Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Great Mountain Burning with Fire

Revelation 8:8 - The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea,

and a third of the sea became blood.

Hmmmmmm - very interesting!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Peter Did NOT Swim Ahead, part 2

I've been looking at John 21 in an attempt to understand what the scene was like when the disciples, while on a fishing trip, encountered Jesus after His resurrection. Many preachers teach that upon recognizing Jesus on the shore, Peter jumped in the water and either swam or waded ahead to be the first to greet Jesus. In part 1, I said that John's attention to detail and his language don't allow for Peter to have done that. John didn't say that anyone arrived first (as he did in the account of he and Peter going to the empty tomb). He also used a very specific term to describe Peter's response to Jesus' request, "Bring Me some fish." John tells us that Peter "went up" to get the fish. Spacially, when someone is standing on the bank (as Peter would have been if he had indeed arrived on the shore first), and they move toward the water, they always "go down" to the boat or water. So the speculation that Peter swam ahead and was standing on the bank with Jesus just doesn't make sense.

Well, if Peter didn't swim ahead, what exactly was he doing - and why did he do that? I'm glad you asked that question. You DID ask didn't you? The answer is wrapped up in the scene that follows this breakfast by the lake - the encounter between Jesus and Peter. You remember this scene - after breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Peter, do you love me?" After Peter's response each time, Jesus commanded him, "Tend my sheep" or "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15-17) It is important to remember that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times during Jesus' trial prior to being crucified. It is also important to remember that following his denial, Peter "wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62) He was totally devastated! He had denied the person he had promised to defend to the death. It's interesting that three times Peter denied knowing Jesus, and three times Jesus gave him the opportunity to express his love for Him. HOWEVER, that opportunity to express love came after the fishing and breakfast incident.

On a personal level, have you ever done something for which you were ashamed? I'm not even talking about sin - I'm simply talking about some embarrassing action toward a friend. After that embarrassing moment, didn't you want to avoid that person? Even though you knew the person would be gracious and kind and forgiving, there was something inside that made you want to avoid contact with them. Well imagine how you would feel if you had bragged that you would stand firm when everyone else was falling away; then when your friend needed you the most you denied even knowing him. Then, add to that the nagging thought that if you had just kept your word, your friend might not have had to suffer and die... Peter was probably blaming himself for Jesus' suffering and death! The last thing he would want to do is swim ahead and see Jesus face to face. He was overcome with the shame of failure!

That explains why he grabbed his outer garment and jumped into the water. He was trying to remove any evidence that he had been on the boat. He probably jumped into the water, placing the boat and the net full of fish between himself and Jesus, just hoping that Jesus wouldn't know that Peter was even there. Then Peter hung out in the water while the other disciples went on shore and had fellowship with Jesus. Perhaps that is why we know how many fish were in the net - Peter was busy counting them while he was hanging out in the water! I realize that is speculation - but more plausible than saying Peter swam ahead.

Jesus, trying to draw Peter out of hiding, asked for some fish (even though he already had fish cooking!). Knowing Peter's desire/need to work his way back into Jesus' favor, Jesus gave him a task to do. Now that task didn't have anything to do with Peter getting back into good standing with Jesus. He was already in good standing with Jesus. It was just Jesus' way of getting Peter to come out of hiding. It's an interesting part of fallen human nature - we somehow think we need to and even CAN earn God's favor. We don't understand God's grace and mercy. We think that some small activity on our part will make up for our sinfulness. All Jesus asks us to do is affirm our love for Him. He has already affirmed and demonstrated His love for us - in that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

So there we have it. Peter saw Jesus on the shore. He was filled with shame at having denied his friend. He was filled with shame because if he had not denied Jesus, Jesus might not have had to suffer and die. He was filled with shame and so he grabbed his outer garment and jumped into the water to hide. Jesus knew he was there and asked for a fish (even though he already had fish cooking) in order to draw Peter from his hiding place. After he got him out of hiding, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his love - once for every time he had denied knowing Jesus. He does the same for us - He draws us out of hiding and gives us opportunity to affirm our love for him.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Peter Did NOT Swim Ahead

