Friday, July 29, 2011

Mercy from a mortal

            Here in Acts 7 we get an abbreviated history of the Israeli people dictated by the apostle Stephan in front of the council of high priests. Though they all know their own people’s history, Stephan lays this out for them so that they can see the big picture mistake they have made.
            The scripture starts out with Stephan being asked if the accusations of blaspheme brought against him were true. Instead of answering yes or no, Stephan begins with his narrative of the history of God’s formerly chosen people. He begins with Abraham since he is acknowledged by these people as the beginning of their blood line and the one whom God made a promise to. He then progresses through the story of Joseph thus explaining how the Hebrew nation ended up in Egypt. Next he works through the well-known story of Moses and the great exodus on to the reception of the Ten Commandments and the wilderness period of the nation. He tapers off his monologue with King David and then his son Solomon building the temple of God and then has a magnificent finale in accusing the Jewish high council of making the same mistakes that their ancestors had made in the persecution of God’s prophets and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact, and possibly due to the fact that Stephan has set up his final accusation in an undeniable manner by laying out their ancestors faults, the council is infuriated. Here Stephan seems to know what is coming next and that they will definitely kill him. He looks up to heaven in an almost movie-like scene and witnesses Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father and submits himself to the stoning that ensues. Like Jesus, however, his last words are in mercy for his murderers and not in anger or cursing.
            This passage is important because it shows us how we as Christian disciples can find the strength to be bold in the face of opposition. This seems kind of an extreme case, but that just goes to show how much more we can be bold in the face of only receiving a status of unpopularity. It also shows how a mere man—Stephan—can find it in himself to be unabashedly merciful as Jesus was, thus giving current Christians hope that we too can find that kind of expression of grace when people persecute us for our beliefs.
            This scripture is applicable for those Christians who may not have been Christ followers their whole lives and may not be able to piece together all of the famous Bible stories such as Joseph and the colorful coat or Moses and the red sea into one cohesive story.  It is important to know the history of the Israelite nation in order to understand why they had such a hard time accepting Jesus as the Christ and why they continue to do so today. Also, as previously stated, current day Christians can draw strength from Stephan’s example of sacrifice regardless of his mere mortal nature.
            My reaction to this scripture is one of awe at the amazing reward that Stephan receives in doing the will of God by accusing the council. His reward is to see Jesus in heaven and then to be brought there to be with him. This sounds morbid, but it is truly the longing of every Christian’s heart to be with Christ in heaven. Stephan was bold and obedient and received that which was rightfully his: eternity with Christ.

The Dread

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Love each other as i have loved you"

            John 17:20-26 is a very brief section of scripture, but a very potent excerpt. In these six verses, we get a glimpse of Jesus’ love for us as believers as well as the Father’s longing to be in relationship with us.
            This passage is simply a prayer that Jesus prays for us; that is, future believers. He makes this absolutely clear when he says in verse one “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me…” (NLT). Jesus, speaking to God the Father, prays that his followers in the future will be able to experience God how he does. Four times in the passage, he makes statements of the permeation of God in himself and vice versa and how he longs that we experience such perfect unity so that the world can know that God loves us. He then marvels at God’s timeless love and how it was before the world began. In his prayer, he continually longs for his disciples to be united the same way that God and himself are united; without conflict, division or strife; only love abounds and no separation. He ends the section by setting himself as the medium between humanity and God and commits to the continuation of this relationship, committing to communicate God’s love through him into us.
            This passage is important to us as Christians in two ways. First, it is confirmation of our standing in respect to God and Jesus. After knowing this prayer was said to God from Jesus, we don’t have to question either of their love. Secondly, we now know that Jesus desires us to follow the relationship template that God and him have set; that all of his followers should love each other and be united in the same way that he and the Father are united. Through this prayer we gain instruction as well as comfort.
            We can apply this instruction when we find ourselves in conflict with a fellow believer. I know that church politics are some of the ugliest arenas to wrestle in, but it is in these struggles we must remember that it is Jesus’ desire that we be unified with each other in love. We can also use this passage in the moments when we feel forgotten by Jesus as we all feel in times of trouble. Jesus thought of us before we were ever believers. He had confidence that his disciples would carry his story on and that you and I would one day hear it and believe. This is a comfort that only the human race can claim and I think that is something special.
            My reaction to this scripture was awe at Jesus remembering me and then a great burden to survey the relationships I hold with other believers. I feel challenged to right any dissension in my life and simply try to be unified in love with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We can do this on any given day with any given person and we shouldn't hesitate to do so.

