Sunday, May 24

Perception, Power, Purpose


A great deal on engineering goes into creating a roadway. Planning, drawings, surveys, planning, GANT charts, and the rest. There is equipment work, bedding to compact roadway to lay with expansion joints, decisions about the camber of the road etc. It still can’t be safely driven on until the asphalt is laid and the markings, signs, lights, and the rest are in place. Let me suggest that Christ Jesus—firstborn from the dead—has built a wonderful way to venture home to where we belong.

In His Ascension, Jesus gives us and His disciples some key information about our trip home. Until the Holy Spirit came there were no signs marking lanes, or where the shoulder runs off into the dirt. There was no signage for what was off the various exits, These safeguards and directional signs is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus (Ac 16:7; Phi 1:19), as we seek to be obedient to the call of Christ.

This is a great place to be this week because next Sunday is Pentecost so preaching about the Holy Spirit is timely. Yet, for some a week or two about the Holy Spirit is more than enough and the reason for that lack of trust, faith in, and reliance upon the Spirit of Jesus comes out of the problems we have with perspective, power, and purpose.

Problem of Perspective

I can’t draw worth beans and one reason is I don’t understand ‘perspective’. But the problem of perspective is more than an issue for artists. It is something that affects every man, woman, and child. Our ability to perceive properly is directly related to our human sin. In Romans 1 Paul talks about how humans devolved into lawlessness and in 1:22-3 he says, 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" ESV.

Today there are hundreds, if not thousands, of gods worshiped by people some not even realizing they are doing it. Many of our gods, the ones which we unknowingly pay homage too are positive. Jobs, families, vacation, even health can be an unrealized idol we worship. Our failed perception labels it ‘the great American Dream’; being loving, or some other label.

KINGDOM PERSPECTIVE is the correcting influence of Christ on our lives. The disciples go into this time with their Lord asking, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" v4. They show their fallen perspective with their immediate, wish-fulfillment, sin based--even our noblest gestures are touched, and “bent”. A term used by C.S. Lewis to describe the complete and utter failure which occurred at the Fall.  

We are concerned with the “now”, but God’s perspective is eternal, long-range and not dependent on any “if/then scenarios”. Yet, His detailed attention is down to the smallest atom. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie wrote of Jesus, “He knew that the new kingdom people had to be those who could wait for the Lord’s best, and on His time schedule (Ogilvie 37).” He called this time the “period between the lightning and the thunder (ibid). Do we trust God’s perspective? Are we okay with not knowing?

That is God’s design for us and we do well to remember that God is always is on time, and in time—never late, never early (ibid).

Problem of Power

Our culture celebrates power, grabs power, seeks power, and abuses power. And that is our human experience since creation. Jesus’ closest friends were seemingly unable to keep their eyes off the new Davidic kingdom. Israel would be free and powerful. “Restore” is to bring back something into its original state of existence. To "reestablish, restore; cure, make well; send or bring back (Newman)” is another stab at explaining the varied meaning of this word.

KINGDOM POWER is God’s earth-shattering take on a redefinition of what power is and how it is used. This power is given not grabbed. It is poured out freely upon the undeserving. It is immensely expensive and yet freely given.  It can’t be paid back for it is an act of Grace. God’s love demonstrated to us and through us.

A month earlier, Jesus had demonstrated what Kingdom power looked like when he washed the disciple’s feet during dinner. John recalls the post-meal discussion

“Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 16 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
As the “rich young ruler” walks away, Jesus teaches us that, as impossible, as it seems, God is a God of the impossible. Peter asks, “we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” Mt. 19:26-27 to which Jesus concludes His teaching in v. 30, “but many who are first will be last and the last first”

The Kingdom of God turns the world upside down in every way. It changes hearts and governments. It shakes up families and politics. It confronts individual, cultural, governmental, and every other place where sin is found. It comforts all in need, builds up those torn down, and is the reality of God’s presence in our lives and the world.

One way in which Kingdom Power has touched and transformed lives and neighborhoods is by investment in families. Lake Pointe Church in Dallas invested $27K. A church in Wyoming, Michigan spent $18K and a Los Angeles church last Christmas surprised the congregation by spending $53K. Their total investment paid off just shy of 10 million dollars of medical expenses for those in their community where they are crushed under that load. One pastor commented that such debt made their lives impossible, “Most of these folks are in poverty levels or below poverty levels and there’s no way that it can be repaid, but they feel the creditor banging on their doors (Allen).”

Problem of Purpose

A 2016 survey of 18-24-year-olds found they reported “that having a clear purpose in life is a big part of being a "real" adult. The problem is, most young people don't feel like they've found that sense of purpose (Whelan).” I hate to burst their bubble, but many 50-70-year-olds don’t know what their purpose in life.
John Shedd commented that “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.” They were meant for the ocean and seas, to go where it can be dangerous and where disaster might strike at any moment.

