Saturday, December 20, 2008

Birrthday Bumps

This past week, the grade four class at my school celebrated Jesus’ birthday. In addition to traditional Christmas baking, there was a chocolate cake with one candle burning. After we sang “Happy Birthday”, the candle was blown out, and the cake was cut and distributed among the students. By this point in history, there should be over two thousand candles on Jesus birthday cake. For the past two centuries, we have celebrated Christ’s birthday in increasingly elaborate ways. But how would Jesus celebrate His own birthday?

For different reasons, my 10th, 13th, 16th, 19th, 21st and my recent 30th birthday were celebrated a little bit more so than the others. My Dad is one to try and find reason to celebrate any and every birthday in our family weather they have reasonable importance or not. These birthdays were important because:

Ø 10 (double digits)

Ø 13 (teenager)

Ø 16 (my family “Graduated me into adulthood”)

Ø 19 (legally mature)

Ø 21 (I was allowed to drink alcohol, but probably didn’t) and

Ø 30 (?)

Did Jesus ever celebrate his birthday? He had thirty-three on earth and has had almost two thousand of them in Heaven. I would think there would be at least a handful that He would enjoy celebrating more than the others.

However, the idea of celebrating birthdays was, in Jesus day, a pagan ritual. The Encyclopedia Americana (1991 edition) states: “The ancient world of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia celebrated the birthdays of gods, kings, and nobles.” Therefore, Joseph would probably not have celebrated Jesus birthday, even though the angels in Heaven did, and he knew that his son was a King. Authors Ralph and Adelin Linton reveal the underlying reason for this. In their book ‘The Lore of Birthdays’, they write: “Mesopotamia and Egypt, the cradles of civilization, were also the first lands in which men remembered and honored their birthdays. The keeping of birthday records was important in ancient times principally because a birth date was essential for the casting of a horoscope.” If there was anyone who did not need a horoscope, the Son of God was certainly that person. So, Christ probably didn't celebrate his birthday, but that does not mean He did not celebrate.

There must have been a handful of parties (large or small) that happened among Jesus’ earthly family just for the heck of it. A quiet celebration may have happened at least once a year for his first few years of life. Not many babies/toddlers are searched for by their king in order to be killed, and survive. (Matt 2:13) And the extent, to which Joseph went to save his son’s life, is certainly worth remembering.

At around the age of thirteen, Jesus would have celebrated a Bas Mitzvah which would have graduated him into adulthood, passing the responsibilities that Mary and Joseph previously carried (fulfilling the laws of Moses) onto Him. This official declaration of adulthood was seen by one and all, but His Father had already graduated Him one year before. Luke 2:41-52 tells the story of Jesus, apparently lost, in the temple in Jerusalem. His parents had been there for the Passover Feast and left when it ended. After walking for a day, they realized that Jesus wasn’t walking with them. They immediately U-turned back to Jerusalem to look for their rebellious son. Finally after three days of anxious searching, they found him talking leisurely with the teachers in the temple. Jesus comment to his anxious and angry mother shows both his maturity and understanding of whose he was. “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?” (Luke 2:49) If Jesus was a teenager of the 21st century, He may well have rolled his eyes and added a “dah!” because His self-esteem and self-knowledge was greater than any teenager before or since. His Heavenly Father had and would continue to celebrate Him, so who else needed to do so?

The second greatest tribute Jesus ever received was the commission from His Father before He began public ministry at the age of thirty. John, his cousin and forerunner had baptized him in the Jordon River. It could have been a regular baptism, if not for the party that the Father initiated when he sent a dove to sit on Christ’s shoulder, and said: “You are My Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22) This affirmation gave Him the confidence and understanding He needed to respond wisely to Satan’s temptations in the desert, where he was about to go.

The greatest tribute Jesus received happened three years later, after He had risen from the dead and ascended back into Heaven. There, having finished all the work His Father had commissioned Him to do, “he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 1:3, 10:12, 12:2). Finally, Jesus had come home, never to leave again because, as he had stated from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Christ’s day had no Christmas, but He created it so we would have something to celebrate. Instead of opening the presents on His birthday, Christ desires to be the present for us to open. Weather you bake a cake and adorn it with candles; weather we sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” or “Joy to the World,” how will you celebrate Christ’s birthday? Have you opened your present yet?

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is lord of all creation?
Did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heavens perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the great I am

Mary did you know

By Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Fear of the Lord is my Strength (Part 1)

In Nehemiah 8:10, the author writes the words to a popular worship song called “The Joy of the Lord.” He encourages his audience to "[go] and enjoy choice food and sweet drink, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. . . . Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Whatever the Lord gives us is good. As Christians, we hope God will not stop giving us gifts we enjoy; love, peace, kindness and gentleness are some examples, but continue to lavish us with good things.

