Tonight, Pope Francis will visit a home for the elderly and disabled in Rome. There he will wash the feet of residents, all of whom are lay people. Women and non-Christians may be in the group. However, not everyone applauds the pope's inclusivism, claiming that priests are required by Church law to wash only the feet of 12 men. The pope doesn't seem to care. According to a Vatican spokesman, such rules can be a distraction from "the profound messages of the Gospels and of the Lord of the Church."
I wonder what Pope Francis would think about the fact that today is "National Ask an Atheist Day." Organizers hope to provide "an opportunity for the general public—particularly people of faith—to approach us and ask questions about secular life." Ironically—or providentially—the annual event falls this year on Maundy Thursday.
Oddly, I believe we can learn from both Pope Francis and the atheists who staged their Day. Both are taking the initiative to bring their message to those who might not otherwise come to them. While the atheists won't care, they and the pope are following the example of Jesus.
This night 20 centuries ago, our Savior went to a private garden within an area known as Gethsemane. Why there? He was too popular for the authorities to arrest him in the city or during daylight hours. So he went to this garden because "Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples" (John 18:2). It was outside the city and late at night, so the soldiers could seize him without the crowds' knowledge. As he waited, he had every opportunity to flee into the forest and escape back to Galilee. There he could have lived a long, natural life. Instead, he chose to go to the cross, for us.
God has always taken the initiative to restore us to himself. He sought Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He sought Noah, calling him to build the ark that would save the human race. He sought Abram in a land we call Iraq today. He sought Jacob on that night they wrestled together, and Moses at the burning bush, and David after the king had sinned horrifically.
Then he sought us in the most miraculous, unexpected way of all—he became one of us. He folded the glory and power which created the universe down into a fetus who grew into a baby who breathed our air, walked our dirt, faced our temptations, felt our pain, died on our cross and rose from our grave. We could not climb up to him, so he climbed down to us.
He sought fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee, tax collectors in their booths and trees, lepers in their abandoned loneliness, and demoniacs in their cemetery hideouts. He was the housekeeper who sought the lost coin, the shepherd who sought the lost sheep, the father who sought the lost son. He sought Peter after his denials, and Saul of Tarsus as he persecuted the church, and John on his prison island of Patmos.
And then the day came when he made you. Not because our planet needed another person, but because he wanted an intimate, personal relationship with you. He led me to write these words so he could use them to seek you today. So he could wash your feet and cleanse your sins and commune intimately with you.
The God of the universe is seeking you right now. Are you seeking him?
Publication date: April 17, 2014
An ancient papyrus fragment is creating quite a stir these days. It was first made public two years ago by historian Karen L. King of Harvard University. When, where, or how the fragment was discovered is unknown. The owner insists on remaining anonymous.
It is only four by eight centimeters, smaller than a business card, comprised of eight lines written in black ink. The fragment is clearly torn out of a larger document. It was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language using Greek letters. While some remain convinced that it is a recent forgery, analysts now report that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eight centuries and is likely that old.
So far, you're wondering why you're reading about this. Here's the reason: the fragment contains the phrases, ". . . Jesus said to them, My wife . . ." and ". . . she will be able to be my disciple . . ." In other words, whoever wrote these words 12 to 16 centuries ago apparently believed that Jesus had a wife and that a woman was among his first disciples. Imagine the shock to Christians if these claims were proven true.
Actually, they are.
Jesus has a "wife" or bride—the church. John the Baptist referred to Christ as a "bridegroom" and his followers as his "bride" (John 3:29). Jesus spoke of himself as a bridegroom as well (Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 2:19-20). The church is his "bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). It is obvious that Jesus had no physical wife—no biblical writer even suggests the possibility, and a fragment written four to eight centuries later proves nothing. But he has a spiritual bride whom he loves as passionately as a husband loves his wife (Ephesians 5:25-29).
And he had female disciples as well. They were not among his twelve apostles (cf. Luke 6:14-16). But he had many disciples in addition to the twelve (v. 13). Among them were "the women" (Acts 1:14). Luke 8 is more specific: "the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . Mary, called Magdalene . . . and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Suzanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means" (vs. 2-3). Note that there were "many" women among his disciples, and that they helped finance Jesus' ministry.
