Friday, December 2, 2022

A Personal Touch

We're talking, as Christmas is coming, about our need for Jesus not to be everything, but just to be one thing. 

While it's cool sometimes to talk about the overwhelming number of prophecies fulfilled in Jesus and to trace God's Promise of Him through the Old Testament and all the way to the manger, we have to be honest in recognizing that that's not what most persons were talking about around Him. It's not what the disciples were talking about, not what the Pharisees were talking about, not what the crowds were looking for. 

We never see someone crying out along the side of the road, "Jesus! Jesus! Were You really born of a virgin? Are You the Wonderful Counselor we were told about?" In fact, the only person to really ask this question was John the Baptizer, who sent to Jesus to ask if He was the one they were all waiting on, even though he, of all persons, already knew the answer to that. After all, he leapt in his mother's womb when the pre-born Jesus drew near. 

Jesus, a couple of times, asks something like, "Who do you say I am?" And every now and then, we get something saying, "You are the Son of God." (Or in the case of the Roman soldiers, "This was the Son of God.") 

But overwhelmingly, Jesus's ministry was not about the theological fulfillment of prophecies; it was about Immanuel - God with us. 

So what we see setting up is this very prominent distinction between those seeking for Jesus and those holding theological ideas. 

Those seeking for Jesus lined up on the sides of the road, climbed into boats, climbed trees, and followed Him everywhere. They longed just to reach out and touch His robe; they cried out for Him to touch them. They all had one specific thing that they needed Jesus to do or to be - restore my vision, heal my lameness, cast out my demon, rescue my child. 

And when these things happened (and notice, Jesus did every single one of them), we don't see a single one of these persons saying something like, "Thank You, Jesus. Now, if only You satisfied all of my theological curiosities, too." We don't see anyone saying, "I can see again! ...But I also have a bit of a trick knee right here that if You could just...." 

A man who has that one thing he needs Jesus to be is simply a believer when he discovers that Jesus is that one thing. Just like that. He doesn't have all of the answers. He doesn't have a solid 13-point theological doctrine. He doesn't suddenly have all the "learning" the religious leaders think he's supposed to have. But he knows this - Jesus is who he needs Jesus to be. 

That's the start of everything. 

On the contrary, and this is where the distinction becomes obvious, it is always those who haven't needed Jesus to be one thing, but have demanded that He be everything, who have the most questions. It is always this group that hesitates to have faith. It is always this group that is antagonistic. Because they haven't had the personal touch of God in their lives - they haven't sought it, and they haven't received it. 

Everyone who condemns Jesus never draws close enough to really get to know Him. They haven't come to Him for Him to be anything. To them, if He's not everything all at once (and very obviously), then He is nothing at all. 

Just look at them scoff - who is this man who thinks he can heal the lame? Well, if you would bring your lame self a little closer to Him and let Him touch your self-righteous heart, you wouldn't have to ask that question. 

It's always those at a distance who can't figure Him out. Those close enough already know.

And He is everything, sure, but that's not it: He is that one thing that you most desperately need Him to be. 

He is Immanuel. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

One Thing

As we turn the page on our calendars, we turn our hearts toward Christmas and the coming of our Savior in the swaddling clothes of a child. 

When I started thinking about Christmas this year, I started wondering what it is that I need to know when I hear that newborn baby cry this year. Immediately, my heart was overwhelmed with all of the assurances that I need in my life right now, all the reminders that I need of God's goodness. At the same time, I realized that the things that I think about first this year are not the things that I thought about first last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. In fact, every year, as I come toward Christmas, it seems that my heart is looking for something else entirely in that manger. 

And that's okay. 

It's okay for my life to change and to grow in ways that I need to know something different about God this season. In fact, it's the way that faith is meant to work. As our circumstances change, we come into contact with greater and greater things about God, coming to know more of Him as our world demands that we know more of Him. As our faith requires it. So I'm not troubled to come again to this stable, peering around the corners and looking into the manger to see if I can see what my heart needs to see. 

I have absolutely no doubt that I will. 

The more I thought about my own coming to Christmas, the more I thought about the world's coming to Christ. 

When we are taught about evangelism, we are taught to go out and teach about Jesus, about everything He is and everything He's done. We go out and proclaim how amazing He is and how much beyond our imagination He is and how He is literally everything, and we can get lost in the overwhelming nature of God-made-flesh-among-us. There's so much to say, so much to see, so much to know. To many of us, the sheer volume of information that we have about Jesus is sufficiently overwhelming; how could anyone not believe? 

But the truth is that most persons aren't looking for sufficiently overwhelming. They aren't looking for a large volume of information. They aren't looking for "everything." Their lives, right now, aren't built to hold that, just like mine isn't. And yours isn't, either. 

