Finding Good Help

Good help is hard to find. That’s how the cliché goes. The part of the world in which I live, this is shockingly true. The jobs aren’t scarce, and people aren’t scarce. Those willing to work are rare indeed.

Jesus found a lot of people, or, rather they sought Him out. He had plenty of faces from which to choose ones in whom He would invest. He chose 12, like His Father through Jacob.

A character study of these 12 is worthy, and, if you have, or can find, a copy of Foxes Book of Martyrs, you can read one. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the Twelve are listed in nearly identical order. But in Mark, we are given insight into Jesus giving three of them different names.

To Simon he gave the name Peter; to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”);

Mark 3:16-17 NET

Simon becomes “Rocky”, and James and John become “Ragers”. You don’t see it? Petros is Greek for rock, and “sons of thunder” puts James and John the “category of those who are angry”. It really should be “anger” or “rage” instead of “thunder” (according to Strong’s Concordance). Maybe “hot heads” would be better, but you get the idea.

The rest are set off without much explanation:

and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mark 3:18-19 NET

There are some questions about Thaddaeus’ name, like what was it really. There are questions about whether Simon was really a “zealot” in the historical sense. And there are questions about Bartholomew being Nathaniel from John 1.

But set those questions aside for a moment. Matthew, a tax collector, sits with a “zealot”? Even if Simon were simply a fanatic for Jewish independence, and not one of that political movement/party, he still sits with Matthew. And sit those two with a couple of “hot heads”, “Rocky”, and the others, what do you have? Pandemonium!

And yet, Jesus keeps them all together, they seem to be at peace with each other (those stories aren’t told, probably), and they seem united in their devotion and awe of Jesus. It’s remarkable, or should be.

So, when you look for a church, a Bible study, a “small group”, or other religious group to join, are you looking for where you can get along? Do you tend to avoid potential confrontation by only associating with those with whom you can already get along? May I recommend a different approach?

Get involved where your Master places you, among those He places you, and don’t try to “figure it out”. “What are my spiritual gifts?” “What is my temperament?” “Where do I fit in?” are all about you, and miss the focus on our Savior.

I get it though. Who wants to be a part of a group that is rude, fights all the time, and where a “bully” surfaces to run things? I don’t. And, sometimes, this is what churches and small groups become. And sometimes, Jesus wants to gain control of those He loves dearly, and heal those angry bullies.

With all the churches from which to choose, among all the small groups from which to be a part, how do you know which one(s) your Master is leading you to be a part? I’m sad to say there is no formula. I wish there were, because that’s my temperament. But there isn’t. He simply lets me know one way one time, and another way another time. It’s really annoying. Honestly, for you, He may have a formula.

The point is to be obedient to the Holy Spirit when joining any group. And then, once you join, being obedient to the Spirit of Jesus in your participation. Really, that’s it. He chooses who makes up the groups. He chooses ones He knows will mix together to accomplish His purposes.

He chose twelve that didn’t mix well, including one who would betray Him. Use that as your “litmus test” of a group that He chooses. It’s not how we would do it, which is probably part of the point.


The Main Thing

Anything written or said should have a main, central, point. It would be nice if it had some sort of connection with the listeners/readers, but it must have a point. Stories should have a point, and the plot should support the point. Speeches should have a main point, and each element should support the main point (this includes sermons, unfortunately more in theory than in practice).

In the convoluted complex set of arguments that Nicodemus (my new name for the writer of Hebrews) has so far, all have a “main point”. If you don’t believe me, read this:

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.

Hebrews 8:1-2 NASB

And it literally has, “main point” in the text. The Greek word, “kephalaion“, is very common outside of religious writings, and only used twice in the New Testament. For the Greek philosophers, it means, “main point”, or “head of the topic”. And they probably extended the meaning from a more common meaning of “principal” (as opposed to “interest”) as in loaned amounts.

This should tell us something really important, and something merely interesting. First, Nicodemus is truly focused on the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest. To this point, he has demonstrated the superiority of Jesus over all the other pretenders to devotion, angels, Moses, even the law. Yet, the point of Jesus’ superiority is to demonstrate how His ministry is, therefore, superior to all other religious practice. The other pretenders all had to do with religious practice to some degree. Jesus and His ministry is superior to all.

