Who Weeps with You?

Jesus weeping

It was one of those uncomfortable moments in the store.  A young mother with three small children was trying to get her shopping done.  The middle child by size (about two, I’d say) was not happy.  She was ready to go home.  I understand that feeling.  After about thirty minutes in a store, I’m ready to go home, too.

Two year olds have surprisingly big voices in little bodies.  This little girl started to tear up, and scream, “I want to go home!  I want to go home!”  Everyone in the store heard her.  Everyone in within a ten-mile radius heard her.  Everyone knew she wanted to go home.

Her mother tried all the standard techniques: “Shhh!  Be quiet.  We will go home in a few minutes;” “If you stop crying I will buy you some candy (that would work for me);” and, as the mom felt the stares, “Will you stop crying!”

None of the strategies worked.  The little girl upped her decibels.  Dogs began to howl outside the store.  I think I saw a jar of pickles start to vibrate.  More people were coming around the corner in search of this awful sound.

The young mom had reached her limit.  She pulled out the nuclear option phrase: “If you don’t stop crying this instant, I will give you something to cry about.”

The two year old looked at her mother with non-comprehending eyes.  You could read her thoughts on her furrowed forehead: “I already have something to cry about!  That’s why I’m crying.  What part of “I want to go home Momma” do you not understand?”

My heart went out to the little girl and to her overwhelmed Mom.  How do you reason with a two year old whose emotions have torn her away from whatever reasoning  ability she has?

Jesus once encountered people who were weeping because their friend Lazarus had died.  Jesus, who could have healed him, didn’t come in time.  Now Jesus was on the scene.  He could feel the accusing eyes and read their message: “He was your friend.  Where were you?  You could have done something.”  Jesus does not tell them “Don’t cry.”  He does not tell them he will give them something to cry about.  Instead, he joins their grief.  In the shortest verse in the Bible, we told one of its great truths: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus understands the moments in your life when you are overwhelmed with emotion.  Jesus, with infinite patience, stops to feel with you.  He shares your tears.  But he also will share your joys, your anger, your anxiety.  To your joy he brings song; to your anger, perspective; to your anxiety, peace.

I give the young mom credit.  Realizing what she said and how it sounded, she stopped her shopping, picked up the two year old up out of the buggy, and held her while she cried.  She let her daughter cry out her frustration.  Then she tickled her and made her laugh.

I think that is what Jesus does.  He holds us when we are flooded with emotion.  He cries when we cry.  Then, when we least expect it, he brings something good, he brings joy.  Jesus is the God of the morning when night turns to joy.  Whatever your tears, he will hold you.

A Sunday at Pocalla Church

pocalla church

Jock preached this past Sunday, so I took advantage of the opportunity to go to Pocalla Church for the first time.  I admit it felt a little strange; after all, I’ve been preaching to these folks for the past eight weeks and haven’t met some of them.  I’m learning to pastor one church in two locations.

What stood out:

  • I got there at 9:20.  Greeters were already in place, rooms were already set up, and were ready to go.  No last minute volunteers getting in place.  No last minute scrambles.  Impressive when you realize at 7:30 that morning, nothing was set up.
  • I saw parking lot greeters go out to open car doors and assist people into the building.  They were getting know people who were coming for the first time.
  • The preschool area was well set up and the kids were having a ball.
  • I went to the older children’s class.  They were very engaged.  I joined them in a game.  We got beat but turned tables on the teachers and won the next game (Lead pastor pressure).
  • I sat in a LIFE Group and loved the sharing of hurt, pain, and worry.  These folks were learning to do life together.  Some in the group were educated, some were not.  The Jesus they had in common was stronger than what separated them.
  • Worship music was acoustic, with two vocalists.  You could hear people singing.  Cameron Gaddy, the worship leader, has a gift for engaging people in worship.
  • The crowd looked just like the crowd at Loring Mill.  There were people in shorts and sandals, young women in Lily Pulitzer dresses, teens in jeans, different races, different ages.  Being a “Place of Grace” lives at Pocalla!
  • I didn’t think I would like watching Jock on a screen, but honestly, after about 20 seconds, I forgot he wasn’t there in person.  It works really well.
  • I loved the smaller feel.  There was more relational space and time.  People were not rushing to get from here to there.  The whole day had more of a “Sabbath” feel.
  • Chris Moore was hosting the service since Jock was over at Loring Mill.  He communicated warmth, care, and grace.  He was the face of Jesus.
  • People lingered to talk.  The pack up crew changed into t-shirts and started stacking chairs, undoing sound equipment, etc.  Within 30 minutes, everything was ready to roll back into storage.
  • The people who have volunteered to go and launch this campus are truly faithful.  They have said yes to the adventure.  People who never felt needed at Loring Mill have stepped up to a new level at Pocalla.
  • God is showing us the future at Pocalla.  There are huge opportunities to go where there is not progressive, outreaching church and provide a different experience.  People get to enjoy all that is good about a large church in a mid-size setting.

