Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I am the Good Shepherd

But then he continued on using the same scenario: a flock of sheep, a shepherd, and a sheep pen. And he tells us: “I am the good shepherd.”

Sheep are put into a pen at night for their protection. Thieves will try to steal them. Predators will try to kill and eat them. Only the shepherd stands between them and those dangers.

Sometimes, someone is hired to watch the flock, so the shepherd can sleep. And in those cases, if a lion or a bear attacks the flock, this hired person has no motivation to defend the flock. On the other hand, the shepherd is motivated to take on a lion or a bear.

The shepherd knows his sheep. He speaks to them. They follow. He protects them. He provides for them. He places them in situations that bring the best to them.

This parable can be applied to our relationship to Jesus in many ways.
  • Those who follow Jesus are like sheep. Sheep’s herding instinct is strong enough that they will follow one another right over the edge of the cliff. We all know people who get with the wrong people, and them into all sorts of trouble.
  • Jesus loves all people. His heart is to gather all people to himself, and lead them – toward the completion of their design, toward greater joy and fulfillment. And, for those who give him their allegiance, he is actively pursuing this goal.
  • Jesus demonstrates he is supremely trustworthy of our faith, when he died to re-establish a relationship with people. He honors his promises, he relationship with people, and his Father’s purposes – to gather a people to be his new family.
  • Sheep learn to follow the shepherd. We can learn to follow Jesus. We can hear his voice; we can discern it from all the other voices; we can successfully follow the path that he is leading us on.
  • Jesus’ purpose is to create a family, build it strong in love, to love, and to increase it. Scripture says that all peoples, all languages, and all the ends of the earth will be represented in his family. Our purpose is to embrace Jesus’ purpose.

Monday, September 19, 2016

I am the Gate

Many people in Jesus’ day owned sheep. It seems that a common practice was to put the flock in a pen at night, and let them out to graze during the day. So, it was really important to the sheep, when the shepherd arrived, and led the sheep out of the pen to the pasture. The pasture meant food, water, and life. The gate was the bridge to the pasture. That’s why Jesus said, “I am the gate.”

We all need “fuels” to live. We need physical fuels: food, water, and air. (Or you could use more resolution and say: Protein, iron, zinc. Vitamin C, vitamin D, etc.) We need spiritual fuels: love, purpose, beauty, etc.

Our primary spiritual fuel is a relationship with our Father. Everyone needs this sort of relationship to thrive. No just to exist, but to have what Jesus called “abundant life.”

And Jesus is the bridge to that life. Or, as the gate to the sheep pen, the way out to food and water for the sheep. Jesus is the gate that opens up, allowing people to escape the prison of sin, and experience life. Jesus is our means, our vehicle, for connecting with the Father.

Monday, September 12, 2016

I am the Light of the World

One thing people agree on: life is less than optimal. What people don’t agree on: the causes, the solutions, and even, what the final result should look like. And this was just as true in Jesus’ day as is today.

Jesus was different. He lived without sin. Even the Quran say Jesus was the only sinless person. Moreover, Jesus practiced authentic love towards all people. He had a lifestyle that showed he was the only person to have it together. He had unique qualifications to answer questions about the world’s problems, solutions, and direction.

Jesus said the world walked in darkness. That meant more than merely its practices were evil. That also meant it was lost, wandering in circles, and unable to see the path at its feet. It pursued the wrong goals. It valued the wrong things. It was going in the wrong direction entirely.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” He was not lost. He did not wander in circles. He pursued the right goals. He had the right values. And because he was light, if we walked with him, we could finally see. We wouldn’t be lost. We could fully, truly evaluate what is right, true, and valuable. We could do this, because we could see what Jesus did.

Jesus gave several “assessments” about people and the world. The first was that people did not have a correct relationship with God. People were designed to have a love relationship with the Father of All Creation. Some pursue this relationship moralistically. Meaning: striving to do good and not do bad. But the Bible says that God’s standard is perfection. Any bad will break the relationship. One bad thing is one too many.

