Monday, January 29, 2018

Finding Neighbors

Luke 10:29 NIV
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Are You Trying To Find Your Neighbor?

The famous “Mr. Rogers”, built a career by singing about being a neighbor.  In a world that is growing more and more packed with people, are we neighbors or billions of individuals walking about on our own?  The most critical concern we have is almost always tied to what we face ourselves or perhaps what those closest to us are facing.  Yet, are we made to be that way?  Are you supposed to be disconnected from the world about you?  The news makes you constantly aware of those who need help, whether it is the story of the woman who is kidnapped or the account of villagers whose homes have been wrecked by earthquakes.  Yet the more you know about the problems of the world, the less you know about the problems of those right next to you.  It may seem presumptuous to ask, but what is your normal response when you realize someone needs help?  How do you react to real problems those near you face?  It is strange perhaps to ask if you love your neighbor because of course you do.  Who doesn’t?  Yet we must give it some thought, this question.  Do we love our neighbors?  Do you?

Famously, a Jewish expert on Old Testament Law approached Christ and asked Him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10: 25 NIV)  The Lord flipped the question around and asked the man what the Law said about it.  He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27 NIV)  Jesus affirmed this answer and told the expert on the Law, "Do this and you will live."  (Luke 10:28 NIV)  Then came the most memorable question, “Who is my neighbor?”  It is a good question if I am to love my neighbor as myself.  Who is my neighbor then?  It is fascinating though how Jesus in His own way of giving answers to the questions of skeptics and critics did not actually answer that specific question.  He answered a completely different question with his story of the “Good Samaritan”.

When two Jewish religious leaders ignored the beaten Jewish victim of a mugging as they walked along the road where his broken body stretched out on the side in plain view, it was a Samaritan, one whose nationality made him hated by Jews, who came to the Jewish man’s rescue and took care of him.  Then Jesus when He finished the story asked the teacher of Jewish Law who it was that was the neighbor to the man that was beaten.  It is a subtle but critical shift Jesus made.  He did not give a reply to the question, “Who is the neighbor that must receive love” but told the skeptic through His story who the neighbor is that gives love.  That is a completely different question and answer and the man who asked the question originally was so stunned by the direction Jesus’ story took that He did not even acknowledge or maybe even realize how thoroughly Christ shifted the focus.  We are never to ask who our neighbor is that we are to love but always probe to discover if we are the neighbor who loves.  It is as if Jesus was asked, “Who is the patient?” and He told instead who the doctor was.  Or perhaps He might have been asked whose house was on fire and instead He told who the fireman was.

The first sign Jesus gave to the world that He was the Messiah was turning the water into wine.  He was at a wedding feast with His mother, Joseph, the one chosen by God to act as father to Jesus having passed away by then, and Mary was either told or discovered on her own that the groom had run out of wine for all the guests.  This was one of the most humiliating things that could happen to a young man, a blunder that would most likely be remembered and retold in his village at least the rest of his life.  Mary, recognizing just how traumatizing this would be for the young couple as they started off their new life together, came to her son Jesus and told Him the situation.  Jesus’ reply is almost shocking, given what we know of Him now.  Literally, He responded to her news, “What to you and to me?”  “What does this have to do with us?” (See John 2: 4)

When it comes to being a neighbor or loving as a neighbor, this is the second most important question you must ask yourself.  The first is, “Am I a neighbor who loves?”  The second is, “What does this have to do with me?”  “Is this my problem?”  When Jesus cast this question upon Mary, His mother’s response shows how profoundly she trusted Jesus to do what was right.  Rather than replying to Jesus, she went back to the servants of the groom who may have been panicking at the moment over what to do about the lack of wine, and told them to follow exactly Jesus’ instructions.  "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5 NIV)  Mary did not try to argue the immensity of her cause, did not plead with Jesus to help the poor couple not lose faith.  She simply trusted Christ to do what was right.  Does God have the same trust in you to do what is right?  Will you be a loving neighbor?

Many who look at Acts 6 give the chapter the wrong emphasis.  They see it as primarily about the institution of the deacon ministry.  Although that is integral to what is described, it is mostly about how the Christian community considered the “Love your neighbor as yourself” dilemma.  Because of the violent persecution the early Church faced and the way it expanded, there were a vast number of Christian widows who did not have enough money to even buy food.  Many of the widows were left without any family members to help them so the Church began to provide for them. However, as we often see in our world, certain types of people are more loved and valued than others.  In this case it was the Jewish Christian widows who got more help than the non-Jewish Christian widows.  In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1 NIV) All the widows needed the Church to get them through the crisis though and so the non-Jewish Christian widows went to the Apostles and pleaded for help.  Rather than declaring that this matter was not their problem, the Apostles and the other leaders in the Church selected seven men to be in charge of making sure that all the Christian widows had enough to eat, whether they were Jewish or not.  This was of course the precise way Jesus responded to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  “You are the neighbor!”  The Church saw a specific need, widows without food, and they did something practical to meet that need.  They were neighbors who loved.


You have a very important question to ask yourself.  Are you a neighbor who loves?  Depending upon how you answer, a second question comes. “What does that have to do with me”?  It is strange to think that God has entrusted so many people who need a neighbor who loves to you.  The other day I was talking to a teacher who was obviously stressing over a meeting she was going to have with a parent and the principal.  What does a neighbor who loves do in that situation?  You come across someone who has anxiety attacks.  What does a neighbor who loves in that situation do?  There are dishes in the sink and your mom is busy working on dinner.  What does a neighbor who loves do?  A co-worker just got chewed out by her supervisor.  What does a neighbor who loves do?  Someone you know is in the hospital.  What does a neighbor who loves do?  Across the street a young mother has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  What does a neighbor who loves do?  Your sister-in-law just started drinking heavily and the family is blaming her for her marriage.  What does a neighbor who loves do?  The question for you and me is never, “Who is my neighbor?”  It always is, “Am I a neighbor who loves?”  How we answer that question clearly has an eternal ramification!  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Snapshot of Life Together

1 John 1:7 NIV
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

How Well Do You Get Along With Others?

