On the Way to Court…

“And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?  For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.  I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.” (Luke 12:57-59 NASB)

So, a funny thing happened to me on the way to court…seriously? This one of those things Jesus says over which I scratch my head and wonder, “What was that about?”.  On their way to court, try and work it out or you’re going to jail.  Don’t miss that the assumption is that the person to whom Jesus speaks this is assumed to be guilty.  Don’t miss that.  A believer is guilty for some sort of damages, and result or consequence of that damage or debt is jail.  Okay, so don’t go into debt.  But beyond that look at this teaching for the surface meaning: to judge what is righteous, work it out before court or you will suffer the full consequences.

So believers/followers in Jesus’ day (or Luke’s) would get into a debt or be legally responsible for damages, and then expect that their relationship with Jesus would be sufficient to enable them to avoid the consequences?  Jesus is saying, no, it doesn’t work that way, it works in reverse of that, the penalties will be more not less.  Once it’s phrased that way, do you hear the quiet assumption of our generation in our culture?  What’s in it for me?  If I do this you should do that for me.  Where relationships are “networking” and result in special privileges (or there’s no point to them).

Now, that’s not necessarily what Jesus is alluding to, but it sure works well in translating the application to our culture.  Just because we claim a relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean that God will get us out of traffic tickets, law suits, or any other place where we’re being held accountable for our actions.  Jesus is speaking.  He speaks to those around Him following and listening to Him.  He says to them work it out on the way to court, before you reach court because it won’t go well for you in court.  What did they do?

First off, the culture then was ironically similar to our in that there was an absolute glut of tort cases, way more than criminal cases.  And the distinction between criminal and civil cases weren’t as stark as ours either.  Judges were simply community leaders (magistrates or princes), and they could often be rather arbitrary.  So, this isn’t a far fetched idea, that a true follower of Jesus would be brought to court.  It could happen even for small infractions or damages or even small debts.  The problem was real for them.

Debt and legal problems are not foreign to believers today either.  So the application of this saying is probably good for us as well.  Make it right before you get to court.  In other words, as we say today, “settle out of court”.

One thing before leaving this topic though, this is in a context where Jesus has been discussing His eventual return.  I think that’s important here.  It’s possible that Luke’s audience may have been thinking that, because Jesus was returning soon, they could behave “less than stellar” and escape the consequences because Jesus would return and they wouldn’t need to repay the debt/damages.  I’m not sure that’s what Jesus originally intended, but it may have been a real issue for Luke’s audiences.  Either way, Jesus corrects the view that His followers would be somehow exempt from legal consequences they had personally incurred.  What a strange thing to believe in the first place.

What do you learn from Jesus’ legal advice?


What are YOU Looking At?

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out.  And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way.  You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?  (Luke 12:54-56 NASB)

When I’m a passenger on a long trip, one of the ways I entertain myself is by looking out the window at the world passing by.  Sometimes I realize after I’ve passed something that it was interesting and I should have paid more attention.  But it also makes me wonder how often I’ve passed interesting things without even noticing that I missed it.

This passage has been zipped right by on many occasion by me and perhaps others as we read the words of Jesus.  Okay, I get it, I should be as good at predicting the times I live in as I am about the weather.  Or is it about that?  How many of us have tried to do just that, and failed miserably?  We have a presidential election coming up.  Pick a winner now.  What will we be like in 4 years?  Now let’s see if you’re right.  How often have you been right? I’m almost never right.

In various translations, the most common word used for what Jesus is trying to tell them to do is “interpret”.  In the King James it was “discern”, and here in the New American Standard it’s “analyze”.  The verbs in this critique by Jesus are made up of the verb to know (…you know how…) which is based on the verb to see, and the infinitive of the verb to test or prove by testing.  So, in essence people know from experience that seeing one thing in the sky means another event will follow.  Yet for some reason the same people don’t seem to realize that certain events mean certain other events will follow as a result.

