Loving The Wrong Things

Mark 14: 53, 55

“They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled…Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”

 Comments

In his book 24 Hours That Changed The World, Adam Hamilton points out that the people responsible for arresting Jesus were the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, those lifted up into positions of authority as examples of sincere faithfulness and love for God.  It’s easy for us to read about these leaders and visualize them as villains, cloaked in darkness, wearing black robes, with hatred and evil in their hearts.  But what if they were not so unlike us?  What if these men truly believed that what they were doing was right?  What if they thought they were defending God and the faith they were given?  What if they were sincere but sincerely wrong?  I think the truth is that many of them acted out of a mix of motives, and I think the truth is that all of us who claim to be faithful to Jesus run the same risk that they did.  By standing on what we believe, we run the risk of being wrong.

What is it about religion that is so dangerous to life with the living God?  First, issues of faith are about ultimate reality.  So when we think we finally understand something about how the world and God really are, we stand firm on it, as we should.  There is nothing wrong with that and everything right with that…until we misunderstand who God is, what is true, and so misunderstand how God wants us to live.  Then we stand firmly on the wrong things, and our lives are lived against God.  Second, we like certainty because it leads us to feel secure.  So we crave firm, black and white answers because we feel secure that we are in the right.  The problem with this is that we start worshipping our answers to life, our ideas of God instead of worshipping the One True God who is mysterious, way beyond the understanding of our 3 1/2 pound brains and who can only be known when He gracefully reveals himself to us!  Following Jesus is an exercise in being embraced by mystery that brings us to humility!  It is more than right doctrine and right living; it is first and foremost a right relationship to God through Jesus Christ!

So what are we followers of Jesus to do?  I believe we are called to a personal relationship to our resurrected Lord Jesus.  We aren’t so much called to follow the rules of God, the Scriptures given to us by God, the patterns, teachings, and traditions of the Church which speak on behalf of God, as much as we are called to follow the living, resurrected Christ.  What went wrong in the faith of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day is the same thing that goes wrong in the faithful today:  people began worshipping the forms of faith more than the Living God who inspires such faith in Jesus Christ.  May God grant us the humility and the joy of constantly being in a love relationship with Christ so that we may see Him clearly, and follow him and so help him continue to bring resurrection where there is death.

Different Kingdom, Different Life

Mark 14:43-46

43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

48“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?

 John 18:36

36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

  Comments

There’s a song called “Hard To Be Like Jesus” by Rich Mullins that is all about, you guessed it, how hard it is to live like him!  All of that teaching about loving others sacrificially as he has loved us and loving your enemies and turning the other cheek goes so against our sinful nature!  Yet here we are in the garden of Gethsemane with hell breaking loose, taking Jesus captive, and with Peter, a Jesus follower to the core, pulling out his sword to respond the way the world has taught him to, with violence and bloodshed.  What does Jesus do?  What does Jesus teach us about his ways in these critical moments?

A look at this event in John 18, Mark 14, Luke 22, and Matthew 26 is very instructive for us.  Luke tells us that Jesus reached out and healed the servant of the High Priest’s ear that was cut off by Peter!  He heals those who are coming to arrest him and kill him unjustly!  Talk about loving your enemies!  Matthew tells us that Jesus said to his disciples, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels (26: 52-53)?”  He essentially says, “Don’t you realize that I have access to unstoppable power, the likes of which no human has ever seen or touched, yet I choose not to use it for violence?   And I certainly won’t use it to stop my offering of myself for your salvation!”

Then, as Jesus chats with Pilate before his sentencing, he says something that rings clear and true and instructive for us, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus lives by different ways than we do here on this broken planet.  He lives by the values and order of God’s Kingdom.  All of his teaching and all of his actions have injected the Kingdom of God back into this broken world, injected the healing power of God into the sickness of the world!

What’s hard about this to us is that our world teaches us that our goal is to beat others so that we can not only survive but be the best, be the ones with the most power and control.  Others are our enemies, our competition.  So whether it is business or sports or politics or interpersonal relationships, many of our relationships are infected by an “us verses them” mentality.  Often this adversarial element to our relationships ends up in divorce, fights at children’s sporting events, bounty programs in professional sports, drug usage, maltreatment of whole nations of people at the hands of their domineering leaders, and many deaths through violence and war.