You’ll hear a lot of ideas spouted by those in our world about one’s purpose. Washington Irving said, “Great minds have purposes; others have wishes” and when someone shouts out just “Follow your dreams” I cannot help but think of some of the nightmare scenarios I faced in my dreams. One author, when asked ‘What is the meaning of life?’ wrote, “it has none. Your life may feel like a big deal to you, but it’s actually a random blip of matter and energy in an uncaring and impersonal universe (Lawton).” What a horrid reality and if true then we are the biggest fools in the universe because we claim there is a spiritual reality in which we fit perfectly for we have been designed by a loving creator.

KINGDOM PURPOSE puts us out to sea; takes us to a strange new land; moves us to embrace a new identity, to become adopted by God. Then, as all this is happening God tosses water onto a grease fire and spreads us out as promised here and in Matthew 28. Verse 8 says, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." It also sets forth the way in which Acts is organized.

The way God moved His people off of dead center takes place in Acts 6 when Stephen, a deacon is grabbed by other Jews on charges of blaspheme. He is stoned and Acts 8:1 says, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”. Remember in Acts 1:8 Jesus’ imparts to us His purpose for our lives… “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

When Jesus calls us ‘witnesses’ what does He mean? He means where are to share ‘History’ with the world—not history but His story. This year we lost a wonderful evangelist, preacher, and thinker Ravi Zacharias. Beginning with him there was a new approach to sharing God’s word to an uncaring world. In 1983 he was tagged by Billy Graham to address the first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam. He decried the tendency to seek to “humiliate someone of a different worldview that we think unless we destroy everything, he holds valuable, we cannot preach to him the gospel of Christ (Fearon).”

That was not Ravi’s style. He engaged a person in life and earned the right to speak into their life the news of Jesus. An attendee at that conference said.+
“He saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered. People weren’t logical problems waiting to be solved; they were people who needed the person of Christ.” No one was reaching out to the thinker, to the questioner (Fearon).”
The way any and all of it takes place is through Jesus the Christ and our believing and trusting in Him.  Let’s pray.
 

Works Cited
Allen, Karma. "Michigan Church Says It Paid Off Medical Debt for Nearly 2,000 Families." ABC News. 2020. Web. 19 May 2020

Fearon, Matthew. "Obituary: Ravi Zacharias." Rzim.org. 2020. Web. 20 May 2020.

Johnson, Lauren M. "A Los Angeles Church Is Paying Off $5.3 Million Of Medical Debt in Its Community." CNN. 2019. Web. 19 May 2020.

Lawton, Graham. “What is the Meaning of Life?” New Scientist (9-3-16)

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993:  Print.

Ogilvie, Lloyd J. Acts. Vol. 28. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1983. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Sarkar, Riddhi. "Texas Church Uses Donations to Pay Off $2.6M In Medical Debt for Families." ABC News. 2019. Web. 19 May 2020.

Whelan, Christine B. "Seek Your Purpose Before Your Paycheck," Acculturated blog (5-23-16)

Works Consulted

Brown, David, A. R. Fausset, and Robert Jamieson. A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Acts–Revelation. VI. London; Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Company, Limited, n.d. Print.

Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.

Fearon, Matthew. "Obituary: Ravi Zacharias." Rzim.org. 2020. Web. 20 May 2020.

Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. “Reason, History, and Biblical Authenticity.” Christianity Today 1969 : 3–6. Print.

Johnson, Lauren M. "A Los Angeles Church Is Paying Off $5.3 Million Of Medical Debt In Its Community." CNN. 2019. Web. 19 May 2020.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Ed. Donald A. Hagner. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993. Print.

Lawton, Graham. “What is the Meaning of Life?” New Scientist (9-3-16)

McDormand, Thomas B. “Church and Government.” Christianity Today 1965 : 14–15. Print.

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993: Print.

Patowary, Kaushik. "Before the Internet, What People Asked New York Public Library's Librarians?" Amusing Planet. 2018. Web. 19 May 2020.

Ogilvie, Lloyd J. Acts. Vol. 28. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1983. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Sarkar, Riddhi. "Texas Church Uses Donations to Pay Off $2.6M In Medical Debt For Families." ABC News. 2019. Web. 19 May 2020.

Whelan, Christine B. "Seek Your Purpose Before Your Paycheck," Acculturated blog (5-23-16)

Witherington, Ben, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. Print.

W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (London: Marshall Morgan Scott; repr. 1981), pp. 137–39.


Saturday, May 16

Spoiler Alert! He's Here!

Thursday morning, unable to sleep, I flipped between the overnight news on CBS and ABC. Coronavirus was the major story with some very sobering statistics offered.

Perhaps 40% unemployment for those making under $40K. Bright, the former top U.S. vaccine official, stated that the U.S. may face the “darkest winter in modern history” if there is not a coordinated response to this virus. President Trump’s dismissal of Dr. Fauci reluctance to reopen schools, “not an acceptable answer” seemed to bode ill for his tenure. Then there’s the specter of this recent “systemic inflammatory syndrome” that strikes children.

With all of this, and various sized asteroids buzzing by Earth my thoughts went to Revelation and the return of Christ. I do not think that this pandemic marks the breaking of the fourth seal in Revelation 6:7. But, what I do know is that His return is closer today than it was yesterday, and tomorrow it will be closer still. I also know that God’s Word offers hope and certainty even when our hearts, spirits, and lives are uncertain and doubtful because Christ is already with us.
This hope is found in today’s passage in John. The night Jesus is about to be arrested, he takes pains to make certain his disciples, and we, know we are not left alone.