In other words, Jesus is upset with them for not paying attention to the “current events”.  It’s not that they don’t know from experience, they’re not paying attention at all.  They are repeating history because they refuse to learn from it.  It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to follow the thread of Jewish history in that region past the time of Jesus and realize it looks a lot like the problems they had just emerged from with the Greek occupation under the Selucid kings.  And even that had similarities to the problems they had with Babylonians that resulted in the first destruction of Jerusalem.

The events were different, the occupiers were different, but the response by the Jewish people were similar in that they were unwilling to submit (although, I have to agree with their rebellion against the Greek Selucids, that needed to happen).  They had prophets warning them about the Babylonians they refused to listen to.  Jesus warned about the Romans, and they refused to listen to Him.  The times were heading somewhere, and even the Jewish leaders knew it.  Their big fear of Jesus was they He would incite a riot and the Romans would come and take their “place” (i.e. the Temple).  Why worry about Jesus and not the actual rebels who eventually did exactly that?  They missed the warnings of the coming storm even though they were obvious.

Today, we’re missing evidence of what’s to come.  History has recorded the rise and fall of many empires, greater than America has ever become.  And in nearly every instance these greats decayed from within morally before they ever suffered militarily.  At least one historian says they “lost their moral compass”.  I can’t imagine a better way to describe this country.  We’ve lost our moral compass.  This isn’t even a religious assertion.  When a nation begun with the phrase that all people are endowed with inalienable rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then finds reasons and ways to kill their infants and elderly, I think we’re done.  The original moorings have been lost, and we’re drifting without any sort of guidance.

The thing is though, once we see the evidence and realize what it means, what do we do?  Jesus warned His followers much like the prophets before warned the people.  The disaster still happened.  So, is our goal to avert the disaster or to continue to minister and love others as we see the wave crash over us?  Warn, admonish, proclaim, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and keep going in face of impending doom.  Sounds hopeless, but the reality is that there will always be a remnant of the people of God.  What we hold fast to is the future we have with Him, and others, a few, will follow and also be saved from the impending doom.  Because the impending doom is not the demise of America, it’s an eternity in hell.  People are rushing there  in a flood of hopeless reckless abandon in pursuit of the illusion of dark selfish happiness.  Those few God rescues through us are what we’re after.

Kind of a downer this morning. Sorry.  Maybe you have a lighter view through this particular “knothole” of Scripture.  What do you learn from the Spirit through this passage?

Dividing Fiery Baptism

 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!  Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53 NASB-U)

One type of biblical criticism that makes traditional church-goers uneasy is “redaction criticism”.  Redaction criticism looks at Scripture, or a passage of Scripture, as a collection of smaller pieces “redacted” or edited together to make a greater whole.  The gospels are a common place to use this type of criticism.  I tend to use this sort of criticism to a point, and don’t suffer any contradiction in my sense of inspiration or validity of Scripture.

One of the big reasons I use this critical method (or some of it) is because of the different ways the gospels seem to juxtapose sayings of Jesus.  Luke and Matthew will have something He said in a different place than Mark, or a completely different place and context from each other.  It looks as if all three of them used material that was essentially a collection of things Jesus said or did, and they made a story out of it.  It’s probably more true that the bones of the story were there in a slightly different form for all four, but they tied in the sayings in different places.  In any case, all four are very different, even when they have the same saying.

One of the many benefits I derive from this method that makes the risks involved worth it has to do with passages like the end of Luke 12 (49-59).  These things Jesus says really seem very disconnected, are in a different place/context from the same saying in Matthew or Mark (when they actually have this saying), and seem to have little to do on the surface with each other.  The whole “Fire”-“Baptism”-“Division” elements for instance, what’s the the connection again?  I’m assuming that “fire” has to do with strife or battle or at least tension.  “Baptism” I believe for Jesus refers to His crucifixion and resurrection.  And “division” obviously has to do with family problems (arguments?) within the closest relational structures in the Near East.  So what’s the connection between strife/warfare and Jesus’ crucifixion and family discord?