In short, I had a great time.  It is a little strange, however, when someone at Pocalla Church says, “You look a lot better on the screen than you do in person!”

How can Christian Claim Jesus is the Only Way?

one way

The argument usually goes like this:  All religions are the same.  Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are different paths to the same god.  Human beings have gotten it all confused with religious mumbo-jumbo and cloud the picture of who God really is.  If you press someone who is making this argument by asking who is the god behind all religions, they will tell you god is a loving spirit who wants all humanity to live in brotherhood.

This argument has appeal.  It eliminates exclusivity and rivalry between religious systems.  Believers in any faith could no longer judge others who believe differently.  It seems tolerant. But the argument has a dark side.  It rejects the idea of exclusive truth.  Those who advance this thinking end up creating a new exclusivity in the name of tolerance.  They judge those who speak for their faith and act on their faith’s teachings.  They cut off moral conduct from an objective standard of truth.

All religions claim exclusive truth.  Judaism claims keeping rules, laws, and instructions is the way to intimacy with God.  Islam claims the essentials of salvation are the five pillars: confessing Allah is the only god and Muhammed is His prophet; participating in daily prayer; giving alms to the poor; fasting during Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.  Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal god at all.  Hinduism does not believe in one god, but many gods.

Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist, points to the four great questions that every religion seeks to answer: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  Only the answers of Jesus to these questions match the reality of life.

Origin:  Christian faith says we are not identical with God.  We are made in His image, yes, but we are a different order of being.  Hinduism claims we are the same as the gods and through the process of reincarnation, it possible to ascend to the plain of deity (Mormonism also claims it is possible for humans to be become divine).  Because we share the image of God, but are not identical with Him, we have a sense of right and wrong (morality), but we cannot act morally on our own one hundred percent of the time.

Meaning: The God of Christian faith does not ask us to have meaning by being “good.”  Only through true worship – submitting ourselves to Him – do we find the meaning of our lives.  We worship by acknowledging that He is greater and different than we; and we seek His involvement and help in daily life.  This is contrary to Islam and Judaism, which teach your life’s meaning is based on your conduct.

Morality:  This is the oldest and hardest question of humanity: Do I get to make the rules or are the rules made for me?  Contemporary Judaism often finds itself at odds with different interpretations of moral law.  To paraphrase Dallas Willard, Judaism struggles to define who is a good person.  Christian faith is clear: No one is good.  All sin and fall short of God.  Morality and the definition of who is a good person arise from God’s character.  Unlike the Hindu gods, goodness flows out of God himself.  Because no human being is good, only God and God’s power can make a person good.  This is why Jesus had to die on the cross, so we could be made good, righteous.

Destiny:  Buddhism offers Nirvana, an escape from the cycle of reincarnation.  Islam offers Paradise for those who believe and do good deeds.  Christian faith says our destiny is based on the resurrection of Jesus.  This historical event open the door to life change.  Grace can flood our lives.  Barriers that our goodness could never remove are removed by Jesus’s power.

