Signs, Intellectual Arguments, or Faith?

Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. (Joh 4:48-50 NKJV)

 I have been pondering this little story found at the end of John Chapter 4. I have been reminded afresh that I don’t always understand the statements made by Jesus. We don’t see a lot of dialogue, really only two short statements by Jesus. The first seems to reprimand a man for asking for help and the next statement by Jesus, speaks healing, but with a businesslike tone and all this in response to a very desperate need in a family.

As this story is set up we have Jesus entering Galilee. Verse 44 gives us a bit of primer on His mindset in revisiting His hometown and states that Jesus is quite aware of the cool reception by locals for hometown prophets. Verse 45 tells us that He is received because of the things that He did in Judea. There was a great entertainment value in Jesus. There were bragging rights for the individuals who actually saw the miracles. Jesus was welcomed as long as He continued to dazzle with a performance. The people didn’t really believe His claims to be the Messiah, He had done a lot of cool things.  They were eager to be around Him, not out of honor for God but with curiosity for the sideshow.

I don’t like how often that last sentence describes my motives. I love to shout hallelujah and praise the Lord, when I see a miracle, but just as often as not I doubt whether He still can do it. Well, maybe I don’t outright doubt it but I worry, as if I doubt it. I like to be around the “miracle” Jesus, but I shrug off the ordinary Jesus, the Jesus who challenges me to be faithful through long trials, and insists that I walk the course of life while patience is being perfected in me.

So Jesus arrives in Cana, a small town in Galilee. On top of the miracle of turning water to wine, there is the recent memory of the miracles in Judea and as usual, there is a crowd of thrill seekers gathered around Jesus wondering what the next miracle will look like.

Enter the hapless man with a dying son. He begs Jesus to come and heal his son but Jesus seems to rebuke him for His request and perhaps even questions the man’s motives. Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” How do you like that?

This man is described as a nobleman, perhaps a bit of a celebrity in those parts. It is possible that Jesus grouped the nobleman with the rest of the crowd of thrill seekers. Or perhaps,  He was speaking for the benefit of the crowd even as He addressed the man. At any rate, Jesus speaks the truth when He states that these folks are incapable of believing without seeing.

These were folks who simply did not believe that Jesus could be who He claimed to be. These were devout Jews with a high regard for God and their traditions. They considered themselves to be the final say on what was from God and what was not. Many proudly considered that for a person or movement to be authentic and from God, it needed their expert stamp of approval.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this phenomenon, when he wrote that “…Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24 NKJV) So the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus because they felt they needed proof and rather than accept Jesus as the judge of their lives and motives, they clung to their right to judge the actions of God. Devout religion and tradition were the criteria by which they judged Christ and they demanded a sign (many signs) to change their minds.

The Greeks or pagans, on the other hand, were not impressed as much by the signs because they rejected things that couldn’t be explained by natural processes or rational thought.  Therefore, the Gospel and the story of a resurrected Christ were rejected. These were considered foolishness. They were impressed by concepts and stories that made sense. Human reasoning was the final authority, if it didn’t make sense, it had no value.

So here we have Jesus, about His Father’s business. He is confronted by a “celebrity” with a desperate family situation and He speaks bluntly to the motive of chasing notoriety.

Under ordinary circumstances this man may have been a “sign chaser” but the desperation of his situation moved him to cry out in faith. In his situation, he didn’t desire to be the judge, he desperately wanted life for his son. He wasn’t trying to make sense out of anything, he simply needed God to work in his life. “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

The desperation wrenches your heart. He doesn’t deny his own motives, there is no argument from him. He simply, truthfully makes his need known to Jesus.

Jesus’ next answer is very kind but brief, “Go your way; your son lives.” Jesus doesn’t go with the man to visit his son. The healing is not by a physical touch and Jesus is not visibly involved. But the healing happens nonetheless. The man’s expectation was not met, but his need was.

This is something I am learning in the process of being about my Father’s business. I must be able to hear the voice of my Father because I am so often mislead by a desire to meet the expectation of others. I believe ministry is often directed by our perspective of the need rather than the Father’s perspective of the need. In many cases, whether in prayer or action we often minister to the expectation of people rather than the direction of the Father.

