Category Archives: The Good News of Jesus

Everything or Nothing

If at first you don’t succeed, wingsuit flying is not for you.  Watching videos of those guys flips my stomach.  Especially the takeoff.  They climb to the peak of a high cliff, teeter on the edge, count to three and dive, headfirst, nearly straight down.  I suppose it’s to build up enough speed.  There’s no halfway in a wingsuit jump.  No easing into it.  It’s everything or nothing.

Same thing with Jesus.  Everything or nothing.  People ease up close to Jesus, spend time talking and singing about Jesus and read books about Jesus but none of that matters.  About many who called Him Lord, Jesus said, “I never knew you.”  There’s no halfway; you gotta jump.  Headfirst.  Jesus said it like this:

34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)

Deny himself” does not necessarily mean giving everything to the poor (although it might mean that in some circumstances).  It means letting go of fear and the overwhelming urge to keep yourself safe.  For a wingsuit jumper, it would be ignoring the part of your brain that is screaming, “Are you out of your mind????”   For the would-be disciple, it is abandoning all half-way measures, all plans B in case it doesn’t work out.  If you try to save your life you’ll never find it in Him.  It’s everything or nothing.

Take up his cross” does not mean to commit suicide.  It means to let go of all the things you used to think defined life.  Money, fame, popularity, success, luxury, good looks,  fun – all these things are pursued by people who think they will provide a satisfying, full life.  The would-be disciple doesn’t necessarily become penniless or unpopular.  He lets go of the idea that those are important.  He recognizes that full life, satisfying life can only be found in the company of Jesus.

Follow Me” means to pay attention, learn and imitate the attitudes and actions of Jesus.  Not the bland, passive Jesus of paintings and Sunday School books but the robust, free-spirited, radical, passionate Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to let go of your own plans and let Him take you on a real adventure.

Perhaps these imperfect descriptions of Jesus’ cryptic challenge sound repressive and personally suffocating.  My experience has been just the opposite.  Instead of letting the fickle, competitive world set the agenda for how to live, I’ve discovered the One Who created me can set me free to be all He made me to be.

But you can’t get there tentatively or halfway.  You gotta jump.  Everything or nothing.

Spreading Light

There is an emerging radical shift in medicine.  Instead of killing diseased and dysfunctional cells, medical scientists are experimenting with transforming damaged cells into fully functional, healthy cells.  The process is amazing: A single cell is injected in the body and begins to gradually transform the non-functioning cells.  If you’ve been to a candle lighting service, imagine a cell with a candle flame, connecting with a dark cell and lighting it’s candle.  Exponentially the light spreads.  The body becomes healthy.  (There’s a cool TED talk I’ll link below.)

John began his Gospel by declaring Jesus to be God, manifested as a human being.  But, unlike every other human, Jesus was a complete, fully functional human because,

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (John 1:4)

Jesus had the Holy Spirit we were designed to have, the Spirit lost to humanity at the Fall.  He came to bring this Spirit as light to our darkness.  He couldn’t merely flip a switch, however.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (John 1:5)

Spreading the light had to happen one soul at a time, because our darkness and lack of understanding was a personal, internal problem.  It was necessary for each of us to allow the light to come in and change us.  To accept the transformation from spiritual death to life, from spiritual darkness to light.  What did we need to do?

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. ( John 1:11-13)

 

When a stranger knocks at your door, you either let him in or not depending upon whether or not you trust him.  Allowing him in is an act of faith.  When Adam stopped trusting God, he lost the Spirit.  When Jesus came, it was to restore the Spirit to anyone who would receive Him by trust, by faith.  And when anyone does receive Him by faith, Jesus causes the Spirit to be born in his or her soul.  He lights their candle, so to speak, bringing them to full, spiritual life and spreading His light.

