Friday, November 28, 2014

Last Night: GPS for the Church

"You know the way to the place where I am going.” 
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  I John 14:4-7
As I talked about a few weeks ago, John 13-17 is the record of Jesus' last conversation with his disciples about his plans and purpose for the Church after his departure. It's important that we understand the way and the truth and the life within that context.

As with nearly every scripture verse outside the book of Proverbs, this statement wasn't dropped into the evening's conversation like a tweet on the @12Disciples Twitter feed.

Jesus is answering a question, one posed by the disciples' designated doubter, Thomas.

After Jesus says, "You know the way to the place where I am going," I picture each of the disciples looking sideways at the others, checking to see if everyone else is confused.  They maybe look at Peter to see if he's going to pop off and say something stupid again. But Peter still has a glazed look in his eyes, his head cocked to the side as though he's listening hard to see if there's a rooster crowing somewhere.

Finally someone elbows Thomas and an involuntary yelp escapes his lips. When Jesus and everyone else looks at  him, Thomas can't help but letting the yelp become the question in his head.
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  
I've heard a boat load of sermons and read a truck load of books and articles and blog posts analyzing Jesus' reply, "I am the way and the truth and the life." Most of those, in my opinion, stretch this simple statement far beyond Jesus' intent.

Jesus doesn't say this:
In order to go where I'm going, here's a list of things you need to do:  You need to do everything the way I've done them; you need to know all the truths I've taught; you need to live your life like I lived mine.
Followers of Jesus will most certainly be blessed if they seek to imitate his way, his truth, and his life. But that isn't the way to the Father.

Jesus IS the way. There's no other route or plan to reconcile with the Father than through Jesus. Just as football coaches like to say, "the road to the championship goes through fill in the blank with your team's location, Jesus says the way to the Father goes through him. There's no alternate route, like Google maps likes to give us. Any other way won't get you to God.

Jesus IS the truth. He is the embodiment of the truth about the Father. There's no other way to truly know God without knowing Jesus.

Jesus IS the life. As he told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life." The only way to live the abundant life and eternal life God intends for us is to receive that life from Jesus. On this last night, Jesus knows he is about to seal that part of the deal once and for all, by defeating death.

Any other interpretation of "I am the way and the truth and the life" inevitably puts the focus on our own effort and away from Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of our faith.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Mission in Your Conversations Today

The author of this tweet is a writer for the humor website, so you have to take his comments with a grain of salt, as they say. His purpose, his mission for tweeting is to get attention and express his "cracked" humor. It brings up a good question for people who profess faith in God, though.

What is your purpose today in your conversations with co-workers, neighbors, and in your Twitter/Facebook/online comments?

When you watch the news of last night, is your response driven by your politics? Are you parroting Fox News or MSNBC (depending on which way you lean) in your political take on the events in Ferguson, MO? Is your mission today to make sure you make your political point?

When you join in on conversations today, are your comments driven by your personal experiences, the point of view formed by the place you were born, your socio-economic status, the color of your skin, or your personal experience of justice and law enforcement? Is your mission today to "represent" yourself and people who are like you?

When you react to startling pictures and videos of protests/riots, are you reacting based on your deep seated emotions, your fears and anxieties, your prejudices or hatred? Is your mission today to express your emotions, to "get it out of your system"?

As you watch the news unfold, has the questions entered your mind:
Do they know Jesus?
Looking at my Directory of the Ministry, a listing of "non-denominational" Christian Churches, I see at least two congregations and an affiliated Bible College within 5 miles of the site of Michael Brown's death.

I wonder if any of those Christians were involved in reaching out to young people in Michael Brown's neighborhood? Were any Christians in that area actively reaching out to people in the Ferguson law enforcement community? Was anyone in those congregations working to promote peacemaking and racial reconciliation in that town?

I don't know the answers to those questions. I certainly hope they were.

The better question is this: Are you making an effort to introduced Jesus and his love into the lives of troubled young people in your community? Are you helping local law enforcement people to know the love of Jesus?

And in your conversations today, will you pause to consider the purpose and mission of your comments?

Lord, help us to make sure our conversations today include a grain of salt and a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Last Night: Waiting for the Bridegroom

In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-3
I've lived in 20 different homes/places/rooms/apartments/houses in my 57 years. That averages out to less than 3 years in each place. The longest was 7 years - three times. The shortest: 2 months.

Some of those houses were really great. The house I lived in for a year in Memphis, Missouri, was a great place with huge rooms and a large yard. Perfect for a 12 year old.

Other places were not as great. That two month stay was in a tiny mobile home in Fayette, Missouri, where we waited for our real house to be ready.

The best part of all my houses was that they were homes, filled with people I loved.

The best part of my heavenly home will be living with Jesus.

We get excited about the old gospel song I’ve Got a Mansion, or Audio Adrenaline's Big Housesinging about a heavenly home where all our earthly desires will be fulfilled in heaven. But I'm not sure the heaven of the Bible is a place that fulfills all our earthly desires (there's no promise of 72 virgins).

Heaven is about soaking up the love of God.

The language Jesus uses in John 14:2-3 is a proposal of marriage.

In Israel at the time of Jesus, the father, the head of the household, would build another room onto the house for the married children. If he was rich, he'd build another residence on the family property.