Jesus was about His Father’s business and therefore spoke and acted in ways that were unexpected and unwelcome at times, and yet He met the needs of the people. He met them with love and compassion. The fruit of His work brought life.

The nobleman’s response to Jesus statement is wonderful. It was neither the response of a man looking for a sign, nor of a man trying to intellectualize the statement. “So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.” He believed. He had faith in the simple Word spoken by Jesus.

The Message translation puts it this way, “The man believed the bare word Jesus spoke and headed home. On his way back, his servants intercepted him and announced, ‘Your son lives!’ He asked them what time he began to get better. They said, ‘The fever broke yesterday afternoon at one o’clock.’ The father knew that that was the very moment Jesus had said, ‘Your son lives.’ That clinched it. Not only he but his entire household believed.”

Incredible story, It wasn’t about the sign, nor the man’s ability to make sense of everything, but faith in the Word of Jesus. Wow!

This story has implications for how I come to the Father for my needs and the needs of others. Can I take Him at His Word and follow through? It also has implications for how I go about my Father’s Business. Can I hear and follow His directives in ministering to the needs around me rather than the expectations around me?

 

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Lift Up Your Eyes

35 Do you not say, “There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps. ’ John 4:35-37 (NKJV)

I believe I miss most of these moments.  These are the times on the journey when I am thinking of everything but ministry.  The journey is the task and I am just staying afloat.  I am tired, worn and weary.  I just want to take care of business and move on.  I am trying to tell Jesus what I need and what He needs to do, just like the disciples. 

Here they are journeying from Judea to Galilee this is a walking road trip and they are in foreign territory and not particularly nice foreign territory.  It is the country of the Samaritans—“wrong section of town”… The disciples have just picked up a few bags of potato chips and 13 cans of pop.  They are ready to hit the road again before anybody asks where they are headed.

But they find Jesus in the “parking lot” wrapping up a conversation with a woman. She leaves as the disciples approach and starts an animated conversation with a group of nearby men.  It’s a little strange, but no one says anything except to offer Jesus a snack.  They are hoping He eats quickly so they can leave before the woman returns for the water jug she left standing there. The riff raff in the convenience store are starting to glance in the direction of Jesus as the woman is talking to them.  It appears they could be rushing out shortly.

Jesus refuses to eat.  He is watching the locals and there is a wonderful light in His eyes.  He appears energetic and refreshed and He comments that He has a stash of food they aren’t aware of.  Next He tells them His food is to do the will of His Father and to accomplish His work.

So much for a quick snack.  The disciples were sure they were focused on the right thing, the journey. There is a destination to reach. But it is here that Jesus showed them the Spiritual reality they were overlooking.

Here is where I miss it as well.  I think I know exactly what is needed for the moment.  I assess the situation, advise God how to proceed and… He tells me to look up.  I didn’t even know I was looking down. He tells me to “lift up my eyes” and I see His face.

 WOW!  That will break a man.  To see the love and purity in His eyes and the glory of His holiness, will stop a man mid thought and bring His pride to the ground. “Lift up your eyes…” “You guys have a saying right? You have been saying there are still four more months and then the harvest. There are still more miles to travel and then ministry in Galilee, but ‘Lift up your eyes.’”

Jesus goes on to say, “I have sent you to reap a harvest in a field where you did not work; others worked there, and you profit from their work.” (Joh 4:38 GNB) The following verses of the narrative go on to describe a great harvest of believers in that place. 

This story strikes me with the fact that the journey is the mission. I don’t know exactly when the Father’s Business calls me to step into the work of another person and help with the Harvest, but it often happens on the journey from one ministry location to another. The disciples were guilty of my mistake, and thought the journey was an interlude between ministry locations. They nearly missed a harvest because they were so focused on getting from point “A” to point “B”. 

“Lift up your eyes” today on whatever journey you are on. Perhaps in seeing the face of Jesus you will see your coworkers in a different light. Perhaps you will see the traffic, which normally frustrates you as a harvest of prayer. Or, you may find your trip to the store for groceries or whatever becomes ministry by a “well in Samaria.” Lift up your eyes.

