God's Movement in the Unspectacular

God's Movement in the Unspectacular

The people of God (his Church) is the visible expression of his movement in the world. We are what he is doing to make his world right again, beautiful again.

Along those lines, Mark Sayers says this: 

"Slowly spilling out, across the [Roman] empire, one life at a time, a rumbling, rolling revolution was breaking out. It did not happen in the spotlight, it was not thrilling or spectacular- at least in the way that the pagan mind understood it. It seemed to exist in the dark, underground places; in the quietness of rooms, catacombs, and the ordinariness of life. Yet there was nothing ordinary about it."

Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, pg 20

Father in heaven, bring your kingdom. All you want, here.

 

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

The Witness

In his book, Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers tells a story of walking into the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, Australia and pondering the photos on the wall of a everyday Jewish family in prewar Poland. He then goes on to remark “The story of the young man’s life accompanies the photos. The initial persecution of the Jews, the transportation to the camps, then the death of his entire family.” 

Then he hears a voice behind behind him that startles him. The voice has a face and that face is remarkably like the face of a boy in the pictures in front of him. The old man was the boy in the picture and the survivor asks “Would you like to ask me anything?”

Sayers wants to ask this man the right question and, in his head, goes through a list of questions that might be appropriate for this sacred moment with a man who has seen so much. Sayers describes his inward struggle in what to ask and then realizes something simple, but profound. To use his words:”I realize I am not talking to a professor, an expert, an author, or a commentator. I am speaking to a witness.”

That last sentence grabbed me, so I grabbed my computer to start writing this.

Being a “witness” is not just being on the scene, but experiencing the scene, being immersed in the scene in a way that it changes us. This man in the museum was not just a history buff, but he is history. He didn’t just observe the atrocities, the atrocities affected him. He is an insider, one who the holocaust happened to and not merely one who has researched it.

You Had to Be There

“You will be my witnesses..” seems to be to be much more than being a clever storyteller. (see Acts 1:8) There was a sense of gravitas, a sense of reality in the man who lived in the concentration camp and could winsomely tell the story about the reality of it. When talking about marriage generally, I can speak about the beauty of the institution. When I talk about my wife, I can passionately talk about the meaning of the institution…because she gives meaning to it for me. Both are beautiful, but talking about my marriage to Adrienne has meaning to it that is indescribable. A man who lost so much in concentration camps in Nazi occupied Europe has more to share than a mere interesting tale.

Can They Get a Witness?

As I type, I see dozens of people pass me to go down the road to wherever they are spending today. I look at them and wonder who they are. Statistically, more than nine out of ten of the people who pass me are unaware of the powerful reality around them that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is everywhere around them, filling the universe and the details in it, but invisible to both their eyes and the eyes of their hearts.

I don’t know them, but I would imagine that they are like so many people I meet. There are those who live lives shaped by the latest fad that gives them some feeling of being part of the ”in crowd.” There are some who spend much of their life trying to get by, making money to survive this week and wondering where next week’s meals will come from. There are those whose lives are dominated by fear, pride, questions, and the next emotional or chemical “fix.” Then there are those who have the time and resources to examine “life” and find that their world is deeply complicated, if not chaotic.

These are the people to which Jesus sent his “witnesses.”

Those first men and women Jesus sent out saw something. No, not just “saw something”, but were immersed by the reality of being part of Jesus’ life. I always thought that the power Jesus promised was the power to accomplish a task. As true as that may be, that’s not all. I believe the power of the Spirit on them was the power to continue to be immersed in the reality of Jesus’ life and to be a window into the reality of the greatness of the person of Jesus. This is transforming.

Witnesses are More than Storytellers

The life and words of the witnesses are an experience for the hearer. They bring a sacred moment with them wherever they go. But to bring the sacred with them, the witness must first experience the reality of Jesus deeply. If he is merely a character in an interesting story, that story will never change a life. The witness must be invited into the story of Jesus. There is a big difference between reading about how Jesus calmed a storm someone else was in and seeing him come through in the storm I am in. One gives warm feelings that fade away through the day. The other creates a sense of overwhelming awe and humility that will not wear of. The reality of the greatness of this Man is imprinted on us.

Maybe we don't have witnesses because we don't want Jesus to bring us into his story, with all of the thunder, lightning, wetness and wonder.

Face to Face

This is too long already, but here is the point: those friends that I love dearly who so easily dismiss the story of Jesus need a powerful experience of his reality. Not mere reasoning, preaching, and storytelling, but a powerful witness that breaks through years of questioning and fearful rebellion.

What my friends need is to hear the story, but also come face to face with the One who was there…and become a witness themselves.

Powerfully Lowly

Powerfully Lowly

There is always more that I want to draw out from a text than I do during our Sunday evening gatherings and last night was not an exception to that.

There is a line in verse one of Joshua 1 that has so much weight to it that I could not deal with it along with everything else we talked about, though it might be the most important: "Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD..."

