Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feasting and Fasting

This time of year we plan our big family meals, make travel plans and look forward to celebrations and reunions with loved ones. It's a time of joy, fun, and food -- although food seems to be #1 on that list!  And we rarely think of deciding to go without food for a day, because we're looking forward to those great meals. But from time to time, fasting -- voluntarily going without something -- is important.  It reminds us how physical we really are and how much we depend on (or are a slave to) nourishment or some other physical thing.

Isaiah talked about fasting in 58:3-7.  The nation self-righteously claimed to obey God because they could say they fasted.  Yet, Isaiah says, their posturing didn't affect their behavior; "oppressing your workers," and "fighting and quarreling" were two of their sins that continued.  "Going through motions of penance" does no good, says Isaiah, if your heart is not changed.  Instead, says the prophet, creating justice and stopping oppression, and feeding and clothing and housing the poor, is the kind of fast God wants.  Why is that a fast?  Because it is giving up something that makes us more comfortable, whether it's leisure time, additional food in the pantry, an extra jacket in the closet, or something else we're not really using anyway, in order to help someone else.

Isaiah's words didn't seem to have much effect on his own people.  But how did his words come to life in Jesus?  The Son of God 'fasted' from his divine privileges in order to do what Isaiah said: "let oppressed people go free, and remove the chains that bind people."  Paul describes how the Son of God, whom we know as Jesus, sacrificed himself to serve humans, in Philippians 2:6-8:  "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross."  He didn't have to give up all that, but he didHe didn't deserve the criminal's death -- we did.   

The Son of God shared himself with the spiritually hungry as well as feeding them physically (see John 6:1-15 and 25-40).  He provides a home for the homeless:  "There is more than enough room in my Father’s home...When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." (John 14:2-3).  He preached the good news to the poor (Luke 4:18-19, interpreting Isaiah's words directly).  And he fasted for 40 days before meeting Satan in the wilderness and defeating the evil one completely. 

Through Isaiah's words, God invites us to do what he has already done:  to become uncomfortable in order to provide comfort for someone else.  Jesus, the living Son of God, sacrificed all through his life, not just so we could 'follow an example' but so we would be completely included in him, and in the love of the Father:  "I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me." (John 17:23).  I know people who have experienced Jesus' love, and they share it with others.  They sacrifice their comfort so others can have more, they give up time and personal space and comfort, and money and food and clothing, so that someone else can have enough -- and so those people can also experience the love of God as they get included in that love. 

Jesus, the Son of God, fasted so we can feast.  How will you "go and do likewise" this year?   And if you don't know what this love of God for you really means, please give me a chance to explain it. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Meal with Jesus

Last weekend in church we looked at a bunch of different meals described in the Bible.  But they weren't just meals, like we might stop and eat because we're hungry:  the Middle Eastern tradition was and is that sharing food with someone shows they are accepted as family.  So these meals are depictions of fellowship, community, sharing, between God and all humanity.  And it is the Word of God, the Son, who came to 'fellowship' with us in the person of Jesus, (John 1:14) whose birth we are about to celebrate. 

The whole Bible points to Jesus the Messiah (see John 5:36-40, especially v. 39; Luke 24:25-27; and Hebrews 1:1-3) and we should look for him every time we pick up the scriptures. 

So in what way are these meals pictures of Jesus?  Here's a brief summary: 

1.  Gen. 18:1-8 -- The Son of God is present at the meal with Abraham, looking forward to his human life, sharing our humanity, and promising a miraculous child, Isaac, who was the first domino in a long line that led to the birth of Jesus.
2.  Ex. 12:1-11 -- Jesus is the Passover lamb.
3.  Lev. 3:1-5 and 7:11-16 -- Jesus is the fellowship offering that the people shared (the only offering eaten by the person bringing it) in the presence of God at the temple
4.  Isa. 25:6-8 -- Jesus is the 'wonderful feast' during which God takes away the shadow of death hanging over all people and swallows up death forever
5.  John 2:1-11 -- Jesus supplies the wine as a symbol of his own blood, that purifies us rather than the water of washings
6.  Matthew 9:9-13 -- Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple, and eats with all of Matthew's friends (a bunch of sinners and cheats) at a fellowship meal, showing God's loving embrace, through Jesus, of every sinner in the world -- including the complaining Pharisees! 
7.  Matt. 22:1-14 -- Jesus is the gracious invitation from the King to the wedding feast; and supplies the celebration garment of his own righteousness
8.  Luke 22:19-20 -- Jesus serves himself to us as bread and wine, his own body and blood given for us.  This is the ultimate fellowship meal, which he invites us to share, more than just an offering for sin but as a sharing in his own life
9.  Rev. 19:7 -- the wedding feast of the Lamb, a fellowship meal of epic proportions, is a present reality for all those who know their place as accepted and loved children of the Father "in Christ," and will be a final reality for all who will walk into God's loving embrace

All these meals picture a gracious invitation from God to every person on earth -- that he accepts us as family, as his own beloved children, adopted into himself by Jesus (Eph. 1:3-5).  As we move toward our Thanksgiving feasts, how about remembering the ultimate feast -- around a table with Jesus?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God - With - Us

One of the most outrageous prophecies of the Old Testament is in Isaiah 7:14 -- "All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).  Matthew claims in his gospel as he describes Mary, a young virgin, being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, "All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet," then quotes Isaiah's words.  This amazing gift of God, that God would no longer be remote but would truly be with us humans, is something we celebrate (is that a good enough word?) every year during Advent. But it gets better!

