Saturday, April 18

Believing is Seeing


Some Bible stories have been given the wrong titles over the centuries. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is about the Faithful Father who from a distance “saw him and he had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” Lk 15:20. In all three synoptic gospels, you have the story of the “Rich Young Ruler” but nowhere do the stories tell us his age and only Luke (18:18) uses the word archon which can mean ruler, official, or chieftain. We know for certain is that he was rich. Doubting Thomas is another misnamed person. He may have been slow on the uptake of what Jesus was planning. He may not have accepted his fellow disciple’s story of Easter, but he doesn’t doubt Jesus.

Nature of Belief

We need to have evidence if we’re going to believe. Missouri has been known as The Show Me State flowing from Congressman’s Vandiver’s comment, “frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me (Ashcroft)." One of our annual Christmas movies is The Santa Clause. At the North Pole Tim Allen’s character, Scott Calvin is trying to wrap his head around things as he talks to Judy an elf. He asks, “Is that a polar bear directing traffic down there? I—I see it, but I don’t believe it (Pasquin).” Judy tells him he’s missing the point and says, “Seeing isn't believing: believing is seeing. Kids don't have to see this place to know that it's here. They just… know (Pasquin).”

The strength of one’s belief is directly tied to the importance of that in which we believe and put our trust. I can ‘believe’ or ‘not believe’ something I hear on the news. But the amount of energy with which I believe, my passion, will depend on the importance I attach to the object.

Eric Liddell an Olympian runner for Britain refused to run in a race in the Paris games in 1924 because the race was on Sunday, the Sabbath. Sally Magnusson reports that he was called before members of Britain’s Olympic Association and is accused of being impertinent by Lord Cadogan the chairman. Eric turns the tables on Cadogan and says, “The impertinence lies, sir, with those who seek to influence a man to deny his beliefs!"

Cadogan replied, "In my day it was King first and God after." To which the Duke of Sutherland says, “Yes, and the 'war to end wars' bitterly proved your point!”
There was no question mark in Thomas’ mind about Jesus. Look back at John 11. Here, Jesus is forced to plainly tell his disciples that Lazarus had died, and he was going to go to Bethany. Jesus had just risked being stoned in that area and now he is returning. It is Thomas, not John, James, or Peter who says, “to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas is so passionate about God and Christ’s mission that he is ready and willing to head off and die with Jesus.

In John 20 we have a grief-stricken Thomas lashing out at the other disciples as if they’d lost their minds. It was as if Charlie Brown’s teacher was saying her Blah, Blah, Blah. He must have felt about their story the way the disciples felt about the women’s story in Luke 24:11, “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” The word for nonsense is that of birds chirping and chattering away in the brush.

Power of Belief

Keep in mind that John is not trying to replicate the stories in the other three gospels. He doesn’t refer to Jesus’ birth. He has no ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and no parables. But John goes into depth about the last night with Jesus in the upper room including chapters 13-18:12. Only John gives us this interaction between Thomas, the other disciples, and Jesus.

Thomas is not convinced that the first Easter evening. A week later when Jesus returns our Lord’s first action is to greet them with peace and turn toward Thomas to offer him the proof he desired. Thomas doesn’t touch Jesus' scars. Thomas doesn’t put his fist in Jesus’ side. He simply answers, “My Lord and my God”. "The personal pronoun is of vital importance 'my Lord, and my God.' He confesses to the risen Jesus that he belongs to him as his willing subject; he adores him and henceforth will serve him as he deserves (Beasley-Murray 386)."
When confronted with the presence of Jesus, Thomas proclaims a personal trust, faith, and belief in Jesus and His identity—"my Lord and my God”. When Jesus responds with “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” in verse 29 he’s not rebuking Thomas. He is thinking of his prayer in John 17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word”. These have seen, they’ve received God’s word, and are tasked with telling others of God’s love in Christ. Thus, there will also be people blessed who never see Jesus—who walked with him in the flesh.

