Posts tagged Experiencing God
Doubting Thomas (Part 5: Falling Up)

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish” (John 21:4-5)?
Jesus was alive. The disciples were back together. Life seemed good. Although they still had lots of questions they knew that everything would be alright. After all, Jesus had conquered death, so why worry about anything else?
It was evening time. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, and others were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, "'We’ll go with you.' So they went out and got into the boat..." (3).
I can only imagine what that night would have been like. They must have talked about all kinds of things, but one thing must have kept popping up - Jesus. He was alive. How crazy is that? How do you stop talking about that? I don't think you can. Perhaps they were a bit too caught up in conversation because according to the story, "that night they caught nothing" (3).
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” 
“No,” they answered. 
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (4-6).
Jesus then did something that I totally love. Jesus, who is creator God, said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” The picture that paints of God is to me absolutely stunning. He's relatable. Down to earth. Humble. He likes broiled fish. And he likes to eat breakfast with sinners. How amazing Thomas must have felt. He had doubted Jesus, but Jesus didn't hold it against him. He came near to him and together they ate breakfast. But the joy of his immediate presence would not last forever. "He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Then, on the final day he said to them, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (8).

As Jesus spoke these final words, the story says he rose up into the air and "was taken up before their very eyes" (9). What was Thomas thinking at this time? I don't know. But I can imagine him longing for Jesus to stay. Thomas had come so close to Jesus that to see him go would have been almost unbearable. The skeptical, sarcastic, self-interested doubter had fallen in love with Jesus. But Jesus had to go and soon "a cloud hid him from their sight" (9) and they didn't see him again.

But Jesus didn't leave them with nothing to do. He gave them a mission. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In other words, their lives were to be poured out into one simple purpose: To tell the story of Jesus to the entire world. There was nowhere they wouldn't go, no land they wouldn't travel to, no tribe they wouldn't seek out. They had experienced the wonder and the beauty that is Jesus. They had discovered the way to heaven. Not a hopeless and futile list of duties but a friend who loved them and wanted them despite all of their flaws. This Jesus had given his life to cleanse humanity from sin and all that was left was to tell the story and let the earth be filled with the story of the sin-bearing God. However, there was more to the story than what Jesus had done.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (10-11).
The story the disciples were to tell was bigger than what Jesus had done. It was also about what Jesus was soon to do! He was gone yes, but he would return someday to establish his kingdom and the disciples knew their mission in life was to prepare the world for his soon return. 
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (12-14).
This is the very last time Thomas is mentioned in the Bible. He never shows up again. So whatever happened to Thomas? 
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-4).
Thomas was there with the other disciples when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. From that day forward they were filled with power to do what Jesus had told them to do: Tell the world! And that's exactly what the disciples did. They told the world, and they told the story so loud and with so much passion that the story of Jesus spread everywhere. And everywhere it spread the people there would join the disciples in spreading the story as well. Jesus saves and he's coming back again! And they were so good at it that their enemies dragged them before city officials and said, "These [are the] men who have turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

They weren't exaggerating. The disciples really did turn the world upside down. And what of Thomas?
Traditionally, he is said to have travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, travelling as far as Tamilakam in present-day India. According to tradition, the Apostle reached... India in AD 52 and baptized several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. He is believed by the St Thomas Christian tradition to have established... Seven and Half Churches...[1].
An ancient Assyrian and song writer who lived during the time of AD 300 wrote a song about Thomas which captures it all perfectly:
It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India's painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India.[2]
Today doubting Thomas is remembered by a moment of failure. But his life gives evidence to something more than just a doubter. He is known as the Apostle to India, is said to have worked miracles there, and established seven churches. According to tradition, Thomas was eventually killed in India by a man with a spear. Today the site of his death is known as St. Thomas Mount where the "ancient Syrian Christian community of India trace the origin of their church to St. Thomas the Apostle"[3].

How do we experience God? I think if we asked Thomas he would tell us: Don't doubt him. He can do amazing things with your life you would never have imagined. Even when you don't see him trust him anyways. He wants you, he calls you, he accepts you, he guides you, he reveals himself to you, and he leads you along life's way. And you can be guaranteed one thing that so long as you follow him you will make it safely to the fathers house.

So what do you say? The choice is yours alone.


[2] Hymns of St. Ephrem, edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV), as quoted in:
Doubting Thomas (Part 4: I Won't Believe)

Then everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50).
Episode four begins. The sun has set. A cool breeze adorns the night. As we look we spot Jesus kneeling. He is sweating drops of blood. His body is shaking. His fingers clutch the ground beneath him. He is praying. Talking to God about what is about to happen and visibly terrified. It seems as though whatever he is going through it is literally killing him. "Take this cup from me" (36) he prays, while simultaneously embracing his fathers will. 

In moments he is on his feet and approaches his disciples. They are all fast asleep on the ground. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour" (37)?

