Thursday, December 31, 2009

The tears of Jesus

The most famous verse in all the Bible is probably John 3:16. It's a good one to memorize because of it's simple summation of God's love wrapped in the person of Jesus Christ.

One of the most popular verses among the kids at Bluff Springs is John 11:35: "Jesus wept." It's popularity comes from it being the shortest in the Bible and therefore the easiest to memorize for Wednesday night kid's memory verse recitals.

It's a very human thing to cry. We are not taught to cry; just the opposite. What is your first reaction to a child crying? Mine is to console them and tell them "Don't cry." We men are taught that if you are a real man, you don't cry. But Jesus, even though He was God in every way, even though He knew all things, even though He had the power to speak a universe into existence, even if His intention was to relieve the cause of the pain, cried at his friend Lazarus' funeral.

Jesus was in the last month of His life when He was told that El'azar (Lazarus) was sick. Jesus knew Lazarus and his sisters Miryam (Mary) and Marta (Martha) because Mary had been the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus stayed at least two days before departing for Bethany, the home of Lazarus.

Some think that the town of Bethany was a leper colony. Jesus had dinner at the house of Simon the Leper (Mat 26:6) at Bethany and the name 'Bethany' means "House of misery." A leper community would be where those who are miserable could find some small level of comfort from the others afflicted as they were.

As Jesus arrives, Mary and Martha both express their faith in Him at verse 21 and verse 32 when they say "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Now, Jesus, being God, could look at the 4 day old, stinking, decaying body of His friend Lazarus and see the resurrection that lay ahead. He knew that this sickness would not end in death (11:4). So, what would lead Him to cry?

Seeing the devastating pain of loss of her brother in Martha and then seeing the identical pain in Mary was enough to drive God Himself to cry.

Jesus saw two of His precious sheep, who trusted their shepherd, who had faith that He could have stopped the illness in it's tracks if He wished, who had been cut to their hearts with grief, and God cried.

I think this is the most distinguishing thing about God over all other religions. Buddha stays blissfully detached from us, Allah demands that your sons die for him; while God cries with us and sent His Son to die for us.

The word in the Greek for "wept" is 'dakruo' which means to weep silently with tears on your cheeks. I want to leave this post where it is because next I want to look at the next time Jesus cried and see the difference between them.

Happy new year!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Magdala found?

In the recent Ray Vander Laan seminar that I attended, Ray mentioned some very recent excavations in Galilee that were interesting to Christians. One was a synagogue discovered at the traditional site of Magdala. Magdala will ring a bell with Christians as the home city of Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament.

According to Matthew 9:35, "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." Magdala's proximity to Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida would almost certainly would have hosted Jesus himself in the synagogue. Only once have I found a time where Jesus specifically came to Magdala (Matthew 15:39) but no synagogue visit is mentioned. It's my opinion that it may have been the place where Jesus drove the seven "devils" from Mary (Luke 8:2).

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has released a press statement here:

This is an aeriel view of the excavation:

This is the stone that has archaeologists excited. It is the first time a menorah decoration has been found from the Second Temple period (think Herod the Great and Jesus times, 30 BC to 70 AD). The significance is that the artist who carved this relief must have seen the actual menorah in the Temple with his own eyes. Until now, we've based our knowledge of the menorah from Roman artwork.

It just amazes me how the land of Israel testifies over and over again to the accuracy of the Bible!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


A congregation of the Church of Christ recently coordinated a ladies brunch that was designed to celebrate the harvest time of the year and Christian sisterhood among the ladies in the surrounding areas. Ladies were encouraged to bring their daughters and even had a girls' chorus from a local school to perform.

Invitations to attend this brunch were sent out to neighboring Churches of Christ so that announcements would be made to the ladies of other congregations, and they could participate as well.

At least one congregation received this invitation and specifically told their ladies not to attend.

The reason given was that the inviting church was not to be fellowshipped with in any activity.

The grounds for disfellowship was that the host congregation did not have an “orthodox” view of marriage, divorce and remarriage. That disagreement, in the eyes of the invited congregations, should cause the secession of fellowship among the peoples of those congregations.

I don’t want this to be a discussion of marriage, divorce and remarriage. I have opinions about that, but they are my opinions. Could I be wrong in my opinions? Yes. Am I orthodox about everything? Certainly not. And neither are you. Good thing that our orthodoxy is not a requirement for heaven, eh?

My question is, "How do we handle ourselves when we disagree about a certain religious doctrine?"

When we disagree, must we stop eating together? If you look at a few texts in the Bible, you can come to that conclusion and get pretty cruel with it quickly.

I think we can learn a lot from how Priscilla and Aquila treated Apollos in Acts 18. Luke says in verse 24 that Apollos was an eloquent man, he was mighty in the scriptures, he was fervent in the spirit, and he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord. There was only one problem with him, his knowledge wasn’t perfect. He knew only the baptism of John.

Priscilla and Aquila did not walk out of the synagogue in protest. They did not go back to Rome and lambast Apollos publicly. They did not write him up in the next month’s issue of “The Way” newsletter. They did not let Apollos know that his errant view would keep them from fellowshipping one another.

