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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

And the sign says...

“Did I not say to you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 
                                    John 11

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Binary thinkers, for whom there are only and ever two choices and whatever the rest of you like to think of yourselves as.  i have my own word for you but you’d probably consider it derogatory.  But then you’d be wrong.  Which, coincidentally, is my word for you: Wrong.

Jesus seems to think there are only two kinds of people too.  Those who don’t believe and those who.…  want to.

“It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews surrounded him and began to say to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe!”
                                    John 10

When those who don’t believe ask for a sign, Jesus farts in their general direction.  “An evil and adulterous generation desires a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah!”  Forget you, he seems to say.  I’m going to die and rise from the dead and that’s all you get.  Figure it out from there.  A verbal sandal shaking is what he gives them instead. 

But belief is hard.  “And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” So the Lord said, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  (Luke 17)  Wow.  How much faith must a mustard seed have!  i can’t even tell my cat to get his feet off the counter and expect him to do it without threat of violence, and he has legs and ears and knows the sound of my voice!  Here’s this little seed telling trees where to go.  Kinda makes ya think.  What we who have mouths and are surrounded by trees would be able to do if we just believed?  “But Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things are possible for the one who believes!” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9)

And here’s the amazing thing, Jesus does!  For Jesus, no length is too far to go for those who want to believe in him!  He wants us to believe!  He’s even willing to let us grieve for four whole days believing nothing more than that our brother is dead and that Jesus didn’t seem to care.  Martha and Mary are both experiencing the same grief.  They both have the same words for Jesus when he finally shows up almost a week probably after they called for him to come quickly and four days after the funeral.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  They both have faith.  They both believe Jesus can do almost anything.  Martha even says so, “Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will grant you.”  Martha has good theology, she knows doctrine, ““I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  And Mary knows her place before Jesus.  Three times we see her in scripture and every time she is in the same place, at his feet.  No one can question her devotion.  Like Ruth, she has offered herself utterly, unashamedly to him.  i think we would say they believe.

Yet listen to what Jesus prays…

“Father, I give thanks to you that you hear me. And I know that you always hear me, but for the sake of the crowd standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  Jesus did all this for them!  To strengthen their faith!  To help their unbelief!  The man who would not prove he was God, gave them a sign!

And that’s the key to all signs and wonders, not do they point to the power of the user.  Prophets have great power, but it was always power for a purpose.  Not that God wants us all to be happy and healthy and have everything we want.  He does but He’s a Father and He knows when, where and how much to give.  Signs and wonders are always, ALWAYS the Testimony of the Holy Spirit about who Jesus is!  And Jesus’ testimony is always, ALWAYS about who the Father is!  That’s it.  Because that’s what Jesus is concerned with: not do you know of him?  But do you KNOW him!  And Jesus will go to any length, any height, any depth for you to know and believe!  And that alone should tell you something about who he is. 

But it might not.  For a sign may only have one purpose, but it has two outcomes.  Sign of Jonah or not, the Pharisees and the scribes did know Lazarus was raised from the dead too.  They saw and believed Jesus had real power.  They thought they knew who and what Jesus was too.

But then, they were wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I AM the Christmas

"“I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever that one comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he." John 4

i don't want to celebrate Christmas this year. 

i don't want trappings if the spirit is dead.  Slain.  Murdered.

i don't want to hang reminders of things done, of years past, of a long ago event in history.  This is not a feast of celebration.  This is not a joyous remembrance.  This is not ritual.  i don't want to spend money i don't have on things no one needs.  i have no use for tradition.  Symbol.  Emptiness.  Hollowness.  Glass balls with nothing inside which only show me distorted reflections.  Reams of torn paper and discarded boxes but no real gifts.  Jolly fat men who bring Lexuses to rich people.  French perfumes to cover the reek of death.