A couple of details that I find interesting, but may be of no value in understanding here:  1) the family description has to do with father/mothers and their children and/or in-laws.  2) Five total, 3 versus 2, 2 versus 3, is an odd pairing; it’s unfair or lopsided one way or the other and is different in order and make up than 2 parents and 3 children. 3) Jesus will “cast” or throw fire on the earth.  Considering the context, could this be His eventual return to complete history?  It sounds a bit like Revelation’s description.  And 4) the fire and possibly division happens after the baptism (crucifixion/resurrection), or at least the fire does.

Those details may not become important, but each of the three elements, fire, baptism, and division, each have at least one wonky detail.  It’s as if Luke took a few sayings of Jesus and put them together in a way that makes little sense to readers today.  It may have made sense to Luke’s audience then, churches in Asia Minor and Europe, but today the meaning is difficult to grasp.  Or maybe what Jesus said was just difficult, and Luke preserved the difficulty (see why I like this method?).

But what’s the meaning and connection of these elements?  How are Jesus’ baptism, fire He is to cast, and division in households He causes all connected?  I don’t know for sure, but here’s my theory:  Jesus knows that the disruption He has already caused among the Jews, both the people in general and the leadership particularly, will continue on after His resurrection, and even increase.  He knows persecution is coming on His followers.  He knows that this persecution will divide households.  He knows that this message of His salvation work for all people will spread like fire, but like fire, leave massive destruction in its wake.  But also like fire, this destruction may be exactly what the “forest” (or family)  needs to be reborn and stronger.

If fire is a destructive force, it is also a very necessary force in nature.  Many plants don’t even survive or thrive until after a fire.  On the other hand, the longer it takes for a fire to sweep through an area the worse the destruction.  While somethings thrive, some never recover.  Things die and other things come to life.  The forest as a whole though is often more healthy.  If the “forest” or “prairie” in this case is a family, then the application is perhaps more easily understood.  What Jesus is saying is that the effect of His baptism may cause strife, but it’s still good.  Just because it causes family strife doesn’t negate the life-giving effects of the salvation itself.

But also keep in mind along with this statement of Jesus, very often entire households were converted and baptized at the same time.  It just depended on the family.  Cornelius and the Philippian Jailer both were responsible for leading their entire households to follow them in following Jesus.  So Jesus’ baptism can lead to family discord, but doesn’t necessarily.  When fire does come, trust that the family will be healthier after the fire; while some may die, some will survive; a much better outcome than the entire family dying.  Kind of a harsh view point though, especially in a culture where we want everyone to survive.

Well, that’s my viewpoint.  What does the Holy Spirit reveal to you from this passage of dividing fiery baptism?

An Excursion Into Prayer

A Psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.  (Psalm 29:1-2 NASB-U)

In the prayer acrostic “ACTS”, the first ingredient to prayer is Adoration.  This is a fancy word for praise (in case you weren’t aware), in much the same way “Ascribe” is a fancy word for “give”.  It’s just that “Ascribe” has the additional meaning of “to give to someone a quality when speaking to a third party”.  In other words, ascribe in these verses means to give something to God while speaking to others (the congregation in this case).

In these two verses which begin the “Storm Psalm”, the mighty are to declare the glory and strength of God.  Those considered strong are to praise God for His strength.  Those considered to be exemplary in a quality are to worship God for His over-abundance of that quality.  If these do so, then God must be so much more so.  It makes God look even better, and it ensures the humility of those who for whom these qualities can usurp God’s position.

