The Pool Guy

One last thing about this invalid at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. I want us to notice today that the ultimate Healer always takes the first step in our salvation. And he always does whatever it takes to save you.

Jesus is heading into Jerusalem for a religious feast, but he takes a detour along the way. He decides to first visit the city’s most sick and disabled. He singles out the most destitute among them, a man who is sick on the inside and the outside. And Jesus heals him. He calls the man to immediate action and heals him! He changed him.

And Jesus initiated the whole thing.

This guy had no faith. There’s no confession. No cry for help. A couple of verses later we learn this guy had no idea who Jesus even was! But Jesus was looking for him. Jesus loved him and healed him. He changed him, made him whole. And then he followed up later with him in the temple to encourage him.

What a beautiful picture of the amazing love and grace and mercy of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus goes against the grain, he moves heaven and earth, he breaks the rules, to reach out to you and heal you.

And he’s the one who takes the initiative. Always. He’ll stop at nothing to save you. That’s his nature. That’s who he is and what he does.

Do you want to get well?

What’s wrong with us and this world is sin. We know that Jesus is the answer to the problem. But do we really want to be healed? Whether you’re experiencing the physical brokenness of this pool guy or his complacency that Jesus challenges with a call to action or the warped attitude of the religious leaders who valued their rules and restrictions over the healing of others, Jesus’ question is the same. So is his will and power to save.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The construction around our church building at Central is progressing up and out.  There’s a lot of scaffolding in play here.

 

 

 

 

The three arches of our new main entrance have all been encased in brick and the walls and beams of our new ground-level ministry space are almost complete. The chapel steps and wall that went down and then out to the sides have been torn out to reveal the original 1930 steps that went straight down to the street.  And pretty soon the beautiful cast stone will be installed on this west side front.

 

 

 

 

 

If you run into them, be extra kind to Mark and Kevin and Mary and Vickie. They’re losing their office windows in this deal and it’s just now starting to sink in. As the walls go up, there’s less sunshine coming in. Vickie’s is just that little “Laverne and Shirley” window, but she’s still going to feel it. Mark and Mary are going to have to be shown where their light switches are. And Kevin might actually go stark-raving-mad.

Peace,

Allan

 

Church People on Church Days

Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The man was instantly cured. His life was eternally changed. Jesus made him well. Jesus made him whole!

But it was a church day. And because it was a church day, some of the church people got upset. The guy at the pool is not the only sick person Jesus ran into this day. There are some really sick church people in this scene.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!'” ~John 5:9-10

The church people, the self-appointed guardians of the truth, immediately put this man on trial. They’re in his face. This is an interrogation. “You’re not supposed to do that! Why are you doing that? Who said you could do that?”

It’s quite incredible, huh? A man is made whole and given new life by the will and power of God, and the opposition comes from church people. Not evil people, no. Good people who mistake their religious traditions for the will of God. These church people are sicker than this paraplegic ever was.

The Law of Moses was very clear that the Sabbath Day is a holy day and it needs to be recognized as part of the covenant between God and his people. It needs to be a sacred day and nobody’s supposed to do any work. But the Jewish teachers and scribes had added to it. It wasn’t specific enough for them. It wasn’t strict enough. It was too gray. How can we judge people, how can we know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong unless we make this more black and white?

So, to make themselves really happy and everybody around them really miserable, they came up with their own rules and restrictions as supplements to God’s Law. It came to be known as Mishna — pages and pages and books and volumes of their own interpretations they bound on all the people. Regarding the Sabbath Day alone, they had 39-different categories of things a person could not do. And they used these interpretations — and that’s all they are — to control people. It gave them power and authority. And if you threatened their interpretations, you were in for a fight. These church people were willing to kill to protect their interpretations.

So, after they publicly berate this guy, they go after Jesus. How dare you work! How dare you heal! How dare you help this man on the Sabbath! And Jesus’ defense is simple: “My Father is working today and so I am working today.”

Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain that every single thing he does, he does because of his Father. Jesus claims he is sent by God, he’s on a mission from God, he’s doing the works of God, he’s obedient to God, and he’s bringing glory to God. And that ticks them off even more! So now Jesus finds himself on trial and he starts bringing out the witnesses in verse 33: The Scriptures testified to me; John the Baptist testified to me; God in heaven testifies to me by these works he’s given me to do. But you…

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ~John 5:39-40

This is what upset Jesus the most. You know every letter of every word, you’ve interpreted every passage, you’ve memorized it, you argue to the death one verb here and one participle there — you think you have eternal life in the Scriptures. But you don’t!

