Thursday, May 26, 2022

No New Crazy

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

     Can we be frank and earnest with each other for a minute? Yes, the world has gone crazy. Yes, it’s a scary, turbulent, unruly place…

…but that’s not a new development.

    The insanity predates the shootings last week in Buffalo, New York and Irvine, California. The turbulence is older than Tuesday’s news out of Uvalde, Texas. For each and every person who lost someone they love in those awful events, the shock of the world’s depravity and violence must be horribly fresh and totally overwhelming. If you haven’t prayed for all of these precious souls yet, please stop what you’re doing and pray now. But the fact is, the world went crazy a long time ago.

     When Cain slew his brother Abel, the human race consisted of four persons: these two brothers and their parents, Adam and Eve. Twenty-five percent of the world’s population died at the hand of one. Is that crazy, or what? And it’s not just the math that makes it so thoroughly insane – the very idea of one image-bearer of God murdering another must have shocked the whole universe. Why didn’t the North and South Poles switch places? Why didn’t the planet begin to spin backward? Either of those events would have been less crazy than what had just happened. And to add insult to insanity, it kept on happening.

     Cain became a murderer because he was jealous of his brother. Each brother had brought an offering to the Lord – And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell (Genesis 4:4-5). Cain had options at that point; he didn’t have to become a murderer. He could’ve asked the Lord what kind of offering was acceptable. He could then have brought an acceptable offering. Here was a pivotal moment – perhaps the angels held their breath. We don’t know for sure whether Cain even considered his options; we only know what happened. In great anger and with a fallen countenance he plotted his brother’s demise, and carried it out. The earth became a place it had not been before.

     Nearly three thousand years ago a songwriter named Asaph, breathing in the words God breathed out, wrote, the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence (Psalm 74:20).

     No kidding. And remember: darkness ensues at precisely the rate light ceases to shine. Dark places happen, quite literally, at the speed of light. Ever since that awful day in a field somewhere outside of Eden, it can truly be said that no place on our planet is exempt from the possibility of violence. Now, the world’s population is fast approaching eight billion – as it relates to undoing the craziness loose in the world, there are basically two ways of engaging that figure. On the one hand, we could say there’s no way to lasso the potential violence of that many humans. On the other hand, we could say, “Gotta start somewhere.” If we choose the second option, the key is to figure out where to start. I have a few suggestions. Your job, Church, is to ask the Lord whether my suggestions are worth hearing, and if so, what your particular part would be in rolling them out.

     One is to pray for civic leaders, from council members and trustees through presidents and prime ministers. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Timothy 2:1-4). This is the top-down method. Within this scriptural mandate, there’s a more specific prayer I often pray: for the Holy Spirit to well up in every believer who’s involved in government. Imagine a Spirit-led believer in a position of civic authority – wow.

     Another is to pray for gentleness within ourselves that becomes evident to others. Let your gentleness be evident to all; the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5, NIV’84).  This is the inside-out method. Another Bible version gives “reasonableness” for “gentleness.” Every single one of us has a choice, just like Cain had, to bring what’s gentle and reasonable – or conversely, what’s violent and unreasonable – into the situations and lives we touch.

     The third suggestion… Wait. This is where we have to be the most frank and earnest with each other, Church. I want you to make a list of every man you know who has a son under the age of about 25, and pray diligently for those dads, that they can raise their sons to be responsible, caring adult males – in society, in marriage, in fatherhood, and in every life role they may find themselves in. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-7). This is the bottom-up method. What son is there whom his human father does not discipline? Apparently, there are many, or else we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. A male child needs somebody to jerk a knot in his tail every once in a while. Every boy needs to be taught – and shown a constructive example – of what to do and what not to do with his voice, his hands, his sex organ… and yes, his trigger finger. Whether it’s gun violence, domestic violence, or a shouting match in the workplace or on a playground, males need to be compelled, when “sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7), to turn to the Lord, and “rule over” that sin – which is exactly what Cain did not do.

     You could say to me that it’s not just men who are violent, and you’d be correct. But if you take time to fact-check the events of the past week-and-a-half, or the past century-and-a-half for that matter, isn’t the term “gunman” – as distinct from “gun-woman” or “gun-person” – sickeningly accurate? There is a special responsibility, given by divine authority, for men to curb violence, to nip it in the bud at every level. There is a special responsibility, given by divine authority, for dads to teach their sons to turn in humility to the Lord our God. It started with the very first dad, who failed, and appeared in the very first son, who had been set up for failure.