However, He is certainly not restricted to giving us only positive gifts like these. For instance, what if He chose to give you the gift of faithfulness, along with a job to take care of the down and out on the downtown east side every Friday night? Or, what about patience, coupled with a prodigal daughter whom you would wait and search for, for hours on end. If you have not experienced fear personally, the media provide us with a plethora of horror movies and news casts that often “freak [us] out,” giving us enough reasons to be afraid. We have all experienced the negative sense of fear, and no one needs to be reminded why we hate it so much. Therefore, I am sure you would quickly conclude that fear is certainly not a gift of God. But if we have not experienced both sides of fear, we are truly missing out on a good thing.

I have a ‘seeing is believing’ type of faith because throughout my life, I have seen God’s handiwork. He has done it in my own life (see: “Miracle on Fox Street”) and he has used me to bring healing to others. Dr. Luke, the author of the Gospel was also one of those people, and I have been a big fan of his writings since I started reading the Bible. His gospel is like a documentary, as he describes one exciting miracle after another, culminating in the greatest miracle of them all, Christ’s resurrection. As I approach my thirtieth birthday, I have begun to enjoy his other book, Acts, with the same amount of excitement.

Here Luke follows several members of the early church including Peter and Paul (sorry Mary wasn’t a prominent figure in this book!) as they learn and teach about this new religion called Christianity. These great men are responsible for some more miraculous signs. Some of them, including the famous story of the beggar at the gate, who learns to walk for the first time at the age of forty, are very well known. However, it also describes a few others that do not make the top ten. This might be because they show the fearful side of God.

One of these stories is found in chapter five, the story of a couple of devout Christians, Ananias and Sapphira. They had been attending the local church for years and didn’t intend on leaving. In fact, so that its ministry would continue, they had sold their house and had donated everything they had received from the sale to the leaders of their church. (At least this is what they said they did).

If my parents were to finally suffer a mid life crisis and sell our house, forwarding all the funds to the church, four things would happen. 1) Our church would greatly appreciate their gift and probably re-name it DuckChurch. 2) My parents (and I) would have no place to live, though I am sure we would have a long list of invitations to spend a night or two at guest bedrooms throughout our church community. 3) If they truly believed that God was asking them to do something as drastic as this, my parents would probably feel fairly peaceful with their decision. But I wouldn’t. Instead I would probably think they had just a little too much faith for my liking. Lastly, I probably would not join my parents in a dwelling that might become available to them to move into, whenever that might be.

Don’t wrestle with a Heavyweight

Today, most pastors are the same. They are all good at something weather that be leading worship, sermonizing or any other of a variety of gifts that Paul writes about in his letters to the early church. However, the gift that Peter uses in Acts 5, reading another person’s mind (also known as prophecy), has been neglected for some time.

The Apostle Peter’s years as a student of Christ are well documented in the Gospels. Acts is like Peter’s Coming-of-age party where he shows that he really is the rock which Christ said he would become (Matthew 16:18). In prior chapters in Acts, God gave Peter so much power that his shadow was the only thing needed to heal somebody (Acts 5:12-15). And if anybody had this amount of power, they are due at least a little respect. But Ananias and Sapphira (whose story is also found in Acts 5) did the exact opposite.

The church at this time was young, small and tightly knit. And for these two to do what they claimed to have done, they would have certainly been deserving of a few invitations for dinner and a good night’s rest in someone else’s tent-house. But while everybody else was in awe of these two, Peter wasn’t buying it for a moment.

In verse 3, Peter says, "Ananias, you hypocrite! You, a leader in this church have done a complete 180° turn and have lied to the Holy Spirit. Why did you allow Satan to connive with you to do something like this, keeping some of the money for yourself? Before you sold the field, it was all yours, wasn’t it? And after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished, wasn’t it? So what got into you to tell people that you did something that you didn’t do? You didn't lie to men but to God."

When he heard these words, Ananias fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard the story. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

Only a few hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, "So, what’s the deal? Were you given this price for your field?"

"Absolutely," she said.

Peter was indignant, almost ready to tear his hair out, "What's going on here that you and your husband would gang up against the Spirit of God?! The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you're going with them!" No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. The young men waiting at the door carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

By this time the whole church and everyone else who heard of these things had a healthy fear for God. They knew He was not to be trifled with.

“The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning (the chief and choice part) of Wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight and understanding.”

Proverbs 9:10

(Amplified version)

The Fear of the Lord is my Strength (Part 2)

It’s not your job anyway

One of the reasons why I became a Christian was because, over many years, I heard and understood the wonderful miracles Jesus did. Though the awesome (in the scary sense) acts of God that Ananias and Sapphira experienced, in Acts 5, gave the Jews around them reason to believe in God, fear should not be the first and only motivation to love Him. Unfortunately, thousands of Christians have placed their faith in a God, who must be feared with trembling, at all times. Though this judgmental and unwelcoming side of God’s character cannot be ignored, I also believe in a God whose miraculous works can also be joyful, (John 5:8-9), surprising (Matthew 9:20-22), or even bizarre (John 2:1-11, Acts 5:15).

At this point in the early church’s history, people continued to spend regular periods of time together (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit had just recently joined them, and there was nothing else these Christians would currently want to do more then to spend time in worship with each other. In Acts 19, miracles continued to take place, one of them in particular even bordered on the absurd.