Dear reader, eternal life does not come from the Bible; eternal life comes from Christ Jesus to whom the Bible points. Our trust and faith and hope is not in the Scriptures; our trust and faith and hope is in the holy Son of God to whom the Scriptures point.

These church people are sick. They know the Word of God frontwards and backwards, but they don’t know Jesus. Their disbelief was deliberate, their diagnosis was severe. They love their church life and their traditions and interpretations, but they had forgotten how to love God and the people God is healing and making whole. Their expression of church had become horribly twisted. They had turned their life-giving and soul-saving faith into something life-taking and soul-destroying. Instead of being a source of joy and light, they were using their religion to suppress and judge. They knew the Word of God, but they totally missed his will. They had counted every letter of the Scriptures, but they had totally missed the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this feel familiar?

I think we’re all — every one of us — susceptible to this sickness. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Do we want to get well?

Sometimes our vigorous preservation of our church traditions counts more than the openness and spontaneity of faith. We know our Bible, but sometimes we use it to defend all the wrong things. We know our Bible, but sometimes that’s all we know. Our allegiance to the way things have always been done sometimes gets in the way of the healing and saving work of Jesus. We can’t appreciate or applaud the good that’s being done because it’s being done differently.

And Jesus deliberately challenges these rigid traditions. He goes out of his way to do things on the Sabbath, just to make the point. So much so, it becomes his habit.

When the apostles picked grain on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law and Jesus said, “Relax. Look, we’re hungry. We need food. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Remember? In that same chapter, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on a church day, in church, and when the church people tell Jesus, “Hey, that’s not how we do things in church!” our Lord says, “People are valuable to me. People! Their physical needs, their emotional needs, their spiritual needs — their souls are valuable to me. It is good to do good. On the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s good to do good for people.”

That’s his attitude.

And we should be constantly re-evaluating our own attitudes. Is our church so well-defined and so safe and so comfortable that if Jesus showed up with his attitude, we’d interrogate him? Would Christ’s attitude be OK in our church?

A Scriptural service is when people are healed and made whole. A correct worship service is when people experience the love and grace and mercy of God. What makes a biblical worship service is when God is praised and salvation from Christ is proclaimed and Holy Spirit people eat and drink together and encourage and bless one another. After that, in church, nothing else really matters much at all.

Peace,

Allan

Not an Easy Question

The fourth Gospel gives us the account of Jesus healing an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The guy had been paralyzed for 38 years. But when Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” the guy didn’t say “Yes!”

I don’t know how old this guy was — it doesn’t matter. But I do know he can’t move, he can’t walk. Unless someone moves him, he can only get around by dragging himself by his hands. What little this man has, he gets from begging. He’s dirty. He stinks. People stay away from him. He has no contact with normal society. The only community he knows is with all the other outcasts, the unclean people who don’t fit in. Every day this man lies on the ground and begs at the gate to the sheep market.

Why in the world didn’t he say “Yes!” when Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well?

The question must not be as easy as it seems.

This guy had been sick for so long that he’d stopped thinking about getting well. In fact, when he’s confronted with the possibility of being made well, it doesn’t even register. Instead, he blames his situation on others. He makes excuses. He points to his predicament, he points to the people around him and the conditions he’s in and he seems pretty content to just stay exactly the way he is. He was so focused on the reasons he wasn’t well, he couldn’t imagine ever being made well.

We all have a tendency to see things the way they are instead of the way things could be with Jesus. Where is our imagination? Why are we satisfied with our lives the way they are? Why do we allow our culture to establish our priorities? Why do we let our careers determine our goals? Why do we let our families dictate our futures? Why are we so reluctant to let the Lord Jesus show us what’s possible? Why can’t we give ourselves to Jesus and let him heal us so we can reach our God-ordained potential?

Some of the most exciting words in the Bible are found in Romans 4: “God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

Our God sees what can be and his will is to make it happen. Our God sees you and all the good and all the great he intends for you and he alone has the power to make it happen. And he so WANTS to make it happen! But our situations blind us. Our circumstances paralyze us to the possibility.