Why is it that preachers feel the need to add things that are not there to scripture, and ignore things that are there? I use the story of Peter encountering Jesus on the Sea of Galilee following Jesus' resurrection as an exammple. The story is found in the 21st chapter of John's Gospel. Peter decided that he wanted to go fishing. The other disciples joined him. As they were casting their nets - and not being successful in their endeavors - the resurrected Jesus showed up on the shore and asked them if they were catching anything. Without recognizing him, they replied that they were catching nothing. He said to them, "Cast your net on the right hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." They did and so many fish filled their net that they were unable to haul it in. In that instant, John (identified as "the disciple whom Jesus loved") recognized the land-bound stranger as Jesus. Here is where things get interesting and preachers/teachers begin to add things to the text and ignore things that are in the text.

When Peter heard it was Jesus, he grabbed "his outer garment (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea." (21:7) The thing that is ALWAYS added to this text are the words, "and he swam ahead." Why do people add that? It isn't in the text and it doesn't even make sense! And the thing they always leave out is the detail of him grabbing his outer garment. Logically, if Peter were going to swim ahead, he wouldn't grab his outer garment. That big heavy robe-like garment would simply slow him down and might even put him in danger of drowning! Some commentators say that the boat was in shallow water - so shallow, in fact, that Peter simply waded to shore. Again, people have added that concept and NOTHING in the text indicates that Peter got to the shore first or even attempted to get to the shore first.

One of the major principles of interpreting scripture is that wherever possible, scripture should be used to interpret itself. In this case, we can look at John's own writing. In chapter 20, in the account of the resurrection, John points out the he and Peter were running together toward the empty tomb, and that John arrived at the tomb first (20:4). John then, reveals that even though he had arrived first, Peter was the first to enter the tomb (20:6). So John has a habit of describing how events unfolded and in this instance, he made no effort at all to let his readers know that Peter arrived on shore first. Further, he doesn't even describe Peter's arrival!

All of this, so far, has been rather circumstantial. Now we come to a language clue. Notice, that when the disciples arrive, they see a charcoal fire with some fish already cooking, along with some bread (21:9). Then Jesus says, "Bring some of the fish which you have caught." And here is the language clue - "Peter WENT UP and drew the net to land." Now think about that for a moment. If Peter had been standing beside Jesus - close enough to observe the fire, fish, and bread - and if he headed to the boat to drag the net to land, how would that movement toward the water have been described? He would have "gone down" to the sea and boat. In John 6:16-17 we get that exact description: "When evening came, his disciples WENT DOWN to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea..." So for John to say that Peter WENT UP to the boat, we have to see a different picture. The only way for Peter to go UP to the boat, is for him to still be in the water. The word translated "went up" is described in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament like this: The basic meaning is spatial, i.e., “to rise from the depths to the heights.” It is used for climbing aboard a ship (bold mine).

So what do we know? Peter did not grab his coat - jump into the water and swim or wade ahead of the other disciples. He grabbed his coat - jumped into the water - and when Jesus asked for a fish, Peter WENT UP and got what Jesus asked for. But why? Can we figure that out? And how do we know the number of fish that were in the net? I'll discuss those issues later. But for now, understand that the Bible does not indicate that Peter swam ahead of the other disciples when they saw Jesus on the shore after the resurrection.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Becoming a Proud Spiritual Parent, part 2

I find it interesting that Paul had enough confidence in his relationship with Jesus that he could state that he would have "a crown of boasting" (1 Thessalonians 1:19-20) at the coming of the Lord Jesus. In that, we find that Paul's "boasting" was based on being a spiritual parent. That is, Paul was able to stand tall before Jesus because he had started many people on the road to a relationship with Jesus. In that light, Paul was a proud spiritual parent. As the father of 3 great kids, and as the grandfather of 6 (soon to be 7) grandchildren, I understand what Paul was feeling. I love to brag on my kids. I love to pull out pictures of my grandkids. In a sense, Paul was saying, "I can't wait for Jesus to return so that I can show Him pictures of my spiritual kids!"