     Shortly after the first man sinned, God showed up in the Garden. (A)nd the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9). The Lord God called to the man. The Hebrew for “you” is singular here, not plural. This was Adam’s chance to say something like, “Here I am. I messed up. Please fix me.” He didn’t. In the next generation, in the firstborn of that generation, who was a son, the same opportunity presented itself – “sin is crouching at the door,” (the Lord God said to Cain), “Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (4:7). Would God have instructed Cain to do something impossible? Of course not. But without a better example, he fell into his father’s pattern. Five generations later, Cain’s direct descendant Lamech became the next murderer on record (and for what it’s worth, the first polygamist as well). And on it goes.

     As you might have guessed by now, I’m challenging you to employ all three methods of prayer: the top-down, the inside-out, and the bottom-up. As you might further have guessed, I’m presenting the third one as the most urgent. Given the track record of the human race, we must be way behind the curve in recognizing the need to pray pointedly and fervently for dads and sons. The best benefits may be far off – years or even generations – but the progress, when it comes, will be the most measurable.

     Yes, please, let your heart ache for the families and friends of the victims in Buffalo and Irvine and Uvalde. Let your heart ache for the families and friends of the victims in Sandy Hook and Charleston and Denver and Dayton. Let your prayers for them be filled with much anguish – How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever (Psalm 74:10, 19). Let your heart ache, also, for men who have the terrible, awesome responsibility of raising sons. Some of them don’t even know it. Some know it, but have no better example than Cain had. Some of them know it and want to do their level best, but need our prayers and encouragement to turn to the Lord for every critical nugget of wisdom and fortitude. Let the tally of victims go into decline because Christians are lifting up dads in prayer.

     Having scrolled to the end of this letter, I thank you for sticking with me so long. There’s much work to do. If a paragraph or even a single line or word of this letter has compelled us in any way, I hope it’s to do the diligent work of prayer, and to put legs to those prayers wherever the Lord allows. There is no new crazy suddenly under the sun. The bane of violence has caroused our planet ever since the first dad failed the first son. Pray to push it back.

  

Grace and Peace (and a special measure for dads),

 

John

Thursday, May 19, 2022

No Other Name

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” – Jesus of Nazareth (quoted at John 12:24).

     It’s planting time. Take a drive or a ride around Franklin and Union and Butler Counties and you’ll see field after field, disked and ready to receive seed. The ground that’s been mostly dormant for the past six months is about to get back to work. Acre upon acre stretches out like a vast canvas, and the art of feeding the world is once again underway.

     Along with the art and science, it takes a fair amount of faith to grow a crop. Will there be enough rain? Will there be enough sun? Will something really screwy happen, like when Hurricane Ike broke the 2008 corn crop in half and made it so difficult to harvest? Only God knows for sure. Meanwhile, the sowing goes on in hope of the reaping.

     Last Sunday, Tim Mohr preached with boldness about boldness. Here’s what usually happens when I hear any kind of teaching on being bold in the Christian faith: I get timid. I see a gap – a broad and unapproachable gap – between the faith of the apostles and my own. What’s wrong with me that people aren’t being healed as my shadow falls across them? Why am I not being openly persecuted for being a Christian? Where’s my bullhorn? Compared to the apostles, nothing I’m doing could qualify as boldness. I pull back. It’s a predictable pattern. Is any of this familiar to you, Church? If so, could I get a digital Amen at some point?  

     The passage Tim taught on was drawn from Acts, chapter 4, the account of Peter and John before the Council of rulers. The apostles’ offense: they were instrumental in the healing of a lame beggar outside the temple gate. You’d think the members of the Council could have been glad for the one who was healed. Or maybe they could simply have been aloof – what’s one more lame beggar to them, healed or unhealed? But they took an intense interest, to the point of having Peter and John arrested, jailed, and dragged in to testify whether they wanted to or not. Regarding this undeniable healing, here’s what the Council wanted to know above all else: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7).

