Monday, November 30, 2009

Doubting John: Lessons in Trust

Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [Matthew 11:1-6 NRSV]

(Also read Matthew 3:1-17, Luke 7:11-28, John 1:19-35)

Jail is not a nice place to be in. I should know; I was in one. John the Baptist was in one too, and he definitely would have hated being there. Used to wide open spaces, the prophet would have felt extremely claustrophobic behind bars and the confinement undoubtedly addled his mind. In his confusion, he began to ask a lot of questions. For John, they were extremely disturbing ones.

John was an amazing man. Isaiah had prophesied about him, saying that he would be the one who prepared the way for the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). Jesus, himself, said that there was no greater prophet who ever lived (Matthew 11:11). John had a relatively brief ministry, but one that was extremely powerful, and people came from Jerusalem and Judea to hear him preach. Even the Sadducees and the Pharisees wound their way towards him, though they probably wished they hadn't because the prophet never missed the chance to hurl invective at them.

On one occasion, with typical outspokenness, he castigated a man for sleeping with his brother's wife. The man was Herod, ruler of Galilee and Perea, and, allergic to being corrected, he promptly tossed John into prison. While in prison, news about Jesus began filtering down to him. John heard that Jesus was healing the sick, cleansing those who had leprosy, and even driving out demons. Then news came to him of an extraordinary miracle in a town called Nain.

Jesus had entered Nain with his disciples in tow, and as he approached the town gate, he saw a funeral procession. A dead person—the only son of a widow—was being carried out to the burial grounds. When Jesus saw the grieving woman, he was moved with compassion. He stopped the procession and told the dead man to get up, who, obediently, sat up and began to talk!

Even as people gaped in awe at this amazing miracle, John's disciples immediately went to their master to tell him about what had happened. Instead of being delighted as might have been expected, however, John called two of them aside and sent them to Jesus with a startling question: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

It was a shocking display of doubt, especially for someone like John who had been the first to proclaim Jesus for who he was. "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," he had exclaimed when he saw Jesus approaching him at the river Jordan. He later testified that he had seen the Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove and resting on Jesus. "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God," he said. This very man was now doubting his own testimony! What happened?

The same thing that happens to all of us when God doesn't behave in the manner we expect him to. We begin to question his motives, if not his very existence. John, like the rest of the Jews, had been expecting a savior who would deliver them from the yoke of Roman oppression and set up a socio-politico-religious system where all the sinners would be toasted and the righteous would be rewarded. John, himself, had said this of the coming Christ: "His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

But Jesus was doing none of what John had expected. On the contrary he was consorting with sinners, sharing meals with them and visiting their homes. He was even making disciples of them! And if that weren't bad enough, John the Baptist, who by all rights should have been free, was locked up in jail! If he was truly the Messiah, why wasn't Jesus getting him out? John didn't get it.

Very often we don't get it either. Though not behind bars, we too are prisoners—to our troubles, our anxieties, our fears, our weaknesses, our sins, and a hundred other things than chain us. When Jesus doesn't deliver us, we also raise questions similar to that of the Baptist: "I have been praying for years, Lord, yet my husband remains an abusive philanderer. Why aren't you changing him?" or "My son is a drug addict and he steals money from the house to pay for his habit. Why aren't you setting him free?" or "I am struggling to live a holy life but I keep committing the same sins over and over again. Why aren't you delivering me?" The real question, even if unspoken, is always this: "Are you really there, God? And if you are, why aren't you answering my prayers?"

Jesus was speaking to hundreds of people when a similar question was put to him. It was a provocative and challenging question, more so because it was asked by John's disciples, but it didn't seem to perturb Jesus. His reply was rather strange, however. He didn't reassure the men that he was, indeed, the Messiah. Instead, he told them to go tell John what they saw and heard. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them," he said. And then he slipped in the kicker. "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Another version puts it in simpler language: "Blessed are those who do not give up their faith because of me." (NIRV)

Jesus was aware that John knew about all the miracles he was performing. It wasn't his purpose to inform him of them, or to remind him of them either. "I have the power to save you, John," Jesus seems to be saying. "However, there are reasons why I won't. But because I do not fulfill your expectations, do not believe the devil's lie that I am misguided or powerless or not what I seem to be. Do not fall away on account of that."

I imagine Jesus's words would have been like a bucket of cold water thrown into John's face. I imagine him thinking, as he came to his senses: "I will not pretend I understand what you are about, Jesus. I will not pretend I understand your method or your message either. But I do believe that you are the Messiah and I believe you know what you are doing." And when he bared his neck for Herod's blade, I imagine there was no fear or anxiety in him because he had understood the truth, and the truth had set him free.

We need the truth to set us free. And the truth is this: God's thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). When we struggle with life's burdens and cry out to God to grant us relief, very often He does. But there are times when He doesn't. It isn't because he doesn't care, or because he doesn't want to. It is because he has his reasons, and they are good ones, even if we don't realize that.

