Monday, June 26, 2017

"Lost Causes"

In August, 2010, reported the following story:

It was a final chance to say goodbye for grieving mother Kate Ogg after doctors gave up hope of saving her premature baby.
She tearfully told her lifeless son - born at 27 weeks weighing 2lb - how much she loved him and cuddled him tightly, not wanting to let him go.
Although little Jamie's twin sister Emily had been delivered successfully, doctors had given Mrs Ogg the news all mothers dread - that after 20 minutes of battling to get her son to breathe, they had declared him dead.
Having given up on a miracle, Mrs Ogg unwrapped the baby from his blanket and held him against her skin. And then an extraordinary thing happened.
After two hours of being hugged, touched and spoken to by his mother, the little boy began showing signs of life…
[The mother said,], 'A short time later he opened his eyes. It was a miracle. Then he held out his hand and grabbed my finger.
'He opened his eyes and moved his head from side to side. The doctor kept shaking his head saying, "I don't believe it, I don't believe it".'
The Australian mother spoke publicly for the first time…to highlight the importance of skin-on-skin care for sick babies, which is being used at an increasing number of British hospitals.
In most cases, babies are rushed off to intensive care if there is a serious problem during the birth.
But the 'kangaroo care' technique, named after the way kangaroos hold their young in a pouch next to their bodies, allows the mother to act as a human incubator to keep babies warm, stimulated and fed.[i]

            It is clear that not all lost causes are lost.  Sometimes, life wins despite amazing odds.  In John 11:1-44, Jesus faces the hopeless situation of his friend’s death.  You’d think that if anybody was a lost cause, it’d be Lazarus.  By the time Jesus arrives, the body has been in the grave four days.  His sisters have no imagination that there’s anything that Jesus can do at this point.  They know that He can heal, but raising the dead—that’s another matter.  Each of the sisters expresses their sadness and disappointment, and Jesus cries.  But his tears are for their sadness and not for his own loss, because He knows what He is about to do.  This lost cause is not a lost cause.  Lazarus will rise from the grave.  Jesus has them remove the stone, and He calls Lazarus out.  After a pregnant silence where everybody watches and waits, the dead man steps from the darkness, alive!”

            Lazarus had been bound in the grave, wrapped in the rags of death, and captivated by his coffin.  Yet Jesus knew that his friend’s story wasn’t over—that there was more to come.  His sisters didn’t have the insight that Jesus had.  They thought his life was a lost cause, but Jesus knew better.  For this reason, the Master could ask the Father, and God could raise him to life. 

Maybe you’ve got some “lost causes” in your own life that you’re not sure about.  You don’t know whether to have faith for a miracle, or whether to accept loss.  Jesus could tell the difference between a lost cause and a miracle about to happen—but sometimes we have a tough time discerning that.  The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  How do you know the difference?  One way is the presence of serenity.  Sometimes, when serenity comes over you, you know it’s time to give up, and it’s okay.  There are times when a person knows that it’s okay to let Grandma or Grandpa go, remove life support, and let them slip away.  But with Lazarus, this was not one of those times.  Maybe your lack of serenity says that this “lost cause” isn’t really lost—and that you need to keep praying.

In Luke 11, Jesus teaches about persistence in prayer.  Jesus says, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (vv. 9-10 NLT).”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re always going to get what you want, if you just harass God enough.  You have to be praying according to God’s will.  With people, persisting with something they don’t want simply becomes harassment—and it’s the same with God.  Sometimes persistence is the key, but other times, persistence can be harmful.

Once I counseled a woman whose relationship with her adult daughter was broken.  In a controlling, harassing way, she pursued her daughter.  I explained to her that the more she tightened her grip, like water her daughter would run through her fingers.  Sometimes, you may be persisting to keep something, but your persistence is driving a wedge or causing more harm than your fear of losing.  In this woman’s case, her lack of serenity wasn’t an indication that it was spiritually time to fight the good fight—it simply meant that she was pig-headed and manipulative.  You’ve got to get to the place where you’re willing to fight for what you believe is best, to pray for it, to work for it, but also to let it go if God grants otherwise.  It could be that your tenacity is hurting yourself and others, and doing more damage than the problem itself. Sometimes, by pushing for what you want, you violate the rights and dignity of other people.  This is not the kind of persistence that Jesus taught.
The song “Even If” by MercyMe illustrates the point of trusting God for a solution, but trusting God even if the solution we want isn’t what we get:

