Pegged By a Woman

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.  Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:10-11 NASB)

Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.  Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.  He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.'”  But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. (Judges 4:17-21 NASB)

The account of Deborah and Barak would not be complete without Jael.  You simply cannot get the point without her.  We get so focused on the fact that Deborah led the Sons of Israel as a woman, that we forget that the enemy of God’s people was defeated by a woman from another people.  Not only did God keep the victory from Barak, but also from the Sons of Israel.

Also, much is made about the fact that Deborah prophesies that Barak won’t be given the victory because he asked a woman to go with him.  I think that has more to do with literary irony from the writer than some sort of indictment from God on women involved in leadership.  Deborah remains the judge, and there seems to be no problem on God’s side with her in that role.

The irony for me derives from the layered issue.  This Kenite, Heber, separates from his brethren in the south and is near Kadesh.  He is at “peace” with Jabin, the enemy of the people of Israel.  Yet his wife seems to be the enemy of Jabin and Sisera.  She pretends to be friendly, like her husband, but then secretly assassinates the general.

So, a battle ensues with the chariots being less effective than foot soldiers.  The general escapes on foot, and is killed by a woman while he sleeps.  Just when he thought he was safe, among friends, he wasn’t.  The battle followed him to the tents of his ally.  In all of this, where was Heber, anyway?

I think God’s sense of humor peeks through here.  Sure, the grisly nature of Jael’s actions is kind of gross.  But a woman driving a tent peg through a guy’s head into the ground?  When you consider he’s the chief warrior for the king of Canaan, it has to be the most embarrassing way to go.  What do you put on that tombstone?

I suppose the point for this is that God uses whoever He likes, and uses them in ways that show off His work.  A seasoned warrior killed in his sleep by a woman with a hammer and nail?  Yeah, that would be God.  Nine hundred chariots out run by foot soldiers?  Yeah, that would be God.  How does anyone else get credit?  They don’t.  They get points for participation.

So, what are we after?  Recognition?  Credit?  Kudos?  What?  God doesn’t give points for anything other than participation.  If we’re not okay with that, then there are s a few layers of problems with our relationship with God.  God has to be the Main Character, the Hero, the One in charge.  Who else can save?  Through whom, other than God, can human creatures be saved from eternal death?  If only Jesus saves, then isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that He get all the attention?

I like getting credit, for people to like me, think well of me, be impressed, and so on.  I need to get passed that.  People won’t be saved through any achievement of mine.  My best day won’t get one more person into eternal life.  Only Jesus accomplishes that.  So, let my Master use Jael, Deborah, Barak, foot soldiers, and tent pegs.  That should gain Him so notoriety, and that is the point, because that’s what brings people to Him.

So, what’s your view of God through the fence today?

Passion Week XIXc

“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.  For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”  And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.  And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.  For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:21-27 NASB)

In Luke, after the inauguration of Communion, there are a lot of elements before the thirteen men leave for the Mount of Olives.  I was going to skip to one of my favorites where Jesus addresses Peter’s later failure, but I think I’ll have an opportunity to get into that next week.  For those who are not familiar with this blog’s use in my own life, this is where I process a Scripture passage I’m using in a Bible study I lead each Thursday.  So, on Fridays, the passage jumps to the next.  But I think I’ll be in the upper room for more than one week.

This passage is also a great one, particularly because it illustrates human nature so well.  Jesus is overcome with grief over His betrayer that He reveals the existence of this man.  We, from reading so far, already know it’s Judas.  The disciples don’t know that yet.  And they begin to discuss which one of them it might be.  This discussion then devolves into an argument about which of them is the greatest.  That’s the basic framework in which Jesus says some pretty amazing things.

Have you ever wondered if there was hope for Judas?  In a previous post, I discuss Judas in some detail, and I refer to what Jesus says here.  Jesus admits that the cross is necessary, and that betrayal is part of how He gets there, but He also condemns the betrayer.  Think about that.  Judas is integral to the plan of God, the God he is betraying.  Jesus makes clear that where He is going “…has been determined…”, but that does not exonerate His betrayer.  As I said in that post, I still believe, Judas was never really a disciple, he was an opportunist.