     Peter and John could have testified to their great faith, and how they had left everything to be part of the Jesus movement. They could have touted their dedication to preaching the gospel, their regularity in prayer, their sincere devotion to fellow believers. None of it would have been untrue. But the Council hadn’t asked about any of that. It was all about the name. Peter responded with exactly what they didn’t want to hear: “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (verses 8-11).

     Take note of the cast of characters in this scene, especially Annas and Caiaphas and all who were of the high-priestly family. These were among those who conducted the kangaroo court that convicted Jesus of “blasphemy” during the night before the crucifixion. They thought they had done away with the preaching and healing and revolutionary ways of Jesus. Once he was in the hands of the Romans, their system was secure again. But the “grain of wheat” had fallen, voluntarily, to the ground – and right before the Council’s eyes, it was bearing “much fruit.”

     Peter and John were simply living out the life Jesus had put into them – his own life. The clarity and boldness Peter spoke with was the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 8). Jesus had said the Spirit would be like rivers of living water (John 7:38). And it was so.

     Today is the day we tune up our definition of boldness. If a teaching on boldness makes you, like me, shy away from boldness, something is obviously out of whack. Today is whacking day. According to Jesus, out of whose heart would flow these rivers of living water? Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive (John 7:39).  Those who believe in him receive the Spirit, and from their hearts rivers of living waters will flow. Hello, believer! Rivers of living water, flowing from the heart – how bold is that? Is there anyone near you who might benefit from rivers of living water flowing from your heart? Is there any ugly situation, any injustice, any need or desperation at all, that might at least begin to be rectified by a believer-in-Jesus, from whose heart flow rivers of living water? Aside from quenching the Spirit, the rivers will flow. Boldness is a matter of not quenching.

     I don’t have to build a resume of faithful acts, don’t have to compare myself to the apostles, don’t have to work myself into a lather to be bold in the faith. And neither do you, Christian. The very life of Christ is in us. The Spirit will guide; the rivers will flow; the need will be found and met. For each of us, Jesus knows the scale of our mission, exactly. Cooperating with him involves agreeing on the scale, and living out precisely the amount of boldness the moment requires. The grain of wheat fell into the ground, and we are the fruit.

     Kay and I are only now seeing the fruit from seeds planted twelve, fifteen, twenty years ago. Not every “crop” has taken that long to come to harvest, but some do. The boldness we exercised back then would have been difficult to define as such – time has been the one good clarifier. We get the idea, then, that the Lord would be pleased to have his people stay the course of boldness, keep the faith, and live out the life he’s put into us. For, as Peter was compelled by the Spirit to say, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

     In that regard, every season is planting season.

  

Grace and Peace (in the power of Jesus’ name),

 

John

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Eye-dentity

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

     Among all of Jesus’s encounters with people recorded in the Gospels, perhaps the most quirky is the story of the man born blind, found in the ninth chapter of John. People talk about the man all the time as if he weren’t there. Have you noticed?

    The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (verse 2).

    Hello? I’m right here!

    Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (verse 3).

    An explanation, please? Oh, here it comes…

(Jesus) spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud (verse 6).

    Anointed? Funny word to describe putting mud in a man’s eyes – and by the way, no one has addressed me yet.

     I wonder why the man is left lingering in anonymity for so long. Even Jesus lets a lot happen before speaking to him. Reading the rest of his story, you’ll see that he isn’t called by name at any time – not even by his parents. He was the man born blind, and a beggar, and that was all the identification his family and neighbors seemed to require… or all they could handle. But I think Jesus was up to something unexpected – aside from the obvious, I mean – and had his reasons for letting the man’s invisibility cling beyond the point of being polite. Of the whole assembled crowd, I think Jesus was the only one seeing.

     Now, if somebody put mud in your eyes, you’d want to – what? – go wash it off? Of course you would! Jesus said to the blind man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (verse 7). He went. He washed. He came back seeing. “Siloam,” according to the Gospel writer, means “Sent.” There may have been a pitcher or a trough or a washbasin closer – we don’t know – but the blind man went where Jesus sent him. What Jesus said, coupled with what the blind man did, carried the day.

     And then it started happening all over again – people talking about the man who had been blind as if he weren’t there:

    The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him” (verses 8-9).

    Are you kidding me?! He kept saying, “I am the man” (the rest of verse 9).