Jesus goes back to the place where he was praying. The struggle begins again. His body shudders under the weight of mans sin. Jesus is about to go to the cross. He is about to give his life for all of mankind. And at this moment, the weight and the guilt of our sin begins to create a gulf between he and God. The experience is so overwhelming it crushes him. Once again, he gets up to see if his disciples are awake and praying for him but again they are all asleep. Peter is snoring. Andrew is slobbering. And Thomas is talking in his sleep. Jesus goes back to pray for a third time. The battle ensues. When he is done he returns again to find Thomas still zonking along with everyone else. "Rise! Let us go" (42)! Jesus says.
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders (43).
What happens from here on out is nothing short of mayhem. An angel knocks all the soldiers to the ground but Jesus stands him down. Then Peter decides to take off where the angel left off and cuts off a soldiers ear. Jesus tells him to stand down as well. The mob rushes at Jesus. Thomas and the rest of the disciples flash back to the Feast of Dedication in the temple and fear grips them. For a moment they freeze not knowing what to do, then their instinct takes over - "everyone deserted him and fled" (50).

A day later Jesus had been condemned to death. He was given a cross to carry after he had been beaten with whips and insulted by the Roman soldiers who pulled his beard, spit on him, and mocked him (Mark 15: 16-20). The beating was so severe that Jesus had no strength left. He collapsed carrying the cross and barely made it to the site of execution. He was dehydrated, exhausted, and crushed by the weight of sin now resting fully upon him. Six hours later, much to everyone's surprise, Jesus hung dead on the cross and the hopes of thousands were shattered. "We thought he was the hero" some said. But now they were sure that Jesus had been just another of the many phony hero's who had met his end at the hands of the Roman state.

With the exception of John, the disciples were nowhere to be seen. They each fled and were now hiding - afraid that the Romans would come looking for them next. Thomas was not with the rest of them, but he was hiding as well. A thousand thoughts sored through his mind. To think that I was ready to die for him? I was really convinced he was the hero, but now? I guess I got tricked along with lots of other people. He was a fake just like the other ones.

The sun set just like every other night. During the hours of darkness the enemies of Jesus celebrated their victory and the friends of Jesus wept. Their lives were over. How could they ever go back into society? They would be ridiculed to no end. Their hopes, dreams, and desires had been crushed. Jesus was gone, and with him went the last three years of their lives. What a waste.

Night two came and went. Thomas got no sleep that night either. He spent his time thinking, imagining, trying to put the pieces back together. But with every passing moment he only got more confused, more angry, and more disillusioned.

It was a Sunday afternoon and Thomas was walking through a field. His mind still racing. A knot in his stomach. And a million questions without end. As he walked he heard voices shouting, but he didn't respond. Then suddenly, a hand grasped his shoulder. He turned to Peter, James, Andrew, and the rest of the disciples standing there. "We have seen Jesus!" They exclaimed. "He is alive. He appeared to Mary first and then to us. You have to come Thomas. He rose from the dead just like Lazarus!"

But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).
I. Will. Not. Believe.

Those four words are the most painful words a loving God can ever hear. After all God has done to save us and bring us back to himself there are still people in life who respond to his love by saying "I will not believe." How heart breaking this must be for God! Others respond to God by saying "I will not believe right now" and still others respond by saying "I will not believe unless." Which of those responses best describes you? Are you rejecting God today? Are you putting him off to some distant future? If you are, then I challenge you to pause. Stop the rush of life and just pause. What in the world are you rejecting him for? Is there seriously anything in this world better than God? And if you are not rejecting, then what are you waiting for? What could seriously be holding you back right now? Just go for it. He has given everything for you and hes asking for nothing in return except your love. And if you are putting the ball in Gods court and saying
"Ill do it if" or "I wont do it unless" then my question to you is, what more can God do? He gave his only son to die for our sins, what else do you expect from him before you can embrace his love? Get rid of the "not". Get rid of the "not right now", and get rid of the "unless." Just say yes.

Thomas refused to believe. Instead, he wanted proof that Jesus was alive. He had been hurt too deep and he would not be taken for a fool. If he was going to follow Jesus he wanted evidence. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe" (26-28).
Wow. Isn't Jesus amazing? He met Thomas right where he was. He met Thomas in his doubt. He met Thomas in his unbelief. He met Thomas in his weakness. And he will do the same for you. And his invitation to Thomas remains to this day, "Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (29).
Why did Jesus say that? He happily gave evidence to both Thomas and the disciples as well. Why did he say, "blessed are those who have not seen yet believe"? Could it be that when it comes to experiencing God physical sight isn't as important as we think it is? Could it be that experiencing God is something deeper and stronger than a sense experience?