Then the quality of the glory of God’s name is to be declared by those wearing Hadrath-Qoresh (holy clothing).  From 1 Chronicles 16, 2 Chronicles 20, and Psalm 96, it seems this is a reference to a select group within the temple worship, like the choir in robes or something.  But a “group” set apart for the purpose of praise is called on to declare the quality of God’s glory, bowing themselves to the ground to do so.  Again, a humble act of those who might otherwise have become caught up in their appearance or position.  Those in special robes are to hit the ground before the One truly displaying splendor and radiance.

These are only two examples of the Adoration element to prayer.  In each, I find that I’m supposed to praise my Master.  First off, He’s the only One truly worthy of such attention.  But second, such activity draws me out of myself and into Him.  What could possibly compete for such a result?  To be closer to the Creator, the One sustaining the entire universe, from massive to infinitesimal, has to be the greatest of all human endeavors.  What else accomplishes something so impossible or unimaginable?  In fact we doubt its effectiveness because we cannot imagine what’s actually happening when we worship.  It makes no sense, so we blur the event to make it seem less impressive and overwhelming.

Let me stop hindering my prayer and worship, and let Him have all of me as I let myself be drawn to the foot of the throne of God Almighty, Lord of the armies of heaven.

What has the Spirit taught you from the beginning of this Psalm?

A Little More Ready

If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:38-40 ESV)

One of the ironies of Jesus’ teaching about His “return” in this historical context is that He hadn’t left yet.  Keep in mind that His disciples hadn’t yet accepted that He’s going to “leave” in any sense.  You also do well to remember that His resurrection may well have provided them the “return” in their minds, at least for 40 days or so.  So, in the actual context of Jesus saying these things they were baffling to His disciples.

I recently had a pastor tell me that calling Jesus’ final return the “Second Coming” was really misleading.  His point was that Jesus had been “visiting” this place a lot, even before His birth.  Why should be surprised to find that He’s visiting a few times before His “Return”?  That really got me thinking.  I don’t know where the term “Second Coming” actually came from, but I can’t think of a single Scripture that refers to Jesus’ final return with that term.  Could it be possible that we are as baffled as the disciples as to what Jesus teaches here?

The possibility of “entertaining angels” is one thing, but to consider that we could be entertaining the “Angel of the Lord” is actually quite frightening.  Think that through.  What if Jesus, in the form or office as the Angel of the Lord, does visit you?  Would you be comfortable having Him “checking in” on you?  “Thought I’d drop by for a visit,” He says, “How’s it going?” You reply.  For me, it could get very uncomfortable very quick.

I’m not saying that Jesus does this, but why couldn’t He?  He seems to have before (see an entry in my previous blog), and by this I mean a physical manifestation of God, often in human form (the burning bush was also referred to as the Angel of the Lord).  So, if Jesus has been here, or God has been here in physical human form, then what would prevent Him from showing up from time to time now?  I have to admit, it would be nice to have such an appearance now and again.  It often looks as if the church really needs a “visitation”.

But I also see in these prior examples that He shows up to one person, somewhat like the “…Almighty” movies with Morgan Freeman.  On the other hand He seems to “visit” believers.  So, a solitary believer might actually see Jesus, but who’d believe them?  I don’t think it’s about who would believe them, it’s about what they would do different after having seen Jesus.  Jesus’ appearances apart from His earthly ministry, were not for public consumption, not as our culture consumes anyway.  Jesus comes to help a person make a big change.

So, in that sort of light, am I ready? Is my lamp trimmed? Am I awake and ready to be visited by the Maker of all Matter?  And not for the end of the world, but for the end of my faithlessness, the end of my struggles with certainty, the end of my wishy-washy meandering I call “following Jesus”.  Are you ready?  Would you be ready to fire up the grill for the One having made the cow you’re about to throw on it? (Yes, I believe Jesus prefers beef, so what?) Well, I suggest we all be ready for a surprise visit from Jesus.  You just never know who’s coming to dinner.

What do you learn from Jesus’ call to be ready?

