Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John 6:16-40; No More Signs

Jesus was reluctant to turn water to wine at Cana. Then he would not heal the official's son the way the crowd wanted. Now he does not want to give a new crowd a new sign. They crossed the sea (lake) for him and are seeking after him. Yet in response to "what sign will you give us", he basically talks about entering into a faith relationship with him.

I continue to be amazed at how much we probably look like the crowd. Just think of our prayers. "Jesus, I don't know which one of these options to choose; give me a sign." "Lord, show me what to do now." "I'll stay here and not move until you indicate the best choice." It sounds spiritual but I just don't see Jesus jumping onboard.

The story within the story makes me scratch my head also. Jesus disappeared into the mountains and the disciples headed to Capernaum without him. They had all types of problems until Jesus finally joined them; then everything worked out fine. One could conclude that their error was proceeding without Jesus. The problem is that in Matthew, Jesus told them to go ahead. So concluding that they should have waited for Jesus would be to conclude that they should have been disobedient. That doesn't make any sense at all.

So putting it all together it seems that Jesus wanted to communicate to seekers and followers alike that faith in him is key. When we are just starting a conscientous spiritual walk, the first step is identifying the focus of our faith -- signs or the man Jesus? When we have been following for some time, it is just as critical to remember that obedience must always be accompanied by faith in this man.

Honestly I hate how simple that all sounds. Since I fail so miserably at the task, I want the task to sound really complicated. And of course Jesus won't let me get away with that excuse either.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

John 6:1-15; Mine or His?

Not many people every have 5000 followers, not even today in the world of "insta-publish" yourself. Yet, the number didn't seem to affect Jesus either way. The story gives no sense of urgency ("oh my, so few") or sense of success ("wow, look at how many"). Rather Jesus simply moves on with his teaching.

The crowd pursued Jesus because they had seen the signs he performed; so this is a group with good hearts. They are working hard seeking after Jesus in remote places; these are not nominal believers that are busy with other things until Sunday morning rolls around. When Jesus fed them miraculously, they were even more convinced that he was the Prophet (not "a" but "the"); their faith was solid and they were ready to commit to him. Then Jesus does the politically incorrect thing -- he leaves. He disappears into the mountains. (Note: This story has both green grass and mountains making it hard to identify with while living in west Texas!)

He knew they wanted Jesus to be their king. They could envision how he would fit into their lives and how he would lead. They had a place carved out for him and knew just how it would look with Jesus at the helm. But Jesus doesn't seem to take kindly to being placed in a box and so he left.

I wonder if this scene doesn't play out in our lives over and over. We seek Jesus, feel closer to him, grow in our faith and then seem to lose track of him. Maybe we are committing the same error as the crowd; maybe Jesus purposefully pulls back when we are ready to box him in to being "my personal savior", "my best friend", "my CEO", "my Sunday god", "my political adviser", etc. Any title we try to place on him that starts with the word "my" probably sends him retreating into the mountains again. "My" implies possession and who owns whom has always been a big deal to Jesus.

I've always thought that feeling distant from Jesus in my spiritual walk was due to sin on my part (Isaiah 59:1-2). Maybe there is more to the story though; maybe distance also comes into the relationhsip when I try to make Jesus "mine" and control him with stereotypes. Now the issue becomes figuring out which boxes I am trying to force him into and how to shift my thinking from "he is mine" to "I am his."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

John 5:16-47; Like Father, Like Son

Jesus' argument is not that complicated here. He basically said "I am God because I do God things." Wouldn't it be great if we were able to say the same thing regarding our Christian life, i.e., "You can tell that I am a follower of Christ because I do Christ things." Here is how we might say 5:16-47 about ourselves (bascially picking and choosing verses since all would not apply to us).

"My Jesus is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. . . I can do nothing by myself; I can do only what I see Jesus doing, because whatever he does, I do also. For Jesus loves me and shows me all he does. . . By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgement is just for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me."

Ironically, this is not the way I was raised to think. I was reared to defend my faith and increase my confidence by being able to point to scripture for all my actions. The disturbing thing is that pointing to scripture for justification is what the other guys in the story were doing. I have no interest in ignoring scripture; I do, however, desire a life that is upright not because I have scriptural backing but rather because my life looks like Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

John 5:1-15; Jesus and Bob Newhart?