I believe so. And the truth is some of the most important things in life are things we can't actually see. Oxygen is something we cant see with the naked eye, and yet without we would die. Gravity is also something we can't see and yet if you ignore it by jumping out of a window, you can end up dead. And of course, we can't see love. Its not something that is visible to the eye. But without love life is meaningless. Now true, we can see and feel the results of oxygen, gravity and love but we can't actually see them - only their results. But what is also true is seeing each of those things will do nothing to increase our belief or appreciation of them. If I could actually see the particles that make up oxygen and gravity or the essence that makes up love it would do nothing to impact my experience with each of them. My experience with them is stronger than sight, and because of this sight would add nothing.

In the same way, experiencing God is not necessarily about seeing him. Its about experiencing him in such a way that we know he is there, we can see and feel the results of his presence even though we can't see it. And this is super important to experiencing God. Because if we embrace false expectations of what experiencing God is we will miss him even though he is there. So what are those false expectations? They differ but more often than not people are expecting some sort of transcendent or ethereal encounter, a vision or a vivid dream, an emotional high, or some dramatic miraculous event. But those are not the ways by which we experience God. Rather God is experienced by the conviction that we are loved and desired by him, by the sense that he is calling you, by the experience of seeing him active in the world and changing peoples lives, by our life-long walk with him, and by observing in ourselves and others how trustworthy walking according to his way is.

We don't have to see God with the naked eye to know he is real. We can know he is real, we can believe that he lives, and we can have a personal encounter with him without ever actually seeing him. But how? And here is the main point that I want to bring out today. Without this you can rest assured that you will never experience God. But with it, we can be confident that God can be known, experienced, and encountered.

When Jesus rose from the dead, no one was looking for him. The only people who came to the tomb were Mary and Martha who were only there to anoint his dead body, not to see him. Truth is, no one was looking for him. The disciples were all hiding like cowards in a room and Thomas was off somewhere else hiding as well. But they all experienced Jesus because even though they weren't looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for them. It was Jesus who revealed himself to the disciples and it is because of this that we know that Jesus is a self-disclosing God. He is not interested in hiding or in lurking in the shadows. He wants to be known. He wants to be met. He wants to be encountered. 

So here is the main point for today, you are not the only one wanting to experience God. God wants to reveal himself to you and even when you are far away, hiding, and confused he is approximating himself to you in order to give you an encounter with himself. You don't have to carry the burden of discovering or experiencing God. It is God who is revealing himself to you. All you have to do is "stop doubting and believe."
Doubting Thomas (Part 3: Show us the Way)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).
I had a love hate relationship with the Army. There were things about it I couldn't stand one bit. And there were things about it I loved to no end. Among them was that being a soldier to me felt like a privilege. I could defend something that I believed in. All of the training and preparation was geared at one simple task - defending freedom. Sounds cheesy yes, but I loved it. However, it didn't take long for me to realize something that tore me up inside. No matter how much I fought and sacrificed everything I stood for would eventually be gone. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Nations come and go. Political philosophies rise and fall. And soldiers live and die. In my heart I felt I needed to dedicate my life to something that would last beyond a Hollywood flick or a history book. I needed to fight for something that would last forever.

John chapter 14 begins with a promise. Jesus calls it "My Father's house". He speaks of mansions, rooms, preparation, a place. He talks about coming back and he talks about relationship - "I will come back and take you to be with me". It doesn't take a scholar to recognize that Jesus is using heaven language here. He is talking about that eternal home we call the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, and eternity. And it is in response to this amazing promise of Jesus that we once again bump into the elusive Thomas.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (5)?

In our last post we saw that the resurrection of Lazarus was a cataclysmic event in Thomas' spiritual journey. And here, just a few chapters later, we start to see a change in Thomas. We no longer see the sarcastic disciple. Now we see someone who is really interested in what Jesus has to say. And he asks one of the most profound questions known to man - "how can we know the way?" And today, if we pause and ask this question we will find a whole slew of answers none of which seem to be satisfying.

The atheist would respond by saying that there is no heaven. The pagan would agree but would go on to argue that we must create our own heaven here on earth by striving to make the world a better place. The religions of the east would also deny the existence of heaven opting instead of a "oneness" or non-relational "reunification" with the divine. In other parts they may refer to their final destination as an escape from desire, nirvana, or "the end" - all of which are achieved through the excersize of the will in the performance of strict religious duties. If Thomas had asked his religious leaders that question he would have gotten two different responses as well. Some would have said that heaven was not real, and others would have said that in order to reach heaven you have to work really hard at keeping the law of God. But no matter which way you turn, it seems like the answer is terrible. Either heaven is not real, or it is real but way out of reach to the average Joe.

But suppose you took the second option. Suppose you decided to try and work your way into heaven. Would you succeed? Not a chance. Even if you managed to do everything perfectly, you can never undo or outweigh the sins you have committed. If you are going to get into heaven, a different way must be made available or else you simply have no hope.

But what is that way? That's what Thomas wanted to know. Jesus, how can we know the way? Is it going to church every week? Is it reading my Bible every day? Is it praying three times a day? Is it doing everything really good? What is the way?