Readiness Part II

But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  (Luke 12:45-48 ESV)

My last post was about how everyone should be ready.  This post follows Peter’s question about who needs to be ready everyone or just the disciples.  Jesus uses his question to be more specific about lead-servants.  Essentially, more authority means more responsibility.  On the positive, a faithful lead-servant will be rewarded greatly, put in authority over even more.  But what about those who are not faithful?

Let me begin this discussion with an assertion of an opinion.  I believe that church leaders who are not just negligent in their leadership of believers but actually malevolent in their treatment of those they lead have no faith in Jesus.  I’ve met some and I’ve avoided them sensing more of the spirits of our enemy than the Spirit of my Master.  Now, to be fair about this, it’s my opinion.  I confess that when faced with a professing Christian leader who lives out of bitterness and the resulting anger, I have little patience or tolerance for them.  I believe they only lead people to hell.  That may be a little strong…okay, a lot strong.

Jesus’ point is more about the need for leaders to be ready by being diligent.  But He also makes a rather dramatic point in describing the punishment for being “unfaithful”.  The lead-servant will be cut into pieces and those pieces will be put with the unfaithful.  This is a pretty gruesome description.  And that tells me this is a pretty serious offense.  Think about it, they (or the pieces of them) will end up with the unfaithful.  So, in a sense I’m right, that they only lead people to hell.  Of course we could debate what the “unfaithful” refers to, and some may not hold to that being a reference to those in hell.  I do.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He also says that the level of punishment will match the level of knowledge these lead-servants have of the will of their Master.  As in other places, it seems that those who know more are held to a higher standard.  It makes it seem dangerous to study Scripture more, and I suppose it is if we don’t allow His Spirit to use what we read to change our hearts.  To whom much is given, much will be required.  I seek more, but as I am given more, more will be required of me.

Here’s the thing (and by “thing”, I mean “point”):  Those who are lead-servants can decide to not be, can decide to instead just be servants, can opt-out of the higher expectations of leading.  And I believe some should.  I can, in a sense.  But I can’t in another.  And I believe that those truly called to be lead-servants can’t really opt-out of leading either.  That to be fulfilled in their divine design, some must fill positions and take on responsibilities of lead-servants.  They sense Jeremiah’s “fire in their belly”, and cannot opt-out of God’s call to lead.  But that also means they cannot opt-out of the penalties.  It’s a call with a cost and a risk.

So, if you’re one of those lead-servants, then know that our Master hopes and believes He will find you faithful.  Let’s not let Him down.  And if you’re one of those servants under a lead-servant, take it easy on those in leadership.  They get enough pressure from our Master, don’t put them in the squeeze between you and God.  If they’re good, you’ll lose because we ought to obey God rather than man.  If they’re tired and weakened by the fight, they may give in to you or just walk away.  I did.  I walked away from vocational ministry.  Don’t be that guy, and don’t be one of those who influence leaders to be that guy.  Leaders get plenty from our Master, trust me on that one.  It’s says so very plainly right here in this passage.  Let’s all take note.

So, what do you learn from Jesus’ warnings to His lead-servants?

Readiness Part I

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  (Luke 12:35-38 ESV)

No one knows when the appearing of Jesus to close the history of this world will happen.  No one knows.  All Jesus tells us (over and over) is that we won’t know so be ready.  He repeats it a lot.  Passages like this one is where I find my theology of the “last man standing”.  Although in this particular one, Jesus doesn’t mention it; He may allude to it, but it’s not explicit.  What we get from this one is to be ready.

From the context, Jesus is speaking to all His followers.  In the following passage, after Peter asks who Jesus might be meaning this for, Jesus explicitly refers to leaders.  Here it’s everyone.  Every follower of Jesus is supposed to be a ready servant, ready for His return, ready with lamps lit, ready to open the door, ready to serve.  But only here, in Luke, do we find that the Master will then turn about on His servants and serve them.  It’s a statement that had to catch His listeners off guard. What master serves his servants?  Clearly this is no earthly master.