When I was in Seminary, studying to be a pastor, I did not really think much about what made a church a church.  I was well aware of the various models of church that were practiced around the world and I did ponder which church model I would like to join.  There are mega-churches with theatrical productions, charismatic churches, traditional churches with older forms of worship, house churches and cell group churches along with multi-site churches that use videos to present the preaching of the pastor.  Of course ethnicity brings even more diversity to how churches function.  It was not until I was confronted by the deacons of the first church where I was a pastor that I gave serious thought as to what made a church a church.  I had made an announcement that the following Sunday during the morning worship service we were going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  This was a major alteration in protocol for this church because always before they conducted the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evenings.  The change in scheduling brought great consternation to the deacons and at first I did not grasp just what bothered them so much.  It turned out that the church did not believe casual attenders of the church services should receive the Lord’s Supper with them, only members of the church were to participate.  It thus was convenient that the service on Sunday night was poorly attended and there almost never were visitors or non-members present.  That was for the deacons a perfect time to serve the Lord’s Supper because it saved them the embarrassment or stress of having to refuse to serve non-members.  Being forced to defend my actions in providing the Supper to non-members, I had to come up with a clear and articulate view of what the Church is and how it is to operate.

One critical term we use to describe the life of the church is “fellowship” or to be more precise, the Greek word “koinonia”.  Koinonia is by definition “communion”, “close relationships” or “participation and sharing”.  Fellowship might be defined as “life together”.  It is oneness brought about by a bond that keeps everyone together.  In 1 John 1: 7, the union is the result of our “walk in the light” or to put it another way, being in union with the wishes of God the Father.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  The Christian community, or the Church, is put together into a union by staying in step with what the Father wants and by the purifying work of Christ’s blood as it cleanses the people of the church of Sin.  In other words, it is the relation to the Father and the Son that determines the fellowship or union that exists between the people of the church.

Let’s look at a few snapshots of the Church found in the New Testament.  The first is seen in Matthew 4 where is recorded the invitation Jesus offered to two sets of brothers to come follow Him.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19 NIV)  This was not a call to salvation but rather a call to adventure, a call to absolute surrender.  Each of the four fishermen faced a critical fork in the road. 
Do I go with Him in union with the Father or do I stay and keep doing as I am with sporadic moments of faith and devotion.  They chose of course to go with Christ wherever He led.  At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:20 NIV)  Union with the directing of Christ is what puts Christian people together and really together.

A second snapshot of the Church is seen beautifully in Matthew 14.  The Disciples were sent out by Jesus in a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  By obeying Christ though, the disciples found themselves in deep peril.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. (Matthew 14:23-24 NIV)  This is so typical of what happens with the Church in fellowship.  They face some difficult and perhaps even terrifying event together.  In this case, as the Disciples fretted over the growing storm, Jesus came to them, walking on the water and that frightened them even more.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. (Matthew 14:26 NIV)  Is that not often the case?  In the midst of unity within the Church, sometimes there is a period of collective chaos when God is not trusted and His ways frightening.  But then God gets ahold of one or more in the fellowship and they have real courage and faith.  "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."  "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29 NIV)  When a Church is in fellowship, God always provides someone in the group with clarity and faith enough to see the way.  This is a miracle, a mighty work of God.

There is one more snapshot of the Church that is almost mesmerizing in its sublime rendering of the Church at its finest and most obtuse.  After James, the brother of John, was arrested by King Herod and executed, Peter also was imprisoned.  The church however quickly went to work.  So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  (Acts 12:5 NIV)  Amazingly, the Lord intervened in a new way.  He sent an angel to the prison who opened the prison doors and led Peter out of the jail.   Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists…Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.  They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. (Acts 12:7, 9-10 NIV)

The account turns somewhat humorous when Peter heads off to the home where the group from the church is praying for Peter’s release.  However after hearing knocking on the door, a servant girl named Rhoda came to see who it was.  When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!"  "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."  But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. (Acts 12:14-16 NIV)  So here you have a group of believers praying for the release of one of their own but not really believing God would answer their prayers.  How else would you explain the questioning Rhoda’s sanity when she returns to them with the announcement that Peter himself was at the door?

Let us though not miss the main point.  Fellowship is Christian when the group gathers together to pray.  That is what a Christian group has as its most spectacular possession.  It can pray and change the world.  When fellowship gives up on praying, it loses its soul.  Prayer is the most fundamental characteristic of Christian oneness and if it is cut short or eliminated altogether, it is no different than the unity members of a union possess or the board members of a corporation.  Praying together makes a church a church and gives it the supernatural quality that no other group of people in the world possesses.

There are four specific behaviors that mark Christian fellowship and determine its quality.  We shall simply list these without having the time to give each its proper attention.  Whether the fellowship exists in a small group of three or four or in a large body of several thousand, these patterns of relationship are critical to determining whether or not a church has a healthy fellowship.  These are not listed in any sort of order of importance; each can make or break the life together of a church.  In a truly Christian fellowship there is unlimited forgiveness.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)  The second pattern of relationship is unrelenting encouragement. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)  Along with these two must be a stubborn refusal to judge those in fellowship.  You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat…Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. (Romans 14:10, 13 NIV)  The fourth pattern of relationship in every healthy Christian fellowship is difficult to quantify…perhaps even impossible to measure but it is just as critical as the others in determining whether or not a church lives together in true fellowship.  Each person sees Christ in all the others and with deep reverence for God respects what Christ is doing in them.  …the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27 NIV)

How important is it that you are a part of a Christian fellowship?  Is it important enough that you will help create an environment that can make fellowship flourish?  Are you willing to change your own attitudes about life together so that God can use you to transform the church and make it the “Kingdom of God”?  What sacrifices are you willing to make that Christ can live through you and make His people better because you are a part of their lives?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

God Revealed


Isaiah 6:1 NIV
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

What Do You See In God?