And here comes Jesus response:
Jesus answered, "I am the way... No one comes to the Father except through me" (6).
How weird is that? The way to heaven is not a series of behaviors. Its not a set of beliefs. Its not a way of life. Its not even a religion. The way to heaven is a person and his name is Jesus. He is the door to heaven. He is the path to heaven. He is the entrance to heaven. A person. Not a concept. Not a philosophy. Not an exam. Not a church program. A person.

Entering the kingdom of heaven is not about what you do, its about who you know. Do you know Jesus? Or do you only know about him? Do you talk to Jesus? Or do you only talk about him? Do you walk with Jesus? Or do you only talk about walking with him? Do you know him?

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that you earn heaven by achieving level bff with Jesus. This isn't about measuring whether we know him a lot or a little. This is simply about asking if our faith in Jesus is based on a real relationship or if its nothing more than information in your head. Because the way to heaven is not information. Its Jesus himself. He wants you and he is calling you to go from being a Christian by default, to entering into a real relationship with him.

In this series we have been asking, How can I experience God? We have looked at some answers from the life of doubting Thomas. The first step toward experiencing God for real in your life to is realize that he wants you despite your flaws. The second step is to answer his call over your life. The third is to follow him even if you don't know why. When you do, God places you in circumstances that lead you to experience him more and more. But now comes the fourth step and perhaps the most important one - to actively seek to build a relationship with him by realizing that following Jesus is not about religion, its about relationship.
Doubting Thomas (Part 2: No Idea Why I'm Here)

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”- John 10:31
It was winter. Jesus and his disciples had gone up to Jerusalem for an annual festival that every able Jew attended. The festival was known as the Feast of Dedication and celebrated a time when the Jews, led by a family known as the Maccabees, had revolted against the Greek invaders and succeeded in fighting them off. The Maccabees had become a sort of legend among the Israelites. They represented the last time Israel had been free from oppression. However, it wasn't long until the Jews were under foreign domination again and by the time Jesus arrived they were well and truly under Romes control. In a sense, the Feast of Dedication was the celebration of short-lived freedom. 

About 200 years after the Maccabean revolt, Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate their short lived victory. As he walks through the temple courts with his disciples people begin to notice him. "There he is" some of them whisper as they point at him, "Hes the one who claims to be the hero of Israel."

"Not exactly" others retort. "He hasn't been very clear about who he is". 

The crowds begin to debate and then they grow. And with every floating rumor the tension in the air grows thicker. Who is this Jesus? Is he the one who will finally end our oppression? Will he pick up where the Maccabees left off?

The disciples begin to feel the tension. Thomas looks around and everywhere he looks there's someone staring at them. Suddenly, Jesus stops. Thomas looks up and sees a group of men standing in the way - some look angry, others annoyed. In seconds the entire group is surrounded. Things don't look so good.

“How long will you keep us in suspense?" Asks the leader of the pack, "If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe" (25). 

Thomas gulps. Jesus answer was like a slap in the face. But Jesus didn't seem scared. He continues to talk but Thomas doesn't even hear what hes saying anymore. The men surrounding them are growing angrier with every word Jesus speaks. Then suddenly, they recoil in horror and begin yelling at Jesus. The leader of the pack reaches to the ground and grabs a loose stone on the path. The crowd follows, each of them picking up stones to throw at Jesus.  Thomas and the other disciples freeze, not knowing what to do. Jesus keeps talking but as he does the crowds gather around him even tighter to the point that the disciples are completely blocked off from Jesus. "What in the world is happening?" Peter yells. "I cant see Jesus anymore!" In moments the angry mob grows even larger. They come from every corner of the temple - men with stones dashing madly toward Jesus. The disciples find themselves in this wild mosh-pit and desperately struggle to get out. "Stone him!" The crowd yells. "Hes a fake!" others cry out. Then, suddenly, the crowds begin to yell all at once. Thomas can't understand a single word. But something even stranger happens. The crowds begin to turn and look in every direction. "Where did he go?" He hears the cries. "He's gone! He disappeared!" 

Shortly after the crowds disperse. The disciples gather themselves together again and are found by Jesus. Together they leave Jerusalem and cross the river Jordan to the place where Jesus was baptized. Thomas takes a deep breath. That was close.

Days go by. The disciples are still recovering from their frightening experience. Questions are going through Thomas' mind. Am I really cut out for this? I mean we almost got killed. Am I really ready to die for Jesus? I'm not even sure if he's the one...

But their moment of peace was short lived. A messenger arrived from Judea where the disciples had just barely escaped with their lives. "Lazarus, the one that you love, is sick" said the messenger. "You have to come with me and heal him" (John 11:3). 

Thomas eyes shot wide open. No way, he thought, we just barely made it out of Judea, please don't tell me you are going to do this. Jesus spoke to the messenger and assured him all would be well, then sent him back. However, much to Thomas' surprise, Jesus did not go with him. One day passed. Nothing. Two days went by. Nothing.

