Faith or Unbelief

Have you ever been offended by what God tells us. Jesus stopped into his home town and ‘They were greatly offended’ Not just offended, but greatly offended. They were offended by the miracles. They did not like the fact that he could do them. Jesus offended their mindset, upsetting how they thought things ought to be. [Read Mark 6:1-13 about Jesus’ hometown visit.]

Due to their pride and expectations, they could not discern the divine in the human. Instead of looking to see the connection to God, the town elders made it a point to study to debunk his wisdom and miracles. They purposely raised prejudices in the minds of the town’s people. Their reasoning was simple. How could anyone with a home-education, who had never traveled, had never been to any university or even been tutored at the feet of one of Israel’s learned doctors, be what he claimed to be? In spite of the overwhelming evidence, they could not get past the question: “Is not this the Carpenter?” They even contradicted themselves in looking for excuses to not believe in Jesus. They said: “He is the son of Mary; his brethren and sisters are here with us.” In other words, we know his family and kindred. And then they turn around and say: “As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.” [John 9:29 KJV and the controversy of the blind man healed.]

’because of their unbelief, he could not do any mighty miracles among them’ [Mark 6:5 NIV] In other words, they hardened their hearts and continued their prejudices against him. Because they knew his parentage, they had seen him grow up playing the same games they did, getting the same education and knew of his local professional career as a carpenter among them, they could not account for the proofs of Christ’s deity that were so plain and uncontestable. To Jesus, as a human, it was amazing that there should be any who would continue to be unbelievers. I wonder if Jesus concluded, when faced with the attitude of his ‘home boys’ and their overwhelming unbelief, that he thought that they were simply stupid. Their hardness of heart blinded their minds. When the disciples saw the reaction of Jesus’ hometown people, they had experiential knowledge of why Jesus told them as he sent them out “And if a village won’t welcome you or listen to you, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.”

So what does God see as the difference between faith and unbelief? I think that John Bunyan may be a help here. This is a partial list [there are 14 more] I have adapted of the differences that he saw in the Bible between faith and unbelief. It is very insightful.

Faith believes the Word of God; but unbelief questions it. When God had brought his people to the river that was the border at the edge of the land that He had promised them: Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.[Psa 106:24] The psalmist goes on to say that they were just sitting in their tents grumbling about God’s treatment of them.

Faith brings us near to God when we are far from him; but unbelief puts us far from God when we are near to him. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” [Heb 10:22] And “see to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” [Heb 3:12]

Where faith reigns, it declares men to be the friends of God; but where unbelief reigns, it declares them to be his enemies. “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Rev 21:8).

I am not just saying. This is what God himself says. Believe it or not to your benefit or detriment.

Image Bearer – Part 3

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” [Genesis 1:26 NIV]

I have lived in many different communities across America. Every community is different from the rest. When I move to a new place I have to take some time to take stock of my surroundings. What does this community offer? Architecture may be different but basically things look similar. But wait! It does not take long before I realize that life isn’t quite the same as it was “back home.” Likewise, there is a difference in ‘communities’ where people worship Christ and ‘communities’ where people ignore Jesus. The Bible reminds us that because we have distorted the image of God within us, but God, through Jesus Christ, “delivered from the domain of darkness” and transferred those who believe God into the kingdom of his beloved Son.

So if we claim to be of the community of Jesus, then we have a mandate to follow the instruction of God when He urges believers to “put to death” that which belongs to the old community where we once lived and “put on” that which belongs to the community of Jesus. When we become a Christ-one, we are to remember that our citizenship transferred to the community of the Lord Jesus and that now we need “to put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” As we allow God to renew and restore us in His Son’s image, that which we have distorted – namely, the restored image of God is being mirrored in us once again as we obey Him.

It is our task to practice what Christ has already accomplished. This is our goal. This truth also motivates us to be messengers of reconciliation in a world fragmented by sin.

You were created to enjoy God and reflect His glory. You and I made a shipwreck of that holy calling in each of our lives. Yet, God lovingly acted to redeem and restore us in Jesus Christ. Our only fitting response is to turn from life in Adam and, by faith, walk in our new life in Christ. As restored image bearers, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. If you are still in the community of unbelievers, you are called to be reconciled to a loving God who is waiting for you.

