Mark 12:18-27 – Go Ahead, Ask Jesus Anything

q & a

Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman; when he died, he left no children.  The second married her and died without leaving any children. The third did the same.  None of the seven left any children. Finally, the woman died.  At the resurrection, when they all rise up, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”

Jesus said to them, “Isn’t this the reason you are wrong, because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power?  When people rise from the dead, they won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like God’s angels.  As for the resurrection from the dead, haven’t you read in the scroll from Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God said to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. You are seriously mistaken.”

Okay, let’s just dive right in with the observational lessons:

  • Don’t be a dip-wad and try and trip up Jesus with philosophically ethereal questions
  • If you like being rebuked by Jesus as being ignorant, mistaken, and wrong, just try and be in control of how a conversation with him ought to go
  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus are all alive – Sadducees, not so much
  • Jesus will take the time to listen to you close enough to give you feedback – and maybe the kind you weren’t looking for
  • What we get hung up on, Jesus doesn’t – and what Jesus sticks on, we act like Teflon about
  • Do you really want me to keep going….?

To deny resurrection is to deny Jesus.  He died.  He’s now alive.  Hence, there is a resurrection.  More than that, because Christ lives, others live.  This is the Christian’s hope.  I fully understand that plenty of people don’t believe in resurrection.  Fine.  I would simply point such a person no further than their own mind and heart.  “Search your feelings,” as the Jedi would say, “What do they tell you?”  The evidence you need, you already have.

And this was the penultimate lesson of Jesus to the inquisitive Sadducees.  They already had the answer to their question for Jesus.  It was right under their noses the entire time.  They just didn’t see it.

You already have everything you need for life and godliness in this present evil age.  One of the great sages of the last century, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, wisely said:

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Resurrection has always been there because God has always been around – even when we don’t see him, perceive him, or acknowledge him.  It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to procrastinate the inevitable end of life scenario that awaits us all.  Anytime is the right time to do a bit of personal funeral planning.  But if we mire it all with the esoteric hypothetical questions about what would happen in the most far-fetched of scenarios, methinks God is big and smart enough to see through our puny charade.

Better to ponder what is truly within your own soul, and how Jesus might already be present without you even knowing it.  A good place to start in peering within is to give a straightforward honest reading of the New Testament Gospels and discover what resonates deeply with you about the person and work of Jesus.

Feel free to question him about anything you want; just brace yourself for what kind of answer you might receive.

John 12:20-33 – What It Means to Follow Christ

dying to self

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (NRSV)

The fifth Sunday in Lent is now here.  We are quickly approaching Jerusalem.  Holy Week will be here before you know it.  Why is this all significant?  Because Jesus is important.  When we take advantage of Lent with its focus on spiritual discipline, prayer, and repentance, we come face-to-face with the shadowy parts of our selves.  We discover that within us there is the pull to hold-on to unhealthy rhythms and habits of life, as well as a push to arrange our lives with the fragmentation of disordered love.

Perhaps our reflexive response to things we do not like about ourselves is to either use sheer willpower to change or try to somehow manage our brokenness, as if we could boss our way out of darkness.  The problem and the solution are much more radical than we often would like to admit.

We must die.  Yes, this is the teaching of the Lord Jesus.  That is, we need to die to ourselves.  Sin cannot be managed or willed away – it must be eradicated and completely cut out, like the cancer it is.  Transformation can only occur through death.  Jesus uses the familiar example of a seed to communicate his point.  A tiny little seed can grow, break the ground, and develop into something which provides sustenance for others.  It does no good to remain a seed in the ground.

Jesus did not tell others to do with what he himself does not do.  Christ is the ultimate example of the one who died to himself and literally died for us.  Only through suffering and death did he secure deliverance for us.  Through his wounds we are healed.  Through his tortuous death a resurrection became possible – and we must always remember that there must be a death if there is to be a resurrection.  Death always comes before there is life.  There must be suffering before there is glory.

Only through dying to self and following Jesus will there be the kind of transformative change which the world so desperately needs.  If we persist in making puny attempts at trying to straddle the fence in dual/rival kingdoms, we will be spiritually schizophrenic and left with a divided soul.

Following Jesus, leaving all to walk with him, is true repentance and authentic discipleship.  The act of journeying with Christ is the means to having a new life.  Change only happens when we allow Jesus Christ to be the center from which all our life springs.

