Monday, June 30, 2014

Are You a Secret Disciple? 6/30/2014

"After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight." John 19:38-39

It is not until the aftermath of Jesus' traumatic sacrifice that we are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea. We are told in Mark's account that he was a prominent member of the council. Though previously introduced, we are also made aware of Nicodemus who himself is a member of the council. There are two other very interesting things that that this duo has in common. One is that they both wanted to take responsibility for the body of Jesus after his death. The other is that they are "secret disciples," Nicodemus having previously come to Jesus under cover of darkness.

The question must be asked, can one truly be a disciple of the Lord in secret? It is true that both of these men are described as lovers of God. It is true that they ultimately acted in the service of the Lord. It is also true, however, that during Christ's ministry, they kept their feelings for him to themselves and did nothing to support his mission. Scriptures reveal that fear was what caused them to remain hidden.

Beloved, we are not in the same place, time, circumstance or culture as these men but so many of us share "secret discipleship" with them. This condition involves internal acknowledgement and perhaps even love for the Savior but little to no external acknowledgement outside the occasional worship attendance and little to no works of service in his name. The "secret disciples" do not share their faith or the gospel out of fear of being ridiculed, ostracized or perhaps fired. Invitations to worship and bible studies are not extended to acquaintances and friends may not even realize that Christianity is part of their lives. Traits like these must beg the question whether a person is a Christian at all.

It is true that Jesus warned his followers that the Christian life would potentially be unpopular among the masses, but he encouraged that we live the Christian life and proclaim the gospel boldly. Most notably, Jesus said in Mark 8:38, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” I don't know about you church but I want to be claimed by the Lord so I am sure to claim him every day.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Judge Me 6/23/2014 (rp)

"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  John 7:24

It is kind of a running joke in my family that when someone makes a goofy mistake, there comes a loud and defensive, albeit joking, "Don't judge me!" by the perpetrator.  The reply, invented by the youngest of the kids is, "It's too late.  You've already been judged."

In Christianity, we advocate the avoidance of judging others and cite scriptures like Matt 7:1-2 but then we do it anyway.  Jesus addressed this contradiction by referencing the fact that there were those who wanted to kill him for miraculously healing someone on the Sabbath, a day on which no work was to be done.  He pointed out that they circumcised babies on the Sabbath when the 8th day after birth fell on that day in order to keep the law but they wanted to destroy him for obeying God's ultimate law of love.

Beloved, it is not that we should not judge, but how we judge, be it favorably or unfavorably.  When Jesus said, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged" in Matt 7:21, he was cautioning against having an attitude that results in unjustly looking upon  the character of another and making rash and unloving judgments about them.  To be sure, we must take a stand for righteousness and be able to correct our brothers and sisters when it is needed (Prov 27:6, Gal 6:1-2); however, we must consider the spirit in which this is done.  Do we jump to uninformed and mean spirited conclusions based on what we see on the surface, or worse, what we have heard from others or do we apply love to the situation and treat others as we would want to be treated?

When Jesus healed despite the Sabbath, the rules of which had been extended far beyond what God stipulated by man, he did so out of love for someone who was hurting.  His adversaries were upset and accused him of having a demon, being a blasphemer and many other things.  This was done out of hatred, using the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law to persecute him.  Worse, it was the law that they set aside or reinterpreted when it was convenient to do so, often for much less noble reasons.  Everything about this type of judgmental behavior is to be avoided.  Jesus has said that when we do that to others, the same will be done to us.



Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Power Through Your Worst Day Ever 6/16/2014

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself." John 13:1-4

Life is great. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all blessed beyond measure. The reality is, however, that there are times when terrible and traumatic things happen within our blessed existence. We lose jobs, relationships fall apart, health fails and we suffer the loss of loved ones. At times like these, we can feel that we are at the very bottom of our existence and are without hope. How do we handle it? How do we survive? What do we do?

Consider Jesus' worst day ever. Unlike most of us, he knew that his worst day was coming for most, if not all of his life, most certainly throughout his 3 year ministry. He repeatedly warned his followers that it would come. He endured betrayal by one of his inner circle. And when he took his closest companions to keep watch with him while he agonized over what was about to happen and they couldn't even stay awake. Of course these and other things are just the preamble to the horror of his trial, scourging and crucifixion. Most of us would have called down the legion of angels or responded in some other way that would have stopped the suffering and closed the disrespectful mouths that taunted him but Jesus did not. How did he do it?

Beloved, there are several keys from which we can learn that Jesus himself revealed in John 13:1-4:

"He knew that his hour had come"-This tells us that Jesus understood his purpose. Not only did he come to "seek and save the lost" but he also came to take on the sins of the world and be the sacrifice for us all, thus making that salvation possible. We too have a purpose. We are to share the good news with the lost and to make ourselves a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God." Likewise, we know as he did that tough times will come. We can and should be prepared.

