Wednesday, May 13, 2020

He is NOT like us

Jesus never does anything by chance. He never haphazardly wanders around looking for something to do. He never moves without a purpose or a plan. Every action, every word of our Lord, is intentional. This type of living with a purpose is foreign to me. I am sure that, in a way, it is unfamiliar to you as well. We spend most of our days hoping to have no plan. We long for the days of vacations and not having a schedule to keep or a place to be. We devote our time and energy to trying to get to the point when everything is done, and we can unplug and get lost in a movie, show, video game, or focus on "me." Words spew out of our mouths with no intent and no concern about their impact. Jesus is not like you and me, and that is a really good thing. 
If you remember, in John 3:22, we are told that after the Passover and the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus and the disciples head out to the Judean countryside to do a little baptizing. As the crowds around Jesus being to swell, the disciples of John the Baptist are more than a little concerned. Baptizing is kind of John's thing. It is what he/they are known for, and now Jesus is here stealing the thunder and the crowds. However, the sudden momentum swing is not troubling to Johnny B. When pressed, he openly admits that this is the plan… Jesus must increase, and he must decrease (John 3:30).
As the 4th chapter of John begins, it becomes clear John's disciples are not the only ones that are witnessing the explosion of the popularity of Jesus. The murmuring started to exit the lips of the Pharisees. The Pharisees that were not happy with John (John 1:19-28, Luke 3:7) are looking to turn their attention and distaste to Jesus.  Jesus, knowing all things, including the thoughts and intentions of men, knows what will happen if He stays. The decision is made that He must leave Judea and return to Galilee. His leaving was intentional, and His route was with purpose. 
When Jews would travel between Galilee and Jerusalem, they might make it a point not to take the most direct route that would take them through Samaria. (The historian Josephus notes that a Jew traveling through Samaria was not uncommon, but it did come with some risks of escalating the tension between the groups.) The traveler would often opt for a longer route that would take them across the Jordan River and then following the Jordanian Highway to Galilee that would have little risk of social tension. John suggests that it was part of God's plan that Jesus took this route (John 4:4). This makes the meeting that will happen between Jesus and the woman at the well not only significant but intentional. Jesus was so intent on getting to Samaria and being at that well by noon that He stressed and exhausted His body to do so. 
Jesus' actions in the first six verses of John 4 are unusual, but we should not be surprised. This is the way that Jesus always acts. His works are intentional, and as we will see, so are His words. In just a few short chapters, Jesus will be doing this all over again. He will be again pouring out His sweat, but this time it will be mixed with His blood. He will be speaking the purposeful words, not to a single sinful woman at a well but to every sin-filled man, woman, and child. This is His purpose! This is not just a good thing, but this is the GOOD NEWS!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Forgiving Peter: John 21 Part #2

I am beginning to see that the road back to normal is not going to be smooth.  There are going to be bumps that are unexpected and test the shocks.  As we begin to "open" states back for business, it is becoming clear that this process is going to take a while.  Despite my desire to have life return to what it was before all this happened, the world is different, people are different, and I am different.  

In the second half of the last chapter of John's Gospel, we oddly find Peter in somewhat the same place.  Peter cannot merely go back to the way things were; too much has happened.  There cannot be a simple, "I'm sorry, and I promise that will never happen again."  There cannot be a "we're good, right?" fist bump.     Instead, at this moment, Jesus is going to venture into the deep dark places of shame and failure in Peter’s heart and begin a little Gospel surgery.

Breakfast is over, and as the disciples are washing the dishes and enjoying a full belly.  When they think that they couldn't eat anymore, Jesus serves dessert.  This dessert is not for the stomach but the heart.  In a moment of great compassion, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him a question.  It is not the question that Peter wants to hear.  It is not the question that we want Jesus to ask.  We would instead Jesus ask, "do you promise not to fail me again?"  We prefer Jesus to say, “well, you messed up, how about not letting that happen again.”  And it would be a dream if He said, “Hey Pete, no worries, forget about it.” 