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well, good thing
A little faith is all I have right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

            In times of struggle, your hope needs to be in God alone—whether or not you get what you want.  When faced with mountains that need to be moved, or flames that need to be gotten through, the serenity prayer asks for the kind of courage that changes things through persistence and faith.  But it also recognizes that there are some things that can’t be changed, and asks for wisdom to know the difference.  Not all lost causes are lost.  Some aren’t lost because they are won with courage and persistence.  Some aren’t lost because the serene person is able to graciously let them go.  The wise person knows the difference between holding, and holding on too much.  Only if you choose to fight a losing battle is a cause ever lost.  “Ask, seek, knock,” Jesus says.  The guarantee isn’t that you’ll get what you want—but that if you keep seeing God, you’ll have the wisdom to know the difference.  In John 11:40, Jesus says, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”  This glory isn’t found in getting exactly what you’re praying for, but in finding courage, serenity, and wisdom in the midst of suffering.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Son of God"

           Once there was an emperor whose dominion spread over many lands.  The king had one son born to him, and this son was the crown prince.  Yet the ruler was also so generous that he had taken in many orphaned children and raised them as his own.  Only the crown prince would ever sit on the throne, yet the other princes and princesses enjoyed the same status as if they were of royal blood.  Because the emperor’s duties ranged far and wide and he could not be in every place at the same time, he appointed his son the prince as his chief ambassador.  This prince not only met with heads of state, but also oversaw the ambassadorial work of his adopted sisters and brothers.  Wherever they went, the royal children wore robes of purple and carried the royal crest.  Once, when the crown prince was visiting a minor country that was part of his empire, and negotiating with that tribute nation’s head of state, the ruler refused to listen to his counsel.  Without being prideful, the prince simply displayed the signet ring that he bore and reminded the lesser king of his position.  “One day, I will sit on my father’s throne,” he said.  “You want to make sure that the prince who becomes the next emperor remembers you as someone who recognizes authority.  I have the emperor’s mind on this matter.  When you are talking with me, you are talking with the father.”

          This is the kind of authority that Jesus carried as He walked upon the earth.  In John 10:30, Jesus gets Himself in trouble for saying, “The Father and I are one.”  In John 14:9-11, three times, Jesus says variants of the same statement: “The Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”  One of the fundamental statements of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the Son of God.  John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  The Greek word that the King James Version translates as “begotten” is better rendered as “one and only.”  God did not “create” Jesus, because Jesus has always existed as an eternal part of the Trinity.  Yet, Jesus is unique in the sense that He is the only Son of God who has God-DNA.  Colossians 1:15-20 describes Jesus as being the “image of the invisible God,” and the pre-existent agent of creation.  “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”  While Jesus was born physically, He was never created.  Jesus always has been, and always will be.

We do not possess these attributes, yet John1:12-13 says that we too can become children of God.  “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”  Romans 8:15-17 tells us that, just like the emperor had one crown prince but many adopted children who bore the same authority, so too, we who are adopted by God are co-heirs with Christ.  Once someone has been adopted, they can’t be un-adopted.  Jesus says in John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.”  For this reason, those who have placed their trust in Jesus can be completely secure in their salvation.  We can know that we are permanently adopted sons and daughters of Almighty God.

Watchman Nee tells about a new convert who came in deep distress to see him. "No matter how much I pray, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot seem to be faithful to my Lord. I think I'm losing my salvation." Nee said, "Do you see this dog here? He is my dog. He is house-trained; he never makes a mess; he is obedient; he is a pure delight to me. Out in the kitchen I have a son, a baby son. He makes a mess, he throws his food around, he fouls his clothes, he is a total mess. But who is going to inherit my kingdom? Not my dog; my son is my heir. You are Jesus Christ's heir because it is for you that He died." We are Christ's heirs, not through our perfection but by means of His grace.[i]

