Sunday, May 6, 2012

"We Should Believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 3: 23)

Believing in the name of Jesus Christ really doesn't take that much if we think about it.  Believing in the name, quite simply, means that we believe in the Person of Jesus Christ.  We believe that He is truly the Son of God and that He came to rescue us from the bondage of sin.  We believe that He is the anointed one, the Messiah.  In believing these things, we accept as truth, all of the teachings that He gave us.

But there is more to this verse than the line quoted in the title of this piece.  The rest of the verse challenges us to "love one another, just as he has commanded us."  (1 Jn 3: 23)  Loving those who we close to us is quite easy.  This demands nothing from us and there is no redeeming quality in this.  (cf Mt 16:26, Mk 8:36, Lk 9: 25) Where the real challenge comes in is when we are expected to love those with whom we have problems or those who have hurt us or violated us in any way.

How do we go about loving those whom we perceive as our enemies?  It is not easy.  It is within our nature to at the very least avoid those who have hurt us.  We run from them when we see them coming.  It is built into our DNA to preserve ourselves at any cost.  There are times when it is necessary to defend ourselves from harm.  But we must also have the willingness to reach out to those who have not treated us very well to, at the very least, forgive them.  Jesus Himself demonstrated this while He was suffering on the cross.  "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do."  (Lk 23: 34)

This is the difficulty of Christianity.  In the past there has been much bloodshed prompted by those who professed to be Christians.  They wielded the word of God as a sword, destroying enemies and people all in the name of the Lord.  But Jesus from the cross tells us that we are to conduct ourselves differently.  With one word he could have easily brought down the Roman executioners and released Himself from the cross in a triumphant display of power.  That is what most people expected the Messiah to do.  However, Christ's way was the way of humility. 

It takes a great deal of humility to forgive.  When we forgive, we swallow our pride.  We recognize that the need for mercy is far greater than the need for vengeance and retribution.  When we forgive we elevate the transgressor along with ourselves.  We seek peace and offer to work to maintain that peace.  We may be persecuted or ridiculed for our actions because our society calls for vengeance.  It is more in a mode of an eye for an eye than love one another.  As Christians, we must counter this by living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We must be willing to call from our lives as Christ called from the cross, "Father for give them; for they know now what they do."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Show Us the Father and That Will Be Enough For Us"

How many of us, at one time or another, have yearned to see God?  I would imagine that if we were all honest with ourselves we could easily say that all of us have wished for even the quickest glimpse of the Father.  After all, our lives are a journey back to Him. 

The Apostle Philip, one of those who shared the Last Supper with Jesus, asked this question.  Jesus must have certainly been frustrated by this comment.  You can hear His tone in His answer.  "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."  It isn't like Philip and the other Apostles hadn't heard this before.  Time after time Jesus told them that He and the Father were one."  (Jn 14: 9)  In a few short hours, He would prove His love for them and for all humankind by dying on the cross and rising three days later, all as a sacrificial offering to the Father.  Every Apostle except one, would abandon him and cower in the very room in which this conversation was taking place.  Even when they saw the Risen Christ, they still did not get it.  They still did not understand that every time they looked upon Jesus, they were looking upon God.

How much different are we from them?  We look for signs of God and, not finding them, we begin to doubt.  We pray for some indication of Him, some glimpse of Him in our lives.  We pray.  We wait.  We search and come up empty.  Frustration sets in and the disbelief arises in our hearts.  Once this happens, our will begins to supersede His.  And sin enters our souls because we do not have enough faith to believe.  And, yet, we are blind.  And in our blindness, we become callous and cold, withdrawing from the world, from others, and sadly, from Him.  At this point, we lose ourselves.

Like Philip, we are looking with human eyes, eyes that are fixed solely on mortal images.  We do not see God because God is not visible in the mortal world.  There are reflections of Him.  The majesty of the mountains.  The vastness of the sea.  The night sky with it's enormous array of stars and planets.  He is reflected in the smile of a baby and in the aged eyes of a grandparent watching that baby graduate years later from college.

These are all valid reflections of God presence in our world and in our lives.  But they are not God.  God is, however, visible through spiritual eyes, through the eyes of faith.  If we listen carefully to Jesus, we find that God is not of this world.  That we already knew.  But He goes on to tell us that now that we have become His followers, we, too, are not of this world.  (cf Jn 17: 16)  We are of the spiritual realm of existence while alive in this mortal world.

The vision of God begins, then, with faith.  We must first believe in God, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.  But it does not end there.  We must then practice that faith.  We must exercise that faith so that it grows strong.  We must witness with our lives to the world that Jesus is Lord and that we do believe in Him.  We must reach out to others in love, mercy, and compassion.  We must become the Lord to all who are in need.  This can be done in any number of ways from prayer to community involvement.  But one thing is certain, if we do not practice our faith, it will wither and die and then it will be impossible to see God.

The effect of practicing our faith is that we begin to see Christ in everyone and in everything.  Even at times when it seems like God is far from us, quiet and unresponsive, He is there.  He is in the tragic accident that happened down the street when a neighbor's home burned to the ground killing their only child.  He is in the eyes of that detestable person who seems to go out of their way to make our lives miserable.  He is in every other countless human moments that may suggest there is no God at all.  When we begin to see this, we begin to see God.  When we reach this point, we can know that the Holy Spirit has inspired us and has given us a spiritual vision that spurs us on to greater faith.

This does not come easy!  Philip was still looking to see God even though for three years he had stood in front of him, teaching him and showing him the way of the Father.  The Master is still with us, standing before us in all who are in need or distress of any kind.  You see, we have seen the Father after all!