The other day I was in a high school class and a couple of the students asked me how old I was.  It was of course somewhat presumptuous on their part but I decided to play around a bit with them so I asked the kids how old they thought I was.  I did not expect them to be as wildly off base as they were since they were fifteen years old but they guessed 42, 44 and 45.  I just smiled and walked away, leaving them without an answer.  The next day the same group asked me again how old I was and this time I told them.  “Sixty.”  The shocked expressions on their faces were the best Christmas gifts ever.  They argued that I did not look that old and once more I smiled and walked away.  How fascinating to learn something new about someone, to discover secrets about that person you might never have guessed.

We often fail to consider the fact that God is a person.  He is not an idea or a premise.   The God spoken of throughout the Bible is not a theological concept but someone specific with actual characteristics that are His.  I have had conversations with different ones who have opinions of how the Lord should be if He really existed as if they are the ones who determine God’s nature and personality.  Either God is or He isn’t and if He is, then we do not decide what He is like any more than biographers can chose the qualities of George Washington or Pocahontas.  It does no good whatsoever to speculate about the characteristics of the Lord; one can only discover them through experience.

There is a rather humorous account found in the Bible that illustrates just how wrong we can be in our speculations about God.  After the Arameans attacked the Israelites and got soundly beaten by them, the counselors to the king of Aram insisted that the reason the Arameans were soundly defeated by the Israeli army was because they had fought in the uplands of Samaria.  The God of the Israelites they speculated was a god of hills.  What they needed was a change in location.  Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, "Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.  Do this: Remove all the kings from their commands and replace them with other officers.  You must also raise an army like the one you lost — horse for horse and chariot for chariot — so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they." He agreed with them and acted accordingly. (1 Kings 20:23-25 NIV)

When the Arameans were crushed again by the Israelite army, one wonders if the Arameans might have pulled out their canoes to fight on the lake, hoping that God was not a god of lakes.  The Arameans were certainly right to guess that the Israelites had a God who brought victory to His people.  They however were wrong to make determinations about Him without actually knowing Him.  It is like watching movies depicting aliens when no one has ever seen an alien and if they exist have no idea how they look or act.  There is absurdity in the way so many talk about God without having the least bit of experience interacting with Him.  When the patriarch Jacob ran away from his furious brother and exhausted fell asleep he was unprepared for what came next.

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the Lord, and he said: "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." (Genesis 28:12-16 NIV)  Jacob’s reaction is priceless.  He did not realize God was where he was!

Nearly the entire world is oblivious to God.  Ambulances run to heart attack victims, senators discuss tax plans, shoppers comb the stores for deals, librarians restack books and hardly anyone realizes God is there.  Cynics decide God is cruel, professors think He is a myth and pharmacists believe He is a legend and all the while God is among us with His own specific personality and characteristics waiting for someone to notice Him.  The old pop song, “One of Us”, absurdly wonders what God would be like if He was one of us.  “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us.  Just a stranger on the bus tryin' to make his way home?”    The idea is that we cannot know what God is really like so we just make up things about Him.  For many, we can read the Bible and take what is said there as one person’s view of Him or maybe even the impressions of lots of people but we cannot really know what He is like because He is an idea or a concept and not an actual person.

When Jesus Christ was born and placed in a cattle trough after He was born, grew up and became a man, everyone who met Him discovered that God had specific, observable characteristics that made Him unique with certain qualities and personality traits.  God did this and behaved like this and reacted this way to these kinds of things.  God was not Fred down the street or the imaginative ideas of Marvel Comics.  He was not Thor, a made up character that could be anything the writers or the movie director wanted him to be.  God was there and He was just as He was seen and heard.  But you may argue that that was then and this is now.  How can we know what God is like now?

The last book in the Bible, the famous book of Revelation, or as the Greek name for it would be translated, “unveiling”, presents us with two specific groups of people.  The first would be those who are either oblivious to God or opposed to Him.  They react to circumstances they face without any sort of relationship to God.  There is no interaction with Him, no attempt at communication with Him.  They fear what is happening, are angry with their circumstances but never reach out to God or try to align themselves with Him.  The book of Revelation describes a typical response of those in this group to the destruction God will bring to the economic structures of the world.  "When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her.  Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: "'Woe! Woe, O great city O Babylon, city of power!  In one hour your doom has come!'  "The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— (Revelation 18:9-11 NIV)

If you can just not let the nature of the events that are described in this chapter distract you, the point is that no one here looks to God for help or even tries to reach out to Him.  The entire crowd only reacts to the circumstances as if that is all that is there, as if there is no God involved in it.  Yet there is a second group of people described in the book of the Revelation and that is those who are aware of God all the time.  They view Him not as a story or an opinion or a thought but as He is, there, present, with characteristics that are specific and certain.  They do not speculate about God, they interact with Him and the result of being with Him is worship and undiminished love for Him.  Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.   For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:6-8 NIV)

There is a clear and defined line of demarcation between two parts of humanity.  There are those who live without any consciousness of God, who live within the world and see nothing beyond it but the wins and losses of what they do and what they face.  God, the real God Jesus Christ, is beyond their mental scope.  The second group is made up of those who worship Christ, who love Him and yearn for His affections.  Worship is the mechanism through which those who are born-again experience Christ; it is the means by which God becomes known to us.  Like your ears enable hearing and your eyes seeing, worship enables you to be aware of Christ.  You cannot know God without worship.  You can read about Him, think about Him or have conversations discussing Him but you cannot know God without worship. 

A disturbing statement made by the Apostle Paul under the direction of the Holy Spirit is found in the book of Romans.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Romans 1:21 NIV)  Literally, it reads, “Formerly knowing God not as God they neither glorified nor gave thanks…”  In other words, what knowledge these people had of God did not lead to them worshiping Him or thanking Him.  The result of this was that they could not think clearly or understand what they saw.  Without worship, you become irrational and mentally dull.  Worship of Christ is the gateway to seeing and understanding what you see.  Why is worship so critical to the church service?  It enables you to see God as He is and live with your eyes wide open and your mind able to comprehend what you face.  To skip worship or to not try to worship is like taking a pill that shuts down your brain and deadens your ability to comprehend.

