Monday, February 17, 2020

"The Misunderstanding that Didn't Happen"

Mark 8.32-33 NAS


“And He [Jesus] was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 

But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man’s.’”


Most misunderstandings begin innocently. What one party meant is not what the other heard. Both leave confused. They fume and friendships end with the silent ritual of avoidance. Time passes and hurt festers. When confrontation does occur, each erupts defensively spilling their pain like bags of marbles on a hardwood floor. Personalities collide, conflicts escalate, and relationships come to a permanent end.

My dear friend Julie excitedly introduced me to her daughter and her daughter’s fiancée. I was overjoyed to meet such a fine young couple. We discussed their wedding date and plans and then Julie said, “Dave, you know all about this, having been through it a couple of times before. You’ll probably do it a few more times,” she added with a wink and a smile.

I was momentarily stunned. Yes, I was married more than once. Julie was right... I’d “been through it a couple of times before.” But why would she remind me of my past failure and divorce in a happy moment like this? Then to tease me about the possibility of future divorce and remarriage seemed inappropriate and insensitive. I felt the instant stab of emotional pain.   

What Jesus predicted seemed inappropriate to Peter. Jesus stated “the matter plainly,” that is, the matter of His suffering, death, and resurrection.

“…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…
and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Messiah’s announcement did not set well with Peter. The disciple took Jesus aside for a word of correction which, as it turned out, was a bad idea. Jesus called Peter “Satan” and the relationship nearly ended on the spot.

I gently pressed my friend Julie and acknowledged the fact that I have been divorced and remarried. With the look of horror, she blurted out, “I was talking about your children, not you!

My brain slowly awakened to the truth. Julie was lovingly referring to the fact that I had already married off two of my grown daughters and I would likely see more of my children tie the happy knot. I was simultaneously struck with revelation and relief. Together Julie and I started to chuckle, then laughed almost uncontrollably at the misunderstanding that (thankfully) didn’t happen.

Even the most obvious truth stated in the clearest possible manner can be misunderstood. Before allowing the words or actions of another to fester in my soul, and certainly before I take someone aside to “rebuke,” I should gently verify what I think I heard.

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Say Less"

Mark 7:24; 36 NIV

Jesus…entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.”

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”

I found myself siding with the heathen and wishing the preacher would sit down. “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down,” as if repeating it silently and glaring at the orator would get my message across to the man who many minutes ago overstayed his welcome at the podium. Funerals are favorite forums for windy pulpiteers who cannot suppress the need to unload way too much salvation theology. People come to pay respects and grieve the loss of a loved one. All they want is a little hope. Instead, mourners are forced to endure a prolonged ‘altar call’ they are in no condition to comprehend.

The good reverend should learn the three rules of public speaking… “Stand up, speak up, and shut up!” I wonder how the preacher will feel when he learns that his good intentions had the opposite effect. Instead of winning souls, his over-sermonizing actually drove people away from Jesus. Is that possible? Every pagan knows it is. How incredible! How unlike Jesus! These ‘men of the cloth’ can’t help themselves. Unbridled zeal overcomes them and they forget to control their passion. These speakers fail to hear the Holy Spirit calling them to be still. 

“Jesus commanded” over-talkers “not to tell anyone.” 

“...But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”
 
Jesus taught His followers to say less, not more, about their experience with Him. Jesus clearly understated Himself and His identity. In Mark’s account, Jesus prefers the title “Son of Man” to “Son of God.” Some scholars have accused Jesus of keeping a “Messianic Secret.”[1] He warned devils, disciples, and those He healed not to tell others who He was.[2] Why?

“To affirm his Messiahship outright would have been to court misunderstanding. His contemporaries would immediately have foisted upon him their traditional conception of the Messiah as one designed to slay their foes and lift them high. But Jesus was not such a Messiah; he was Messiah, but so unlike the picture of the Messiah which his hearers had in their minds that he wanted to avoid the term. He was the Messiah but not their Messiah.” [3]

According to W. D. Davies, Jesus “was the Messiah but not their Messiah,” When it became evident the message would not be received, Jesus quit talking. He was too intelligent and sensitive to “throw... pearls before swine” (Matthew 7.6). Jesus may have “wondered at their unbelief” but He he would not try to persuade “His hometown” with miracles and healing (Mark 6.1-6).

