Heading for Shanghai

Sherry and I are sitting in the San Francisco airport, waiting for departure time. Anticipating a 13 hour flight isn’t a good thing, I have to say! I booked the back of the 747 where the aisle seats are two up, giving me my window and Sherry her aisle. But the seat map showed a very different arrangement this morning. So I assume a change of aircraft. But now I’m looking at a 747 at the gate we are departing from. So I’m very hoping! Sitting in a middle seat for the flight would put a serious damper in my demeanor. I could even get grumpy!

There is a certain unease in my thinking. It seems that conference plans haven’t gone according to as initial planning. The enrollment was anticipated at something like 200. It is at 89 for the final count. The place was a retreat center but apparently government pressure forced the center to cancel. Now we are in a hotel, a nice one, Jason says. But it will be a very different feel. The topics were selected for an initial audience of college students but this is SAT/GRE weekend, so they are all away. I’m very flexible of course, but there are outlines in a booklet so that locks things in. I suspect it will all work well, but the changes leave me wondering.

The stresses of the last week were substantial: finals, graduation banquet, commencement, preaching on marriage at Grace (a demanding sermon!), Andy and Anne’s wedding rehearsal and wedding. Oh yeah: packing and details of the trip. I always feel like I have to work to sleep six hours. The last few days I didn’t make it. Last night it was probably three hours. But our big suitcases both weighed in at 49 pounds. the little one of books was only 40.

Big prayer item is that we can just walk through customs. I don’t want to have to explain 40 copies of Vintage Jesus to Chinese authorities!

Connection means getting a text from Denise Bice, a long time friend, saying her mother just passed away. So I called her and we talked a bit. Had the text come a couple of hours later, it would have been two weeks before we got the news.

Next stop, Pudong!



Resurrection Life

There was an email from Jamie, my pastor’s wife, in my in box when I got up this morning. It said Jay’s brother in law died of a massive heart attack last night. He left to be with his family in their time of grieving.

That changed the tenor of my early morning Resurrection meditation. I sent a message to them, saying I would be the “pressure valve” if Jay found preaching too much in the fatigue of grief and lack of sleep.

John 20 and Luke 24, the story of discovery by John, Mary Magdalene, and the disciples, drew my attention. The women were the first to go to the tomb, their love showing in a very personal way: they went very early in the morning, while it was still dark, to anoint his body with burial spices. Perhaps they knew that Joseph and Nicodemus had begun the work (Matt. 27:61; John 19:40). Perhaps they just wanted to make their own contribution to the one they loved so much, the one who had driven seven demons out of Mary (Luke 8:2-3). She had already courageously stood with Him at the cross.

John focuses on Mary while the other writers put her in a group of women. Perhaps it’s because he was with her at the cross (John 19:25-26). He’d seen her faith and love personally.

Seeing the stone rolled back surprised her. Luke tells us angels were inside the tomb, telling the women that Jesus was alive. The Apostles, men of great faith (!!), refused to believe their nonsense. But they sprint to the tomb to check out the report, Peter leading the way. John passes the older man, and arrives at the tomb first. Peter, breathing hard, rushes past him inside the tomb.

There are grave clothes, laying inside. Grave robbers stealing the body would have taken the clothes or thrown them aside. The “napkin,” the strip of cloth around His head, was still rolled up. There is no chaos, no confusion. Where was Jesus’ body? It is like His body has simply disappeared, the clothing falling down. It is not at all like when Yoda died in the Star Wars movie. His body just disappeared at the instant of death.They had seen His tortured body in all its bloody reality. John tells us John believed. There’s a strange silence about Peter’s faith.

Mary’s tears will not stop. According to Luke, angels had told her Jesus was risen. Why the tears? Perhaps the agony of incredulous faith still emerging from despair and loss. Angels ask her about her tears. She still doesn’t know where the body is.  Then she senses someone behind her. Turning, she sees a man. Her tears blur her eyes. The gardener? He also asks about her tears and more: “Who are you looking for?” She is thinking back to the empty tomb. He directs her forward to a living person.

Other religions celebrate the tombs of their founders. The Christians didn’t give a whit about where He was buried. That came much later as the church got into paganism with its shrines and relics.

When Mary hears Jesus say her name, she immediately recognizes her Lord. Her joy is enormous. Her greeting very personal: it’s not just “Teacher” but “My teacher.”