When you are born again and have Christ as your Savior, your operating system is completely reworked so that worship of Christ is the way you connect with God and access His gifts.  Peace, joy and wisdom all flow into a heart that worships Christ and without that worship, it all gets blocked.  Practice worship this week.  You might not be very good at it.  You might get quickly bored with it.  But like any habit crucial to your well-being, practice is the only way you will develop it so that your mind will know Christ and understand God as He works in your life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Evolution of Disdain


Titus 3:3 NIV
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

When Was The Last Time You Got Into An Argument Or Fight?

Not too long ago I was substitute teaching for a middle school English teacher.  Each class had the same assignment.  Read a particular chapter from a novel originally written by a sixteen year old and answer questions on a worksheet about the book.  Because I did not have anything to do but sit with the classes as they worked, I decided to read the book myself.  The main character was a young teen that was part of a gang battling a rival gang of boys.  One gang was made up of wealthy kids who seemingly had everything and the other gang was known as greasers and was comprised of poor kids generally from broken and dysfunctional homes.  The book, which was made into a movie, explored the themes of friendships and hatred, of loyalty and disdain.  As the book wound down to its emotional conclusion, the central character, who was also the narrator developed feelings of empathy for the members of the rival gang and began to see a few of them as individuals with psychological pain and broken lives.  A revelation of sorts came to the main character after he and his older brother got into a bitter argument and each wanted the middle brother to take his side.  It all was just too much and the middle brother fled the home.  Finally, when all three were together, the middle brother begged the other two to stop fighting.  “We only have each other”, he cried.  It was then that the three boys, who were orphans living on their own in the home their parents had, grasped the terrible truth about conflict.  It tears apart what should be kept together.  We do have each other and that is a great and wonderful gift to possess.

When was the last time you got into a fight or argument with someone?  Did it go well?  Are you glad the two of got upset with each other?  How do you feel after you argue with someone?  Are you glad you got your point across?  Did you feel justified or even vindicated when it ended?  Do you tend to avoid arguments at all cost or are you the first to jump in when others disagree?   Is it important for you to make your case and be heard?  If you were to be asked, what would you give as the reason for most fights?  Can they be avoided?  Should they be avoided?

There have been fights since the beginning of time.  Some have been rather one-sided as in the murder of Abel by Cain.  Certainly the most famous and remembered were those between nations.  But is seems pretty likely that more than a few times Adam and Eve argued and may even have fought.  David famously bickered with his wife Michal and the great leaders of the church, Paul and Barnabas argued so contentiously that they went their separate ways and stopped working together.

Saul, who was king, could not bear the popularity of his young apprentice and tried to kill him.  Certainly we see arguments today rising to the level of murder and such was the case for many in the Bible.  Yet generally, arguments and fights do not turn to physical violence but often psychological scars are left and not everyone who gets into arguments “kiss and make up”.  Everywhere though arguments are taking place.  Most couples argue and many children quarrel with their parents.  Families fight and so do co-workers.  The disciples got mad at each other a time or two and the patriarch of both Jews and Muslims, Abraham, had to move away from his cousin Lot because the two could not agree on how to work together.  There are plenty of fights described in the Bible and most of them went badly.

Many conflicts are spawned by the low self-esteem of at least one person involved.  That was certainly the case of King Saul and his snowballing acrimony with young David.  Others flow out of one person or the other and sometimes both used to always getting what he wants.  How many arguments are due to the “spoiled brat” syndrome?  Rehoboam, the son of Solomon set off a war simply because he was spoiled by his father and did not want to give up some of his wealth by agreeing to lower the taxes that unfairly burdened the people of Israel.

There is a third cause for arguments and fights.  It is the lack of self-awareness found in many.  There is an odd account found in the Bible that illustrates it.  David famously began an affair with the wife of one of the most decorated soldiers in his army.  When she became pregnant, David had her husband killed and then married Bathsheba.  A courageous friend of David’s, a priest by the name of Nathan, approached the King and told him a story that David assumed was a description of real events.  "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.  "Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him." (2 Samuel 12:1-4 NIV)

David, believing he was being told of an incident that had happened, burned with rage at the rich man and wanted him executed.  Yet David did not realize that this was simply Nathan’s way of pointing out the evil of David’s own actions.  Many times we get upset or aggravated because we don’t take a hard and careful look at ourselves.  We judge people without paying any attention to our own faults and bad behavior.  It is just what Jesus described when He spoke of splinters and beams.  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)  How many arguments would be stopped dead in their tracks if this were taken seriously? 

The bitter hatred Jonah the prophet had for the Assyrian people culminated in a bizarre encounter he had with God on a sweltering hillside overlooking the Assyrian capital.  He wanted the Lord to demolish the Assyrians then and there as he sat stewing over God’s mercy toward them.  Jonah certainly had a case.  The Assyrian armies were cruel and wrecked numerous nations including Israel.  There was no love for the one true God among the people and it did not seem that it would ever change.  And yet God wanted to give the Assyrians one more chance.  But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11 NIV)  How easily so many write off those who hurt their feelings, act rudely, have been dishonest or don’t take their opinions seriously.  It is Sin in you which prods you to despise and judge others.  Like a poison of the heart, Sin leads to criticism and condemnation.  God always has one more reason to patiently wait for good to come out of any person you see.  When you get angry or impatient with someone, it is because of sin in you, not the imperfections in the one you dislike.

How many Christian people have stopped believing in the Cross of Christ?  We are not talking about the World that has no love for Christ or faith in Him.  We are saying that there are great numbers of Christian people who no longer believe in what Christ does through the Cross!  By dying, the Lord completely remakes any person who trusts Him for salvation. Not a part of that soul will be left imperfect.  Yet even Christian people criticize Christ’s “work in progress”.  Imagine the great artist Rembrandt having to watch as passersby sneer at the unfinished painting he has displayed in the window of his studio.  They see colors splashed upon it, brush strokes and empty blotches of canvas and despise what is there.  How wicked and foolish of them to doubt the skill of the great master as he works on his latest creation!  As much as the Christian community dislikes the term evolution because of how Charles Darwin and his followers have corrupted it, evolution is occurring all about us under the loving hand of our Savior.  He is taking broken and corrupted and damaged souls and remaking them into perfect and holy vessels bearing the Spirit of God within them.  How can we ever despise or grow frustrated with those Christ has died to save?  Will our Lord be happy with us if we fail to acknowledge that each person we meet is an evolving masterpiece of His?  Will He bless us if we criticize His perfect work?


