Musing on the Ascension and waiting

Yesterday was the anniversary day of the Ascension. The day Jesus returned to Heaven.  He spent forty days on earth after the Resurrection teaching and explaining things to the disciples.  There are a few interactions recorded in scripture of some of the time He spent but most of it was not. Basically, the forty days were spent with Jesus really explaining the meaning of scripture to the disciples in relation to what just happened. He made sure they were on a sure ground of understanding. In the Gospel of Luke he is described as opening their minds to understand scripture. In the book of Acts he is described as teaching them about the Kingdom of God.   Jesus took time to make sure they fully understood and had full knowledge before he returned to heaven. He also gave them instruction to wait.  They were waiting for the power, the Comforter that was promised.  They waited because the knowledge itself was not enough; the power of the Holy Spirit was needed.  So the disciples waited. 

The ascension was definitely a strange day for the disciples. They had to be awe struck as they saw Jesus leave. Acts describes them as just standing there staring. They needed a message from angels to get them moving again and they followed direction.  The emotions had to be raw. There had to be pain of separation. They had forty days of joy and learning and wondering what would happen next.  The learned new insights and really began to fully understand and then Jesus left with instructions to wait.   Since they were all gathered together on Pentecost, I believe they were told how long they had to wait and the importance of the day to come. No it is possible Jesus did not spell it out and they all were together to celebrate the feast. God does often leaves waiting without the details, but I believe Jesus told them enough to know that the coming Feast something important would happen.  So they waited and prayed. Excitement and anxiety building each day for what would come. 

Waiting is difficult.  When waiting on God to act and move in His time is challenges faith. There is the mix of anxiety and excitement.  There are often encroaching doubts and questions.  Especially in relations to be sure of understanding fully what God has shown us.  The time is best spent seeking God, taking time to understand what has gone on, make preparations for what is ahead, but still it is waiting.  Often God works as he did here.  He gives us times of knowledge, learning, and growth. He then has us enter a time of waiting and preparation.  The waiting period serves to let us more deeply grasp what we learned and let it reach a level beyond just knowledge.  Sometimes the waiting is tough, particularly if we are not given specifics of when.  However, knowing the specifics does not make it any easier.  There is always a temptation not to wait, to take matters into own hands and bring about what God promises on our own.  Scripture is filled with examples of such choices.  In the days following the Ascension though we have a picture of faithful waiting. 

Ultimately we are all in an ongoing process of waiting that is undefined. Jesus has left and his return is soon. We have the Holy Spirit to direct and comfort us, to leads us in to the right paths and to build us up and cleanse us.  We have the ongoing work of salvation and sanctification going on in our lives.  Yet, the waiting gets tough.  We live in a world filled with darkness filled with pain and suffering. Each of our lives is touched with pain and sorrow.   We lose focus. The pains, doubts, and anxiety overwhelm us. God’s love and plan is questioned. We easily get distracted and lose focus.  Yet, Jesus is coming soon.   Yet, while he is in Heaven making all preparations, he is still active and he is here.  We have access through the Holy Spirit and He is here. 

So we wait and we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We are to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We can rest simply on our knowledge and what is written in God’s word. Yet, the disciples were told to wait for more. We cannot diminish or separate the importance of the Holy Spirit and His empowerment.  For if we are acting simply of our own knowledge are efforts are of self and weak. When we are following the lead of the Holy Spirit and acting at His direction, God moves in powerful ways. Sometimes we are aware and see the result, often it is unseen for we are at the time where each day is a day to grow in faith.  Waiting is really about time to grow and build faith.  In waiting we learn the limits of our faith. In waiting God causes what he has done to grow and take root.  Waiting is a really a Holy time we really struggle to grasp. The ten days that the disciples waited before being empowered by the Holy Spirit were a special, God ordained time.   The time is painful, difficult, and intense but God has a purpose.  When waiting follow the disciples lead and review, worship, pray, and prepare.  Do not retreat into fear and anxiety but look ahead and behind for the time that is coming, what God has in store is glorious.  When Jesus returns there will be no greater day. When God acts in our life in the now, it reflects that greater glory as he moves in deeper maturity and dependency on Him.

Do you test your own understanding?

This to me is an important question to consider: Do you test your own understanding?  As a Christian and follower of Jesus I believe it is important to constantly examine what I think I understand about God and the Bible.  Now this questioning of ones own understanding is not about the essential matters of doctrine and faith, but rather the thoughts, ideas, practices, and systematic thinking about God and church.  There is a problem that can easily occur in that we can reach a point on a matter where we think “we grasp it.”  In other words being certain that we know fully what God was saying and have made an assessment on the matter and have full confidence in understanding.  Personally it is a temptation for me that once I come to an understanding to consider the matter settled.  Yet, I find God often moves to teach me new aspects or areas of a matter I had not previously grasped.  One example of this for me is the matter of unity as a church.  I have long advocated the need to understand one another and be aware of the fact that we all “got something” wrong in understanding God.  The picture to me has been that of the body of Christ often separating into the different cells of the body rather than working together.  Another picture is that of staying around those that play the same notes and instrument and missing the bigger symphony.  Then God showed me otherwise and awakened my eyes and ears to the depth and level of deception that has infiltrated the church.  There are things that previously passed off as petty and judgmental that truly is identifying significant danger that is serious.  So I find this principle at work, God often will show and lead us in one direction and then when we have engaged in the change and direction he desires, he can show us what we missed or failed to understand.  The thing is our understanding is limited and we inject ourselves and our own thoughts all too often. We also can easily rely on ‘teachers’ who we have respected and can fail to fully examine those who have taught us and impacted us to deeper understanding of God or freedom from something we did not quite understand before.  It is really important to be constantly testing everything, even our own understanding.   The motivation of that examination really needs to come from a desire to understand God and love Him better which in turn also leads to truly loving others.  Anything that comes from any other motive falls short of what God desires regarding our testing everything.  And yes, testing everything even comes down to “testing to see if in the faith. “  In other words, have I truly surrendered myself to Jesus?  Do I accept the words I have received and believe them? There are many other related questions.  So how does one test your own understanding? Start with asking God for wisdom and to reveal that which you think you understand but miss. Also ask for the Holy Spirit to reveal and open your eyes to the ways you have been deceived.  God is faithful and I can verify that He will do just that if willing to surrender you own wisdom and let God show you through His word and even through what others say.  Never be confident or settled that you “got it.”  The disciples did not get it when Jesus was with them.  He had to stay on earth forty days explaining and showing things to the disciples so they did “get it.” And even then, we needed to constant presence of the Holy Spirit to continually show us when we are off on the wrong path.  But we have to surrender and set aside self and be teachable and humble enough to turn and admit error. Remember the Bible does tells us that at our best we can only “know in part.”  So if you feel you have arrived, think you grasped it all and have no inclination to put self-understanding of God to test, you are settling for the incomplete and imperfect.

