Thursday, January 29, 2015

Last Night: Conversations with Jesus on the Way

I like to use my imagination when I pray.

When I pray for the Lord to comfort someone, I picture Jesus embracing that person in a warm and tender hug. When I pray for a specific thing to happen, I visualize the desired event in my mind.

One of my favorite ways to pray is to imagine myself walking along with Jesus and the Twelve, or sitting on a hillside with them.

Sometimes I imagine hanging out with them in the rec yard at the prison, along with the ladies from our Monday chapel gathering.
“Come now; let us leave." (John 14:31)
Jesus and the Twelve always seemed to be on the way to somewhere. The majority of the events and teachings in the Gospels took place while they were on their way to somewhere else.

I think that's because Jesus wasn't interested in just talking. He talked a lot, teaching the 12 and the crowds of followers. He also spoke one on one to people He met along the way.

But He was always on the move, walking toward His destiny, headed to fulfill His Father's mission.

Even on this last night, it appears that most of Jesus' final conversations with the Twelve Eleven took place after they left the upper room. Realizing this adds a bit of a different feel to their conversations.

Could it be they were carefully navigating through the dark streets and byways of Jerusalem, avoiding people who would turn them in to the authorities, when Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18)

Perhaps they were walking through a vineyard when Jesus said "“I am the vine; you are the branches."

When Jesus "looked toward heaven and prayed"(John 17:1), they were likely standing outdoors and they might have followed His gaze as He was looking up into the night sky. (He certainly, it appears, did not bow His head, close His eyes, and fold His hands like we were taught as children.)

Try, some evening, praying through the scriptures of John 13-17 while walking about outside. Picture being the Twelfth Man, if you will, listening to Jesus as He talks, asking questions. Imagine the uncertainty and fear you and your fellow disciples must have been feeling as He spoke of death and sacrifice and persecution.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Last Night: Temptation Judo

The Japanese word Judo means "gentle way."

As opposed to many other forms of martial arts that emphasize techniques of attack, the aim of Judo is to use the attacker's body mechanics and forward momentum against him or her.
In short, resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent's attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him. This can apply whatever the relative values of power, thus making it possible for weaker opponents to beat significantly stronger ones. This is the theory of ju yoku go o seisu. (Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, quoted at Wikipedia)
George Thompson, an inner city police officer, adapted the philosophies of judo to create Verbal Judo, a method of defusing confrontations. His book, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, has been used to train not only law enforcement and military officers, but negotiators in business and politics. It teaches how to use the aggressive verbal attacks of others as leverage to move them toward more constructive conversation.

Judo's principle of defense by making use of the opponent's offense can be adapted to many areas of life, including spiritual warfare.
I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. John 14:30
In Matthew 4 we're told of Satan's efforts to tempt Jesus while He was fasting for 40 days in the wilderness. He tried to tempt Jesus in the areas of physical needs, power, and wealth. At the core, though, the "prince of the world" was trying to divert Jesus from His mission.

The devil didn't stop tempting Jesus to veer from His purpose after He left the wilderness. Jesus dealt with continual diversionary tactics throughout His ministry.

Jesus' mother and family were sent to plead with Him to stop embarrassing them and come home. Adoring crowds were sent to follow Him around, begging for Him to put on a spectacular show or to lead them in a rebellion. Simon Peter was pushed to chide Jesus for wanting to submit to being sacrificed.

Now, on this last night, Jesus is determined to slam the door once and for all on those temptations. And He's going to defeat Satan Judo-style.

His adversary is getting ready to throw everything he's got at Jesus. He has compromised Judas, one of Jesus' inner circle. He has hardened the hearts of the Sanhedrin to the point where they want Jesus dead. He has weakened Pilate's resolve through political subterfuge.

He's finally going to win by doing away with Him altogether.

And Jesus is going to let him. He will embrace the betrayal and the jealousy and the political conniving and the fickleness of the crowds and let them carry Him to the cross and to the grave.

Which is exactly what He came to do. By losing His life, He saves the lives of millions.

In Judo it's called ippon: victory in one move.

Perhaps I could learn a lesson from this. Satan has some favorite strategies he uses against me, pushing my hot buttons over and over. Could I go with the flow of those attacks and use them to win my own spiritual battles? Could you?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last Night: Honk For Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Every Wednesday afternoon a group of protesters gather at the intersection of Providence and Broadway, two of the busiest rush hour routes in my city. They stand on the corners carrying signs:
and their favorite:
I used to take one of my foster sons to the library every Wednesday evening, which always took us through that intersection on our way. The first time he saw them, he wondered why they were there and I explained it to him.

"What good does it do to honk? How does that make peace?" He wanted to know. Good question.

As the weeks went by, we began to brainstorm alternative signs for them to carry:
Honk for Pizza!
Honk for Pete!
Honk for Peas!
Honk for Peeps!
Honk for Grease! 
And my favorite, prompted by noticing the lack of racial diversity among the protesters on one particular Wednesday:
I have no doubt they are well intentioned, but it does make you wonder what would be their definition of "peace."

To the world, peace generally means whatever results in a lack of conflict...which is why we have things called peacemaker missiles.

