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)?


Passion Week XXII

While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”  When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”  And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber?  While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” (Luke 22:47-53 NASB)

The arrest is the “Garden Scene” all four Gospels record.  Yet, again, all record different details.  Together they give an interesting picture of the event.  Even so, the details in Luke and John are my favorites.  The character of Jesus is so completely at odds with the event it’s startling.

In Matthew and Mark the account is nearly word-for-word the same.  But in Luke, while similar, there are some important differences.  In Luke, Judas approaches to kiss Jesus, but Luke never says Jesus let him.  In stead, there’s a “…but Jesus said to him…” response, and we’re left wondering if Judas ever did.  I like to think that he tried but Jesus didn’t receive it.  It’s not clear from Luke he failed, Matthew and Mark say Judas kissed Jesus, and John ignores the whole attempt.  Luke alone records Jesus’ reply to Judas of betraying with a kiss.  Matthew has the enigmatic, “Friend, do what you have come for” reply of Jesus.

John has Jesus going to the soldiers and Judas first, and asking who they have come for.  They are so startled they fall back, some to the ground.  He then repeats the question and His answer and says to let the disciples go since they’re only after Him.  This picture of Jesus is the beginning of John’s depiction of Jesus leading everyone involved to the cross.  In John alone, Jesus goes to the cross, He is not taken to the cross.  If you’ve seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ, this is where that quality of Jesus is derived, from John.  It’s actually hard to watch, from the beating all the way through to Jesus crawling to the cross to lay on it, Jesus leads the way.

At this point of the arrest, all four agree someone (in John it’s Peter) cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest.  In John we also learn the servant’s name was Malchus.  In Luke and John, it’s Malchus’ right ear that gets cutoff.  So, if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes,  Criminal Minds, or some other cop show, you’re probably already going, “Hey! Peter’s left handed!”  There are other explanations actually, and that’s probably not the right one.  Left-handedness was so unusual that it would have been noted before (like in Judges of Ehud, Judges 3:15).  All that we can know for sure is that the blow resulted in a glancing cut.  Even so, it’s hard to say that Malchus was “fortunate”, that had to hurt.

At this point, Jesus’ response to the attack is different.  In Mark, Jesus doesn’t address it at all.  In Matthew, Jesus rebukes the attack, states that those living by the sword die by the sword, claims to have twelve legions of angels if He wanted them, and then states this fulfills Scripture.  In Luke, Jesus simply says, “stop it!” and heals the servant’s ear.  In John, Jesus tells Peter to “stand down”, that this is what is supposed to happen (the cup the Father has given Me).  I love that Luke includes the detail that Jesus heals Malchus.  The love of Jesus does not take a break in this dark time.

Jesus’ comment to the guards is great, but Luke’s version is greatest.  In Matthew, Mark, an Luke, Jesus points out they come to him as if against a robber, even though He was with them in the Temple all week.  But Matthew and Mark point out the fulfillment of Scripture, where Jesus simply says, “…but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” The literal construction in Greek is, “…, but this is of you the hour and the authority of darkness.”  It’s an economy of grammar where the pronoun is feminine singular, and, in Greek, so is “hour” and “authority”.  This is the time (hour) when the authority of darkness reigns.

The word for authority or power is a compound Greek word made up of the preposition, “out of”, and the word for “existence”; so out of the fact it exists.  In other words, the basis of this power or authority is that it is.  It’s existence is it’s explanation or support.  It’s kind of like God saying, “because I said so.”  We don’t like that as post-modern Americans, but that’s just the way it is.  At this point, can you hear Huey Lewis singing the response, “…Oh, but don’t you believe it,” while playing his piano?  I hope you can, because in this particular instance, the time of the authority of darkness truly is only an hour.

That’s my view through this knothole.  What do you see of God through yours?