I know personally, that being about my Father’s business looks different from being about my own business.

Pray for grace to be able to LIFT OUR EYES and see Jesus and His heart. Pray for grace to take time for the Harvest. “Galilee” will still be there.

 

Talking With The Father

Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray. (Mar 1:35 CEV)

 Jesus prayed often. Prayer was and is the key to being about our Father’s business. Jesus is an incredible example of communication with His Father. His disciples became men of prayer as well and they focused their prayers on the work of the Father through the Church in the world.

Prayer is one of those things that is hard to categorize. We know that it is communication with God, but is it a spiritual discipline or is it simply conversation with Heaven that flows from our relationship with Jesus? Perhaps it is both of these.

True prayer is communication with God. It cannot be reduced to simple reading or memorizing words said to be a prayer. While reading and memorizing prayers written by others is inspiring, they don’t necessarily constitute meaningful conversation with God unless they are a reflection of our hearts.
Jesus, had a such a strong desire to communicate with His Father, that He actually carved time out early in the day, to pray alone. He found great comfort, strength and direction for ministry and life. I believe you and I will find the same.

Still, there are distractions of life and selfishness of spirit that can derail our prayers. Many times I find that my mind wonders during prayer, or I suddenly awake to what I am telling God and discover that I sound very selfish or petty. Mindless words spoken by the mouth are no more effective than memorized words with no heart. Prayer is the communication of my spirit with the Father through His Son.

One area where I really struggle is how to pray for the people around me in meaningful ways. Praying for those who aren’t sure about Christ is not as much of a struggle. I pray for them to know Christ and to find healing in life. I pray for their hearts to be regenerated so that they can hear God. But how to pray in meaningful ways for God’s sons and daughters in the church can be a bit of a stretch at times. An easy cop out is to simply pray “God bless “so and so” richly. Meet their needs. Give them money, give them food, give them peace, make them healthy, make them wealthy…..” You get the picture.

In reading through the New Testament recently, I came across a couple of prayers from the Apostle Paul for the church. I was blessed by these prayers and prayed them for a number of churches that are very dear to my heart. It is an honor to pray the word of God for His Church.  

If you have ever wondered what is appropriate to pray for your church, I invite you to start with the following two prayers as inspiration. I believe you will find yourself engaged in the Father’s business of equipping and guiding His Church. You may even find His Holy Spirit stirring you to pray in other more specific ways as you agree with Him for His Will to be done.

This is my prayer for the Father’s Business to be perfected in your lives today.

“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. You are always in my heart! And so it is only right for me to feel as I do about you. For you have all shared with me in this privilege that God has given me, both now that I am in prison and also while I was free to defend the gospel and establish it firmly. God is my witness that I tell the truth when I say that my deep feeling for you all comes from the heart of Christ Jesus himself. I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgment, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Then you will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ. Your lives will be filled with the truly good qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God. (Php 1:2-11 GNB)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:14-21 ESV)”

