Archive

Archive for the ‘Authenticity in the Faith’ Category

Easter Aftermath

April 2nd, 2018

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)

Easter and the lead up to it is perhaps the most exciting season of the church, and the most emotionally draining for those of us in ministry.

The first Easter was similar for the disciples – exciting and exhausting. This little passage at the end of John is one of the most interesting in scripture, to me, because it presents the eternal reality of the risen Christ – that changed everything – and plays it against the backdrop of the disciples who seemed to seek to return to what had been normal.

A return to the familiar

When we are emotionally exhausted we often long for the familiar. The disciples were largely, if not exclusively, from Galilee, and after the resurrection and initial appearances of Christ to them in Jerusalem and Judea, they apparently made their ways back north to Galilee. And Peter decided to return to fishing. Those who were with him included James and John, his former partners in a fishing business, and three other disciples.

They had no other means of livelihood, so far as we know. While Christ lived on earth, they received donations from loyal followers but now that He was crucified and risen, in this in-between time, they had to find other means of support. And, we should remember, Judas Iscariot had been the treasurer of the group, and following his betrayal of Christ and suicide, who knows what happened to whatever funds they had had.

So rather than being idle, Peter, being a man of action, preferred to fish and earn his living the old way. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture never condemns their action. Christ had called them to be fishers of men and they had left all to follow Him, but they were not beggars. And besides, what is a man to do except to earn his living the best way he knows how? (See Eph. 4:28.)

Their former boats had been sold, most likely, but using their old contacts, Peter and perhaps James and John, secured another and off they set, onto their old familiar fishing grounds. The sun and the water, as well as the night sky later that evening, conjured up familiar and comfortable memories – they knew how to do this.

Have you ever been emotionally exhausted? Have you ever been in circumstances where everything seemed to be changing around you so fast that you felt you just needed to find something familiar? I read their story and I think about the way most pastors feel the Monday after Easter.

But the old would never be the same again

Despite their best efforts they caught nothing, at least not until Jesus showed up the next morning. The old life, if they had held illusions of how great it used to be, was not as super as they remembered.

After the cross and the resurrection the old life could never be returned to, at least not in its entirety. Nothing would ever be the same again. But, truthfully, it had all changed for Peter and the others once they had decided to follow Christ. They had a purpose that could never be fulfilled through fishing for fish alone.

Can’t we imagine how Peter would have changed had he been left to work as a fisherman for the rest of his life? Before Christ he simply talked about fishing with his colleagues and those he hired. After Christ, though, he talked about Christ as he fished. Pre-Christ life was never about Christ, but post-Christ life was always about Christ.

Christ did not leave Peter working as a fisherman the rest of his life. He was an apostle and a missionary and a pastor-teacher in the church. His life from that point on would be given as a witness to the Lord. He was a preacher of unparalleled opportunities in those early days of the church, and God used him greatly. On that day the words of Christ to Peter simply prepared him to refocus his life for Christ.

He would be imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by men, and anointed and used by God to perform miracles and bring the gospel to the Gentiles. In the end he would be martyred for his faith, and ultimately his life and ministry would be the framework upon which Christ would build His church – as Paul wrote, the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

The difference between the Spirit of Christ and our emotions

But on that morning on Galilee, Christ was there and helped them catch a large amount of fish, served them breakfast which He Himself had cooked for them on the shore, and comforted Peter about His forgiveness over his denials on the night of Christ’s arrest. Jesus let Peter know that his life was not yet over, that his race of faith had not yet been fully run.

It was all simple, straightforward, and Jesus talked to Peter in a way you should talk to a man who had witnessed so much in such a short time, and who had fished all night as well. No inappropriate pressure, no mind games, just Jesus and six of the disciples on the beach having breakfast and a chat.

We have physical and emotional needs. We are physical and emotional beings. We need exercise, rest, food, sleep, as well as friends, encouragement, challenges, peace, and purpose in life. And God knows this, of course, and provides these things for us.

Yet we are also spiritual beings – especially is this true for those who trust in Christ. In a short while, after this conversation with Peter, Christ would ascend on high and the Spirit would descend upon the church. The Spirit of God brought back to life the dead spirit of people – that which was dead in the unsaved became the very center of the Christian. But the Spirit is not the same as our emotions.

Christ said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 1010). He did not say, “I have come that you might have emotion and have it to the full.” Some have compared the filling of the Spirit to some sort of emotional experience that lifts us off the ground in excitement and enthusiasm. But the fullness of the Spirit is not about how high we jump in the air when God gets ahold of us, but about how straight we walk when our feet hit the ground.

