Monday, May 23, 2016

Responses (John 12:1-19)

As we reach the end of Jesus’ public ministry, John gives us some summary accounts of the various responses to Jesus.

Among His disciples and followers, we see four approaches to Jesus.

Martha ministered to Jesus, for Jesus. This may be the most basic approach to Jesus. It is easy to get busy for the Lord. We do what we know He wants. We work for Him where we see needs and where we have abilities. It is an appropriate response to what Jesus has done and Who He is. However, care must be taken that we do not replace the relationship with Him with mere efforts and busyness.

Lazarus spent time with Jesus and fellowshipped with Him. We see him at the table with Jesus. Jesus was his friend in addition to being his Lord. Lazarus also had things that Jesus wanted Him to do, but we see that Lazarus didn’t hold Jesus at a distance. He spent time with Jesus. He relished the chance to be with Him.

Mary, though, worshiped Him. Perhaps more than the others, Mary recognized the worthiness of Jesus. More than a Lord to follow or a friend to relate to, Jesus is God and worthy of our worship.

Yet even here at the end and amongst the friends of Jesus, not everyone had believed. Judas followed for the benefits, not out of a trust in Jesus as Lord nor God. Even today we see this aspect of Christianity. Not all who call Jesus their friend or Lord really know Him or follow Him. Plenty of people simply see the religious aspect of faith and its benefits. And that is where we see the majority of people even in Jesus day.

Then there are the masses. The crowds came to gawk due to the reports and testimony about Jesus. They had heard about Lazarus and all the other things Jesus had done. And, as we still see today, people are curious. But the Bible says many believed. So the religious leaders tried to undermine Jesus, to control the crowds. Those in power do not like to give that power away. The status quo exists to protect itself. Even today when God moves there are those who are quick to discredit what they see. It is perhaps a more difficult issue today because we don’t simply have Jesus acting in the world. We have to discern between where God is moving amongst His people and where mere religious leaders are creating their own buzz. The key is to submit and follow Jesus, not to try to control people and their reactions. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus and not the crowds.

We focus on Him precisely because the crowds are so malleable. As Jesus approached Jerusalem in that last week, the crowds were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement. The religious leaders began to despair that they would lose their privilege and power to Jesus. But by the week’s end they had turned that same crowd against Jesus fairly easily. The crowd was more about the excitement itself, not the object of the excitement. For most it wasn’t about Jesus, but rather about the buzz.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 31-36)

Episodes (25-30)  Episodes (37-42)

Early on in season 2 it becomes a given that God is the one controlling Sam’s leaps around his timeline. But the other side of the spiritual conflict has not been mentioned. Here at the end of the season, Sam says that he does not believe in the devil. The show, however, is going to differ with his view. By the end of these six episodes, it is clear that there is a power working against Sam’s missions in time.

This stretch of episodes is one of the stronger ones of the show. It could always be overly earnest and preachy, but when things begin to impact the lives of Sam and Al the upping of the stakes helps a lot.

Episode 31: “M.I.A.”

This is the episode where we discover why Al is the way he is. Imagine having to live through being captured during wartime, and having the love of your life—thinking you dead—move on and begin a new life. It doesn’t justify Al’s handling of women, but it begins to explain it. This is the story where Al declares to Sam that there is a devil, and just how insidious he is:

“I don't believe in the devil, Al.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you would if you were locked up in a tiger cage that was too small for you to stand up in and too narrow for you to sit down in, where you had to exist on-on weevil-infested rice and any rainwater you could catch in your mouth. And the only thing that kept you alive was the memory of the woman you love. And if you survive that, when you come home you find out that your wife has run off with some other guy! There's a devil, Sam, and he's trying to destroy Beth's life.”

Still rather abstract at this point, but it establishes the idea of a conflict. Sam isn’t just setting things right, he is in a fight to ensure God’s plans for the world against an opponent trying to mess things up.

Christian theology would be in agreement with such a conflict, but it would also be quick to point out that humanity doesn’t really need a big, bad devil to mess things up. It is our rebellion and bad choices that have caused things to go wrong in this world. And that is what the show has embraced to this point.

And, while we’re at it, God doesn’t need course corrections applied to history. His power and control are such that things work out in spite of sin and the bad choices we make. He is in control.

Episode 32: “The Leap Home (Part 1)”

After all the insistence last time that they aren’t allowed to change their own lives, Sam does what he always does when given the chance and tries to change his. But can you really blame him when he is sent into his own body as a sixteen year old? Why else would God send him back there?

Apparently to win a basketball game. That’s right folks, a whole bunch of people’s lives were forever damaged by a missed basket! But it is also, of course, an opportunity for Sam to see some people he loved who have died. Sam has to learn to stop trying to fix everything and simply relish the opportunity. It is a bitter sweet story. Especially when he goes fo broke and has some of his family wondering if he really does see the future. As he prepares to leap, he learns that he did not manage to save his dad or brother form dying…

Episode 33: “The Leap Home (Part 2)”

…But Sam promptly leaps into his brother’s troop the day before he is to die in Vietnam. His mission is not to save Tom, though, but to ensure the success of a military action—the one that gets Tom killed. Sam decides to do both. In the end he trades another’s life for his brothers—unintentionally of course. But he also fails to turn the military mission into a success. And the revelation of what that missed opportunity was is heart breaking.

Episode 34: “Leap of Faith”

When Sam is sent into a Catholic priest to stop a murder, Al becomes stand-offish. We learn that Al is holding a grudge against God for not healing his father of cancer. We already knew that Al believed in God, but now we see that they aren’t on speaking terms. Later on when Sam is nearly killed, however, Al quickly turns to God for help and this time his prayers are answered.