Maybe you think I’m being too forceful, too insistent about this Jesus stuff.  Yes, you have perceived well.  I am being quite single-minded about the need to die to self and live for Christ.  Somehow, within many corners of Christianity, this wrongheaded notion that suffering is not God’s will has made it into the life of the church.  But I’m here to say, on the authority of God’s Holy Word, that dying to ourselves is necessary and it hurts like hell.  The epistle reading for today bears this out:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV)

We are not above our Master.  Even Christ’s life on this earth, before his death and resurrection, was marked with suffering.  Even Jesus learned obedience through struggle and adversity.  Our Lord himself did what he is now asking us to do.  He gave himself up to do the Father’s will.  We must give up ourselves to submit to King Jesus.  Jesus offered loud cries and tears and submitted to what the Father wanted.  We must do no less.  We don’t get to choose which parts of Christ’s life and teaching we will adhere to and which ones we don’t need to, as if Jesus were some spiritual buffet line.  All who live for Jesus will follow him into the path of suffering, of death to self, and of new life through the power of his resurrection.  In Christ’s own words: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

So, then, how do we follow Jesus through dying to self?  What does that mean for you and me on a practical daily basis?

Thanks for asking.

Surrender

Every moment of every day we can give up ourselves to Jesus.  We have hundreds, maybe thousands of small decisions every day with the use of our time, our money, our energy, and our relationships.  If we have tried to fix what is broken inside of us, we will likely just try to hastily fix the problems and the people in our lives and move on with getting things done on our to do list.  Instead, we need to surrender.  We need to create the sacred space for solitude and silence, prayer and repentance.  Take the time to sit with a person in pain and listen.  Reflect on how to use your money in a way which mirrors kingdom values.  Begin to see your life as a holy rhythm of hearing God and responding to what he says.  It takes intentional surrender to do that.

Sacrifice

Holding-on to our precious stuff and time is the opposite of sacrifice.  Are we truly willing to give-up everything to follow Jesus?  It is more than true that we are not Jesus.  Our sacrifice and suffering are not efficacious, that is, it doesn’t deliver other people from sin.  Only Christ’s death does that.  Yet, we are still called to sacrifice.  The Apostle Paul understood this:

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV)

I’m just going to let you wrestle with that verse and mull it over without comment on my part.

We were not placed on this earth only to strive for happiness.  Our lives are not meant to be lived for ourselves. Jesus has called us to see our places, communities, neighborhoods, and families as our mission field of grace to a world who needs him.  This takes sacrificial love on our part.

Christianity is not really a religion that is for people who have put together neat theological answers and tidy packaged certainties to all of life’s questions.  Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion of learning to follow Jesus, discovering how to die to self, and struggling to put Christ’s teaching and example into practice.

Those who don’t struggle are in big trouble.  But those who go through the pain of dying to themselves for the sake of their Lord, find that the fruit they end up bearing leads to eternal life.

May you struggle well, my friend.

John 12:1-11 – Broken and Poured Out

mary anointing jesus feet

“Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, ‘This perfume was worth a year’s wages!  Why wasn’t it sold, and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

Then Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.’”

When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.”  Quincy was a coroner.  Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death.  But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation.  His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.”  Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone.  There’s more here than what meets the eye!”

Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation.  In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye.  There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding.  There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as the physical tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.

quincy

Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.  Now, near the end of Christ’s life as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured and killed, Mary senses what is happening and is aware of what’s happening when others are not.  Her own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history.  This woman, whom everyone knows as a damaged person, takes a high-end perfume and breaks the entire thing open.  She proceeds to anoint Christ’s feet with it.  You can imagine the aroma which would fill the house with an entire amount of expensive perfume out for all to smell.  Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrates the path of true discipleship.

But there’s more here than what meets the eye.  Let’s point out some observations about John’s expert autopsy:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary uses an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applies the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is richly and culturally symbolic for submission and respect (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which only runs skin deep.  The follower of Christ is meant to be profoundly transformed within, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy.  Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do.  But the Mary’s among us dramatically point us to Jesus with their tears, their humility, their openness, and their love.

In this contemporary environment of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus.  Methinks Quincy was on to something.

Loving Lord Jesus, my savior and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude.  May I and all your followers, emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you.  Amen.

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 – Our Great High Priest

praying

“Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Metaphors matter.  That is, how we picture God truly influences the way we live.