     The man’s identity had been wrapped up in his blindness and begging. When he came back seeing and not begging, the people weren’t sure who he was. Herded off to appear before the Pharisees, the confusion continued: his parents were asked, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” (verse 19).

    Oh, good grief… not again! What’s wrong with these people?

     Hey, Church. Jesus sees you.

     Whatever secondary things, whatever false things you attribute your identity to, Jesus sees you. You are who Jesus says you are. Same goes for me. No claim stands above his. He had everybody in that crowd figured out: he made the blind see and those who claimed to see were blinded. Jesus shows up and hands out the titles – nobody picks his own.

     The human eye is an aggravation to those who don’t give the Creator credit for creating it – its complexity and reliability are insanely difficult to chalk up to happenstance. So, of course Jesus chose to open the eyes that had never seen. Of course he chose “the dust of the ground” – like the first man was made of – coupled with his own spit, as a poultice. Of course God and only God, who had created all things out of nothing, could make sight out of mud. If Jesus hadn’t been doing it expressly to bring glory to the Father, you could’ve said he was showing off.  

     Finally, Jesus and the formerly blind man got a chance to talk. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him (verses 35-38). Whatever anybody else said about him (if not to him), this man was a believer in the Son of Man, the one who had opened his eyes.

     This man’s story – even this snippet of time – is rich and multilayered. Detail after detail intrigues us as hearers. And yet, we’re not given his name. Taking a somewhat informed guess, I think God did that on purpose, so every generation of hearers could plug themselves in, could at least entertain the possibility of receiving the identity given them by the Son of Man. The man’s neighbors and family would have left him at “blind” and “beggar.” Jesus brought him to “believer.”

     Who does Jesus say you are? Ask him.

  

Grace and Peace (received in truth),

 

John

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Who Can Hear?

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

     Picture a red-and-silver Chevy truck, a 1993 model. It’s parked along Riverside Drive in beautiful downtown Overpeck, Ohio. The year is 1999. There’s one occupant in the truck, in the shotgun seat. That’s me. It’ll be between 11:30am and noon, for that was our lunch break where I worked back then. The day is partly sunny and almost chilly, but the truck windows provide just enough greenhouse effect to make the cab a good place to eat lunch and read Bible.

     On my reading plan for that day was the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (verse 51).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (verse 53).  

     As noon rushed up, I prayed, “Lord, don’t let any of the crew ask what I was reading today. I don’t know how to explain it. Indeed, I can’t – not even to myself.” I’d been a Christian sixteen years by then, thoroughly in love with Jesus. And for twenty-odd years before that, I had lived among people who were thoroughly in love with Jesus. His words and his manner of speaking were familiar to me. And yet, faced with the prospect of taking Jesus at his word or making up something to explain his words away, my fervent hope was to avoid the exercise altogether.

     Let me ask: When Jesus’ words puzzle you, annoy you, or both – what do you do?

     For a long reach back into history, let’s see what the people did who first heard some of the words we’re hearing now. In the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus claimed to be the bread of life… come down from heaven (John 6:35, 38). Mighty big claim, that, and some grumbled – no surprise there. And the more he was pressed, the more it sounded like Jesus was saying that people should literally eat his flesh and drink his blood. Grumbling increased, and puzzlement ran like a tidal wave through the assembly – “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (verse 60). Unrelenting, Jesus went on, challenging their commitment until it snapped: After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (verse 66).

     Was there no one who still believed? Of the thousands who followed Jesus into Capernaum, was anyone at all willing to keep on walking with him? So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (verse 67). Scripture doesn’t give us the length of the ensuing pause. Jesus knew the answer to his question; the Twelve, for at least a moment, did not.

     And that’s the moment you and I have to dwell in right now. The question on the table is, “Do you want to go away as well?” Please don’t answer too quickly. Please don’t let some conditioned reflex speak for you. Jesus’ question is superbly crafted, built to generate a thoughtful response from those on whom it bears.

     The Gospels are full of open-ended stories, snapshots of Jesus’ encounters with people. Which way will they go? We get to see a general direction, but not the conclusion. Whatever happened to the invalid Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda, or the woman caught in the act of adultery? Nicodemus helped with the burial of Jesus – is that a sign he was saved, maybe as a result of the earlier nighttime conversation with him?