Image Bearer

Part One

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

[Genesis 1:26 NIV]

We have to start somewhere. The big bang theory is too vague. What God says has substance. He gives us a reason for our existence. We exist to display our Creator’s glory.  Both strategically and tragically we have failed in our task of representing God in us. But that is not the end of the story. While sin has shattered us like a mirror the image of God within us, God has provided a new mirror. Adam started the rebellion from under God’s loving rule by deciding that God was holding out on him and we continue the cycle today wanting “freedom.” We keep thinking that pursuing our own enjoyment and glory [being number 1] will bring us peace. What we have wrecked God has mercifully restored new under Jesus Christ

In 2006 playing for the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick became the first quarterback to rush for the illustrious 1,000 yards in a season. Though his team finished 7-9, his future looked bright. Along with his NFL salary, Vick earned money for being the face of Rawlings Sporting Goods, Nike, and other companies. In 2006 he earned an estimated $25.4 million.

One year later Michael Vick was broke and in prison for his contributions to an illegal dog-fighting ring. His estimated losses totaled $142 million, with some $50 million lost in endorsements. Rawlings and Nike did not like being represented by someone convicted of cruelty toward animals. They made the logical choice to terminate their relationship. To continue using Vick as a spokesperson would have been tantamount to promoting dog-fighting themselves.

Presidents are very careful to select Ambassadors who will correctly represent his agenda for the United States. When you represent the president, everything you do reflects on that person. God created you to represent Him and to declare His glory. The command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:26) was a command to you to spread God’s glory as His image-bearer to the ends of the earth. Sadly, all of us have abdicated this high calling, wrecking the image of God. Because God is the ultimate authority of all creation, our failure is not the end of the story. Through the work of His Son Jesus Christ, God is in the process of restoring what we ruined.

Thomas the Unbeliever – a different Easter story

The story of Thomas from John 20:19-25 & Luke 24:36-43   Sunday, March 24, 2013

The wind blew easily out of the north across the barren hilltop with still a biting winter chill lingering in it, whipping the heavy cloak Thomas clutched around him. He stood with tears tugging at the corners of his eyes as he looked across the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem. Today was the first day of the new week after the Passover. The last forty-eight hours had destroyed any hope he had in God being able to overthrow the barbarian hold of Rome on his country. His brothers were scattered. His hope in any changes in their lives was now shattered by the death of their leader. The Jews had won a major victory in killing off a man who did them no harm. Now he was hiding out pretending to be a shepherd.

One of the eleven, Andrew had sent a boy out early this morning to tell him that the rest of the disciples along with some friends would be meeting at John’s house in secret. None of the Jesus followers trusted their countrymen now. The Jews, the ones who held to the teachings of his fathers, could no longer be trusted. They had killed the One who promised so much from God. And now all their hopes lay decaying in a borrowed grave. And yet the twelve … no wait … now ten were going to meet in secret. He would not be going. He ran into the hills to his cousin after the Man had died on the cross. When the sky turned black fear gripped his heart. Some would probable call him a coward but he preferred to think of it as prudent. The Jews would be looking for further revenge. They had been vindicated by His death as a blasphemer. The religious leaders had pulled off the impossible through a mockery of a trial. So he ran.

Jacob his cousin, a shepherd, had assured him he would be safe with him. Nobody paid attention to shepherds. Nobody would come looking for him in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. And what was the big fuss anyway, Jacob had asked. Prophets come and go. This one came and went. He may have said and done some good things but in the end, the grave caught him just like it will catch us. He may have claimed to be God’s Son but where was the proof. It was lying in a grave. Another prophet has come and gone. God has forgotten His people.  

* * * *

The two men, Jacob a poor shepherd and Thomas a towns tradesman, were sitting around a small fire in the in the early morning a week later. The sheep were starting to stir. It had been a warmer night with a softer breeze blowing, hinting at spring just around the corner.

Jacob stirred his tea. “Did you sleep well Cousin?”

“You know I didn’t. My bed in town does not have rocks in it” snorted Thomas.