On Responses to Jesus Resurrection

Thoughts over the past week have centered on the varied reactions to the Resurrection of Jesus.  There were distinct reactions from those who followed Jesus and there was a distinct reaction of those who rejected to the point of overseeing his crucifixion. Now for his followers there are the women, the eleven disciples, and others.  Regardless, the reactions generally were the same with variation based on individuals.  Each account involves some initial shock and disbelief. The women asked the angel where he took the body.  The disciples did not quickly believe the reports of the women. Peter and John who met the women on the road went to check it out for themselves.  Of course we all know Thomas’s famous doubt even when face to face with our risen Lord. But the fact is the resurrection was so wondrous, so contrary to the grief that the first response was that of shock, doubt, and denial. 

After the initial shock and wonder, soon came wonder, joy, and astonishment as well as confusion.  All they knew is Jesus who was dead was alive. He ate with them. He talked with them. They were able to touch wounds even so far as to place hands in his side.  They all went through a major mood swing; loss of hope, depression, uncertainly followed by pure joy, excitement, and wonder.  Jesus who was just killed was alive. Jesus was alive, fully alive.  His body did not show signs of the tremendous abuse he went through other than the wonders.  When you understand just how incredible the resurrection was, the doubt of Thomas is a bit clearer.  How could it really be Jesus, fully alive, fully functional after all he went through, yet this was the true fact.  Jesus was alive.  It is really hard to fully grasp the depth of response.  Think of your worst possible moment, the darkest time in your life.  Now imagine after that darkest moment you find out that it is reversed in an incredible way beyond expectation or understanding.  Such a reaction is but a taste of what Jesus followers experienced.

Now there are others who had a completely different response. Essentially they are those who conspired to see Jesus crucified.  They didn’t struggle with the feelings of the disciples, rather they went to self-protection and keeping their image their reality in place.  They protected their power and position.  They had to have a plausible story, for it would be hard to deny the resurrection testimonies without a plausible story. So what did they do?  They conspired further. They bribed the guards to put their lives at risk and say the body was stolen.  It is a lie still believed by many today.  The lie and the conspiracy was all about keeping power, for what they feared is if Jesus was truly from God and the story was true, they lose all power.  Everything they worked for and made decisions over was but nothing.  They wanted their power.  So they continued to protect themselves and paid for lies to be spread.  Over time the lies would grow as the supernatural events of the day pass from memory. The dead leaving graves became just a story quickly brushed off. 

So thinking this over, the question really is how does Jesus resurrection impact you?  Are there things you seek to maintain control and cannot surrender.  Do you believe God is capable of redeeming any who would come?  Because it is the power of the resurrection that bears witness to redemption, the empty tomb speaks.  Will you listen to the truth and let it touch your life and change you from the darkness surrounding to glorious and joyful unimagined change?  This is the resurrection.  This is God’s love.  This is what is true peace on earth, Jesus died and rose again so that all may live. Jesus is the only way, there is no other path.  There is nothing anywhere that truly has the demonstrated power of resurrection.

Personal Prayer request: Mother’s vision.

     Generally, I avoid getting into personal matters on this blog but I heard from my mother today and want to ask folks to pray for her.  My mother has been having eyesight trouble.  She recently learned that she has lost peripheral vision and having her field of vision reduced.  She just learned from a specialist that the arteries to her eye are small. 

    There are any number of causes for this condition, some rare and untreatable, some cause are do to vitamin or amino acid deficiency and further deterioration can be prevented.  She need to get further testing at the University on Minnesota.  So one prayer is for her to get an appointment quickly. 

     The main prayer I have though is for my mothers eyes be restored to health. It is my wish and will that God do this, but I have not yet any wisdom indicating whether it is God’s will to heal her eyes.  God is capable and if it is His will to heal it will be done.  Not my will but His be done is my prayer.  I would love to see God move in a tangible way to point others to Him. God knows his will in the matter. 

     In all our personal requests, we do need to humbly submit, not our will but His be done. Many often get upset with God when our will is not done and we don’t understand God’s will or what God allows.  Many things are beyond our ability to grasp in this life.  It is a matter of submission and trust.  Submission to God’s will  and faith are the keys.

   So pray for my mother, those of you who are drawn to this thread and read this request. Feel free to make comments on any personal requests.