Why are we so resistant to change? Why don’t we want to get well? Why don’t we want to be made whole, as some translations say?

Jesus asked the question because he knew the guy’s heart. He knows all of our hearts. He knows it’s human nature to resist change. Even if the conditions are atrocious and change would make things better for us, we don’t want it.

We hang onto the status quo even when all the evidence shows the status quo is killing us. I don’t know what it is. Complacency? Content to be in a bad spot? Resigned to your fate? Just bad timing or bad luck? Knowing full well that things should be and could be so much better. You could be made well. But you’re just going to keep doing what you’ve always done and hope something changes, which is the definition of insanity.

So watch what Jesus does. He totally ignores what this guy is saying about the people around the pool. And he tells this man who hasn’t been able to do anything for himself in 38-years, “Enough! You! Get up! Pick up your mat! Walk!”

And the man is instantly cured. His life was eternally changed.

This is what happens when you encounter Jesus. The rest of the Bible affirms what these Gospel stories show us: that in Christ, your old body is done away with and you live a brand new life; that in Christ, the old has gone and the new has come; that in Christ, you put off your old self and you’re given a brand new self! Jesus doesn’t give you pain pills or crutches or a wheelchair. He doesn’t give you a pillow or a fan. Jesus makes you well! Jesus makes you whole!

Do you want to get well? It’s not an easy question. But it’s still the main question. And Jesus is still the only answer.

Peace,

Allan

Greater Things

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” ~John 1:50-51

When you first come to Jesus, you might think, “He’s not going to fix everything. I won’t get all the answers to every single thing that’s happening in my life. I’m hoping he’ll help me be a better person. Maybe he’ll deal with my loneliness or my marriage problems.”

People are always hedging their bets. Limiting the possibilities. “Maybe I’ll get out of debt. Maybe I’ll find some good friends in church. But Jesus isn’t going to solve all of my problems.”

But when you actually do give all of yourself to the Lord. you find out he’s far more than you ever imagined him to be.

When Jesus says Nathanael will see angels going up and down on the Son of Man, he’s talking about Jacob’s ladder. The Old Testament patriarch had seen a vision of a great ladder between heaven and earth with angels going up and down between the two realms. Sin had created a barrier between heaven and earth, between God and his creation. But Jacob has this dream that someday there will be a way between heaven and earth. A way into the very presence of God. A way for God to live with us and for us to come to God. Jesus is telling Nathanael, “I am that way!” Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth, between us and God.

You can almost hear Jesus laughing. “Oh, wow, you think I’m the Messiah. I’m sure you think I’m going to grab a sword and raise an army and destroy our Roman oppressors. No, I’m going to show you far greater things than that. Overthrowing the Empire won’t change the human condition. Winning a war or building walls or establishing or protecting some worldly kingdom is not going to defeat sin and death. That’s not going to restore all of creation.”

Jesus is saying, “I’m more than that. I’ve punched a hole in the wall between heaven and earth! I’m going to take you, Nathanael, right into the holy presence of God!”

Jesus is always more than anybody’s looking for. He always exceeds our expectations. He doesn’t just have all the answers to the big questions; he IS the ultimate answer to every question.

“I tell you the truth,” he says. And we can trust him.

Peace,

Allan

Underdog

During Bible times in the Ancient Near East, where and when the Scriptures were penned, the oldest son inherited all the wealth. That was the culture. The practice ensured the family would keep its status and place in society. The second and third sons got very little, if anything at all. The first-born male got everything.

Yet, all through the Bible, when God chooses to work through somebody, he chooses the younger sibling. Abel over Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Jacob over Esau. David over all eleven! God doesn’t choose the oldest, the one the world expects to get the glory. It’s never the one from Jerusalem, always the one from Nazareth.

Back then, women who had lots of kids were considered heroic. Very valuable. Highly prized. A good wife. Lots of children ensured economic success for the family business and military security and success for the village. It also carried on the family name. Women who had no children were shunned. Shamed. Yet, God continuously chooses to work his salvation through barren women, females who were despised by the culture. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elizabeth. God always works through the men and women nobody values.

OK, great. God loves the underdog. So what? It’s like a Disney movie. It’s like ALL Disney movies.