Leader, but More than Leader

If we know anything at all about Moses, it is that he was a leader. He was the one who went into the Tent of Meeting, heard the voice of God from the center of his overwhelming glory, and then went to shepherd a messy, stubborn group of people, following his command. There was no question that he led. But the Lord did not call him "My leader."

The title given to Moses was "my servant." And it was an honored title.

Long days in the wilderness first shepherding sheep, then shepherding people created something in the heart of Moses: lowliness. This was not his time to further his career or to make a name for himself, but a calling into a bigger picture. The only one who was qualified to fulfill Moses' role was one who was a servant by heart, shaped by trials and encouraged by Good's greatness. 

The Servant They Looked For

Moses dies then Joshua (the servant's servant) takes over. After Joshua they look for other leaders. Some were in the mold of Moses, but most were proud, self confident, and lived God-lessly even while proclaiming God's greatness.

The people of Israel always wanted strength in their leader, but often didn't realize where it came from. Over and over they desired this strength but didn't see that the real source of strength was not in stature or oratory ability, but in a contented lowliness that knew (KNEW!) that no one could rival God's glory...and delighted in having a lesser place than His.

In multiple chapters in Isaiah, a "servant" is spoken of, one who would be humble, yet effective. One who would be beautiful, but despise by many. One who would live out the strength of the Almighty to transform his world, but do it as a servant, not a despot. One who was so affected by the greatness of character of God than he would joyfully become nothing for God's sake. This servant would be like Moses, but (somehow) greater than Moses.

Not From the Outside...

Power is longed for, fought for, purchased and hoarded. Power is often the downfall of many who started off with a somewhat honestly desire to do some sort of good. Lord Acton said something like "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely," and that is true for all who would grasp for it.

But, real power does not come from grasping for it feverishly...even with "good" intentions. Real power cannot be fought for or won from someone else. A bizzaro power that subtlety destroys from the inside out can be grabbed, but real power comes from a very different source.

...But from the Servant Himself

When Jesus took off his disciple's sandals to wash their feet (see John 13:1-5) his disciples saw his power in a way that grasped them. The same man who spoke truth to powerful rulers and who called for "peace" from raging waters was joyfully and authentically doing something that only the most powerless persons in their time should do: serve. They could see (in part) in that moment that the real power wasn't bent on ruling, lording, and controlling others, but loving them with no thought of their own upward mobility.

But he wasn't done yet. No, the depth of his powerful lowliness was not yet expressed. Hours later, instead of using his infinite power to coerce and control, he gave himself to selfish power. Selfish power saw weakness where Jesus was teaching them strength. Selfish power saw poetry of power in Jesus while his real power displayed his humility. 

Jesus emptied himself. Jesus took on the form of a slave. Jesus became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Selfish power tried to destroy the source of his power, but only displayed it  beautifully in a way that the world could see. (see Philippians 2: 5-11)

Israel was looking for a servant like Moses, but more than Moses. Moses was lowly because he saw Glory and could not compare himself to the Glorious One.

Truer and Better

Jesus, though, is the truer and better servant. He is not true and better because he was looking outward to a greater glory- there is no greater glory. 

His servant heartedness is his glory. His lowliness displays his power. Our hearts long for a servant, who is powerfully lowly.

 

 

The Abiding Leader

The Abiding Leader

Mark Sayers is a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and a cultural commentator. In his book, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm he studies Western culture's drive [addiction?] for entertainment and how that has shaped the way we view what leadership should be.

With skill and thoughtfulness, Mr. Sayers looks at the state of our cultural climate and, with a prophetic gentleness, compares our current leadership values with the values of Jesus. There is so much that is helpful to me, but this quote in particular both challeneged me and encouraged me:

"When we withdraw [from worldly ideals of entertaining and showmanship to an abiding relationship with Jesus], we learn new movements. We move from striving to abiding, from competing to communing, from broadcasting to being. We make a break with the anxiety that drives so much of modern life and, sadly, so much of contemporary leadership." (Page 132)

Let's Just Be Realistic...

Let's Just Be Realistic...

After the China Inland Mission was beginning to be rooted in what God was doing in China and more and more people in England were hearing about it, Hudson Taylor began to get men and women who inquired of his request for eighteen more people to go into the unengaged provinces of China.

These were people who were not only believers, but also men and women who had some sort of desire to love and serve the people of China as well as share the good news of Jesus with Chinese friends.

Mr. Taylor, knowing the cost (and JOY!) of what it would mean for these people to follow Jesus into unevangelized parts of China, wrote to each of the inquirers these words:

"If you want hard work, and little appreciation of it; value God's approbation [approval] more than you fear man's disapprobation; are prepared, if need be, to seal your testimony with your blood, and perhaps oftentimes to take joyfully the spoiling of your goods [see Hebrews 10:34]... you may count on a harvest of souls here, and a crown of glory that fadeth not away, and the Master's 'well done.'"

(as recounted in Hudson Taylor: A Man In Christ by Roger Steer)

Luke 9:23–25: And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 

Everyday Wonders

Everyday Wonders

The word "hospitality" is a strange word to me. For most of my life I have not really understood or desired it. It sounded antiquated and far out of reach. That's what old people did before they had fun things like the intarwebs.