How happy would our Lord be if we would see each person just as He does; as those Christ will eventually make perfect.  Never doubt the ability of our Lord to turn even the worst of sinners into the most holy of saints.  Your criticism, disdain and anger; your avoidance and disregard of any of His people is a reflection not of your insight into human nature but rather a sign of your ignorance of just how powerful God’s Cross is to make all things new and perfect.  It is the old way of thinking to criticize and have an attitude of disdain for those Christ died to save.   The evolution of the soul will take place and it is blasphemy to despise God’s work by looking down upon those He died to save.  Remember this admonition and promise of God!  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NIV)  When you look at someone who irritates you or frustrates you or seems less good than you, remember that your only responsibility is to gaze with wonder at how marvelously God will make perfect those He died to save and in prayer thank Him for making “all things new”.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Broken Bread


Luke 24:35 NIV
Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Does It Matter To You What Christ Wants?

The world is morphing at light speed.  Yet the most important parts of life have not changed a whit since Adam and Eve left the garden and pursued their dreams with Sin permeating their thinking.  We must contend with the same concerns David, the second King of Israel, did as well as those of the disciples who followed Jesus.  Last week I was asked by someone whose opinion matters to me, “Why do you stay with that same little church?  Why don’t you do something different?”  Someone else wanted to know what I planned on doing with the books I have written.  The implication was that my life might improve if I made certain changes.  Of course I was glad that people I love care about me and I knew they meant well but both times I found my heart pricked by a pang of disappointment that troubled me.  Why do I face so many difficulties?  What can I do to improve my life?  Do I need to make a change?  Should I be a bit more proactive in meeting my own needs?  Have I thrown away my life doing what I do?

You have important decisions to make about how you will use the time you have been given.  It is a bit daunting trying to have the best life possible because you only have one shot at it and then you are finished, at least with this temporal existence.  Without becoming overly melodramatic, there is a certain urgency to your decisions, as probably you want to make the most of what you do and squeeze out of your life the greatest amount of fulfillment you can.  There has been a philosophy which nearly all people around the world have adopted and it is illustrated by a request two of Jesus’ disciples had for Christ.  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."   "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." (Mark 10:35-37 NIV)

Is it crazy to want something for yourself?  Don’t you have a right to try and make the most of your life, to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams?  The Christian community generally believes James and John were philosophically in step with the great human push for fulfillment and personal achievement.  Much of the Church promotes this line of thinking and in fact usually celebrates it.  Jesus however seemed perturbed by the request and His response to the brothers reflected that.  Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)

This of course was not what the disciples were expecting and if it were not for our familiarity with the text, it would not be for us either.  Consider carefully Jesus’ response when told by the twelve disciples that the huge crowd He had been teaching was famished.  "You give them something to eat." (Luke 9:13 NIV)  What were they supposed to do?  They didn’t have the money to pay for food for the crowd of thousands and although they were able to come up with two small fish and five loaves of bread between them, it seemed ludicrous to think they should provide food for all the people.  Keep in mind what Jesus demanded.  He did not expect them to be able to feed everyone.  He did tell the disciples to give the crowd the food they had after He blessed it.  There was no room here for the twelve to get a snack for themselves first before they started giving away the bread and fish.  They had to hand over all they had without any promise of getting any of it back.

The Sermon on the Mount is often read but rarely taken seriously.  We solemnly proclaim it as “God’s word” but mostly ignore it.  Notice the theme woven throughout.  Here is just a quick overview of some of what is found in it.  Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42 NIV)  And then He tells us what to do about our enemies.  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...(Matthew 5:44 NIV)  Further, we are not even free to entertain ourselves however we want in the sanctity of our own mind.  I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28-29 NIV)  Even if we are justified in our anger over how we are treated, we do not have the right to hold a grudge.  We are to forgive immediately any mistreatment we have received.  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)  Perhaps most difficult of all, we are not free to criticize others.  "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NIV)

If you put all of these admonitions of Christ together, you do not find a formula for success!  In fact, it does not even seem to matter to God how things go for you, whether you are liked or not, whether you have fun or don’t, whether you get what you have earned or you are cheated out of what you deserve.  You are here it seems, to make the lives of others better no matter how much it costs you.  That of course is not the Christianity we find promoted but it is what Christ has said Christianity is.  I recently heard of a pastor who discovered a couple of bags of trash dumped in the church dumpster by someone from the neighbor and not with the church.  He found somehow the address of who it was that left it there and brought all the trash back to the person’s house.  Is that what we find described in the Sermon on the Mount?

The Old Testament has a lovely picture of how Christianity is intended to look.  In the badly corrupted kingdom of Israel, a pagan king and queen ruled.  The person they put in charge of their palace was Obadiah, a man of faith who risked his life to save over a hundred prophets of God from being murdered by King Ahab’s soldiers.  The great prophet Elijah approached Obadiah while Obadiah was walking through the countryside.  Elijah wanted a meeting with King Ahab and asked Obadiah to arrange it due to his connection as palace administrator. 

As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Is it really you, my lord Elijah?"   "Yes," he replied. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'"  "What have I done wrong," asked Obadiah, "that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?  As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you.  But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.'  I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth.  Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water…And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!" (1 Kings 18:7-10, 14)

Obadiah faced a very real dilemma.  Would he risk his life to do what Elijah asked?  Without complaint he already had done more than enough to qualify as a good and godly man but now it felt like too much to ask of him.  Many will only go so far when it comes to practicing Christianity.  When it gets uncomfortable or inconvenient, how easy to just walk away from the tough demand of God!  Many Christian people are good at telling God, “No!”  Obadiah took the demand of Elijah as some sort of punishment. “What have I done wrong?”  He had not done anything wrong!  He was in fact gloriously right in his actions.  So why did God put him in such a dangerous spot?  God chose Obadiah to bless God’s people by giving up his right to manage his life as he saw fit.    How would he do it?  By opening the door for Elijah to speak with King Ahab!