One of the problems in today's church is that we don't have enough people with the same "pride" as Paul. In fact, too many believers today think that only people like Paul can (or even should) introduce others to Jesus. But in his first letter to the church of Thessalonica, Paul lays out several steps that everyone can take to bring someone into a relationshjp with Jesus. The first step (see May 11, and 18, 2010) in getting an album filled with pictures of spiritual children is to understand that sharing the Gospel is the responsibility of every Christian. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, we find that we "have been entrusted with the Gospel." In other words, if YOU don't share the love of Jesus with others, then no one will!

The second step in becoming a proud spiritual parent - one who has a photo album full of pictures you want to show to Jesus when He returns - is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. "But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but also I very own selves, because you had become very dear to us."


Paul knew these new babes in Christ had been given him as a trust. He would do nothing to injure them or neglect them. That's why he went beyond just telling them about Jesus. He says, "we were delighted to share with you . . . our VERY OWN SELVES."

The image is a very tender image of a mother nursing her babies. There's no urgency--no tension--in fact, if mom is the least bit tense, the milk won't let down--and the baby will become very frustrated. For nursing to work, the mother has to be relaxed and gentle--she simply can't be in a hurry. There is no greater image of gentleness and peace than that of a nursing mom, as she imparts life to the child through the sacrifice of her own milk.

Several years ago, there was an Olympic ice skater named Nancy Kerrigan -- who won the bronze medal. Nancy's mom is legally blind--and she had never seen Nancy skate in person - she had to watch her on a television screen. She couldn't see her smile--she could only see her form and the color of her costume. As Nancy skated, Mom would sit--nose just a few centimeters from the TV screen and she whispered, "I love you." And when Nancy would finish her routine, her mom broke into wild, and tearful applause--jumping up and down like an excited child. She would then turn and hug her husband and say, "Isn't she beautiful?!" Her mom poured her LIFE into Nancy and it was obvious, Nancy is her pride and joy--her crown of glory!

Now, imagine what would happen, if you began to pour your life into someone who didn't know how much Jesus loves them. Just suppose you gave your life to them the way Nancy Kerrigan's mom poured her life into her daughter. What would that do for their spiritual growth?

Now, just imagine standing there in front of Jesus when He returns and He says, "How'd this person come to know Me?" And with a wide grin, head held high, chest puffed out a little--you said, "I just tried to love them the way You love them."

You see, some things are worth the effort--just to watch a person come into a relationship with Christ and His Church. When Jesus returns, and you stand in His presence--you'll be able to point to a whole host of people who are in the faith because of you and you'll be able to say, "These are my joy and my glory. I am A PROUD PARENT."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Becoming a Proud Spiritual Parent

Most people who call themselves Christians - whether or not they will admit it - are a little uncertain about their posture when it comes to the return of Jesus. Understand that I'm not talking about the timing - will it be in the next 10 years or the next 100 or even 1000 years? What I am talking about is the sure and certain hope that Jesus will return just as He said He would. In that moment, whether it's today or not is not part of what I'm talking about; I am talking about how you will carry yourself as you stand before the King of all Creation and give account of yourself in that moment. The Apostle Paul said that the "...hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming" would be the Thessalonian believers who were also standing the the presence of Jesus. Paul was a proud spiritual parent. He knew that when Jesus returns, he will have a lot to show for his life. The question I want everyone who reads this to deal with is this, "What kind of a spiritual parent am I?" Truly, are you confident that when Jesus returns many of those who are there to greet Him are the result of your investment in their lives?

That's a huge question. But if Paul could be confident enough to boast in the presence of Jesus, then so can all believers! Every one of us CAN be proud spiritual parents to many. There are even some very specific steps to being the proud parent of spiritual children. The steps are found in 1 Thessalonians 2.

The first step is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:4
"...we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts."