As followers of Jesus, we often expect that we all have at least some faith, and because Jesus has said that we don’t need a lot, surely we have enough. But what if we have none at all, can Jesus still use us? In chapter 19:11-12, Luke writes that “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”

It makes sense that God did amazing things through Peter and Paul because they were spiritual heavy-weights in the church. Peter had spent three years with Jesus, and Paul would soon spend the rest of his life in prison because of his faith in Him. But a handkerchief and an apron? They don’t even have enough weight in themselves to be a paper weight, let alone have spiritual weight.

But that’s the point. They didn’t have any weight in themselves and couldn’t talk back to the Person who was using them for a purpose they knew nothing about. However unorthodox these healings were, it was never the apron’s job, nor its ability for that matter, to say, “I wasn’t made for this purpose! Fold me up and put me back where you found me!” It was clearly the strength and faith of Someone greater than the apron to do with it what He had decided to use it for.

Is God using you to do something you don’t feel you have the strength to do? Some of us are about to go on mission’s trips, accept jobs as pastors, or teachers in Christian schools and we know exactly what God is using us for and believe we have the faith for him to do it. But others are plumbers, carpenters, mechanics or students with secular endeavors and cannot see how God will use them in these capacities. As you step into the responsibility God has given you, what kind of fear do you have? Are you anxious, or in awe? Are you worried, or in wonder?

Remember, if God can do this much through a handkerchief, He can do whatever He wants through you, whatever amount of faith you may or may not have. It was because of unorthodox miracles like these that the name of Jesus became reverent in the early church.

"Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Matthew 10:28
(New Living Translation)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Proud of my Limp

Being touched by God is no easy thing. To be sure, it is a good thing. But though we desire it so much, we have no idea how much it will cost. So though His touch could be inspiring, generous or healing, it could, for at least a little while, be challenging; or downright miserable as He changes, enhances or even eliminates our hopes and desires.

In Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob, the third member of the second most famous trio in the Bible, wrestles with a Man for an entire night. As daybreak approaches, He requests that he let Him go, but Jacob refuses. “Not a chance. I need your blessing first, than I might.” Jacob needed a blessing so badly, he was willing to use all of his energy to get it.

And what a blessing it was. After wrestling with the Man, Jacob (a name that means ‘follower’) was re-named Israel (‘Struggles with God’), received a new outlook on life and a very soar hip-flexor muscle. And he had a limp to prove it. God never minds if we wrestle with Him because wrestling brings us close to Him, right where He wants us.

Thousands of years later, God continued to touch people, reminding them that he is the only way they can live a wholesome life, whatever type of limp they may receive. Matthew 9:23-26 is the second half of a double healing that Christ performs as he leaves his hometown of Nazareth. He has just healed a woman who has been bleeding internally for twelve years, and is receiving an ecstatic response from most of the people who believed the woman’s story. However, a doting father, who has previously begged him to come and raise his dead daughter back to life, is not worshiping, but weeping. “Hurry up, Teacher! I need you to do this now!”

Ancient Israel believed that after a person died, the life-giving spirit could possibly return if the right person could be found to bring it back. So time was ticking. This father, who was also a ruler of the people, was most definitely excited that he may have found the man who could possibly do the job. However, he was more than a little anxious that Jesus would work just a little bit quicker: “She died this morning and it is already evening, so please hurry!”

When Jesus finally arrived at the weeping father’s house, many were already there weeping along with him. But Jesus would have none of it. Apart from a few disciples and the child’s parents, Christ demanded to the crowd, “Leave us! If you can believe it, the child isn’t dead. She’s just taking a much needed nap.”

As you can expect and may already know, the crowd didn’t believe it, but laughed at Him instead. As Luke writes, when they were alone with the sleeping child, Christ took her hand and gently beckoned her, “Wakey, wakey” (Luke 8:54). As the grinning father left his house with his living daughter in his arms, he may have asked the bewildered and speechless crowd, “Who’s laughing now?”

I can only imagine what the rest of her childhood was like. Not many of her friends could boast that they had been raised from the dead. Not many fathers could say that they had seen what he had. But there were not many men who had walked the earth before Christ did, who could perform works like these. And though in the end, the girl died a second time, the touch she received from God incarnate instilled in her, and her father, a knowledge that she was truly loved by Him.

In Acts 9:10-19 Saul is touched and healed from his blindness by Ananias, a believer from Damascus. Ananias was worried about going to him because Saul was infamous for arresting and persecuting members of the early church, and it only makes sense to stay away from people like that. But the Spirit gently commands him, “Just go, for I will use him to do great things, and they won’t be easy.”

So, Ananias, shaking in his sandals, does what he is told, and his obedience ultimately changes the course of human history. He allows the Holy Spirit to use his hands to restores Saul’s sight. In time, Saul’s name changes to Paul (which means: humble), and Saul accepts a new commission to take the Lord’s message to the Gentiles, to kings, the people of Israel, and later to us.