To think of having people in my home- sometimes coming too early and sometimes staying too late- is a little bit intimidating. "What will I have to say?" or "Will they feel comfortable?" or maybe even "Who ARE these people?" are questions that come to mind and make me want to draw back from opening our doors.

Guilty as Perceived

Then, there is the other side of it. Today, I met someone at an event who is a friend of a friend who invited my family over for dinner soon. The invitation felt awkward to me. What does he want from me to invite me before knowing my name? What would I be getting myself into? Maybe he is one of those strange religious-types who wants to force me to believe something.

Ugh. Now, I know how I may come across sometimes.

Embracing the Awkward

But, even though that awkwardness is there, there is still something compelling to me about letting people in, whether that is at our home or someone's home or a park in the neighborhood. As awkward as that can be (!!!), this is where real life is. No room for faux friendships when we are cramped and huddled around a table sharing a meal. At least not for long.

Communities Saturated in the Heart of God

My heart's desire is to see the Spirit create communities of the gospel around our area that live real hospitality. Not merely because it is a command put on us, but because it is a joy to us. The gospel can be shared over a meal or it can be a night of hilarious laughter watching someone go all in at Guesstures. Or Both. But, one way or another, God's Spirit is creating something beautifully counter-cultural.

It may be counter our own personal culture first...just as a side note.

Worth Your Next Sixish Minutes

In light of all that, I want to point you to a video I watched while I ate leftovers this afternoon. She will tell you some of her story, but Rosaria Butterfield saw what it means to be loved in biblical community though a family who sincerely just wanted to be her friend and neighbor- not a project. There is power in sincerely loving our neighbors. The Spirit worked everyday wonders.

Please take 6 minutes to watch the video. It is worth your time. Click here to watch it.

Also, dig into Mrs. Butterfield's story a little more. Look here for it. It will encourage you to hear how the Lord worked in her life through the messy simplicity of gospel infused friendship. 

 

New Life Pushes Out

New Life Pushes Out

"I didn't drop gambling because anybody preached against it. That kind of push never really works over the long haul. True Christian change works more like an old oak tree in the spring, when the new life inside pushes off the old dead leaves that still hang on."

Dr. John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, page 72 

(see also Galatians 2:20)

What's the Big Deal?!

What's the Big Deal?!

There was a little stream down a little hill from the apartment that my mom and I lived in around the 410 loop. It was a strange little stream. The concrete that was the stream bed told me that it was at least partially there because someone wanted it to be there and not all natural, but that didn't matter much to a curious two year old.

We only lived in San Antonio for a few months and I don't remember much of that time, but I do remember that stream, though, because I have always loved to play in the water. 

(Every time that I hike over a running stream these days I want to immerse myself in it, feel the water surround me, be immersed in its purity and coldness. I guess I have always been drawn to it.)

I think that our apartment windows faced outward and down towards the stream. I was intrigued by the water and was drawn to it. In the heat of a San Antonio summer, few things are as attracting as cool, running water (even if it was just a trickle because the sun lapped most of it up) and I remember heading down the hill intent on getting drenched. That's exactly what I did...and I loved it!

While I was splashing and playing in my little south Texas oasis, my mom called out from up the hill. You know how it is, selective hearing and all, so I didn't hear her at first. Then she came closer and called out again, this time in a way I had to catch on: "Wes, get out of that water and come here now!" So, obediently, I did, but inwardly I was grumbling to myself, "What is the big deal?!"

Really, what was the big deal?

Years later, I was driving with a friend through San Antonio and decided to drive by that old apartment off of the 410 loop. We didn't stop and explore the area, but as we drove by I noticed something I hadn't noticed before: the stream wasn't what I had imagined.

Water was flowing just like I remembered, but it wasn't the water I remembered. It wasn't a concrete-lined stream that was built for precocious little boys to enjoy and create treasured summer memories. It was a drainage ditch that carried away rain water (and anything the rain water gathered) that the city wanted to direct to the sewer system. The water started off clean enough, but as it traveled to where I used to play it gathered all kinds of muck and sewage and trash and...who knows what else. 

It wasn't meant for me. What looked like pleasure to me would only make me sick. I just couldn't see that before. It made me glad my mom called me out of the stream because I didn't know what I was doing...or better yet...I didn't know what it was doing to me.

Jeremiah 2:12–13: "Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
        be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD,
     for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
    and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
        broken cisterns that can hold no water."


“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

 

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

"We need to understand that God does at times give us an infusion of joy even in our bitterness and hard-heartedness. [see psalm 73:21-26] God's normal means of bringing his joy is by redeeming and sanctifying the ordinary junctures of human life.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 193

 

 

Where Endurance Comes From

Reading an account of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I am surprised at just how much Dr. King had to endure in his ambition to see real change happen in our society. Reading about this courageous and complicated man makes me ask the question about whether or not I have what it takes to be apart of what the Spirit is doing to create lasting, meaningful change in his world.