In fact, the more we talk about how Jesus is everything, the more others start to drill down deep into their own hearts and discover what it is that they really need. You see, everyone has that one thing - just that one thing that they need Jesus to be. It depends on where they are in their life, what their needs are, how their heart is shaping up, but in any given season, for just about any of us, it boils down to one thing. 

And if someone could just show them that Jesus is that one thing, if Jesus could just reveal Himself to be that one thing, then they would believe. Just like that. 

It really is that simple. The world isn't looking for Jesus to be everything, to be Savior King, to be God-in-flesh, to be whatever all the glorious and wonderful things are that we are ready to proclaim Him this season; they just need Him to be that one thing their life needs right now. 

The Good News is, of course, that He is. 

As we come toward Christmas, I want to talk about the many one things that Jesus is, the one things that we need Him to be this year. That the world is looking for. That your heart is aching for.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A Strange Hope

If you heard me say yesterday that it ought to give us great hope that we are not the first generation to deal with a group known as "the offended," and you've been paying attention to your Bible even the tiniest bit, then you're probably thinking right now - uhm, Aidan? That's a strange kind of hope you're talking about. 

Because these guys that we're looking at this week, guys like Paul and Jesus, were crucified by the offended. Yes, the ruling authorities declared them innocent. Yes, no actual fault could be found in them. But they were still crucified, just as many others like them were killed. 

Great hope there. Excellent hope. Just what you've probably always wanted from hope - the confident assurance that even being right doesn't save you from being crucified. 

Such is life. 

Or death. 

Or whatever. 

But it is great hope because it reminds us that our worldly wisdom, the best of what we think we know, isn't really all that wise. And it reminds us that when we are persecuted for truth - for being right - we aren't being singled out; we're not alone. Jesus has been there, done that, lived (haha) to tell the tale. 

These are the two things that we tell ourselves in times like these to try to settle our hearts just a little bit, aren't they? 

First, we tell ourselves that we're right. We're telling the truth. And because we're telling the truth and we're right, that ought to protect us from anything bad that might happen to us. Yes, the world can rant and rave and claim offense, but at the end of the day, the fact that we are right ought to keep us from any harm. 

The biblical story tells us something very different. And, it's true - God never called us to be right; He called us to be righteous, and there's a really big difference. And, it's also true - God never promised that even our righteousness would keep us from trouble in this world. In fact, He promised it would bring trouble right to us. So we can stop digging our heels in and demanding that our rightness keep us from any harm or trouble. Simply put, it won't. And when it doesn't, we can know that God already knew and promised us that much.

Second, we tell ourselves that the offended are simply unreasonable and that it's not actually the truth they don't like; it's us. They have some kind of pre-existing bias against us, whether it's because we're Christians or because we're male or female or because of where we live or some position we hold in our community or our economic level or whatever. It's not that the offended don't want to hear it; it's that they don't want to hear it from us

Then, we get all self-righteous and offended on our own and start making it personal against them because hey, they started it and made it personal against us. 

But it's not personal. It never was. 

If it was personal, Paul wouldn't have been the guy. He says himself all of the things that he can claim that should have bought him credibility with the very crowds that cried out against him - he was just like them in every way, except for this one fundamental disagreement in belief about who Jesus was - and even that didn't protect him. Because it wasn't personal; it wasn't because it was Paul saying these things that the offended were offended.

It's not because it's you saying it, either. No matter how new of a convert, how big of a hypocrite, how high or low of a status you have, whatever - it's not about you. It's not because it's you that the world is so offended by the message of Christ; it's because of Christ Himself, the high price He paid and the high price He calls His followers to pay for the sake of love. 

These are just things that I thought were worth thinking about this week, as we continue to try to navigate our way through a world that feels hostile to the very things that we hold dear about God and faith. It's not new, and it's not unique to us; this has been the way from the very beginning. 

So take heart, for there is great reason for hope - yes, even hope crucified. This is the way of the Cross. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Offended

It's the buzzword of our day, it seems - offended. Drop that word, and you can rightfully expect the world to stop for you. You can expect others to bow down and apologize. You can create an entire movement and remove an entire chunk of vocabulary from the dictionary and edit the pages of history itself just by being "offended" by something. 

Certainly, "the offended" are one of the toughest groups that we are up against. 

But this challenge isn't unique to our day.

This is exactly what we're talking about this week. This is the very thing that we see happening in the New Testament (and sometimes, the Old, as well) - persons who were confident they had everything figured out by creating tiny little boxes consisting entirely of their own self-righteous worldview started dragging these "Christians" before the ruling authorities claiming offense, trusting that everyone else was just as offended as they were. 

