Tag Archives: Belief

Answering “The Question”

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked his closest followers one day. The boys gave various possibilities and arguments they’d heard debated over pita bread and humus among the locals in the cafe.

Jesus then asked his closest friends a more penetrating question.

Who do you say that I am?” He asked.

Over 2000 years later that question still resonates and penetrates. It’s a blunt question Jesus asks, and it would seem He wants from me a blunt answer.

“Come on, Tom. Step up. Decide for yourself. Make a declarative statement, because it determines many things. Who do you say that I, Jesus, am? By the way, refusing to answer is an answer that tells me as much as if you just declare what you think and believe.”

When I was a young man I grappled honestly with the answer to this question. I think the answer can change for all of us over time. C.S. Lewis famously speaks of going for a bike ride. When he started the ride he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, and when he arrived at his destination he did. Such is the journey of faith.

I held a debate within my heart and mind over a long period of time. There were days when I would have answered “a good man,” “a prophet,” “a great teacher who was somewhat confused about the answer himself.” It was a cold February night in 1981 when I made a declarative decision that changed the course of my life. I came to what was basically the same conclusion Peter came to when Jesus first confronted his followers with the question:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Hebrews is a letter that was intended to be dispersed specifically among the followers of Jesus scattered across the world who were also Jewish by birth and/or tradition. Who wrote the letter is a matter of long debate across the centuries, but whoever wrote it was educated and very knowledgable about the Hebrew scriptures (what we commonly refer to as the Old Testament). The purpose of this letter we call The Book of Hebrews is to lay out an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” for Jewish believers.

This morning, I’m once again pondering Jesus’ question anew. While my basic answer to the question has never changed since that cold February night, the answer has grown, matured, deepened, and evolved. When I say today that I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, it means something much fuller, richer and deeper than it did back then. I’m grateful for that, and meditate this morning on the journey that’s brought me from there to here.

It’s been five years since I last trekked through Hebrews on this chapter-a-day journey. I’m looking forward to treading familiar ground from a different waypoint in this life journey.

The Crowd

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

I have read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution countless times along my journey. It is packed with so many fascinating and meaningful moments that it’s hard to focus on one thing for a blog post like this. As I read a chapter each day I try simply to have my heart and mind open to what resonates most deeply with me in this moment, and this morning what resonated with me was the crowd.

Perhaps it’s because of the preponderance of media that gets focused on crowd events and all that we’ve witnessed in recent months and years. I’m thinking of all the marches, riots, demonstrations, and protests I’ve seen reported on the news and in social media recently. Whenever a crowd gathers it gets attention. We seem to have a lot of crowds.

There is a entire branch of sociology and psychology dedicated to understanding crowd (or mob) mentality. Interestingly enough, consensus among scholars is as hard to come by. I was intrigued, however, by the theory of Gustave Le Bon who boiled it down to three things:

  • Submergence: In the anonymity of the crowd individuals lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility.
  • Contagion: Having lost their sense of self, individuals unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd.
  • Suggestion: Ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious, uncivilized in nature, and limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of its least capable members.

Three things came to mind as I thought about the crowd shouting for Jesus’ execution.

First is the fact that five days earlier the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” as praising Jesus as “king” as He entered Jerusalem. Now the crowd has been persuaded to shout for Jesus’ blood. Wow. That’s a major drop in approval rating in just five days. It’s amazing how fickle crowds can be.

Which leads me to remembering a passage from John’s biography of Jesus. In the second chapter we find that the crowd of people believing in Jesus and following Him was growing rapidly. Jesus was trending in all the major outlets. The crowds were growing and His popularity was skyrocketing, but John records that Jesus “would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.”

Which is why, perhaps, Jesus continued to remain silent as He stood by Pilate and witnessed the crowd that had turned on Him. Wednesday’s post about silence and spiritual authority comes back to mind. What a contrast we see in this picture. The lone figure of Jesus standing silent, bloodied, yet resolute in His mission against the submergence and contagion of the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the suggestion of Jesus’ enemies.

This morning I’m reminded of my desire to follow Jesus’ wisdom as it relates to crowds. I need to avoid entrusting my self to any crowd. This applies even to seemingly good crowds, for I’ve witnessed and been prey to crowd mentality even in nice neighborhoods, churches, social groups and communities.