I was not always the man I am today. I was a rather bad person. Even as a youth I led a depraved life much to the dismay of my parents. They were a God fearing couple and I am sure that in bleaker moments they must have wondered what they did to deserve a child like me. I am sure my wife too, also extremely faithfull to God, in her darker moments, wondered what sin she had committed to get an unfaithful, tyrannical, and abusive husband like me. Their faith never shattered, though, and when they look at me today, they know that God had his reasons -- and they were good ones.

Paul told the Romans "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). God does work for the good of all who love him. Blessed are those who believe it.

May the Spirit be with you.

Aneel Aranha

Holy Spirit Interactive

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Telling the Story of Jesus

The Church is called to announce the Good News of Jesus to all people and all nations. Besides the many works of mercy by which the Church must make Jesus' love visible, it must also joyfully announce the great mystery of God's salvation through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The story of Jesus is to be proclaimed and celebrated. Some will hear and rejoice, some will remain indifferent, some will become hostile. The story of Jesus will not always be accepted, but it must be told.

We who know the story and try to live it out, have the joyful task of telling it to others. When our words rise from hearts full of love and gratitude, they will bear fruit, whether we can see this or not.

Henri Nouwen - Daily Meditation

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Liberty or License?

Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command."1

A Daily Encounter reader writes: "I know lovely people who go to church and say they want and embrace an intimate relationship with Jesus—and are living with their lovers outside of marriage. A girl who works where I work says she loves Jesus and wants a close relationship with him. She goes to church every Sunday and is living with her boyfriend. We can't judge."

Can we really say we love the Lord but don't obey him? As Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." The reality is it's what we do, not what we say, that counts.

As God's Word, the Bible, says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."2 And again, "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body."3

True, as Christians we have freedom and don't want to slip back into legalism—that is, doing the "right" thing outwardly but not from the heart. At the same time, our freedom or liberty in Christ is not a license to do as we please. As the Bible also says, "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid."4 If we continue to sin, we actually lose our freedom because we become a slave to, rather than a master of, sin.

Our reader also says that we can't judge. Actually, while we are not to judge others, we are to judge actions. Again, God's Word says, "But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one."5

Pastors and teachers are also instructed to rebuke and correct people who are sinning. Admittedly, there is a fine line between judging people and their actions, but if Christians would read the Bible, know what it teaches, and were sincere about obeying the Lord, their actions would judge themselves.

Sadly, too, what so many people fail to realize is that God's instructions are for our good, not to take away the joy of living. Living in harmony with God's will gives us true liberty but it doesn't give us a license to do as we please. Also, when we sin, we not only hurt ourselves but very often others we are close to as well.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to love you sincerely from the heart. Help me to overcome my bent for sinning so that I will always want to live in harmony with your will and live to please you and not myself. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. John 14:15 (NIV).
2. Hebrews 13:4 (NIV)
3. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NKJV).
4. Romans 6:15 (KJV).
5. 1 Corinthians 2:15 (NKJV).


Acts International - Daily Encounter

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Mission of the Church

There are more people on this planet outside the Church than inside it. Millions have been baptised, millions have not. Millions participate in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, but millions do not.

The Church as the body of Christ, as Christ living in the world, has a larger task than to support, nurture, and guide its own members. It is also called to be a witness for the love of God made visible in Jesus. Before his death Jesus prayed for his followers, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). Part of the essence of being the Church is being a living witness for Christ in the world.

Henri Nouwen - Daily Meditation


The fact is we were created for relationships and while it may not be the most desirable, we can live without romantic love, but we cannot live healthily without close, loving relationships with at least one trustworthy friend. God himself is in relationship within the Holy Trinity. And think of Jesus; one of the first things he did when he commenced his ministry was to choose the twelve disciples "that might be with him." And while he never married, he certainly had close friendships with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. If Jesus needed close friends, how much more do we? To truly "be" is to be in relationship.

Perhaps the most pathetic loneliness of all is to feel separated and isolated from God.

For many of life's problems there are no simple, quick-fix answers. One way, at least for some, is to find a Christian church where the people welcome strangers and reach out to the lonely—and where you can find God.* It can take a while to gain a sense of belonging, but I encourage you to hang in, and especially to join a small and accepting group. In countries where the Christian church is forbidden, some find companionship in an "underground" church. All of these people surely need our prayers.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, how I thank you that you have created mankind for relationships and today I especially pray for the lonely who are everywhere. Please help me to be an encourager and supporter of at least one lonely person or family and please lead all of our churches to do likewise. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

Acts International - Daily Encounter

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Becoming the Church of the Poor

When we claim our own poverty and connect our poverty with the poverty of our brothers and sisters, we become the Church of the poor, which is the Church of Jesus. Solidarity is essential for the Church of the poor . Both pain and joy must be shared. As one body we will experience deeply one another's agonies as well as one another's ecstasies. As Paul says: "If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Often we might prefer not to be part of the body because it makes us feel the pain of others so intensely. Every time we love others deeply we feel their pain deeply. However, joy is hidden in the pain. When we share the pain we also will share the joy.