To all those who are tired and weary

Let me end this little devotion with reminding us that the Spirit does not demand emotional enthusiasm from us. To be filled with Him does not mean that we must be leaping and shouting on some emotional high. We can relax and be calm and still enjoy the filling of the Spirit. Remember Christ said: “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

 

 

Authenticity in the Faith, Christ's Post-Resurrection Appearances

How to Celebrate Easter

March 31st, 2018

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:3-6 NIV)

Having spent most of my adult life overseas, I am often just a bit taken aback by the casualness which American Christians “celebrate” religious holidays. One worship leader I am familiar with took his family to a fun park yesterday and said that this was the way their family “celebrates Good Friday.” Go almost any place else in the world and you will find that that type of action seems like irreverence, even disrespect to the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In Asia, especially the Philippines, South America, Africa, and Europe, Good Friday is a day for Christians to be somber, remembering the sacrifice of Christ.

What are we to think of Christians who worship differently from us?

It’s between them and God

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Good point! The passage above teaches us that we should leave such matters in the hands of the individual Christians and their relationship with God. We can trust God to bring them around to what is right and proper in His eyes, in His timing and in His ways. We will, in our families and in our individual lives, have enough problems to work on ourselves. We need not worry about them in this regard.

Rome in the first century was, like many capital cities, infused with people from different languages, ethnicities, and cultures. They came with different values, heritages, and ways of thinking. Among the Christians there were also many different customs, many of them religious. Some where from Jewish heritages, and some, no doubt, were from what some church somewhere had decided was the proper way to do things. So a thousand and one issues came up in the church in Rome as to what was the right way to live.

Two issues came to the forefront, however: Can a Christian eat food that was sacrificed to idols? and How should a Christian observe special religious days? The principle that Paul laid down had two sides: what we do and how we react to what others do.

In terms of what we think of others, we should not pass judgment on one another. In terms of what we do, we should not put a stumbling block before our brother.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:13-15)

Don’t put stumbling blocks before others

The instruction is simple enough to grasp, but sometimes hard to live out in our lives. But only by balancing these two  – don’t judge and don’t cause others to stumble – can Christians live and worship in unity and peace. What you do in terms of celebration and styles of worship is between you and God – as a Christian you have the freedom and the responsibility before Him to handle such matters under His Lordship. But our freedom has limitations. Your right to swing your fist in the air ends where my nose begins.

Does my casualness toward Christian holidays (which were supposed to be “holy days”) seem like disrespect? Does my seriousness toward Christian holidays seem like legalism, or worse, like paganism? Those are the issues, and it all depends on who is watching us. And even among non-believers there can be misunderstanding. One non-Christian might think we’re fanatics if we observe holidays seriously, and the next might think we are hypocrites for not taking our faith more seriously if we do not.

Not everyone is going to read Romans 14 or even remember what was said, and our freedom can be misunderstood by others as irreverence or disbelief. So we should have an element in our thinking that asks, “What will others think if I do this?” If that is too strong an element we become psychotic, but if it is not there at all then we are sociopaths – focused only on ourselves, unable to sympathize with others or to take responsibility for our own failures.

The sin of taking ourselves too seriously

But this brings up another dangerous tendency among Christians – that we lose the habit of taking a step back and, in good humor and in good faith in God, have a good laugh at ourselves. We can all, myself especially, “think logically to the wrong conclusion.”

We are quite capable of developing our ideas, and even our deepest devotional thoughts, in a closed system, where no new ideas enter in, and we can create a too narrow view of things. I am not recommending that we infuse Christianity with pagan ideas, or that we pollute the purity of God’s truth with godless ideologies. But I am saying that before we conclude such things as “a man ought to pray for an hour each day” or “a woman’s dress should always be below the knee” or “Good Friday should be a day of fasting and prayer” that we step back and do a broader biblical study about such things.

This was, after all, the error of the Pharisees with regard to healing on the Sabbath, that they had, in their own closed system, reasoned that it was wrong. To which Christ called them hypocrites, because they would certainly feed and water their donkeys on the Sabbath, so why would they not heal their fellow Israelite? (Luke 13:15)

I’m a child of the 1950’s, and grew up in the 60’s and became an adult in the 70’s. Out of those decades came an America that doubted itself, questioned its authorities and its traditions. These ideas came into the church as well, and this laid the ground work for a Christianity that tossed out formalities as irrelevant and legalistic. Suits and ties were replaced with jeans and casual shirts, liturgy was replaced with freedom in worship, hymns with new songs, and solemnity with joyful expressions. The pendulum swung to the other extreme, and we have not fully recovered yet.

Frankly, our lives are too short to figure all of these things out for all generations to live by. We should let the Spirit lead us and always evaluate our conclusions with the Word and the body of Christ. Intensity, even spiritual intensity, tends to make us judgmental and to form legalistic frameworks of devotion. The teaching of Jesus on this matter is still the clearest word:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5 ESV)

 

Authenticity in the Faith, Daily Devotions