Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jesus' kind of peace John 14:23-29

Jesus offers his followers a peace the world can't give John 14:27.
His promised peace makes people whole, castes out fears, and calms troubled hearts. Jesus is offering שָׁלוֹם shalom. Martin Luther wrote "...the Hebrew word for ‘peace’ means nothing else than well-being." Martin Luther, vol. 24, Luther's Works, Vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, John 14:27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961). This word heard in over 200 places in the Hebrew Scriptures like Isaiah 57:19 is a word of hope for all people in a broken world.

Corrie ten Boom detailed her experience of this kind of peace in her book Don't Wrestle, Just Nestle She writes of the peace she knew in God's presense prison and in concentration camps from walking close to God.

Often we had to go too early roll call, which started at 3:30 AM. Betsie and I would walk through the camp, and there were three of us present. Betsie said something, I said something, and the Lord said something. I can't tell you how but both Betsie and I understood clearly what He said. These walks were a bit of heaven in the midst of hell. Everything around us was blanck and dark, but in us there was a light that belonged to eternity.
Jesus is offering peace and wholeness for those who obey him. Jesus calls us to obey him as we hope for peace. Jesus calls to us: obey his commands. Serve (John 13:15) and love (John 14:34-35) as he does and He says peace will come. When I sin I chose to walk away from His commands. In my rebellion against God I head away from the wholeness/peace שָׁלוֹם shalom only He can give.

I'm a sinner--that means I have and sadly will again disobey God's commands. I have and will deny God's transcendent presence with me and those who my sins hurt. I have and fear I will walk away from His peace.  Jesus' command to obey sounds harsh command to my ears. I'd choose a softer word like follow. But Jesus didn't. He said obey meaning surrendering judgement and will to God. Obey means follow and trust His commands even if they don't make sense. Obeying for me, like my dog, means walking close with God in the path He's chosen. Once on the path or restored again to the path we find Christ's peace and wholeness.

In Jesus' day the Romans enforced their own kind of peace on the Mediterranean world. The Pax Romana was a military peace lasting nearly 200 years. Rome's peace came when the Roman Army beat down and defeated all other powers. This veneer of peace was enforced through fear and swift military intervention. One might imagine people tired of battle between Roman factions viewed the peace as a repreive. But others, on the Empire's edges, like Judea, fought hard against Roman occupation and oppression.

Jesus promised His followers wholeness not just the absence of open conflict. He promises a peace based not on fear of annihilation but on following in the way that leads to everlasting life. His offer of peace builds on relationship that starts with him coming to us and stepping into our lives (Mark 1:16-20) and inviting us to follow--to obey and to enter into peace and wholeness.
Pax, John

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can you love like He did? John 13:31-35?

Jesus came on purpose--to die and rise.
On the way to His cross and resurrection Jesus taught, healed, and called others to follow in his ways. The center of following Jesus is a very straight-forward sounding command: love αγαπάω agapao one another. It sounds simple--but for a sinner like me--loving like Jesus, giving the very core of your being away, involves a change of character that begins with repentence and the ammendment of life. Selfish ways end in order that Christ like way begin.

Jesus called his followers to a self giving kind of love (John 13:34). Jesus' words echo backwards to Leviticus 19:18. His words looked forward too for the church. He showed his followers how to serve others the same evening He took of his cloak, wrapped himself in a towel and knelt down like a servant to wash his disciple's feet (John 13:3-17). Jesus was then and is now turning the world's order of greatest and least completely over. The greatest of all in Jesus' mind are the servants not the served.

Loving like Jesus means serving and honoring those around us--not just seeking for our own good. Serving like Jesus means humility. Loving like Jesus involves sacrifice of the self for the sake of an other person's good. Jesus' words here make the most sense to those who know the power of the cross and resurrection. Jesus' cross is the ultimate example of αγαπάω agapao self giving love.

Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate outcome of God's self-giving love. God's self-giving love is the basis of new hope and new life. It's agape love that can overcome hate and destruction. Its agape love that always sees the child of God even in our enemies. It's agape love that holds onto hope for all God's children no matter how far gone they might appear.