“Well, you invited yourself out here.”

“Jacob, you were not there to see the near riots caused by the Jews surrounding Jesus’ trial. Besides, you said that it would be safe here in the hills.”

“I did. Tell me Cousin, why do you keep talking about the ‘Jews’ as if you are not one also. I know that you are a son of Abraham. I was there at your bar mitzvah.” He paused as he took a sip of tea. “You know Thomas; you take this religion thing too seriously. Do your duty and leave it at that.”

Thomas was silence. He pulled his robe around himself tighter. He felt exposed. “How do I answer him” he thought. “I am a Jew. But I am not a Jew as they are. I believe that the Messiah was here. I lived with Him and ate with Him and saw Him do miracles and even went on outreaches for Him. But now what could we do? I skipped out when He was arrested. It all seemed to crumble so quickly. I still believe and yet there is a part of me that tells me that I don’t believe. I need proof. He told us that we would see Him again. But where is He now? He acted like we should change the world but how can we do that when He as our leader is dead? Oh God, I feel so confused. Have I believed all of this for nothing? And what are the others doing now? Peter is probably back fishing.”      

“Thomas” Jacob said sharply, “it has been a week now and the Jews have not rioted or caused any more arrests.” “Maybe you should go back into the city and see what is really going on.”

“Yeah … you are right I suppose. Curiosity is getting the best of me!” He stood up and started rolling up his blankets. “I have had enough of sleeping on hard ground.”

* * * * 

Hours later Thomas is walking through the streets of Jerusalem. He keeps his hood over his head and his eyes avoid contact with others. The crowds are moving in the streets as usual. The marketplace is full and nothing seems to be unusual. “This is not what I thought.” He rounds a corner and bumps into Nathanael. “Thomas! Long time no see! Where have you been hiding out?  Oh man, have you missed out on some excitement!”

“No, I do not think so! I stayed out of the city and the Jews way! What are you and the rest doing?”

“The Lord as risen!”

“I came back into the city to see what you guys were … What did you say?”

“I said” repeated Nathanael slowly, “that the Lord has risen. He is alive.”

“Get out of here. That is impossible!”

“Come on Thomas. I am heading to John’s place now. We are meeting to figure out what it is that the Lord wants us to do. I’ll tell you what happened as we walk.”

Thomas hurried after with Nathanael. He spoke first that the ten of them had met at John’s place a week ago, the first day of the week after Passover. They had met behind barred doors due to fear of further reprisals from the Jews. Together, they reminisced about how for about two years they had been a close knit band of brothers. Now they wanted to compare notes and talk over what to do now that their leader was dead. Each of them talked about what was on their minds and what to do at this critical juncture. They were afraid to be in the public eye especially as a group. They were criminals according to the religious Jews. By this time they had reached the door of John’s house. Nathanael stopped and turning to Thomas he said quietly: “But then the most amazing and startling thing happened. Jesus showed up in our midst, just like that.”

“What do you mean ‘just like that?”

“Just like that! He suddenly was standing in our midst. The doors were stilled barred. But there He stood as plain as day.”

“That was a ghost! You guys are fools” Thomas said in disgust as he reached for the door handle to open it.

“I do not think so Thomas. Too many of us have seen Him. Mary. Peter. And then were those two others traveling to Emmaus. And now us.”

“Hey you two!” shouted a man coming down the street hurrying toward them. “Why are you just standing here gabbing? Go inside before we raise too much attention!”

As the man got closer he saw it was Philip. “Hi Philip.” Thomas looked intently at him and asked: “Do you too really believe all of this insane talk about Jesus really being alive?”

Philip herded them through the door and closed the door after them. “Thomas, all I can say is that Jesus showed up in skin and bones just like you and I. He even asked for a …”

“Hey you guys. We are about read to start.” interrupted John as he greeted them in the hallway. “Come on my friends, the rest of us are already here.” He led the way down the hallway and through the inner courtyard to a door that opened into a room in the back of the house and stepped inside. Nathanael and Philip piled through the door but Thomas stayed back. From the doorway, he saw in the room the other ten disciples and some of the others who hung out with them. Suddenly he felt embarrassed. Everyone seemed too excited, so sure, so confident.