The Simple Truth of Identity

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26 ESV)
Many have made the story found in John 4, to be a study in witnessing. From this story we have formed whole theories on friendship evangelism, using a pattern from one conversation to suggest and prescribe a technique that can span 6 months to a year. We have learned to share the Gospel by finding a common area of interest or need and stealthily drawing the net to God. We have used this story to justify a whole lot of things, eliminate others and in general terms have often missed the simple honesty of this conversation.
Hearing some teaching on this passage has left me with the overall impression of Jesus sneaking up on the Samaritan Woman in some stealthy mind trap as if the truth wouldn’t have been enough. Many times I have seen Jesus viewing this lady as a project rather than the person she was.
Perhaps this has added to the intimidation factor that I so often experience in sharing my faith and my identity in Christ. I find myself arguing for a better time and place and try to justify my fears and laziness with the knowledge that at least I hadn’t gotten kicked out the door. And I find some consolation in the idea that I now have established a platform for conversation when I really want to get down to the business of witnessing. I find myself viewing people as candidates who may receive the message if I catch them in the right mood or present things the right way.
At times, I find myself gearing up for a sales pitch to move my product (the Gospel of Jesus) into another home or another life. Like the agent in outside sales, I dread making the cold call. I want to be assured of success, I want to know that I will be accepted. So I do my market research and analysis. I want the boss to be pleased with me. I don’t want to blow the company’s reputation. I fear that my paycheck depends on my skill, strategy and ability to close the deal.
It makes sense to me then when someone consoles me with the idea that Jesus showed us that cold calls aren’t needed in sharing the Gospel. He demonstrated this with the Woman at Well. Notice how He took the time to establish a relationship with the lady and how He established a basis from which to draw the gospel net home.
But is that really how it was? Is that really what we see coming from this conversation?
In our attempts to make systems and formulas, I believe that simple truth sometimes seems outdated. Jesus seems to be engaging in a very direct conversation, moving very quickly from a drink of water to a personal introduction. “I, who speak to you, am He.” What could be more simple and truthful? He isn’t embarrassed with who He Is? But am I?
When I meet someone for the first time, I don’t generally plan a strategy for introducing myself. Usually, I simply walk up, stick out my hand and say, “Hi, my name is John.” Simple enough, it’s not as if I am embarrassed to be me or that I am afraid someone will disbelieve that I am me. I simply tell it like it is. “This is who I am.” Except…I find resistance to, “This is who I am in Christ.” If not from the person I am meeting, then from within my own mind. I fear my acquaintance will reject who I am in Christ.
Jesus was about His Father’s Business and that business was reconciling the World to the Father.
Here was a woman with a checkered past and shady present. She was not the kind of acquaintance that looks good on a Preacher’s resume. She was marred by choices and lifestyle but these were a result of believing and following a lie.
Jesus, full of grace and truth, introduced Himself to her. He spoke of Living Water and a well springing up into everlasting life. The lady was interested, here was something that sounded different from the dead end her life to which her life was headed. Jesus asked a few more questions to connect the dots, and when she spoke of the Messiah, He introduced Himself.
In none of this was He stealthily advancing an agenda. When you are full of grace and truth, you don’t need stealth, you need boldness to speak and love for the person you are speaking to. Jesus had all of these and He introduced Himself to a lady who was looking for answers.
One short conversation introduced the God of the Universe to a lady who was estranged from Him. She was reconnected and found life. What a beautiful story! It is a story that Jesus intends for His disciples to repeat over and over. Many times we only have one opportunity.
If I accept this story only as roadmap for friendship evangelism, I may never find the opportunity to introduce people to Christ in me, the Hope of Glory. Jesus said in John 7 that if any one believes in Him according to the Scriptures, out of that person’s innermost being would flow RIVERS of Living Water.
That is convicting for me because I am questioning how many people have gotten wet from the Rivers gushing out of me in the last number of times I introduced myself or simply spoke to someone on the street. Have I introduced them to the Living water or did they leave our chance encounter to head back to their same old well of stale humanism, rebellion, hurt and bitterness?
Jesus, about His Father’s Business and with one opportunity, introduced Himself, “I who speak with you am He.”
So what is the question for me? Did I neglect to introduce myself –In Christ? Did I put a plug in the Rivers of Living Water? Did my acquaintance leave my presence, dry spiritually?
I welcome your response. I believe Jesus introduced Himself fully in a very short conversation. I don’t believe He tried to soften the blow or stealthily slip it in. Should I?

Just a note, I believe that this conversation was fully encased in the gentle goodness of God. You and I must always be gentle and sensitive, following the direction of the Holy Spirit. I fully understand that some are involved in planting and some in watering. It is always God who gives the increase.

To Move Or Not To Move…On

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

(Joh 4:1-3 ESV)

 I have seen a number of ministries grow and become successful only to have the bottom drop out or else they simply die on the vine. What fascinates me is that it appears the ministry hasn’t changed anything along the way. The very pattern that grew the ministry also seems to be the thing that sinks the ministry?

I am beginning to see the value of Jesus’ statement “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This was the defining purpose of His entire ministry. The apparent success of any single ministry initiative did not define or focus His ministry. His purpose was to do the will of the Father in Heaven. Thus, Jesus moved with confidence from one area of ministry to another, never getting off balance because both focus and stability came from His concrete foundation of being about the Father’s business.