The cross deserves central place in our consideration of how to live out Jesus' call to love one another as he has loved us. These words call us into to lose ourselves and live on in Christ.
thanks for reading, Pax, John

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Which comes first belonging to Jesus or believing in Jesus John 10:22-30?

Which comes first belonging to Jesus or believing in Jesus?
It's a chicken or egg kind of question. I can't figure it out myself—and I don't know if I should be able to either. Maybe its the kind of question that's best to come back to later because it isn't the main question we should be asking. Maybe it's time to hear Jesus' words of promise in John 10:27 again. This is Jesus himself speaking to and knowing his sheep. And his sheep, Jesus says, will recognize his voice.
Many generations of young people have been encouraged to study and prepare for tests about the faith. And as these generations have studied and learned the facts have slowly at first and now very rapidly left the church it's become clear that the point of faith has been lost.  Faith is being in the flock Jesus spoke about in John 10:27-30.
Faith is more than facts—its trust, confidence in God to save: Theologian Diana Butler Bass tells of her 13 year old daughter wondering about her place in the church. The girl was in a confirmation class which would end with an exam. Her daughter wondered what would happen if she failed the test. Would that mean she wouldn't get confirmed—and more importantly would that mean she didn't have a place in the church. Her theologian mom was upset—passing a test isn't the point of the Christian faith—trusting in God is.
For generations American Evangelicals have battled between Arminian and Calvinist positions. Arminians insisting that humans act first choosing to believe and Calvinists insisting that God acts first selecting those who would come to faith. And maybe in this debate many have simply missed the mystery of how faith works and the wonder of Christ coming to save.
Faith is confidence in Christ. It is trust in the shepherd who is trustworthy before we ever trust in him. In the end maybe following and believe come together as David Lose suggests. Maybe this is the true organic nature of Christian faith. We aren't the only ones involved--Christ is the one leading and calling us to follow. For the Good Shepherd I give thanks today.
Pax, John

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

When mourning turns into dancing? John 21:1-19 Psalm 30?

My one wish for all people is joy in the Lord. Such joy starts with faith--simple confidence in God. Joyfilled believers are living witnesses to God's power to make all things new.
A joyful believer dying of cancer can share hope while dying. God given faith makes it possible. Believers see past suffering and death. Believers don't skip suffering and death--rather in faith Christians their place with God today and for always. Faith is confidence--it is knowing that God's hands are open to receive in the end and that God is with them right now. God given faith gives all the soil needed for joy and hope to sprout and grow.
Christians are free, by faith, to face terror and worry with joy. When hell seems to have broken open on earth believers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, and others reveal joy in Christ--even in places as awful as concentration camps. The very nature of faith--of knowing God is with you in all things--makes joy and hope possible.
Please don't be confused: Joy isn't happiness or an absence of trouble. Joy is living with God in all circumstances. Psalm 30 asks God:

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Psalm 30:9-10 ESV
Jesus' friend Peter may have wondered about Jesus love and concern for him. Think what'd he'd done. The story's clear. Peter promised Jesus he'd go with even to prison and death (Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27—31; Luke 22:31—34; John 13:36—38). Just hours later, Peter denied knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66—72; Luke 22:54—62; John 18:15—18, John18:25—27).
Peter went away and wept bitterly. To put it simply he mourned.