This fact is especially relevant on Wednesday of Holy Week. Today our Lord did nothing that was recorded in Scripture. He spent the day resting at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Matthew 21:17). In other words, the last home of his earthly ministry belonged to two women and their brother.
Two facts are clear. One: you are beloved by Jesus. No matter what happens to you today, know that he loves you unconditionally and eternally. You are his "bride," and he is your eternal "husband." Two: you can serve Jesus. No matter what the culture thinks of you, he welcomes your faith and devotion. He uses every gift you commit to his Kingdom cause. He wants to stay in your home tonight.
Brennan Manning: "We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground." Do you agree?
Publication date: April 16, 2014
Bob Coy, the founding pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, continues to generate headlines. He resigned last week from his position at the 20,000-member congregation after an unspecified "moral failing." Many members of his congregation are understandably hurt. For them, and for all of us who have been wounded by a minister, I'd like to highlight five biblical facts.
One: God calls pastors to a higher standard. He wants pastors to be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2) and "blameless" (Titus 1:7). As Paul noted, "those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2). Ministers are to "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).
Two: Satan attacks ministers. He tries to defeat and discourage all Christians, attacking us "like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). But pastors, because of their public profile, are especially targeted by our enemy.
Three: Every minister fails God's standard. I was a pastor for 25 years and have been preaching for 38 years. While I have not sinned in the ways Rev. Coy apparently did, I have likely committed sins he has not. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), pastors included.
Four: God redeems all he allows. Scripture teaches: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently" (Galatians 6:1). We are to be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). Note that we should also call for repentance, as Paul did when a person was engaged in sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). But if the sinner does repent, we should "forgive and comfort him" and "reaffirm your love for him" (2 Corinthians 2:7, 8).
How do we know if the pastor's repentance is genuine? One counselor listed these characteristics: the minister takes the initiative in disclosing sin with a humble and broken heart; he or she takes full responsibility, submits to direction from authorities, embraces accountability, and seeks professional counseling. It is important for God's people to seek his wisdom in helping restore ministers who have fallen.
Five: We have only one Shepherd. Jesus said of his church: "there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). Every other shepherd will fail us at some time. They will hurt us, neglect us, anger us. They will be as imperfect as we are. So we are to "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Do you know someone who has been hurt by a pastor or fellow Christian? It's been said that the church is the only "army that buries its wounded." How could God use you to speak truth in love to a hurting soul today?
The Muslim Brotherhood is launching a political party in America for the purpose of electing Muslims and influencing legislation that is favorable to Islam. This development should come as no surprise: the number of mosques in the United States has escalated 74 percent since 2000. The government of Turkey is building a $100 million mega mosque in Maryland. There are now 66 mosques in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
According to a recent survey, 98 percent of mosque leaders say Muslims should be involved in American institutions, and 91 percent agree that Muslims should be involved in politics. We should expect to see a growing number of Muslim candidates for office, and a growing number of Muslims who will support them financially.
Islam is not the only non-Christian movement to make headlines today, as this is "Humanism at Yale Week." Monday was "Ask an Atheist" day; Tuesday was "Catholics & Humanists Together"; today features "Atheism, Storytelling, and Advice for Christians Who Wish to Talk to Non-Christians." Chris Stedman, Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, is the speaker. Ironically, both Yale and Harvard were founded by Christian ministers to train Christian ministers.
Should believers be angry about these developments? Or should we view them as opportunities for the Kingdom? Cultural advances by atheists and non-Christian religions are obvious symptoms of the declining Christian influence on our culture. But I believe they are also an amazing opportunity for the gospel, for two reasons.
First, growing secularist and anti-Christian movements are a wake-up call for believers to pray. Those who founded our nation and its earliest academic institutions were clearly shaped by the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. That worldview is in jeopardy today more than ever before. It is imperative that believers humble ourselves, pray together, seek God's face, and turn from our sins—now (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Second, the growth of atheist and other non-Christian populations in America means the world has come to us. Believers at Yale have an organized, accessible opportunity this week to share their faith with atheists. An Islamic political movement gives Christians in public service occasion to share Christ with Muslims of great influence.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissioned his followers to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." In Acts 8:1, "there arose . . . a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." Verse 4 adds, "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word." And so Acts 8:1 fulfilled Acts 1:8.
Does Jesus want to redeem the faith challenges of our day in the same way? How will you go about "preaching the word" today?