     I sometimes wonder about this multitude in Capernaum. The Gospel writer says many of his disciples… no longer walked with (Jesus). “Many” is different than “all”. Not all turned away. The twelve apostles continued with him – even though one of them was “a devil” (verse 70). There may have been others who, though thoroughly puzzled, stuck around to see what would happen next. And I don’t think the Lord would be displeased with me bringing up another possibility: some percentage of the multitude for whom Jesus’ words were just too much, but only in that setting. Some of the most important things Jesus said weren’t clear, even to the apostles, until after his resurrection. Scripture doesn’t exclude the possibility of a gap in time between hearing Jesus’ words and believing them.

     Peter, the outspoken apostle, gets credit/blame for being the smartest/dumbest of the twelve, depending on the moment. But his response to Jesus, somewhere in or near the synagogue of Capernaum, has to rank as some of the purest, most gut-wrenchingly honest words ever produced by human heart and mind: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (verse 68). Jesus had asked, “Do you want to go away as well?” The easy answer, the reflex, would have been, “Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Based on what I understand and what I’m feeling right now, no, I can’t listen to this anymore.” But Peter recognized the reality and spoke of it. He and some others set all other words in their place – secondary to the words of Jesus.

     If anyone else in the Capernaum crowd ever came to saving faith – if anyone ever has or ever will – it’ll be by way of hearing and eventually believing the words of eternal life. At several points throughout the Gospels, Jesus thins the crowd. He lets the fervor grow, lets the numbers increase, and then he does or says something that separates the wannabe’s from the gonna-be’s. Do you suppose he did that on purpose? Did he ever do anything not on purpose? Do you suppose he does it still? Hard teaching, indeed. Saving faith works with hard teaching by waiting for the Lord, in his time, to give understanding.

     As present-day Christians, we’re tempted as much as any other generation of believers to find a more convenient and palatable source of truth. Doing so only widens the gap between hearing and believing. The long-ago Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, once wrote, “The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion.” I don’t think Mr. Henry would object to us capitalizing the “T” in Truth, since Jesus took that distinction for himself.

     I miss that ’93 Chevy truck. I drove it hard and it served me well for twenty years. Over those years, the Lord did a remarkable amount of sanctification in me – in the cab, on the tailgate, sometimes under the hood – right in the middle of life. Even thirty minutes of off-the-clock solitude he could use to make me more like Jesus, as unlikely as it seemed to me at the time. And I could slug down a ham sandwich or a Hot Pocket to boot. All these years later, given my druthers, I would prefer you ask me about the easier and happier words of Jesus. But I’m not afraid of the hard ones anymore. And I’m more likely than ever, if you ask about the hard ones, to say, “Well, I’m not sure, so let’s ask Jesus.”

     To whom else shall we go?

 

 Grace and Peace (and faith to fill the gap),


 John

 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

He Is

Hey, Cobblestone,

     I’m about to put a dangerous piece of information into your hands. Please handle it with utmost care, and use it for its intended purpose:

     Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God.

     There are four Gospels in our Bibles, four accounts of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth walking, talking, preaching, healing, loving – initiating his kingdom on earth. Three of them pose a question, “Who do you say I am?” (see Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20). Jesus himself asks the question. The fourth Gospel doesn’t even ask. It simply opens with a bold declaration:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4).

     This information is dangerous for three reasons. First, it can be used for nothing better than winning the argument. In evangelism, winning the argument is a dismal strategy. When we get to heaven, I think we’ll find out that it never resulted in anyone feeling bad enough to be saved. Jesus is always the smartest person in the room – no one else need aspire to the title. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:9).

     Second, it may not be put to the correct purpose. This reminds me of the plot from an old Western TV show I saw once. A bounty hunter and a scientist were trying to recover several cases of nitroglycerine that was being sold as tonic by a huckster who didn’t know what it was. People in the town were buying it as tonic, hoping to be relieved of what ailed them. The town was being blown to bits, and nobody felt better. John 1:10 speaks to this scenario: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

     The third danger is of the good variety, as a medical laser is dangerous, but nothing else can do the job it does. Of all the baubles and trinkets that have been offered as a substitute for the gospel, nothing has come close. It is the ultimate weapon of spiritual warfare, and when it finds the intended target, the devil’s plans for damnation are obliterated. Why? Because Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). 