Jesus is echoing a typical marriage proposal: In my father’s house are many dwelling places. I’m going to leave you for awhile, but while I'm gone I’m going to go build on a new portion of the house for you and me. And then I’m coming back to get you, to join me – that where I am, you may also be.

The bride didn't know how long her promised one would be gone. Any number of things could happen to delay his return, especially in an age before rapid transit or long distance communications.

But she knew she was betrothed to him alone, and he would be actively preparing for her to come live with him. When he returned, the neighbors, his friends, her family and friends would gather along the road, and as he came toward her, they would blow their horns and shout out,

What do you suppose she did while she waited?

She kept herself pure. She prepared to live in the new home being built for her.

She got all packed, probably a little too early. Her eyes were constantly turning to look down that road. Her ears were constantly straining for the first sounds of the horns.

I knew of a young woman who married the man of her dreams while they were in college. When school was over, she took a job and he headed off to Iraq with the Army Reserve.

She blew up a full body picture of her husband in his uniform and made it into a life-sized cardboard cutout.  She would put that cutout husband into her car each morning and take him to work, placing him in a seat by her desk. She took him to church with her, even took him with her out to eat a few times. It was a little odd and garnered several wide-eyed looks, but it was also a lot precious and garnered several teary-eyed responses from the people who bothered to ask the details.

Jesus is telling his disciples he's leaving. But he comforts this group of men by telling them You are my bride. I can picture some of those rugged guys giving Jesus a sideways look, wondering what he could mean by such a statement.

From our perspective we can see that he's talking to them as representatives of the Church, his Bride. And even an old guy like me might shed a tear as I ponder what he was promising.

And I might just do my best to turn myself into a cardboard cutout of my husband, so everyone can know how wonderful he is.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Last Night: Trust Me

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."  John 14:1
“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that ############'s reflection.” Lady Gaga
Trust is built slowly, like a child's Lego castle, brick by brick.

My two oldest boys used to love to spend hours building a town out of Lego bricks and arranging their Matchbox and Hot Wheels cares around them, just so. They would concoct a scenario, a story about the buildings and the vehicles as they worked.

Their younger brother's favorite activity was to show up when the construction project was halfway done and play Godzilla to their Tokyo, knocking over the buildings, stomping the bricks apart, scattering the cars, all in a matter of moments.

Trust is built slowly, but it only takes a moment to tear it down.

When the oldest of those three boys was born, he was remanded to the custody of the state and placed into a foster care home.  Our home. We raised him as our own, building a life as a foster family, with him as an integral part. He loved us as his parents, counted on us to be there for him, learned to trust us.

A few days before his first birthday, a social worker came to our house and loaded him into her car, like she had several times for visits with his biological grandparents. Except this time she didn't bring him back.

It was hard on us, even though we had known from the beginning that foster parenting equals temporary parenting. For a one-year-old, there was no understanding.

In spite of every reasonable expectation, God put the bricks back together and made it possible for us to be able to be a part of his life as he grew up. But one thing became clear.

The young boy found it very hard to believe that anyone would keep promises they made to him. It didn't matter if it was a big promise, like "I'll always be there for you," or a small promise, like "we'll stop at McDonalds later."

It's been a slow process, but he learned to trust again. I think - I hope - he's finally gotten beyond always seeing that crack in the reflection.

On Jesus' last night with his friends, he asks them to trust him.

They probably thought it unnecessary for him to even say such a thing. They'd learned to trust him through three years of travels and controversy and wonders. Of course they trusted him.

This time, though, would be different. Within hours he would willingly surrender himself to the authorities. By the next day he would be dead, and they were left looking at the scattered pieces of the story they had been building together.

And then he returned, the author and finisher of their trust.

It can be hard to trust Jesus when he doesn't give us what we ask for in our prayers. It can be hard to trust him when the church fails us or when our own fears overwhelm us.

Sometimes the greatest trust comes when our hopes have been crushed and then God helps us put everything back together.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."  John 14:1

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Last Night: Plans for the Last Days

In John 13:31-35, Jesus introduces the main themes he will talk about during this last night with his followers, three truths that will define the Church through the coming millenia.

Glorify God
31-32 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 
Glorifying God: It’s why Jesus came, its why the disciples followed, its why the church exists, it’s why the Holy Spirit came, its the prime responsibility of the Church.

We sing lots of songs about glorifying God, but it's important to note that when Jesus talks about glorifying the Father, he talks about sacrifice and servanthood and mission. God is glorified by action. The Church that glorifies God is a community willing to actively give themselves up for Him every day.

From Incarnation to Indwelling
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come." 
When Jesus announces he's leaving, he's closing the book on the era of God-in-the-flesh. No longer will he be around to show the world the heart and character of God.

In his place will come the Holy Spirit, to usher in the era of God-in-the-heart. Jesus' detailed description of the Holy Spirit's purpose is all about mission and very little about the type of things many in the Church think it means to be Spirit-filled. The Spirit is sent to inhabit the Church so we can model the heart and character of God for the world to see.

Lead with Love
34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 
According to Jesus, the one characteristic that will define the Church is love. He didn't say everyone will know you are my disciples if you separate yourself from them, or if you tell them all the ways they're wrong, or if you build magnificent cathedrals, or it you construct an alternate society just for disciples.

They'll notice the Church and be drawn to Jesus in direct proportion to our love, the sort of love that is active and visible.