Believing in Jesus

If you surveyed 100 people off the street and asked them this question: “Who is Jesus?” – you’d get a lot of different opinions. And hardly any consensus, even among religious people. Perhaps this has more to do with people’s attitude rather than evidence about Jesus. How would you respond?

On a past trip to Africa to work with brothers in Mozambique, I was privileged to be part of a Bible study with Samson Mafuta. Our study was with a young woman who expressed an interest in knowing more about the Bible. I asked her if she knew who Jesus was. She replied, “Jesus is the wind.” And so it goes.

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Real hope

It is hard for us not to envy people who have good things happen to them. When something good happens to a friend or family member, we can sometimes become bitter with a “Why not me?” attitude. How do you react when something amazing happens in the life of one of your friends? How did God’s blessings for a friend benefit you?

Consider the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1. There is nothing extraordinary about this couple. He was a priest of God, but not the high priest. They were godly people, but not nobility. In fact, with no children to succeed him, Zechariah was looked down upon, until Elizabeth was found with child. Notice the reputation he had unfairly garnered because of their circumstances:

“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:25

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A cursed life

Many are the times in my life that I have heard a countryman express thanksgiving for the privilege of living “in the greatest country the world has ever known.” There is surely some truth to this assertion – no previous society has been as productive or made the advancements in human existence as America. Yet, as is the case of every great civilization before ours, the future will take care of that heady arrogance.

I am rather struck by a different observation of our providential lot. That is, the curses we suffer because of where we find ourselves living. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but living in America in the early years of the 21st century may be the best human experience one could hope for, but from a spiritual standpoint there is another side to the story.

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Are you conservative?

Recently while perusing some Internet humor, I stumbled upon a rather amusing exchange that supposedly took place across naval radio waves some years back. To wit:

  • Voice 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 1: This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
  • Voice 2: No, I say again, you divert your course.
  • Voice 1: (Angrily) This is the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. We are a large U.S. Navy warship. Divert your course now!
  • Voice 2: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

It’s amazing how a slight change in perspective can alter behavior rather radically. In religion we have a tendency to be bullheaded – until such time that a change in perspective enlightens us to our willful ignorance. For as long as I can remember I have been part of the what would be described as traditionally “conservative” religious bodies. But what does that mean?

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An unexpected answer

John’s gospel is unique, revealing personal stories of mercy, repentance, and redemption that the synoptic gospels do not report. John 8.1-11 is such a story.

It was early in the morning, and already Jesus drew a crowd. He began that day’s lesson innocently enough, perhaps just a random Tuesday or Thursday, another day to feed the righteous hunger of many who followed Him. But thundering footsteps interrupted – the approach of scribes and Pharisees, bent not on learning from the Master, but on trapping Him some how, discrediting Him, ultimately destroying Him.

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Obstacles to service

The 12 men who spent roughly two extraordinary years in the company of our Lord during His earthly ministry, often had difficulty understanding the nature of the spiritual commitment that Jesus demanded. Their struggles are emblematic of the same spiritual obstacles we often face today.

In Luke 9, Jesus sent out these 12 men on a limited mission, preparing them for the obstacles they would face when He was gone. When they returned, Jesus began to seriously prepare them for what lay ahead, and the spiritual challenges they would encounter. He foretold His death (9:21-22), He exhorted them in the nature of true discipleship (9:23-27), and then He foretold His death again (9:43-45). Meanwhile, the disciples argued about who was greatest. It must have been maddening for Jesus to see this. In the closing verses of the chapter, Jesus got down to brass tacks: the cost of service.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. – Luke 9.58

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Serving in difficult times

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1.9

Whatever time a person lives, there is always the prevailing belief that “we live in extraordinary times.” Yet Solomon’s observation is proven true time and time again.

We are witnesses today to the fruits of corruption, incompetence, greed, and arrogance — much of it in our public figures, who spend more time pointing fingers than searching for wise and prudent paths to lead our nation, our states, our cities, and our homes. To us, prophetic dreams, rescues from fiery furnaces, and silenced lions seem like fairy tales rather than realistic expectations. The prophet Amos, writing 2500 years ago, could have penned an op-ed piece for our local newspaper:

You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. – Amos 5.12-13

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An effective change-up

Baseball pitcher Dutch Leonard once observed that the most effective pitch in baseball is not the fastball, or the knee-buckling curve ball — but the change-up. An effective change-up gives a pitcher a distinct advantage, because hitting a baseball is all about timing. The best hitters in the game can be outfoxed by a clever pitcher who changes the speed of his pitches, thus creating havoc with the hitter’s finely-tuned and precisely-timed swing.

So, too, can it be with our spiritual behavior. Satan knows our tendencies, and knows our strengths and weaknesses. When we get tangled up in a particular type of sin, repeatedly failing to resist the temptations that Satan offers, it is often because we are creatures of habit and we keep putting ourselves in untenable situations – in short, we “sit on” a fastball, but Satan throws us a change-up.

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Real answers

Every four years we and our countrymen elect government officials to lead our nation, state, and local municipalities for the next 2-4 years (depending on the office). If I had to guess, I would suspect that most of you reading this are probably disappointed in the nature of our national campaigns and the mudslinging and personal attacks that characterize politics today. But in actuality, it is nothing new.

History tells us that our nation once elected a man who garnered 39% of the popular vote – the smallest percentage ever for a winning candidate. And if that wasn’t enough, when the same man ran for re-election four years later, he stuffed the ballot box in a critical swing state by exhorting his military leaders to give soldiers leave from their stations on election day. The result was that thousands of soldiers from various states all descended on the state of Indiana and voted – quite illegally – to re-elect the president, sweeping him to an electoral victory with this critical state.

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Free kittens?

As I was exiting the parking lot, trying to figure out which lanes of empty spaces I could dart across to reach the exit lane quickest, I noticed three girls standing near a pickup truck. One carried a cardboard sign: “Free Kittens.”

I chuckled to myself as I considered this misnomer. Let’s see,… free kittens require vaccinations (some repeatedly), spaying or neutering, regular grooming, housing, litter, food and water, to name just a few. Pretty soon it’s obvious: free kittens aren’t really free. Oh, I understand the sign was never meant to imply that raising a kitten would be free, but you get the point.

Paul wrote:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6.23

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