On this, all world religions agree:  If Jesus really did rise from the dead, this means He is God, then Muslims, Jews, and Hindi fail in a serious way to love God as God really is.  On the other hand, if Jesus is not God, if did not rise from the dead, then Christian fail in a serious way to love God as He really is.

So why did God make Jesus the only to Him?  Only through Jesus can our moral failures be forgiven.  Only through the power of His resurrection can our powerless lives be empowered.  Only through Jesus can we find the true meaning of our lives – loving our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and body.

*I’m very indebted to Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias for their wisdom.  Their thoughts flow through this post.

 

21 Weird Things About Hell

 

 

People have wrong ideas about hell.  Here are some teachings of the Christian faith you may not know:

  1. God doesn’t send people to hell.  They choose to go because they don’t want to be in His presence forever.
  2. There will be a lot of religious people in hell because they knew about God, but they did not know God.
  3. Satan is not in charge of hell.  He is one of the occupants, experiencing the torture of his own fragmented self.
  4. Hell is a riot – because no one can agree.
  5. You want to see hell in miniature?  Look at someone torn apart by addiction of any kind.
  6. People in hell blame other people for not giving them enough information.
  7. People in hell blame God for putting them there.
  8. The fastest way to hell is denial.
  9. In every story Jesus told about hell, no one asked to get out.
  10. Hell is the continuation of your fragmented soul forever.
  11. The fastest way to hell is denial.
  12. Why is hell a place of fire?  Because fire dis-integrates.  Hell is a place of dis-integrated souls.
  13. Hell has no mercy, no love, no grace, no forgiveness, no beauty, no joy, no gentleness, no self-control.
  14. There are degrees of hell, just like there degrees of soul separation/fragmentation.
  15. There is no time in hell.  So while heaven is a place of joyous discovery, hell is a place of frozen self-centeredness.
  16. There has to be a hell.  To force someone to have intimacy with you is rape.  God will not rape your soul.
  17. The sin that blinds most people to the danger of hell?  Self-righteousness.
  18. Any who is happy about people going to hell is in danger of going themselves.
  19. The frustration of hell for those who are there is they experience the reality they choose and their limited power to change it.  People in hell might be still trying to fix themselves.
  20. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell and paid the highest price so people could have a choice.
  21. People still choose to be away from God in spite of God’s offer of grace.  As Dallas Willard said, “Hell is the simply the best God can do for some people.”

 

Seven Day Challenge Day 7 – Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11New International Version (NIV)

Faith in Action

11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[d]

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Footnotes:

  1. Hebrews 11:5 Gen. 5:24
  2. Hebrews 11:11 Or By faith Abraham, even though he was too old to have children—and Sarah herself was not able to conceive—was enabled to become a father because he
  3. Hebrews 11:18 Gen. 21:12
  4. Hebrews 11:31 Or unbelieving
  5. Hebrews 11:37 Some early manuscripts stoning; they were put to the test;

What kind of literature is this?  Hebrews is a sermon, preserved as a letter.  Chapter 11 is list.  If you read this aloud, you can almost hear the preacher delivering it in cadence.

What did it mean when it was originally written?  The list of names would have been familiar to audience.  They would have identified these folks as their spiritual ancestors.  Chapter 11 encourages them to have the same faith as those who have gone before.

Who am I in this story?  I am meant to put myself in the shoes of each of these heroes and imagine myself having faith in similar circumstances.

Where is God in the story?  God is the object of faith, and the one who comes through each time.  He honors Abel, takes Enoch to be with Him, saves Noah, makes Abraham a great nation, and uses Moses to deliver his people.

Why is this in the Bible?  This passage exists to remind us we are part of God’s ongoing work.  Our contribution of faith matters.

What is God saying to me?  God is telling me to live by faith, not by sight.

 

Seven Day Challenge Day 6 – 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:1 Or languages
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Some manuscripts body to the flames

What kind of literature is this?  1 Corinthians is an epistle, a letter to Christians in the city of Corinth.  Chapter 13 is presented as prose, but reads more like a poem, or perhaps a hymn.