What The Blind See

As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging.  Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was.  They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!”  And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”  Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.  (Luke 18:35-43 NASB)

In Greek, one of the words translated “to know” is actually “to see”.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t where the phrase, “seeing is believing” comes from, but it does testify to the antiquity of such belief.  To see is to know.  In so much of life this is true, and this truth spurs explorers to go and see what no one else has seen, therefore to know what no one else knows.

The blind can’t see, so you’d expect that they wouldn’t know much.  But this one apparently heard and believed what he heard.  In fact he seems to know more than the sighted ones around him.  This man hears that Jesus the Nazarene has arrived, but knows this man is the “messianic Son of David”.  Now, how exactly does he know that, and no one else around him does?  In fact, as he cries out, “Son of David have mercy on me” he is told repeatedly to pipe down.  It is as if this blind man sees, and therefore knows, more than the crowd flowing around his begging corner.

His persistent cries to the Son David are heard by Jesus, and He calls for the knowledgeable blind man.  Jesus then asks one of those obvious questions that is almost laughable.  Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  The man is blind.  Duh!  Of course he wants to see!  But then remember that those in the crowd don’t get who Jesus is, they were telling the blind man to be quiet.  But the blind man does know.  Jesus isn’t asking the blind man what he wants because He doesn’t know, He’s using the occasion of this very insightful blind man to teach the crowd who He is.  He will confirm to them that He is the Son of David.

The blind man’s faith made him well.  He believed Jesus was the Son of David, an insightful leap of faithful logic.  And his faith was the occasion Jesus used to create faith in those around the man.  They all glorified and praised God.  So, my question is “when have I been the occasion used by my Master to create faith in others?”  When has my insight helped another see Jesus for who He is?  Or am I too busy seeing I miss believing in Jesus?  Do the things I see around me distract me from what I know about Jesus?  Because if they are, then I’m no longer available to my Master to use as an occasion of belief in others.

In so many ways I’m blind.  I don’t see the spiritual realm where the armies of darkness war fruitlessly against the King of Glory.  I don’t see the minute structures of the material around me.  I don’t see the unimaginable power and grandeur of even the galaxy of which I’m a part, let alone the vast number of galaxies spread across this universe.  I don’t know a vast amount of stuff, it’s staggering and overwhelming really.  I don’t know the future, and I have little understanding of even the recent past.  I barely understand what’s going on now.

But I know that Jesus is my Master, that He is my King, that I am His servant, and He calls me His knight.  I know He loves me, He has my back, and that I am at His service.  I know He calls me to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  That I know.  Much of the world around me escapes my notice, my view, and my understanding.  But I know in Whom I have believed, that He is able to make good on what He has promised, to keep that which I have entrusted to Him, and that He will call me home one day.  If I know that, why isn’t that what I talk about?  Why isn’t all that what makes up my conversations with friends, family, and neighbors.  Why am I not that annoying guy and neighbor that always talks about God?  Why am I not that guy?

Jesus, Son of David!  Have mercy on me!

What do you see through your knothole in the fence?

Answering The Visual Question

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.  And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.  And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:1-3 NASB)

I don’t think anyone reading the Gospels, whether they believe what they read or not, can come away from the experience and think Jesus is not an enigma.  Jesus is an enigma to everyone who meets Him for the first time, and those who spend a great deal of time with Him.  All the people knew is that He did miracles and taught with authority.  The disciples knew that He taught as if He were God.  The Pharisees knew that He taught different than they did, and believed different things about the Scriptures.  What Jesus taught was often impossible to measure or intangible in other ways.  It was a call to authentic belief.

Knowing that, Pharisees can’t leave it alone.  I wonder if there was some internal competition between groups of Pharisees to see where Jesus’ weakness lay.  But they keep repeating their testing.  This is the third time Jesus heals on the Sabbath (Luke 6 and 13 are the previous ones).  Jesus has answered questions from the Pharisees about “work on the Sabbath” in Luke 4.  You’d think by now Jesus’ position on the Sabbath was pretty clear.  But no, not to this group, and so we have with this group another example of why it’s dangerous to have Jesus over for a meal (see my previous blog entries “Giving = Sanctifying” and “Lawyer Drawing Fire“).  This is the quintessential example of Jesus as a dangerous dinner guest.  All the elements are here in verses 1 through 24.