Though Saul’s first limp, (his blindness) was temporary, he later had a second one. 2nd Corinthians 12:7 says that Paul forever had a “thorn in [his] flesh” as he wrote much of the New Testament behind bars. But like no one else before or since, Paul learned and taught us what it means to be joyful always; [to] pray continually; [to] give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) I am still hoping to fully learn what this means.

Any touch from God is awesome, but each comes with a cost. Jacob received a limp and a new name when he was touched by God. Once she took hold of Jesus hand, the girl had an understanding that she was loved and a new story to tell of God’s goodness. Saul’s sight was restored, and Paul endured his limp gladly for the remainder of his days.
What about you?

Ø As Jacob did, are you willing to struggle with God to receive His blessing?

Ø Will you have faith with the ruler that Jesus can restore the things that seem dead and gone?

Ø As Paul did, are you able to accept the limp you have as a blessing?

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed, if you look within you’ll be depressed, but if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

Corrie ten Boom

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What if he picks you?

John 13 is remembered and loved by millions because it shows the full extent of Christ’s love for his disciples when he washes their feet. However, later in the same chapter, Jesus does something that is not thought of as godly, but is equally sovereign. He picks the disciple who will betray him. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase describes it this way: “As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.” (John 13:26) The ‘him’ of this verse is Judas Iscariot, who since has been judged and dreaded by two millennia of Christians because of what he would do after this key moment. But what if it had been someone else? How would they have done what Judas would soon have the dubious honor of doing?

“Is it me?”

What if he had picked, oh let’s say Matthew, the tax collector, how would he betray his Teacher and Lord? First of all, he probably would have asked for more money than thirty pieces of silver from the Pharisees, and because tax collectors were hated in Jesus day as much as they are still hated today, it may have been expected, to a point, if Matthew was the person Jesus had picked out.

Or, what about Dr. Luke. He was the only Gentile in the group, so maybe he would find justification for planning the assassination of a Jew. Surely he could use his knowledge of healing, to kill.

It couldn’t have been Peter, because Peter had walked on the water with his Master. He had just recently been forgiven for denying Christ three times, so that must be enough, one would think. He had said so many wrong things in the past that he couldn’t have said one more wrong thing. But then again, I am sure there would be enough room for a fourth denial to take place.

But John, the one everybody called “the beloved disciple,” the one who first penned the verse at the beginning, and the one whom the disciples believed would live forever (John 20:21-22) was definitely not the person for this job. He was, after all, the one who had his head on Jesus chest at the last supper and had asked Him, “Who is it?” the question each disciple was anxious to receive an answer to. And if John had worked hard enough to get as close to Jesus as to put his head on His chest, he surely wouldn’t cook up a scheme like this.

It could have been any of the twelve because each disciple had wondered out loud, “Is it me?” Each of the eleven surely breathed a huge sigh of relief when Jesus handed the piece of bread to someone else.

But why did it have to be Judas Iscariot? Wasn’t he a good person? He was a good man. The text says that it wasn’t until he received the piece of bread that Satan entered him. Before that, he had been a regular disciple with an extra-ordinary responsibility: carry the money bag.

Any accountant or financial manager understands the important responsibility they have to their clients. They could quickly lose the trust of their clients if they were to do something irresponsible with their client’s money. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem for the disciples. Though his name is mentioned in prior passages when the subject of money has come up, and though it seemed to be common knowledge that Judas had helped himself to their funds, the disciples, together with their Master, seem to have placed their full trust in him. Even after Jesus had handed the piece of bread to Judas and said “What you are about to do, do quickly,” the other disciples assumed that he was going to buy something for the Passover feast, or give something to the poor (John 13: 28-29). They certainly thought it wouldn’t have been him.

It couldn’t be me anyway

It has now been over 2,000 years since that first communion. It may not have been this long since you took communion, but it could be two thousand days (5.5 years), 2000 weeks (almost 40 years), or any other length of time you choose. But, then again, it surely couldn’t be you anyway.

After all, you have been a devoted disciple of Christ for decades. You have attended church regularly since you were young, you have helped to “raise children up in the way that they should go” (Proverbs 22:6), and you have followed the guidance of St. Francis of Assisi to a T. He was the one who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." You have always been willing to preach the gospel, but thank goodness it hasn’t been that necessary for you to verbalize your Christian beliefs.

Are you willing to be picked?

Though we may feel it is highly unlikely that the Lord will pick us to do something against our character or against the assumptions of others, many of us conclude that there are certain things we will most definitely not do. Betraying our Lord is certainly one of those. But what if Christ picks you to do something different from what you and others expect of yourself?

We may take pride in saying that we would offer everything we have to the Lord with no exceptions. We may boast, at least in our hearts, that we do not hold onto anything as our own, but rather hold everything in an open hand, allowing God reign in everything, especially our personal possessions. We know the story of Abraham, and may even be willing to do what he did, (sacrifice his only son) so that he would be blessed by God.