What did it mean when it was written? The city of Corinth was both a port/trade center and a center for the worship of the fertility goddess.  It was city that equated love with sex.  Chapter 13 is a radical new definition of love: Love is to be about giving yourself away.

Who am I in the story?  It is usually easy to know who you are when reading an epistle: You are the one Paul is writing to.  So if you live your life without love, you are living an empty life.  We must examine our conduct to see if we are doing the giving of love  and not doing the selfish acts that destroy love.

Where is God in the story?  God is the one who is teaching us the way of love.  He is the one who is love and who lives out all these teachings.

Why is this in the Bible? Chapter 13 shows me a superior way of life.  It is primarily directed to the church, to teach Jesus followers how to believe.

What is God saying to me? Ask for a heart that loves like this!

 

 

Seven Day Challenge Day 5 – John 19-20

John 19-20

Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

The Death of Jesus

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

The Burial of Jesus

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[e] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The Empty Tomb

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

What kind of literature is this?  This is prose.  The book of John is gospel, telling good news about Jesus.  The word “gospel” is a clue to always look for the good news, even when bad things are happening.

What did it mean when it was written?  John wrote his gospel after the other gospels were written.  He gives details the other gospel do not share.  John refers to himself in third person as “the other disciple” or “the disciple that Jesus loved.”

The events John shares would have been familiar to his readers.  Regarding the death of Jesus, he wants us to understand this is a King willingly dying for people who do yet love him.  Regarding the resurrection, he wants us to see the growing awareness of Jesus has come back from the dead.

Who am I in this story?  In this extended story, I can be several of the characters.  I can be Pilate, who throws Jesus under the bus to get people off my back.  I can be the soldiers who crucify Jesus, just doing my job.  I can be John, who will take care of Jesus’s mother.  I can be Mary who discovers the empty tomb and has moments of confusion about faith.  I can be John who believes quickly.  I can be Peter who struggles to put the pieces of faith together.  I can be the disciples who receive the peace of Jesus and the forgiveness of Jesus.  I can be Thomas, who tries to dictate the terms of belief.

Where is God in this Story?  This is the easy one.  God is on the cross, dying for our sins.  God is bursting forth from the tomb, conquering death.  God is speaking to his followers telling them to believe.

Why is this in the Bible?  The story of the cross and resurrection is the centerpiece of the Christian story.  If there is no resurrection, there is no proof that Jesus’s death on the cross has the power to forgive our sins.

What is God saying to me?  God is saying to me, “Recognize the suffering of my son for you.  Now, live in the power of His resurrection.”

Why Hell?

 

I’ve been reading this week reasons why people don’t believe in hell.  The most cited reason: I can’t see how a loving God would send people to hell.

I get that.  God, who is the source of love, doesn’t seem to be the kind of being that would send people to eternal punishment.  One blogger I read talked about a parent putting themselves on the judgment seat and then punishing their child for wrong doing forever.  This blogger concluded no parent would do such a thing (however, I’ve known a few that would).  Therefore, the blogger concluded, either he was morally superior to God or Christianity was wrong about hell.

This kind of logic is appealing, but it poses the wrong analogy.  What if instead of the parent being on the judgment seat, the parent told the child, “You can never leave me.  You must always live in my house.  In fact, I will chain you so you will always be in my presence.  You can have no thoughts of your own, you can make no choices on your own.”  A god who forces people to be with him, to spend eternity with him, turns into a god who makes people dance like puppets.  Anybody want to live that life?

For love to be real, for relationship to be genuine, there must be choice.  God, in His great wisdom, grants us the freedom to choose to do life with Him.  That choice begins on earth and goes beyond death.

All evidence points to God allowing people to make their own choice about relating to Him.  This changes our idea about being saved.  To be saved is not just to escape hell and go to heaven.  To be saved is to choose to follow Jesus all the way to the heaven.

People who choose not to follow Jesus do not go to heaven because they do not want to.  The place they go is called hell.