          In John 10:22-42, Jesus gets in trouble for claiming to be one with the Father. And for claiming to do the things that He did by the authority of God.  In fact, they got so angry that they picked up stones to kill Him.  But Jesus knew that He couldn’t do anything but what the Father wanted.  In John 5:19, He says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”  If we are adopted sons and daughters of God, then it’s clear that we ought to be doing the same thing.  Yes—in this world, it’s dangerous for us too when we claim to speak for God.  But if we listen and obey as Jesus did, then we who wear the robes of royalty can show the signets that we bear and claim our right as heirs.  Jesus says in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”  Through the Holy Spirit, God gifts adopted sons and daughters to carry on the work of Christ in the world.  We become heirs, not just of the treasures of heaven, but of the responsibility borne by children of the King, to be ambassadors of His love wherever we go.  I pray that you’ll put your trust in God’s one and only Son, that you’ll know the blessing of adoption, and that you’ll carry on the work of God in the world.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"By Grace, Through Faith"

One Sunday, the young pastor decided to use the 23rd Psalm for his children’s sermon. He began to tell the children about sheep—that they aren’t smart and need lots of guidance and that a shepherd’s job is to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering away.
He pointed to the little children in the room and said they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, “If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?” He was pretty obviously indicating himself.
A few seconds of silence followed, then one little boy said, “Jesus is the shepherd.”
The young pastor, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well, then, who am I?”
The boy thought for a moment and then said with a shrug, “I guess you must be a sheep dog.”[i]

            In John 10:1-21, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and He does it in the presence of a bunch of sheep dogs.  Religious leaders have just spent the previous chapter proving that they are really blind guides who are leading the people out of a desire for their own personal gain.  They are “hired hands,” compared to Jesus, who is the true Shepherd of the Sheep.   Hired hands run at the threat of danger because they are out for their own self-interests, but Jesus says that the Good Shepherd is different.  Jesus says that the Good Shepherd guides the sheep in truth.  In verses 2-4, 14, Jesus says:

But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice… I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.[ii]

            The young pastor in the above story is wrong—God doesn’t call people “sheep” because they are dumb.  But Jesus knows that every one of us needs guidance, and it’s easy to follow the wrong shepherds who give the wrong advice.  Today, we’re apt to follow self-help gurus, political leaders, favorite authors, news commentators, or best buddies.  In addition, there are a myriad of religious and spiritual voices on TV, the internet, and in pulpits, telling you what you should believe.  But Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  And He says His sheep know His voice.

In Palestine today, it is still possible to witness a scene that Jesus almost certainly saw two thousand years ago, that of Bedouin shepherds bringing their flocks home from the various pastures they have grazed during the day. Often those flocks will end up at the same watering hole around dusk, so that they get all mixed up together—eight or nine small flocks turning into a convention of thirsty sheep. Their shepherds do not worry about the mix-up, however. When it is time to go home, each one issues his or her own distinctive call—a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a particular reed pipe, and that shepherd's sheep withdraw from the crowd to follow their shepherd home. They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd's voice, and it is the only one they will follow.[iii]

            There are so many voices in the world today, but Jesus’ voice is distinct.  It usually goes counter to either the ways of the world or the ways of “powers that be.”  Instead of telling you how you can get ahead, succeed, and be the best and always win, the Shepherd tells you how you can be like Him, and become a sacrifice.  Yes, God calls us “sheep” because we need guidance.  But Jesus also calls us this because Christians are to lay our lives down to serve others.  In verse 11, Jesus models this: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”  In verse fifteen, He says, “I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”  He also says, “I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded (vv. 17-18).”  Jesus gave Himself so we could have eternal life—but now He calls sheep to become shepherds like Him, to put others first, to serve them, and to love them.  Just as sheep are sacrificial animals, He calls us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice.
            In these verses, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, but He also calls Himself something else:

 I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (vv. 7-10).

            When I first read this, I couldn’t understand how Jesus could be such a poor public speaker, employing a mixed metaphor the way He does!  First, He says He is the Shepherd who goes through the gate.  Then He says He is the gate itself.  The writer in me got frustrated, wanting to say, “Which is it, Jesus?  You can’t be both!”  But yes, He can.  This isn’t a mixed metaphor after all.  Jesus is both the Shepherd who goes through the gate, and the gate itself.  He is the Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep even when we don’t deserve to be found.  He gives up His life for the sheep, exemplifying and offering grace.  Salvation comes from the Shepherd’s grace.  We receive the Shepherd by opening the gate to our hearts and letting Him in.  We can only do this through faith.  And yet even the faith that we have to receive His grace, comes to us as a gift from God.  It is not our own faith, otherwise we could brag that we got saved because we were so faithful.  That faith is a gift from God as well.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  Other translations say, “By grace, through faith.”  So, Jesus is the Shepherd who gives grace, and Jesus is the gate of faith by which we receive that gift.  In other words, Jesus is all we need.  I pray that today the Shepherd would feed you on the delicacies of His salvation, and that you’ll open wide to receive all that He has to offer.