So what? It all sounds very Jewish, and it is, which is why the letter is called “Hebrews”. But there is a massive meaning for us, church-going, Bible-believing, disciples of Jesus today.

How many fights, divisions, arguments, bitterness, and strife within church has come over “practice”? Which songs, what sort of songs, drums or no drums, decorations, lighting, traditional-versus-contemporary, all these things have divided our churches and congregations, sometimes virulently. And there are some who have taken their hurt, anger, and bitterness to their graves, and therefore to face their Savior. You think He is honored by that sort of gift? Really?

We have a movement within contemporary Christianity to get away from “religion” in favor of a “relationship”. All that means is that one group (the contemporary group) calls the other group (the traditional group) invalid and unspiritual. According to the inspired Scripture in the letter to the Hebrews, they’re both wrong.

The Nicodemus is writing to Jewish believers in the “Diaspora”, the dispersed community of Jews throughout the Roman Empire, mostly collected around the Mediterranean Sea. They all used the Greek text of their Scriptures. They were “strangers in a strange land”, keeping themselves separate as Jews, and surviving, sometimes thriving, in those lands.

For those of them that devoted themselves to Jesus as their Messiah, things changed in relation to their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were shunned, ejected from Synagogues, and sometimes persecuted in other ways. They were told that the followers of this “Way” were enemies of the Jews, adding them to a long list of “goyim”. How could these disciples of Jesus also be Jews? Wasn’t it practice that differentiated them from the communities around them?

Nicodemus points out that no human religious practice, even the practice given to Moses by God, supersedes the heavenly practice of Jesus. Therefore only His practice truly matters. It isn’t the keeping of the law, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the music, the decorations, or the lighting that defines who is and is not relating to our Savior.

Is it traditional or contemporary? It’s both. Now, STOP FIGHTING ALREADY! Why can’t we see what Nicodemus clearly points out, that we are heading to REST, not chaos. When we, as the ambassadors of divine Peace, Joy, and Love, fight and divide over stupid stuff, we fail and Satan wins. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of being right, it’s a matter of agreeing in the Lord (Philippians 4:1-3).

For these besieged Jewish disciples, it wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t about being accepted by their brethren. It wasn’t even about being connected to their Jewish community. Those things may have been important, but they weren’t the main point. For them, and for us, the main point remains what our Savior, Jesus, our High Priest, does, right now, today, on our behalf. That remains the Main Point.

So, after all that, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The God of Small Groups

Typically, these blog entries have been very personal, or were supposed to be, and a lot of it was first-person. Since I’m using the ones from Judges as articles in a guide to study Judges, I’ve been rewriting them, removing the first-person references. Rather than re-write this next batch on Judges 7, I’m writing them as I would for the book, but still putting them out through this blog site. Just FYI.

It’s an often use cliche about God, that He works in mysterious ways, whatever is meant by that. Still, we see that Jesus seems to never use the same process to heal someone in the Gospels. And, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh seems to work with different people differently. He rejects Saul when he sins, and forgives David when he sins. So, it shouldn’t surprise us when we read Yahweh working differently with Gideon than He does with other Judges.

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.'” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. (Judges 7:1-3 NASB)

Just prior to this in the Book of Judges, Deborah and Barak face down 900 chariots of iron with 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulun. So, why is 32,000 men, from basically the same tribes, too many men to face down more desert nomadic raiders than anyone can count? That’s really different. At least he has 10k men now, but even so, losing 22,000 men is okay with Gideon. So far, the tests of an offering and two fleeces seems to have given him faith to use 10,000 versus too-many-to-count camel-riding raiders. But Yahweh’s not done.

Then the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley. (Judges 7:4-8 NASB)

Even though 10,000 men worked last time, now, with vast numbers of foes, it’s too many. Now 300 is the right number. Keep in mind this happens long before the king of Sparta faces down the entire Persian army at Thermopylae. Even there, he probably had more total people than 300. Here, that’s all Gideon gets to face the camp of Midian. So, how are those three tests bolstering his faith now? And what is Yahweh doing anyway?