The main reason that we want Jesus to say those things and ask us a different question is because it is more comfortable.   Author Henri Nouwen says it well when he wrote, "We like easy victories; growth without crisis, healing without pains, the resurrection without the cross."   Those kinds of statements keep Jesus out or our heart and at arms-length.  They give us something to do, a goal to achieve.  However, Jesus is not after our obedience but our hearts!

What we need to know is that those places in our hearts of the greatest same and failure do NOT scare Jesus away.  This is the reason why Jesus asks Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  not just once but three times.  Jesus is walking Peter back to the three denials, the charcoal fire, and the rooster crowing.  Jesus is leading Peter back to his moment of greatest shame and failure.  It is here where Peter and we remember the story from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:36-50).  Remember the one about the diner party, the sinful woman and the alabaster flask of oil?  In that story, Jesus taught that "to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).  The opposite is also true: he who is forgiven much loves much.  The "rock" that Jesus is going to build His church on is going to be forgiveness and Love.

Peter, you, and I need to know that as we are called to "follow me," no matter the cost, no matter the circumstance.  We are called to follow not because we are good little boys and girls but because we are sheep.  We are sheep being led by the Shepherd.  We are sheep being led by Love Himself. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Breakfast with Jesus: John 21 Part #1

We do not get many stories about Jesus after He rose from the dead.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is as if Jesus emerges from the tomb, has a few brief conversations, commissions the disciples, and then ascends into heaven. (Luke does write that Jesus hung out and taught for 40 days after He rose, but we have no record of those conversations.)  John’s Gospel is different.  From his prologue to the amount of time he spends writing about the passion week, John gives us something different in his Gospel.  The same is true for the post-resurrection appearances.  He writes of four different times of Jesus' appearing after Easter morning.  These stories are whimsical.  They are full of conversations and details.   John was the last Gospel story to be written, with most scholars dating the writing of John somewhere between 68-90 AD.  John, most likely, was able to read the other three Gospels before writing his story.  This might give us a little insight to reason his account of Jesus.  Maybe being late to the party does have its advantages.

Turning our attention to the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel, we find that the story moved 60 miles north to the region of Galilee.  Why this move north?  Were the disciples tired of the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem?  Were the disciples sick of the traffic?   
When we remember that the area of Galilee was the home to more than one disciple is not that odd move as most of the disciples were from that area.  The other clue is that when we cross-reference the Gospels. We see that in Matthew, the Angels at the empty tomb tell the Marys to tell Peter and the boys that Jesus will meet see them in Galilee (Matt 28:5-7).  

Although there is a promise to see Jesus in Galilee, John’s Gospel gives the impression that maybe Peter forgot.  Once Peter gets home, he makes the statement that he is going fishing.  This might not seem that weird.  Peter was a fisherman, and fishermen like to fish.  Peter had just gone through the most stressful and confusing weeks ever, and maybe a little fishing would put things in perspective. Perhaps Peter had a craving for a little Israeli sushi and decided that fresh is best.  But this fishing venture was not just a quick trip to the old stomping grounds, John writes, that Peter and the fellas fished hard all night and caught nothing.  (it would seem that Peter was the worst fisherman…ever.  Every time we read about him fishing he never has any fish.) 

We might think that after everything that Peter saw in not only the last week but the previous three years of his life, we could argue that fishing would be the last thing to do.  However, this is not unlike us.  We regularly run back to what is comfortable.  We return to things, places, and even people not because they are uplifting but because they are comfortable.  We might have a reoccurring dream or fantasy just because it feels good.  Some of us even live life trapped in the past because it is safe.  We stay where we feel safe, and we do what is most comfortable.  The life of the past or imagination is not for us as God's children. Nor is this the life for Peter in our passage.

The Apostle Paul tells us that when we are called to be God's children, we are made into a new creation (1Cor. 5:17).  The old is gone, and the new is here, even if we do not know/see it.  When we forget this truth, do you know what happens?  When we act like Peter, and we forget, Jesus comes and meets us right where we are!  This is what Jesus does in the 21st chapter of John.  Jesus appears on the shore and asks if they have caught any fish (John 21:5).  