This is Passover night.  The first one.  This is darkness complete with fearful anticipation.  This is a hasty meal with belts on, sandals laced, bags packed and walking staff in hand.  This is shepherds sleeping outside.  This is a disturbed kingdom.  This is a world torn apart by war, famine, pestilence and demagogues.  i have no reason to sing carols.  i don't want to deck halls.  i have no use for religion.

i need Christ to come.  i need God With Us.  This is not Bah Humbug.  i don't want less Christmas.  i want MORE!  i don't want the holiday.

i want the Man! 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Words fail me, the Word does not

If anyone should see his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he should ask, and he will grant life to him, to those who sin not leading to death. (There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should ask about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.  (John 5)

Whoever said, “He’s so heavenly minded he ain’t no earthly good.” probably had John the Revelator in mind.  Words fail John.  He’s a philosopher and high thinker and poet and his lofty concepts often seem strangled by the limits of language.  They don’t dance for him on the page the way they must in his mind where the meanings shine and nuances wax and wane.  Something seems lost in translation.  The written word can come at us divorced from the emotions of the writer.  Like a text from your brother, “Was that sarcasm, or is he really happy for me?  What does he mean?”

“See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”  (John 5)

What does he mean??

If John was high minded, Jesus, especially as John relates him, is nigh on inscrutable.  Is he saying this man’s sin led to his lameness?  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9)  Neither, says Jesus, not because the man or his parents were sinless.  That’s preposterous.  Not because it isn’t true that disease and plague and pain and suffering and even Death itself didn’t enter the world because of sin, all creation knows that to be true and groans as it waits under a curse of death for the Revelation.  But he says “neither” because that’s not important to what he wants to do.  It’s the wrong emphasis.  No, no, no, he could have said.  You’re looking from the bottom up.  You’re looking at newtonian religion.  Every sin has an equal and opposite curse.  So you must be righteous to get blessing.  That viewpoint has no life in it!  It is all focused on you!  All on your many, many grievous sins.  Like Pharisees trying to actually DO the Law and only making it more and more tangled and unbearably heavy with more laws till no one can bear it and we are all crushed beneath it like the lame man or chuck it entirely like the adulteress!  It is as if Jesus is boiling it all down as he did to Martha. 

Sinner, Sinner, “you are anxious and troubled about many things! But few things are necessary, or only one thing…”

Yes, there are countless myriad sins.  Our hearts are idol factories, sin wells, the deeper you go, the deeper it goes.  It just keeps getting darker.  Crack the lid off this septic tank of your soul and the stench will overwhelm you, knock you out and drown you when you fall and your corpse will sink forever.  But when it comes right down to it, there is only one sin that really matters to Jesus.

Do you believe in him or not?

Here even the word belief fails us!  This is not just cognitive recognition of a historical person named Jesus.  It’s not even just the intellectual assent that he was the Son of God.  If it must start there, then so be it, but let it never stop there!  Let it never stop at all!  If sin is bottomless, Grace, the gift of belief and faith and trust and joy and adoption into God the Father through Christ is limitless!  The higher you look the higher it goes!  Infinity!  Do you believe in him?  Then believe him!  Do you believe him?  Then put your trust in him!  Do you put your trust in him?  Then love him!  Do you love him?  Then obey him!  Do you obey him?  Then love his!  He is the fount of living water that never fails, he is the light that never fades, he is the gift that never stops giving, Clark!  His jellies are new every morning!  As soon as you start writing about him, you gain an appreciation for John’s plight!  For Paul's run on doxologies!  For David’s psalms!  We could literally sing of His love forever! 

Sin no longer.  This path leads only to death.  Not the death of the body, every body dies, who cares about that?  Quit being so near sighted!  Fear the one who can throw body and soul into hell!  Fear the second death!  Sin no longer!  Flee the path that leads only to the second death!  Flee living for nothing!  Flee living as if you could keep the Law?  Flee trying to be perfect!  Quit fleeing from the Father who loves you and wants you in his family and in his home!  Accept the perfection laid down for you!  Accept the righteousness laid down for you!  Accept the Lamb bled out for you!  Accept the ransom paid for you!  The free gift given to you!  See, I have healed you!  See, I have died in your place to save you from certain death, not from anything so temporary as disease or an angry unforgiving mob, these things are just parables, shadows and foretastes of the Wrath of a Holy and Perfectly Just God!  See, I love you, have loved you and want to love you forever! 