I want my life, my beliefs, and my daily decisions to be guided by something more solid than the ever shifting mentality and emotion of a crowd. I want to be wise and discerning as I watch the crowd mentality emerge and “trend” in my social groups and in the media (including Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets). I want my life to be focused on my mission, my role, and my responsibilities. That’s hard to do if I am unwittingly submerging my thoughts, emotions and actions to the crowd around me.

 

Priests, Protestants and Me

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man, and it was Aaron and his sons who were chosen to be the priests in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrews. In today’s chapter, God through Moses takes Aaron and his sons through a ritual of ordination to become priests. It is a long ritual filled with metaphor from their priestly vestments to a little dab ‘ill do ya of blood on the ear lobe.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. A priest stands in the spiritual gap. The priest represents God to humanity and represents humanity before God. A priest is spiritually elevated and ordained to handle and serve the sacrifice, to carry our prayers into the presence of the Almighty, and to bestow forgiveness and absolution to the common sinner.

Among Christian institutions, the priesthood is one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism (and Greek Orthodox and Anglican) and the Protestant denominations. Protestants believe that since Jesus death and resurrection there is only one priest and mediator, and it is Jesus:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Hebrews 4:14

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all….” 1 Timothy 2:5

Three of the four gospel writers report that when Jesus died the curtain in the Hebrew temple was torn in two. That curtain separated people from the area of the temple where God resided. Only the priest could enter. When the curtain was torn, the way was made for anyone to enter into God’s presence. Jesus was the sacrifice, the mediator, and the priest who stands in the gap.

In my Protestant circles, we think very little of the role of a priest anymore. I have, however, observed along my journey that Protestants often like to unwittingly bestow priestly powers on our pastors and spiritual leaders. It seems there is something innately human about doing so despite what we say we believe.

This morning I’m mulling over my own understanding of the role of priests, the work of Jesus and what that means. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. The curtain is torn. The way is open for me to enter into God’s presence. I need no other emissary, or representative, or priest. I need only approach.

Will I?

 

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“Don’t Be Afraid; Just Believe”

“…their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them….”
Joshua 5:1 (NRSV)

Earlier this year our local group of Jesus’ followers ran concurrent series of messages on Sunday mornings. In one room there was a series on fear and in the other room my friend Matthew and I did a series on shame. It was a fascinating juxtaposition of topics because both fear and shame have similar paralyzing effects in people. The series in both rooms have proven to “have legs” as the topics continue to resonate with both Wendy and me in our conversations and in our lives.

I assume that’s why the phrase above leapt off the page at me this morning. The word pictures are vivid reminders of fear’s debilitating nature. A heart has melted. There is no heart left to believe, to hope, to yearn, to persevere, to strive, to survive, to pump the blood and muster up courage. The spirit is gone and there is no breath of life or inspiration. Lifeless. Dead.

Once again, I am reminded how often the phrase “Do not be afraid” and “Do not fear” are found in God’s Message. Over, and over, and over again we are encouraged, admonished, and commanded to choose not to be afraid. And, the antidote God routinely gives to counteract fear is belief. Have a little faith; just a smidgen will do. Place your trust in God, even when you don’t see Him.

Don’t be afraid; just believe.
-Jesus

Not a bad reminder for this Good Friday.

 

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To Believe, or Not to Believe

Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
John 20:29 (NRSV)

It is the most startling claim of all of the startling claims that were made about Jesus. The One who cured lepers, cast out demons, made the lame walk and the blind to see. The One who raised a little girl from her deathbed and called Lazarus out of his tomb. This Jesus, whose beaten, tortured, and crucified body had lain dead and lifeless in the grave since Friday afternoon, is resurrected on Sunday morning and appears numerous times to different followers, including a sudden appearance behind locked doors to show his wounds as proof to a doubting Thomas.

There are many over the centuries who appreciate Jesus’ teachings and example, but fall short of believing the miraculous claims about Him. Yet it was the surety of the resurrected Jesus that led His followers to burst out from their hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaim the most audacious claim of all. Each one of Jesus’ inner circle who saw Jesus present Himself to a doubting Thomas behind those locked doors would later prove willing to travel to the ends of the known world, to suffer terribly at the hands of unbelievers, and to die horrific deaths in proclaiming that which they had heard with their own ears, seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands.