But He may do just that. He may take away the things you are holding in your open hand or ask you to do something you may have vowed never to do. If you say you want the Lord to have control in everything, doesn’t this mean he will have control of the most important things as well as the least? Keeping your hands open is the most relaxing way to live. Jesus kept his hands open and though everything he had in them was taken away from him for a time, it was given back to Him so that no one could ever take it away from Him again.

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

John 13:19-20

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pixels of Faith

How much faith do I really need? I know I constantly need the counsel of the Holy Spirit to guide me. And that requires faith. I know I need the strength of the Lord Jesus to empower me every day. And that takes faith. Therefore, I usually conclude that I have at least enough faith to go to Heaven when I die. And I don’t feel I need any more.

However, in several places in the gospels, Jesus threatens religious veterans, like me; with death as they rest on their existing knowledge of a God they thought they knew, but soon realize they had no idea. Matthew 7:23 is one example.

Another condemning quotation of Jesus is found in Luke 17:6, where the disciples ask their master “Increase our faith,” something I have also asked Jesus to do for me on many occasions. Jesus’ response to them has been misquoted as an encouragement for centuries. A popular translation says: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” A mustard seed is the smallest seed that can be planted in the ground. But it would soon grow, and one day become the largest of garden plants (Matt 13:32, Mark 4:32). Mustard seeds are not as common in our culture as they were in Jesus day. But something else that is equally as small, powerful and known by most western civilizations are pixels, “the smallest element of an image that can be individually processed in a video display system” ( And like mustard seeds, they too, with a little bit of help, can become something magnificent.

Casual readers could assume two things from this verse: 1) that it is easy to acquire faith, (because all I need to do is have a pixel worth of belief in Jesus), and 2) the results of my faith are, and will always be, amazing. But I argue that this translation is a little bit watered down from what Jesus probably meant, when he first shared this piece of wisdom with His disciples.

Instead, I think Jesus probably said something a little bit more like this: “If you only had as much faith as a pixel, you could say to this Douglas fir, 'Be uprooted and planted in Hudson’s Bay,' and it will obey you. But you don’t even have that much!” I think the disciples believed that, through some sort of telepathic osmosis, they would automatically have as much faith as their teacher because they spent three years, eating, sleeping and breathing Jesus. But even that wasn’t enough. They needed an active ingredient to make their faith alive.

Repeatedly, Jesus questioned His disciples’ (mostly Jewish insiders) ability to do what he asked. They consistently showed a lack of faith in Him and His Father, whom they supposedly knew (John 14:7). But in Matthew 8, a Roman, an outsider, gave an example of faith that Jesus had not seen in his dah-ciples.

As Iraqis despise Americans, Jews despised Romans. A primary reason was that the Romans were stronger, showing their strength over them regularly. So, when a rich-Roman sent his delegates to Jesus, asking Him to come heal his servant, the Jewish crowd responded, “Good! Something is wrong with those Romans!”

Peter was exasperated with the servant. “Can’t you see that He’s busy? Jesus came for us Jews, not for you Gentiles (non-Jew)!”

Andrew piped up, “You don’t believe in Jesus anyway, you believe in your lord. Go ask him to heal your servant!”

But Jesus responded to the Roman servant, “I will go and heal him.”

But as He turned to follow the Centurion’s servant, Peter and Andrew, exasperated that Jesus would give anyone else but them any attention, exclaimed in chorus, “Rabbi, you’re going the wrong way!”

As the crowd shifted their route to follow the Roman’s servant, their footsteps grew heavier, they moved slower and continued to badger Jesus. “What are you doing, you once called a Samaritan a ‘dog!’ (Matthew 15:26) That’s what we expected you to say to this Roman! We hate them, don’t you hate them too? You’re one of us, and are here for us! Aren’t you?”

Ten minutes later, another servant came with more news from the dreaded Roman’s house. “My master says, ‘I am not worthy to have You, Jesus, come to my house. You are righteous, I am sinful. And besides, it’s not clean enough for you to enter. Just heal him from here. I know you can do this, because I ask my servants and slaves to do their jobs, and they do it. You have shown authority to heal, so you are certainly able to do what you say.’”

If he could have, Jesus would have leapt for joy. “Why can’t these Jews have as much faith as your master? I haven’t met anyone in all of Israel who has as much faith as him.” Then turning to the crowds, Jesus said, “This man, and many foreigners like him will certainly join Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in my Father’s kingdom, and they are outsiders! Don’t you Jewish insiders understand what it takes to join him in Heaven too? You’ve been learning about it for years! But if you don’t, you won’t.”

Turning back to the rich-Roman’s servant, Jesus said, “You may go, your fellow servant is healed because you believed he could be.”