I long to see that change, person by person, reborn heart by reborn heart. ("Long" is not nearly a strong enough word: "have to" is closer.)

And after a short night's sleep and an anxious morning, everything in me says "I do not have what it takes."

How ignorant I am to think that Dr. King's only pushback was from the racist non-black community. That would be enough. But acting justly with racist opposition, governmental opposition, misunderstanding along with willful false defamation of his character, and dealing with his own doubts and fears had to have been overwhelming. On top of all of that were his brothers on the same side of the issue who thought he was weak and fought against him because Dr. King did not use unjust, violent force in order to put forward a just cause.

Entering into his life just a little this morning made me feel the weight of what it would take to stand up humbly for what my Father in heaven would like to create in his world. Anytime that any person wants to follow in Jesus' ways (as opposed to the ways of worldliness), that follower will encounter strong, overwhelming resistance. That is the nature of faithfulness.

So, how do I deal with this weight with despair...without losing heart?

While I am reading about Dr. King, an almost unnoticeable feeling of the reality of my inability to have that heart (much less the moral courage and the Christ-like wisdom), the Spirit did what he promised and fought for my heart with his truth. He reminded me of scripture:

2 Thessalonians 3:5: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness [or "endurance"] of Christ." (ESV) [My emphasis]

The truth is that I am not able to have the moral courage it takes to look spiritual evil in the eye and stand my ground. I do not have the emotional stamina to endure disappointment and the time it takes to wait on the Lord and see him breakthrough. 

There is another glorious truth too: the very same Jesus- who is the source of moral courage, enduring love for my neighbor, and joy that is unquenchable- lives in me. JESUS lives in me. Jesus LIVES in me. Jesus lives IN me. Jesus lives in ME! (see also Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27-29)

So, I will act today, knowing (even weakly) that Jesus lives in me. He lives HIS endurance in me. He is at work through me reconciling the world to himself...even through pushing back on all the ways of our lives that grieve Him.

Jesus (in me) is enough. This is his heart and his work, anyway.

Lord, create what you want in this world, out of me, out of your people, and in the lives of those who do not yet have the ability to trust you.

 

 

 

To Love My Neighbor is to Seek to Hear My Neighbor

People around us are deep mysteries. To love my neighbors means I need to understand them, to know them deeply even if they try hard not to be known. Every person has a culture and every relationship I have with someone is crossing over into their culture.

The only way I will ever really understand someone is if the Spirit gives me insight into them but, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do the work of listening to them and observing what they love. Everyone who is a child of God is also a missionary to the people they spend time with. That means we need to think like people who cross cultures, even if we don’t recognize that we are crossing cultures.

In their book, Everyday Church,  Tim Chester and Steve Timmis give counsel on how to observe people and discern culture. They give questions to ponder in discerning how to love people deeply by understanding them and their culture:

Where?

  • Where are the places and activities that we can meet people (the missional spaces)?
  • Where do people experience community?
  • Are there exiting social networks with which we can engage, or do we need to find ways of creating community within the neighborhood?
  • Where should we be to have missional opportunities?

When?

  • What are the patterns and timescales of our neighborhood (the missional rhythms)?
  • When are the times that we can connect with people (the missional moments)?
  • How do people organize their time?
  • What cultural experiences and celebrations do people value/? How might these be bridges to the gospel?
  • When should we be available for missional opportunities?

What? 

  • What are people’s fears, hopes, and hurts?
  • What gospel stories are told in the neighborhood? What gives people identity (creation)? How do they account for wrong in the world (fall)? What is their solution (redemption)? What are their hopes (consummation)?
  • What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?
  • What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?
  • In what ways rate people self righteous?
  • What is the good news for people in this neighborhood?
  • What will church look like for people in this neighborhood?

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: Soul-full Eruption

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: Soul-full Eruption

Act Three

“My Lord and My God!”

I’m not a guy that tends to blurt out anything. It takes a lot to get me to that place and most of the time (over)think before I speak so that I don’t say what I should. Words just don’t come easy most of the time, but when I say something I want it to be meaningful.

Thomas’s encounter with the very-much-alive Jesus caused him to blurt out something meaningful, just a few words that were the overflow response to a change of his heart. The change was deep and the statement, though brief, was rich with significance.

Thomas was, in a moment, different. His hope had emptied when he saw his Friend carried away to his execution, but now a resurrected hope erupted inside of him. Now, Thomas’ faith was deeper than his doubt had been.

The Powerlessness of a Lie

I  (Wes) write this from about 30, 000 feet in the air. On the screen on the seat in front of me are all kinds of movies that I could choose from. Tough choices to make but I have 4 hours to decide.

If I wasn’t thinking so much (too much) about how anxious I get when the plane starts to shake, it would be easier to decide which superhero movie I should watch.

Superhero movies are our society’s new myths. Our ancestors told stories of Hercules and Perseus; now we have Superman, Batman, Luke Skywalker, and Wonder Woman. All are inspiring to watch and each makes us want to be heroes like they are. We will pay money in order to watch them be heroic. Too much money, probably.

