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.