The Master studied His audience before opening His mouth. Effective preachers still do. If ambassadors for Christ followed the example of Christ, they might tend to say less, not more.
____________________

[1] The so-called “Messianic Secret,” first advanced by William Wrede in 1901, claimed that secrecy regarding Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah was not original with Jesus. Rather, the author of Mark (or a later editor of his gospel) added the secrecy theme to explain the reluctance of religious leaders to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Conservative scholars dispute this theory.

[2] Mark 1.34; 3.12 (devils); 8.30; 9.9 (disciples); 1.44; 5.43; 7.36; 8.26 (those Christ healed). See also Mark 7.24b; 9.30.

[3] Invitation to the New Testament ~ A Guide to Its Main Witnesses, W.D. Davies, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969, p. 206.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"The Annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue"

Mark 6.1 NKJV

“Then He [Jesus] went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.”

I follow Jesus. I am a disciple of Christ, but not always a very good one. Sometimes I want to lay down my cross and veer from the course, just a little. That’s why God gave me 22 years with a great woman. He knows I mean well and, with a little help from my wife, I just might stay (nearer to the center of) the path.

Adonica was a sports fanatic. She once subscribed to Sports Illustrated magazine and enjoyed the weekly updates on favorite teams and the mostly well written articles about athletes personal and team achievements. I occasionally glanced at the magazine.

Like most guys, I was aware of the annual swimsuit edition in which beautiful women model tiny bits of fabric. I’m not sure what this has to do with sports but I am fairly certain it boosts magazines sales and revenues. Maybe I would take one of my “occasional glances” when the swimsuit issue arrived in the mail. I would be nonchalant.

Adonica informed me the annual swimsuit issue had arrived.

“Oh yeah, where is it?,” feigning only casual interest.

“In the recycling. I didn’t even bring it into the house,” she replied.

“So you mean its in the red recycling box in the garage?”

“No. I mean it was picked up today and taken to the dump. It’s gone for good.”

“Good,” I said. “Darn,” I thought.

My dear wife saw this as a teaching opportunity. She explained that the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is really soft pornography and had no business in our home. She also discovered that subscribers can ‘opt out’ of receiving the swimsuit issue and get an extra magazine at the end of their subscription. I learned that’s what we would do if we re-subscribed.

The incident described above happened about twelve years ago. Given the opportunity, I doubt I would have opened the magazine. God faithfully provides a way of escape with every temptation I face (1st Corinthians 10.13). By His amazing grace, I have not viewed pornography (or an SI swimsuit issue) for nearly twenty years. Nor have I started up my old sexually addictive behavior patterns since my dear Adonica died nearly four and a half years ago. I am acutely aware of the enormous weight that sin once carried in my life and I don’t want to go there again. However, I most certainly would have been tempted and I am glad I had a marriage partner who understood that. I am deeply saddened as I write these words, for she is no longer here to remind what a good man is and does. Now I must figure that out on my own.

And yet, she is here. In August 2015, Adonica joined that “great cloud of witnesses” who surrounds and reminds me to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” me, (Hebrews 12.1). Together we “followed Him” on earth and stayed on the path. Alone, I might have taken a detour. I certainly was not watching where I was going. 

The woman I married lovingly removed stumbling blocks and helped me remain true to my convictions. To me, she was the most beautiful woman on planet earth. Now she’s in heaven and she’s still beautiful. I still love her and, in a sense, I still have her. By Gods grace, I will not dishonor Adonicas memory. I will keep following Jesus and be the man she always wanted and deserved and expected and helped me to be.   