But there is one thing they will never inspire us to do: worship them. Because we know, as the credits roll, they aren’t real. They are characters played by superpower-less (who may or may not really be heroic) for our entertainment.

Those fictitious characters will never inspire us to love them…or give our lives for them.

If Jesus died and is still dead, then he would be just as impactful as those cape wearing crusaders: inspiring to hear about, but no one to be devoted to. If we consciously or non-consciously believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, then we will always live half-heartedly. We will hear the promises of scripture and trust the God who said them just enough to seem religious, just enough to feel some sort of hope, but not enough to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by him…awed by his life.

An Unwasted Life

Does the resurrection make any difference? The answer, one way or another, is “yes!”

Paul said that if resurrection isn’t real, then Jesus is still dead. That makes sense.

Then Paul goes further and tells the people in Corinth that if Jesus isn’t alive then those who believe are not just wrong, not just foolish, but of all the people in the world the most to be pitied. (see 1 Corinthians 15:19) A follower of Jesus should be pitied because he or she has lived a false hope. A pretty lie, but still a life spent on a lie. If Jesus was not resurrected, then following him wholeheartedly is a waste of life.

But, what if it is true? What if the doubts that we come by honestly and the fears that plague us daily are what is really foolish? Then wouldn’t it follow that it would be foolish not to follow him wholeheartedly? If Jesus is alive does that not also mean that we can have a new kind of life too…his very life?

The next question that lingers: Is this resurrection story true?

My purpose here is not to try to make a cumulative and comprehensive case for the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus. That has been done and been done much more humbly and eloquently than I could do. (see herehere, and here)

This is merely about one man being changed…and pointing towards millions of people who have had a similar (though probably simpler) encounter with our living Lord with the result being that their lives have been changed. The stories of former Thomas’s testify that something dramatic and beautiful has happened to them.

If the resurrection of Jesus isn’t true, then find inspiration in the story like you would if you were watching hero on the screen: enjoy it for what it is, but find something that is really worth spending you life on. It would be foolish to worship a dead man.

If the resurrection of Jesus is true, then let Jesus do for you what he did for Thomas. Let him awaken your hope. Let him command your affections. Allow him to overwhelm you with his love and his aliveness.

And cry out with Thomas’s joy: “My Lord and my God!”

If you will excuse me, I think I decided what I am going to watch. “Wonder Woman” looks worth spending the next 2 hours on. 

The Difference the Resurrection Makes: Where Faith Comes From

The Difference the Resurrection Makes: Where Faith Comes From

Act Two

A Different Story I Assume Would Be Told [see John 20:26-27]

If I were writing Thomas' story, I would write it differently.

Very differently. I would write it the way I expect Jesus would respond to me. Maybe, if I am honest, this is how I think Jesus does respond to me when my flood of doubt is drowning me. 

When Thomas confidently declares that he will only believe if Jesus shows up and lets Thomas touch him, I would imagine Jesus to respond in at least two ways:

One, I would expect Jesus to find out about Thomas' skepticism and get frustrated. How long had Jesus been with Thomas? How long would Thomas be at least "slow" of heart if not "hard" of heart?!  How long should Jesus put up with this? maybe Jesus should just find Thomas and tell him he needs to straighten up. Now! "Get with the program Thomas or this movement is moving on without you!" I would imagine Jesus sternly scolding Thomas for being so difficult. (I think that says more about me than Jesus, to be honest.)

Two, I would write the story in a way in which Jesus doesn't go through all of the trouble of scolding Thomas, but does something much more terrible: he would just let Thomas doubt and walk away. I would imagine Jesus hearing about Thomas' demands and merely moving on. Since Thomas didn't "have what it takes," Jesus would move on to someone who did. Surely there were plenty of people who would believe. 

Thankfully, I am not writing that story.

A Jarring Surprise

For two weeks the disciples met together in a locked room after Jesus' crucifixion. The text says that they were gathering behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. They had good reason to gather and good reason to hide. The first recorded time, Thomas wasn't there. Jesus showed up and the people were astonished that he really was alive.

Thomas wasn't there for that. He just heard about it. Hearing about it wasn't enough for him. He had to feel the Truth as well as hear it.

So, when Jesus shows up in the room again, this time with Thomas attending the meeting, I can imagine there was a silence in the room. Maybe a murmur. All were wondering what Jesus might do. And what he did had to have surprised them all: he offered his wounds for Thomas to feel.

Like Trying to Wake Up A Cemetery

One thing is certainly true: whoever believes in Jesus believes because Jesus came to them while they were still saying "I will not believe."

This is the story of every person who has faith in Jesus. we do not believe because we "had it in us" or because we were strong enough. No, everyone who has honestly entrusted themselves to Jesus has done so because he came to them first and created that faith.