What Jesus teaches, shows, and invites us to is nothing less than the sacrificial ways of love.  He meant it when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” and “Love your enemies…bless those who persecute you.” He showed us that, in God’s Kingdom, there will be an end to “us verses them,” to selfishness and greed, and to violence.  The Kingdom we are all headed to is one of peace based on justice, love expressed in service, the same Kingdom Jesus died and rose to give us entrance to.  The hard part for us is to live in that Kingdom in our daily relationships now!

God, give us the grace to live and love with the same intensity that you do and to not back down from love in the face of the world’s pressure upon us to survive and win…in Jesus’ name…Amen!

People Get Ready

Mark 14: 37-41

37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.

 Matthew 24: 42-44

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this:  If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

 Comments

Many times Jesus taught the disciples the importance of being spiritually ready for his return, and the Bible, overall, clearly communicates the importance of people being ready for the day of judgment.  Jesus uses several images to convey this state of readiness.  He tells a story about some bridesmaids whose job it is to be ready to light the way of the groom with lamps as he comes to get his bride.  They don’t know when he will come, so they fill their lamps with oil and wait through the night.  One does not fill her lamp with oil.  Does she think the groom won’t be long?  Does she forget?  Whatever the case, she is caught unprepared.

In another story, Jesus tells of two servants.  One takes good care of his Master’s things  while his Master is away, while the other one uses his Master’s things for his own pleasure.  The Master comes back early and punishes the one while rewarding the other.  The point….be ready because you don’t know when the Master will return!

Today we reflect on Peter, James, and John’s inability to stay awake with Jesus as he makes his last prayerful preparations to face torture and death.  Were they tired after the long journey of the previous days and the long Passover meal celebration?  Was the stress of the coming conflict wearing them out?  Did they not yet understand the significance of what was about to happen?  Whatever the reason, they could not stay awake to support Jesus in his most desperate hour.

When Jesus’ Spirit prompts us to do something like make a change, resist a temptation, respond to the need of someone around us, pray, worship, whatever, do we sometimes sleep right through it?  How often does our busyness or the stressed fatigue of our lives keep us numb to the call of Jesus on a daily basis?

There are good reasons to practice fasting in the spiritual life, especially in contemporary life.  We tend to overfill our stomachs to the point that we forget to pay attention to our body’s cues which tell us when we need food and when we are full.  We tend to stuff our schedules to overflowing to the extent that we forget to pay attention to our need for rest, sleep, and quiet time to reflect on and reorder our lives in God’s presence.  And we are bombarded with messages from advertisements and constant media to the point that we often don’t hear the voice of God’s Spirit within us, guiding, directing, and empowering our lives.  Fast from food, fast from an overcrowded schedule, fast from media this season of Lent to be ready to hear the call of the Master and respond in love and obedience.

Dear God, give us the grace to stay awake with you so we are prepared to follow you today!

 

Garden Inside and Out

Revelation 22: 1-3

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

 John 18:1

“There was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.”

 Comments

In this age of scientific skepticism, many people like to look for all of the inconsistencies in Biblical narratives.  What amazes me more than any inconsistencies is the spectacular consistency of the message of God’s saving grace expressed in great major themes that are carried across documents that span thousands of years, many different authors, and various literary forms!  Adam Hamilton in 24 Hours That Changed The World:  40 Days of Reflection (Chapter 12) traces the theme of the garden, the symbol of the cradle of life created by God, from Genesis, through the gospel of John, and on through Revelation.

In the beginning, God created the garden to support life and to give humans the opportunity to express their god-likeness by giving them charge of it.  When people rebelled against God, they were removed from the garden, and creation experienced disorder and decay.  As Jesus knelt in the garden, wrestling with his Father’s will to save humanity by mounting the cross, his obedience reversed the effects of human rebellion, restoring order and life.

An image popped into my mind while thinking about this incredible, graceful reversal of human fate (bear with me, please, as I was a creative writing major at one time with a strange imagination!).  It is the image of my son’s soccer socks; those long socks that manage to be inside out and full of dirt and grass every time he takes them off after a game.  When it’s time to wash them, my wife or I must reach into the gritty sweat, reach the very bottom where the toes go, and pull them right side out again, dirt, grass and all.  All of the nasty stuff falls out (we do this outside or over the trash can) or we shake it out so that those stinky things can go into the wash to become clean again. Jesus’ obedient trip to the cross, through his tomb, and out the other side through the resurrection is what pulls our lives right side out again, dumping out all of the nasty stuff that has collected as a result of our disobedience.