This all parallels the struggles within the priest Sam has sent to save. He suffers from the common weakness of ministers. They often have a stronger faith in their own ability or need to do good than a trust in the Big Man. Once things don’t go according to plan, rather than just doubt themselves or come to their senses they question God. The real challenge of faith is to surrender and trust. It would be a scary sense of powerlessness if it weren’t for the knowledge that God is trustworthy.

Episode 35: “One Strobe over the Line”

A cliché of a drug episode, made all the worse by the stupidity of the characters. If their only job is to keep a model from overdosing, and they know who it is that is giving her the drugs, they do nothing concrete to prevent the disaster.

Episode 36: “The Boogieman”

In what is surely the most messed up leap of the series, Sam is intercepted by an evil force and submitted to one of those horrific mysteries where people are being picked off one by one and things aren’t adding up. There is a mysterious goat that only Sam can see, a pet black mamba(!) on the loose in the house that everyone quickly forgets about, and supernatural events happening.

What at first feels like an inconsistency in the special effects surrounding Al, turns out to be an important clue and we now have a devil in Quantum Leap. This devil claims to be the yang to God’s ying—the equal and opposite force against God. But we all know the devil is the father of lies and this devil ends up having very little power to resist God’s plans. But we also suspect we will see more of this conflict at some point in the future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Rhythm (Genesis 2:1-3)

We assume that people know that the chapter and verse designations are not original to the Biblical text. They are basically medieval attempts at outlining scripture and a way for people to find and speak about common portions of Scripture. Sort of like synchronizing watches to coordinate action. The problems, however, are that not all cultures share the same numbering system and the people who decided where the chapter breaks would be made some poor choices. This break between Genesis one and two is one of the classic examples. The portion we designate as verses 1-3 of chapter two clearly belong to the material of chapter one.

The final day of the creative week is not one where any creation occurred. It is where God rested from His work. And in case you missed it, the Bible tells us that two times. The day is blessed and made holy because of that rest. We do not get the evening and morning formula here. It is as though the day is incomplete.

Did God really stop working? Has the rest carried on indefinitely? Are we still in the seventh day?

While God did complete creation, He has clearly continued to work and be active in it. God sustains us? He is active in history and in human culture. He is busy restoring creation. Perhaps we might speculate that God did rest until sin entered the world and now we are living in a new period of work looking forward to another Sabbath rest in eternity. However, that is a dangerous “what if” speculation that never turn out well in theology. It is best perhaps to not range too far from the text here. In addition to telling us that God created and ordered everything in existence, Genesis one structures our rhythm of life. We work as God does, and our work is a holy activity but we also were created for rest. We need to maintain a healthy balance of activity and rest; of working to fulfill our God-given purpose and to rest in our God-intended relationship with the Creator.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Ain't No Man" The Avett Brothers

“If you’re looking for truth, I’m proof, you’ll find it there.”

With apologies to the Avett Brothers if I’m reading things into their song that they didn’t intend, I think their latest song is a perfect anthem to have on repeat this year.

The basic theme of the song matches quite well with my understanding of the Christian faith. We should not look to the world for our well-being. No person is going to solve the problems we see around us. No person should be able to make us see ourselves in a light other than the truth. We tend to be sheep, looking for someone to save us. And, of course for the Christian, we have found the answer in Christ. So we should certainly not react to politics and the cultural climate around us the way many of us are.

It isn’t what we get from the world; it is what we give. Christ’s love should be everything we are. We have love to show. We have what the crazy, messed-up world needs. We aren’t looking for someone to be an answer, we have the answer: love.

The proof we have to offer is our changed lives. Not perfection. Not holier-than-thou pharisaical religion. We have been forgiven and loved, we now rest in the confidence that there is nothing that can shake us out of God’s hand. Bad things will happen. We will make mistakes. But our guiding principle is grace. We see others the way God sees us.

Our lives can be proof of the change that God makes if we will let them be. If we have been forgiven, we need to see others in that light. We need to be proof of the love of God that changes us. Don’t be one of those “everything is terrible and you are all going to hell” sorts of “Christians.” Be proof.

There official video for the song can be found here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Tragic Irony of the Status Quo (John 11:45-57)

Throughout John’s Gospel we have seen this dual reaction to Jesus. People see the signs and hear His words and trust in Him, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, or they think He poses some sort of threat to the status quo. We don’t often see a neutral stance. Here in chapter 11, things reach a climax. The Pharisees and chief priests decide that Jesus must die.

Their reasoning behind this decision is fascinating. Instead of seeing Jesus and His signs as a wonderful, hopeful thing—a man who can heal the sick, raise the dead and teaches of reconciliation with God—they see Him as nothing more than a threat. They fear the people’s reaction to Jesus will cause the Romans to come and take away their “place” (the Temple) and their nation. In spite of the fact that the priests here are likely referring to the temple, they are also really talking about their position of power and authority. They want to protect the status quo where Jews are permitted to exercise their religion and a degree of self-government. Both of those things empower the ruling class.

Caiaphas declares that it is preferable for one man to die than for the whole nation to suffer. They decide to get Jesus killed. The irony here is that this is all a part of God’s plan. That doesn’t wash away the evil and guilt of this cabal’s decision, but God repeatedly shows an ability to use the free will of mankind—even used for evil—to accomplish His perfect plan. Jesus will die for His people, both the believing Jews and all those who will follow Him scattered throughout the earth and throughout time.

The ultimate irony is that the fears of the ruling class were fulfilled anyway some 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That John doesn’t mention this fact might argue for a pre-70 date for the writing of this Gospel.
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