In Jesus day, Jewish boys would be overwhelmed with an understanding of Yahweh and the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Calling oneself a Jew (an insider) would undoubtedly be an honor they would be proud of for the rest of their lives. Today, children raised in Christian families may also be overwhelmed with the Bible, church and Sunday school, and may or may not be proud of their faith. But Jesus encourages insiders, to use their pixel of faith, rather than ask for more, so it may grow to become a support to others in need. Then, weather you are an in or out-sider you may do the same as the Roman centurion did.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jesus, Judas and the Show-People

Who do you follow? There have been many great leaders and well known personalities who have accumulated admirers for one reason or another. They could be political leaders who receive votes, talented sports icons, activists who strive towards an admirable goal, or even your neighbor, who works hard everyday to support his family.
The gospels at the beginning of the New Testament give many examples of the leadership qualities another man possessed.
The New Testament book of Mark gives several examples of the qualities of Jesus Christ, who was in charge of every situation that involved him, even if it had not happened yet. For those disciples who had their eyes on Him, the immeasurable joy they felt while they watched their Teacher work his wonders was inevitably nothing short of awesome. But those who were not looking in the same direction as their Rabbi, instead focusing on their own frail hopes and desires, missed out.
In Mark 14, Jesus and His disciples were walking toward Jerusalem. They asked Him, “As everybody knows, Passover is coming up. Where would you like to eat it this year?”
Jesus said, “Go on ahead of us into the city. As you enter, follow a man carrying a jar of water on his head. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher will be here in a few minutes and is wondering: ‘Where is the guest room I can enjoy the Passover meal with my disciples?” He will lead you upstairs, to a large furnished room. Make the rest of the preparations there.” So, off they went into the city, finding everything just as Jesus had said.
For the two disciples who received Jesus’ instructions and accepted the responsibility of preparing the Passover meal, Jesus’ words had simply amazed them. As the other disciples entered the room several hours later, they also must have been surprised that Jesus had known about this place, as they had not been there before. “How did He know it was furnished?” they may have wondered, “he couldn’t have looked through the windows, it’s on the second floor.” As eleven of the disciples were yet again enthralled about yet another amazing act that Jesus had performed, Judas’ mind was in a different place, desiring to follow a different spirit than Jesus’.
As the twelve disciples sat, eating, talking, and enjoying the bread and wine the servant girls had brought, Jesus dropped a bombshell, stating a much unfortunate fact. “One of you, yes you, who have loved me for three years, will betray me.”
At this, all of the disciples objected individually and collectively. Peter said, “How can you have the gall to say something like that. We’ve been faithful for the long hall. What makes you think we will stop now?” Others agreed, “No, not a chance. You were able to predict the place where we would eat this meal, but surely you can’t predict that one of us would do something like that, can you?”
Judas was not arguing; he was barely listening. He had just arrived back from a top secret meeting with some fairly important people who had offered him money if he would do just that, relinquish his allegiance to his Teacher. This would allow his archrivals, the dreaded show-people, to do what they wanted with Him. Though he had enjoyed the last three years with Jesus, seeing some pretty fantastic miracles, watching his teacher walk on water, and even receive some free meals, it was now time to get something he really wanted, cold, hard cash, and the show-people were willing to give it. His desire for money, in exchange for his cooperation was just too tempting to turn down. It did not matter how he got it, he just needed money.
When I am told that I will receive money for doing some particular act, I feel better about doing it. And Judas was undoubtedly encouraged that the show-people, the most important people in his day, were willing to pay him for any particular task. I am sure that Judas had dollar signs in his pupils as he thought about the possibilities. “These guys are the most influential people in the world. They are surely very rich, and if I hand my teacher over to them, which is a very simple thing to do, I’ll get rich too! It doesn’t matter that he has said it would be better for the person who betrays him, to have never been born (Matt 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 22:22). At least I’ll die with the most riches, and the man with the most wins! Now I know why I wanted to follow this guy three years ago. The wait is finally paying off!”
What does it mean to betray someone? And what will happen as a result?
The dictionary says that to betray somebody means to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling a responsibility to that person. As it was his job to make sure that the finances of Jesus ministry were spent wisely, Judas was well practiced in this first form of betrayal, often helping himself to the collective moneybag, and may well have been the disciples’ first guess as to who may just betray their Lord and Teacher.
Judas too may well have known that what the show-people had asked him to do was wrong. However, the fact that they would give him more money, satisfying his’ greatest weakness, was enough for him to do anything they asked, so he accepted their low-ball offer of 30 pieces of silver. Bible commentator David Guzik has written that thirty pieces of silver was the lowest the religious leaders paid for any single action. Receiving only thirty pieces of silver told Judas “we think of you as nothing more than a slave.” But because of this promise of extra finances, no matter how little it was, he was willing to tell his master’s greatest enemies, Jesus greatest secret. Whether Judas felt ripped off by the Show-people or not, this second act of betrayal, delivering or exposing a person to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty will forever be linked with his name. Therefore, a few hours later, Judas watched in horror as these once respected people did something so unrespectable, using him as a simple tool to get their hands on a much bigger fish. The Show-people were surely some of the cheapest men this world has known, and Judas knew this fact first hand. ‘They were, after all, only there to show-up, to show others up, and to show-off.’
Though he was a disciple of Jesus, Judas’ eyes were often focused on other things. But if you read further, his heart would slowly change, soon despising the money he was given, throwing it back into the laps of the Show-people who gave it to him in the first place, hoping to buy Jesus life back again. But the show-people would not allow it. They had finally caught the big fish they had been looking for. Judas could only watch in horror as his Teacher and Lord was sentenced to death. Judas’ inability to cope under his own self-inflicted pressure showed when he soon ended his life, knowing he was the one responsible for ending the life of his Master.
You surely know some people like Judas, who take their eyes off Jesus. Maybe they keep their eyes off of him entirely, to indulge in the things of this world. You may even know some ‘show-people’ too, who rip other people off, asking for a lot but giving little in exchange. But instead of talking the talk, as these people did, Jesus walked the walk, doing the things His Heavenly Father did. Who will you follow?
Choosing to follow and trust Jesus could, at first, be like voting for the underdog, cheering for the player everybody thinks has the least talent, or the activist with the weirdest ideas. But if we take the biggest risk, we shall receive the greatest gain. If Jesus gives correct details like where to prepare a single meal, or predicts that a dear disciple of his will betray him, how much more should we listen to Him as he tells us the intricate instructions of our lives? If he is right about these instructions, how can we presume that his words about our lives might be wrong?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jesus S.E.A. – Are disabilities just another ‘evil spirit’?