Paul realized that he had been approved by God to tell people about Jesus--He was the keeper of the Gospel. And the purpose of the Gospel--the Good News--is to bring people into a relationship with the Lord.
Jesus said we were to "Go and make disciples." He said, just before he ascended into heaven, "Be My witnesses."
When we came to know Jesus, we became a new creation--created for good works which have the same purpose as the One who re-created us--to bring people into a living and growing relationship with God. This is an elementary teaching, and I don't want to get bogged down here--but it IS the starting place. If you never realize that YOU have been entrusted with the Gospel, then you will never assume the responsibility to help bring people to Jesus. And if you never bring anyone to Jesus, you will be embarrassed when Jesus returns. But I don't want that--I want you to be A PROUD PARENT of many spiritual offspring.
God approved you to be entrusted with the good news about salvation through Jesus Christ. When that sinks in--when you get hold of it--your life purpose will change. You will begin to make a list of people who are lost. You will begin to pray for them. You will begin to do acts of kindness for them--bake pies and cookies--mow their grass--pick up trash in their yards--all kinds of good deeds that will open the door for you to share Jesus with them. And somehow, by the grace of God, you will be able to bring them into New Birth--a new life in Christ. And when that happens, you will be ready for step 2.
I'll talk about step 2 later - but for now, do you realize that you are the custodian of the Gospel? Do you realize that the only way some people will enter into the presence of God for all eternity is if you introduce them to Jesus? Do you realize that you have the opportunity to have your own "crown of boasting at the return of Jesus?" This Gospel is yours! Get that truth in your heart before we move on to step 2.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Return of Jesus

I just noticed the date of my last blog - one year ago today!! How's that for consistency? I had such high aspirations for writing daily or at least a couple of times a week. Oh well - perhaps I will turn over a new leaf - today! The name of my blog - Fervent Love First - and the consistency with which I write may say more than I really want it to say. Is my consistency in love no better than my consistency in writing? Not fishing for complements here - just a little self-examination in front of the internet world.

That moment of confession behind me, let's take a few minutes to think about the return of Jesus. Have you ever wondered how you will react? I mean, when that trumpet blast splits the silence, and the clouds are pushed aside, and there for every eye to see--in all His majesty stands the King of Glory--will you run and hide? Will you stand there with your mouth open? Will you fall on your face? What will you do?

I guess I'd thought about it, before, but the text I want us to look at today, gives us a chance to think about it again. As I was studying this, I saw a reaction to the second coming I wasn't quite ready for. Boasting. That's right--boasting. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, says, "For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?"

He said, "Jesus is coming again, and when He does, my hope, and joy, and crown in which I can glory (exult--boast) is going to be you Thessalonian Christians." It doesn't seem to matter what else he has done--he may have written most of the New Testament--he may have been in prison for his faith--he may have been beaten and stoned and left for dead--but the one thing that will bring boasting will be the ones he has lead to the Lord and who stand firm in the faith until the return of Christ.

Paul is a PROUD PARENT, and his glory will be his spiritual children--not his biological children, but the people he has led into a lastinf and growing relationship with Jesus. I began to think about that and I discovered that all through scripture, THAT is the focus. The only work that makes any difference at all is the work of helping people to know God and grow in their relationship with Him.

In all the teachings of Jesus--the call to love one another--to do unto others as you would have them do unto you--the command to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the prisoners--everything Jesus commanded us to do was for the purpose of bringing people into a loving relationship with Him. And when we stand before Him at His return, He will want to see the results of our labor. In that moment, we will either be embarrassed or proud--we will either have some spiritual children to boast about or we won't.

I'll stop for now - (not for a year as last time) - but just enough to let you think about the picture of Jesus' return and and our "hope or joy or crown of boasting at His return." Next time, I'll talk about HOW to get that crown of boasting. I don't want to be embarrassed at the return of Jesus--instead I want, like Paul, to be A PROUD PARENT. And the four steps to being a PROUD PARENT are in 1 Thessalonians.

Until next time...

Monday, May 11, 2009

"If Two Of You Agree" - REALLY About Prayer?

