Saturday, June 30, 2018

Deeper Still


“There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom


Extraordinary Times

The above quote from Corrie Ten Boom came to mind this morning and it made me think about how glad I am that I didn’t have to experience what she went through. How dismal to live in a country taken over by Nazi Germany. Sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews, she lost both her father and sister in the process. And yet of those experiences she says, “God’s love is deeper still.” This thought along with her life and ministry challenge my thinking—if in fact, I dare to think about the implications at all.


Pursuit of Love

But if I choose to think about the relationship between suffering and God's love, I might ask which comes first— God's love that we might prepare for adversity, or adversity so that we might experience his love in a deeper way. Perhaps, however, neither are the right question.

1 Corinthians 14:1 tells us to pursue love—that is, "pursue with all haste ("chasing" after), earnestly desiring to overtake (apprehend)." In addition, 1 Corinthians 16:14 tells us to do everything in love. So while it's true that his love runs deeper than our suffering, experiencing God's love is not dependent upon a "pitiful" experience (pardon the pun). Love is to be pursued at all costs and in all situations!

Somehow, we have become more need-oriented then love-driven. It's not that we should not reach out when in crisis, but our relationship with the Father must extend beyond our need for intervention. While we do find multiple examples of David crying out for help in times of adversity, we also know him as a man already after God's own heart—already pursuing the love of God.

If it is true that pain and suffering predominately motivate our relationship with God, it can train us to see him only as a rescuer, and ourselves as children worthy of attention only when we're hurt. Pain and suffering become our only tie to his presence.


Measuring Up

It’s often been noted that we view life through the filters of our beliefs. Some, it is said, see life through "rose-colored glasses,” while some see only the negative around them. Those same filters affect our judgements and we come to conclusions based on our past experiences. Often, that's how we measure life, and we do so for self protection. We are self-preservationists doing our best to avoid the pitfalls of life.

In the midst of all that, how do we allow the Spirit of Christ within us to begin to rise above our tendency towards self-preservation? How can we begin to stretch outside of ourselves, pursuing God’s love—love that is selfless and that extends to others?  


The Want To

“…When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV) 

Jesus gave Peter a taste of what was ahead for him. What would you do if Jesus said that to you? I not only avoid places I don’t want to go, but I am anxious to leave my current discomfort behind. Are you that way too? And when we're in that pit, is it our experience that God’s love actually turns out to be deeper still as Corrie Ten Boom suggests? If so, how does all this work?


Moving Beyond

In the midst of great opposition, what drove the disciples to pray for boldness that they would push themselves further into adversity (Acts 4:23-31)? What compelled Paul towards Jerusalem knowing what awaited him there (Acts 21:13)? What within us challenges us to bust out of our cocoons of relative safety? When do we cease living our lives with us at the center?

How do we go about pursuing the love of God and what he intends for us?


The Joy Set Before Us

Religion teaches us that perseverance, sacrifice, and self-discipline alone bring spiritual success. The fact is that those who live by them alone, also die by them. But instead of mere determination, Jesus set joy before him so that he might endure the cross (Hebrews 12:12).

While love is the greatest of the holy triad—faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13), the pearl of the trifecta of the kingdom—righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, is joy (Romans 14:17).

While love must be pursued, joy must be considered:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4 NIV)

James says that perseverance is produced by the testing of our faith, within the context of joy. Joy is an attribute of knowing God and knowing him to be faithful. Joy is not only defined as gladness, but also as the awareness of the source of that joy, specifically the grace and favor of God. We know who he his, so we know he is with us through our trials.


Fullness

Corrie Ten Boom suggests that, among other things, the pit helps us to measure God's immeasurable love which surpasses the parameters of the pit and surpasses knowledge itself.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)

Although we may be in a pit, a container and place of dispair, we're actually dealing with the places within us. It's within ourselves that we discover the love already shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5)—that place where we’ve already been made one with him (1 Corinthians 1:16). 