No! The point is that God himself — transcendent, immortal, holy, righteous — became an underdog. God came to earth and became weak and vulnerable and despised. For us. He did it for us.

This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the history of the world. Every other religion says if you want to find God, if you want to improve yourself, if you want to achieve a higher consciousness, if you want to connect with the divine, you have to DO something. You have to gather up your strength, you have to keep the rules, you have to free your mind and then fill it again, you have to strive to be above average. Every human religion says if you want to live the right life and make the world a better place, summon up all your strength and reason and make it happen.

Christianity says just the opposite. Christianity says you CAN’T do any of those things. God came to earth and has done all those things for you. Those things are already done in and by Christ Jesus. Every other religion says they have all the answers to the big questions. Christianity says Jesus himself IS the answer to all the questions!

It’s not: If you’re strong and hard-working enough this religion will save you. Christianity is not just for the strong and smart. It’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It’s for people who admit they’re broken and incapable of fixing themselves.

The genius of Christianity is that it’s not: Hey, here’s what you have to do to find God!” Christianity is: “Hey, God came here in the form of Jesus to find you!” That’s the unique and radical truth of Christianity. That’s what Christianity has contributed to the world. All the world’s ideas about caring for the weak and needy, living for love and service instead of power and success, loving our enemies, sacrificing for others — all of that flows directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

For the Eye-Rollers

“Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” ~John 1:46

Nathanael thinks there’s no way the Messiah comes from Nazareth. The all-time religious headquarters were in Jerusalem, home of the temple, the priests, and the Ark of the Covenant. Rabbis came from the south; that’s where they were born and raised and educated. Rabbis don’t come from the fishing villages in Galilee. And neither does the promised Christ. Nathanael’s rolling his eyes. Whatever.

Some people see Christianity that way. Nathanael rolls his eyes at Jesus. Lots of people today roll their eyes at Christianity. We talk about Jesus — who he is, what he’s done for us, submitting our lives to him — and some people say, “Oh, yeah, Christianity. Been there, done that, got the cross-shaped necklace and the Jesus fish for my car. But that was a long time ago. I grew up in church but I’m not into that anymore. I’ve grown up. I’ve moved past that. I’m too smart for that.”

See, Jesus is still from Nazareth.

But people who dismiss Christianity are cutting themselves off from the very source of a lot of their core beliefs. Their values can probably be traced back to Christianity.

The idea of living in a peaceful civilization, of reaching out in kindness to your enemies instead of killing them, came from Jesus. Nobody thought like that before Christianity.

The concept that every single human being has value and dignity, that every person should be treated with respect — that came from the Bible. It stems from the Christian belief that all men and women, regardless of talent or wealth or race or gender, are made in the holy image of God.

Taking care of the poor is a Christian thing to do. In pre-Christian Europe, all the elites of society thought it was crazy to love your enemies or take care of the poor. They said society would fall apart because that’s not the way the world works. The strong and talented are born to prevail. Winner takes all. The poor are born to suffer. That’s just how things are. Christianity comes along and stresses love for all, including enemies, and taking care of the poor and the orphaned.

You’ll run into some people, though, who say, “I can believe those things and practice those things without Christianity. I don’t have to believe all the Son of God stuff and resurrection stories to hold these values and practice these good works.”

Well, that’s possibly true at one level. Possibly. But it seems really shortsighted.

Why would you accept and embrace some parts of Christianity and take them into the core  of who you are, but reject all the parts that make sense of the parts you like? If you concede that the source of a lot of your strongest convictions is actually Christ Jesus, why would you reject the parts of the story that explain those concepts and make it all coherent?

Don’t be like Nathanael. Don’t let a conviction that Christianity is outdated or intellectually unsophisticated blind you to what it offers. Watch out for pride and prejudice. Be aware of contempt and being dismissive. Those kinds of attitudes are poisonous in all aspects of life, but especially where you’re asking life’s biggest, most important questions.

Everybody’s looking for the answers to life’s biggest questions. And nobody’s overly satisfied with the answers given by the culture or the universities or the world’s philosophies.

Wrestle with Christianity. Consider it again. Look at its claims with fresh sensitivities. And stop rolling your eyes.

Peace,

Allan

« Older posts