__________________________

The beautiful image of the ring on the Bible casting a heart-shaped shadow is by Canadian photographer Travis Parsons of Vinland Photography, Newfoundland. You can view his exceptional wedding photography at http://www.vinland-blog.com/.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"The Moment of Truth"

Mark 5.33-34 NAS

“But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’”

“The Moment of Truth” was a new reality show following Fox network’s most popular television series “American Idol” on Wednesday nights in January, 2008. Hopefully your kids were in bed and your entire family missed an opportunity to see people go down in a blaze of widescreen, high def humiliation. Game participants were wired to polygraphs and given questions that began as probing and escalated to damning.

The show was a throwback to olden days when townsfolk gathered for a public lynching. And gather they did. “More than 23 million viewers sat through ‘Truth’s’ first episode on Jan. 23”[1]. I did not watch, barely overcoming the temptation to satisfy my morbid curiosity.

It’s mentally healthy and spiritually cleansing to spill all, but not in public. Be selective. Find trustworthy friends, then “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5.16). Given the right set of questions, no one alive could leave “The Moment of Truth’s” hot seat unscathed. 

Ultimately, there’s one person with enough compassion to safely hold your dark secrets. With great “fearing and trembling” a very sick woman fell at the feet of this one and “told Him the whole truth.” The result?

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; 
go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

I doubt anyone finished an episode of “The Moment of Truth” whole. I assume both contestants and audience left a piece of themselves behind. Like most sensationalist endeavors, ratings spiked and then dropped. “A very impressive start but viewership declined quickly, reaching a low of 8.6 million.”[2] Fox network made a little money. The cost? Everyone walked away from what may have been the cruelest ‘reality TV’ program ever, a little more raw, exposed, and broken than they expected. Something inside of all of us died.

Tell Jesus and trusted confidants the “whole truth” and that’s exactly how you will leave your encounter with Him… whole.

__________________

[1] “‘Truth’ hits contestants with utter destruction; no wonder you love it,” Peter Ames Carlin, Living, section B-1, The Oregonian, Wednesday, February 13, 2008.

[2] "The Moment of Truth: FOX Losing Confidence in Lie Detector Show?" by TV Series Finale, August 7, 2008 (http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/the-moment-of-truth-fox-losing-confidence-in-lie-detector-show/). This television program, hosted by Emmy nominated, television personality Mark L. Walberg, premiered on January 23, 2008 and ended on August 8, 2009.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"Relax a Little"

Mark 4.26-29 “The Message”

“Then Jesus said, ‘God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it.

The seed sprouts and grows — he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain.

When the grain is fully formed, he reaps — harvest time!’ ”

A new pastor came to town and an elderly woman parishioner invited him home for dinner. The woman’s husband did not attend church and before meal time the pastor found the man in his back yard working in the family garden. Wanting to make a good impression, the young clergyman observed, “This sure is a beautiful garden you and the Lord have” to which the older gentleman replied, “Yeah? Well, you should have seen it when just the Lord had it!”

All work, including the work of the gospel, is not done by the Lord alone. He equips His children to perform certain tasks in partnership with Him. Beautiful gardens don’t just appear. It’s a joint God-human venture. As Paul once explained, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” (1st Corinthians 3.6). You could say, 'Without God, I can’t. Without me He won’t.'

We have been handed an earth and a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it,” (Genesis 1.28b). We are called to help create culture and beauty, gardens and cities, art and music, sales and income, peace and joy, disciples and friends. We must do our part to make this world a better place than we found it. This has been our Maker’s expectation since day six when he issued His mandate.

We were born to work and work well. This is our part. But when our part is done, we must let it go and learn to relax. It’s called trust. People who can’t trust, can’t relax. After a full day of seed throwing, a man of faith “goes to bed and forgets about it.” He trusts that “harvest time” will come.

Jesus knew how to relax. He took a nap at the back of a boat threatened by “a fierce gale of wind” with waves “breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up” with water (Mark 4.37). In this moment Jesus is “seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.1). He is not on His feet peering over the edge of His heavenly cloud, shaking a fist at those crazy humans. Things are under control. Jesus knows how to relax a little.