Context – context – context! Have you ever noticed that not paying attention to context will cause you to misunderstand a text of scripture? Take, for example, the statement Jesus made in Matthew 18:19-20 – “…if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Do you know how many people think that verse is talking about prayer? I’ve heard it quoted most often when only two people show up for a prayer meeting. It goes something like this: “Well, Lord, we have been announcing this prayer meeting for a month, and here we are now – 20 minutes after the time to start – and my friend and I are the only ones here. But that’s OK. Your Word promises that where two or three are gathered in Your Name, that You are right there among them. And You also promise that if the two of us agree on anything, that our Heavenly Father will do whatever we ask.”
And so it continues. But have you ever really thought about the implications of that passage if it really were talking about prayer? It would eliminate the possibility of praying alone and having faith to believe your prayers would be answered. If that verse really were talking about prayer (in general), it would mean that if I could just get one other person to agree with me in prayer, then I could get that brand new silver Mercedes I’ve always wanted. Now, I’m being silly here to make a point – this verse is not about prayer and the context reveals that.
The context of this particular passage begins all the way back in 17:22 when Jesus begins to tell the disciples that the Son of Man is about to be betrayed and killed and the disciples are greatly distressed. That teaching is followed immediately by the collection of a 2 drachma tax which Jesus tells Peter to get from the mouth of a fish. (Matthew 17:27) At this point, you are probably asking yourself, “What does that have to do with two or three gathering in the name of Jesus?” And I’m glad you asked that question because there is one phrase in 17:27 that is critical to our understanding – “not to give offense to them.” You see, this segment is about dealing with offense. Matthew sets things up by warning the disciples that a very offensive act is just over the horizon – the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. That is an event that is sure to create offense in the hearts of the disciples. Then Matthew tells us about Jesus’ desire not to cause or create offense.
Now we come to chapter 18 and Jesus teaches about causing a little one to stumble, and about being the vessel through whom temptation comes, and about it being better to cut off a hand or pluck out an eye rather than enter into “the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:9) Each of those images is offensive. Don’t offend a little one. Don’t be the one who brings offense through temptation. Don’t let your hand or your eye offend. So Matthew is helping us to get our hearts ready for the offense of the cross by putting several offensive images before us.
He continues by introducing a second theme that goes along with the problem of offense – separation and loss. Don’t forget, Jesus is still dealing with offense, but now he has begun to include the results that come from being offended. He talks about going after lost sheep – leaving the 99 in order to go after the one wanderer. (Matthew 18:12-14) This parable is followed immediately by the story of a lost relationship – and, of course, the relationship is lost because of offense! Jesus teaches (verse 18:15), “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” In other words, “If you are offended by something your brother has done to you, just like going after a lost sheep, go after this lost relationship.”
He gives several steps in the reconciliation process, and then Jesus makes this statement – which also has been misunderstood, “…if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Often times that verse has been seen as a license to reject – to cut off the wayward sinner. But think about that (mis)understanding.
Who is writing this Gospel? Matthew.
What was Matthew’s occupation? Tax Collector.
How was Matthew treated by Jesus? Was he rejected? Was he cut off from fellowship? Did Jesus tell everyone to have nothing to do with Matthew? Absolutely not! Jesus welcomed Matthew. Jesus built a relationship with Matthew. And as a result, Jesus won Matthew. Matthew was that one lost sheep. Matthew was that offensive heathen. But Jesus went after him.
And now we come to our verses, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” You have to ask the question, “Why would Jesus spend all this time talking about not being offended, about what to do if you are offended, and about how to restore a relationship that has been lost because of offense, only to throw in a verse about prayer?” It doesn’t make sense does it? That’s because this verse isn’t about prayer. It’s about reconciliation.
Jesus is telling these people that if you are offended and it looks like the relationship has come to an end and reconciliation is impossible, that’s when you bring the family of faith into the process. If the family of faith can’t bring reconciliation, then change tactics; begin to view the lost brother (or sister) as truly lost, and redouble your efforts to win him (or her) back. Take someone with you – but remember – and here is the fun part – When “you agree on earth about anything [you] ask, it will be done for [you] by my Father in heaven.” In other words, Jesus wants reconciliation more than you do. Seeking to restore a broken relationship is the heart of God! He will be on your side and see to it that things work out.
And then, Jesus adds a little motivation to do it right, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In other words, Jesus is teaching, “When you go, remember that you are carrying MY Name so you had better represent me well. Do things the way I would do them because, in fact, I am right there with you. So treat this person with the same love and respect and kindness and mercy that you have received from Me.”
If you aren’t convinced by now, I have one more little contextual clue that will let you know that these verses (19-20) are about reconciliation rather than prayer. Notice the first words out of Peter’s mouth when Jesus finishes this teaching, “Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Interesting isn’t it? If verses 19-20 were about prayer, why would Peter ask a question about forgiveness? Context – context – context!