One of the difficult things for me to master in my walk with my Master is submission.  I’m stubborn, selfish, and self-centered.  I am.  I know it.  In a lot of ways I justify it because of the environment I live in.  I’m in America, home of the selfish, land of the narcissist.  If marketing promotes it, it’s only because we respond.  It works so well because we love being selfish.  We consider looking out for number one to be the most pragmatic approach to life.  Even when people talk a good game, care for others, and helping under privileged, and so on; even then there is an agenda.

So, to consider myself a slave is counter-intuitive for me.  Yes, I do live in America, but even so, I know it’s not right and I do it anyway.  I know I’m a slave, either of my Savior or of the enemy of the world.  I don’t get to escape slavery, such thoughts are part of what keeps people enslaved to the enemy.  The thing is, I do get to choose who I serve.

I wish it were that simple though.  It sure should be.  I can choose to serve the Master Who will then serve His faithful servants found ready when He comes.  But more often than not, I find that I’m serving the enemy of my soul who desires my demise and that of all my neighbors, friends, and family.  I know that it’s wrong, but I do it anyway.

I am happy to report that I do this less and less, much less than I used to.  I’m not the same person I was even 5 years ago.  I’ve grown and been stretched much further than I would have imagined.  But I am also very aware of the vastness that separates me from the ideal I see in Scripture.  I know my heart to an extent, and even that limited view reveals some darkness.  But it also reveals some light.  I see that my Master is not leaving me as an orphan, but in spite of my foibles, He continually works to mold more and more into His image.

So, I am confident that one day I will see His face.  I am confident that He will find me faithful (mostly), and I am hopeful that I will be one of those at His table as He serves His servants.  I can’t think of a better choice than to be a slave of One who serves.  I can’t think of a better option than to follow One who loves me and gave Himself up for me.  Who better to be a slave of?  Now to do the work of my Master.

What do you learn from Jesus’ call to be ready?

On a Side Note: Knowledge of Good and Evil

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:8-9 NAU)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:15-17 NAU)

Of all the things that make up the “fall of humanity” it’s the knowledge of good and evil as a definition of “death” that seems to set the most definitive boundary.  What I mean is that the choice to be made was between life and its opposite (the two trees).  But rather than simply use the word death, God defines that choice as the knowledge of good and evil.  Therefore the opposite of life is the knowledge of good and evil.

For most of us, the word “evil” has become associated with a moral quality.  Something evil is morally so, as an element in the philosophical category of ethics.  There’s a cultural language issue that I believe obscures the point here.  While it seems clear that God is interested in defining death for Adam and eventually Eve, this definition as “knowledge of good and evil” is linguistically tied to our philosophical category of ethics.  I don’t believe it really belongs there, at least not as the term “evil” is traditionally used in the category.

The words for this tree in Scripture are “tov” (good) and “ra” (evil).  The problem of rendering these words into English are cultural.  A better rendering of ra in almost every instance is “bad”.  In Hebrew, ra is as flexible, if not more so, than our use of bad. Even in idiom or slang, they approximate each other.  The reason is that the meaning of these words is not only arbitrary, but very contextual. Something bad for one person can be good for another.  It depends on context of both affected parties.  This can also be said of ra.

In Amos, the prophet asks, “Can ra befall a city, and God has not done it?”  Well, obviously, if this refers to moral evil, we have a problem in our understanding of God.  Clearly the reference is to a calamity of some sort, either human or natural which harms the inhabitants.  But the point I’m making is that this word is used as a quality of something which God does, and therefore, even though causing suffering, can’t be seen as morally wrong (it’s God, He’s not morally wrong).  Therefore ra cannot be seen as a moral ethical element of the ancient Hebrews or as a moral quality in their understanding of God (a Hebrew theology).

The word ra belongs to a qualitative description based on the perception or point of view of the observer.  So, when I call something ra, that same thing might be described by another person (with another point of view) as tov.