Jesus’ work in the garden of Gethsemane leads us to the garden in Revelation.  There we see the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, where the river of life visually flows from God’s throne, where there is fruit year round, and where the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations!  Jesus’ obedience to God’s will yields abundant, tasty life!  Awesome!

Where is God calling us to obedience…to life?!?

My Cross?

Mark 14: 35-36

35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (NIV).”

 Romans 5: 1-5

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (NIV).

 Comments

 Is there a time when God chooses not to deliver us from suffering?  I don’t like to think that this is true, but the Bible gives us many examples of God calling his people to suffer for God’s will to be done.  One of Jesus’ most powerful and disturbing teachings is his challenge to all disciples to “pick up your cross daily and come follow me.”  Furthermore, Stephen was stoned for sharing Christ, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down for his faith, and early history is littered with stories of Christian believers suffering for their faith.

 But is suffering something God desires or is it a consequence of the world’s fall from grace?  I believe it is the latter.  There was order and peace (stability, creativity, satisfaction, and love in every phase of life) in Eden until Eve and Adam caved in to the temptation to run things on their own apart from God.  Ever since, our relationships with God, each other, and creation have suffered.  The original design for life ordered by God’s love did not include suffering, and Revelation’s vision of Jesus restoring peace to creation includes the absence of pain, death, and sorrow (Revelation 21).

But we do suffer, sometimes as a consequence of our own sins, sometimes as a consequence of the sins of others, sometimes as a consequence of sins committed by generations preceding us.  So given that suffering is not inherently good, why is it that God sometimes asks us to suffer on his mission, and why is it expected that we will suffer as we follow Jesus?  Simply, there are two kinds of suffering in this broken world, consequential suffering and redemptive suffering.  Consequential suffering is the logical consequence of sin.  Redemptive suffering occurs when we oppose sin and evil in the world and those aligned with evil strike against us even as God uses our suffering for the advance of God’s Kingdom.

God did not deliver Jesus from the suffering of crucifixion because to do so would have left the consequences of human sin upon us, left us without hope of redemption, and separated from God eternally.  And since we are the Church, the representatives and servants of God’s Kingdom, sent into the world to help Jesus restore it to God, we too must oppose evil with good, expect suffering as evil fights back, and expect God to use our efforts to advance the Kingdom.  If we must suffer, thank God we do not suffer in vain!  The resurrection power of Jesus can take our suffering and produce the fruit of the Kingdom when we are yielded to God’s will.

Where is God calling us to resist evil and sin?  Are we willing to suffer to advance the Kingdom?

Our Suffering God

MARK 14: 32-34

“They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.'”

COMMENTS

It is a profound thing to realize that God did not spare himself from the deepest human suffering imaginable. Loneliness, physical pain, exhaustion, grief, distress, and even physical death were all chosen by Jesus, for the sake of our salvation. In the greek, to be “distressed” is to experience a state of terror; to be “agitated” is to experience anguish or depression. And Jesus doesn’t just say, “I am deeply grieved, even to death,” in the greek he literally says, “My SOUL is grieved, even to death.” The core of Jesus’ being is troubled. Jesus essentially says, “I am so deeply disturbed in my emotions that I might die from them!”

For those who think of God as One who removes himself from the pain and struggle of life, sitting on a cloud somewhere in a heavenly city far, far away leaving us to fend for ourselves, these passages are vivid reminders that the God of the Bible is intimately connected to and involved in the good, bad, and ugly of life. God enters into the deepest experiences of human suffering in order to redeem them, to turn them into experiences of salvation. On our worst days, in the worst of human circumstances, God is no stranger to how we feel, and God is not ignorant of the power required to overcome those circumstances. I love how the book of Hebrews shows us that our High King, our eternal Lord Jesus, is one who understands our struggles, yet remains faithful. “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he made atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (chapter 2: 18).”

Sometimes when we suffer, we are tempted to believe that no one else understands our struggle, that we are all alone. Sometimes we are even tempted to believe that God can’t possibly understand our struggles and that God doesn’t care. Jesus shows us that these beliefs simply are not true. Our God has experienced suffering and death. Our God grieves when we grieve and hurts when we hurt. Thankfully, though, Jesus goes beyond merely empathizing with our feelings; he exercises his loving power to overcome the sources of suffering. By the power of Christ’s resurrection we “take heart, for he has overcome the world!” as the gospel of John puts it. The power of Jesus’ suffering is that our God knows how we feel. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is that he has the power to save us. We are grateful for both.