Challenge of Belief

I believe there is subtle disbelief about Jesus’ resurrection. I know of a preacher who not only renounced any belief in God but who actively seeks to bait others into arguing with him about it. We believe, but do we believe like Thomas believed. Are we willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem so we can die with him?
Is Jesus “Our Lord and Our God” to the extent that we would liquidate everything we own in order to follow Him or to purchase a seemingly worthless piece of land because of the treasure buried beneath it.
Maybe our belief in Jesus is really a crossed finger wish that God will just make everything nice. You know, calm, collected, neat—like we want it to be. I know I have wished for that from time-to-time. But God kills off the firstborn of an entire generation in Egypt. God creates, judges, and calls sinful humans to return and he does this, as Hebrews 1:1-2 say,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world..
We are reminded that the outcome of Jesus is “the salvation of our souls” because we are part of those who have not seen him. Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy”.  How can Thomas and the others so readily follow this Messiah, this Christ? It is because Jesus is NOT an idea, concept, philosophical construct, worldview, theology, force, or one of many divine guides.
No, He is God, made flesh, fully human/fully divine. He is the exact likeness of the invisible God and if you can't get your mind around that--join the crowd. Jesus was arrested, tortured, mocked, executed and raised to life and exalted to the right hand of God the Father. And he did it so you and I; we, can receive eternal life, and be brought back into the fold of God. Grasp this fact and we too should be confessing to Jesus, “My Lord and My God. Let’s pray

Work’s Cited

Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1999. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.
Magnusson, Sally (1981). The Flying Scotsman, A Biography. New York, NY: Quartet Books Inc.. p. 160-170 quoted in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell accessed April 7, 2010
Pasquin, John. The Santa Clause. USA/Canada: Walt Disney Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Outlaw Productions, 1994. DVD.

Bibliography

Ashcroft, John R. "Show Me State." Sos.mo.gov. Web. 16 Apr. 2020.
Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1999. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John. 3rd ed. Eerdmans, 1994. Print.
Buchanan, Mark. “The Benefit of the Doubt.” Christianity Today 2000 : 62–67. Print.
Burge, Gary M. John. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. Print. The NIV Application 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.
Fredrikson, Roger L., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. John. Vol. 27. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1985. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.
Goodykoontz, Emily. "Amanda Wasn’t about to be Fooled by a Text Scam. But this Time, it Really was a Portland Police Officer." The Oregonian 2019. Web. 15 Apr. 2020.
Magnusson, Sally (1981). The Flying Scotsman, A Biography. New York, NY: Quartet Books Inc.. p. 160-170 quoted in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell accessed April 7, 2010
McGrath, Stephen. "Romanian Court Gives Dead Man His Life Back." The Times.co.uk. 2018. Web. 15 Apr. 2020.
Pasquin, John. The Santa Clause. USA/Canada: Walt Disney Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Outlaw Productions, 1994. DVD.
Pfeil, Richard. "Doubting Thomas." Sermon Central. 2005. Web. 14 Apr. 2020.
Sowards, Jack B. “Where Silence Has Lease” Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2, Episode 2 (11-28-88)
Walker, Shaun. "Romanian Court Tells Man He Is Not Alive." the Guardian. 2018. Web. 15 Apr. 2020.
Weihenmayer, Erik. "Tenacious E." Outside 2001: 55. Web. 15 Apr. 2020.

Sunday, April 5

Risky Investing During Unsettled Times April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday


Here is a statement from 1997 about ‘risk avoidance’ He said, “I’m afraid we may well miss the next great advancement. We’re so afraid of failure that we may not pursue that next step (Stealth).” He was talking about stealth aircraft and his point was, that too much energy goes into avoiding the risk that we may miss out on the next advancement.

For the last few weeks ‘risk avoidance’ has been the centerpiece of life in the US. As I write this sermon there are five states that do not have lockdowns in place. What has shaken us to our roots started 140 days ago in China with a man who got sick. Right now, John Hopkins’ display shows 98k confirmed cases, 50k deaths, and 204k recovery. All but essential businesses are closed. 6.6 million people applied for unemployment the past week and the Dow went from 28k to a low of 18.5 and is rebounded bit as of today.