[ii] All scripture quotations taken from the NLT.
[iii] Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life (Cowley, 1993), p. 147; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois.  May 11, 2017.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Clear as Mud"

In John 9:1-41, Jesus heals the sight of a man who was born blind.  This one fact is about all we know about the young manthat he was born this way.  The other thing we know is that people looked upon him with pity and asked the question “why.”  Jesus’ disciples concluded that it was the judgment of God.  They weren’t sure why God would let this young man be born blind, but they figured that such misfortune must certainly be punishment for some unknown sin.  “’Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins (v.2[i])?’”  Jesus’ answer proves that there are actually three problems with their question.

            First, the question assumes that the man’s suffering might be the result of his parents’ sin.  This was an old assumption that ancient people had, that children suffer because of their parents’ sins.  Jeremiah 31:29 quotes the common saying, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste.”  But God’s desire, says the prophet, is that people realize that people are responsible for their own sins, and God doesn’t punish the next generation for the sins of their parents.  You might challenge this, quoting Numbers 14:18, which says that God “lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”  Yet the point that Moses makes here is not that God judges or punishes children for the sins of their parents, but that often children bear the consequences of their parents’ mistakes—like when parents are financially irresponsible and can’t take care of their kids properly.  In the John passage, the disciples assume that the man was born blind as punishment for his parents’ sins—and Jesus is saying this is not the case.

            Second, the question assumes that it’s even possible for a person to be born blind as punishment for his own sins.  How could this be?  Either they are assuming that God has judged him for sins not yet committed (a preposterous idea), or that God has judged him for sins committed in a previous lifetime.  If this is so, then the disciples have heard the unbiblical doctrine of reincarnation from world travelers, and adopted it into their own belief system.  Hinduism believes that good and bad karma build up over lifetimes, and that it’s possible to suffer today based on misdeeds in previous incarnations.  Jesus says that this is also not so.

Third, the question assumes that if there’s something less than perfect in a person’s life, it must be—you know—less than perfect.  We are programmed from our earliest days to believe that there’s a standard for physical perfection and that anything which falls short of that perfection must be faulty.  So if someone is born without a limb, for example, we call that a birth defect.  What makes it a defect?  What makes them less than perfect?  The defect is in our understanding, rather than any measurable reality.  If God makes it that way, then it is most certainly not a defect.  We might not understand why God chooses to make a person the way God does—but the pot needs not ask the potter, “Why did you make me like this (Isaiah 45:9; Romans 9:20?”  Instead, we must understand that everything God creates is as God created it to be—and there is no defect.  Jesus says, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him (John 9:3).”

I used to have trouble with this passage, because I thought Jesus was saying, “God made this man live in blindness all these years, just so I could glorify God by restoring his sight now.”  Now that I’ve seen enough brokenness in my life to understand better, I know that Jesus was saying something else.  Jesus was saying, “I’m going to heal him—but I want you to understand that his brokenness is not a defect; Rather, it’s a way that God has been demonstrating God’s power in his life from his birth up to this present moment.”  You see, the power of God can be shown in so much more than simply physical healing. 

We forget the immeasurable impact that many disabled people can have on others, and on society as a whole.  Just think of the contributions of people like Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Beethoven, and Stevie Wonder.  Just because something’s a struggle, that doesn’t make it bad.  Quadriplegic artist, author, and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada says, “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which faith can be exercised.”  God hates suffering, but Tada says, “Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”  And that accomplishment might be using disabilities for God’s glory.  We’d be mistaken if we said the power of God could only be seen in his healing, and not also in his disability.