Now, the second element here, where the disciples’ discussion of which one of them might betray Jesus devolving into an argument about greatness, keep in mind that Luke gets this from a disciple who was there.  What I mean is that, while we think of Paul being Luke’s source, that’s really not possible.  Luke is a “close associate” of Paul, and that gains him entrance into the canon.  But Paul wasn’t Luke’s source.  Rather Luke’s source was also in Jerusalem, like the other sources, and Paul gained Luke access to those sources.  My point is that this account doesn’t put the disciples in a great light, but they “told on themselves”, so I believe it.  Which, by the way, is a consistent feature in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  Both bodies of writing bring out weaknesses of the exemplary characters.

Jesus corrects them with familiar words, used in other places in Matthew and Mark, and resonating vaguely with John’s 3-chapter account in his Gospel.  If you think through what Jesus says, there are some interesting elements unique to Luke in this.  First off, the greatest is as the youngest.  Jesus doesn’t point to a child and a different word is used here tan for “child” or even “young man” or “infant”.  Instead Jesus refers to status among adults.  The “youngest” would be the less experienced, and therefore the least wise, regarded with less honor than the “elders”.  So, Jesus is saying the “elders” (as in the role of elder as leader) are to become as the youngsters, seeking less honor or esteem.  I’m an elder in my church, and this is for me and my fellows.  This is for us, and we need to heed this or fail our church.  Ouch.  Okay, moving on…with crushed toes.

The point to all of this is that we too struggle in the midst of important movements of God.  We miss the point, the importance of the event, the cosmic battle raging around us, and the historic spiritual change about to happen.  God prepares to knock the world on its head, and we’re arguing over carpet, curtains, pews versus chairs, or whether we like sister so-and-so.  We do that.  It might not be chairs, curtains, or carpet, but we do that.  We miss the cosmic spiritual event rising to crescendo because of the earthly physical distraction.  We go there.  It can’t be my failure because, well, I’m not like that, I’m great!  The wheels have fallen off, the train derails, and the catastrophe is just a matter of inertia.

But the alternative exists.  Jesus says that we are to be different.  He says He was at the table as one who serves.  Luke doesn’t say how, but John does.  Jesus began the evening washing their feet.  His point is that those who lead wash feet.  The greatest among their fellow disciples serve with a towel around their waist and a water basin in hand.  In a sense, the elders clean toilets.  They mix it up with people, willing to descend into their messy lives, and bring hope and healing.  It’s Jesus’ directive for every leader, including you.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week VII

On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me:  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know where it came from.  And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NASB)

Did you every hate it when your parents would tell you to obey “because I said so”?  Have you ever heard the term, “it is what it is” (probably original with Yogi Berra)?  Well, this word “authority” used here in Luke is sort of like that.  In Greek usage, the word has both a legal and a simple “unhindered” usage.  In other words, it refers to actions which are not prevented for some reason, but also to the right or legally granted right to act.

But the elders questions are not redundant because they examine two options.  They first ask, “…in what sort of authority…”, and then “…who gave you this authority?”(emphasis mine)  The connecting conjunction is “or”, meaning that both were not assumed to be true.  Either Jesus had this authority derived from some quality, or the authority was derived from another Person.  They didn’t consider it being both.  It was ironic that, in Jesus’ case, it was actually both.  He explains this ironic situation in His parable that follows.

Jesus explicitly refuses to answer.  He bargains with them asking them to reveal what they thought of John’s Baptism.  They feared the crowd stoning them (seriously?), so didn’t answer.  Therefore Jesus refused to answer.  But had He answered, what would He have said?  How could He explain that He had the authority by qualitative nature of being the Son of God, and it was therefore also derived from God the Father?  How do you explain that to people looking at a man in rumpled robes, dusty sandals, scraggly beard, and bad breath?  He didn’t appear in such royal powerful qualities one would expect of Deity.

The truth we often miss is that the people saw a person, much like them.  He was at least so much like them that He was too far removed from God to be any more like God than they were.  How could they have been expected to see beyond the human before them to the divine beneath?  We wouldn’t.  So Jesus’ refusal to explicitly answer the question isn’t strange at all.  In a sense, He also feared the crowd’s response.  It wasn’t time, not yet.  But soon, the crowd would be seeking His death, and it would be granted.  Again, He explains that in the parable that follows as well.