Reality of Fear

In 140 days, this virus has shaken us, has shaken the whole world, to its core. It took a decade to shake Naomi, Ruth, and Orpha to their core but it did happen. These three women are left as widows in a country that God had not given to His people. In Deuteronomy God gives his people a promise and a warning. The promise is simple. This promised land has what you need “as long as you obey (Campbell)?
"Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey” (Dt 6:3)
When Naomi’s family heads off to Moab it is to save themselves from a famine. Who can blame them, right? It makes sense. Where is God in this famine? A man has to do what a man has to do. All thoughts and questions weren’t just asked by Elimelech. At the very heart of “Becoming More than Survivors” is the issue of control and has the authority to make our choices.

Naomi, Ruth, and Orpha reap what Naomi’s husband did. Not only are they living in this place, but Their two boys marry Moabite women. The rule against this needs no interpretation. Once more Dt 7:3-4 reads,

"You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly." Dt 7:3-4

Fear versus Faith

Fear is real. Until we are in Christ’s kingdom it will remain real. But, it doesn’t have to be a controlling factor in our life. Fear alerts us to danger. Fear keeps us safe.  Fear may also give us an opportunity to prove our faith in God when we react to it in accordance with our faith in Christ.

Ruth becomes a stranger in a strange land as she leaves Moab. Her social, cultural, spiritual, and relational norms were behind her. Her fellow daughter-in-law returned after being convinced by Naomi. But Ruth knows that is she stays with her family they might be blessed by her family. So, Ruth leaves all she has known for a mother-in-law whom she believed in and trusted. Ruth’s fears were substantial, but her faith was grand enough to allow her to risk the uncertainty of the future they face as they leave and travel to Bethlehem.

When Naomi returns home “the whole town is stirred” (19). She was home, among ‘her’ people and once there she takes on a new name for herself—Mara for which she blames God “for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (1:20) she tells her neighbors. Yet the bitterness in Naomi’s heart doesn’t turn Ruth’s heart bitter.

I want to take you down a rabbit-trail for a bit. It’s about changing names. God is the one who changes names because He and He alone is the only one who knows who we really are. Thus, Abram and Sari become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel, and Cephas is called Petros.

The Prophet Isaiah writes of the completion of God’s salvation in chapter 62 in which he says:
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give
. Is 62:2
And when Jesus returns. Jesus warns and promises the church in Pergamum
16Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’" (Rev. 2:16-17
In Revelation 3:12 Jesus promises those in Philadelphia that for those who “hold fast”will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name”.

The issue of naming is crucial to understand if we are to become more than survivors in 2020 and beyond. Don’t accept the names with which the world labels you. Don’t bow to those names that would cheapen the mercy and grace of Jesus’ death for all our sins. Don’t accept the names you’ve called yourself in the past. Only listen for God’s name for you—beloved, heir of the Kingdom, loved of God, redeemed by the blood of the lamb and others

Wading Through Fear into Faith

God has a strange sense of humor for he calls all of us who name Jesus as God and Lord to a “Ruth-like risky-ness”. For the sake of a grieving mother-in-law, Ruth risks being noticed by a distant relative of Naomi’s and takes pain to make sure she is remembered by him. She risked being shunned, cheated, or even putting Naomi at risk but, she believed that the God whom she dedicated herself too would prevail.

Jesus, coming into Jerusalem in the midst of the celebration and pageantry wasn’t much different. He’d told the disciples he was going to Jerusalem to die and Thomas announced, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16). Fear was real and Jesus waded through it as he did the crowd.

Confronted by religious leaders who wanted him to silence his followers he reminded them the stones themselves would praise God as he entered. He taught, He demonstrated God’s power, shared Passover with the disciples, was arrested and executed knowing it was God’s will. He strode forth in the certainty that his trust in his Father was well placed.

This Sunday we would usually celebrate that ‘Last Supper’ as we take the bread and cup and trust God to meet us, spiritually nourish us, and remind us of His love for us. We’re going to forgo that, in order that when we gather again around Christ’s table we do so with a faith that doesn’t simply take it for granted.
Let us pray…

Works Cited

Campbell, Phil. "The Danger of Do-It-Yourself." Sermon Central. 2002. Web. 1 Apr. 2020.

"Stealth Technology." Modern Marvels. History Channel. 16 February 1997. Television.