Look at the explanation Yahweh gives Gideon as He reduces his force. Yahweh claims that Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ Or, more likely, give praise to Baal, the regional god they worship. Remember from the previous chapter, they still worship Baal, they’ve not repented. They’re watching Gideon to see if Baal “smites” him. The sons of Israel around Gideon, the other tribes and clans, they weren’t a part of his “rebellion” in tearing down the altar, Asherah pole, building a new altar to Yahweh, and offering a bull on it.

So, whether they claim the victory for themselves, or give praise to Baal, the battle would have been less of a divine victory for Yahweh. But now, it’s impossible to see it any other way. Why is this so important for Yahweh when His people seem so disinterested in Him? They cry out to Him for help, but not in repentance. They seem confused when He reminds them of His “exclusivity of worship” clause in their covenant. The prophet He sends has no impact, even Gideon is sarcastic with Him when He shows up in person to enlist him. Gideon even blames their problems on Yahweh, all the while Gideon has an altar to Baal in his dad’s front yard. What is Yahweh’s fascination with this collection of ignorant boneheads?

Because of grace. That often-touted quality of Jesus, Christians mistakenly believe was invented by Paul, is the eternal quality of Yahweh described here. These ignorant boneheads are the same as the ignorant boneheaded Christians running around in Paul’s churches, and in ours today. The cultures are different, the belief systems are different, even the covenant defining the relationship has changed. But the Person to whom we relate is the same!

Jesus chooses fishermen, Israeli terrorists, Israeli collaborators, and others to change the world. Here, Yahweh chooses 300 confused ignorant descendants of Abraham to challenge an army no one can count. Both tasks demonstrate the power of Yahweh, not those chosen. Both tasks are impossible, yet get done. Both tasks are miracles, and yet who marks them as such? Who speaks of them as the wonders they are?

Why, even with all this overwhelming evidence of the power of small groups, are we fascinated by large numbers? Why do we believe some things are only possible in larger churches, more people, greater resources? What better “resource” is there than the One forming stars, and tracing quarks? Who is more impressive than the One walking on water, calming the storm, and defeating unnumbered foes with 300 confused men?

In John 6, Jesus basically runs off a multitude of over 5,000 people. He then turns to his disciples and asks them if they intend to leave as well. Confused as they were, Peter says for them all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life?” (John 6:67-68 NASB). From 5,000 plus a bunch of disciples, down to twelve, and He’s willing to go even further down. Yet, we can’t imagine a vibrant church ministry without 300 regular attendees, at least.

That doesn’t describe every church, every pastor, nor every church attendee. It describes an attitude way too common among churches of various denominations. It’s not that large numbers are wrong. Over 6,000 were baptized at Pentecost. This is about an attitude that judges differently than our Savior does, that measures success in the Kingdom of Jesus on larger numbers. It’s an attitude that measures ourselves by ourselves, and pits us against each other.

So, if our Savior calls a group of 300, awesome, get them together and run. But if, in His call, He only provides 5, don’t delay. Don’t wait for the other 295 to show up someday. Run anyway, obey in spite of the small number. Be faithful even though there’s too few to do so much, face down so many, or even surround the given territory. Remember, it’s not about us, or you, or your “crew”. It’s about Jesus. And He can do anything with nothing. Or with five.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

What My Thumb Taught Me

I do not much like moving.  My wife and I have moved seven times in 25 years, and we keep saying the last one was the last.  Each time, our Master has led us somewhere else, and this time is no different.  And each time, our Master teaches us something else, and this time is no different.

We sold a lot of our furniture and most of our books because we figured we’d be in a smaller house.  It seems were were wrong there, although that doesn’t make the action wrong.  My wife simply has a chance to purchase different pieces, pieces to fit this house. One of those pieces was a fine Bassett coffee table.  Did you know that finer furniture is more likely to be made of solid wood? And did you further know that such construction makes them heavier?

On our way up the stairs to the living room, I was manly enough to one-hand the end of the table for second to use my left to steady myself with the rail.  My wife took another step up, I reached with my “free” hand to keep the table from hitting the wall, and it twisted just as I did so.  I hit the table so hard with my thumb it tore the nail and bruised the flesh beneath.  Oh, and it hurt.

