Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Free Will

The past few weeks have been filled with travel but also with reading and study. I'm taking a break from my reading in John to focus on another question. For quite some time I have been bothered by Christians missing opportunities because they are waiting on God to show them the right answer. I've witnessed virtual paralysis in decision making in many cases. I've also watched many people be hurt as well intentioned Christians played the trump card of God-told-me. They have used it for everything from divorce to leaving church to moving to another city.

And so I'm spending time with the question of "How do I discern God's will for my life?" This has led to another question of "Does God even have a specific will for each person?" This had led to the question of "Is the future predetermined or do we have total free will?" This has led to questions about the nature of God.

It all started out as a simple question that has now grown into a huge cloud that shadows all of life. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 11, 2011

John 7:25-53; Martyr Syndrome?

Did Jesus have a martyr syndrome? We often portray him as fixed on death. In many of our churches (and our lives) we leave him hanging on a cross. I've been in Catholic churches in Latin America where he is "lying in state" in a glass coffin. He bluntly stated in other places that he came to give his life as a ransom. Yet, the way this passage reads, I don't think he was fixed on death at all.

Twice the crowd tried to seize him and could not. The temple guards came for him but did not take him. Anyone that was looking for martyrdom would probably have taken advantage of one of those three moments. Yet, Jesus was not looking for death at that time; he was looking for how to give life.

And what's the big deal about whether he had a martyr syndrome or not? For me personally the issue is that I honestly don't know how to follow a person that has a death fixation. Am I to go through life being morbid or acting like this world does not count? But Jesus did not live that way. This is a man fixed not on death but on sharing life. All his teaching in this section is about knowing God and having his Spirit. His focus was not death but life.

When I think of Jesus I think he was a joyful person. I don't think he was silly happy nor do I think he was somber. He was driven by the purpose of giving life to others and that life was full of joy. He didn't call people to become zombies walking around exhausted from worry or work. He didn't call people to frivolity either. He called us all to wake up and really live. I think Jesus would have been refreshing to be around.

There is a line from an old church song that says "Look away from the cross to the glittering crown." I think Jesus would have liked that line.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

John 7:1-24; Superficial Judgments

"Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” How hard this is in so many areas of life. Often, I fear we don't even realize how superficial are our judgments.

On our campus many students struggle with faith and community. What I most commonly hear is a rejection of what is deemed conservativism; actually I think it is a rejection of whatever one grew up with. Among the middle-age crowd I hear the search for "the best" taking over when in reality "the best" is often another word for "what I enjoy the most".

Is it proper judgment to condemn a group for expressing themselves in a way that is respectful of their heritage and consistent with their understanding of scripture? Is it correct judgment to ignore history in order to find a more exciting experience? Conversely, is it correct judgment to turn a deaf ear to social trends and generational differences in order to simply avoid making a hard decision?

Probably most of us are like the average Jew in this reading, i.e., we do nothing because of our fear. Sometimes it is fear of offending someone or fear of a loss of being accepted, but in many cases we let fear rather than good judgment direct our lives. Ironically we think that not making waves is "the Christian thing to do". So why is it that Jesus was labeled a trouble-maker rather than a peace-maker? And why did he call all of us to make proper judgments if his highest value was simply keeping the status quo?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

John 6:41-71; Could Jesus teach in today's church?

As I read this section I am amazed at how differently Jesus handled this situation compared to how most churches would handle it today. If someone in North American church is disgruntled today, our common reaction is to drop everything and put out the fire. Maybe it would have gone like this . . .

“At this the Jews began to grumble because of his teaching. This was troubling to everyone in church since our driving value is to make everyone happy. Obviously if someone is offended then this can’t be love and if its not love then its ungodly. So a meeting was called where the elders asked Jesus and the Jews to sit down. Both sides explained their understanding of what happened. At the end of the explanation time, the Jews were told they could leave and that they would be called after the elders had worked more on solving the problem. Then Jesus and the leaders would go over his statements carefully. He might be told, “Look Jesus, even if this is your deep belief, can’t you see its causing problems for your brothers? If you disturb them with some teaching like this, then it hurts their spiritual life. So, back off a little. Instead of saying that people must eat your flesh and drink your blood, say something like ‘work hard in your spiritual life’. If you talk like that then you are not challenging their foundations and being offensive. It lets everyone get along and be at peace together. Getting along and being happy are critical to our church life. You yourself said love is the greatest commandment. So love your neighbor and tone down your teaching.”

The reality is that Jesus just amped up his words even more and then asked the disciples if they wanted to leave also. Seems like “get along and be happy” is not what Jesus meant when he talked about “love your neighbor” or “follow me.” Sometimes I think we need to decide if we are going to be more Christian or more North American; I don't think we can always be both.