The dictionary defines ‘disability as ‘a lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability that prevents a person from living a ‘normal’ life or from holding a gainful job. Special Education Assistants (S.E.A.) have been working in our public and private schools for many years now so that those children with disabilities may find it easier to succeed in their studies. In 1995, Laurie Beth Jones published a book called “Jesus, CEO” a bold yet sensitive inspirational guide for leadership success. If I were to write a book called “Jesus, S.E.A.” what would it look like? How would Jesus help children overcome their disabilities? As Bible readers can attest to, Jesus healed everyone he touched, talk to or influenced in some way. If Jesus was an S.E.A., I would expect that though he might help children with reading, math, history or science, he may also heal them of their disabilities entirely.

I have heard it mentioned that a person may be able to perform his/her job so well that they may one day work themselves out of a job because of how effectively and efficiently they do their work. As an S.E.A., I work to lessen the load of children with disabilities, hopefully making it easier for them to succeed in their day to day educational endeavors. Recently I wondered, in addition to helping them complete their work, if we prayed for healing for these children, the Lord, who promises to “do more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) may take away their disabilities. However, I wonder, so that we may always have a job in special education, we work to ‘deal’ with disability rather than simply get rid of it as Jesus did.

Mark 9 tells the story of a father, who brings his ‘demon-possessed’ child to Jesus’ disciples, hoping that they could heal his son as their Teacher was temporarily absent. But all they could do was argue with the Pharisees about the legal, spiritual and social problems the father had to deal with. As Jesus came down the mountain, surely full of the Holy Spirit, as he had just experienced the most wonderful encouragement any son could ever receive from his father (Mark 9:2-13) he found his disciples arguing with the other teachers of the day. When the boy’s father saw Jesus, he was surely ecstatic, as the one person who could heal his son had finally arrived.

“What’s going on here?” Jesus calmly asked.

The anxious father began by quickly explaining his son’s situation. “His body has been taken over by Satan; he can’t talk or hear, and can become incredibly violent. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth and becomes as stiff as a board. I was hoping that your healing power would have rubbed off on your disciples, so I asked them to help him, but they couldn’t.” (verses 17-18).

Our secular society views praying as a hypothetical hope; one that shouldn’t be trusted unless it is our last option. When it finally is, we may or may not throw ourselves at the mercy of a God we may or may not know. Can we expect this God to answer our deepest cries when we, in previous years, may have practically severed our relationship with Him?

No matter if their relationships with Him had previously been severed or not, it didn’t matter to Jesus. All that mattered to Him was if they had faith right now. Throughout the gospels, the one thing that bothered Jesus most about his disciples, and the majority of the crowds he preached to, was discovering again and again that they had no faith. Here, Jesus encounters yet another crowd of people without faith.

Verse 19 continues: “Gee, you guys drive me crazy! Don’t you believe in anything? Your souls are like sivs! You can’t hold on to anything God gives you for two seconds! Bring him here. Knowing they had disappointed their teacher, they sheepishly pulled the boy to the feet of Jesus.” (v19-20).

For a few moments, Jesus just watched the boy, who fell to the ground repeatedly, writhing, foaming at the mouth, and shouting incoherent words. “How long has he been doing this?” Jesus calmly asked. (v20-21)

“For years!” the man all of a sudden was in a great hurry, “just do something quickly!” And under his breath added, “if you can.” Underlying words always caught Jesus attention. This was no exception.