They pulled him aside privately; humbly, sweetly, and honestly. Their rebuke was sweetened with patience and grace and by that Apollos both learned “a better way” and remained on fire for Jesus. Apollos would continue to preach so fervently that Paul would credit him in 1st Corinthians 3:16 for “watering” what Paul had planted.

How much would the gospel be advanced if we would follow that example when we disagree? How much would Jesus be honored if we humbly shared our opinions without making agreement on them the basis for fellowship? You might say “I can’t convince them that I’m right” or “They just will not listen!” It’s not your job to convince them or to make them listen. It is your job to love them, serve them, respect them, and if needed, humbly teach them.

What should be our basis for unity? The only one there really is: Do they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? That’s enough for unity.

Ephesians 4:2-3 from the NIV, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Some of our greatest fights come from texts that are nowhere near as clear as the plea from God that we be united in Christ.

God’s plan to evangelize the world depends on our unity with one another.

Jesus prayed in John 17, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus says that the world will believe that He is who He says He is when they see our unity. I ask you, how can you have unity unless there are differences of opinion? Sameness of thought is not unity, it is uniformity and I don’t think Jesus was praying for that.

As for those sweet sisters who had their invitation rejected, keep on inviting. God did not give you the power to control others, but did give you a command to love them.

As for those who reject the fellowship of erring brothers and sisters, I suggest that you have no other kind. That invitation might have been a good time to show your love for fellow believers and might have been a convenient moment to discuss your theological differences in the bond of peace.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why I love Tebow

Nothing to do with the performance on the field? Nah. Just a good kid. Example:

This was passed around from Gene Peek, a die-hard Gator fan, whose son, Colin Peek, is a star player this year at Alabama (he injured his knee last week)...Colin is a senior, as is Tebow, and it's very possible they will be playing against each other for the SEC Championship this year.

As some of you know, Colin played on one of the Bolles state championship teams when Riley Skinner (now Wake Forest 's QB) was Bolles' quarterback and Max Higgs (Teri & Ken Higgs' son) was fullback. Amazing what talent and quality came out of northeast Florida back then (Tebow was Nease's QB).

Subject: A Tebow story from a Miss. State fan

Hello, I am a lifelong Mississippi State fan and have no strong feelings negative or otherwise towards Florida. However, a dear friend of my wife had an encounter with your quarterback Saturday morning.

She has what could very easily be a terminal brain tumor. She is leaning on her faith in the Lord to get her through this and no matter the outcome, she is being extremely positive. She is only 26 and is having to deal with her own mortality. I can't imagine it is easy.

Anyway, she has a live journal documenting her treatment and everything involved. She has a list of famous people she would like to meet or talk to before she dies. These include Oprah, Rick and Bubba, and of course TimTebow.

She is from nearby Columbus , MS and noticed a bunch of charter buses outside the hotel in town. She thought she would go in and just see if that was the Gator team. Turns out it was, and she ran into their strength and conditioning coach in the lobby. She explained her situation to the coach and even took off her hat to prove it. She said all she wanted to do was meet Tim. The coach said 'give me five minutes.'

Five minutes later, she was ushered to a small conference room. When she opened the door, there was college football's golden boy Tim Tebow. Tim was very glad to meet her. He spent a good fifteen minutes talking to her about her treatment and her faith in God. I believe he even took a picture with her. I say all of this because in this day and age, it is amazing that a Heisman Trophy winner, with two national titles and another possible one on the way, took time on game day to share a moment with a dear friend of ours who is dealing with a terrible illness.

That is amazing. You guys have a great team. A great coach and great players everywhere. Your job is phenomenal and if at all possible this goes to further provethat he is an even better person.

Gators, you have a good one and I just wanted to share that with you and let you know how much it meant to our dear friend. Take care and God bless, love all, worship one.

Eugene G. Peek III

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where did the wine go?

At a wedding, women are engaged. I don't mean "to be married." I mean they want to get there early and stay late and help prepare and help clean up and to enjoy, experience, even to criticize the event. The men, well, they are just there. If I'm invited to a wedding, I'm just hoping there will be cake.

Jesus and His disciples were invited to a wedding in John chapter 2. Jesus' mother and probably the rest of His earthly family were there as well. It's interesting to think of Jesus at a party. What did He do? Laugh? Check. Sing? Probably. Did he sing badly? I sure hope so. Did his mother tell Him that he wasn't hitting his Tenor notes? Luckily for Jesus, four part harmony hadn't been invented yet so He's good there.

Most guys just hang out until the wedding is over but in Jewish customs, this party could last for days. Ugh... They probably had it on a Saturday during football season, I mean give me a break! Luckily for Jesus, this party is going to break up early. There has been a foul-up in the caterer's office ,and they have run out of wine.

This would be the point in the story where I would tell Thaddaeus to bring the camels around because we are out of here. But Mary finds Jesus and tells Him something.

"They have no more wine."

Now, Mary, being a woman, thinks she said, "Would you do something to help these people? They are out of wine."