We should not be surprised that Jesus came to Thomas and offered himself...not if we really understand Jesus. He showed that he was willing to humble himself over and over, going to those who didn't come to him and welcoming those who despised him. It is in God's nature to initiate relationship and to crate the fullness of faith where only the emptiness of doubt reigned.

God Acts First, and Second, and Third

And never more was that pictured than when Jesus endured the cross for people who were defiant in doubt. God demonstrated his initiative love in that, even when we were ravenously rebellious, he gave his precious Son that he might draw us to believe...and restore the closeness we were meant to share with Him. That is what he does.

And that is what he did for Thomas. In Thomas' stubbornness and hard-hearted willfulness Jesus showed Thomas the scars of his surrender. And Thomas was shocked.

When Jesus writes his own story, the story is a story that fills our souls with faith. His grace jars us awake to who he really is and then we are compelled to respond.

How about one last Act in this Story?

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: We Are Thomas

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: We Are Thomas

See John 21:24-25

Act One

April Fools Day

It made me laugh a little when I realized that Resurrection Sunday fell this year on April Fool's Day. Though many around me recognized the day as some sort of religious holiday, most people were more excited about what Google would do this year (see here) than the significance of Jesus resurrection.

Though our friends wouldn't just come out and say it, they would think we are a little foolish for believing it. Many think that it is okay for us to believe that as long as we don't push it on them or be "extreme" about it.

"Positive Illusions" and A Life Too Terrible to Face

Somewhere they have the belief that Jordan B. Peterson writes about in his book "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos" when he says that there has been a whole generation of social psychologists who recommend "positive illusions" as the only reliable route to mental health. (see page 87) He makes it a little more clear when he says that some believe that "things are so terrible that only delusion can save you."

For some of our friends (and maybe some of us) belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead could be a sweet story that brings weak souls hope or a metaphor that one could find some sort of meaning of life in.

But, to many, the resurrection of Jesus is merely a story. A myth that is not true. A fiction that gives (false) courage to deal with the harshness of (a very real) reality.

We all need something to find hope in, right, but to say that Jesus' resurrection is true?! That would be foolish to many. From my own experience I know that I often at least live as if the resurrection isn't real, even if my mouth proclaims that Jesus is fully alive.

I. Will. NOT. Believe.

Thomas had left all to follow Jesus. He walked with Jesus as long as others and seen Jesus do the very same miracles the others did. When the blind were healed, Thomas saw it. When 5,000 men (plus women and children not counted) were feed with food left over, Thomas ate of the same bread and fish. When Jesus talked about going near Jerusalem and that going near would ultimately lead to his death, normally quiet Thomas said "If you die, I'll die with you!" (see John 11:16)

But, he didn't die with Jesus. Jesus died alone. And Thomas saw it.

We don't want to be called fools, and more than that, we don't want to feel foolish. Thomas had placed all his hope, based the remainder of his life on the Rabbi he followed. He was "all in." When Jesus was taken, tortured, and sentenced to death, all that Thomas lived for was up ended.

Thomas' hope died along with Jesus. And nothing short of a miracle could resurrect his hope. So when his friends came to him and told him they had seen Jesus, we can be understanding towards Thomas' response: 

John 20:25: So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

"I will never believe! I was fooled once. I gave him my all once. I will not be fooled again."

I Am Thomas. And I Know I Am Not Alone.

We won't be fooled either. We can safely hide behind philosophies that "prove" to us that resurrection cannot happen in nature. We can preach the "good news" of common sense that these things just don't happen. We can recite creeds and hear good sermons about Jesus' coming-back-from-a-real-deadness, but never live as if the same power that resurrected him is available to his people. (see Ephesians 1:19-20)

I don't want to be a fool. No one does. I am Thomas. We are Thomas.

But that is not the end of Thomas' story...nor ours.

What We Actually Believe

"Whatever captures the heart's trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior. What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable... Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do."

Tim Keller, Preaching, 159 [My emphasis]

The Gospel of Not-In-Power

This is Good News, Too

Those who follow Jesus are never in the majority...never in control of the culture. That's right. Never. I do not think that is an overstatement.

Most of the time when Christians think we are in power, we are using sinful tactics to promote "Godly" ways. I think if we knew it we would run from it, but the truth still remains that we will often settle for "worldly" ways for a little bit of power than to wait for the Lord to show his power in his ways.

Just Like the Fruit, Worldly Power was There for Jesus to Take

In Matthew 4:7-9, Jesus was offered control over the accusers's dominion. It was there for Jesus' to take. He would have made a political difference. He would have changed the systems and structure of the world that create oppression for those who do not have power. He could have done more practical good than I can think through.

But, he would have never lived a crucified life. His power would have been a diminishing power, not the resurrection power that radiates from him.

He would have never dealt with the "root" of the issue (our sin and relational separation from God) and just dealt with the "fruit" of the problem.

Jesus did not bow the the tempter for many reasons, but one of them is that he was not (is not) "of" this world. He is uniquely different...and more alive. Jesus welcomes us not to a life of dominating power over others (even for good), but living out his freeing, healing resurrection power.