This moment catches the disciples off guard.  They did not know it was Jesus.  Maybe it was the fog of the early morning light, but they did not expect to see and hear from the Lord at this moment.  (The same is true for us.  In our lives, Jesus shows up often in places where we least expect it.)  Jesus then tells them to drop the nets on the right side of the boat.  The advice is not just successful; it is abundant!  The net fill full of fish, and this triggered a memory in John to make him realize that the only One that could have done something like this.  The only One that could give advice and fill the nets to capacity…is Jesus.  There is a massive truth here for us to notice.  No matter how proficient we are, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much effort we put into something, if God is not a part of it, we will never be successful!

While this is good stuff, this is not where we are going to land the plane.  There is something better awaiting us on the shore.

Arriving at the shore with the disciples, we find that Jesus already has breakfast on the grill.  Our Lord then tells Peter to go a get some of the fish that they just caught.  Why would Jesus need more fish?  What is He trying to show us?  Maybe in this little moment, Jesus is inviting Peter to bring the gifts that he was given to be a part of the meal. Perhaps this is a little reminder that Jesus provides all things but still wants us to be a part of His mission.  Maybe.  But what happens next is absolutely amazing.  Look at verse 12.  Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast."  Did you catch that?  The risen Lord, the One that could demand the worship of the disciples, the One that suffered, died and rose, the One that just blessed the unsuccessful fishermen with more fish than they could have dreamed asks them to come and eat breakfast.  Not only does He ask them to come and eat, but then in verse 13, we read that Jesus served them breakfast!  Only Jesus! 

Do you know that this same offer of “come and eat breakfast” is something that we still hear today?  Every morning as we wake up, Jesus still offers us the chance to come and eat with Him.   So, who are you having breakfast with today?  Facebook?  Instagram?  Twitter?  Alexa?  Jesus?  

Come and start your day eating from and with the Bread of Life.  If you cannot make it in the morning, don't worry it is served all day long.  It is ready, and He is waiting.    

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Another Wink by Bob Cherry

I read this today and thought that it would be a great thing to drop off here.  It is just a little poem from Paul Tripp...  Read and enjoy.

It swept us up,
in its path.
Confused and separated,
we try to analyze
what we don’t understand,
try to conquer
what is bigger than us.
Fear sets in,
denial offers temporary
numbers rumble upward,
hope weakens.
Then we remember,
this isn’t the
this isn’t the
this isn’t the most
There is another disease,
most don’t see it,
most deny it,
no human can defeat it,
everyone is infected with it.
There would be no cure
if not for the Savior,
willing to come,
face the ultimate plague,
die alone,
so that there would be a
ours for the taking,
no money needed,
no line to stand in,
bring only one thing,
a heart ready to
Receive your healing,
rise, live again.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Doubt with Thomas

Did you know that after Jesus rose from the grave, He appeared twice to the disciples in the upper room?  The two events happened a week apart.  If you pay attention and cross-reference the Gospels, you might notice that there are a few similarities.  There are also a few glaring differences.  One of the most significant differences between the first upper room meeting and the second was that not every disciple was present.  Two were missing from that first meeting… We know that Judas wasn't there because he was hanging out in the trees, but there was another.  Reading from John 20:24-29, we discovered the one missing.  

His name is Thomas.  His friends know him as the “twin.”  However, we know him Doubting Thomas.  Two things always bother me about Thomas.  One thing that bothers me about Thomas is that we can assume that he is a twin, but we know nothing about his other half.  The other part that troubles me about Thomas is his nickname.  Why he of all of the apostles got one, I will never know.  Others could have gotten a nickname for a slip-up.  Peter, for example, denied Jesus three times, and we do not call him “Petey Three-Times" or "Sinking Peter.”  Even Judas escapes life and history without being shackled with the burden of being known as “Betraying Judas.”    

Thomas was not present in the upper room when Jesus first appeared (see Luke 24:36-42 or John 20:19-23). Where was Tom?  Maybe he was getting some beer and pizza, or perhaps he was stuck in traffic or helping his kids with a last-minute science project.  We cannot say for sure, and Scripture gives us no hints, but we do see that there is no condemnation for his absence.  No one scolds him for not being there that night.  So, it is safe to assume that this was an excused absence.  