Some pursue the relationship religiously. Meaning: the strive to faithfully observe certain forms, norms, and practices. God commanded the Jews to sacrifice animals, a religious form that was intended to handle the sin they committed. But animal sacrifice could never be the final solution to sin. And God never intended it to be. It was a temporary solution, pointing people to God’s final solution, Jesus’ death.

Second, people do not treat people as they should. People should treat all people with love. (All people! Think of the current American political scene.) We have considered love, what it means, and how to practice it, numerous times, so we will not expand on it extensively at this time. But imagine what kindness, patience, and complete communication (as much as possible) would mean on the interstate highway system. Imagine what putting others first would mean in that context. There are numerous everyday situations that love would revolutionize.

We could discuss a number of facets of the world system, but love of God and love of people completely cover all aspects of the present age. Jesus said those two loves completely obey all of God’s commands; the completely pursue all of God’s purposes. Walking in those two loves means we are fully situated in his light. These loves speak louder than worlds. These loves speak louder than signs and wonders. These loves fully complete God’s purpose in the world. These loves shine the same light Jesus did.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

I am the Bread of Life

Jesus made a number of terse, succinct statements about his identity, and his mission. One such statement was “I am the bread of life.”

These statements, like when Jesus told parables, are not literal. Jesus is using figurative language to express spiritual truth. Bread, of course, is a basic food staple. In some cultures, it was eaten in some form at every meal. It was a primary part of their diet.

Jesus was, of course, referring to our relationship with the Father, and Jesus being the necessary, primary ingredient in that relationship. People cannot enter into a relationship with the Father without Jesus. A person is born a slave to sin. He is held captive to it, and its consequences. To live the life God designed, to live in relationship with the Father, we need to break our relationship with sin and the world. So, Jesus died … and he created a bridge back to God. We choose allegiance with God. We walked across the bridge into relationship with God, and into the life we were designed to live. (Of course, transformation is necessary to actually live, practice, and experience that relationship.)

Bread is the means to sustaining life. Without it, life cannot exist; it dies. And since, Jesus calls us to a new kind of life – a life we were designed to live from the beginning, but which only Jesus ever really lived – we need a new and different kind of “bread.” A “bread” that Jesus supplid. And when we make “bread” our own, we we consume it, we make it a part of us. And the life in it is injected into us. The physical benefits of bread are not delivered until we consume it. Neither will the benefits of this new “bread.”

Part of what Jesus was trying to do was show that people’s conceptions of what was important, of what constituted a true relationship with God, of what constituted true living, were flawed. These figures Jesus used were not theological position statements, with well-defined, precise and exhaustive language. They were attempts to bump people out of their mental ruts, which were engraved in stone, and as deep as the Grand Canyon. Every time Jesus gave one of these statements, it was a clarion call from revelation. It was a call for changes of allegiance, and changes into a revelutionary lifestyle.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Jesus as Ideal Man

When Jesus was sent into the world, he was fully God, and he was fully man. He was fully God, so he could bridge the infinite chasm between a perfect God, and sinful people. He was fully man, so he could be the perfect representative of people, and the perfect model for people.

As a man, he lived as all men must. That is, he lived in relationship with the Father. He lived in trust, receiving direction, and enabling. He modeled the way all followers of Jesus should live. He communed with the Father. He listened. He recognized where the Father was moving, and acted in cooperation with the Father in that area.

We need to learn to tune into God’s voice like Jesus did. He quickly and easily connected with the Father. He heard the Father speak quickly and easily. And he acted based on what he heard.

The Father designed people to have the same quality of relationship that he had with Jesus. And he is restoring us to that relationship. He wants us to hear the Father’s voice, to see the Father move, as quickly and easily as Jesus did. He wants us to receive enabling, as thoroughly and as profoundly as Jesus did. So, we can do the works of Jesus. So, we can love like Jesus.

Monday, August 22, 2016

God Gives

Scripture quotes John the Baptist as saying: “No one can receive anything unless God gives it to him.”

All spiritual input originates from God.
  • Forgiveness starts with God.
  • Transformation starts with God.
  • Anointing for service starts with God. (Both the assignment and the enabling come from God.)