Now, back to the tree.   The tree of death was called the knowledge of good and evil or tov and ra.  So what was the choice?  Life on the one hand or the knowledge of these arbitrary categories on the other?  How is the knowledge of these arbitrary categories death?

The answer is in the alternative.  The alternative to the personal knowledge of good and evil is the acceptance of God’s definitions of good and evil.  In other words, the choice in the Garden was between life (relationship with God) or death as “defining for ourselves what is good and evil”.  So the more we understand good and evil as God does, the more we begin to reverse the choice.  This is not to minimize the other elements in the deception or temptation, like becoming like God, and so on.  But death was brought about in that day in the choice between defining good and bad for themselves or continuing to accept God’s definitions of those things.   One is life, the other death.

So, as Moses said to the people, “Choose life!”  Study Scripture to understand God’s definitions, and live those out.  Inherent in this charge is the lordship of Jesus in our lives, the belief in His resurrection, and the rejection of our personal definitions of good and bad.  All these things are part of God’s definition of good and bad.  As is our submission to His definition of these in our lives.  Let Him “spin-doctor” the events of our lives rather than do it ourselves or let the world do it for us.  That’s the process we follow to reverse the choice our ancestors made in the Garden.

So what do you see and learn among the trees in the Garden?

The Little Greed Monsters

Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NASB)

I nearly went zipping through this verse into the parable without stopping to consider what Jesus just said.  I don’t know, but I suspect that this section, immediately following the “yeast” of the Pharisees, is not for the upper (or middle) middle-class, but for the poorer laborer class.  Striving to make ends meet, longing for the day they can take it easier, be less stressed about surviving each day, and so on.

A random guy from the crowd yells out to Jesus to coerce his brother into “sharing”.  Jesus refuses to be drawn into it, and then says this to kick off a section about “greed” or “covetousness”.  It’s the “Intro” and I nearly missed it.  Jesus’ main point will pivot around this statement, and I wasn’t paying attention.  Well, let’s look at it.

Greed is something to guard against.  The desire to have more than our needs met is the natural course of humans, and care must be taken to redirect our focus away from it.  In a way, desire for more naturally catches the eye, and we have to be diligent to not keep looking.

Granted, some people don’t know why they shouldn’t; they sense no competing motivation. Some sense a competing motivation, but it has little to do with Jesus.  Some just flip it around and turn the desire into a more insidious desire to take from others because they have “too much”, and others “not enough”.  It amounts to the same thing since there is a forced re-distribution going on, and the one doing the forcing usually takes their “fair share” as part of the process.

The truth is, this statement to guard against this greed is counter-culture to this Twenty-first Century American Culture in which I live.  Everything around me competes against this charge to be on my guard against greed.

The support for the charge to guard against greed is interesting.  Having much, many things, does not make my life about those things.  Not even when I have a lot does my life become what I have.  Think about how Jesus words this: not even when…  In other words, my possessions don’t make up my life when I don’t have much.  Perhaps when striving just to survive daily or monthly my life can be seen to not be about my possessions.  But even when I begin to acquire, or at whatever point I have a lot, even then my life is not about those possessions. So no provision for greed is left.  But I think this also gives us a clue to who Jesus is intending this for, the lower class of free people.

The upward struggle, to make something of our lives while we have life, to leave something better for our kids, whatever it might be called, is not to be the focus of a life of a follower of Jesus.  Worrying or focusing on what sort of life I will have at retirement is not what my Master wants me to be about.  I was fine up to that point, about retirement, or preparing for the future.  Keep in mind, He didn’t say, don’t prepare, not even later on in the chapter.  But He is saying not to make that the focus of my life.  In fact He’s saying to guard against the tendency to make that my focus.