Here’s the promised LINK

Life and Light

 

Remember how they began “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?  The huge ball?  Bam!  Hold on to your seats, folks, this isn’t “The Sound of Music.”  John opened his book about Jesus like that.  Bam!  He said, “Jesus is God and always has been, even back at the beginning of everything.”  Before you can recover from that, he says, “Jesus created everything that exists.”  And then, having loosened us up with those wild declarations, this:

In him was life,..  (John 1:4a)

Maybe you are thinking, “Well, duh, I’m alive, too and just about everybody else I know.”  But John didn’t say Jesus was alive but that He had life in Him.  A different kind of life, but one we all were designed to have.  So, what kind of life and light is John talking about?

Jesus said:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.   (John 6:6a)

In Him was Spiritual Life, the life of God’s Spirit.  God warned Adam, In the Garden of Eden, not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  He said, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  (Genesis 2:17b)  But when Adam and Eve ate from that tree, their bodies and minds (or souls) did not die.  What died was their intimate connection with God, the connection that is made possible through His Spirit.  Without that Spirit, mankind was spiritually dead, disconnected from God and living in darkness.

But when Jesus came, He had the Spirit; “…in Him was life…”  Which would be of no importance to us, except for what John wrote next:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (John 1:4)

Jesus came with the Spirit, to bring us life and light.  Without the Spirit of God, we live in darkness, a kind of spiritual blindness.

The light shines in the darkness  (John 1:5a)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  (John 1:9)

Something is missing from our human existence and experience.  We sense that lack, that emptiness.  What’s missing is God’s Spirit, from Whom comes true, full life and light.  Jesus came to give us this Spirit.  But, how can we get it; how can we receive this life and light?

More on that next time.

 

The One Who Knows

John called Jesus “The Word,”  which meant he knew Jesus fully embodied the mindset or logos of God. [For more on that, read the  previous post.] In other words, Jesus knows what God knows and understands reality as God does.  And then John added:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  (John 1:3)

In one of the most astonishing assertions in Scripture,  John said his Friend, Jesus, the One Who came from just up the road in Nazareth –  that man created everything!!!   Now, John was a fisherman, a regular guy.  I’m pretty sure he knew how outlandish this sounded.  But Jesus must have fully convinced him about His role in Creation.  Perhaps He told John, “Back in Genesis, when God said, ‘Let us make man in our image…’ (Genesis 1:26), He was speaking to Me.”  We don’t know for sure.  But we do know this astonishing truth is repeated in Scripture.

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.   (1 Corinthians 8:6)

…For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.   (Colossians 1:16)

Therefore, if Jesus made everything, He undoubtedly understands how it all works more fully that we do.  When I try to fix a problem with my computer, lots of times I make it worse because I don’t fully understand how it works.  But the engineer who designed and built it would know perfectly what each part does and why.  His “logos” with respect to computers, would be more accurate than mine, and would more easily be able to fix what was wrong.

If you follow that, see how it fits with this teaching of Jesus:

“…  If you abide [if you live your life] in my word [in my logos =  if you fully adopt My way of understanding how all reality works], … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   (John 8:31b -32 excerpts with my added explanation of terms)

When you can’t fix something because you don’t understand it, you get all knotted up with frustration, doubt and anger.  But if someone shows you what to do, it feels as though you have become released from all that tension.  You relax.  That’s why Jesus also said:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  learn from me,… and you will find rest for your souls.”   (Matthew 11:28-29 excerpts)

It’s good to get to know the One Who really knows…

 

As Good as His Word

When I watch basketball, mostly what I see are the shots and whether or not they go in.  The rest is a blur.  Players obviously are aware of more, but they too, in the midst of the hustle and bang, can’t really know what’s happening as a whole.  Coaches really “see” the game.  From their vantage point they can see things the players cannot.  From years of training and experience, they understand things about the flow of the game that are invisible to the casual spectator.  Beyond that, they know each of the players’ strengths, weaknesses and habits.  Coaches see what’s going on with  whole different level of understanding.