            Throughout the Bible, God uses broken people in beautiful ways—and not every time (not even most of the time) does God provide healing the way we think He should.  Yet, God is still demonstrating God’s glory in their lives.  Paul says he had a condition that he prayed three times for God to heal.  “Each time [God] said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’”  Paul continues, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me (2 Corinthians 12:9).”  Jesus wants people to know that sometimes God physically heals, but there’s beauty and godliness in all kinds of physical conditions.

            Throughout the rest of the chapter, the Pharisees question the young man and his parents. “Who healed you?  What happened?  How did he do it?  Was this man even blind, or is it a hoax?  Was this healing a sin because it happened on the Sabbath?  In the end, we see that what matters—the thing that has eternal consequence—is not physical healing, but spiritual.  Not physical blindness, but spiritual.  Because there are those whose eyes cannot see, yet who have a vibrant relationship with God, and there are others with perfectly good eyes, yet to whom the truth is clear as mud.  The reality is that suffering happens in the world—it’s a part of this world’s system.  What matters, more than the condition of your body, is the condition of your spirit.  Your body’s just a shell that houses your soul, anyway.  So the question isn’t how good your eyesight is, but how good your insight is.  When moved by the Spirit, even people with bad eyes can sing, “Was blind, but now I see!”

[i] Scripture quotations taken from the NLT.

"Truth and Lies"

Recently I came across a list of lies that we tell ourselves, and that we tell each other. 

- The check is in the mail.
- I'll start my diet tomorrow.
- We service what we sell.
- Give me your number and the doctor will call you right back.
- Money cheerfully refunded.
- One size fits all.
- This offer limited to the first 100 people who call in.
- Your luggage isn't lost, it's only misplaced.
- Leave your resume and we'll keep it on file.
- This hurts me more than it hurts you.
- I just need five minutes of your time.
- Your table will be ready in a few minutes.
- Open wide, it won't hurt a bit.
- Let's have lunch sometime.[i]

            Reading that list made me think of spiritual lies that we tell ourselves.  Jesus wants us to know the truth, just like He wanted the people in His own day to know it. 

            The first lie we tell ourselves is that we’re free.  Yes, in this country we have certain political freedoms, but we like to tell ourselves that we are free to our very core.  The truth is that everybody is going to serve a master.  Either you’re going to serve sin as its slave, or you’re going to become a servant God—set free from sin so you can live as a child of God, as a member of God’s family.  John 8:33-36 says:

“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

            The second lie we tell ourselves as Americans and as Christians is that we can fall back on our heritage.  A lot of people think that God is impressed by the lineage we carry from pious ancestors.  The truth is that God isn’t impressed by us at all—and that what God wants is people who claim Him as their spiritual Father.  In verses 8:39-41a, Jesus refutes the people’s claim that they are special because of their parentage:

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared.
“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing.  No, you are imitating your real father.”

            This leads us to the third lie, that you can claim God as your Father if you have no love.  A child who is adopted from an abusive home into a loving family needs to choose which set of values they are going to adopt for themselves.  Will they behave like their first father or their second?  In verses 41b-47, Jesus tells them that their true Father is the one that they learn to act like.

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”
Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.  Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me!  Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.”

            There are many people who claim to be Christians, yet they have no love for Christ at all.  Jesus knows that they have no love for Him because they have no love for their fellow human beings (Matthew 25:40, 45).  People like this may put on a good religious show, but God will easily judge between those who follow Him and those who don’t.
            The Fourth Lie is that we can be the judge.  Like self-righteous people of Jesus’ day, many Christians believe that they can judge others’ behavior based on their own limited understanding.  People like this wouldn’t recognize a true move of God if it were right before their eyes.  In verses 48 and 52, the “righteous” people declare that Jesus is a “Samaritan devil,” and twice they say that He has a demon.  In verse 53, they ask Him, “Who do you think you are?”  In verse 59, they pick up stones to throw at Him.  But Jesus says, “No…I have no demon in me. For I honor my Father—and you dishonor me. And though I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me. He is the true judge (vv. 49-50).” No, instead Jesus tells us not to judge (Matthew 7:1-3), and says that even He will not be the judge (John 12:47-48).”
            It seems that many American Christians these days have bought into a pack of lies.  We celebrate and congratulate ourselves for our freedom, when Jesus says we’re really not free if we’re slaves to sin.  We think that heritage is worth something, Jesus says it’s worthless if we think we can rely on our ancestors’ relationship with God.  We believe that being a Christian is a matter of affiliation with an organization or adhering to certain doctrines, but Jesus says those things are worthless without love.  We smugly judge those who don’t live up to our standards, but Jesus says that God is the judge and we are not.  In fact, Christians who believe these lies aren’t really believers at all.  Jesus’ standard is found in John 8:31-32: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  I pray that you’ll not just call yourself a Christian, but that you’ll walk in Jesus’ truth and love today.