"...You greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith...Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." (1 Peter 1:6-8 NIV)

His love is deeper still!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Holy Ghost Story




For many of us, merely surviving the natural world is enough. The supernatural is more than we can handle. This is not strictly a 21st Century reaction. The same could be said of people in Jesus’ day as the following story illustrates.


A Ghost Story

“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It's a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.” (Matthew 14:25, 26 NIV)

They were scared! But why? This wasn’t the first time they had witnessed the miraculous. They had walked with Jesus for nearly two years. Miracles had become a part of their daily lives. And, just hours before, Jesus had multiplied a few pieces of bread and some fish, feeding over 5,000 people. 

The disciples themselves had just returned from a ministry trip where, without Jesus present, they healed and delivered many (Mark 6:6-12). Yet despite living in this participatory culture of miracles, Jesus managed to scare them through this encounter.


The Cure is Worse than the Disease

Obedient to Jesus’ command, the disciples had been doing all within their power to row to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But, they were coming to the end of themselves.

“… the boat was in the middle of the lake, and… the disciples [were] straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn… A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough… they had rowed about three or four miles…” (Mark 6:47, 48, John 6:19 NIV)

While they were obviously overwhelmed, the Gospels don’t reveal their exact state of mind until the point that they encountered Jesus coming towards them.

“When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear… They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.” (Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:49, 50 NIV)

Now, while we get the names Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost from the word Pneuma, which means wind, breath, or spirit, the word Ghost in these two passages comes from the word Phantasma, meaning ghost, phantom, or apparition. 

Sometimes, God’s presence surpasses both our expectations and our comfort zone and so we react in fear.


Mistaken Identity

“But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat…” (John 6:20, 21 NIV)

This would not be the last time that the disciples would need reassurance before they would recognize and accept Jesus. Many post-resurrection appearances required Jesus to reveal himself and prove his identity, much like his appearance on the Sea of Galilee.

“Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost… 'Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'” (Luke 24:26, 27, 29 NIV)

In both instances, Jesus needed to reassure the disciples that he was not a ghost.

While God encounters can be unnerving, they are not ghost stories. We must learn how to discern the difference.


Insult to Injury

While the eleven realized that Jesus had come to save them and that things were finally winding down, Peter just couldn’t leave things alone. Now that Jesus had showed him what was possible, he wanted to walk in the same ability Jesus had demonstrated.

“'Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said.’ Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:28, 29 NIV)

Yes, there are believers who actually request that Jesus enable them to do supernatural exploits, much to the dismay of other believers.


Why?

Why did Jesus walk across the Sea of Galilee and why did he empower Peter to do the same? Why these extravagant demonstrations, especially since it appears that neither of them ever walked on the water again?

Many view acts of the Spirit as effort better spent on more practical concerns. After all, what real gain did this miracle produce? I suspect that the disciples secretly asked this same question each time that Peter failed miserably. “How’s that trip out on the lake helping you now?” 

Yet, Jesus never rebuked Peter for stepping out or for over-reaching—only for doubting.


Mysterious Miracles

Scripture contains an abundance of other strange manifestations which generate more questions than they do answers—in outcome or in how they were performed. Here’s a few which meet that criteria:

Old Testament
  • Naaman cured of leprosy by washing seven times in the Jordan River
  • Elisha’s bones resurrect the dead
  • Balaam’s donkey spoke
  • Walls of Jericho fell by walking around it and shouting

New Testament
  • Jesus produced wine from water for a crowd that was already drunk
  • Jesus enabled a supernatural catch of fish for Simon, only to have Simon immediately walk away from his fishing business. 
  • Jesus made mud with his spit to rub in a blind man’s eyes
  • Peter caught a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay their taxes
  • Peter delivered out of prison by an angel
  • Rag’s from Paul’s clothing healed many

Luxurious

While some view these and modern-day expressions of God’s power as luxurious, difficult to explain, and impossible to defend, God is not embarrassed by them… even if we are.