The Dread

Thursday, July 7, 2011

dealing with temptation

            Here in Luke 4:1-13, we read the classic story of Jesus’ temptation in the dessert after his baptism. Luke writes that the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness and then sustains him there for forty days while he didn’t eat anything.
            So, in setting up the scene, we just get done seeing Jesus baptized and the Holy Spirit descending on him. The story picks up in verse one as Jesus heads away from the Jordan River and into the wilderness by the direction of the Holy Spirit which has just come upon him. Luke jumps right into the meat of the action as Satan appears to Jesus in his hunger and tries to convince him to change a stone into a loaf of bread. Jesus, despite his hunger, says no and cites Old Testament scripture that speaks about the Israelites wandering in the dessert after their exodus from Egypt. In the scripture cited, the author is talking about how God sustained the Israelites by his own power and not by physical bread; this is what Jesus intends to do in his wilderness experience. Satan then tries to tempt Jesus’ humanity with power and respect, offering him all the kingdoms of the world and says “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them…because they are mine to give…if you will worship me.” (v.6-7). Jesus does not refute Satan’s claim of ownership, but instead cites another verse in Deuteronomy prohibiting the worship of any other gods for fear of the true God wiping the blasphemer from the face of the Earth. Lastly, Satan does something drastic and takes Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and dares him to jump and then uses Psalms 91 out of context and says that God will send angels to save him if he jumps. Jesus once again turns to Deuteronomy where it says “you must not test the Lord your God” (v. 12). This verse in the Old Testament refers to the Israelites complaining about their affliction at Massah. The devil then leaves Jesus.
            In this passage we gain several lessons from Jesus in how to deal with extreme temptation making this scripture extremely important for our Christian day-to-day life. First we see how Jesus, even under extreme circumstances, holds his faith in God and obedience to scripture above his own desires. Jesus was every bit as much human as any of us; because of this, his hunger was real, his desire for power and recognition was real and his longing to be glorified was real. He abstains from food so as not to negate the reason he is out in the wilderness by selfishly abusing his supreme power. He then refuses to take the glory of a king above all earthly kings, regardless of how appealing that is to his ego, because the price is too high; namely, worshiping someone other than the true God. In Satan’s last recorded attempt at thwarting Jesus’ righteousness, he dares him to test to see if God is really there. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Jesus reveals it for the sin that it is. God demands faith and obedience from us and Jesus points that out by citing the verse prohibiting testing God’s faithfulness. This passage also gives us other small insights such as Satan’s ownership of the kingdoms of the world, but the overarching theme in this story is Jesus demonstrating resistance to temptation by way of following the scriptures and staying loyal to God.

            We can apply this to our lives as a template for acting under the pressure of temptation. Jesus leaned on scripture for a route to take when his own flesh told him to do what was wrong. In the same way, when we’re under pressure to do the questionable, we can turn to scripture for black and white direction. As humans, we don’t think clearly when we’re in pressurized situations so we need those instructions in order to stay faithful to God.

            As I read this scripture, I am caught up in the supernatural situations such as Satan showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in an instant and Satan zipping Jesus to the top of the Temple which was far from where he was. To me this gives testament to Satan’s power, but also the power of scripture in refuting the illusions of temptation. Sin only has as much power as we allow and Jesus shows us by his actions that, with scripture in hand, head and heart, we don’t have to give sin any power.

Friday, July 1, 2011

be a Mirror not a Blanket

I've wrestled with this topic in the past and it reminds me of a science class i had that explained how light particles work. the short version is this: if they hit a mirror, they will bounce and head somewhere else, but if they hit a fabric, they get absorbed. As Christians, it is our job to be mirrors, not fabric for the light of Christ.

            Here in Mark 10:35-45, we get to catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like in a negative sense. Jesus takes the time to explain to his bumbling companions how unlike a man-run world God’s kingdom is.
            At the beginning of this passage, Jesus is approached by James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They pose a seemingly innocent request with huge implications. They ask Jesus to save them a seat in God’s kingdom on his right and his left for them. This seems a little audacious to me as well as to the other disciples when they heard this in verse 41. Jesus, however, receives their request gracefully as a parent receives the request of a 5 year old to drive the family car. He acknowledges their ignorance and says “you don’t know what you’re asking. Are you willing to do what I have to do?” Now, Jesus knew what “cup” it was he was going to have to drink and that it would be supernaturally difficult, but the brothers had no idea, so naturally, they emphatically said “yes!” Jesus seems to consider here in verse 39 because he then says “you will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” I’m guessing he is referring to the persecution they would endure after his resurrection and ascension.  Finally, Jesus explains that in the Kingdom of God, it is to be different. That, if one wants to be the first among his brothers, he must assume the role of a servant because that is actually what Jesus did when he came to earth. I think all Christians will agree that Jesus is, in every way, number one in God’s kingdom and he did in fact do the most slavish thing: death for the sins of the unworthy world.
            This passage is important to Christian discipleship because it is the core of how Christians are to interact with our world. With non-believers, we are called upon to be servants to people who don’t deserve it and probably won’t acknowledge the sacrifice we might have to make for their benefit. It is our job to become servants in this physical life and by doing such, become greater in the Kingdom of God. This passage also speaks on how we are to interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knew the other disciples were indignant because of James and John’s request so he acted quickly to cut off any dissention among his followers. He shows them that the goal isn’t to become the greatest by men’s standard, but to strive to be greater by God’s standard by way of becoming lowly by men’s standard. He basically says that it’s not worth arguing and fighting among yourselves for the top spot because the only way you’ll get that top spot is by assuming the lowest spot in your day to day lives.
            While this seems absolutely against our nature, Jesus’ lesson here applies directly to our lives. So many times we want to out-shine others at our work places, schools and in our social arenas by making ourselves look better; by trying to take that “right hand seat”.  Nevertheless, Jesus says that if you really want to be great in the eyes of the one person that ultimately matters, you have got to put yourself last in your social life. Servant-hood is not something that comes naturally to humans. We are hard wired for survival and getting an edge on everyone around us. Even the most passive people I know have some facet of their life that they are secretly competitive in. It’s in our human, sin-nature. But God calls his followers to act in their new, redeemed nature and let go of our fleshly yearning for glory and instead submit ourselves to others in order to gain true glory through being more like Jesus.
            My initial reaction to this passage was indignation along with the other disciples, but the more I mulled it over, the more I identified areas in my life that I try to outshine others for selfish reasons. This scripture is definitely a daily challenge to me to remain humble and check the reasons I do what I do at work, with my family and in my social life. God can only be glorified through us if we’re not taking the glory for ourselves.

The Dread