“Come on in” shouted Levi over the loud talk of the group from the other side of the room. He shouldered his way across the room to the door. “Come on Thomas, come in and hear the latest news.”

Thomas stepped through the door reluctantly. Not wanting to be in any new conversation he turned to Philip and said: “So what were you saying in the hallway about Jesus? What did the Lord … I mean what did the ghost, do or say next …?”

Philip scratched his beard thinking and then said: “Oh yes, I remember. Jesus was standing in our midst showing us his hands and feet with the blood encrusted holes where the nails had been driven through. We were in a confusion of joy, amazement and just not believing our eyes! Then He asked us if we had anything to eat. One of us, not sure who, grabbed a piece of boiled fish off of the table and gave it to him.” Philip paused seeing one of the servants moving through the room with a tray of wine cups. Philip grabbed one and took a drink.

“And … then what happened” asked Thomas?

Philip looked at Thomas with a puzzled look. “What do you mean what happened? Well, of course He ate it.”

“Oh …” Thomas felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned and found John smiling at him.

“I overheard what Philip was telling you. Remember, Jesus often told us that we are like sheep. He also told us that when something happens to the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. But sheep are also social creatures and like to be together. Welcome home brother. We have missed you this week.”

“Thanks … I spent some time with my cousin.” His mind just seemed to be stopped as if by a wall. How his friends could be so taken in by this sudden appearance of a ghost was beyond him. How could they believe this to be real? What was going on here? Jesus came, they claimed though the doors that were not only shut but bolted. He frowned as he too grabbed a cup of wine off a passing servant’s tray. Taking a sip, he thought ‘how is it possible that they can say they have seen Him alive when just a week ago hundreds of people publically saw Jesus die. This is not rational thinking. Sitting down on a bench against the stone wall, his brow furrowed deeper as he stared down into his cup of red wine.

“You seem awfully quiet this evening Thomas.”

Looking up he saw James sitting down next to him. Ah, his best buddy James. Jesus’ brother. A like minded skeptic like him. A man of few words but very practical. “What on earth are you doing here? Did you fall down and hit your head and now you too believe this stuff” asked Thomas jokingly?

“Yup! All but the falling down part.”

“You’re kidding aren’t you?”

“Nope. Thomas, maybe you are justifying your lack of faith. Jesus said that God would raise Him up after three days. I remember Him saying it, although at the time I did not believe it.”

Thomas turned on the bench and said: “James, look at me. You and I have been friends a long time. I have been part of the ‘Twelve’ as folks like to call us. You on the other hand have always been on the outer fringes. You have voiced many times that you were not able to believe that your half-brother could possibly be the Son of God. And now you suddenly believe?”

“I do.”

“Well I am not just going to play along with this. This is really quite stupid. I have no evidence. I just can’t believe such rubbish. What I find incredibly disturbing is that a practical man like you does.” He angrily drained his cup. Jumping to his feet and raising his voice so that the room could hear “And let me tell you all this, unless I see with my own eyes the nail marks in His hands and put my fingers where the nails were driven into flesh …” There was an uneasy stirring in the room. Thomas looked around defiantly around the room “And put my hand into His side, I refuse to believe in ghost tales!” Muttering under his breath he said: ‘Well there, I have said my piece publically.’ He looked around the room. Some were staring into their cups of wine avoiding eye contact. Some ventured to look at him with astonishment in their eyes. Suddenly a man materialized in front of him. Thomas jumped back in shock.

The Man looked around the room. “Peace be with you” He said to them all. The voice was familiar.

Thomas quickly looked at the door to the room. The wood bars were still in place on the inside. In the back of his mind he realized that Jesus had come through lock doors. No screamed his mind. This is not the real Jesus. A ghost.

Turning to Thomas the ghost said: “Put your finger here right on the wound. Look carefully at my hands” he said as He held them out in front of Thomas to examine. “A ghost does not have flesh and bones Thomas!”