The disciples started to feel a little better. Thomas was definitely feeling better. But then came day three and Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea" (7).

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back”(8)?

We can only imagine the fear and anxiety in the disciples hearts at that moment. One by one they desperately tried to reason with Jesus - to persuade him to stay away from Judea. To perhaps use his power to heal Lazarus from afar like he had done with the Centurions servant only a few months before. But Jesus reply was simple, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up" (11).

The disciples didn't give up. “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better” (12). they said. In other words, "Whats the point of risking our lives again if Lazarus is just sleeping? It's not that big a deal. Just let him be."

And Jesus replies, "[Guys], Lazarus is dead" (14).


The disciples aren't through arguing yet. But Thomas had had it. He knows there's no way to dissuade Jesus. So in a moment of cathartic sarcasm Thomas blurts out, "“Let us also go, that we may die with him” (16).

For some, Thomas' words are words of bravery. I am more inclined to think they were said in scorn. "Forget it guys. Whats the use? He's not going to change his mind so fine, lets all go so we can die too."

In other words, Thomas was willing to follow Jesus, to walk with Jesus and even to die with Jesus but the truth is he had no idea why. He was just like, Hey why not? I've got nothing else going on. Let's just do it. Thomas was following Jesus yes, but he didn't seem to really know why.

Why are you following Jesus? Some of you reading this may be just as gung-ho for Jesus as Thomas was and yet not really know why. Some of you may be leaders in your churches, you may be at church every weekend, you may even give time and money to the church but at the end of the day if I asked you why you do it, would you really know why? Apart from the cliche answers we usually give would we really know why we are living for Jesus?

Throughout the years I have met people who are willing to die for Jesus and kill for him too but they don't actually know why. They are patriotic Christians. They are used to the idea of Jesus. Mom and dad took them to church. It's all they have ever known. So why not? Why not follow him? Every one else seems to be doing it. But when you squeeze them hard to find out why they are so hardcore for Jesus they don't really seem to know why. What about you? Are you reading this because it seems interesting? Are you at church each weekend because you enjoy doing church stuff and organizing church events? If I pushed you to the max, could you really tell me why you are here?

Thomas was all out for Jesus but at this point in his life he didn't seem to know why. But let me pause now and say, that I actually think that's OK. I know I just drilled you on the why question, but the truth is, I think its OK to not know why. It's part of the journey. It's part of how we experience God. We have to go through different stages. In yesterdays post I mentioned that the first step toward experiencing God is to recognize that he wants you and is calling you. The second step is to then respond to his call over your life. And here is the third step: To follow him even though you may not have it all figured out.

There are people who miss out on experiencing God because they are waiting to have all their ducks in a row - to have it all figured out. Forget that. You don't need all the answers. You don't need everything sorted. Just give it a shot. You have nothing to lose. Walk with Jesus. Serve with Jesus. Get involved in your church. Get active in ministering to others. Live with Jesus. And if need be, be willing to die for him. It's OK to not know why you are here. God is just happy that you are.

But the story doesn't end there. God doesn't want your faith-journey to be void of meaning. He's happy that you are here but ultimately he also wants you to know why you are here. And Jesus wanted his disciples to know too. He wanted Thomas to know. Notice what Jesus said to them:

"Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe..." (14-15).

The mob in Jerusalem weren't the only ones wondering if Jesus was really the hero. The disciples were wondering as well. Jesus was glad they were there. But now he wanted to give them a reason why. He wanted them to go from knowing about him to truly knowing him. To knowing his heart, his power, and his purpose for them. So he said to them, "Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go..." (John 11:14-15, The Message).

Days later, the disciples stood by as Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus. The stone had been rolled away, and then Jesus said a prayer:
Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me (41-42).
Jesus' prayer is awesome. He's asking God to give the people around him who don't believe a reason to believe. He wants them to have a moment with him where their faith goes from being a head thing to a heart thing. Thomas was included in this prayer. And so are you. Jesus was giving Thomas and all those doubters a new ground to believe, a new experience with him. And then it happens. 
"Lazarus, come forth! The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (43-44).
The story doesn't say, but something tells me Thomas was one of the ones Jesus was talking to when he said, "Unbind him...". In those days, the dead were wrapped up in cloths. Lazarus had come out of the tomb yes, but he was still wrapped up in cloths. Jesus calls those around him to go unbind Lazarus. But why? Why not do it himself? I think the answer is clear. As Thomas reached out to Lazarus and began taking the cloths off of him, loosening and untying, the whole thing became awfully real to him. With ever bit of cloth that he removed, Thomas came face to face with the wonder that is Jesus. There before him stood a man 3 days dead. He didn't stink. His skin was bright and healthy. His smile was real. I wonder, what was Thomas thinking at that moment? Was he still doubting who Jesus was? Or was he beginning to rethink his doubts? Did the act of unbinding Lazarus rock his world to the core? Did Thomas finally have a reason to follow Jesus? Did his faith go from knowing about Jesus to knowing him? I think so.