Reflecting on Jesus’ short tenure in the Judean baptism ministry, I can easily see that I would have been tempted to stay there a little longer. It is my nature to look at the apparent success of a thing and believe that it should be established permanently.

I believe many ministry opportunities have outlived their effectiveness, because an apparent success was organized and established on a pattern that was more common sense than “Father’s Business”. Organizing ministries is the thing that we can best do without the power of the Holy Spirit. We like to organize and establish stuff, these are things that we are able to do. What we often forget is that we can’t give life. You can’t organize or establish life by skill or ability. Life comes from the Father, by His Spirit, Through His Son.

It is hard to leave success in ministry. This is in part because of all that we have invested in it personally. It is our nature to bask in the thrill of reaching the top of the mountain after the long climb. But we can’t stay on the top of this mountain or we will perish. And having reached this peak, we won’t be able to climb other heights unless we descend to the valley for another climb.

Too often we cling to what we have apparently gained at the expense of losing effectiveness. Those climbers who have mastered Everest generally started with significantly shorter peaks. The knowledge and skill attained at lower altitudes were necessary to scale and survive the rigors of the highest peak. And had they stayed on the shorter heights they could never have reached the higher peaks.

Ministry is much the same way, unless we are grounded in a purpose higher than our own, we will always be victims of outlasting our effectiveness in ministry. Christian ministry is only effective as those who engage in it are about the “Father’s Business.” It is our Father who gives us the nod on how long to stay.

Jesus, on hearing that a successful ministry of baptism was gaining momentum and popularity, found it expedient to move on. I don’t believe He moved because the ministry was rumored to be more successful than John’s. He moved on because The Father’s Business included much more than baptism in Judea. The Father’s Business was reconciling a lost world to Himself. This would include preaching, teaching, and healing in many places. Some of these places would be in obscure, some would be hostile, others would be notorious, but the Father’s business was the impetus for movement.

In today’s Christian culture, this would have been a good time for Jesus to pen the first of many “how to” books in ministry. He could have sat down and wrote the 7 steps to a successful ministry of baptism. But He saw a picture far greater than this. He was about His Father’s business and as such, the picture would have been far from complete with the first seven baby steps.

As I peruse the many, many books at the local Christian Bookstore, I wonder if somehow we have lost track of the Father’s Business. Not that I have a problem with books, I love reading. But I find that we are consumed with our accomplishments and milestones in ministry and often fail to move from Judea to Galilee when the time is right.

In this failure, we miss the “Woman at the Well” or the “Nobleman’s Son” because we are caught up in our apparent success and have derailed from the Father’s Business. How rare indeed is the ministry leader who can be uprooted from his apparent success to take a trek through the wilderness to minister to an individual rather than a crowd. Our whole paradigm of ministry has taught us that we progress from the individual to the multitude and when that happens we are too big to and our time is now too valuable to be wasted on the individual. We must now bestow our invaluable influence and expertise on the masses.

Jesus, about His Father’s Business, leaves apparent success with the masses and travels at the direction of the Father. Along the way He takes time to speak life to all that He encounters. Because He is about the Father’s business and not His own success, His ministry grows in its effectiveness and reach.

So here is the question I am pondering, “Am I willing to leave apparent success to be about my Father’s Business?” May God grant grace to your day. Whether you are on the climb or at the Peak, the Father’s business will add perspective to your next move.

Which Platform?

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

(Joh 3:1-3 ESV) 

C.S. Lewis devoted a bit of time in several of his essays to demonstrate that in a debate, the party that is successful in establishing the platform or premise for the argument is often the winner. The explanation for this phenomenon is that my thoughts and reasoning flow from a set of values that influence my perspective. These values form the platform from which I build my arguments. If I can convince you to debate from my platform, I am better able to cause you to lose confidence in your position and increase your sympathy for mine.

So what does this cute little concept have to do with the Gospel of John Chapter 3?

A Teacher of the Law and ruler of the Jews comes for a midnight meeting with the God of the Jews and tries to establish his authority and direct the conversation. Nicodemus speaks of validating Jesus’ ministry, but he is speaking from the platform that he (Nicodemus) is the one to venerate Jesus. In essence he begins by telling Jesus that his ministry appears to be solid.