The table looks great in the living room, my thumbnail, didn’t look good at all.  Torn fingernails are like those sores you get in your mouth once you bite your cheek by mistake.  The spot keeps getting bit, making it worse.  So, my thumbnail had a piece that stuck up and caught on everything, making it worse.  The best solution seemed to be to put a band-aid on the thumb to protect the nail until it grew out.

Did you know that band-aids stick to skin better than they do to themselves?  I had no idea.  After this brilliant solution, the band-aid is in the way, collecting dirt, fraying (they’re the nice cloth ones), and unsticking from itself, and my thumb.  I end up needing two a day or more because they’re so messy.  Yesterday, my fingernails were getting long, so I trimmed them, including the offending thumbnail.  My enduring the difficulty of problem and solution is paying off.  One more trim and the thumbnail should be fine without the band-aid.

As a philosopher, I can’t not think about something beyond the thing itself.  It’s kind of a curse.  In this case, a passage from 1 Corinthians 12 came back to me:

For the body is not one member, but many.

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:14, 22-27 NASB)

The metaphor became clearer, even adding the element of a band-aid.  I found that, with the band-aid on my thumb, the thumb didn’t work right.  Did you know that the opposable finger is actually necessary for gripping, and a span grip is impossible without it.  So, the basic plastic dog dish gets dropped unless I use two hands.  The bowl in the microwave, so hot I need to move quickly, succumbs to gravity unless I burn both hands.  I can’t grip, and the band-aid is slippery, even the cloth ones, or maybe more so the cloth ones.  I loose the benefit of this extremely useful phalanx, but temporarily, while the nail grows out.

I think the same happens in our believing communities.  We have those who work, who serve, who are so useful the community relies on them for more than they realize.  Then, in the midst of the service, doing what they’re designed to do, disaster strikes! Okay, not really disaster, but something partly painful, but more debilitating.  Now, when the same things are attempted, these very things make the debilitating condition even worse.  It becomes clear quickly that, to heal, this useful member of the body needs some protection.

Enter the band-aid, cue the mood-elevating music, and let’s bring these two together.  But the tone of the music changes, modulating from happy to dissonant, to staccato.  The helper becomes it’s own type of debilitation! How can this be? Rid the helper! Sometimes no help is better than debilitating help! Compensating to protect the useful one isn’t a solution, it makes it worse…well, no, no it doesn’t, actually.  This band-aid, though not perfect, enables the thumb to heal, and that is truly the goal. Or, it should be.

Those who “come alongside to help” are not always convenient.  Sometimes a reminder that we need the help isn’t fun.  Other times, they come along side to help, but also make things more difficult, require extra time and resources, it seems easier without them, but then the goal is missed.  The work becomes the goal, and the people working become “resources” to accomplish the work.  Oops, suddenly, it becomes clear.  We’ve lost the perspective of our Master, for Whom we’ve been working…

It’s not about the work, it’s about the relationships working.  Our Master doesn’t “discard” people, yet, we seem happy to burn up the wounded to further the work.  Why? Didn’t our Master tell us plainly that His yoke was easy, and His burden light?  Why are we driving the wounded into the ground?  Why would we despise the “band-aid”?

Those enabled and called by the Holy Spirit to come along side His people to help heal are indispensable to the health of His body.  But, these people can also be annoying to those driven to achieve rather than relate.  Healing is a purpose of the body of Jesus, His communities of disciples.  The problem is that it can be difficult to spot the purpose when we’re so outward focused.  We want to heal the world instead of realizing the purpose achieved through healing those among us.  We miss that healing is often more relational than operational.

The lesson I learned from my thumb and its band-aid, the point of this entry, is to appreciate both the amazing work done by such wonderful people, the thumbs of the body of Jesus; people who help us grasp the mundane and the holy, both.  But also, those impeding helpers, the healers slowing down the “process” so people have a chance to heal, appreciating them.  Love covers a multitude of sins, weaknesses, and blemishes.  Let us love one another, even more as we see the day approaching.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  Who knew a thumb could be a knothole?  What do you see through your knothole (or phalanx, if that’s what our Master uses)?

The Heart Is Like A Fruit Tree?

For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.    For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.    The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:43-45 NASB)

One of the images Jesus seems to prefer are references to fig or fruit trees. He also uses grapes, He refers to a mustard seed and tree.  But He seems to use references to the fruit produced most often.  In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses this imagery to refer to false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20).  Here in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is using the imagery to refer to the human heart.