So, what is my lesson?  It has to do with authority.  I believe that, as children of the Creator of the universe, we have authority.  And I believe that, like Jesus, our authority is both qualitative and given.  Our authority is derived from our status as children and given to us by our Father.  I know I behave as if I have nothing, I’m poor, I’m wretched, I’m worthless, etc.  But if I truly believe that my Master has redeemed me, then how can I believe those things about myself?  Certainly my status before my Savior cannot be founded upon a personal quality within myself (self-righteousness).  But He has justified me, and is sanctifying me.  That means I am righteous because of His qualities.

I know that I tend to debase myself, probably in false humility, so that I don’t appear proud.  But authentic assurance in qualities derived from my Master is not pride, it’s faith.  I have authority derived from my Master, I ask and act in His name.  In fact He commands me to act and ask in His name.  I really struggle with this because it’s very easy for me to rely on myself and my abilities or knowledge.  I can appear to “have it all together” to other people.  The problem is that maintaining that facade drives me to crash and burn.  I can’t believe my own press, for my own good.  Instead I have to acknowledge the derived quality of my authority, and act authentically in His purpose and design.

I can dig further down, but that’s deep enough for one entry.  What’s your view through the fence?

Correction: Jesus Is Kid-Friendly

And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them.  But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”  (Luke 18:15-17 NASB)

Jesus says stuff that are often very hard to hear.  Sometimes the things he brings a message that’s more PG than G.  But in His culture kids weren’t real people until they had survived to age 12.  After that they were out of the woods of spontaneously dying, and adults could invest in them.  So for Jesus to be open to blessing them was a big deal to parents for whom this was not normal.

It was so out of the normal expectations of “religious teachers” that the disciples saw it as a problem.  Jesus not only welcomed the infants, but He uses this perceived problem to make a point about the Kingdom (never miss a teaching opportunity).  So, Jesus calls the disciples together and tells them He welcomes children because the Kingdom belongs to them (is of these).  In other words, all those criteria of chapter 14 (14:25-33) are somehow met in some quality of children.

So what is this quality of children?  What is it about these that holds the key to the Kingdom of God?  Kids in our culture not only begin selfish, our culture tends to reward and emphasize this approach to life. So we’re raising generation after generation of narcissists.  In Jesus’ day children died almost as often as lived, so families tried to have a lot of them, and keep them alive as best they could.  They were in danger a lot as their parents spent much of their time surviving.  So keep in mind the value placed on children was fairly low.  Think “third-world” when hearing Jesus say these words.  It isn’t quite the same as in our culture.

But even so, what’s this quality?  Might it still be found among children today?  Is there something we, as modern, sophisticated adults can learn from ones such as these?  There better be if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  I’m pretty sure that we struggle with hating our families and our own souls, carrying a painful method of execution we don’t deserve, and giving all our possessions to the poor (Luke 14:25-33).  So maybe the lesson of children is easier to grasp and make real?  Okay, probably not, but let’s give it a go.

I think the lesson is the innocence with which children approach their world.  Sure there is a sense of naivete that goes with that, and who wants to be thought of as naive. On the other hand it is exactly that sense of what others think that may be the key here.  Children don’t know what they don’t know, and we grow up we know more and know more of what we don’t know.  I think this plays into our fears, and erodes faith.  We think we know more than we do, and don’t know as much of what we don’t know as we think.  Yes, we’re dumber than we think we are.

Children simply believe that what their parents say is true.  Parents are fallible people who try their best to make the world of the child as safe as possible.  But the world isn’t safe.  God tells us what He’s done, what He wants, and what happens if we don’t.  Children simply do it.  That’s it, no questions.  They have other things to worry about, like where the toys are, and how to get to the cookie jar.  As God works with those in His Kingdom, He wants us to accept Him as He is.  He wants us to receive Him as children.  We want to think it through.  We are skeptical, practical, and wise; or rather we think we are.

The view of a child of God is actually more practical because it’s less skeptical and less wise.  But here’s the other thing that we often miss about what Jesus is saying.  We seem to miss that the expectation of God is that we be children, not adults.  In other words, He doesn’t expect us to know it all, have it figured out, be mature about Him, and be able to dialogue with Him as “equals”.  Think about our prayers.  Don’t we often approach Him that way though?  The bar is lower than we think, but we’re missing His standard for ours.  Weird isn’t it?  It’s easier than we think, but we reject it for it’s simplicity.