We do not choose how God will use us to feed the world.  Like bread that is broken off and shared or juice that is poured into a cup and passed along, we are nourishment for a world hungry for God.  Your ignoring of an insult, generous gift, kind words, moral purity, love for people who should be despised is the bread God uses to feed starving people.   You may say that it does not matter if I hold back my criticism but you cannot know who will notice what you have done and be drawn to Christ by it.  When you are not aware of God using you, when you are simply doing the good thing our Lord has said to do, Christ will use that good thing to nourish someone, encourage someone, strengthen someone or heal a wound in someone.  You may not know in your lifetime what a great deed you did simply by forgiving someone or not paying attention to the mistake that person made but someday you will see how you were nourishing bread for a person starving for the generosity of God; thirsty for His mercy.


Imagine the tiny desert lily, hidden away next to a rock but without warning a gentle breeze carries its fragrance off to an unsuspecting soul who at the moment it reaches her, gains courage to try to put her marriage back together, stop drinking or find enough hope to go to one more job interview.  In that instant, the forgotten lily becomes the hand of God when He seemed to be no longer there.  You are that lily and by just doing what God says to do, your fragrance brings hope once more to those who may have lost hope along the way.  Never underestimate the power of Christ to transform your simple actions of generosity, kindness and forgiveness into the power God uses to put together new lives through the Gospel of Christ.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hope


Micah 7: 7 NIV
But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord.  I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me…

Why Is There So Much Waiting?

The other day I needed to call the city garbage service because the church recycling dumpster hadn’t been emptied.  I spent twenty minutes waiting on the phone for someone to help me.  Later I tried to figure out how to get my new Bluetooth speaker to sync with my computer.  I searched on line for solutions and nothing worked.  After an hour going through various options trying to locate the Bluetooth device in my laptop, I discovered that I did not have one so I would need to buy a device to plug into it that would allow me to have Bluetooth.  The next morning I went down to an electronics store only to discover that it did not open for another hour and so I returned to my office and went on with my work.  That night I returned to the electronics store and purchased an inexpensive device that would give me Bluetooth capability.  In the morning I opened the packaging and installed the adapter.  It worked.  I excitedly turned on my speaker and tried to connect to it with my computer.  No sound came through my speaker…at least no musical sounds.  I could tell that it was wirelessly connected to my laptop because the speaker actually told me it was but I could not get it to play my songs from ITunes.  I was able to finally get in touch with a service representative from the company that made the speaker and after an hour on the phone with her trying various suggestions for getting it to work, I discovered that the Bluetooth wasn’t the problem nor was the speaker.  It was ITunes.  I then contacted Apple services to try to find out why ITunes would not let me connect with the wireless speaker and all the service rep could offer was to download the latest version of ITunes.  This of course took time and didn’t change anything.  He was supposed to call me in an hour to see if downloading the new ITunes version took care of the problem.  Hoping that he might be able to provide a solution, I counted down the minutes until the Apple rep promised he would get back in touch with me.  I regretted getting the speaker.  I regretted getting my laptop.  I regretted having music on my computer.  Yet I still had hope that I could eventually get the speaker to work with my computer but all the waiting seemed like a terrible waste of time. What a hassle!

It may seem to you like half your life is spent waiting.  You wait for the traffic to clear.  You wait in line at stores.  You wait to see your doctor.  You wait for programs to download.  You wait for your children to finish their work.  You wait for phone calls or text replies.  You wait for work to end or school to finish or graduation to come or the wedding to arrive.  You wait to be loved.  You wait to get over illnesses.  You wait for answers that never seem to come.  Many times you wait and do not even know if all your waiting was worth it.  Yet you do wait, hoping that something good will come of all your waiting.  For many the waiting is so painfully long that they weep silently by themselves.  Others get angry and take out their frustration on their family members.  Some grow depressed.  Plenty stop trying.  Many lose hope!  Waiting takes its toll on you.  It can break your heart and sometimes your health.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible indicates that waiting can be good for us.  But it is not just random waiting; it isn’t every kind of waiting that helps us.  A particular type of waiting is what improves our lives.  The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way.  But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)  Notice the difference in how the NIV translates this same verse.  …but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)  The King James version translates the Hebrew verb Kavah as “wait” and the NIV makes it “hope”.  The difference between the two at first glance seems wide.  Few of us like waiting, but hope, that sounds good.  Hope is what you do within; wait is what is forced upon you.  We wait because we have to wait.  We hope because we choose to hope.

Yet if you think about it, waiting is something that is required for hoping.  Hope cannot occur if there is not something delayed; something that potentially is on the way.  Hoping without waiting is like having an ice cream sundae without ice cream.  Hope is by definition a form of waiting.  You can of course wait without hope but you cannot hope if you do not wait.  Now our verse that we just considered makes a distinction that must be pondered.  There is a waiting that is not “upon the Lord” and hoping that is not “in the Lord”.  Only hoping or waiting that has the Lord at the center of it is promised a renewing of strength.  Your waiting that does not make God its object might result in renewed strength but there is no promise of it.  Hoping or waiting that makes God the reason for hope or the object of waiting always results in a growing stronger, a moving forward and going somewhere.

The Bible warns about certain kinds of hope.  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth… (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)   Likewise, it is foolish to hope your power can protect you. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing. (Proverbs 11:7 NIV)  Entire countries and city states have hoped that all they have accumulated in trade and industry will keep them safe but they have been proven to be terribly wrong in such hope.  Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire.  Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither.  Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. (Zechariah 9:3-5 NIV)  The horse in the Bible and other ancient writings has long symbolized the vast assortment of weapons of warfare that armies count on to bring them victory but there is not a weapon invented that can save a nation from God’s judgement. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. (Psalm 33:17 NIV)  In the end, death puts a stop to all hope not resting in God.  For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life? (Job 27:8 NIV)

What is often misunderstood about hope is that there are two types of hope.  The first is a hope based upon evidence that is contrary to what will take place.  It is like hoping you will be proven right that the earth is flat.  Adam was wrong to hope that following Eve’s lead would make them both happy.  King David was wrong to think that gathering more wives would improve his life and Sarah was wrong to put her hope in letting her husband sleep with the slave girl Hagar.  The outcome of hope is not always happiness or peace or security or contentment.

