Friday, May 27, 2011

John 1:42-51; Me or Thee?

Nathaniel almost missed him. He was hung up on a detail and almost missed God on earth. I think we do the same thing at times. Instead of seeing God touch a group of people, we take offense at how the worship service was conducted. Instead of appreciating the breadth of Jesus’ love, we take offense at his condemnation of some. Instead of diving into his teachings, we dislike that they were in a style we don’t like. Like Nathaniel, we get hung up on little personal details and miss Jesus.

Also like Nathaniel, we just love it when Jesus does something neat and personal for us. Jesus, on the other hand, was more concerned for his worldwide influence, hence the reference to Jacob’s dream where heaven and earth are connected and God makes a promise to influence the world through Jacob. We have been trained to shop around for the best product that fits me personally, e.g., car, house, job, clothes. Our mission trips are planned around our schedule more than the world’s needs. Our selection of a home church is more about ease of traffic getting there than discerning where God is at work. We come to Jesus with the same mentality, i.e., we don’t really want to influence the world; we just want Jesus to show up and make me feel good. Nathaniel was impressed by Jesus knowing where he was sitting. “He saw me! He knows me! I had God come to me!” Jesus’ response? “There are greater things than that.”
The question is “can I see them?”

Am I so hung up on me that I can’t see God going and coming around me? Maybe worse yet, am I so hung up on me that I don’t really care about God working around me? After all which would I rather experience: an insignificant revelation about me or the transformation of the dysfunctional family down the street? Do I prefer a great personal devotional over seeing God change a neighborhood? Would my faith grow more from hearing God speak to me about me or from hearing how Jesus changed the leadership of a country? Is my Christianity about me or him?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

John 1:19-42; The Question

Andrew and his friend had obviously spent time with John. Their minds were already thinking about the Messiah, sin and forgiveness. They were focused on some pretty substantial issues. Then came their opportunity and they seized it.

I can imagine a giddy feeling in their hearts as they walked a short distance behind Jesus. Then Jesus spun around and asked, "What do you want?" I think it caught them off guard. All they could come up with was "Where are you staying?" Really? That's all they could ask? You get a chance to ask God anything and all you come up with is "Where are you staying?" I can only imagine Jesus got a chuckle out of it.

But what if Jesus walked in my door and asked me the same question right now? What would I say? No time to think; just answer now. Perhaps the shallowness of my answer would make Andrew look like a scholar. I think it is an awkward question because we expect God to do all the spiritual work. I think we come to him and expect him to zap us with his spiritual wand so that we automatically are different. Where does he come up with asking our opinion? That implies that I have to think, to work, to do something. No, I'm fully North American and I want God to do everything for me including tell me what it is that I'm supposed to want him to do for me.

Yet God always shows up asking questions. To Adam, where are you? To Cain, where is your brother? To the teacher, what is written in the law? To the Apostles, who is the son of man? It seems that being made in his image means he wants our intelligence and our intent involved in our spirituality.

So back to the scene, Jesus walks in the door and asks "What do you want?" The answer . . ?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John 1:1-18; Unrecognizable Jesus

John says that Jesus came to that which was his own but was unrecognized by some and unreceived by others. Ending Acts a couple of days ago, I was thinking about this exact idea. What would it look like if Jesus / God intervened in my world today? Would I recognize him? Would I accept him? Would I like him?

Culture packages our spirituality. I think that is why it is often hard to recognize the hand of God in others. God came as a Jewish laborer. No trumpets, no CNN reporters, no Academy Awards; just a simple man in a Semitic culture sweating in his robe and sandals. Since that didn't fit a lot of people's expectations, he was mostly unrecognized and unreceived.

What if God came in flesh to Abilene today? Maybe he would be the homeless guy with a "will work for food sign" at the intersection. Maybe he would be the WalMart greeter (somehow I think Jesus would like that job). May he would be a sophomore business student. More than pondering options, I think I'm challenging my own bias. Do I take the time and make the effort to look past a person's job and social status to really see the spiritual being inside? Do I think more highly of the mayor than the janitor because of their positions or do I see them both as made in the image of God? Surely it was respecting position and foregone conclusions about what the Messiah would look like that messed everything up in the first century. I wonder how much it is still messing up my life?

I was once with a friend that introduced me to the mayor of the capital city, then turned and introduced me to the top news anchor and then turned and called the waiter by his first name. On the way out of the building, he asked the parking lot attendant how her mother was doing since her recent illness. I was amazed. He treated everyone the same, perhaps giving more time to the parking lot attendant than either the mayor or newsman. He saw beyond culture and jobs to the soul of the person. I want to be that guy, the one who can see the creation of God in everyone. Maybe then Jesus won't sneak by me unrecognized or unappreciated.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Acts 28; Spiritual Hunting

What a shame to have been a Jew keeping the law rigorously and waiting for the Messiah, only to miss him when he came. Yet without good heart maintenance, I can understand the same thing happening over and over again to me. I wonder how many times God actively moved in my life recently and I never recognized him. How often did he intervene in the events of my life, but I was too dull to pick up on it? Did he come and go unseen and unappreciated in my life?