The man in Christ’s parable casts the seed and “then goes to bed and forgets about it.” The seed sower “has no idea how it happens, but somehow the garden flourishes. “The earth does it all without his help.” Amazing! Good things happen without my persistent oversight. I may as well learn to trust and relax a little.
_____________________

"Storm on the Sea of Galilee" ca. 1633 by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Monday, February 10, 2020

"I Just Want My Dad"

Mark 3.13-15 NRSV

“He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.”

“The kid hated needles. But it hardly mattered. About once a week he'd roll up his sleeve, expose his shoulder and feel the cold metal plunge into what little muscle he had there. He would scrunch up his face as if he had smelled something foul and often close his eyes until the contents of the syringe emptied into his bloodstream. Then he could return to his PlayStation 2.” [1]

Corey Gahan was a twelve year old boy who loved in-line skating. His father put him on a regimen of steroids and human growth hormones (HgH). The performance enhancing drugs had their desired effect. Corey, 5’ 5” tall at the time, went from one hundred and twenty pounds to one hundred and sixty in the first year. At fifteen Corey was a “national champion at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters,” His times shattered previous U.S. Indoor Speedskating records. Shortly after his thirteenth birthday, the boy was tested and found to have twenty times the normal testosterone level of an adult male. Corey’s dad served a six year term in Federal Prison. At age eighteen, when the story broke, Corey was fifteen pounds lighter than he was at fifteen years old. He is a victim of a lost childhood and suffers remorse for…

  • cooperating with investigators who forced his father’s guilty plea landing him in jail.
  • agreeing with his dad to use drugs even though “I knew I was doing something wrong.” 
  • surrendering his winning records after being suspended from the sport he loved.
  • sacrificing his mental balance for drugs that “turn you… into a monster.”
  • losing the opportunity to prove himself a champion without performance enhancers.

Jesus had expectations of His disciples. He sent them out to “proclaim the message” and “cast out demons.” They were to perform in the arena of faith and crush the demonic competition for the souls of men and women. But it was not all about winning with Jesus and it’s not all about winning with our Father God. Jesus called “those whom he wanted.” We are “wanted” whether we win or not. He “appointed twelve… to be with him.” We are called by Jesus “to be with him.” You and I are among “those whom he wanted… to be with.” It’s about relationship, not performance. A loving and caring relationship is more important to a good father than breaking records or winning notoriety.

Corey wanted to win. But that wasn’t all he wanted, or even what he wanted most. At thirteen he could not have told you that what he really desired was a relationship with his father. Corey now reflects, “We had our bouts because I very much wanted a dad and he wanted a business relationship. At a young age it’s hard to understand why winning all the time matters so much.”

What a joy to know that God the Father sent Jesus to earth so we may be counted among “those whom he wanted… to be with.” It feels good to be wanted.
_______________

[1] “Sins of a Father,” Sports Illustrated, January 21, 2008 edition.

Friday, February 07, 2020

"613 Reasons"

Mark 2.23-24 NKJV; 2.27-28 NLT

“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!’

Rules are intended to benefit everyone in the organization. Company policies are supposed to protect employees and employers alike. Contracts are made to safeguard the interests of all parties to the transaction. Building codes are enforced so tenants don’t suffer injury and landlords don’t get sued. Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CCR's) are written to help all homeowners maintain home values in their subdivision. Marriage vows remind couples to remain faithful to the family during the hard times. Laws exist to support every citizen of a nation.

Rules, covenants, vows, policies, contracts, and laws are good. Without them relationships falter, societies crumble, and people get hurt. We need rules until... the rules take on a life of their own. Sometimes members of organizations blindly comply for reasons they cannot recall. The purpose of a law can actually become secondary to the law itself. Policies may evolve to define, rather than enhance membership. “We’ve always done it that way” might be the only truthful explanation for outdated and stupid regulations. That’s when courageous people must take action to make a change.

Jesus Christ was a courageous agent for change. He knew it was against Jewish law to “pluck the heads of grain” on the Sabbath, but His guys were hungry! That apparently mattered more to Jesus than the impact of His violation.