[i] Bits & Pieces, December 9, 1993, pp. 12-13.  April 6, 2017.

"Above and Below"

Lynn Malone shares the following about how…

we seem to live in two different worlds, the rich and the poor. A striking example is shared by Brett Blair, a pastor in the Kentucky Annual Conference. Blair shared that some years ago before the death of Mother Theresa, a television special depicted the grim human conditions that were a part of her daily life. It showed all the horror of the slums of Calcutta and her love for these destitute people. The producer interviewed her as she made her rounds in that dreadful place. Throughout the program commercials interrupted the flow of the discussion. Here is the sequence of the topics and commercials: lepers (bikinis for sale); mass starvation (designer jeans); agonizing poverty (fur coats); abandoned babies (ice cream sundaes) the dying (diamond watches).  The irony was so apparent. Two different worlds were on display--the world of the poor and the world of the affluent.[i]

            In the same way that this world seems to be divided between the rich and poor, the Bible makes it clear that there are two realms: above and below.  Psalm 103:11 says, “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.”  Isaiah 55:9 says, “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Unfortunately this has led to a lot of artistic depictions of heaven being in the clouds, or even in outer space.  Rather than thinking of heaven as another place far away in the clouds, Jesus revolutionizes spiritual thinking by declaring, “the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).”  So while Jesus uses the language of “above and below,” we know that this locational language is merely symbolic for two planes of existence.
            Ephesians 4:9[ii] says, “Notice that it says ‘he ascended.’ This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.”  When John 1:14 says, “So the Word became human and made his home among us,” it literally depicts Jesus moving from the heavenly, spiritual kingdom, to the earthly realm.  Not only is heaven where Jesus came from, but Jesus makes a place for us there.  In John 14:1-4, Jesus says to His disciples:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am...”

            But while Jesus promises Heaven to those who believe in Him, He says something else to those who don’t.  In John 8:21, 23-24, Jesus says, “You cannot come where I am going… You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” 
            Jesus said that there are two worlds—above and below.  The way to enter eternal life (the upper world, the heavenly realm) is to trust the love and grace of God that Christ demonstrates by His life, and by His death.  Through the cross, Jesus was literally suspended between heaven and earth—bridging the gap between the Lord above and the people below.  In John 8:28, Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he.”  Yes, it was when Jesus was lifted up that the Roman centurion declared, “This man truly was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39)!” 
This declaration of faith is the beginning of salvation, the first step toward a transformation that results in a heavenly mind and eternal life.  In Romans 8:5-6, Paul says, “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.  So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  Being saved is more than just getting a ticket to heaven.  It’s allowing yourself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit so that you can say as Jesus does, “I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me... For I always do what pleases him (John 8:28-29).”
I love the story by J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up—who had a form of everlasting youth or eternal life.  He flies into the Darling’s nursery window to make friends and invite Wendy, Michael and John to adventure with him.  Teaching them to fly, he tells them, “All you need is faith and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.”  Learning to fly as he does, they follow him to Neverland by following “the second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning.”  There, they join the Lost Boys who have been saved by Pan, and together they meet mermaids, engage with Indians, and battle buccaneers.  Peter Pan is a Christlike character who reminds us that if we have faith and trust, we too can fly.  We can change our place of residence, becoming people of another world, joining those who were lost but now are found.  Following Christ, we can live without fear of loss or defeat.  In fact, we can even stare death in the face and say as Pan did and say, “To die will be an awfully big adventure!”
Jesus’ message to believers and unbelievers is clear:  Those who place their trust in Him may go where He goes.  They become people of the heavenly realm, of everlasting life.  You activate this salvation by faith that leads to a new way of thinking.  Through this new way of Christ, let us learn to fly, remembering that “letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

[ii] All scripture quotations are taken from the NLT.