Believe in me!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Say what??

And a certain man was there who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness. Jesus, when he saw this one lying there and knew that he had been sick a long time already, said to him, “Do you want to become well?” The one who was sick answered him, “Sir, I do not have anyone that, whenever the water is stirred up, could put me into the pool. But while I am coming, another goes down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” And immediately the man became well and picked up his mat and began to walk.

After these things Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “Look, you have become well! Sin no longer, lest something worse happen to you.”  John 5

Now the scribes and the Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery. And standing her in their midst, they said to him, testing him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery! Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (Now they were saying this to test him, so that they would have an occasion to bring charges against him.) But Jesus, bending down, began to write with his finger on the ground, taking no notice. And when they persisted in asking him, straightening up he said to them, “The one of you without sin, let him throw the first stone at her!” And bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Now when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, they began to depart, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone—and the woman who was in their midst. So Jesus, straightening up and seeing no one except the woman, said to her, “Where are those accusers of yours? Does no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, Lord.” So Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”  John 8

These passages used to bother me.  Not the healing and the mercy.  Those are great.  True What-Would-Jesus-Do? moments.  i fully expect the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and ushers in the Kingdom of God to heal the sick and save a sinner from a self-righteous lynch mob.  (Stone mob?  Rock mob?  hmm.)  No, it’s not the miracle or the prickly teaching, it’s that tag line he tosses in at the end.

Go and sin no more.

i don’t know about you, but i grew up in churches where this wasn’t a problematic line at all.  It made perfect sense to the adults who taught me.  It tied in neatly with the Ten Commandments.  With the blessings and curses of Gerizim and Ebal of Deuteronomy.  Pick up your mat.  Gerizim.  Sin no longer.  Ebal.  Neither do I condemn you.  Gerizim.  Go, and sin no more.  Ebal.  Keep your room clean, don’t lie, eat your vegetables, be nice to your brother and God will love you.  Gerizim.  Go play down by the lake, steal that kid’s cool pencil holder, say a bad word and God will smite thee down with great vengeance and furious anger!  Give your change to that dirty guy outside the coffee shop.  Eat vitamins.  Raise your kids to go to college and be productive citizens.  Pay your taxes and God will welcome you into his glorious rest.  Get a divorce.  Have an abortion.  Struggle with addiction or sexual immorality, whether visible or not and it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you on that day. 

It wasn’t until i was older that i realized why that thinking created nothing in me but either self-righteousness or anxiety.  If i think i’m doing well, then I AM doing well.  If i slip up, i’m just another one of those old people who say, “well, i HOPE God will let me in.  i HOPE i’ve been good enough.”  That’s not salvation.  That’s not Psalms.  That’s not Jesus not losing one of his sheep that the Father had given him.  That’s not, “do not be afraid!”  “Fear not!”  That’s not glorious or Easter or Peace on Earth on whom His favor rests.  It’s certainly not love from before the foundation of the world, before I formed you, I knew you.

It’s karma.  Law.  Works salvation.  So why the Tartarus does Jesus say it??

What do these two instances have in common other than this one line?  Look at them again.  Do you see it?  Were either of these people coming to Jesus?  Did they seek him?  Did they cry out to him?  Did they fall at his feet and beg for mercy?  No.

Jesus came to them.  He found them in their misery.  Or they were dragged to his feet in their guilt and shame.  We see nothing in either story to show they knew who he was at all.  The lame guy didn’t even know who he was AFTER he healed him! 

Jesus is the greatest expert on what sin is and isn’t.  He who knew the scriptures certainly knew Joshua 24, Psalms 14 and 53 and Isaiah 64.  And we who know him and love him know them too.  You don’t have to tell someone who loves Jesus not to sin, they don’t want to.  But they will.  We will still struggle with greed and anger and fear and sex and belonging and hope and joy.  We won’t want to but we will.  It’s why we needed a savior in the first place.  This is not what Jesus is talking about.  What is he talking about then, mr. knowitall? 

Lord willing, i’ll tell ya tomorrow.