More than a Helper

Jesus promises “another paraclete whom He identifies as the “Spirit of truth” who “dwells with you and will be in you” v 17. Many versions use the word ‘Helper’ for paraclete but that is a word that smacks of being subordinate or inferior on one’s ability. I see Tonto or Robin, a ‘side-kick’, who ‘lends a hand’ when you need it.

I know too many of you and others who are quick to say, “I don’t need any help” and I don’t want us thinking of the Holy Spirit in this way. Another word used is Counselor. This is okay if we think of it in terms of attorney and not a camp or marriage counselor (Carson 499) who gives advice we can take or ignore, and comforter sounds like a quilt or a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.
“We have no single word in our language that can express the rich, powerful meaning of “Paraclete,” the English translation of the unique title John uses for this Holy Companion. Para in the Greek means “alongside,” and the root of kletos is ‘to call’ (Fredrikson and Ogilvie 223).”
Just as Christ is sent into our world so the Holy Spirit, this paraclete, comes to those who believe in Christ. The world at large has no inkling of who the Holy Spirit is or what His role. “The Paraclete is not given to the world which neither sees nor knows Him. As it has been blind and deaf to Jesus, so the world does not know the Paraclete has come (Fredrikson and Ogilvie 224)."

Coming of Jesus

Of all the various discussions about verses 17-18, it seems apparent to me that Jesus is telling His disciples about the coming Easter Sunday. The world, those who cannot believe doesn’t see Jesus’ resurrection. Paul calls Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men” 1Co 1:24-25.

If the resurrection is false Paul says “your faith is in vain, futile, you are still in your sins”; we “misrepresent God”; “the dead are not raised” and “we are of all people most to be pitied” 2Co 15:14-19. But Paul all but shouts verse 20 when he writes “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

When Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples after Easter, they “see him with eyes of faith” (Beasley-Murray 258). Their lives are transformed, expanded, completely opened to God’s reality of eternity. They will, “on that day”, “the relation of Jesus to the Father… will become luminously clear” and “they will then understand that a new union with their risen Lord has become possible, (Beasley-Murray 258)."

Keeping Jesus’ Commandments

All of this teaching is contained within verbal bookends. The bookends are “keep my commands” in verse 15 and “commandments and keeps them” in verse 21. We use the Greek term inclusio to describe such passages. Once you start to look for them, you’ll find they stand out like a haiku or Shakespearean Sonnet
 
What does it mean to “keep” Jesus’ “commandments” and how does it demonstrate “love”? Keep and obey may seem synonymous but to keep involves observing and paying attention to what we keep. There is a sense in which one protects or guards the object they keep. As if they “keep it in custody, keep back, reserve, maintain, keep firm (Newman).”
If…then is called a conditional statement such as if you mow the lawn then I will let you play, a conditional statement drilled into my skull growing up. But don’t think that we initiate this promise. We don’t demonstrate obedience and watch God and Christ respond to our actions (Carson 503). 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us”, I’ll come back to that passage in a moment. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” John writes in 1 John 5:2.

Dr. Bruce Metzger describes the ‘keeping’ as future rather than imperative, meaning that “Jesus neither assumes that his followers love him, nor assumes that they do not… but projects a condition and stipulates its entailment: they will obey (Metzger 245).” Did your parents ever ask you a question like, “You were going to clean your room today? Right.” It isn’t a question but an action you just have not yet completed. It wasn’t debatable, it was a fact.
What commands are we to ‘safeguard’ and ‘attend to’? Dr. Carson wrote,
"What the one who loves Jesus will observe is not simply an array of discrete ethical injunctions, but the entire revelation from the Father, revelation holistically conceived (Carson 498)."
Yet the most direct context is the new ‘commandment’ which Jesus gives us in John 13:34-35, 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Back in 1 John 4:19ff we read,
“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
If you expect the Body of Christ, God’s People, the Church to have any impact on the spiritually blinded world around us it will come only as we love one another.

In Today’s Christian Woman a mom told of her daughter, Beverly, who needed to change a dirty shirt in which she was playing. After calling two times with no response, her mother gave her the full three-name call: “'Beverly Elizabeth Provost, did you hear me?' Beverly answered, 'Yes, Mama. My ears did, but my legs didn't' (Provost)."

How you love one another is different for everyone because each of us has a way in which we receive love best. In The 5 Love Languages, Dr. Gay Chapman speaks of five ways in which we express and receive love they are:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Physical Touch
  • Acts of Service
The book is worth reading but I mention it so that we realize we need to be aware of the ways in which our sisters and brothers receive our love when offered. Kenton has a future involved with loving others because Christ has loved us. Let’s keep true to that calling as we pray.

Works Cited

Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1999. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Chapman, Gary D. The 5 Love Languages. Chicago: Northfield Pub., 2015. Print.

Fredrikson, Roger L., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. John. Vol. 27. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1985. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. UBS, 1971. Print. 245

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993: Print.