Thomas backed up a step and bumped into James. “Reach out your hand and put it into the wound in my side” as Jesus pulled back his robe to expose the ugly wound. Thomas could feel his legs weakening. This cannot be happening. Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Stop doubting Thomas and believe!” Thomas heard a command and not a request. Thomas the Unbeliever stared. Suddenly it became all too clear to him. His unbelief melted. Tears streamed down his face. All he could say in humble repentance was “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus, with compassion in His voice, said to him: “Have you believed because you have seen Me standing before you? Blessed are the people who have never seen Me physically and yet have believed.”

 * * * *

As you do life this year during 2013, are you a believer or unbeliever? 

Not My Opinion

This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15
At some point in the future there will be one final word from a Name that will end all controversy for all time. We live in an apartment building where some apartments face inward to a courtyard with a fountain. For several nights now there have been loud collections of words being spoken till the wee hours in the morning. Loud obnoxious words without meaning. Words trying to drown out other words with their own noise. Words quoting resources. Words of anger. Words of surprise. Words rolling off alcohol saturated tongues. Words from many languages. Piercing words disturbing us in our sleep. Annoyed words thrown from quiet balconies to shut down the irritating words. Words, words and more words tossed into the night from voices in the dark. As I lay there trying to sleep, often I have asked the question: “In the multitude of words where is the wisdom? There is one Word that points us to the One Name that has the Ancient Wisdom. I AM. “This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15 Many words try to explain or explain away I AM. Look into the past; examine the present; peer into the future … the Word forever accurately represents the Name. The Word did not grasp the Name on his own. “…he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1:4 “…God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” Philippians 2:9 So the next time that you hear words flowing around you, remember that this Name provides the final “say so” – the final word of I AM. “…keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…” Hebrews 12:2 One Word. One Name. One Source. Amen!

What do we do when tempted?

Here is the narrative about what Jesus did when He was tempted:

Matthew 4:1-11  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Mat 4:5  Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Mat 4:8  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.   And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was marked by His baptism by John the Baptist.  But before He could be allowed to start, there was one more test from God His Father.  The Holy Spirit led [some translations will read “drove”] Jesus into the wilderness.  This was not a friendly place to be.  He was alone and there were wild animals that lived in the area.  Once the Holy Spirit had taken Jesus to the location picked by God, Jesus started a fast that lasted 40-days.  But the fasting was not the primary trial.  After 40-days, a malevolent angel approaches Him.

We are not given much data from the Scriptures as to the physical appearance of the devil after his fall.  But the words used in the Bible give some clues.  Devil means slanderer in the Greek.  In the language of Hebrew, it means “adversary.”  He is an arch-enemy of God and is determined to undermine man’s spiritual interest.  Matthew’s narrative is focused on what Jesus experienced and not on the evil one providing the temptations.  It is clear from the narrative that the devil wants Jesus to act on His own outside the will of His Father.  Jesus makes it clear by His responses that anyone can keep themselves from temptation if they focus on God and the Word that He has given us.  Every quote used by Jesus was well known by the Jewish people.  There is a clear lesson here for us today…but on with the narrative.

The devil thinks that Jesus will surely fail during one of three temptations.  First the accuser tries to get Jesus to take matters into His own hands by creating bread…40-days without food would make for a famished man [v.3].  Jesus responds with a God-principle and does not take the bait.

Next the accuser tries to tempt Jesus into manipulating God to respond to Jesus doing an act of suicide.  Again Jesus quotes another God-principle…reminding the devil that he was on dangerous ground.

Having failed twice, the devil now tries the temptation of power because he knows that power corrupts men because of their pride.  One can almost sense from the narrative that the devil feels sure that this is the temptation that means success for him.  But Jesus gives a command for Satan to immediately leave followed by a reminder of the 1st commandment…a command from God Himself.  Satan leaves on Jesus’ command but his pride causes him to wait for another opportunity.

There would be other opportunities.  Jesus walked and talked a life before God that was based on choice.  He did not let hunger which put Him into a weakened state to and dominate His thinking.  He kept His eyes on His Father.  We face choices all the time.  Do we think about where they might be coming from?  Satan wants to accuse us.  He wants to divide us.  He wants us to take our eyes off of Jesus and look elsewhere for help.  Everything about our life is a matter of choice.  Follow Jesus and keep your eyes on Him.