Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Comfort of Spiritual Friends

Lent Day 7

Matt 26:36-38 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

When I am wrestling with the things that hurt the soul; when I am tangled in webs of dispair and disappointment; when I hurt from wounds that leave no marks... I am grateful for true spiritual friends. Spiritual friends make me capable of doing and facing things that I wouldn't be able to face alone.

In this passage we see that Jesus is crying out for moral support, for the comfort of friends, for comrades at arms. "Keep watch with me." We witness Jesus being more human than divine in this passage. And so we are comforted by the fact that the Son of God needs friends- as we do. Especially, when we are facing the impossible. We need to prayerful voice of friends who know God.

Too many of us try to do it alone.... thinking that is the stuff of heroic effort. It is the pleasure of fools and demons to convince us that we need no spiritual friends. When we are in our Gethsemane, pouring out our souls to God, fighting with his will, struggling toward obedience- we need them. If you have them- consider yourself fortunate- if you don't, seek them out.

Monday, February 26, 2007

6 Evidences against the Jesus Ossuary

If you got shook up from watching NBC's Today show Monday morning, relax! The claim was made that the bones of Jesus were found in a tomb in Israel. I thought I would take 10 minutes to let you know that the faith of Christianity is not in jeapordy. :-)

1. This is not the only ossuary discovered with this inscription. "Jesus son of Joseph" was found inscribed on a number of ossuaries discovered since the 20's. This ossuary is one of many.
2. The names of Jesus, Mara, Judas and Yose are very common names. Like finding a tomb with the name Jose in Mexico city. While we are taken back by the idea that there is another Jesus son of Joseph certainly those who heard the claims of the early Christian sect would have recognized the difference between this Yeshua and the one from Nazareth. Amos Kloner, an archeologist that examined the site said "It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave...The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."
3. The placement of the tomb in East Talpiot. Prof Kloner said there was no way the tomb housed the Holy Family."It is just not possible that a family who came from Galilee, as the New Testament tells us of Joseph and Mary, would be buried over several generations in Jerusalem."
4. In a society that worshipped Jesus, these bones would have been treated with much more dignity or with much more scandal than simply being buried in a family plot. The reverence that was given to Jesus -even being called God- is evidence against a family plot of the Nazarene http://www.bib-arch.org/bswb_BAR/bswbba3302f2.html
5. Experts deny the possibility that this is the burial plot of Jesus' family. For instance Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/24/wjesus24.xml
6. Finally, there is a book AND a movie to promote. hmmm It seems that now that the DaVinci Code proved there was money in questioning the historical validity of the gospel others are piling on.

"Simcha has no credibility whatsoever," says Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archeology at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997 and personally numbered the Talpiot ossuaries. "He's pimping off the Bible … He got this guy Cameron, who made 'Titanic' or something like that—what does this guy know about archeology? I am an archeologist, but if I were to write a book about brain surgery, you would say, 'Who is this guy?' People want signs and wonders. Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession." Cameron's reply: "I don't profess to be an archeologist or a Biblical scholar. I'm a film producer. I found it compelling. I think we're on firm ground to say that much."

for more info http://www.beliefnet.com/story/212/story_21296_1.html

flesh and spirit

Lent Day 6

Matt 26:33 Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." NIV

When you are a lover of Christ, you are not put off by demonic threats, political pressure, or even the prospect of death. Your devotion is strong. YOU will follow Jesus. YOU will go where ever the Master dictates. YOU will be faithful! Or at least that is what your heart says.

But the reality is determined not by fleshly determination but by our spiritual strength. We tend to make sweeping predictions of spiritual grandeur because we think that by those spoken declarations we accomplish something. But we merely reveal our lack of awareness of our true spiritual state. We are weak. We are but flesh. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Peter's fleshly declaration of devotion is weakened by his human limitations.

How often have I made powerful declarations of love and adoration? How often have I failed him? Too often. God make me aware of my accute need of your spiritual empowerment to live this life of Spiritual devotion.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Falling away

Lent Day 3

Matthew 26.31 This very night you will all fall away on account of me....

Jesus knew that he lived a life that was easily perceived as scandalous. By that, I mean that Jesus recognized the profound 'other-ness' of his life and especially his death. I marvel at the strength of Christ as he approaches Gethsemane and, ultimately, Calvary. He looks into the eyes of the naive fishermen, zealots, and tax collectors who were his intimates. In his moments of approaching crisis he sees in their eyes the stumbling block (skandlon-grk) and recognizes that for all their devotion and all their love- they will fail him. "You will ALL fall away..."

I am one of those who has fallen from total devotion at times. Whether it be drifting from divine purpose or flirting with sin or even, upon occassion, outright rebellion against my savior. Many times I have come to realize that God knows that he asks a lot of me. He recognizes that we are water, dirt and spirit. That our frailty and failure to embrace his purpose,our dullness to grasp his plan, our impatience with the divine timetable is inborn within us. Yet he has built into this scandolous life a fail safe. We may return after our failure.

The church of the later first century had difficulty with this notion. Those who failed to confess Christ while under duress in the persecutions were not allowed to be baptized or back into full fellowship in many churches. They had failed. Imagine the shame! Cowardous and broken by the governmental persecutors they returned to the church to find further condemnation for their actions. Now I am sure there are consequences for all our actions. But I believe that those churches missed the point. We will all fall away... perhaps not in persecution, but is it any different to deny his greatness by our lukewarm discipleship, or our half baked justification of our sins?