When Tom comes back around, the others let him know what he has missed.   They tell him that they have seen the Risen Jesus.  Upon hearing this news, seeing the excitement in their eyes, Tom does NOT believe.   He snubs the testimony of Peter, James, and  John.  In fact, he refuses to believe.  What is his hang-up?  Why can he not just believe?  It might be that Tom is resentful and experiencing a giant-sized serving of FOMO regret.  It might be that Tom is a full-on skeptic and will not trust anyone's opinion about anything.   Yet, Tom tells us what he needs is evidence.   Thomas is just like us and wants proof or cold hard facts.  He wants to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.  Tom, just like us, wants to see the scientific, double-blind, peer-reviewed, published papers.  He wants not only to see the proof; he needs to put his fingers in the holes on Jesus' hands and put his hand into the wound on Jesus' side.  It is not just some little doubt, but Thomas emphatically states that without proof, he will never believe (John 20:25).  This is where I feel that we may have gotten his nickname wrong.  Thomas didn't just doubt; he refused to believe.  

For eight long days, Thomas was forced to listen to the stories of the others seeing Jesus.  The passing time did nothing to grow faith in Thomas.  The Gospel of John then tells us that after these 8 days pass, the disciples are back in the upper room, and the door is again locked.  (It seems that the passing of time did nothing to grow the faith in the others either.)  In this doubt-filled room, Jesus suddenly appears.  He does not show up and slap Thomas for not believing.  Our Lord does not look and wave a disappointed finger at Peter for again locking the door.  He does not hang His head in frustration.  Instead, Jesus announces, "Peace be with you!"   Then in the most amazing, gentle act of compassion, Jesus holds out His nailed scarred hands.  Looking directly into the doubt-filled eyes of Thomas, He speaks,  "Take your finger and put it here, Thomas.  Look, and see my wounds.  Take your hand and put it into my side.  Stop unbelieving...and believe."  Thomas' eyes are finally open, and he proclaims…"My Lord and my God!!"

In our current time, there is so much frustration that for some, the doubt is beginning to boil.   This reveals the harsh reality that we are more like Thomas than we want to admit.  We are doubters and all we have to do is look at the media to prove it.  We question everything and wonder if we are being told the truth or listening to fake news.  Many people desperately need cold hard facts, scientific evidence, and proof.  We protest that we have the right to know the truth and long answers and when the answers do not come, our doubts slowly begin to turn into skepticism and unbelief. 

Our doubts are not just confined to what is going on in the media.  We doubt our faith, the future, and even God Himself.  We ask questions like "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving… Why are there people getting sick?  Why won’t this pandemic go away?”  Our doubt originates from the poisonous question the snake asked in the garden.  And despite years of teaching, Bible Studies, and Scripture reading, this same question lingers in our hearts. “Does God really love me?” “Can He really forgive me for that?” and “Is God really who He says He is in the Bible?”  "Can I trust Him?"

In this little story, we see Jesus step into all of the doubt, disbelief, worry, and confusion in Thomas' life.  Jesus does not allow Thomas to drown in an ocean of uncertainty, nor does He leave Thomas to wallow in his own doubt.  Jesus comes and meets Thomas, who had not only locked the door to the upper room, but also his heart. He holds out His nail-scarred hands and takes hold of Thomas's burden of doubt.  This is something that Jesus still does.  Jesus walks into our locked quarantine "upper rooms" and the "closed doors" of our hearts and reminds us that He is who He said He is.  Jesus holds out those same nail-scarred hands and takes all of our fears, doubts, concerns, shortcomings, and sins.  And then He blesses us with all of His faith, peace, joy, hope, and glory!  Whenever this happens, our hearts cry out with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"  

It is nothing short of amazing!!  So, agonize about your doubts if you want.  Lock your doors, and social distance, it will not keep Jesus from coming.  And when He does. there will be no condemnation.  There will be no finger-wagging, no disappointed sigh.   His words will be "Peace be with you!"  Look at His hands, take your fingers, and put them in the holes and BELIEVE that HE IS GOD!!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Top 200 Christian Blogs

We are not really sure how it happened but this little adventure of the CH Blog was recognized as one of the top 200 Christian Blogs!!!  If you don't believe me head over Top 200 Christian Blog and start scrolling... and keep scrolling and scrolling, you will eventually find us sitting at #219!!