Jesus “sees” all of reality much more completely and accurately than any of us.  He sees all that is happening and knows all that has happened through the lenses of God the Father.  He understands the big picture as it flows from Creation to Perfection.  He knows all the “players,” our strengths and weaknesses and what has been happening in each of our lives.  How He understands reality therefore, is very different from us folks who can only see for a short time through a very limited knothole in the fence.  The way someone “sees” shapes his mindset and understanding of  reality.  This mindset or frame of reference is what Greek philosophers called one’s “logos.”   Our logos shapes how we understand everything.  You can see why logos gave rise to the word logic.   There is no good English word for logos.  It is most frequently translated as “word.”  Pretty clumsy, that.  “Word” does not come close to the full meaning of logos.  

That’s why this familiar verse is frequently misunderstood:

In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Instead of thinking, “word,” a combination of letters, think, “mindset” or “understanding of reality.”  And not just any old mindset, but THE mindset, God’s mind  God’s way of understanding reality as it really is.  Jesus, this says, embodies God’s true Logos.  In the beginning, before Creation, Jesus was The Logos.  That is to say, He existed with God in the beginning because He was God in the beginning.

When a coach calls a time out, it’s usually to give the players his perspective on what is happening in the game and instructions on how to adapt.  His logos gives them valuable insight as they head back out to the frantic action of the game.  In Jesus, God has called us to the sidelines.  He says, In all the hubbub of life, you’ve gotten a distorted idea.  I want you to really know what’s happening.  Here is My Son, Who has been with Me since the beginning.  Listen to Him; He knows; He has the right logos.  So much so, He is the Logos.

I give you My Word.

His Own Words

Time Magazine will tell you nobody really knows much about Jesus.  They and other print and broadcast media use skepticism about Jesus to pump up their ratings just before Resurrection Day.  They may not know Who Jesus is, but He does.  Here is some of how He described Himself:

John 6:33-35

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:23

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:24

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:58

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Note: “I Am” is the Name of God.)

 

John 9:39

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

John 10:30

“I and the Father are one.”

John 10:36-38

“…do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

John 14:9

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 

Mar 14:61 — Mar 14:62

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

There’s more.  Much more.  But, of course, none of that matters unless you are willing to accept that Jesus wasn’t lying.

No, Really!

Remember the movie, Oh God?  John Denver played a grocery store clerk chosen to have a personal interview with God, who looked a lot like George Burns.  The frustrating part for him was trying to get anyone to believe he wasn’t crazy.  Starting with his wife.  Funny movie and I just put it back on my Netflix queue.  As fanciful as that plot was, a similar thing happened to Peter when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speaking.  And every time he tried to tell others about that experience there was always somebody at the back of the room, making a skeptical face and shaking his head.  Which is why Peter wrote these words:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Maybe you can understand how frustrated he must have been.  Maybe you’ve had your whole life changed by an encounter with Jesus and have then tried to explain it to others who make that funny face.  Or who back away, slowly, saying, “Oh that’s nice for you…”  Maybe you’ve discovered if you have to say, “No, really…” the argument is over.  But don’t be discouraged or give up; it’s happened to me, too.

And Peter.

And Jesus.

For some skeptics, the best Peter could do was to say:

…you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:19)

Civil Obedience

Is it right for whole communities to refuse to obey immigration laws?  What about for you?  Is it right for you to pick and choose which laws you will obey?  Consider these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 

Our first response might be to object, to bring up exceptions.  Are we supposed to be subject to an authority who is corrupt or wicked?  Nero was in power when Peter wrote this.  His wickedness and cruelty was the stuff of legend. And yet. Peter taught us to be subject to such rulers.

But, what if a ruler’s commands are contrary to the commands of God?  Peter faced that dilemma when he was ordered by the Jewish council not to tell people about Jesus.  His response is instructive:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”   (Acts 4:18-20)

Although Peter and John could not, in conscience, obey the authorities, they still were subject  to them, honest about their disobedience and submissively ready to accept the consequences.  Being subject to the authorities does not always mean obeying them.

But why be subject to them?  Why not take action to weaken the authority of those in power who are corrupt or wicked?  Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Of course, Peter had a good Role Model in this.  Taking his cues from Jesus, he wrote:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:20-24)

We are subject to human authorities because we are subject to God, Who has told us to do so.  We do not take matters into our own hands but entrust ourselves to God, knowing that His plans will prevail.