Later in the book of 1 John the prescription for our ills is listed. If we say we have no sin we make God a liar but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us. Herein is the secret to healing- the confession of sins. It is probably the least practiced spiritual discipline of the Protestant church. When was the last time you made a written list of your sins, great and small? Have you ever laid it all out? There is power in the soul searched!

The result of the search of our souls has to be an appreciation for God's infinite grace upon our spotted and tainted souls. Thank God he made a way for those of us who fall away to be whole and clean once again!

1 John 1:8-10 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. NIV

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Snow Receeding

Lent Day 2

Here in Chicago it is easy to see that the unseasonably warm weather is melting the snow. The warm weather that has followed the unseasonably cold weather and snow and ice is quite a contrast (when will we have seasonable weather?). As the warmth melts the outer layers of the snow the black and grey and dirt are revealed. What has been covered is now exposed. What was once a layer of beautiful fresh white powder is reduced to the sludge and grim that was underneath.

I am reminded that Isaiah records the words of the Lord to his people as Isa 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together,"says the LORD."Though your sins are like scarlet,they shall be as white as snow..." Certainly it is the divine prerogative to cover our sins when we enter into a faith relationship with Christ. That cleansing, the prophets says, makes us white as snow. But when we drift from the relationship with God's Son and rely upon our own self- the white snow receeds. It does so slowly, methodoligically, evenly. And as it receeds the grime of who we once were, the filth of past deeds, the dirt of our brokeness is revealed. Others see it. We are exposed!

Our choices are limited. We may deny that the snow is fading and that the vision that others see is real or run back to God for renewal. Our prayer might follow Psalm 51 as we ask God for a new covering of our dirt with his beauty. (Ps 51:7) Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Lord, cover my dirt, sin and shame- may your grace never receed from my life and may your snow white beauty reflect the brillance of your light.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Plotting to Kill

Lent Day 1

Most of us haven't ever experienced the kind of pressure the Jesus experienced in the last portion of his ministry. In Matthew 26.4 we read that the chief priests and the elders of Israel assembled for the purpose of devising a way to kill Jesus. I don't know if you have ever had someone trying to kill you- but that is pressure! What provoked this diabolical plotting?

Jesus' life and ministry are the very things that provoked the talk of assassination. That makes me think that Jesus was a little different than people paint him these days. The gentle, slightly effeminate, itinerate teacher that some portray as the Christ wouldn't need to be assassinated. He would be no force to be dealt with. He wouldn't be able to command the masses. But the Biblical Jesus taught more than love your neighbor and turning the cheek. He lived out a radical gospel that was an affront to all the pretenders who spouted religious jargon and rattled off religious sounding phrases. Pretenders all! No by living the Empowered Life Jesus stirred up trouble and challenged the pretenders. Calling them out, challenging thier teaching, exposing their hypocrisy.

Some think good christians are quiet and meek. Not so. Those who follow Jesus must walk in the footsteps of their master and provoke a hatred for themselves in the lives of others just because of the stand they take. So as we begin an examination of our souls in this lenten season we simply need to ask ourselves one question. What have I done to provoke an assassination attempt on my life? If you are like me- then your answer is...not enough.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Community vs. Toughing it out

When God called his people out (Ekklesia=church=called out ones) he also called them in. He called them into fellowship, into service, into connection with each other, and into relationship. In truth, the first century church was much more united out of necessity. They practiced a form of communalism- though it wasn't mandated, people shared their lives freely, sold homes as the Lord spoke to their hearts, held a common purse, and served one another and the poor among them.

With all the talk of christian unity over the decades we really don't see much of it among us. This may be partially because there is a stubborn individual streak in us that refuses to join to the community. (The literature says that this generation isn't a generation of "joiners".) Of course, I am not saying that we should sell everything and hold the money in a common purse anymore. What I guess I am saying is that we need to get a vision that Christ has called us to each other. We form a community of believers- a faith community. Thankfully I have been blessed to be a part of a community like that.

My children have been partially raised by people in the church. The church was my entire source of child care when I needed babysitters. Men sat with my adolescent and young adult sons and daughter and talked to them about important issues in their lives- not preaching just caring like family. Some helped us move, or fix up our house. We have had the privilege to go on vacations with some of these and have eaten countless meals together. We have cried together, laughed together, and scratched our heads together over things we didn't understand. What a blessing!
So much of what Jesus teaches revolves around this concept of an alternative community of faith, that we often misinterprete the scriptures when we ignore the powerful community aspect that is in there. In Matthew 18.15-20 Jesus tells how to deal with a community member- a brother- who stumbles into sin. What discipline does he suggest for the unrepentant sinner? Removal from the community. For this brother to be cut off from community meant he had no access to the communion table, the word of life, the fellowship of saints, the life molding process of relationship. Hardly seems applicable to the mega church culture, eh\? How would you know if he continued to slip in among your thousands of Sunday visitors?
In Matthew 25.34ff we read that Jesus will judge the stingy and tightfisted who refuse to help a fellow community member. Though this verse is often freely applied to feeding the indigent and helping the starving masses, it clearly is intended to provoke an allegience toward the community. Those that are hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison- are those 'brothers' (v 40)who have been imprisoned for their faith or are persecuted. They aren't selling roses on the overpass! Compare Gal 6.10 where the community of God is prioritized in the good works of the believers.

When will the church of the 21 st Century learn that to ignore community is to develop a system of faith contrary to Christ's. The gospel of Christ prompts us to change our allegiences from our habits, beliefs, addicitons, and lifestyles that offend God and are detrimental to our souls. The community of God is the powerful system of relationships by which we challenge one another, pray for one another, and care for one another in our times of need. That said- the church is the ultimate support group. Why tough it out on your own?