44 gives us a glimpse of how Jesus sees the situation as He prepares to enter the apex of His ministry.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

We’re told Jesus weeps as he says this. He is saddened because the people He has created have been blind to their Creator. He wants them to have real peace—not just freedom from the superficial bondage uppermost in their minds—but freedom from sin’s deadly effects. They refuse to see this though. They refuse to recognize that He, Jesus, is God come to them.

Remember how the prophecy of His birth had given Him the title of Immanuel–God with us? Now, as Jesus prepares for the task that will secure the ransom for all people, He sadly reflects on how few will accept it. Most will reject it. They will not acknowledge their need for that kind of peace. The truest expression of freedom that the hosanna-crying crowd has grasped is merely political. They have failed to understand their own eternal soul.

It’s easier to say ‘they’ than ‘we’, isn’t it? It’s easier to point the finger and be appalled at the foolishness or shallowness of others than to look inward, don’t you think? Maybe Jesus isn’t only talking to the inhabitants of Jerusalem here. Maybe He’s not just weeping at the thought of what they have missed. Maybe He’s weeping over you and me. Maybe He’s looking across the millennia, beyond empires and seeing you and me. He’s got your face and mine in mind as He looks toward the place where He will sacrifice His life to make eternal life available for us. Our souls are foremost in His thoughts as He mourns our self-imposed condition.

Is there any hope for people like us who haven’t recognized real peace when it’s been dropped in their laps?

Yes! A resounding Yes! It’s only a prayer away. Regardless of where we’ve been spiritually, we can begin to recognize the Giver of peace. We are invited to humbly call out His name, “Jesus”. We can ask Him to reveal Himself to our deepest core where we can respond “yes” to His question, “Do you want my peace?”

Easter is happening now. Let’s step up to the most expansive invitation ever offered humankind. Then we will never have to say, “If I had only known…”

(Photo Credit: Son of God film by 20th Century Fox)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=WcIXCok9HPg#t=8

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 8

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 8

Matthew 5:9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

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Before Adam and Eve took their first rebellious bite of Eden’s forbidden fruit, the human race has been the object of a war story. There is a protagonist (God, “maker of heaven and earth”), an antagonist (the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”), and an ultimate objective (souls of mankind to be claimed). It’s been a war for souls and the stakes are high. We also know that God, our Creator, is sovereign and will accomplish His plans. He is the uncontested victor. Yet, by some great mystery, God allows us mortal beings choice; we have a say in our own involvement in the metaphysical conflict.

God’s sovereignty will one day express itself fully in the realm of earth-dwellers, and He will take on the governing role. His Son Jesus is referred to as the “Prince of Peace” and “of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isa.9:6,7).

So how is this relevant to us? In His beatitudes, Jesus invites us into a specific relationship with Him. As the Son of God and the Prince of Peace, Jesus calls us to be sons of God and peacemakers too. Jesus wants us to participate with Him in the ‘war’. He’s delegating something of the task of soul-winning to us whose souls have been rescued already. We are to be little Christs here on earth. We who love God are called to express that love by loving our fellow man in his ultimate need. We are to have “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Gal.6:15). How can we stand by and watch the antagonist devour unsuspecting souls without offering words and means of hope?

It’s all too easy to be merely peacekeepers. Smile. Be nice to people. Stay silent rather than offend. Go about our own churchy business and let the lost go about theirs. But to be a true peacemaker, we must be proactive. We must be determined, focused, and driven by truth and goodness. Our God is greater than the devilish enemy; truth is stronger than deception, and good will win over evil.

In the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ (Matt.6:9-13), when Jesus directs us to pray “your kingdom come”, He is including all of the above. God’s kingdom is one of peace. It’s a promise. We participate in the insurgence toward ultimate peace and fulfillment of the promise when we pray for His kingdom to advance.  At news of Jesus’ earthly birth a multitude of heavenly creatures were heard to proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests”. Peace is inevitable. It’s coming. Our part involves prayer and it involves peacemaking action. Let’s be sure to be on the Victor’s side.