What we deem as scary, risky, or uncomfortable—the very things which advance the kingdom (Matthew 12:28)—we’ve taken the luxury of putting aside. Each seem incongruent to our daily lives and so we move on to "greater things.” Maybe we’re missing an important aspect of God’s character.

“He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.”  C.S. Lewis - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


You of Little Faith

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” (Matthew 14:29-32 NIV)

While Peter is often remembered here for having little faith, how should the other disciples be remembered? It takes no faith at all to sit in a boat and wait for someone else to succeed or fail.

Peter’s “little faith” (as small as a mustard seed) enabled him to walk on water. But, the size of his doubt was also enough to sink him. That's why Jesus commended him for his “little” faith, while at the same time, asked him why he doubted.


The End of a Ghost Story

Ghost stories illicit fear. The Bible tells us to “Fear not,” as many times as there are days in the year—365. While the disciples were as troubled as the waters under their boat, Pentecost enabled them to leave those ghosts behind and step out in boldness.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly…With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 4:29, 30, 33, 5:12 NIV)


By the Spirit, Jesus indeed stretched out his hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through each of them and like Jesus before them, they did not sink.

... For more on Peter's walk on the water, see Peter Tested Both Jesus and His Own Faith

Thursday, June 14, 2018

I Can Dream, Can't I?




Jameel grew up listening to the great radio shows of the 1930s and 1940s. His favorites were the comedians: Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Red Skelton. From a young age, he knew he wanted to become an entertainer. After the war, his savings bonds matured and provided him enough money for a year of study at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. So, he left Ohio to follow his dreams.

After his money ran out, he picked up some roles here and there until one day, he was recommended for a bit part playing a new character on the Red Skelton Show. Skelton took to Jameel right away and he appeared on Skelton’s show over a period of about a year. He picked up some other roles and even landed a small part in a big movie. But just as things were picking up, Jameel was drafted into the army.

When Jameel returned home a few years later, his father had passed away, he and his family had no money, and his career had dried up. So, he knew he had to quit the business to take care of his family. But, Skelton would have none of it. He gave Jameel emergency money to send home to his mother and then hired Jameel as kind of a personal assistant. His duties included occasional performance time, but mostly involved working behind the scenes.

Jameel worked with his childhood hero for about a year until the itch to jumpstart his career was too much for him. This was in the late 1950s and he spent the next 25 with an up and down career until he got his big break. Of course, early on, he knew that his name, Jameel Farah, needed to be Americanized if he were to work in the entertainment industry, so he changed his name to Jamie Farr. To most of the world, he's know as Maxwell Q. Klinger form the T.V. show, M*A*S*H. He remained friends with Skelton until the legendary performer’s death.

It's an amazing story, one you don't hear everyday. But, it raises a question. How far can a dream go? Can it be fulfilled beyond what we could ever ask or think? Can stories like this create hope that our dreams are worth dreaming? In addition, is it too late to start dreaming; are only childhood dreams honored, and only for a select few?

Think about it! Paul McCartney dreamed the song Yesterday. He woke up with the tune in his head and he went around for days asking people if they’d heard it before. After a while, he realized that he had dreamed an original song. So, he wrote lyrics to it and it has become the most recorded song in music history, recorded by over 2,200 people.

As believers, stories like this should give us hope. Our spiritual heritage is steeped in dreams. Ultimately, Old Testament dreams birthed New Testament realities. And, according to Acts 2, dreams are our business. But dreams aren't meant to stay only dreams. They must be enacted. Jameel had to go to California for his dreams to be set in motion, and McCartney had to take the chance and record his song before it could make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded song in history. And let's not forget that when Jamie Farr showed up on the set of M*A*S*H to say a handful of lines for a one-day shoot, he stayed on the series for the eleven-year run of the show. I bet that was more than he could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).