Notice the irony? We have a teacher of the Law of God and a ruler of the People of God, speaking with God. From his position of Theological enlightenment, Nicodemus is almost ready to give God an A+. I don’t know about you, but I believe I hear echoes of myself in Nicodemus.

Jesus is about His Father’s Business, not the business of Nicodemus. It is here that Jesus does something that we would almost consider rude. He simply ignores Nicodemus’ compliment and changes the subject. He graciously shifts the platform of the discussion from Nicodemus’ implied position of authority to Nicodemus’ real position. He needs God’s approval. He needs a change of heart and life. He needs to be born again!

Jesus didn’t fall for the trap of accepting the premise from which Nicodemus began the conversation. Nicodemus had a good heart and somewhat of an open mind, but in his mind, he was there to help Jesus, when in reality he was the one who needed help. Had he persisted in his perception of himself, he would soon have been resisting Jesus.

It is very important that we are aware of the platform from which we are speaking. We can speak from a humanistic (man-centered or me-centered) platform or from a God-centered platform. We can be about our business or about our Father’s business. Jesus recognized the platform and deftly shifted the discussion as well as Nicodemus’ perspective from his accomplishment to his need.

There are a lot of lessons here, but the one which strikes me pertains to how I approach the Work of Christ in my life and in the lives of others.

Do I condescendingly set myself up as the arbiter between God and man, acting as if He needs me to authenticate His work as it makes sense from my perspective? Many times I find myself trying to tell God whether or not His work is authentic.

Does God need my approval? No! No more than Jesus needed the approval of Nicodemus. The commonality between Nicodemus and me is that both need a Savior. Both need rebirth. Both need a life and a power that is bigger than us.  What we all need is Salvation. We Need Justification. We need Sanctification. We need and are looking for glorification someday.

Yet, like Nicodemus, I too often come to God trying to help Him with His image, and trying to make Him acceptable with my generation. In my pride, I think I need to explain to God, how He should handle people and deal with their situations. It is here that I find Jesus needs to change the conversation and switch the platforms.

He is the one who helps me, I don’t help Him. He is the one who justifies me (Romans 8:33) not the other way around. He is the one who opens doors for me. He is the one who offers me eternal life. He is the one who offers me the opportunity to be His child. Wow!

Today, in my times of prayer, I need to allow God to establish the platform for the conversation. I am not here to instruct the Shepherd. I need to listen.  In the past, I have been a little rough on Nicodemus, because he knew so little. Today, I am actually impressed with the man because he allowed his platform to be changed very quickly and humbled himself to hear the Master.

If I want to hear God, I have to allow Him to establish the platform of our conversation. Somehow, in doing this I believe I will catch a view of His Kingdom.

The Awkwardness Of Truth

… He found the place where it was written: “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE HAS ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR; HE HAS SENT ME TO HEAL THE BROKENHEARTED, TO PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET AT LIBERTY THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED; TO PROCLAIM THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:16-22 NKJV)

 How do you tell someone you are God? How do you speak the truth of your mission when, as Isaiah 53:2 says, “…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” How awkward is that? Jesus didn’t appear to be what He had just spoken of and the people were offended.

When you are about your “Father’s Business” on earth, how do you give your own job description? I am sure that many in the synagogue were trying to figure out how this nice young man who had grown up among them and always seemed very modest could now pull a stunt like this?

Think about Jesus’ mission and job description. It sounds glorious until you think about the setting and the need to announce this about Himself. How does a person do that?

Just imagine the thoughts that went through the people’s minds.

Perhaps they thought He is a young hothead, proud, or deranged. Blasphemy, was what the religious leaders accused. I am trying to imagine what I would say observing a similar situation today. Taking into consideration that we are not to be looking here and there for the Christ (He has already come), how would I have react if a hometown boy stands up and reads a prophecy directly linked to the Person and work of God and says, “This refers to me! I’m the fulfillment of God’s promise to you.”

Understandably, I would say, “How can this be?” I know you. You might be a nice kid, but you are certainly not divine.” I have a feeling my pride would be wounded greatly and I would be ready to knock some sense into this whippersnapper’s head. “Who does he think he is?”