The second sort of hope is built on evidence that is aligned with what shall take place.  The evidence may be slight, nearly nonexistent, like Mary and Martha hoping Jesus would save their brother Lazarus but what hope they had was placed in something that would happen. Their hope of course was proven right when Christ raised their brother fron the dead.  Neither the amount of evidence nor the sort of evidence is what determines if a particular hope should continue.  All that matters is what the outcome will be.  Now this is where it gets tricky.  When God looked at Adam and Eve, even after they sinned, He had hope that He could turn their lives around.  Why?  Because He knew what He was going to do for them!  When Jeremiah looked back at Jerusalem and the walls of the city that had been destroyed, the buildings that had been wrecked and burned to the ground, the dead bodies scattered about, he had hope that it would be rebuilt because the Lord told Him it would be.  The thief dying on the cross next to Jesus had hope that he had a wonderful life ahead of him because Jesus told him that the same day he would be with Christ in paradise.

What makes hope, hope?  It is not the evidence you possess or the lack of evidence there, it is the fact that the object of your hope has not yet come to pass.  Hope must always involve waiting.  Hope does not exist if there is no waiting.  What you want to happen or expect to happen or dream of happening is stalled for one reason or another; that is why you hope.  Hope though must be carefully considered.  Not all hope is the same.  There is hope that will break your heart and hope that will give you joy.  In the Bible there is the account of a woman who seemed to be infertile or perhaps was.  Her misery over being childless was extreme.  When God told Hannah through a prophet Eli that she would have a child, she left the Temple happy because she was certain that it was God telling her she would become pregnant.  All the time she stayed in Jerusalem with her husband and as she traveled back to her home, this woman maintained hope that she would eventually be a mother.  It had not happened and even when she became pregnant, before she knew she was pregnant, she had to rely upon hope to see her through.  But then when she gave birth to a son, Hannah no longer had hope of motherhood because hope did not exist there any longer.  When Josiah the King gathered his army and went off to fight the Egyptians, he had hope that he would defeat them.  But, he did not have any indication from God that he would succeed and when he died in battle, Josiah’s hope died with him.  It matters what is the basis of our hope.

Years ago the Lord told me that Mary Jo and I would have Rachel our daughter.  It was just as certain that Christ spoke to me about this as if a voice filled with thunder burst into my ears.  Of course, we did not have Rachel yet.  I had hope that we would have Rachel and now we do.  I also at one time hoped that I would make my high school basketball team but I did not.  My hope was based not upon what God shared with me but upon my own desire to make the team.  It matters what your source of hope is.  How do you know if your hope is built upon God or not?  It is difficult at first.  Many times you will be wrong. But there are certain things in the Bible that are clear and sure but have not come to pass yet.  You know your hope in those things is hope generated by God.  You must never back off from hoping about them.  But what about praying for things to come to pass?  Why is it so important that we pray for things?  Prayer is hope…it is always hope.  But it is a mixture of hope in God and hope in what you want, hope generated by your thoughts.  How do you know that when you pray, your hope is from God or from you?  For a while you don’t.  You are guessing.  But as your ability to hope in God grows by means of your experience of faith in Him and love for Him, you will hope more and more through God and less and less through yourself.  You will begin to realize what should be an object of hope for you and what shouldn’t because you will know what Christ is saying to you about it.  Eventually, your hope will be the same as God’s hope and when that is so, every prayer you pray will come to be.

In the Bible we are told that hope is always going to exist, that we will never get past waiting.  We will forever be anticipating something of God, looking forward to something from Him.   And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)  Waiting, just like hope, will always be with you and me.  It is not an enemy.  It is a mechanism by which our faith grows and our love for Christ deepens.  Hope in anything is a waste of time if it does not start with your love for Christ and your confidence that He loves you and that He will work everything out in your life so that eventually you will be perfect in every way.  When you have that sort of hope, hope in Christ, hope in His love for you, it will be wonderful waiting for what comes next.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7: 7 NIV

Monday, November 13, 2017

Unmasking Christ


Isaiah 48: 6 NIV
"From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.”

What Do You Know About Jesus?


The other day I stood at the door while eighth graders filed past me as they entered the classroom where I was to be their substitute teacher.  I heard one say, “Oh, we have a sub!”  I don’t know if that was good or bad.  Was she happy there was a substitute teacher or disappointed?  I wasn’t greeted.  Eye contact was not made with me.  The girl just walked past me and made the declaration, “We have a sub!”  She did not know me and I did not know her and it seems unlikely we would ever come across each other again in this life unless of course I was a substitute teacher in another class of hers.  What struck me was that I was a category, not a person.  The only characteristic I possessed that this young teen cared about was that I was a sub.  She was not wondering about me at all.  It did not matter if I was young or old, married or single, a father, a Raiders or a Patriots fan, a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu, an intellectual or a high school dropout, a nice guy or mean and disinterested in what I did.  The girl did not even worry herself over whether I was a human being or some creature from another galaxy.  I was a sub and that was all that mattered.  This girl did not have any interest in knowing anything else about me.

When someone like the famous atheist Carl Sagan makes clear that he has no interest in finding out anything about God, no one is surprised.  It seems normal for him to not even have a bit of curiosity about the Creator.  When someone who is Hindu or Buddhist makes no effort to learn about Christ, we aren’t shocked.  But if a person who claimed to have an interest in Christianity did not care about finding out what God was like or how Christ thought about things, we might wonder about that.  It would maybe be odd if you did not show interest in knowing more about God; if you were in fact satisfied that you knew all you cared about knowing when it came to Christ.  Now we come against a rather stunning discovery.  Many Christians without saying it have decided they know all they need to know about Christ; that they have come far enough in their understanding of Him to be satisfied.  What about you?  Have you gone as far as you care to go in your familiarity of God and what He is like?  What is your true interest level in God and how He is personally?