But, being a women, she didn't say that. She just stated a fact and the man was supposed to deduce from that information, with a chromosome that he does not have, that she wanted him to do something to fix this problem.

If my wife came up to me and said, "They are out of wine." I would say, "That's awful. How embarrassing for them. How about the cake? Grab me a piece of that before it's gone too.

But, Jesus, being God, understood what that she really meant was for Him to fix this problem, even though she didn't ask. Ladies, remember that He was the Son of God, and we are but dust. Boneheaded dust. Who loves you very much. Okay, you get the point.

He says, "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come."

So, Mary asks for help and Jesus says "No."

Mary, being a woman, assumes that He meant, "Yes."

She turns to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

I would pay money to see the face that Jesus made toward Mary. Did He roll his eyes? Probably not. He probably shrugged His shoulders and said something like, "This is going to cause all kinds of problems in the Southern Churches of Christ in about 1900 years, but here we go."

It has caused a bit of a problem. Why couldn't He have made Kool-aid or something like that. Well, the whole problem of it not being invented probably had something to do with it, but I digress.

The text says that nearby stood six stone water jars. John adds for his non-Jewish audience that they were there for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus told the servants to fill them with water and the servants filled them to the brim.

Now, normally you don't fill things to overflowing, but I'm convinced that Mary is standing there, probably holding a stick or something and she's making sure Jesus' instructions are being carried out completely. I can see her telling a servant to go back to the 3rd jar because, "I think that one could hold more." You know mothers...

I have a question I would like to ask Jesus. Why did you choose to use these stone water jars for this miracle? Wine doesn't come in stone water jars. Ever. Wine comes from wineskins. There were probably spent wineskins all over the place. People had probably squeezed every last drop of wine out of every wineskin in sight. Jesus could have just pointed His finger and they would have swelled up like balloons, full of new wine, and He could have stayed hidden. He did not need to reveal Himself at all.

I think the answer lies in the purpose of the stone water jars. The Jews had a prayer they recited when they washed before they ate. They had a prayer for the water that flowed off the left arm and then another prayer for the water that flowed off the right arm. This was done often and by everyone who ate. That required a lot of water and it was community water. You would wash yourself with what the guy in front of you washed himself with. And that water flowed right back into these jars. You definitely wouldn't want to drink anything out of them.

Now, can you imagine the caterer? Your job is to make sure this wedding goes off without a hitch. Would you, after you let the party run out of wine, take a ladle full of this bathwater to the guy who hired you and have him taste it? No way. This is the point in the story where I ask myself, "Would I do this?" There is no advertising, your reputation is the only guarantee of future work; there is only word of mouth and if you fail at your job of making this wedding go, then your business is toast. Oh, and there's no unemployment either.

But the servant did so. There's a funny line here. Look at the second sentence of verse 9. The master tasted the wine even though he did not know where it came from. Well, duh! Would you? "Oh, this came from the bathtub; taste it!" But after tasting the wine Jesus made, the master said "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."

Why is this bizarre story the first of Jesus' miraculous signs performed on Earth?

The everyday Jewish life is centered on rules. Lots of rules. 613 from God and a bunch more from the Rabbis of the day. Jesus took a symbol of those rules and replaced them with something. Something new. Something that brought joy. And it will do away with the need for the 6 large stone water jars.

The old Law was designed to cultivate righteousness among the people chosen by God to put His righteousness on display to the world. The observance of this righteousness had replaced God as what was worshiped. The Jews worshiped the rules instead of the rule giver.

Jesus compared His ministry to sewing a new patch on an old garment or putting new wine into old wineskins in Mark chapter 2. It was a message that was not popular with the "old" religious establishment. But in Acts chapter 5, after being locked in prison, the apostles were visited by an angel of the Lord telling them "Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life."

The new Covenant would be one of joy, not the joyless observance of religious ritual. The joy that comes from knowing the Father through the righteousness of the Son is the best reason to party that I know of.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In the beginning...

I hesitate to start this because I'm not sure how to do it. I have a lot of uncertainty in my life because I'm not sure what God wants me to do. I feel alive when I learn more about Jesus Christ, and I want to pass that feeling on to as many as I can find.

I wish God would make clear to us His direction for our lives. I think about how lucky Peter and Andrew were to have the Son of God tell them in Matthew 4:19 "Come, follow me." How lucky can you get? Put down the nets and follow me. Jesus even told them what they would be doing. "I will make you fishers of men."

Now that's living! Wouldn't it be great if God would come knock on my door and say, "You are moving to Arizona, and you are going to teach an adult Bible study three nights a week and preach on Sunday mornings until you are 65." Well, on second thought...perhaps Him leaving it up to me is a greater gift than what he gave Peter and Andrew.

The best I can understand God, He is now saying to me "Justin, keep your eyes focused on my Son Jesus. Imitate Him. And keep your eyes open for how you can lead others to Him as well. Let Me worry about what is coming tomorrow. You just follow My Son today."

One of my favorite lines in the Bible is in Ephesians where Paul prays for those in Ephesus saying, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

I hope to add a question segment soon. Until next time.