"He loved them to the end"-As Jesus was motivated by love for the Father and love for us in all that he did, we likewise must be ruled by it. Jesus once said, "Love others as I have loved you." He loved sacrificially. As we endure trials, we must keep his love for us and our love for him at the forefront of our minds and hearts. This will help us endure and succeed.

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands..."-Jesus had power, might and control of everything. At any time he could have brought all of his suffering to an end but he chose to use that power to endure for the greater good. We may not have power to stop our own suffering but we know that "We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us." We have power. That power can help us endure, succeed and win, all while encouraging others as Christ's example encourages us.

"He had come forth from God and was going back to God"-Jesus was in touch with his identity. He knew exactly who he was and did what was necessary to live up to his name, his purpose and his calling. He also knew his destination and looked forward to returning home. We must likewise know who we are and more importantly whose we are. The Lord has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." When we are in the depth of despair and suffering, we must know and believe that we are not alone but that God is with us every step of the way. We must also know that our Lord has gone to prepare a place for us and will return to collect us. We, like he, have a destination to which to look forward.

When the tough times come, and they inevitably will, let us reflect on the ultimate example of our Savior. He has endured on our behalf and have equipped us to do so for his glory.



Monday, June 9, 2014

The Greener Grass 6/9/2014

"So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord." Genesis 13:11-13

Abram, later known as Abraham, obediently followed the word of the Lord when He told him to leave his home and his family and go to a land that would ultimately be given to his descendants. Along the way, he and his nephew, Lot, would become so prosperous that their herdsmen began to fight amongst themselves over grazing and watering their respective herds. Not wanting any strife between the two of them Abram suggested that they separate. He gave Lot the choice. Lot, surveying all in front of him chose the fertile valley (the greener grass if you will). Along with this choice he also put himself and his family in proximity to arguably the worst and most godless people on earth at the time.

Beloved, we make choices every day of our lives. Some are minor and require little thought while others are momentous and should be made after considerable thought, research and prayer. Too often, we choose based on what seems to be most advantageous at the time. And while this may make some sense, prayer and the weighing of all pros and cons will likely produce better choices. Life has given us the colloquialisms that "the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence" and that "all that glitters is not gold." These sayings, no doubt, came from hard lessons experienced by many over a long period of time, yet we continue to fall victim to bad decisions.

Though it may have appeared to be a wise choice at the time (the evil of Sodom notwithstanding), we know that Lot endured kidnapping (Genesis 14:12), the vexing of his righteous soul (2 Peter 2:7) and ultimately the loss of everything, including his wife, during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abram, on the other hand, kept his trust in God rather than what he could see and became the father of a nation and the one from whose faith, all believers are descendants.

Let us not make choices based on the greenness of the grass but on the faithfulness of God.



Monday, June 2, 2014

Extending the Invitation 6/2/2014 (rp)

"When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?'  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)"  Jn 4:7-9 (NIV)

Beloved, the gospel is not a secret and Christianity is not some sort of exclusive club (insofar as that everyone is welcome).  In fact, it could be compared to the Ark on which Noah vigorously invited everyone to join him and his family due to the impending deluge.  Noah cared for his fellow man.  It could just as easily be compared to a hospital where the sick are invited to come for healing (which everyone could use in some form).  Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are dedicated to this pursuit.  The key to both of these analogies is the invitation.  The key to the invitation, with the understanding that love and compassion drives it, is how it is made.

Jesus, our great example and inspiration did three great things to extend the ultimate invitation.  First, he went where he would not normally go.  There was a hundreds of years old schism between Jews and their compromised relatives, the Samaritans.  Samaria was avoided by Jews and the name was often used as an insult.  Samaritans in turn felt the same way about the Jews.  So it was completely out of what would be expected for someone of Jesus' knowledge and de facto authority to even be in Samaria.

Second, Jesus did what he might not normally have done.  It was highly unusual for someone who was considered a rabbi to be in a private conversation with a woman, particularly one who was "involved."  Speaking of involved, Jesus later demonstrates knowledge that she is co-habitating with a man that is not one of the 5 husbands she has had.  Some even accuse her of harlotry.  Added to this, he asked her for a drink.  Because the passage later reveals that he had nothing with which to draw water, he could only have drunk after her or use her vessel.  There are all kinds of ceremonial purity issues here, nevertheless, Jesus, because of his great love, was some place he should not have been, doing something he should not have done.  This is said from the standpoint that once his apostles returned and came upon this scene, they had some serious unarticulated questions, but would not even acknowledge the presence of the woman.

Finally, Jesus met her in the location and the condition that she was.  It was entirely unlikely that she would ever leave her confines to seek Jesus for the truth.  She did not even know who he was and she had her own understanding of truth (vs. 20).  It was therefore necessary that if she was to ever experience the safety of the Ark or the cures associated with the hospital someone had to make the information known.  Someone had to go to where she was and minister to her even in her sinful condition in a loving way.  Jesus has done the same thing for you.  Will you do likewise for someone else?  Will you extend yourself to extend the invitation?