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Monday, February 28, 2011

Did Jesus Do Dishes?

Did Jesus do dishes? The very question sounds sacrilegious. That might be the point. Sometimes our “religion” prism causes us to miss the real miracle about Jesus. The whole idea of “religion” tends to confine our thinking to “church” related activities and theological conversations. To most people, Jesus never enters day-to-day conversation because to do so is to introduce “religion,” and daily life has little to do with religion.

Those who knew Jesus, who met him, heard him, saw him, ate with him and walked with him were struck by his humanity. He was real, but, as some say, “not real religious.” He went to the synagogues and spoke there, but it was the religious people who had difficulty with him. He ate with tax collectors, visited with prostitutes and befriended lepers, violated religious laws by healing the sick and allowing his disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ divinity continued to shine through for all to see: he made the blind see, caused the deaf to hear, lifted the lame to walk and raised the dead. Even the wind and the sea obeyed him. But, as important as all those things were, especially to the individuals who experienced it, he elevated the mundane to the miraculous.

John described him like this: “The Word became flesh and lived among us and we saw his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14); “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) The writer of Hebrews wrote: “For we have not a high priest who is not touched with our infirmities but was tempted in all ways like as we are, yet without sin.”

The Bible never says that Jesus did the dishes. It does say that he washed feet. Which, it seems to me, required a great deal more humility than washing dishes. I expect dishes were prized possessions in most homes of Galilee. They weren’t cheap. You could not pick up dishes at the local Walmart or the Dollar store. They were all hand crafted and often passed down from generation to generation. Most homes likely had little more than the bare essentials when it came to dishes. They did not pile up in the sink waiting for someone to unload the dishwasher. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus helped his mother out, or even lent a hand to Martha in the kitchen at Bethany, and washed dishes.

I always think my wife will be most impressed when I buy her flowers. She does appreciate them and she likes them. But what she really seems to like is the times that I do the dishes. It may be that the most spiritual thing you may do today is to do the dishes. It could be a God thing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who Is Jesus?

He is the most controversial man ever to live. His own family thought him mad. The people loved him. One of his closest friends betrayed him. The Jewish court convicted him of heresy. The Romans killed him. He never earned a degree and had no formal schooling. He was never elected to office. He never wrote a book. When he died he owned nothing beyond the clothes on his back. But, within three centuries of his death, the entire Roman Empire worshipped him. More books have been written about him than any other individual who has ever lived. Entire libraries have been devoted to understanding his life and his teaching. He changed the course of western civilization and, today, two thousand years since he was born, millions are turning to him in Africa and Asia. Who is Jesus?

Leo Tolstoy, arguably the greatest Russian novelist, author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, spent much of his life wrestling with the teachings of Jesus. In his later years he wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You in an attempt to implement the teachings of Jesus. Tolstoy corresponded with a young Mahatma Gandhi who, although he remained Hindu, often quoted from Jesus and recognized Jesus’ influence on his thinking. When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home was bombed in 1956, he stepped out on the front porch to quiet an angry crowd that threatened to do battle with the police. He said, “"We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: 'Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.' This is what we must live by.”

Jesus remains popular in the United States. A Barna Group survey concluded that more people claim a “connection” with Jesus than the number claiming a Facebook or Twitter account. Two out of three Americans claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But who is the Jesus whom two thirds of Americans claim to know? In his book, Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos creates a fictional story in which Jesus is seen according to the image that brings us the greatest benefit. In so doing, he introduces “King James Jesus,” “Magic 8-ball Jesus,” “Testosterone Jesus,” “Free Will Jesus,” “New Age Jesus,” and “Meticulous Jesus.” All of this leaves us asking the question again, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus was the first person to pose this question. According to Luke 9 and Mathew 16, when Jesus’ popularity was growing so that thousands thronged to see and hear him, he took his twelve disciples aside and asked them the question, “Whom do men say that I am?” The disciples looked at one another and began repeating what they had heard others say. “Some say you are John the Baptist,” they said. “Others say you are Elijah. And still others say you are one of the prophets.” After hearing their response Jesus put the question to them more personally. “Who do you say I am?” In both accounts, Peter was the one who spoke first. “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed Peter by saying to him, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in Heaven.”

Of course Jesus was looking for more than a confession, a creed or mental assent from his followers. It is clear that Jesus expected them to put their faith into action. Elsewhere he said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say.” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Perhaps the most important questions any of us will face in this life are, “Who is Jesus?” and, “Are you doing what He said?”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Out of Egypt

The world is focused on Egypt, a land that has always figured prominently in the Bible. When Matthew wrote about Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt to protect their child, he paused to note the prophetic fulfillment: “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Mt. 2:15).

When I went to Egypt a few years ago, I visited the Coptic Church built on the spot where Joseph and Mary supposedly lived during the first years of Jesus’ life. I also visited the pyramids and stood in the awe inspiring shadow of these immense structures that stand like sky scrapers in the desert. I reflected on the fact that these same pyramids stood where they stand today when Abraham first came to Egypt, when Joseph ruled as Prime Minister and when Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s courts. Standing on that spot, the sweep of history suddenly seemed to shrink and the events of the Bible appeared as current events.

My visit to Egypt with a group of Christian leaders came at a tense moment. Our troops were poised to attack Iraq and war was imminent. While there, we had the opportunity to sit down with the governor of Cairo. We first learned that the governor was a graduate of the University of Minnesota. We visited about Minnesota seasons, the long brutal winter and the contrasts with the climate in Egypt. Then we asked him, “What is it that you need in Egypt.” His response was quick and clear. He first stated that they were not pleased with everything the United States is doing in the Middle East. And then he said, “We like Americans. And we want your business.” Each year thousands of Egyptian young people graduate from their schools and universities. They are well educated and well trained, but they have no jobs. More than anything else, he stated, they needed businesses to flourish and provide jobs for their people.

The governor’s statements presaged much of the conflict that is presently broiling in the streets of this ancient city. They also revealed a new reality for those of us engaged in global missions. In Egypt as in many other predominantly Muslim countries, the doors for traditional missionaries remains closed. But the door for Christian entrepreneurs is open.

Today Hosni Mubarak resigned as president and handed control of the country to the military. While the military promises a transition to greater democracy, it is still unclear what the final results will be. Hopefully recent events will result in a more open democracy with freedom of religion and free speech. But it could result in an oppressive fundamentalist Islamic state similar to what happened in Iran when the Shah was removed. One thing is clear, what happens in Egypt affects world history and will doubtless shape the global future for our children. Spiritual and political forces are vying for dominance in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran represent the struggle between Shiite and Sunni Muslims for control. At the same time, more Muslims are turning to Christ than at any time in history. We need to pray that God will use this current crisis in Egypt for His glory and that God will provide an open door for the gospel. It could be that the pathway to faith and peace in the Middle East could come “out of Egypt.”