     Why would anyone trust in Jesus if he is not the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the only begotten Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Well, there would be no reason to, none at all. That’s why it’s important to settle the question. In three straight Gospels, Jesus has asked. What is your answer?

     And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

     Over the course of his lifetime, my dad memorized 1.5 verses of Scripture that stuck with him. Others would float in and out of his vernacular, but at any given moment he might quote half a verse from James – ye have not because ye ask not (4:2b) – or the opening verse of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Dad wasn’t overly concerned with millennialism or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but he owned one solid Bible statement on prayer and one on who Jesus is. If he needed to know anything else, he knew who to ask.

     All the verses I’ve shared from John in this letter come from what’s called the “prologue” – the warm-up for the rest of that Gospel. “Let’s get one thing straight” is the urgent message. Get that one thing straight, and then we’re ready for the mystery of the miracles, the horror of the crucifixion, the glory of the resurrection. Get that one thing straight, and we won’t worry so much whether the Calvinists or the Arminians are right. Neither the Calvinists nor the Arminians saved us. The only one who could save us saved us. His name is Jesus. He is the Son of God. He never fails.

  

Grace and Peace (and one thing straight),

 

John    


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Remember to Believe

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

     Kay and I worry about memory loss. We walk into rooms and don’t remember why. We wake up in the small hours of the night and do remember what we forgot from the day before, only to forget again by breakfast time. Thankfully, we have it on reasonably good authority that our condition isn’t serious, only aggravating. In Kay’s training in health care, one instructor said that forgetting tasks isn’t necessarily an indicator of dementia. But if you walk into the kitchen, look at the toaster on the counter and wonder, “What does that thing do?”… you could be in trouble. So far, neither of us has put a phone into the toaster for charging – thank you, Jesus!

     We have a hypothesis, solidifying into a theory: the sheer number of things to be remembered has increased beyond what a person can reasonably expect to handle. If true, we might find relief in knowing that, expressed as a raw number, yes, we’re forgetting more; but expressed as a percentage, we’re forgetting less. That’s our theory, and we’re sticking to it.

     There is, however, one thing we have to remember – “we” meaning you and Kay and me, and all of us who have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross. We can’t afford to forget that God raised his Son from the dead. It actually happened. Historical fact. Dead/buried… not dead/not buried. Not dead now, never dead again. Alive in a way like no other, a way we have yet to experience for ourselves.

     Whatever it takes, remember.

     Diversions abound, not all of them bad. The mental/spiritual task for the Christian is to steer all diversions to the curb, let them idle for a while, and dwell on what must be remembered. How often does a Christian need to do this? Ask Jesus himself; he’ll tell you true. I may be stretching the context, if not straining it, but 2Corinthians 10:5 could help here: …take every thought captive to obey Christ. When Scripture seems flat and lifeless; when I begin to think the Father doesn’t like me anymore, much less love me; when I’m having a dickens of a time honoring the image of God in fellow human beings, I know it’s time to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     Galatians 3:29 is a verse that occupies my mind often: If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. This one verse, perhaps more than any other, reminds me that I am descended from every believer who has ever lived, and every believer yet to come will be descended from every believer now living. Bible history is our history. This is us. Reading through the Gospel of John lately, one event in our history has caused me to take note of the unbreakable link between remembering and believing. From the second chapter, here’s the setup: Jesus went into the temple courts – yes, The Temple in Jerusalem – and made a whip of cords, with which he drove out the moneychangers and sellers of livestock. His Father’s house was to be a house of prayer, not commerce. Everyone was impressed. Not everyone was pleased…

    So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22).

     His disciples remembered… and they believed… What was the cause of their remembering? When therefore he was raised from the dead…  


    The cause has not changed. Remembering the resurrection of Jesus is the key to believing all of what is true – however unlikely it may seem in this walk-around world. Where faith runs thin, remembering builds it up. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11). For Kay and me, remembering the resurrection of Jesus was how the Father got us to realize he had saved us, had placed his Spirit in us.

     All day Wednesday, an old song was playing in my head: “We serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today. I know that he is risen, whatever men may say.” Aside from what men may say about the resurrection, I can forget to remember all on my own. I was glad for the old song.

     Romans 8:34 says, Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

     Remember?