I probably have more now than I have ever had in my life, by way of possessions.  So now is also the time in my life I need this passage.  I need this verse, and the following passages now more than ever in my life.  Before, when I was making less than $20k per year, I may not have had time for this truth.  Before when I was making middle income levels of pay, I remember wanting more so I wouldn’t be so stressed about every little expense.  Now, I don’t worry about that, but I do want more stuff.  All along the way I have been struggling with this, but not taking this charge to heart.  I haven’t been guarding against my natural tendency.

Well, I see where I need to change.  I need to be more on my guard against the desire to acquire more stuff for the sake of the other stuff.  It can be tricky since some things can create a felt “need” to have something else to support the thing.  I’m in that right now, and I need to consider what is motivating me, my stuff or my Master.  I think I can make a case for my Master, but I’m tricky…  And now I’m even more confused and stressed.  Lovely.  But my Master still loves me, and wants to use me for His purpose in His kingdom.  Maybe the answer is to quit worrying about my own purpose and kingdom…

What do you learn from this verse?

Fear Not! Fear This! Fear Not!

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:4-7 ESV)

One of the criticisms of Scripture that tend to make me smile at the simpletons bringing it is that Scripture is internally inconsistent.  I want to just smile and pat them on the head, and say, “Yes, it does seem that way at times” and move on.  But the crowd really seems to like the Emperor’s New Clothes, and I’m not that impressed by naked emperors.  These same intellectuals leveling the charge of internal inconsistency will be seemingly inconsistent in their lives all the time, but explain it away as “clarifying” not contradicting themselves.  The irony is that this is exactly what Jesus is doing, or seems to be doing.

In the context of Jesus’ explanation of the hypocrisy of the former dinner guests (Pharisees), He arrives at a possible motivating factor, fear of others.  Jesus points out how fearing anyone but God fails to accommodate Who God really is.  People can cause death, just as God can.  But only God can condemn to hell afterwards.  The unsaid implication is that He can also permit entry into heaven.  Faithfulness to Him should outweigh any fear of mere humanity.

On the one hand, the Pharisees “feared” how they looked to others, and were more concerned about their reputations than the people among whom they had the reputation.  On the other hand, they weren’t afraid of being killed by these people.  Jesus’ disciples would soon face that fear. So, this is probably more for the disciples than about the Pharisees.

Jesus has an interesting organization though.  First it’s “don’t begin to fear people”, then “fear the One who can kill and then condemn to hell”, then “stop fearing” because they are “special” to God.  The last two seem contradictory, but they really compliment each other.  Fear God for His authority as Judge, but stop fearing Him because, as Judge, He is especially fond of you.  Think that through.  It’s designed to provide the “guideposts” between which we live out our relationship with our Creator and Master.

In our culture we fear people, what they might think of us and what they might do to us.  We need to stop that (or don’t even start).  We need to fear God, what He thinks of us and what He might do to us.  But we also need to stop fearing Him for how He sees us.  Yes, He’s the Judge.  Yes, He has the authority to cast us into hell after taking our lives.  But He “carries us through”.  The word normally translated “more valuable”, “worth more”, or “of more value” is based on a word made up of the verb “to carry” and the preposition “through”.  From this was derived the meaning for value where the value isn’t monetary or “precious” due to some inherent quality or even “superior value”.  Our value stems from the fact that God sees something in us He that really catches His eye.

My daughter is a “collector”.  Unfortunately, she’s not terribly discriminating and can come back from the beach with her pockets full to overflowing with rocks, shells, driftwood, dead molluscs, and so on.  She sees something that catches her eye and it goes into her pockets.  In a sense, we have “caught God’s eye” and have wound up in His pocket.  And in the safety of God’s pocket, He “carries us through”.  Can you think of a more secure place to be than in the pocket of God?  So what do we have to fear?  Yes, we’re being carried by the Judge who could cast us into hell, but He’s carrying us in His pockets.  How likely is it that He’s carrying us around only to cast us into hell?

What do you learn from Jesus about fear from this?