What most people don't realize is that the Incarnation, as we call it -- the Word being made flesh (John 1:14) didn't end after Jesus was killed on the cross and then resurrected.  Jesus showed himself to the disciples, who thought he was some kind of spook, and said "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." (Luke 24:39).  And yes, the Greek says "flesh and bones."   Jesus still had his human body, just hyped up somehow (he still ate, Luke 24:41-43, but he could appear and disappear at will, verses 31 and 36).  

In Acts 1:1-9, he is shown ascending to heaven in the same body.  And in Acts 7:55-56, Stephen sees Jesus (note, Jesus, not "the Son of God" or "Christ") standing at the Father's right hand, and says "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man [showing Jesus' humanity] standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!"  The man, Jesus Christ, is still at the Father's right hand,  (1 Tim. 2:5) as our Mediator, and he prays for us as our High Priest: "Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf." (Heb 7:25).

Jesus himself -- Immanuel -- is right now at the right hand of God Almighty, perfectly representing you, speaking for you, praying for you.  He is, right now, still God in the flesh, God-With-Us, the only perfect mediator because he is both "us" and God.  Yes, still.  Yes, right now.  Yes, forever.

No matter what we are going through, he still knows just exactly how we feel -- fatigue and disappointment and worry and pain and betrayal and fear and every other human emotion -- because he went through it all.  He still has his scars.  He still knows our own personal pain.  And he has defeated all of it, forever!  He is our encourager through the presence of the Holy Spirit ("another Advocate like me" John 14:16).  And he will never leave us (Mat. 28:20) so we know we are never alone.

And it's not just "God-With-Us" -- it's God-with-you.  Yes, you.  He really loves you that much.  Really! And he always will.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Face to Face (part 5)

My friend Jack read one of these posts and said something like "so if you want to see God, why not look in the mirror?"  I thought he was being funny, because he has a wacky sense of humor, and sometimes he thinks he's God, but he was serious.  "Hey, we're supposed to be made in the image of God, so shouldn't you see peace, patience, love and all those things, in the mirror?"  Hmmm... Well, what if he's right?

After all, Genesis 1:26 starts off with  "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness."  So how are we made in God's image and likeness?  From all I've studied, it's by being relational persons, and having the ability to make decisions.  (Certainly not from being approximately the same size and shape as God!)  So indeed, Jack could be right -- if we are made in the image of God, then the "peace, patience, love and all those things" that are aspects of God's character should show up in us. 

Except, well, our first parents messed things up. Their minds and lives became filled with anxiety, impatience, hatred and a lot of other negative selfish traits, instead of the good ones.  We've all ended up following them, down through the generations. Except for Jesus.  Paul explains in Romans 5:12 "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned." But Paul continues by explaining God didn't leave us in death, comparing Adam with Jesus in several different ways.  Then in verse 18 he says  "Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone."  Over in 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul continues the thought, saying "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! " 

Paul used that phrase "in Christ" about 90 times in his letters.  I looked it up in the Greek.  It means "in Christ."  Like, inside of, part of, living in.  So the way it's supposed to work is, Christ pours into us his love for us, his love for others, his "peace, patience, love and all those things."  He creates those expressions of his love in us, so we can "bear much fruit" as he said in John 15.  But then there are the days we don't feel like it's working; when nothing turns out right and we respond like a "sore-toothed bear" as my mom used to say.  What's up with that?  We're still "in Christ" -- but those days, we're paying more attention to what's going on outside of us than who we're inside of

How do we make it work?  We have to surrender to the mind of Christ in us.  In Philippians 2:5 Paul writes "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had" then goes on to describe Christ's humility and other-centered serving in his human life.  The Son of God gave up everything to come live with us.  We have to give up our self-centered thinking, in order to live in him and let him put his peace in us. 

And that's when the image in the mirror turns out to be God after all!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Face to Face (part 4)

Many people read the Bible and conclude there are two Gods -- a distant, demanding and judgmental "angry sky god" in the Old Testament, and a gentle, loving, compassionate and sacrificing Jesus in the New.  They want to hide from the old, angry one and get loved on by the new one.  Behind that idea is the unspoken concept that Jesus sneaked down onto the earth when the Father wasn't looking, figured out a way to save everybody by standing in the way of the thunderbolts the Father aimed at sinners, died on the cross and then had to get resurrected so he could explain the whole thing when he went back to heaven.  (The Father, according to this idea, had to forgive Jesus his sneaky insolence, because of the good result.)

Not so.   John 1:1 says the Word, who became Jesus (that name means "God saves") was 'face to face' with God from the beginning.  John 3:16 says "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son..."  John 4:34 says "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me."  John 5:19-20 says "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing...For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing."  And in John 8:29, he says "And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him."  

Jesus speaks of the intimate contact and love between him and his Father in John 17.  Verse 24: "you loved me even before the world began!"  Verse 11, "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one."  Verse 21"I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you."  

There is no other God for us to know than the one we see revealed in Jesus.  In John 14:9, he says "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!" And in 17:26, "I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them."  What love is that?  17:23 says "I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me." 

There's the real kicker.  Knowing God is not some sort of five-page essay test, and if you don't get a high enough grade you're out.  Instead, when we look to Jesus, seeing and trusting him to bring us into that intimacy with the Father, we also get to see the Father, face to face.  When we do, we will begin to see the depth and magnificence of the love of the Father for the Son from eternity (John 1:1 and 17:24, see above); and we will come to see that the same exact love is given to us, for free, because of Jesus.  

Look at Jesus, and get face to face with the Father.  It changes everything!