 

 Grace and Peace (and resurrection power right now),

 

John

 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Seriously

 

Hey, Cobblestone,

     The closing chapters of Luke’s Gospel are full of motion and voices. Imagine those last four chapters done as a stage production, and yourself as the stage manager. Your job would be insanely difficult, except for one important aspect. The characters are so diverse and their agendas are so disconnected – is everyone in place? In costume? Does everyone know their cues? The sheer number of moving pieces would be quite the challenge to coordinate. But one question is easily answered: “Is everyone in character?” It comes easily because all the characters in this complicated scene have one thing in common: no one is taking Jesus seriously.

     Consider the long list of those who showed more than a little flippancy toward Jesus.

Judas: Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray (Jesus) to them (Luke 22:3-4). Did Judas assume Jesus would wiggle his way out of betrayal as he had escaped from other tight spots?

The apostles: A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (verse 24). Really? Wasn’t it obvious that the greatest was already among them, and there were no comparisons to be made?

The mob in Gethsemane: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (verses 52-53). Cheaters! Having met Jesus on a level playing field earlier in the day – and losing spectacularly – they resorted to guerilla tactics.

Peter: …and Peter was following at a distance (verse 54). A strange way to show his loyalty, don’t you think?

The Council’s cronies: Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him (verses 63-65). The abuse speaks for itself.

The Council: “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer” (verses 67-68). Their minds were already made up, without any input from Jesus.

Pontius Pilate: But (the chief priests and crowds) were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time (23:5-7). Pilate may have known, more instinctively than some others in this drama, who Jesus really was. And yet, possessing the authority, he still lacked the conviction to overrule the mob.

Herod Antipas and his cronies: And Herod with his soldiers treated (Jesus) with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other (verses 11-12). Picture Herod the tetrarch as the bratty, silver-spoon party animal he was, drawing even the Roman governor into his fraternal vortex.

     Let’s hold up for a moment. Take a break from the unrelenting parade of bad actors. As Jesus’ crucifixion draws near, we’ve yet to consider some of the others: the Roman soldiers, the unrepentant criminal, the scoffing rulers at the very foot of the cross. We need time to think. Pause with me here, and ask, “Two thousand years removed from the Gospel scene, am I taking Jesus seriously?”

     Were you surprised at some of the people listed among the flippant and disrespectful? The usual suspects are there, sure, but what about Peter and the other disciples? Their actions don’t seem nearly as crass as, say, Herod’s. But would you agree they seemed to be missing some essential understanding of who Jesus was and what he was up to? Or, if not missing it, at least not acting on it consistently? And how about us?

     Today is Good Friday. Good Friday is our yearly reminder to take Jesus seriously.

     Is he the only begotten Son of God?

    Did he expend every bit of his life and die on the cross?

    Was his sacrifice the sufficient atonement fr the sins of the world?

    Were we lost and without hope apart from his atoning?

    Did he come out of the tomb on the third day?

    Is his righteousness now imputed to we who believe?

    Are we redeemed because of what he did?

    Are we made right with God through him?

    Is his resurrection the guarantee of ours?

    Will he rule and reign – visibly and without an enemy left standing – over all creation?

     The singular answer to all these questions is found in Scripture – a solid and resounding Yes. There’s every reason to take Jesus seriously. Down through history, some have… and some have not.

     Resurrection Sunday is coming, and we’ll celebrate. Shouts of praise are totally appropriate. Gladness will rule. But what about today – what is Good Friday for?

     In the narrative of the Gospels, Jesus speaks seven times from the cross. His divinity and his humanity are given full expression; neither is neglected or diminished. If anyone ever has or ever will question whether Jesus deserves glory and honor as the God who took on flesh for the purpose of redeeming mankind, the answer is found in these seven utterances:

Luke 23:34

Luke 23:39-43

John 19:25-27

Matthew 27:46

John 19:28

John 19:30

Luke 23:46

 

    Right, I only gave the Scripture addresses, not the verses themselves. Please look them up. As a way of honoring Jesus, find them in the Gospel accounts. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow – the somber and mysterious Holy Saturday between crucifixion and resurrection – hear what Jesus said from the cross. Sometime before Sunday morning, take his words into you, and honor him.

    Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour… And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split… When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45, 51, 54). 

 

 Grace and Peace (seriously),

 

John