For me, its when life gets too busy that I think I fail to have spiritual vision. God moves and works but I don't see him amid all the activity; and it doesn't really matter if its good activity or otherwise. Simply too much activity makes it hard to have spiritual insight. Last night our house church started at 5:30 but even though we finished our more formal conversation at 7:30, people didn't leave till 9:00. In the quiet of the living room and seated at the table in conversation, I saw God at work. I watched as barriers to help came down, as advise was shared and as fears melted. Without the quiet of our home, I would have never witnessed those moments.

When I was a kid, my dad taught me to hunt deer. I would sit for hours in total stillness on a stand in order to let nature unfold and a deer come close. Honestly I never shot any of the deer but remained spellbound listening to the sounds of the world waking up, i.e., the drip of dew from a leaf, the flight of small birds, the work of a squirrel. Sights and sounds that I never knew existed till those moments of silence. It seems to me that the spiritual hunt for God requires the same thing, i.e., the effort to be still and stay alert.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Acts 27; Drama

Just because you are a person on a mission for God does not mean that everything will be perfect. Paul was definitely on God’s mission but his journey sounds horrible. What I don’t hear from Paul (or the author Luke) is self-pity. There is not tone of “why me” in the story. I don’t hear Paul questioning where is God, what is his purpose in this, where is the justice for having lived a good life, etc. On the contrary, Paul is bold and steady through it all. He advises the ship’s captain and the centurion, encourages the crew regarding their lives and admonishes them to eat.

Paul’s attitude was determined by a relationship with his God. No one could touch it. Circumstances could not change it. It really did not matter what was going on around him as long as he was connected to his God.

I hate drama; with the events of the past few years, I’ve had enough of it to last a lifetime. It seems to be an incredibly self-centered way to live. Maybe that is why I see what I do in this story. Paul could have become a drama-queen and no one would have blamed him. But it never crossed his mind. His mind and his heart were in the hands of God so he did not worry. It seems to me that self-centered living produces drama while God-centered living produces calm, even during the storms of life. Now that I put it that way, I hate drama even more.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Acts 26; Anti-Messiah Living

"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." I wonder what went through Paul's mind as he contemplated those words over and over. "Whom you are persecuting." Paul never thought he was persecuting the Messiah. On the contrary, as a Pharisee, he had vowed to defend Judaism in order to facilitate coming of the Messiah. He wanted to usher in the days of the new kingdom and facilitate the work of God on earth. Yet here he lay on a road surrounded by divine light and the voice of God asking "why are you persecuting me? Why are you working against me?"

I wonder what life would be like if God routinely did the same thing to us today. What if every time we had good intentions that were poorly applied a bright light would shine around us and God would ask out loud "why are you persecuting me right now?" It would happen when we put up signs on the highways that push people away from God with their religious phrases. Maybe a light would blast us when we protest with good-intentioned but hurtful placards in front of abortion clinics. Probably it would happen when I respond with a quick scripture quote to someone who really needs a listening ear.

Just like in Paul's day, I think the world is filled with people looking for the Messiah. They don't know him by that name, they don't know what he looks like and they don't know where to find him. He, however, is active in their lives and is trying to build a relationship with them. How hurt and frustrated he must feel when we knock him out of someone's life via our well-intentioned but very misguided attempt to serve him.

I doubt any lights will come on around me today but regardless of their absence I want to live in such a way that the gap between the Messiah and those seeking him is narrowed and not broadened. Simple concept; difficult application. Just ask Paul.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Acts 25; Investigation

Festus made an interesting statement in verse 20. He said, "I was at a loss how to investigate such matters." That rings true to me. How would a politician working to ascend the power ladder know how to investigate Jewish law or the new idea of Christianity? This made me think about the average person I meet in the stands at a football game, pass on the highway or see in the store. How would anyone know to investigate something totally out of their field of study and experience?

The most logical answer would be to talk with a follower of Jesus. Yet as Barna and Kinnaman point out in their research there is no statistical difference between North American Christian behavior and that of UnChristians. An investigator might be shocked to find out who claims the name of Christian. If no viable evidence exists to demonstrate that a person believes, then would any investigator be inclined to ask for the person for help? I think not.

What Festus and most UnChristians need for their investigation is simply a person who truly lives out the Christian life, someone dedicated to putting into practice the Sermon on the Mount. In some cases it might take the form of selling all you have to live among the poor but in most it probably is much simpler than that. Jesus used the Sermon on the Mount to talk about the little things of daily life. Instead of focusing on the big stuff of avoiding murder, be known as a person that radically loves and forgives. Instead of keeping major oaths, simply be totally honest and keep your word at all times. I don't think the Sermon on the Mount is a call to poverty but I do think it is a call to integrity. At any level of society, education or life-stage, a person of high integrity who reincarnates the life of Jesus will be distinctive.