Bob Newhart has a great skit that you can find online called "Stop It" where a psychologist counsels a young lady to end her paranoia with the words, "Stop it!" When I read Jesus saying, "Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you", I wondered if Jesus wasn't a proto-Newhart? Was he really just fussing at this guy to get him to be more spiritual? Was he saying that sin leads to physcial consequences like sickness?

The John 9 scene where Jesus bluntly states that the blind man did not get that way due to sin seems to shed some light; there Jesus was clear that sin and earthly suffering are not always directly related. Job can attest to the same.

I think in this case, the entire phrase Jesus speaks needs to be looked at. He actually said, " “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Well again? Maybe this guy was not born a paralytic but had become such due to illegal or unethical activity. After all, it is odd that it does not say "he was born a paralytic" but gives the number of years. If so, then "stop it or else" might refer to his physical life. At the same time, Jesus knew there are things in life (this or the next) much worse than paralysis. Maybe Jesus was speaking to his spiritual health. He had just used physical situations to teach spiritual truths (John 2 temple clearing, John 3 birth and baptism, John 4 water and eternal life).

So I'm not superclear on whether Jesus was telling this particular guy to avoid a particular sin due to physcial or spiritual consequences. What I feel confident about is that in John 4 Jesus basically told the Samaritan woman to not miss her chance at getting to know the Messiah. Now in John 5 he gives one Jerusalem invalid a second chance and follows it up with "don't blow it." Jesus is the God of second chances; the question to me is will I be wise enough to take advantage of second chances or will I totally miss Jesus-given opportunities?

Maybe Jesus would not have made a "Stop It" video; maybe his would have been "Wake Up!"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

John 4:43-54; Mean Jesus

I've often read this passage and felt like Jesus was being mean, or at least really grumpy. I get the same feeling reading a few other miracles like the woman begging for her daughter and Jesus saying I was sent to the Jews or the time that the big crowd follows him around to the other side of the big lake. Even the first miracle in Cana gives that feeling but I think that much of that "grumpy look" in John 2 is due to awkward translation of "Woman, why do you involve me?" which apparently carries no negative conotation in its original language. This one, however, seems grumpy.

As I continue to look at it and study, I have come to this conclusion, I think Jesus comes across as negative because he was. This Jewish official is doing all he can to save his son's life; I think Jesus has only sympathy for him. But when he responds saying, "“Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe," he uses a plural "you". He is not talking to the man as the father of a sick child; he is talking to a group. Apparently a crowd has gathered (maybe helping the dad find Jesus) or Jesus is referring to part or all of the Jewish nation or both. So the response is meant to be negative but it is not a response against the father but against a group. Jesus wants nothing to do with those who follow him due to his giving of "signs". The father is not of this group; he distinguishes himself byt persisting in his faith that Jesus can heal his son. By healing him from a distance, Jesus honored the father's petition but totally put off the crowd that would have followed Jesus to the boy's side to watch a miracle.

And so I conclude that Jesus can be negative with people (not a popular concept among those of us who always want a touchy-feely Jesus on demand) and that he really doesn't want followers who want "on-demand" miracles and signs. It seems to be the rage these days to pray, "God if you want me to do X, then give me a sign." This story makes me wonder how God feels getting all those petitions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John 4:1-42; No Vacations

I cannot read this without thinking of Tom. He was another veterinary student and we decided to read through the book of John together. Soon were in chapter four. After reading it outloud together, I asked Tom what he understood from the passage. He replied, "Its obvious; Christians don't take a vacation from evangelism." I was prepared for a response about Jesus crossing racial or sexual barriers, about Jesus' physical tiredness, about worship and a few other things. I was not prepared for "Christians don't take vacations from evangelism."

Tom went on to explain the "obvious" to me. Even though Jesus was tired he shared with the woman. The apostles obviously passed her on the way into town and then bumped into her again on the way back. That makes 24 missed opportunities. Jesus had one opportunity and, though he was exhausted, he made it count. So, Tom concluded that the story is to show us that "Christians don't take vacations from evangelism."