Rule-making is actually fun and personally gratifying for a rule-follower, in a self-centered sort of way. Humans have a strong tendency toward self-justification. Rule-keeping satisfies our clamor for self-approval and our ever-present need to “be right. The more rigorous the rules and higher the standards, the better compliance makes us feel, camouflaging our own sense of inadequacy. When my inner sense of “OK-ness” depends upon my outward obedience to a code of conduct then I must only find (or create) a personal moral code to which adherence is achievable for me. It’s simple and makes me feel good. It’s also ungodly, that is, quite unlike God. 

Jewish tradition holds to a total of 613 laws corresponding to the number of commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the “Law”). These laws are divided into 365 negative commands (for each day of the solar year) and 248 affirmative commandments (ascribed to the number of bones and important organs of the human body). Pretty neat, huh? 613 is also the number of Hebrew letters in the 10 Commandments.[1] Numerology like this appeals to the unregenerate mind. The discovery of such, so-called, deep and secret knowledge confers an almost magical or Gnostic” power to those who are eager to earn their ‘rightness’ with a god of their own creation.

Jesus is much bigger than any set of laws that govern human behavior. He is “Lord, even over the Sabbath.” He subscribes only to standards that made sense for the people He loves and serves. Rules which do not benefit people are of no use to Jesus. 

That’s just one of the (many more than) 613 reasons I love Jesus.
_______________

[1] I first learned of this interesting numeric legal standard from a sermon by Phil Comer, founding pastor of A Jesus Church (formerly Solid Rock) at the Westside campus in Tigard, Oregon, delivered on January 20, 2008. I found an abundance of information on the Internet for historical fascination with the number 613. I actually dusted off my Biblica Hebraica and counted all the Hebrew characters in the Exodus 20.2-17 version of the 10 Commandments. I came up with 620, but I may have miscounted by 7 letters (and I'm not doing that project again!). The parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5.1b-21 contains nearly 1,000 Hebrew characters.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

"Follow Me... It's Urgent"

Mark 1.17-18 NASU

“And Jesus said to them [Simon and Andrew],

‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’


Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Going a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 

Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.”

There is a sense of urgency in the Gospel of Mark. The Greek adverb ευθύς (yoo-thoos’) normally translated “immediately” is found forty-two of its eighty-seven New Testament occurrences in the book of Mark and twelve times in Mark’s chapter 1 alone.[1] 

Open the 1st chapter of the 2nd Gospel and see if you can find each usage. Depending upon your version of the Bible, ευθύς will be Greek for “immediately,” “at once,” “instantly,” “as soon as,” “right then,” “without delay,” “didn’t ask questions,” “the moment,” “just then,” “suddenly,” “just at that time,” “right off,” and even “straightway” or “forthwith” in some older translations. A sense of urgency accompanies each use of the word. For Mark, there’s no time to waste. His is the shortest Gospel. It’s succinct in its presentation and full of immediate action. Some call it the Gospel of Pow!

Certain doors of opportunity almost never open. When they do, one must act and, according to the Gospel of Mark, act now! Chances of a lifetime must be seized before they disappear. About two thousand years ago, four commercial fishermen recognized just such an opportunity. They “immediately… left their nets and followed Him.”

I was once a commercial fisherman. I worked a season on the Bernice, a Whitney Fidalgo purse seiner. Built in 1912, this boat leaked like a rusty colander. When running, we had to pump the bilge by hand every couple hours. Our casting technique was a little different than the sons of Zebedee’s. After we made a set and dragged the net, men in a skiff helped us connect the gear to the Bernice's power block and the weighted lead cord was cinched up like a purse string. The web was 90 feet deep and kept afloat with corks along a 1/3 mile long stretch of net. This was major gear and difficult to handle, especially in the choppy seas of southeast Alaska in 1972. It was also an immense amount of net to repair. I recall countless crew hours and long days “mending the nets” as we prepared for our salmon season.