The Difference Difference Makes

We will always be different. But it is a kind of different that isn't awkward and disconnected with what is going on around us.

It is the kind of "different" that reminds the people around us that what we see in this world is not and is not all that there is. Our "different" reminds the world that God's kingdom is what we have always longed for in ways we may never have recognized.


"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:19 ESV)

Passion Week Meditation: Heartsickness and Deferred Hope

Passion Week Meditation: Heartsickness and Deferred Hope

Proverbs 13:12 "Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
        but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (ESV)

Heartsick Saturday

As far as I know, nothing in scripture is written about the second day, the Saturday after the crucifixion. We know it was the Sabbath for the religious Jewish people so many people deliberately slowed down. For most, it was any other Sabbath- a time of rest, recreation, and celebrating all that God did for them at the exodus out of Egypt through the Red Sea. It was a time to reflect on God's faithfulness in the past through an unexpected miracle.

But for a small group of people, they would not have called Friday "good." They may have stopped their work, not because of following an observance, but because of emotional exhaustion. The day before they had seen their Master dominated by the Roman officials and demeaned by their own people. The One who they had followed- the One who had made impossible, but hope-filled promises- was staked to a wooden post in full display of the antagonistic city.

Hope in the Past Tense

Would it be too much to guess that, if they talked at all, they started their statements with "We had hoped..."? [see Luke 24:21]

The men and women who had followed Jesus, admired Jesus, and treasured being with Jesus were now without Jesus. They had watched him die. Cruelly. Shamefully. They had heard his words about his quickly-coming "departure" and the suffering he must endure, but the full weight of it did not fall on them until they saw it. In this case, seeing was believing that they had been wrong about him. They had given their lives (and their hearts) to a man who was just a frail as they were.

Most of their nationalistic hopes died with Jesus and they didn't know what came next. In the past, they might not have known what Jesus was going to do day to day, but they knew he would be there to shepherd them. What should they do now? Do they just go back to their old way of life- fishing, collecting taxes, political zealotry?

What Could Have Been...

Even in their consistent doubting, they had believed Jesus would be king... before that Friday. Now, what does their future look like? This kingdom that Jesus spoke so much of would not come now because he could not be king. That just makes sense, right? A dead man can't be king.

All that we can guess about that Saturday is that the disciples of Jesus were living with an acute heartsickness. It was an undiagnosable ailment that only comes when you actually put your hopes on someone or something and that thing fails dramatically. They had given themselves to Jesus and he had seemed to be a failure when it mattered most. They were heartbroken. Scattered. Empty of hope.

Beyond Imagination

There was nothing they could imagine that could rebuild their hope. They were living in the last day of their week and all signs pointed to the first day of their next week being more of the same. The sun had set on Jesus' mission. The next sunrise would usher in a day just like today.

Only the unthinkable could recreate hope in them. Only a miracle could fulfill their desire. 

Passion Week Meditation: Finished Friday

Passion Week Meditation: Finished Friday

John 19:30: "...It is finished."

" Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other." Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew

Time to Go Home

There was nothing left for his captors to do to him. After his capture in the garden, his interviews and trials, the crown of thorns on his head and the lingering pain of being struck in the face, the sting of the mob's rejection and the shooting pains that came from the soldier's whip, all they could do to him is hold him fast to the wood. Nail him to the cross. Strip him down and display his "crimes" to the people.

Then all anyone did was wait for him to die. 

Surely the crowds did not wait around to watch his agony. They went on to their celebrations, emotionally spent from the cheering and jeering. Surely many of the chiefs priests and elders went on their way. They had been up early making decisions that would save the nation from this blasphemer, this agitator. What needed to be done was done. The process would punish Jesus. There was no doubt that their problems were over.

If he wasn't dead by close to sundown, then the Romans' would agree to the Jewish leader's request that the crucified criminal's legs would be broken so that they couldn't raise themselves up any longer to breathe. It was cruel, yes, but it was better than leaving them to die for three more days. Plus, the Sabbath that was swiftly coming should be honored...and there was nothing honorable about what was happening to Jesus.

The View From the Cross

From Jesus' point of view though, all of this was part of the plan. All of it happened so that what the Father had planned to happen from before the foundation of the world on this day would happen. Jesus could plainly see the Father at work around him because everything was going exactly how it should, and Jesus knew it was almost over.

From the vantage point of the cross, he could see the sin of the world lived out in front of him. Those who considered him an enemy did not understand what was happening and gloated in their victory. The soldiers who were striving for position and power within the Roman system, wiped their hands proudly at another day's work well done. Oppressors were still taking advantage of poor widows and orphans were treated a worthless. The "righteous" were still living their hypocrisy, looking good on the outside, but on the inside being ravenously hungry to indulge their sin.

That's why Jesus hung there. Not because of the charge of being a false king of the Jews or a blasphemer, but because of the sin that was working in the deep places of people's heart's even at that moment.

His role was to be the Lamb that was slain for them. For the Father's forgiveness of the unworthy to be just, Jesus had to endure the punishment. It was either him or everyone. For any reconciliation to happen he had to do one final work.