True peace is usually something much more complicated. We tend to learn this lesson the hard way, like when we went to war to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Just getting rid of the people who were causing the problem hasn't resulted in lasting peace. There's always another group of people with their own agenda, who will likely be willing to disrupt the peace to achieve their goals.

When violence erupted in Ferguson, MO, this past year, police in riot gear and the National Guard were sent in to keep the peace. Instead, their militarized presence did as much to antagonize the protesters as it did to calm the situation.

The scriptures speak frequently of the need for justice, relief from oppression, and an end to wars. Jesus champions the cause of the downtrodden, the sidelined, and the poor.

But always, the peace Jesus promises is first and foremost an internal peace. It's a peace that comes from knowing God and from having the Prince of Peace within us, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

If the people involved in the various Middle East factions all shared the inner peace of Jesus, resolving conflicts would be much easier.

If the police officers, politicians, and the residents of Ferguson - of all races - truly shared the inner peace of Jesus, solutions to their conflicts would be much easier.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Last Night: The Holy Mentor

Roy Weece tapped me on the shoulder one day and asked me to help with the Christian Campus House prison ministry.

I had no clue what I was getting into or what it would require, but for two years, I had Roy alongside me. I followed his example, I listened to his advice, and I had countless conversations with him during those trips to and from the prison, as I've written about in Mondays With Roy:
He welcomed questions from the prisoners, a practice that always held the possibility of truly off-the-wall and unexpected topics. His replies were always aimed less at serving up a specific theological answer than providing some sort of teaching (related in some way to the topic) that would be of most use in discipling the prisoners. But first he would look to the rest of us on the ministry team and ask if one of us wanted to take the question.
It was great having an experienced and godly mentor with us. It often made me think of how fantastic it must have been for the twelve disciples to be with Jesus every day, to have his continual guidance as they went about their mission.

But just as Roy left CCH and then left this world, Jesus left the disciples behind when he left this world.

On their last night together he gave them - and us - some great news:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26
Many people talk about receiving the Holy Spirit as though they just set up a play date with a really cool new friend.

Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as someone sent to do a job.

Item number one on the job description: The Holy Spirit is our advocate. The disciples would have understood the Greek word parakletos as not just an advocate but a comforter, counselor, guide. In short, he was to be a mentor, as Jesus had been.

Except this mentor would not only travel with them but would be inside them. There would be no solo mission trips. There would be no sad farewells.

Best of all, it wasn't just going to be Jesus and the Twelve road tripping around Galilee and Judea. The Holy Spirit mentor would be available to everyone who accepts Jesus as Savior, throughout the centuries to come.

There are Monday nights when I look at the chair in the back corner of the prison chapel and sorely miss seeing Roy there.

But every Monday night I'm aware of the very real guidance of the Holy Spirit, a mentor who is always with me. He comforts and encourages me. He keeps me on mission and reminds me of the things boy Jesus and Roy have taught me, and of what I need to be teaching His lost sheep in prison.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Last Night: The Patron Saint of Ordinary Disciples

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:22
I answered the phone one evening to hear a gruff voice ask, "Is this Tim Robinson I'm speaking to?"

"Sure," I replied, with a shrug. When your last name is Robertson, you learn early in life there's no point in correcting all the people who call you Robinson, Robins, Roberts, Roberson, Robeson... the list is long.

Except this is the story of the day I stopped answering to the wrong name.

"This is Colonel Joe Smith (not the actual name he gave me) with the U.S. Air Force in Salt Lake City, and I'm calling to tell you that I know what you've been doing with my wife," said the man on the other end of the line, "and to warn you that I know where you live and I will hurt you if you don't stop."

I spent the next 15 minutes explaining to the guy that I'm not actually Tim Robinson, that he's got the wrong guy. He finally starts to back off when I decide the best defense is a good offense and begin repeating back to him the personal details he's given me about himself, with the promise that I'm going to call the local police when I hang up the phone. Which I finally did while he was still blowing smoke.

I picture Judas (not Judas Iscariot) becoming used to being called "the other Judas" and "not Iscariot" during the three years the disciples were traveling with Jesus. There were probably a few times when someone mistook him for the other Judas, and he would maybe just go along with it because he was tired of explaining.

We don't really know much about Judas (not Iscariot).

He was the son of someone named James, but we're not told which James.

Scholars also suspect, based on the difference in the different lists of apostles (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, Acts 1:13) that he may also have been known as Thaddeus.

You have to wonder whether he switched to calling himself Thaddeus after Judas Iscariot tarnished his given name forever.

The Other Judas should perhaps be the patron saint of the Ordinary Disciple.

Judas-Thaddeus didn't do anything spectacularly horrible, like that other Judas, to earn himself an infamous spot in history. He also didn't do anything spectacularly fantastic, to earn eternal fame. I doubt there are any churches bearing the name St. Judas (not Iscariot) Christian Church. (Although there are a few called St. Thaddeus Church).

The other Judas was just one of the disciples, a follower of Jesus. He followed him during his ministry; he followed him to the last night and through the crucifixion and resurrection; and he continued to follow Jesus after Pentecost.

He strikes me as a pretty good choice as a patron saint, an example to follow for those who are willing to follow Jesus and now and then need to ask him "why".