Why are you here? Some of you believe. Some of you don't. God's just glad you're here. But he's also excited to give you a whole new reason to believe. So if you want to experience him, don't wait until you have it all figured out. Realize that God want's you. Respond to his call. And start following Jesus even if you don't understand it all. And as you follow him, walk with him, and listen to him he will take you to the place where he will rock your world to the core. He will do amazing things and call on you to be a part of them. He will transform the life of a drug addict and call you to pray for him, he will deliver a child from abuse and call you to be there to comfort them, he will rescue a friend from alcohol, from suicide, from brokenness and he will call you to be there to unbind him from that left over mess that lingers on. And as you do that your faith will come alive. Because experiencing God is not about seeing a vision of angels, its about walking with him and working with him. 

When I was 17 I started following Jesus. I had no idea why. I just knew he was calling me. I started preaching and I understood very little of the Bible. I knew nothing about theology or any of that other stuff. I hadn't even graduated High School yet. But I knew Jesus was calling me and that was enough. And God brought me from one crazy journey to another. I have never seen a man walk out of a tomb that needed to be untied, but I have met all kinds of people from convicts and addicts to broken and empty people and in each case I have had the joy of working with Jesus in unbinding their mess and through that, experiencing how real Jesus is and how good he is at changing lives. So I ask you today, don't wait to have it all figured out. Just walk with him and work with him and he will rock your world.
Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 3)

In the previous post in this series I explored the concept of knowing God through the experience of the rich young ruler. In the end, this young man traded a true experience with God for the temporary pleasures of this world. And we may look at him and think this guy is dumb. But as we point the finger at him, 3 fingers point back to us. Because this is what we do. This is humanity. We spend our lives trading the eternal presence of God for temporary nonsense. 

A romantic escapade. 
A bottle of alcohol. 
A mind altering chemical. 
A job. 
A career. 
Money without worth. 
Fragile power. 
Lonely fame. 

These are the things that we trade Jesus for. And the madness continues as we run back and forth desperately seeking satisfaction and purpose and all the while, there he is. Jesus, is what you desire most. 

In Philippians 3:8, Paul - a once respected and powerful man who had given up everything to follow Jesus - said this:

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

The rich rung ruler had so much, but he wouldn't give it up. Paul also had a lot and yet he traded all of it just to know Jesus. What is your excuse?

In the Greek the word to know is ginosko. It means knowledge, understanding. But in Hebrew the word means something more. In Hebrew the word to know is yada. And it is used when referring to sexual intimacy. Because in the marriage bed you come to know your loved one in a way that transcends mere head knowledge. Yada means experience. Pleasure. Joy. Intensity. It is used to define the most sacred act between two human beings. And thats how God wants to know you. And thats how he wants you to know him. Yada. Not just ginosko. But yada


A faith that transcends mere information and enters the sphere of experience. Here it is in plain Hebrew guys: Jesus wants Yada.

Last year I met up with a friend at a Thai restaurant in Vic Park. We sat down to eat and talk and when it was time to order I went straight for the greatest meal a human being could ever ask for: curry. And what I experienced over the next 20 minutes - as this Thai curry came into contact with my gustatory system, which then used a form of chemoreception that allowed my body to interpret the curry substance as the most delicious thing I had ever eaten - was amazing.* According to "[t]here are five main types of taste sensation: bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and savory."** And on this day, it was the savory sensation, also known as umami, that was going crazy. So when this curry substance came into contact with my taste buds they began to dance with each other. And I was like, woah. This is good.

The next day I was back in the area with Candice and suggested we visit this same restaurant so that she could try this Thai curry. And I went on and on about how good it was and we were like all excited to go back. But then I checked my budget and was like, "dude, were broke. Not going to happen." And the sadness of the situation hit me.

My wife will never know what this Thai curry is like even if she has all the knowledge of it. I could talk about it until she can parrot me. She may even recommend the Thai curry to others. But it isn't until she fills her spoon with this curry, and places it in her mouth, it isn't until her gustatory system is activated and begins the process of chemoreception, it isn’t until the liquid and spices enter into yada with her taste buds and they begin to dance together and in a poetic experience of pleasure and joy and intensity that she can truly say "This curry is good."

And that’s what our relationship with God should be like. David, in a burst of passion and desire cries out "Oh taste and see that the Lord, he is good" (Psalm 34:8). God is calling us to more than just knowing all about him. He wants us to be honest with ourselves. Admit our brokenness. Trade it for Jesus. And allow him to have our entire being. Then and only then, can we yada the eternal one.


Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 2)

In the previous post I asked a heart searching question: Do I know so much about God that I have convinced myself that I actually know him even though I don't?