What is hell like?  Scripture teaches us is hell is a place of regret.  Why?  People regret their life choice to live without God.

To live with Jesus is to live forgiven, to live cleansed.  Followers of Jesus are the Easter People, the people of hope.  People without Jesus are people who live in guilt.  They are people who choose to live life without eternal hope.

If all this is true (and I believe it is), it means my life choices here are really important.  Choosing Jesus matters.  The reality of my commitment is shown by my life choices.  It also means other people may choose not to follow Jesus.  That should break my heart.  There should be no glee when we talk about people going to hell.

At the end of your life, your decision about Jesus matters.

What’s your decision?

Why Hell?

 

I’ve been reading this week reasons why people don’t believe in hell.  The most cited reason: I can’t see how a loving God would send people to hell.

I get that.  God, who is the source of love, doesn’t seem to be the kind of being that would send people to eternal punishment.  One blogger I read talked about a parent putting themselves on the judgment seat and then punishing their child for wrong doing forever.  This blogger concluded no parent would do such a thing (however, I’ve known a few that would).  Therefore, the blogger concluded, either he was morally superior to God or Christianity was wrong about hell.

This kind of logic is appealing, but it poses the wrong analogy.  What if instead of the parent being on the judgment seat, the parent told the child, “You can never leave me.  You must always live in my house.  In fact, I will chain you so you will always be in my presence.  You can have no thoughts of your own, you can make no choices on your own.”  A god who forces people to be with him, to spend eternity with him, turns into a god who makes people dance like puppets.  Anybody want to live that life?

For love to be real, for relationship to be genuine, there must be choice.  God, in His great wisdom, grants us the freedom to choose to do life with Him.  That choice begins on earth and goes beyond death.

All evidence points to God allowing people to make their own choice about relating to Him.  This changes our idea about being saved.  To be saved is not just to escape hell and go to heaven.  To be saved is to choose to follow Jesus all the way to the heaven.

People who choose not to follow Jesus do not go to heaven because they do not want to.  The place they go is called hell.

What is hell like?  Scripture teaches us is hell is a place of regret.  Why?  People regret their life choice to live without God.

To live with Jesus is to live forgiven, to live cleansed.  Followers of Jesus are the Easter People, the people of hope.  People without Jesus are people who live in guilt.  They are people who choose to live life without eternal hope.

If all this is true (and I believe it is), it means my life choices here are really important.  Choosing Jesus matters.  The reality of my commitment is shown by my life choices.  It also means other people may choose not to follow Jesus.  That should break my heart.  There should be no glee when we talk about people going to hell.

At the end of your life, your decision about Jesus matters.

What’s your decision?

Seven Day Challenge Day 4 – Matthew 5-7

Matthew 5-7

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Fulfillment of the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Murder

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[g]

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Giving to the Needy

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[j]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[k]

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[l] your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[m] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[n]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

True and False Disciples

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

What Kind of Literature is this?  The Sermon on the Mount has several different forms. The Beatitudes are poetry; the teaching on the law is a type of compare and contrast teaching.  The Lord’s Prayer is poetry.  The other instructions in Matthew 6-7 are teaching.  The sermon ends with a parable, a made up story to tell a point in verses 24-27.

What did it mean when it was first written?  This is Jesus’s first sermon.  He is crafting a picture a different life with a different value system in the Kingdom of God.  Every person who heard it recognized he was challenging established religious thinking.  At the core of his teaching is the fundamental assumption of Christian faith:  It is your relationship with God that matters, not your performance of religious duties.

Who am I in the story?  I am the one challenged to be live a blessed life.  I am the one challenged to live beyond the letter of the law and live in the Spirit of Jesus.  I am the one who is being taught how to pray and give.  I am the one who must consider how I treat other people.  Ultimately, I must choose if I am the wise or the foolish builder.

Where is God in this story?  Jesus is God in this story, challenging me to examine how I live life.

Why is this in the Bible?  This passage is in the Bible to teach Jesus’s value system and way of life.

What is God saying to me?  Am I going to live God’s way or my way?