Thank you to all of you that read... we will keep them coming!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Doing Well? by Reina Cherry

I have been socially distancing for over a month. That’s not the norm for me.
I did not go to the grocery store for over 2 weeks. That’s not the norm for me.
I went 4 weeks without a hug from my 18-month-old grandson, Finn. That’s definitely not the norm for me. (This has been the absolute worst part of social distancing. On Easter, while playing with the little guy in the front yard…he came running after me with his hands in the air, speaking in his own language, "please ReRE PICK ME UP!"….OH! The joy to get a 48-second hug from Finn. It was the best Easter gift his mom and dad could have given me!)

Often people kindly inquire, "How are you and Wink doing?"  The inference is, "After being married 40 years, are you OK, spending ALL your time with each other?” It’s a very legit set of questions and being asked with genuine care. I’m happy to report that Wink and I are doing well. (Please read to the end to make sure you get the word “well” better defined.)

Stay with me….because I'm going to take an off-ramp and land in the story of Noah…(which we are studying in some of our CH women's Bible studies…another shameless plug to all women reading…please come & join us for our ZOOM weekly meetings. you can find out more at CH Women Bible Studies… Tim Keller quotes regarding Noah, "God not only saved Noah from the waters but more so by the waters.” This awakened my heart to the reality that  God is not only currently saving me from the pandemic but more so saving me by the pandemic….

Let me better explain by recapping 2 conversations that I’ve had over the past week…

One was with a young dad of 2 small kids where both mom and dad have super busy schedules. His words were, "Before the pandemic; basically, we were passing the kids off at dinner time when she got home from work; I would then go to work."   He described that tragically their family was much more connected to the church than to each other's hearts. The day we talked, he had fresh tears form in his eyes while describing the new depth of love/connection he now feels with his son and daughter, and as he spoke of the renewed love and ties with his wife's heart as well. He said, "No, doubt, we have been given a RE-START from God, and Reina, I am just so thankful!”

Another conversation was with a 40-year-old mom with 3 older kids. She stated almost verbatim: “I think this is how we are supposed to be living our lives.” She described how they are not spending so much time and energy dispersing kids to the myriad of after school activities, all the while missing each other's hearts. Instead, they now get to enjoy time around the dinner table with great conversations. Her husband is working from home and having to take a pay-cut, but it’s so worth it to all of them. They are welcoming this slower pace and all the new opportunities being given to do life together as a family.

Back to Wink and me. A few weeks ago, one of our son's shared with us this episode of the VERITAS FORUM…

It's the best thing Wink, and I have watched regarding this present world crisis. We are truly being invited to live life at a slower pace, perhaps better stated, a human pace.  A panelist, Andy Crouch, encouraged us to embrace the re-offering of the family dinner hour by asking each other some simple questions:

1. What are you afraid of today?
2. What are you thankful for today?
3. What are you hopeful about today? (Wink’s and my addition.)

This new world of the pandemic is giving us all multiple opportunities to better dwell with each other.
We are being given enough time to admit this new pace is hard. Our modern world of isolation produces loneliness. Yet it also allows plenty of moments filled with gratitude and hope simply because of to Whom we belong.  By going slower, we also have more brain/heart space to show up with each other in the present: good, bad, and/or ugly. So, here’s the real invite for all of us.  Jesus really loved (loves) hanging out with the bad and the ugly…We get to come to Him as we really are not as we should be.  Here is where God’s mercy and grace are experienced freshly.

Back to Wink and me doing "WELL." The answer most often is given, "We are being HELD."   Meaning, we are being granted plenty of time to see our own brokenness/messiness. These are also the very places we get to know God’s fresh rescue. And thus, they become the source of which kindness might actually spill out of us.

Oh! The sweetness to go slow enough to “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.”  Perhaps God is saving and transforming me (and you) by this pandemic.