This question is super relevant. I mean, Jesus says that when he returns there will be all kinds of people who thought they knew him but didn't really. The parable of the 10 virgins and the parable of the sheep and the goats are two of the primary examples. In both cases there are people who think they know Jesus, and yet Jesus says to them "I never knew you". So this question, far from being a useless exploration, is relevant to everyone who claims to be a God-follower.

In today's post, I would like to explore this question more by hanging out in Mark 10:17-22.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him.

Every story has a back story. In other words, every story begins way before it begins. When you lose your temper, that's not the start of the story. That's just the continuation. When you jump for joy because you got a new job, that's not the beginning of the story. Its a new chapter yes - but there is a back story to it. And while the Bible doesn't tell us anything about this man we can safely guess what his back story could have been. Whoever he was, to the human eye he was eager to discover Jesus. He wanted to meet him. He wanted to meet him so bad that he was running. There was something on his mind and he was really itching to get to Jesus.

[So he] knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Notice what this guy says. "Good teacher." "Eternal life". "What must I do?" He wanted to "inherit" eternity. That's pretty impressive. I mean, he's using all the right words. To the naked eye this guy is nothing more than a sincere God seeker who is thirsting after truth. 

But there's more. Matthew calls him a young man, Luke calls him a ruler, and later on we discover that he was both religious and wealthy. It seems as though this guy had it all made. Youth. Wealth. Morals. Power. Religious and national identity. What more could you ask for? But he wasn't satisfied. He was still seeking. Somehow none of what he had gave him peace. He felt somehow that despite his excellent life something was missing. So he came to Jesus seeking an answer to his anxiety. He wanted assurance of eternal life. To a pastor, the baptismal sign would cha-ching on our eyeballs. But Jesus sees something no one else sees.

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked.

Jesus spots the phonyness. He calls the guy out. He knows the difference between living faith, an parrot faith. And this guy is parroting. He's saying the right words in the right way. But what he's not doing is being honest.

"Only God is truly good." [Jesus adds]

It's as if Jesus is drawing the guy to himself. Trying to help him see his own pretension. Because the worst kind of hypocrite is the sincere hypocrite. And while it sounds like an oxy-moron its true. There are hypocritical people who recognize their hypocrisy. But then there are those who sincerely think they are on the right path. Everyone else sees their phoniness, but they can't see it. Jesus continues:

"[T]o answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother."

I have to admit. This is weird. Jesus' answer to his question is actually kind of annoying. I mean, it was just common sense for the day. Everyone believed that in order to gain eternal life you just had to live a good life. And this guy would have known that so he came seeking a deeper answer. But Jesus didn't give him one. Instead he gave him the same thing everyone else would. Why?

"Teacher," the man replied, "I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young."

I can sense the frustration in his voice. He is looking for something deeper! But he isn't getting it. So he challenges Jesus to give him something deeper. But Jesus doesn't.

Why? Because the young man was not the only one looking for something deeper. Jesus was looking for something deeper as well. He was looking for the young mans honesty. He was craving authenticity. He was longing for true connection. But the young man could not give it. While he knew something was missing in his walk with God he was unwilling to admit that the missing piece was himself. And until he admitted that he was insufficient, until he admitted that he had not kept the law and in fact never could keep the law, until he admitted that his problem was not out there but in his own heart Jesus could never help him.

In a sense, those of us raised in church are in a bit of danger. In order to make us immune to the flu virus doctors and pharmacists will inject us with a small portion of the virus that strengthens our immune system and make us - ideally - immune to that strand of flu. In other words, they give us just enough of the flu to make us immune to the real thing. And most of us have just enough God to make us immune to truly knowing him. And that was the problem with this man. He had just enough God to make him immune to truly experiencing God. By quoting the commandments Jesus' wasn't telling the young man that he could go to heaven by being really good. He was trying to help him realize that he could never be good enough. If the ruler was honest he would have cried out to Jesus "I can't do what you ask! I'm too sinful and selfish." But instead of being honest, he decided to play holier-than-thou and said "I've done all this since I was a kid".

The first step to a true relationship with Jesus is transparency. Come to God thinking you are all that and a bag of chips and you will never experience him. You may learn and learn and learn about him and become the greatest Christian philosopher of the 21st century. But you will miss out on knowing him. Because in order to know God you have to let go of your pretensions, your masks, and your self-adulation and come before him naked, with your heart bleeding and broken, with your life falling to pieces, with your doubts and fears, with your frustrations and failures, and with your sin and shame.

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven’t done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Jesus is trying here. He's trying to help the young man realize that he hasn't kept the law. Because God's law is a law of love and this young man is selfish! So while he may keep the law externally, his heart is still out of harmony with God. His real god is money, success, wealth. And he used his religious knowledge and his pretentious philosophical questions as a way to cover the fact that he did not love God. He loved himself. And Jesus saw right though it. Because Jesus always sees right through us. You think you are all that? You think you are holy and without sin? You think you are sinless and godly? We'll let me put you to the test to find out if its really true. Take your god of money, and wealth, and success and give it away. Take all your worldly possessions and sell them, then give the money to those who are suffering, hungry, and destitute - give it to them. 