Jesus found Simon and Andrew “casting a net.” When He met “James... and John his brother,” they were busy “mending the nets.” All four fishermen were in exactly the right place at the right time. They had only a moment to react. The door of opportunity was closing as quickly as it opened. Simon and Andrew had an instinct about Rabbi Jesus. A quick decision had to be made. They would not call for a committee meeting, stop to strategize, or hire a consultant. Instead, these men “immediately… left their nets and followed Him.” Brothers James and John did the same. They “left their father” and a thriving family business to follow Christ. These fishermen heard and deeply felt a sense of urgency in the words “Follow Me.”

Do I understand the sense of urgency? Commercial fishing enterprises have come and gone. Nobody (except me) remembers my commercial fishing days. Everything I do to make a living is temporary. But my relationship with Jesus lasts for eternity. Do I feel the immediacy in my soul when I am busy “casting” and “mending the nets”? Will I drop everything and follow Him… immediately?
___________

The beautiful photographs "Purse Seiner" and "Floats" in this post were taken by Gary Robertshaw in August 2003 and made part of his Waterfront Walk Gallery ("Photos from an afternoon walk along Morro Bay California's waterfront.") Gary kindly gave me permission to use his photographs here. Check out his wonderful work at http://www.pbase.com/roberthouse.

[1] “As an adv.‎ ευθύς ‎appears 87 times in the NT… It is a temporal adv. and appears almost exclusively in narrative texts (miracles, figurative language, parables).” There is a “striking frequency [of this word] in Mark (42 times)…” from article entitled “ευθύς” by W. Pöhlmann, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

"In God We Doubt"

Matthew 28.16-17 AMP

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed and made appointment with them. And when they saw Him, they fell down and worshiped Him; but some doubted.”

These are curious verses. Some among the original “eleven disciples” actually doubted. Why would these men doubt when the risen Christ was standing before them? Could it be…

  • The doubting disciples concluded that Jesus never actually died if He was alive and now speaking to them (e.g., the doubters questioned the reality of Christ’s death)?
  • The risen Jesus was not the pre-crucified Jesus they remembered (e.g., they doubted the resurrection assuming the man before them was not really Jesus)?

Exactly what was “doubted” by “some” of the “eleven?” Was it the death or the resurrection of Jesus? Neither option seems plausible to me. The disciples should have known what Jesus looked like. The women at the tomb, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,” recognized the resurrected Christ immediately (Matthew 28.1-10). Likewise, it could take even more faith to believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, than to accept His death and resurrection. So why would “some [have] doubted” and precisely what was in doubt?

I think all eleven of the disciples knew the man standing before them was, in fact, the authentic and risen Jesus Christ. They had every good reason to believe their eyes and ears, yet “some doubted.”

The fact that some disciples doubted the obvious should not surprise us. Doubt does not have to make sense. Doubt is a powerful force which can, and often does, override reason. A miraculous intervention by God makes no difference to the confirmed doubter. Even a personal visitation from the risen Christ will not change a doubter’s mind. 

Jesus explained this phenomenon in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man tried reasoned, “I have five brothers... warn them.”  But Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

No one can prove faith. Doubt cannot be overcome with solid reasoning or miraculous intervention. Not even God can make a doubter believe. Only the doubter can stop his doubting, and choose instead to believe the obvious. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

"The Lowest Form of Humor"

Matthew 27.27-31 NKJV

“Then the soldiers... stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.

And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’

Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.”

The soldiers did not believe Jesus was a king even though “they bowed the knee before Him” and proclaimed, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They were being sarcastic. Their ritual of mock worship was purely cheap entertainment for weak-minded prison guards who had nothing better to do than kick a Savior when He’s down. Their shameful display was intended to get a few crumby laughs at Jesus’ horrible expense. After scourging the Lord to a shredded and unrecognizable mass of blood and flesh, they jammed thorns into His scalp, spit on Him, and beat His head with a stick. Pilate’s thugs not only tortured Jesus physically with spit, whips, thorns, and sticks, they also added insult to injury with sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a nasty form of wit. Sarcasm comes from the ancient Greek word sarx (σάρξ) which means ‘flesh.’ Sarx is associated with circumcision in the New Testament, which is, of course, the cutting of the flesh.[1] Sometime in the latter part of the 16th century the word ‘sarcasm’ began appearing in English literature and was considered “the lowest form of wit.”[2] Its original meaning was to “tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.”[3] Those who use sarcasm figuratively tear the emotional skin off their victims. Sarcasm is painful for the object of its cruelty. 