Some think Jesus’ words, “don’t hold onto me,” meant not to touch Him at all. But He invites Thomas to do so. Some, follow Bultmann, suggesting there is no body to touch, a ridiculous idea for a buried man. They had taken his battered body from the cross to the tomb.

Realizing it was Jesus before her, I suspect she falls at His feet and He lifts her up. I’d like to think she embraces Him. He responds with a gentle, “Don’t cling to me.” Though He is reassuringly, personally, physically  real, that will not last. He will soon ascend to the Father and the relationship will change. Not that it becomes unreal, but it will be completely different. It will no longer be a physical presence, but a presence mediated by the living Spirit.

Neither she nor we can embrace the reality of the garden.

So we live in faith, seeing the power of Jesus in forgiveness, the cleansing of shame. We see Him when demons leave people. We see Him when the little boy goes to Jesus with the little girl. We see Him when He frees from the legal demands of law.

But we don’t see Him. People still look for Him in the terror of the night, in the loneliness of loss. in the pain of brokenness. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, Even so Lord come quickly.

John believed quickly. Mary’s faith emerged, sealed with loving presence. Peter’s took longer but led to restoration. Thomas needed to see the holes, but when he did, it was unwavering faith that went all the way to India.

Like the disciples, like Mary, we cry, “I don’t get you, LORD.” It’s a good starting point.

Jesus & Peter

I continue to be intrigued with this story. but I get really frustrated with those who build on the difference between agapao (supposedly divine unconditional love) and phileo (friendship, warm feeling love) in Peter’s restoration story in John 21. So it goes, "Peter do you love me with a divine love? "Yes, Lord, I love you with a friend love." “"Feed [take to pasture] my lambs." “The second time it goes, "Peter do you love me with a divine love? "Yes, Lord, I love you with a friend love." [same question and response]. “"Take care of [assume total guardianship of a shepherd] my sheep." [a higher level of care] Then the third goes, “Do you love me with a friend love?” “Lord, you know I friend love you.” "Feed [take to pasture] my lambs." 

Trying to make sense of this wording difference by assuming significance to the changes from divine love to friend love, feed to pasture, and lambs to sheep quickly gets weighed down with difficulty. For example in the first question, In effect, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you possess a profound love for me?” and Peter responds, “Yes Lord, I am fond of you.” Peter should answer Jesus question about divine love with a “No” not a yes. In effect, Jesus accepts Peter’s lie.

It’s way better to realize that John, ever the Hebrew poet, loves to play with words. As we see in the Psalms, Hebrew poets love synonymous parallelism, saying the same thing with different words.

It is also true that agapao, supposedly divine love is used for Demas’ love for the world that causes him to desert Paul (2 Tim. 4:10). Hardly godlike! On the other hand, phileo is used of the Father’s eternal love for the Son in John 5:20. The semantic domain of two words have overlaps significantly. Ditto for feed/tend and sheep/lambs.

Here’s how the story goes, I think. Peter, who repented deeply of his terrible sin of denying Jesus (Matt. 26:75), immediately (Matt 28:10) went to Galilee to be where Jesus told the disciples He would meet them. What do you do while you wait for Jesus to show up? You could play video games or sip a latte. But Peter suggests going fishing. It’s not to go desert discipleship and go back to his old profession. It’s to fill moments with a an activity that will ease the excited pressures of waiting. As soon as Peter realized the man on the shore is Jesus, he cannot wait a second: he throws himself in the water to get to Jesus. Hardly the act of a deserter!

Then the point of the passage is that Jesus, standing down wind from a charcoal fire, the same kind of fire as Peter was warming his hands over as he denied Jesus, probes Peter. “Do you love me?” Peter quickly says yes. Jesus tells him to be the pastor. Again. The third time, Peter is hurt. “Jesus, you know I love you. Why do you keep asking? Do you doubt me?” Jesus’ third command to do the pastor work overcomes the triple denial. “Peter, you are my man. I don’t care what your failure. That’s done. Your love is what counts. Pastor My flock.”

It’s an incredible act of grace.

I love seeing Peter restored. I’d like to see all Peter’s restored. Grace is such a powerful thing. But it’s not infallible. Sometimes the hurt is too great. So sadness and loss is extended. It is so hard when there’s nothing one can do to help. So the agonizing emptiness of loss goes on. Will there ever be a time of eating fish at the charcoal fire?