When we think of heaven and eternal life and the rewards of God, we don’t generally think along the right lines of all this.  Jesus defined the chief characteristic of eternal life when He was praying in front of the disciples just before being arrested and crucified.  He declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV)  Eternal life is knowing God; knowing Jesus Christ.  That is all there is to it.  Nothing about streets of gold or great food or new bodies!  The most crucial aspect of eternal life is knowing God.  The verb translated “know”, has two qualities to it.  It is intimate knowledge, not hearsay, not proclaimed and overheard but personal knowledge that is experienced.  Second, it is a knowledge that keeps developing, keeps happening.  It is not the knowledge of a moment but the knowledge of everlasting, of never-ending.  Eternal life is God and more God and more God.  It is like falling in love and never wanting to back away or take a break but being so head over heels in love that you cannot get enough of the one you love.  There is always something more wonderful and beautiful to discover, always something more fascinating and electrifying to learn.  That is eternal life.  Getting to know God more and more and never being bored of it, never getting weary of it because it is too good to quench.

Here is the problem we face.  We have the heritage of Adam and Eve as our own.  Before Adam sinned, he walked with God and enjoyed Him continuously but as soon as he sinned, Adam hid from God and did not want to be seen by Him, did not want to talk with Him or be with Him.  That is the heritage of the human race.  Sin has made God irrelevant in us; unattractive to us and uninteresting.  We certainly want Him to give us something but the interest is more in what He gives than who He is.  It is like Jacob, who when he found out his father Isaac was going to bestow a blessing on Jacob’s older brother Esau, he dressed up as Esau to fool his blind father into giving him the blessing rather than who his father wanted to have it, Esau.  Jacob did not care how it hurt his father to be fooled.  He did not love his father enough to let him do what made him happy.  He did not want to know why his father felt strongly about giving the blessing to Esau. Jacob just wanted the blessing…but…and we are not being too judgmental to see it…Jacob was not very interested in the father behind the blessing.  That is the curse of sin in us.  It makes God less inviting and less desirable than whatever He might give us.

There is a fascinating case study in the Bible of just what it is like to begin the journey of eternal life and it is a mirror of our own experience.  When Jesus invited Peter to follow Jesus, he knew enough about Christ to do so.  What information he had, we cannot say exactly but it was enough for Peter. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."   At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20 NIV)  Sometime later, after having seen some of Jesus’ miraculous deeds and listened to Him teach, Peter made a most surprising decision.  When a great storm arose on the Sea of Galilee and Peter was with the other disciples, off in the distance came someone walking toward them on the water and everyone in the boat thought it was a ghost.  It was of course Jesus and when the Lord reassured them that it was Him, Peter asked if he could climb out of the boat and walk on the water too and Jesus told him to come on out and join him.  But after just a few steps, Peter looked at the waves and his faith in Christ sank.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:29-31 NIV) Now Peter knew by experience, personal experience, something about Jesus he did not know before.  He could trust Jesus to take care of him in even the worst of circumstances.  That is eternal life; knowing more of Christ.

Later, Peter was on a hill with James and John and Jesus when something wild happened.  About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." (Luke 9:28-36 NIV)  What an amazing experience.  Peter got to meet the legends Moses and Elijah.  What he did not know until then was that Jesus was not on a par with Moses and Elijah.  He was not their equal, not their peer.  He was the Son, He was their God.  He did not know this before.  He thought he knew who Jesus was but He was much more than Peter realized.  He was the Son.  This was eternal life.  He knew more about Christ than he did before.

A fourth experience of Peter gives us an even better idea of what eternal life is.  Boldly, before Jesus died, Peter announced to everyone including Jesus that he was far more brave and loyal to Jesus than any of the others.  Jesus was not very encouraging.  He told Peter that Peter would in fact deny that he was one of Jesus’ followers three times in the next few hours and that of course is what happened.  Peter was heartbroken later when it came to pass and he felt like an absolute failure.  But after Jesus returned to life and began meeting with the disciples and others, Christ pulled Peter aside and three times asked Peter if Peter loved Him, the exact same number of times, Peter cowardly denied knowing Jesus.  In the end the Lord gave Peter a special mission one that required great courage and dedication.  Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."   Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" (John 21:17-19 NIV)  Here, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Peter found out how merciful Jesus is.  Christ did not hold Peter’s cowardice against him.  He did not lose confidence in Peter.  He gave Peter a mission, to take care of the new community of Christians who would soon join them and He did so without any sort of warnings against failing.  Jesus, Peter learned does not hold our sins and failures against us but builds up our lives and gives us honorable work to do.  Peter learned something new about Jesus and that is eternal life.  He discovered how kind and generous Jesus is.

One more moment we can consider about Peter’s life.  After Jesus went back to heaven and physically left the disciples, now known as Apostles, they all were gathered together praying when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to speak in all sorts of foreign languages that were supernaturally given to them.  A crowd was nearby made up of people from various parts of the world.  As the Apostles preached to the mass of people, each one understood perfectly in his or her own language what the Apostles were saying.  This was a miracle and one that was stupendous but that was not the greatest miracle that day.  What the Apostles discovered and Peter in particular was that God took them all in, regardless of race or national origin; gave each of them salvation.  Peter saw, and more fully than he had ever seen before, that Jesus is Savior no matter who you might be or what you have done or where you have been.  Christ takes the sin out of you and makes you perfect in every way.  All the heartache, all the anger and bitterness, all the hard feelings and held grudges, all corrupt lusts and selfishness and wrecked parts, Christ saves you from them.  There is not a part of you that Jesus will not make perfect and completely good and lovely.  He will do this for every person who comes to Him for salvation.  He is Savior.

This week, become attentive to Christ.  Think about Him.  Let your thoughts turn to Him again and again.  Assume He will talk to you.  There is so much for you to learn about Christ.  So much you don’t know.  You and I are like little children.  We have just begun to begin to get to know Jesus and to find out what He is like.  If the Bible is true, and we say it is, then God is love and the more you know the love of God, the more joyous and peaceful and full of hope your life will be.  Make Christ the center of your thinking this week and every time He comes to mind, be prepared for our Lord to show you something you have never seen before.