Sarcasm is no way to make a point. Those using it are no better than the soldiers who abused Christ. They should resist the temptation to grab a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense. What may seem funny to the sarcastic is not funny to the victim of its low level, flesh-tearing wit.

_______________

[1] “Paul… speaks of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2nd Corinthians 12:7) to express that he is a person plagued by the body. Circumcision is performed ‘in the flesh’ (Gal 6:12,13; Phil 3:3,4; Rom 2:28). Σάρξ ‎has an unspecific meaning in these OT-influenced passages; only from the context do we discover that Paul rejects circumcision ‘in the flesh.’ ” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

[2] “Sarcasm”, Wikipedia, Notes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm. See also, Online Etymology Dictionary at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sarcasm.

[3] “Sarcasm”, The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, edited by C.T. Onions, Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 788.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

"Following at a Distance"

Matthew 26.58 NIV

“But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.”

Peter was fooling himself. He thought he was a fully devoted follower of Christ, yet he “followed” the Lord at a safe “distance.” Peter tried to make himself indistinguishable from the crowd when he entered “the courtyard of the high priest” and “sat down with the guards.” He had an sincere interest in Jesus, but that was all. 

Like so many others, Peter was curious to “see the outcome” of Christ’s arrest. But when recognized as a disciple of Jesus, Peter denied it, just like Jesus said he would. Peter was an ‘arm’s length’ follower of Christ. Even after a few years of personal involvement, he was not committed in his pursuit of the Lord. The disciple was not fully invested. He was unwilling to risk his life for Jesus. When faced with a decision he lied, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 28.72).

I am a follower of sports, and yesterday’s Super Bowl LIV was no exception. The contest between the Chiefs and the 49ers was thrilling competition with Patrick Mahomes II kneeling to clinch the title at 31 to 20 for Kansas City. As great as this game was, nothing compares in my mind to the Giants vs. Patriots Super Bowl faceoff on on February 3rd, 2008. According to Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian, a certain end of game play could well “go down as one of the greatest in Super bowl history.” [1]

That day, I was an avid follower of Eli Peyton. I watched “at a distance” as he skillfully avoided what I thought was a guaranteed sack to make an incredible 32 yard pass to David Tyree. Then with only 59 seconds left in the game and trailing by 4 points Manning completed the game winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress for a Giant upset at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New England could not score for the perfect 19-0 season they hoped for. The Giants regained the football and, with only one second on the clock, Eli Manning knelt to win both the game and an MVP Trophy. It was an afternoon of amazing football. 

For a few hours each year, I am a follower of football. But my allegiance quickly wanes. I am an occasional adherent of the game. Twelve years ago I was an avid supporter of Eli Manning. Yesterday was a new game, new teams, and a new halftime show. I watched “at a distance” from the comfort of a soft living room couch and, like Peter, waited to “see the outcome.” Did I know the players and performers? No. Neither do I qualify as a fully devoted follower of Russel Wilson, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Aaron Rodgers, John Elway, Brett Favre, or any other winning Super Bowl quarterback. 

Sometime after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and came to know intimately the man he initially “followed… at a distance.” He became a fully devoted follower of Christ and leader of the early Jesus movement. 

There is a difference between following Christ at a distance and becoming His fully devoted follower.
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[1] “Super Bowl: Giants sack Tom Brady five times”, Aaron Fentress, The Oregonian, Sports, section D, page 9, Monday February 4, 2008.

Friday, January 31, 2020

"Go to Hell? He Already Did That!"

Matthew 25.41 KJV

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…”

Are you a devil? Of course not. Therefore, hell is not your destiny. Hell was created by God for a specific purpose. The “everlasting fire” was “prepared for the Devil and his angels,” not you.