Again, context is important here.  The fruit is what reveals the “log” or “splinter” in the eye.  The “logs” and “splinters” are things in the heart.  What Jesus is providing is the measure which we use to “judge”, right here in the same context as His charge not to judge.  He says that by the same measure we judge we will be judged.  Rather than have no measure, we are to examine our hearts.  Actually, considering the log and splinter parable, we are to have someone else help us with our heart.

One of Jesus’ points in the log and splinter parable is that we are often unaware of what sort of fruit we’re producing.  So, combined with the prior parable, this reference of Jesus to fruit, trees, and our heart would mean that we are to actually invite someone else into our examination.  That’s not very American of us.  We don’t broke no guff from anyone.  It seems that Jesus expects His followers to do just that.

So as to be clear, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that we are to examine our own hearts, but in saying, he doesn’t prohibit inviting someone else to look at us as well.  Jesus is very accurate in pointing out that we are often blindest when it comes to our own logs and splinters.  When the fruit of our lives indicates a heart problem, we are often the last to see it.  What we tend to see first is the reaction of people around us, and we reason backwards from there.

But if we adopt a transparent, humble approach to our walk with Jesus, then we have the benefit of discovering these logs and splinters much sooner.  And that reduces the damage we cause to the relationships around us.  This doesn’t make it easier to be open to criticism, and it doesn’t mean we take criticism from just anywhere.  Keep in mind that some who criticize haven’t removed their own logs or splinters.

So what I’m advocating in applying this passage is accountability as to what is in our hearts.  What sort of fruit are we producing?  What are people gathering from us?  Are the fruits of the Spirit evident or are we producing bad fruit?  This sort of invitation to others to inspect us for logs and splinters is part of what keeps spiritual leaders able to lead.  It’s a strange quality, and not necessarily popular.  But I believe it’s necessary.

An area I have struggled with, and continue to struggle is pride.  I don’t mean to, and I’m typically the last to notice I’m exhibiting it. So I need people around me relatively log and splinter free to point it out.  My wife is excellent at pointing out when I’m producing selfish fruit because she’s the closest person to me.  I need this sort of accountability in my life.

It’s very easy for me to excuse my own splinters and logs of anger, resentment, selfishness, pride, and so on because I convince myself they don’t affect others.  But these things in my heat “leak” and produce fruit in spite of my efforts to hide them.  I may be blind to such a log or splinter, but others see my fruit, and can either move on to a different “tree” or help me prune my own, and change my heart.  In very plain terms I need help to repent.  I need it.  I can try to repent on my own, but I’m still blind to my own stuff.  I need help to see so I can help others see.

So my heart is changed, I repent, in the context of others who will come along side me and point out to me the fruit I’m producing.  To the extent I’m open to it, I will become sighted enough to help others with their logs and splinters, enabling them to help others.  It’s this quality of transparency in a congregation or group of followers of Jesus that enables them to become a healed group helping others heal.

Transparency and the openness to criticism isn’t the only quality that makes healing possible.  But without it, I’m not sure the Holy Spirit has the opening He seeks in the life of His followers to make the changes He’s after.  We may like to think that His work is personal, and it is.  But He prefers to work on a person in the context of the corporate body of the Messiah.

That’s my view through the knothole.  What do you see?

A Parable About Jesus

This is what life with Jesus is like:

One day Jesus invited everyone over to His house for a potluck dinner.  I was very excited, and looked forward with anticipation to go to His house.  But when the day arrived, life happened.  One thing after another derailed my plans and preparations.  What was supposed to be an hour or so outing turned into an all-day ordeal.  I didn’t make it home in time to shower, or prepare anything to bring.  I even spilled coffee on me at some point, so I looked and smelled a mess.

Continue reading “A Parable About Jesus”

Finding Jesus

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. (Luke 2:46-50 ESV)

In the movie, Forest Gump, Lieutenant Dan is annoyed with people asking him if he had found Jesus. When he asks Forest, the response he gets is, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him.” We laugh, but ironically, the pagan writers of Hollywood may have accidentally hit on something important. Perhaps the best question I can ask from this passage is, “Why go to church?”

Continue reading “Finding Jesus”