Yesterday I met with a young man who was severely distressed, depressed, and had attempted suicide several times in the past months.  After listening to his story, I asked him a question: “How do you see or picture God?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “God is my CO (Commanding Officer).”  He went on to portray and picture General God who gives commands and good soldiers who obey what’s expected of them.

As a soldier, you would never walk up to your CO and vent all your feelings.  You wouldn’t have a dialogue.  There would be no extended conversations.  In the throes of trying to deal with emotional trauma, General God isn’t a metaphor that’s helpful.

Today we are reminded and invited to consider Jesus, the Son of God.  He is pictured as our great high priest.  A priest is a person who intercedes for you with God.  He stands in the gap and effectively communicates your needs, desires, and feelings to a gracious and loving God.  When you are too emotionally tired to face another day, Jesus our great high priest has your back.

No soldier would ever have the confidence to approach General God with their abject weakness or their ongoing temptations.  There is only the giving and receiving of orders and strategies to be implemented.  Far too many Christians have such an understanding of God and think there is something wrong with them when they cannot live up to be the kind of soldier that would make others proud.

But grace and mercy are found through the confidence of approaching our high priest.  Jesus thoroughly, completely, and graciously understands first-hand what you are dealing with, and he is able and desirous to help you.  As our permanent high priest, he is uniquely positioned to hear us, empathize with our situation, and care for us in ways which truly aid us.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  It takes no effort to find yourself on the outside of happiness and on the inside of a black hole.  Living in this broken world can sting and hurt like hell.  Yet, we have a savior who has brought deliverance from hell by taking on hell itself.  Jesus knows better than anyone what brokenness feels like by absorbing all the sin of the world on the cross.

Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father in heaven awaiting your approach with merciful eyes and a compassionate heart.  Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord.  He is much more than a military officer.  He is our ample and able great high priest.  He is awaiting you now….

Ascended and living Lord Jesus, you are my colossal high priest.  You live to intercede for me.  What a privilege!  May you strengthen my nascent faith today and bolster my confidence as I consider your grace and mercy in this messed-up world.  Thank you for your kindness, empathy, and ability.  Amen.

Hebrews 3:1-6 – Jesus Is Better

 

Loving-Gods-House

“Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house.  But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself.  Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant in order to affirm the things that would be spoken later.  But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us.” (Common English Bible)

It’s hard to be patient, difficult to persevere.  If the Christian life were a piece of cake, then there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of perseverance.  But faith is a muscle.  If unused, it atrophies.  Faith needs exercise, and it must be tried in adverse circumstances to grow and mature.

The reason the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians is because they were losing their grip, faltering in their faith.  The hard circumstances of those Christians were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to their old ways of life, apart from Christ.

It can be tempting to think of the past as “the good old days.”  But if you think about it for any length of time, you know better.  You’re just struggling in the present, and our minds turn to filter all the crud out from the past to make it look like things were better back then.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.  The writer consistently and persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past.  Moses was one the most respected and impressive figures of Old Testament history.  Jews revered him.  The book of Hebrews acknowledges that respect for Moses, but points-out and reminds the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is the Master over the house.  Jesus is better than Moses.

What’s more, we as believers and followers of Jesus are the house.  Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else.  Jesus cares for and protects his house.  It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we lived-in in another city or town was better.  But the reality is that we live today in God’s house.  Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the pride and privilege we have in living where we presently live.

When life is tough, reminiscing about the past is easy.  For sure, you can find all kinds of things you miss from your previous days somewhere.  Yet, trolling your personal history, like a time-wasting galavant on the computer, doesn’t do anything for your need of faith and perseverance.  But today, Jesus has a hold of you.  Today he wants to walk with you through your trouble, and not just transport you to the past.  Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations that are in front of you.  You are not alone.  You can do this.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future.  Today has its situations and problems.  Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow.  Amen.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Being Impatient

grumbling

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’  Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” (NRSV)

Impatience.  Grumbling.  They go together like a hand in a glove.  The impatient person sticks his hand in the glove of complaints, voicing and animating his missed expectations for all to hear and see.

The ancient Israelites had been delivered with the miraculous and mighty hand of God.  But the celebration soon turned sour.  Out in the desert with millions of people, the Israelites had no food or water.  We have no account of the people reflexively using their spiritual connection with God to ask him for help.  Nope.  They just grumbled against God and his servant Moses.