They did it to Paul. A lot. 

They did it to Jesus. 

Remember, the ruling authorities kept just kind of shrugging their shoulders saying, "I don't get it." These mobs kept insisting these men were the worst of the worst, absolutely intolerable, deserving of death for the good of society, but the ruling authorities kept just being baffled and saying to one another, and to the people, "I think the mobs are just offended? I think that's what's happening here." 

And the mobs kept just screaming, "Listen to him talk! See how offensive it is?" And the rulers just kept shrugging their shoulders like...what is going on? What do you want us to do about someone you merely find offensive?

That's what strikes me as funny in this whole thing. Here, we have the rulers of the majority of the world, and they say things that imply offensiveness isn't that big of a deal. It's just...part of living in a multiethnic world, as far as they're concerned; ideas are going to clash sometimes. Deal with it. 

Yet today, we live in a world that will literally stop everything because one person is offended. If you have a voice that can make a big enough noise, you can destroy anything. We can't just let anyone be ignorant any more; say something ignorant, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. We can't just let someone have a different opinion; go against the flow, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. Over and over again, particularly in recent years, we have seen being "offended" tear down some of the most inarguable stories - things no one would have blinked twice at for hundreds or thousands of years are now likely to get you canceled, or worse, because one day, someone decided they were "offensive" and that makes you a threat to the entire fabric of the human race for ever even having the thought, let alone saying the word. 

This is how we've ended up with a "Jesus" who is just nice and loving and tolerant and adores everything about this broken world because there's not a place in our culture, we think, for anything at all like truth. That would be offensive. 

But that's exactly the point. I mean, that's exactly why Jesus was put to death in the first place. He wasn't violent. He wasn't a threat. He wasn't a drunkard or a lawbreaker.

He was simply offensive. 

So was Paul.

So was Silas.

So was Peter. 

So was the Gospel. 

So it still is today. 

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, no matter how much the world shouts at you that it does. 

And sometimes - okay, actually, a lot - the world make the claim and then asks you to speak for yourself, and when you do, they just point a finger and say, "See? See? It's offensive." And maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's supposed to be. Maybe it's not. 

But it's not new. 

And that fact should give us hope.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Condemned

The New Testament, particularly the early parts of it (the Gospels, Acts) are full of a number of trials, times during which believers in this new Way were dragged into the courts to defend themselves for one thing or another. Jesus was dragged before Pilate, Stephen before the Sanhedrin, Paul before the Romans, and a few others in between. And there's something interesting that keeps happening in these trials:

The people just assume the accused will condemn himself. 

They assume that the person they've dragged into court is going to start talking and everyone else will be just as offended as they are. They assume that when asked a question, the accused is going to answer and reveal his own rascality. Sometimes, the crowds quiet down just to hear the accused speak, only to go into a raucous uproar all over again, and the accusers just stand smugly by like, "See? See how much trouble this guy is causing?" 

We keep seeing stories that say that they've tried to bring in witnesses to accuse this or that person, but it's never the witnesses that actually end up doing anything. No, everything hinges on the accused actually speaking for himself, then everyone else just pointing fingers and insisting on his guilt. 

There's a bit of a game afoot here, if you're paying attention. Watch the pattern: 

An offended party drags the accused before some kind of council or ruling authority. The offended party then makes claims about what the accused allegedly said that was so offensive, usually something about the faith itself - something the accused believes that the accuser doesn't. The council or ruling authority asks the accused if the accusation is true or what he has to say for himself. The accused then repeats what he said that so offended whoever it was that dragged him there. Then, the accuser points the finger and says, "See? See? He said it." 

Then, the ruling authorities tend to get really confused (except when the ruling authorities are the Pharisees, then they just get a little stone-y and vengeful), unable to understand what it is exactly that the accuser wants the accused imprisoned or killed for, as it just seems to them to be some weird disagreement on the facts of their own shared-ish faith. The onlooking world (the Romans) can't understand why it matters so much that a man should face death just because he believes something different than someone else. 

But, as it tends to happen, the accuser makes such a stink and raises such a fuss that...what are you gonna do? What can you do? You can't have a riot, so you have to do something. 

So Jesus is hung on a Cross, Paul is forced to appeal to the emperor, and...us? 

I'm telling this story because this is our story, too. And we'll talk about it for a few days.

We're not going to talk about this all week, though. Thursday brings in a turn of the page for us, as December starts, and I've got some holy things burning in my heart as we head toward Christmas, so we're going to shift gears and start settling into an Advent of sorts, a season of reflection and hope and anticipation, and talk about Jesus. A lot.