After the resurrection Peter met Jesus again. He had a moment of reckoning coming after Jesus' resurrection. It was a moment when Peter's life was turned from mourning to joy. Jesus came to Peter, who was out fishing. Peter didn't recognize Jesus on shore (John 21:4). Jesus called out to the men in the boat (John 21:5). They hadn't caught anything yet. Jesus said to throw the nets in one more time. Now the nets were nearly bursting. Peter knew it was Jesus recreating the miracle from the first time they'd met--only bigger this time (Matthew 4.18—22; Mark 1.16—20; Luke 5:1-11). Peter jumped in and swam ashore. (John 21:5-7).
On shore Jesus shared breakfast with His friends. Then He took a moment with Peter (John 21:15-19). He lead Peter through mourning into joy asking αγαπας με agapas me: do you love me with a sacrificial life giving love? Peter answered Jesus question saying φιλω σε philo se: I love you brother. Peter didn't answer Jesus question. So Jesus asked again: αγαπας με agapas me: do you love me with a sacrificial life giving love? Peter answered φιλω σε philo se: I love you brother. Peter's guilt and mourning were exposed. Peter hadn't kept his promise to Jesus--and Jesus knew the grief in Peter's heart. Now Jesus asked him a new question: φιλεις μεphiles me: do you love me brother And Now Peter could say yes. Peter knew his shame and mourned it. Jesus met Peter in his grief and reclaimed his as a brother. Peter could tell Jesus φιλω σεphilo se: I love you brother. Jesus changed his mourning to joy.

Peter's denial didn't disqualify him from serving God--Jesus' restored making him worthy. Yes Peter had denied Jesus. Yes every saint turned sinner has a past that involves denying God's transcendent presence in our lives--not much different than Peter denying Jesus is it? The key is Jesus didn't leave Peter.  And He doesn't want us to stay stuck mourning our past. Peter's mourning would turn into joy spreading the gospel. He lived out the words of Psalm 30:8.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:8 ESV
All saints have pasts--and that's where the Good News breaks in. People of faith, it's wrongly assumed, have no troubles or would be disqualified from serving God if they did have troubles. Such assumptions are equally dangerous and wrong. Every believer struggles. We live with knowledge of how we've let God down. We live with depression, fear, guilt, sin, shame, diseases, and temptations too they are all real--but for the God who raises us to new life our pasts and our struggles are never disqualifying. We like Peter live with the consequences of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams but God doesn't want to leave us in mourning. The God of hope who meets us in the middle of suffering and restores us to new life. The Apostle Paul wrote:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 ESV
Faith helps us see God's presence with us. Knowing God's presence, even just for a second in dark times, gives us hope and joy in the midst of very real struggles.
thanks be to God for every glimpse of the resurrection and the new life. AMEN
Pax, John

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who says God can't? John 20:19-31?

Resurrection is the moment when God makes new life happen. Jesus, risen from the dead, is evidence that new life can and does break in to our world. Jesus, Paul said, is the first fruits of new life and death is the final enemy for him to defeat(1st Corinthians 15:20-26). The victory is there for us to see in Christ's scarred hands. Jesus, the one with scars open for his his friends to see, comes bringing life in his very being John 20:27.
Sure that may have happened 2000 years ago for Jesus, But what does resurrection mean for a sinner like me? It's one thing to talk about Jesus God's Son rising from the dead--but what about all of us broken people who deal with the consequences of our own sins and the sins of others in disease, death, and broken relationships. We face sin, death and the devil on a day to day basis. What does resurrection mean to us?
We might argue that it simply can't be so--we might be tempted to say there was and is no resurrection. Even Jesus' friends struggled to understand. They weren't ready to believe(John 20:23-26, Luke 24:11-12). It's easy to blame Thomas as the one who knew Jesus so well but still doubted--but others, the truth is nobody except God, David Lose argues, expects resurrection to happen. This is the moment when we see faith most clearly as a gift from God.
"Dead men don't rise." We say pointing to urns and cemeteries as proof. But Christ is proof and our faith is the evidence that somehow someway sustains us (Hebrews 11:1-2). It's faith that allows us to see that some day all things will be made new. Where there's sin the God of resurrection brings an attack of conscience, repentance, and amendment of life--and that cycle starts the beginning of new life in the here and now for an individual and a family. Where God brings faith there's no doubt that hope and joy will flow through the believer into all circumstances--and that cycle brings new life even in the face of sickness and immanent death.
Death is the final enemy--and Jesus rising is the evidence that God can defeat death. And for Jesus risen presence and work in my life today I give thanks.
Pax, John