Then come and follow me.At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Now the truth emerges. he said the right words, performed the right motions, and could even boast that he had done the right things but he was a fake. in his heart, he didn't truly want God. Was Jesus suggesting you can go to heaven by being good enough? No. Jesus was trying to help the guy see he could never be good enough. He was trying to get this guy to admit his insufficiency, because until he admitted it he would never be able to truly experience God. But he didn't get it. Instead, he walked away from Jesus choosing to trade a real relationship with God for a fake, wanna-be religion that left him selfish, indifferent, and empty.

Some of us have not truly surrendered to Jesus. we just say the right things, and do the right things, and act the right ways, and post the right Facebook statuses, and sing the right songs, and quote the right verses, and pray the right prayer and all the while Jesus is standing by saying, I want something deeper! But you can never give him something deeper unless you give him all that you are and allow him to take it all. 

I don't know who or where you are, but whatever the case I invite you today. Come to the cross. Come broken. Come weak. Come humiliated. Come phony. Come selfish. Come lustful. Come ashamed. Come confused. Come tired. Come weary. Come lonely. Take off your mask. Remove the robe of pretension. Throw off the shackles of phoniness. And come to Jesus. And when you do that I promise you, you will not walk away with information. You will walk away with an experience. You will taste the heart of God full of forgiveness, and grace, and power, and cleansing, and joy, and freedom, and rebirth. You will never be the same again.

In Isaiah 29:13 it is written:

And so the Lord says, "These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote."

Sounds like the rich young ruler. But lets not stop there. Ask yourself, does this describe you as well. Jesus is longing for a deeper relationship with you. And you can have it today. Stop playing church. Stop acting the religious part. Just be real. Give him your heart as it is. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. Do it the day after. Do it every day for the rest of your life and you will see that your faith will no longer be a theoretical concoction of philosophically plausible suppositions. Instead it will be a living, breathing, active, life-altering experience.
Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 1)

A few years ago I was sitting in a church history class at SAU listening to the professor when he said something crazy cool. At the moment, I didn't realize how cool it was. In fact, it wasn't until a few weeks ago that it finally hit me. As the lecture progressed the professor shared a personal experience with us. During his years as a historian he had performed a detailed study of an Adventist pioneer by the name of EJ Waggoner. But this was no ordinary study. Our professor had literally poured through the life of Waggoner. He read everything and anything that had to do with him from personal letters to sermon manuscripts, articles, and books. He read what others had to say about him and about the experiences that his contemporaries had with him. In short, my professor skipped nothing that was even remotely related to Waggoner. He poured through his life with as much precision as humanly possible. Waggoner was his study.

And then came the crazy cool line. "I have spent so much time studying Waggoner that I feel as though I know him personally." 


Only, at the moment I didn't think anything of it. It wasn't until a few weeks ago as I pondered my relationship with God that it finally hit me. My professor may have known everything there was to know about Waggoner - his beliefs, his activities, his hobbies, his imperfections, his family, friends, and legacy but there was one thing that was undeniable: Although my professor felt as though he personally knew Waggoner the fact remained that he did not. He had never sat down with him. He had never heard his voice. He had never laughed with him while sharing a dinner or travelling on a buggy. He had never experienced life with the living and breathing Waggoner. At best, all my professor could say was that he knew more about Waggoner than anyone else. But he didn't actually know Waggoner. Waggoner lived and died long before my professor and with his body resting in the grave the best my professor could do was know about him and try, as best as possible, to identify himself with the legacy and memory of this man. But try as he may, he could never actually know him.

What this means is that a person cannot simply be known based on details, data, and facts. A person can only be known when life is shared. That is truly the only way.

But here comes the hard part. How many of us, like my professor, know so much about God that we "feel" as though we know him but we really don't? How many of us have honestly fooled ourselves into thinking we truly know him when in reality all we have are details, data, and facts. We have never done life with him.

So, do you truly know God? Or do you know so much about him that you have convinced yourself that you know him? Are you settling for the shallow waters of information while avoiding the ocean of God's presence?

Let me put this in a different way. I often hear Christians talk about how they want something deeper but what if Jesus is the one looking for something deeper? Could we be demanding the very thing we refuse to give?

What if our Christianity is fake? What if our Christianity is the product of information without experience? Is it possible that we have constructed a graven image of God using ideas instead of stones? A God who we can keep happy so long as we say the right things at the right times and pray the right prayers and sing the right songs and shout the right words and quote the right verses?

I don't know about you, but that sounds kind of lame to me. Something tells me Jesus is longing for something deeper not just us. In the next post I'll begin to explore what that looks like though the life of a man Jesus spoke with. Stay tuned.