Perhaps more sad than being an investigator who cannot find someone to explain Christianity is that most people know Christians but none of them live in such a way as to be worthy of investigation. Our incompetence of living out the new incarnation is actually more than sad, it is shameful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Acts 24; Value

Paul said twice that his driving force was the resurrection. Verse 15, "and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." Verse 21, "It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” I don't think we really grasp that. We admire Paul's life but rarely embrace his motivation.

I think that today we treat the resurrection more like an insurance policy, i.e., it is something I want to have a guarantee for but really don't want to use because using it means tragedy has struck. We tend to live focused on the here and now so much that we come to believe this is real life. However, if I truly believe in the resurrection, consumerism becomes a stupid way to live. If I think the next life is the best life, am I really going to be so concerned with external looks, popularity and fame now? Maybe the litmus test is this: do I think about the resurrection when I purchase something? If a thing, any "thing", is only a decaying object for brief use in a temporary life, how much value can it really have? How much time, care and work does it deserve?

If the resurrection is birth into the real life and not just insurance in case there might be more, then people -- and only people -- become valuable because only people are resurrected into the life that goes on and on. It would seem the key to living Christ-like and Paul-like is to remember that fact. Every thing becomes a tool to build relationships; every wrong committed against a person becomes more significant. Treating people like objects of the temporary world -- judging people by what they do rather than who they are, treating people as sexual items for my pleasure, being too busy to notice people -- becomes absurd.

So now, how absurd is our North American consumeristic culture? And how utterly absurd to claim to follow the resurrected One and sill cling to the objects of this world? Shame on us -- shame on me -- for when we live like everyone else who confuse the value of people with the value of the temporary.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Acts 23; Powerless for God

The Romans were famous for polytheism. Their soldiers carried the typical reputation of tough guys with little regard for local people. Yet, in this account the Romans actions were more noble than those of the Jewish leaders. The elders and chief priests engaged in a murder plot while the Roman commander and centurions worked to save Paul. If I were a simple bystander, I would never have been influenced to seek to know God via the priests. Actually, I might have asked the commander what guided his steps?

A couple of days ago I watched a popular athlete thank his Lord for an award he received. Often this happens in sports -- crossing the end zone, after a win or receiving a trophy is followed by some recognition of God. The same guy may also be in tabloids for his sexual escapades, may live with someone other than his wife, may make millions of dollars that he spends on himself but at the right moment he knows when to sound noble. At the same time that I watched the athlete on TV, I counseled a person who had been sexually and financially abused by a Christian. Actually not just a Christian but a Christian leader. It struck me that things don't really change a lot. If I were a bystander, I would not be inclined to ask the Christians about their God but I might be drawn to ask the athlete.

It is a dangerous thing to be a representative of God. We influence lives without thinking. Our mistakes often speak louder than the sum of our victories. Due to our errors, people seek God in all the wrong places. I don't think I want to be like the soldiers or athletes that seem to flip a switch of goodness at certain times. Nor do I want to be the priests and elders who totally lost sight of how to represent God. I guess the other option is to be Paul, the guy in chains for his convictions. Most of us don't want to be there but he seemed to be the only one in the story that really lived out his professed beliefs. He was probably the only one that could sleep well at night. He is certainly the only one whose name has endured in a positive light throughout the centuries . . . and the only one whose name is still connected with representing God.

So here's to the powerless people in the story of life; those who live their convictions and let the consequences fall where they will. May I be blessed to be counted in that number.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Acts 22; Race

The crowd was fine as long as Paul was a good Jew. He talked about his education and heart with no problem. He described himself as a mystic hearing voices and seeing lights others could not and still there was no problem. He described himself as a mercenary (a.k.a. terrorist if you are on the receiving end) and still everyone was on board. They could accept anything as long as it did not involve reaching out to gentiles.

Fast forward 2000 years and hit play. Most Christians are pretty good at accepting just about any education level -- from self taught to Ph.D. We might wince but I think most people do pretty good with mystics; at least the general view is that they are somewhere within the kingdom though most are not sure where and certainly don't want to sit too close to them. Most Christians in the USA have no problem supporting those who take the name of God as coverage for when they act preemptively in battle. So what draws a reaction today?

It probably varies depending upon which area of the country you live in. In my life, I grew up in a very racist area and never attended a congregation where there was an African-American member until I was at least 20. As a youth I watched a congregation fight over whether or not to evangelize a certain side of town. I was given all sorts of strange arguments that were just ethnocentrism cloaked in Bible. I thought those days were gone in our country until a few weeks ago when I overheard two men going off on Hispanics. Same arguments, same feelings, just different people group. In fact, same feelings as the people had around Paul, just different people group then also.

It is amazingly difficult for us to see past a layer of epithelium (skin) and cultural behavior to realize that the soul of each of us was created in the image of God. To see people in the image of the Creator and then choose to reject them is to reject the image of God. No one wants to be guilty of rejecting God and so we fabricate all sorts of reasons for why some people are really not people. Amazing. If we could just accept the little lesson from Genesis 1-2 (God created us all in his image), what a different world and church this would be.