“Hold it right there,” he said, “healing can wait, faith can’t. What do you mean, ‘if I can!’” (v21-23)

The man continued his frantic pace, “Oh hurry up, I believe, I believe, really I do! But gimme more faith!” (v24)

The crowd was quickly growing, so because of this and not the man’s anxiety or sudden profession of faith, Jesus quickly gave the vile spirit its marching orders: "Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you—Out of him, and stay out!" Screaming, and with much thrashing about, it left. The boy was pale as a corpse, so people started saying, "He's dead." But Jesus, taking his hand, helped him to his feet. (Several lines of verses in 25-27 have been taken from ‘The Message’ by Eugene Peterson)

Later, back in the house with his disciples, they asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (v28)

“You can’t cast out anything by yourselves, only prayer to my Father can.” (v29)

This story left me with a few questions. Would the problems that demons inflicted mankind with in Jesus day be called ‘learning,’ or ‘physical,’ disabilities today?

Jesus has told us that those who have faith in Him will be able to do what He did, and even more (John 14:12). So, if we pray for the students in our classes, could the disabilities lesson or disappear entirely?

I often pray for myself, “Lord Jesus, please give me the strength and wisdom to work with the students you have placed in my care.” In a round about way, this may be like praying for my students because I know that I am a member of Jesus body, doing what he has called me to do. (Romans 12:4-8). But I rarely pray, “Jesus, please heal _____ of his _____.” Because we do not often pray like this, could this be one of the reasons why we feel we do not see the healing power of God in our day?

Each week at school brings new challenges along with some old and expected ones. S.E.A.’s quickly learn which children will be harder or easier to work with. But when a student reacts, what should we do about it? Should we brainstorm new strategies that may or may not work better? I have done this as it is a good idea. Or as Jesus suggests, should we pray that God would heal the child of the disability he currently has? I hope to continue this action until it becomes a habit and I trust that it will work even better. My work as an S.E.A. may encourage children to earn better grades, become better friends or someday hold a better job. But, if we pray that God would release our disabled children of their challenges, this would be much greater than any grade they receive, friend they make, or job they hold.

As Jesus was healing a man born blind, he said:

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am in the world, I am tne Light of the World.”

John 9:4-5

Monday, January 21, 2008

We’ve got to Pray, just to make it today!

In Luke 11, Jesus teaches us how to pray and immediately follows it with a practical story of its importance. In it, a man is confronted at midnight by an acquaintance who knocks on his door and asks for several loaves of bread because a friend of his has just arrived and he has nothing to give him to eat. The man inside counters, “I am warm and comfortable with my wife and children in bed. The door is locked, and I need a good night sleep. So I can’t help you.” The man’s prayer to his friend for help has apparently been denied. But the impact that persistent prayer makes is so remarkable, that it can move the hearts and minds of the healthy about the sick, parents about their children, masters about their pets, and even of God regarding his creation.
In his book, ‘The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God’, Dallas Willard expresses an unfortunate yet common perspective that many share regarding prayer:
“Suppose your children believed that you didn’t do anything differently because they asked you. For example; you will give them money on Friday evening regardless of whether they ask you for it or not. But they also believe that you require them to go through the ritual of asking, and so they do it. . . . They do it even though they believe you will or will not give it to them regardless of what they do, and you know they believe this.”
Is prayer a matter of ritual, or does it involve exercising faith?
In Dr. Randolph Byrd's 1988 study on intercessory prayer, a percentage of 393 coronary patients, who were hospitalized due to heart attacks or equally traumatic experiences, were prayed for, while the remainder were not. The study concluded that whether the patients were receiving prayer from across the street or across the country, distance did not play a role in the effectiveness of the prayers given. And considerably fewer patients, who received prayer, died or needed to use the most potent drugs, not one requiring life support.
We have two cats at our house who regularly meow, demanding that I (or anyone else within earshot) would stop what they are currently doing and attend to their immediate and desperately important need. On most occasions, this involves lifting them up to where their bowl of food is kept, on top of our washing machine. Sometimes I complain, “can’t you jump? It’s not that high!” Or attempt to ignore them entirely. But my frustration with their persistent and distracting noise always results in giving them my attention for at least a second or two so they will stop meowing.
If you were a cat who needed just a little bit of help to get to its food supply or a patient in a hospital who needed healing of some kind, what route would you take to get it? Cats would probably continue to meow and hopefully America would continue to pray for those in need. In Luke 11, the man waiting outside his friend’s house was also persistent, continuously knocking, talking and waiting on his friend to get up and give him what he needed.
If however, the man outside decided to leave, his friend inside would not need to do anything about his situation. However, if the man inside finally did decide to get out of bed, but his friend outside had decided that this situation was a hopeless one and left, he would not be there to receive the things that he had asked for. If my cats had decided to stop meowing and instead lie in front of the fire, they would still be hungry and not be ready to receive another meal from me. And if America had stopped praying for their countrymen in need, they may just die.
How important are the things you are currently praying about? Are they worth waiting for? As the man waited, all the time explaining his situation, repeating his request, and not allowing his friend inside to sleep, his request was finally granted. Are you willing to wait long enough for God to answer? If you do, you may just be rewarded.

Ask and you'll get;
Seek and you'll find;
Knock and the door will open.
Don't bargain with God.
Be direct. Ask for what you need.
This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in.
Don't you think the Father, who loves you, will fulfill your needs when you ask him?
Luke 11: 9-10, 13