God is eternally present. He is intimately, vitally present with each of his children. He gives 100%, focused, intense, passionate attention to each of his children. He is consumed by crime, the environment, modern day slavery, war, terrorism, and that you need a parking place in order to be on time for an appointment. God is 100% totally involved with his children’s greatest desire, and their greatest need.

I will not comment here about why bad stuff happens, and God does not seem to intervene. I can think of a number of reason, and there are probably more others can think of. And probably none of those are the right ones.

I do want to focus on god’s heart, or God’s desire to give. God’s heart is consumed with generosity. He wants to give abundantly. He wants to bless. He wants to restore us to what our original relationship with him should have been without sin. He wants to restore us to our original character, our original behavior, should be. He wants to restore the world to Eden.

So, God is eternally present and unfailingly generous. He initiates our restoration in relationship, our restoration of life, experience, and character, and any service. And what he begins, he continues, may not necessarily coincide with what we think. People look at circumstances and judge whether God’s blessing is on it. There may be two churches. One has 50 people, and the other 5000. People tend to feel that God favors the one with 5000. And that may not be the case. I do not mean to suggest that big is bad. But big may not be good either. If big results in people not serving, not listening to god, not exercising their responsibilities as priest, then big is not good.

God gives. We receive. As we respond to what we receive.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Wedding at Cana

I recently read the story about the wedding at Cana. Weddings in Jesus’ day, and culture were held in two steps. Two families would agree that a man, and a woman, would get married. They would have a betrothal ceremony, in which the agreement was formalized. Unlike engagements today, betrothals had legal standing. It required a divorce to break them.

In the interval between the betrothal and the wedding ceremony, the man began to prepare a home, and to prepare for the celebration, which he and his family were responsible for. And the celebration could last seven days.

[Stop. Rewind. Slow down.]

The man has agreed to take a woman as his wife. He goes home, and begins a building project. Either he begins a whole new house, or he adds a room onto his father’s house. And his father (and probably his father-in-law) will be looking over his shoulder, critiquing, and advising, the whole way.

Simultaneously, the family beings laying in supplies. Modern weddings average around $40,000. Imagine housing, and feeding two extended families for a week. Not counting close friends, and coworkers.

Then, when everything is ready, the man and his close friends go to the brides house, collect the bride, her belongings, and bring them to the new home. Apparently, the marriage was consummated, the couple were officially, and completely married. And they began a weeklong party.

Part way through this celebration, Mary, Jesus’ mother, tells him they are out of wine.

Since, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers, are at the wedding, it is not a very difficult deduction that Jesus is at a family wedding. And, since Mary knows about the supply problem, it is also not a difficult deduction that is Jesus is part of the groom’s family, who are responsible for the food.

When Mary tells Jesus about the wine problem, he basically responds “Yeah! What do you think I should do about it?” I don’t know if Mary expected him to do anything. Maybe she was just looking for sympathy. The groom, and his family, were given time to prepare (build a room, and gather food and wine) sometimes up to a year. And they blew it. Did they not know how much to get? Were they just not able to get it? What’s next? The house will collapse? Starvation?

If there are problems, do you go to the other family “Sorry! We need a little more time!” Do you go to your relatives for help? And does the entire groom’s extended family begin to worry about the family-wide embarrassment? Will the bride’s family become resentful? Will they spread this failure far and wide?

Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says. Jesus considers the situation. The groom‘s family will experience shame. The bride’s family will be worried, fearful, and perhaps, insulted, and angry. So, Jesus tells the servants to fill several tubs with water. Then, he says to take a pitcher of water to the emcee. The servants pour the “water” from the pitcher into a cup for the emcee. And the water is now wine. (When did the water become wine? Right when it was poured into the cup? And what about the rest of the water in the tubs?) And the emcee is grateful to have wine for the next toast. And he is amazed that the wine is of the finest quality.

I think the first miracle of Jesus is a demonstration of his heart for people. Jesus works a miracle to prevent embarrassment and shame for a family.

Jesus is focused on the heart\inner man of people. Shame, guilt, embarrassment do not further the purposes of God. God goes out of his way to communicate his love, compassion, and involvement to erase guilt, and shame. Love and mercy complete God’s purposes.