But Jesus, some argue, condemned people to hell... “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” Perhaps so, but He alone has the power to send them there and He alone knows who belongs there. Damning people was never a part of God’s original plan, nor is it your prerogative. You cannot help God decide who belongs there. You have no firsthand knowledge of this awful and eternal destination. Unlike Jesus Christ, you have ever been there. Jesus paid a visit to the place of damnation on the day He died. He smashed the gates of hell and released the hostages from that cruel place.[1] Some of them were actually seen around Jerusalem after Christ’s resurrection:


“Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”

“The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints
who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after
His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”
Matthew 27.50, 52-53

“Go to hell?” Jesus has already been there and done that. He died for the sins of all humankind, charged the gates of hell, took from there the saints who preceded us in death, and brought them to a home in heaven He prepared for all who believe.

“…believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Fathers house are
many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you.”
John 14.1-2

God’s plan always has and always will be the redemption, not the damnation, of the people He so lovingly created.
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Image above from www.gaiaonline.com in a Gaia forum discussion string called "Cradle of lost souls, path to heaven or hell."

[1] The idea that Jesus Christ actually went to hell after dying on the cross and prior to His resurrection is admittedly controversial even among evangelical Christians. Its scriptural support comes from a variety of Bible passages including 1st Peter 3.18-20 and Ephesians 4.8:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah,... ”

“Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on High, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?”

The early church articulated the concept a few centuries after Christ with the 5th article of the Apostle’s Creed: “He descended into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead.” An alternate version reads: “He descended to the dead.”

Thursday, January 30, 2020

"It's Cold Down Here"

Matthew 24.9-14 NKJV

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 

And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Love grows cold for a myriad of reasons, some of which are enumerated in the text from Matthew 24 above. Murder, hatred, offense, betrayal, deception, all falling under the over-arching theme of “lawlessness,” will cause “the love of many [to] grow coldduring the Great Tribulation at the end of time.  

But “love... [can] grow coldfor many lesser reasons than those which will characterize the “tribulation” of which Jesus spoke. Pain can harden even the noblest of hearts and freeze the ready flow of love. I have occasionally suffered the pain of misunderstanding and the loss of meaningful relationships. My “tribulation” may be minuscule by comparison to real political persecution, but it still hurts. I have been seriously “offended” and shockingly ‘betrayed’ by people I thought were friends. I know how it feels to be ‘hated’ for my beliefs. Ive had close associations with people who were eventually exposed as “false prophets.” I’ve been the victim of ‘deceit’ by those who claimed to be Christians. 

The natural tendency when experiencing relationship brokenness is withdrawal and isolation. When my feelings are hurt, I am tempted to hide safely behind emotional walls and keep my distance from people who are bound to hurt me again. I may even decide that intimacy is not worth the risk of the inevitable pain it causes. The “lawlessness” of others can make my “love… grow cold.”

When I lost my dear wife, Adonica, four and a half years ago to cancer, my world fell apart. She was the most faithful, kindhearted, honest, and loving person I have ever known. I consider all my combined, previous suffering to be minor, almost nothing by comparison to the loss and grief I was forced to bear upon her departure. I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and hide from life. Day to day responsibilities with the children, the household, and the finances made escape impossible, but I was tempted nevertheless. My “love [still] grow[s] cold every moment I lose vigilant foccus and indulge thoughts of self-pity. 

She came. We loved. She left. Now I hurt, but God, a little less badly now than in the months following her death.  

Jesus Christ knew all too well the price of love, but He gave it anyway. He never let His “love... grow cold and He commands me to endure and do the same.

“...he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

The gift of salvation is perfected in the furnace of “tribulation.” Without “tribulation” there can be no real salvation. Otherwise, what would I need saving from?

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached
in all the world as a witness to all the nations…”

The message of my life means nothing if I do not absorb my sorrow, embrace my grief, and choose to love like Jesus did. This is the “gospel of the kingdom” I must preach, the story I must tell. There is redemption and purpose in my gift of my suffering. I do not have to let my “love... grow cold.” Rather, I can learn from my pain and take my story of Christ’s redemption into “all the world as a witness to all the nations.” 

Then, according to Jesus, “the end will come,” and what a happy ending it will be.