On the other side of the coin, am I able to stand up and declare what God has called me to be? Am I able to embrace the work of my Father in Heaven? Can I without apology say, “This is my calling?” Am I able to walk into a politically correct social setting and declare without apology that there is only one way to God and that is through this man Jesus?

How do I handle the social awkwardness of this great truth? “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Perhaps, I would be tempted to philosophize about the truth and hope that everyone present came to the glorious realization on their own reconnaissance. (This is actually more than a “perhaps,” too often, it is a reality in my experience.)

Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men and women, yet He was bound to tell the truth about His identity and mission. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2Ti 2:13 NKJV)

 

Making this declaration on the basis of the truth, rather than ego, He stands and reads a glorious prophecy of God’s deliverance through the Anointed One and then sits down and says simply, “I am God’s gift to you.” And the gathered assembly found this glorious truth to be awkward.

I have been in situations where the truth of my faith feels very awkward. Recently, I stood in front of a group of prison inmates and testified of my faith in Jesus and my confidence in the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Afterward, one of the inmates spoke quite adamantly to the fact that He disagreed with the certainty which I professed. Our conversation ended cordially, but encounters like this, make it tempting to take a more subtle approach in the next service.

I find that I am often tempted to move the truth of my position in Christ to the background of my conversations. When I meet new people, I try to find out a bit of what they believe before letting them see what I believe.

In another setting, I was sitting in a barbershop waiting for a haircut. I engaged in conversation with a gentleman who was also waiting. Our casual conversation about the weather led to a reference to climate change and from there to a discussion of who is responsible. One thing led to another, and somehow we had now got to the uncomfortable subject of origins.

The gentleman, who identified himself as a 4th grade school teacher, pulled away from the subject of religious things and wasn’t willing to commit himself to that discussion. This was my cue then, to sort of forget to mention that I am a minister. Our conversation went smoothly as we cruised the surface of a variety of issues, all the while skirting the issue of faith. All was comfortable until I climbed into the barber’s chair.

He had the audacity to ask me what I do for a living. Well, there was nothing to do but to tell him that I am a minister and my focus of ministry was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in prisons. The gentleman with whom I had been speaking was sitting there and a part of the conversation. So, after I had neglected to share truth with him, God graciously and with a sense of humor, guided me into a situation that I was compelled to witness for His life changing power.

Embarrassed? Ashamed? Awkward? I was all of those things because I had not been bold enough to share until I was in the corner. God was gracious with me on this one, it turns out that both the Barber and the other gentleman were believers in God, both were church goers. I don’t know that either would have claimed a personal relationship with Jesus, but the long and short of the story is that I did share the truth with them. We did explore what the power of God does in a life. But why did I find the truth so awkward to share?

Jesus cannot deny Himself or His mission. He is about His “Father’s Business” and as such convenient or inconvenient, He will speak the truth. It is so important that the world know His Father, that His own comfort is secondary.

He even anticipates their unbelief and rather than softening the blow, He states what they are thinking and then proceeds to challenge their unbelief. This is not an “in your face” type of thing but in gentleness He challenges them to consider His claims and their own reasons for doubting or rejecting this truth.

So, Jesus could have took the Sabbath easy by doing what the people expected and give them another sedative from the law and the prophets. He could have allowed them to continue in religious and social security with a nice little talk that reinforced their established thought patterns. He could have simply been nice and let them wander in error. Instead, He spoke the truth and what began as a gentle teaching time in beautiful cultural tranquility ended in the “church” trying to push the teacher off of a cliff.  

Am I able to speak the truth, even if I am certain that it will be awkward and unsettling to those around me? Jesus did because He was about His “Father’s Business.” I keep coming back to the question of “Whose business am I about?” Perhaps the way I handle the awkward truth could be a good indicator.

God help me to remember that this life is not about me and my comfort but is rather about your business in the lives of men and women. You desire that all should come to repentance. Help me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord because the day of your vengeance is near at hand. Help me to speak the truth because people need to know it. Lord, may I never yield to the temptation to deny you. You never deny yourself. Live through me and grant me boldness to speak the truth of who I am in Christ.