He had to die.

And that is what he did. Lovingly obedient to his Father for every moment. Joyfully hopeful in trusting himself to the Father even in the midst of deep agony, he did his last work. He gave up his life in full view of the reality of how much we do not deserve his love, his gift.

He died saying "It is finished."

No, Really, "Finished." Complete. Done.

His shame was finished. His suffering was finished. The vulnerability he lived in a world opposed to him was finished. 

The need for ritual sacrifices was finished. No lamb needed to die ever again for a selfish man's sin. 

Striving to try to please God by doing good was finished. The compulsion to try to get God to accept us could end because Jesus' death secured our acceptance in trusting him. 

The separation from God that is the result of sin was finished. Now, because Jesus became sin for the undeserving whole of humanity, those who trust that Jesus' death alone (and no other striving to be "right") can make us right with God can be brought home to him.

All of God's work to bring his people home to him was finished. The penalty was paid. There was nothing left to do, but entrust ourselves to him and enjoy his presence. (And even that is a gift too.)

It really is finished.

Its just hard to believe sometimes, isn't it?

Love Demonstrated for All of Us to See

Romans 5:8 "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. "

 

Passion Week Meditation: The Will that Would Change the World

Passion Week Meditation: The Will that Would Change the World

[see Genesis 3; Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 4:32-42Luke 22:39-46]

"My Father..."

Reading Jesus say these words of affection seems to me like I am intruding on a intimate and sacred moment. It isn't like it would be forbidden, but it seems like these moments when Jesus would pray were so deep and so personal that they would be otherworldly and, maybe, uncomfortable. Imagining his voice in my head I also imagine a "knowing" in his tone that revealed that his relationship with the Father was as constant as it was intimate; deep and rich in mutual affection and (because I cannot find another word) "holy." 

It is the closeness of his relationship with the Father that brought him to these moments of agony in the garden. (Was that as hard to read as it was to write?)

In any selfless devotion, there is always a place of pain. A new mom whose body cries out for rest getting up in the middle of the night to feed a nursing child. A husband who has watched his bride slowly slip away from him for 10 years because of the effects of dementia. A long-suffering friend who, though her childhood playmate has become a wayward adult, prays and waits for God to do the miracle she longs for to bring that friend back "home."

It was the joy in following the heart of his Father that led him to this sorrow. It was knowing the Father's passionate purpose that compelled Jesus to obey even to the point of real, gut-wrenching pain. 

"...If it is possible let this cup pass from me.." 

Most suffering in the world seems to be meaningless and random. There was a purpose in Jesus' suffering.  

Though Jesus often went to the Mount of Olives ("...as was his custom") there is something deliberate about why the scene of Jesus greatest testing, his greatest struggle, happened in a garden. It would not have been lost on the Jewish people of Jesus' day like it was to me for so long. It was because of what happened in a Garden in Genesis that Jesus was ever in this garden in the first place.

When Adam and Eve listened to the tempting voice and gave in to its fiendish counsel, they effectively said "Not your will, O God, but mine!" After that, those words became the inclination of their hearts...a heart-trait that they passed down to every living person who has come after them. The stubborn bent of our souls is to seek for forbidden fruit to eat and to recklessly look for our joy in acts that are destroying us. 

Sin, suffering, and death came out of the Garden of Eden, following Adam. As Adam and Eve multiplied, so did all the problems: Rwandian genocide. Siberian work camps. Death marches. Abandoned children longing for a parent to love them. A harsh word spoken. A cold shoulder.

And with every selfish thought, every harmful action, every devious plan that came from our hearts, the cup of God's wrath filled more and more. (see Jer. 25:15; Is 51:17

It was all of the sin and suffering and death that came rushing out of Eden that weighed heavily on Jesus in this garden. So heavy, in fact, that Jesus pleads with his Father to take it from him. It was an unseen agony that weighed down his soul because he knew something else...

...The only way to satisfy the demands of justice and the purpose of love was for Jesus himself to take on the cup. There was no other way.

Jesus knew he had to substitute himself for us. He was going to drink our cup of a righteous wrath.

"...Not what I will, but what you will."

It is in these words that we see the willingness that comes from love. Even though we were the perpetrators, he chose to take our place. Jesus had such a joy in his relationship with the Father and such a love for undeserving people that he was willing to endure a punishment worse than Hell itself: He would, willingly, take our place.

Suffering seems stronger than love. Love can seem weak...an emotion that dries up when something real like pain comes along. But what Jesus shows us in this garden is that there is a love that is stronger than suffering- the type of love that is willing to endure suffering for someone else.

Not out of weakness or defeat that come from when stubbornness is overcome, but from a heart that was overcome with love, Jesus surrendered to the Father's will. He knew the Father's will was good even if it was, well, excruciating to him.

What we see here is that Jesus had a deeper will that propelled him to suffering: the joy that comes from seeing the Father's ways come to pass. At whatever the cost to himself.

It's this will that can change the world.