God had enough of their constant complaints.  He had shown mercy and committed love to them over-and-over again.  Yet, the people still put on their grumpy faces any time something didn’t go their way.  God kept showing patience toward the people, but the people kept demonstrating impatience toward God.

If you stop and think about the pathology of your impatience and complaining (which we all do – come on, admit it) you’ll likely discover that at the heart of it all is a picture in your mind of how you think circumstances ought to go for you to be happy.  The Israelites expected a nice clean break from Egypt with a smooth transition into the Promised Land.  They didn’t sign up for hard circumstances and trouble to get there.

You go to church expecting to be fed and encouraged.  You expect that school will be enjoyable and that you’ll get a good paying job when you graduate.  You expect to go to work and have healthy working relationships and a good boss.  You expect your kids to listen to what you say and do what you tell them.  You expect your spouse to give you focused attention.  You expect the weather to be better.  You expect the little plastic things on the end of your shoelaces to last for the life of your shoes….

You get the picture.  No matter what scenario we posit, its more than likely it isn’t going to go as planned or expected.  The rub comes when those expectations aren’t realized.  Then, what?  In a perfect world we would always respond in a reasoned, wise, and healthy manner.  But if we’re feeling like we’re in an emotional place of insecurity out in the desert, our response is more likely going to be impatience, grumbling, and complaining about things which aren’t going as planned.

A great deal of disobedience, bad behavior and speech, and poor decision-making has its beginnings in impatience.  The minute you become impatient, take a long deep breath before you make your next mental decision.  Check-in with yourself.  Be mindful of what your real expectations are for the circumstance or person in the present moment of becoming upset.  Make the decision not to complain or argue.  Instead, choose to say what you want without grumbling.

It is truly possible to stand for holiness, live for righteousness, and uphold the words and ways of Jesus without being a jerk about it through impatient sighs, annoying facial expressions, and terse words of carping and criticizing another person made in God’s image.

Monitor yourself throughout the day today.  Notice the times you become annoyed.  Stop and take a minute to analyze what it is you are expecting.  Instead of grumbling, ask God how he wants to strengthen your faith through the situation or encounter.  Because God is there to help you, not to pick on you.

Holy God, your patience is incredible in the face of human impatience.  Yet, your boundaries are firm, and you will not put up with our petulant ways forever.  Help me to live into the model of your Son, the Lord Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit are attentive to come alongside me to your own glory and honor.  Amen.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 – The Steadfast Love of God

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O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south….

Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (NRSV)

I’ve always found it a bit curious that there are people who continually equate the God of the Old Testament as nothing but a vengeful and wrathful God.  Certainly, there are passages dealing with God’s anger and his action out of that anger.  Yet, everything God does is from a place of love.  He has never been okay with sin because it damages and destroys people.

Which is why, when people are in need and they cry out to the Lord, he is there for them.  Far more prevalent is the reality that the Old Testament is populated with references to God’s “steadfast love.”  This is God’s covenant-keeping love.  It is the kind of love that holds on and doesn’t let go.  It’s the type of love that is gracious, merciful, and kind.  It is the love the has compassion on the needy and does something about their plight.

In our psalm for today, even when there were people sick and in distress because of their own doing, their own sin, God saved them from their plight.  That’s what God does – he is the expert on deliverance.  God doesn’t shake his finger at us when we screw up and realize our fault; instead, he shows steadfast love.  God doesn’t tell us “I told you so” or “that’s what you get for sinning.”  Nope.  God delivers, and he does it because of his steadfast love.

That’s why people all over the world have learned to sing the praises of the God of the Bible.  It’s why folks from every walk of life and every kind of society have found God as the great lover of humanity.  Their overflowing response to such a loving God is singing, praising, thanking, and offering their lives to him.

If you or someone you know struggles with seeing God as capricious, indifferent, or angry, then I strongly urge you to take in a steady and daily diet of the psalms over the course of the next month.  I think you need an intervention of the God of the Psalms.  Reading 5 psalms per day gets you through all 150 of them in a month.  More than that, pray the psalms.  Allow them to give you a new perspective on the world, your relationships, and yourself.

God of all that is good, your steadfast love has been shown to millions who find in you the desire of their hearts.  May I see your overflowing goodness, your steadfast love, and your infinite mercy operating in this broken world and in my needy heart; through your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever.  Amen.