Henri Nouwen - Daily Meditation

Friday, November 13, 2009

God far away?

When God feels far away, it isn't God who has moved. The barrier is in us. Neither does it have anything to do with whether or not we were christened or baptized. While Jesus picked little children up and blessed them, he didn't christen them, and (though some will disagree with me) as far as I know there is nothing about being christened as such in the Bible, and while baptism is important, not being baptized doesn't cause God to distance himself from us.

When God feels far away, it can be caused by un-confessed sins and/or by persisting in doing things we know that are out of harmony with God's will. More often than not, however, that barrier has more to do with our impaired relationship with others, and especially so if it was with our parents in our developmental years. For those who had a close, loving, warm relationship—especially with their fathers, it is very easy to feel that God, the Heavenly Father, is also close, loving, and warm. But for those of us who felt their father was distant, cold, and/or punitive, we tend to project that on to God the Heavenly Father and feel that he too is cold, distant, and punitive. I've had to wrestle with this problem, too, so I can understand how you feel.

To overcome, you not only need to confess your sins to God, but you also need to have an open, honest, and trusting relationship with other men—or at least with one soul brother with whom you can share all your inner thoughts, feelings, victories and failures—one who will not judge, criticize or put your down or tell you what you should or shouldn't do, but one who will love and accept you just as you are. Ask God to give you such a soul brother. As we grow close to others we will be able to feel close to God. (If you are a woman, you need a soul sister for this type of supportive relationship.)

Also, be sure to commit and trust your life to God every day no matter how you feel. Remember that God is close to you whether you feel it or not. Learn to thank God and accept this by faith regardless of how you feel.

Acts International - Daily Inspiration


Of one thing you can be certain, God loves you totally and unconditionally no matter how you feel, what you have ever done or have failed to do. Be assured, too, that it isn't God who causes our problems. We happen to live in a broken, sinful world where we all face trials and go through tough times. We won't be delivered from tribulations until we get to heaven.

In the meantime, God wants us to keep growing towards wholeness so we will overcome many of our personal struggles.

Acts International-Daily Inspiration

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Lawyer's Question

"Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?"1

A lawyer whom I believe was sincere wrote saying, "As my profession is a lawyer, when someone cites the Bible, I always tend to think about different ways of interpretation of the Word—such as during the times of the inquisition."

Good point. I think many people genuinely struggle with the same question as there are so many different interpretations of God's Word … and so many different applications of the same passages.

Answering a lawyer is out of my league; however, suffice it to say that legalists (out of their own insecurities and authoritarian stance) will use God's Word to control people to get them to conform to their (the legalist's) neuroses. At the opposite end of the scale are those who say what "speaks" to them in the Bible is God's Word and the rest they conveniently ignore—a very comfortable but, like the legalist's view, a self-deceptive way to live. Somewhere between these extremes are those who seek a balanced view of what God is really saying.

One major problem is that we all interpret situations, etc., on the basis of who we are and often on what we want to see… and on how honest or dishonest we are with our own selves.

In other words, we all look at truth—including God's Truth, the Bible—through our own warped lenses. The more dishonest we are with ourselves, the more warped our lenses will be, and the more warped our lenses, the more we will distort all truth (including God's Truth) to make it match our perception of reality—and thereby interpret it to say what we want it to say. Alternatively, the more honest we are with ourselves (less defensive, etc.) the less warped will be our lenses, and the clearer we will see all truth, including God's Truth. I believe it is impossible to be intellectually honest without being personally honest.

If we want to interpret God's Word correctly and see and hear what God is really saying, we need to start by "melting" our hardened hearts (the cause of which is personal dishonesty and defensiveness), and by becoming courageously honest with ourselves.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be real, authentic, and courageously honest with myself so I can see your Word more clearly, and follow your directives more closely. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Mark 8:17-18 (NIV).


Sunday, November 1, 2009

The One Who Made Me

A scholarly foreigner was employed to translate the New Testament into his native language. After a while, he exclaimed, “What a marvelous Book this is!” “Why do you think so?” asked the missionary. “Because it tells me so exactly about myself. It knows all that is in me. The One who made this Book must be the One who made me!”


The One Who

A scholarly foreigner was employed to translate the New Testament into his native language. After a while, he exclaimed, “What a marvelous Book this is!” “Why do you think so?” asked the missionary. “Because it tells me so exactly about myself. It knows all that is in me. The One who made this Book must be the One who made me!”


The One Who

A scholarly foreigner was employed to translate the New Testament into his native language. After a while, he exclaimed, “What a marvelous Book this is!” “Why do you think so?” asked the missionary. “Because it tells me so exactly about myself. It knows all that is in me. The One who made this Book must be the One who made me!”


The One Who

A scholarly foreigner was employed to translate the New Testament into his native language. After a while, he exclaimed, “What a marvelous Book this is!” “Why do you think so?” asked the missionary. “Because it tells me so exactly about myself. It knows all that is in me. The One who made this Book must be the One who made me!”