It is one thing to nod acknowledgement and appreciation toward Jesus’ Pinterest worthy sayings. It is another thing to truly believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be and who His closest followers proclaimed Him to be though it cost them their own lives. If you believe the audacious claim, then it requires something of you. It requires everything of you.

For the record, I believe.

Which Story Will I Choose to Believe?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)

I realized somewhere along my life journey that I had a tape recorder playing in my head. The recording was a montage of voices of the past and negative blurts that had clung to my soul as though someone had stuck them there with velcro. The recording played on a loop in my head like Muzac in a department store. I was largely unaware of it most of the time, but the recording played over and over and over again reinforcing certain negative messages:

  • I’m not a good enough person
  • I’m not a good enough husband
  • I’m not a good enough dad
  • If people really knew me they’d reject me
  • I’m such an idiot
  • I don’t have a clue what I’m doing
  • I’m never going to be [fill in the blank]
  • I’m such a hopeless wretch, God won’t really forgive me

There came a point in my journey when I became aware of these shame-full messages whispering in the background of my consciousness. I began to realize just how insidious and powerful they were in framing my self image, my perspective, and even my behaviors. They contributed to nagging attitudes of insecurity and defeat.

I began to listen more carefully. I began to write these negative blurts down as I heard them and then identified them. Where possible, I identified the source of that negative blurt from my past. If possible, I tried to identify how and when it was that I came to believe that negative message about myself. I brought them out into the light of day and examined them thoroughly, memorizing what they looked life, sounded like, and felt like.

I began consciously, day-by-day, to create a new recording. This recording was based on affirming messages sourced on what God says about me:

  • I am loved
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made
  • I am forgiven, my sins remembered no more
  • I am purified from all unrighteousness
  • I am blessed
  • I am a child of God
  • I am an heir of God
  • I am the light of the world
  • I am the salt of the earth
  • I am more than a conqueror
  • I am enriched in every way

From that point on, whenever I recognized one of my old negative blurts whispering to me, I turned up the volume on my new recording. It wasn’t a quick process. It took time and tenacious effort. Slowly, however, things began to shift. My mind began to transform and let go of the old messages as it embraced the new.

Today, I’m thinking about the story that I have for so long told about myself deep in the recesses of my soul. I’m thinking about how much that story contrasts with the story that God tells about me. So often I’m the prodigal child approaching God, hat-in-hand, repeating the self-written story of my wretched unworthiness. God is the prodigal’s father believing and telling a very different story of just how loved, honored, and valued I am.

The question is: Which story will I choose to believe?

Living in the Mystery

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great….”
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Both Taylor and Suzanna were home with us over the weekend so we had family movie night on Sunday evening and watched Interstellar. It was a fascinating yarn and made for some really interesting thoughts and conversation afterwards about time, space, relativity, dimensions, and humanity. On 60 Minutes, just before we watched the movie, Lesley Stahl did a piece on the supper collider scientists are using to try to scientifically explain things such as how spontaneous existence can happen.

I find it interesting that there are some things that are an elusive mystery, even to science which believes everything can be known, quantified, and explained apart from God. A few lines I pulled from the script of the 60 Minutes piece:

  • American physicist Greg Rakness showed us one of the four detectors where subatomic particles called protons ram into each other at nearly the speed of light to simulate conditions that are believed to have existed when the universe began. [emphasis added]
  • One of their biggest goals is shining a light on dark matter and dark energy which are among the great remaining mysteries of modern science and reminders of how little we know about the universe. [emphasis added]
  • We just didn’t find [black holes]. They still could be here. [emphasis added]

I find it strangely comforting that, when it comes to answering the great questions of life, people of science have mysteries that can’t be easily explained or quantified the same as people of faith.

Today, in the stillness of the autumn morning, I am asking big questions about faith, science, God, creation, time, and space. My mind ruminates and wanders through what both science purports and God’s message purports, and both roads lead to mysterious places. Some mornings I end my quiet time with more questions than answers. The further I get in life’s road, the more I am learning to enjoy the mystery.

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