That was over 20 years ago and when I read John 4 I still have to say, "You're right, Tom. Thanks for pointing out the obvious."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John 3:22-36; Rhythm Guitar

John knew what his purpose was and he played his role well. When his disciples were jealous for him, John could still point them to Jesus. He didn't have to but he did. He could have been irritated, started his own following or just walked away. Despite the shift in the limelight, he stayed true to his call.

I think there is a lot we can learn from John. So many of us go through life without any sense of purpose. We eventually land on work or family or something else. But John understood his call early and he stayed faithful to it.

John also is a great example of not letting his ego keep him from pointing people to Jesus. He could rejoice in the success of others and even be content with becoming less.

Surely it was not easy to be John. Today so many of us are tying to be number one that very few are content with letting Jesus become number one. An old country song said, "Nobody wants to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus; it seems like everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band." I respect John for letting go of the spotlight and hope that when I'm gone I'll remind people more of John than the old song. Yet I know that a reputation is built little by little over a lifetime. So, with that in mind, hopefully by the end of today someone will be able to compare me more with John than the song.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

John 3:1-21; Followership

It is ironic that most of the messages I have heard from this passage deal with the "born of water" portion. Was Jesus talking about baptism or physical birth? I've heard both argued and have my opinion; however, I don't think that was the point of the conversation.

The conversation was about following the Christ through spiritual rebirth. How hard that must have been for a Pharisee. How hard it still is for us. When this entire Christian thing gets boiled down to its basic ingredients, it is still simply submitting my human experience to the leadership of Jesus. It is a spiritual decision to follow the God-man Jesus.

I don't know what Nicodemus anticipated hearing from the lips of Jesus that night, but I doubt he anticipated a statement of faith ("we know you are from God") to be met with a challenge ("You must be born again"). Apparently Jesus makes a clear distinction between verbal assent and followership. Unfortunately many Christians don't seem to make the distinction while much of society does. While most Christians seem content with hearing another say, "I am a Christian", most of society wants to see followership in action. Verbal assent and kingdom living are not the same; in fact, Jesus says that if all you have is verbal assent, you have not even seen the kingdom yet.

Jesus concludes with the statement, "But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." To rephrase it, "It will be obvious when someone is a true follower."

May today be spent in obvious followership and not simple verbal assent.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

John 2:13-25; AntiChurch?

Jesus went to the temple to find a house of prayer; instead he found greed and corruption. His reaction was swift and clear. Animals were driven out, people rebuked and tables overturned. I have serious doubts that it all came to an end. I doubt that they left and never came back or took their business elsewhere. Instead of repenting they questioned his authority, the age old reaction of shooting the messenger.

I wonder how Jesus would feel walking into a US institutional church today? Would he find a house of prayer or house of greed? Would he be able to walk through the parking lot with the new cars and feel OK when he got inside to a building devoid of the poor? Would he rebuke us for our budgets that spend vast sums on self rather than the community? Would he be upset? How would we react to him? How do we react to any messenger that points this out?

Recently I talked with two missionaries that simply said, "I hate church." They clarified that they love the church that Jesus established but are incredibly frustrated with the US expression of that. Their church meets in a rented area of the mall; it is accessible by bus from anywhere in town so that the poor can participate. They have found a way to pursue Jesus' kingdom here on earth and stay faithful to church without letting their frustrations with human adulteration drive them away. And I think that is exactly what Jesus did. His frustration with human error did not cause him to stop going to the temple, quit being a Jew or give up on the people around him.

May we follow his example even in handling frustrations.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

John 2:1-12; Prayer

This story challenges my prayer life. Jesus clearly told Mary, "No." But she was undaunted. Her faith remained strong that he would respond to her petition.

So what do I do with this? I don't want to be Abraham who pushed for his dream so much that he gave birth to Ishmael and many have regretted the decision ever since. He acted apart from God. I don't want to be Israel who asked for a king even though God said it was not a good idea. They persisted and he gave it to them; later it caused division and their downfall. Their hearts were not in harmony with God even though they called out to him. Here Mary knew her son but was not in sync with his wishes nor his dream. Yet he still responded and it was a good thing (apparently).

And so I struggle. There are ways I would like God to respond but I don't know if it is in his or my best interest. Can I appeal to the presidence set by Mary while avoiding the mistakes of Abraham and Israel? I hope so but I don't know so. It times like this where I just count on God knowing my heart while I try to know his.