Help

The sound of a circling airplane brings euphoria to those lost at sea.  The expectation of coming rescue brings new hope and the energy to struggle on.  When we struggle with strong temptation or other kinds of suffering, life can seem like being lost at sea.  The disciple named Peter knew all about that.  He wrote words of powerful encouragement for those who suffer and struggle as they attempt to live out their faith.  He knew how tough such a struggle seems and how often and easily we fail.  In 1 Peter 5:6-10 he gives important strategies to employ during the struggle (click HERE to review those).  And he ends that section by saying this: Help is on the way.  He wrote:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.   (1 Peter 5:10)

The most important word is easily overlooked.  It is “Himself!”  God is going to do what is needed – Himself.   How cruel it would be for the circling plane to drop a message to the folks floundering below that said, “You can do it!  Try harder!”  And yet, so many of us have heard that, “try harder” message from our religious leaders.  But Peter knew this truth:  What I cannot do, God will do.  Himself.

He will restore us to good operating condition.  Think of the restorations you’ve seen on TV or YouTube. A piece of rusty junk is transformed into a beautiful roadster, gleaming as it did right off the showroom floor.  God Himself will restore us.

You’ll no doubt think, “No way, this can’t be true…”   That’s why God Himself will confirm His work in you. He will let you test it and see for yourself that it is real, even as the restoration is being gradually accomplished.

Not only that, but He will strengthen those areas of weakness in you that have caused so much trouble, equipping you to face the continued temptations and dangers of real life.

Ultimately, God will establish you.  When footers are poured under new foundations, their function is to establish the stability of the building.  Their job is to keep the building steady in the midst of all the forces that try to move it.

Help is coming.  But why has it been delayed?  Peter wrote, “after you have suffered awhile”   In verse 6, he wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…”  God knows what we are enduring and when is the proper time to end it.  Like a coach or trainer, He allows us to suffer temporarily as part of how He works to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. Remember: “He cares for you” (v. 7), and hold on to His promise of rescue.

A circling plane cannot rescue shipwrecked sailors.  It functions as a promise that help is coming.  That promise, that hope, makes all the difference.  1 Peter 5:10 serves us like that as well.

Strong Offense

In the cartoon, “Cathy,” she says to herself, “I won’t go to the store.”  Then, “Well, I’ll drive by the store but not go in.”  And, “I’ll go in but not near the candy counter.”  Followed by, “Ok, I can walk past the candy counter but I won’t buy anything.”  And then, “I’ll buy but I won’t eat.”  And, finally, “Eat! Eat! Eat!”

It’s never safe to see how close we can get to temptation without giving in to it.  We don’t do that with rattle snakes or grizzly bears; don’t do it with the things that have defeated us in the past.   Instead, we mount a good defense, staying clear-minded and watchful for any danger.  (Scroll down to the previous post for more on that.)  However, it’s not enough to simply steer clear of temptation.  We also need to be ready with a good offense when temptation does not steer clear of us.

Here’s what Peter wrote about that:

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  (1 Peter 5:8-9)

While we don’t want to go looking for trouble, when it comes, we do not need to run in fear.  Jesus taught:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  (John 8:34-36)

After the Civil War, many of the freed slaves were afraid to leave their masters, because they weren’t sure the news of their freedom was really true.  If we don’t know for sure that Satan no longer enslaves us, we will likely cave in the face of his temptations.  Instead, Peter teaches, Resist him, firm in your faith.”  Call Satan’s bluff:  “I don’t have to obey you any more; I’ve been set free by Jesus.”

It also helps to know that we do not struggle alone.  When Peter writes, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world,”  he invites us to consider ourselves members of a team, engaged in a mighty struggle together.  If we know we are not alone, that others are wrestling with the same issues as we are, it becomes easier to resist in a courageous way.

There’s more.  We don’t have to fight alone.  Next time, real, practical help is on the way!