But Luke words this rather interestingly.  The scene is set, an invitation, a host, a “man-test”, and Jesus answers.  Luke is specific, Jesus answers when He asks His question of His host and other guests.  Think that through.  Jesus saw the scene as begging a question, He saw it as the test it was, the setup, the trap.  So He asks the question, in a sense “addressing the elephant in the room”.  But what He asks is the surface question, the one we would expect Him to be asked.  So, if the man before Him with the swollen limbs is a question Jesus answers, and the answer is the question the presence of the man seems to beg, then what is Jesus answering?  Or is it as simple as Jesus simply stating out loud the mute question before Him, He really is “addressing the elephant” everyone else sees but doesn’t acknowledge?  I don’t think so.

What other questions could the man represent?  He could represent, “Will you follow our pattern of practice?”  He could represent the question, “Who are you?”  He could represent the question, “Will you play our game?”  But I think the more likely question answered by the man before Jesus was, “Why did you invite me here?”  The man made clear that the invitation was not a peaceful gesture, but an aggressive one.  The presence of the man was a challenge to Who Jesus was, His role, His validity, His right to teach and lead people, and so on.  I doubt by this time the Pharisees were in doubt about what Jesus stood for, where He stood on various issues, or His interpretations of Scripture.  The man represented a trap, and as soon as Jesus arrived He understood the question, a challenge to Him.

“And Jesus answered and said,” Jesus did deal with the unspoken reason for His invitation, not just the man with a disease.  He entered into the ambush, now knowing why He was invited, and proceeded to dismantle His opponents.  He began by showing them the error of their assumptions about the Sabbath.

The reason I think this is important is that it begs the question from us, “Why do we go to Jesus?”  Why do we?  What do we hope to gain?  I assure you that whatever that is, however you answer that question, all you do is provide the starting point for Jesus, and it will also be the departure point for where He will take you.  It’s at that point that we have a decision to make: Continue to eat with Jesus or find a new dinner companion.  I can tell you that other companions are a lot easier to deal with, nicer, less challenging, and often a lot more boring.  Let’s continue on with this meal.  But I warn you it doesn’t get any easier.

What do you learn so far from Jesus as a dinner guest here?

No Rest, No Problem, Seriously?

When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida.  But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11 NASB)

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Of Slaves And Masters

“And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.
When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.” (Luke 7:2,3 NASB)

For some people, all people are persons. For others, some people are things. This commander of 100 troops owned a slave, but thought of him as a person, a valuable person. In fact we learn that this Gentile soldier actually cared greatly for the people living in the country he occupied by force. These were not easy people to love by foreign occupation troops, but he does. And we know he is authentic in his love for them because the Jewish elders go to Jesus on his behalf.

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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?

Apostolic Journeyman Program

Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,    who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured.    And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all. (Luke 6:17-19 NASB)

The “Sermon on the Plain” roughly corresponds to the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5 through 7, but only roughly.  The parallel isn’t all that new to me, but this setting for Jesus speaking to His disciples is.  Jesus speaks to His disciples, like in Matthew.  But here Jesus has just selected the Twelve, and He is working with people in a very dynamic way.  It’s as if to say and show what it means to be designated an apostle.

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Upset About Rest

 On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.    The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.    But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward.    And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”    After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored.    But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11 NASB)

This account closely follows another which takes place in fields where Jesus’ disciples are picking, rubbing and eating heads of the grain as they go.  There Jesus says that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.  It’s a cryptic statement in which Jesus asserts His deity, but does so within the context of the Sabbath.  But this account is very different.

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