Well, that’s not the only reason we reject God’s standard.  It’s simple, but it’s also hard, and costs us everything.  Children don’t grasp the value of what the Kingdom costs, and so gladly pay it.  Maybe that’s a better concept of what we are to learn from children about the Kingdom of God.  The value of what we seek to keep, the pain we suffer as we let that stuff go, and the emptiness we feel without it is really meaningless compared to what we gain with the Kingdom.  Maybe that’s it.

What’s your view through this knothole?  What do you learn of the Kingdom from children?

Remember When The World Was Huge?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:1-4 NASB)

Do you remember a time when monsters were real?  When heroes defeated them?  Do you remember the days when the world was so much more full of wonder and bewilderment?  Have you ever longed for those times?

Consider the absurdity of our lives as Children of God.  He is unimaginable, so He preserves a record of who He is for us.  It records how He chose a people, and through them redeems His creation.  It’s a bewildering tale if we let it be.

There were days when giants defied the people of God and they fell.  There were lions and bears in Canaan, and David snatched lambs from their mouths and beat them with clubs…as a child.  Do you ever miss those days when you believed such things?

We think of “repentance” as returning to God, but that assumes we left at some point.  I am arriving at the conclusion that we haven’t left God so much as we’ve left that view of God we once had, as children.  And we’re still looking the other way.

I believe my Master is driving me to be childish.  And yet in so many ways to leave childish ways behind me.  So to believe that the world is as God describes, and smiling at those who disagree, this is becoming my new desire.

I don’t want to hang on to the view that the world revolves around me, that is immature.  But I do want to trust my Father because it never occurs to me He would be wrong.  I want to play, to pretend it’s all true, to dance with David.

I don’t want to be king, I want to be jester.  I don’t want to be a warrior except with a wooden sword, and facing enemies with assurance I can’t explain.  I want to declare to those against me that “my Daddy is bigger than you!”

Why not wash feet?  Why not allow people to threaten me, beat me, and say all manner of evil against me?  Why not?  They don’t understand.  They’re refusing to play the game my Father designed.  Am I not happier playing the game He has than theirs?

How can I enter the Kingdom of Heaven, before the Throne of God, unless I’m a child?  How can I not run through the doors, yelling because I love the echo, and jump into His lap?  He’s my Father!  Why wouldn’t I tell Him all about my day?

But I am crushed.  I’m wounded.  My heart and soul are scarred.  The world is not lovely, and the days are not happy.  My universe shrinks to insignificance, as my view of my Father fades in the distance behind me.  It’s time to return.

That’s what “converted” means!  It means to change, to turn from what is occupying my attention, and turn toward my Father who wants my attention. It’s time to weep in His arms, and curl up against His chest, hear His heart, and finally rest.

I’m tired of being grown up.  I’m not built for it.  The clothes don’t fit and I can’t run in them.  The roles are boring and I’ve stopped learning.  It’s time to change clothes, roles, and start having fun with my friends again.

What marriage doesn’t want fun?  What kid doesn’t want a parent who understands a child? I’m tired of trying to be in control, and I’m ready to play well with others.  It’s time for me to go in now, the street lights have come on…

What time is it for you?

Finding Repentance

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘  So he got up and came to his father.” (Luke 15:17-20 NASB)

In the previous two parables, someone searches diligently until they find what was lost; shepherd for sheep, woman for a coin.  But in this parable the father remains at home looking at the horizon.  In the previous two parables, the rejoicing at having found what was lost was to illustrate the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.  In the third parable, the change in the younger son describes repentance.

I have been asked what repentance is, what it looks like and and so on.  Normally people refer to the word “turn” or “return” with repentance when that is the least common word used for it in Scripture.  The most common word used is a “change of mind”.  This meaning is the least common explanation of repentance.  The repentance of the younger son didn’t happen on the way back.  That would simply be return.  The repentance of the younger son happened in the far country.

“But, having come into himself…” doesn’t use the word, “afterthought”, but it does describe it.  He was thinking one way, living one way, seeing things one way, and suddenly stops.  He comes to himself.  There’s a part of him that “wakes up” as if from day dreaming.  That’s the first part of repentance.

The younger son, having come into himself, then takes honest stock of his circumstances compared with what he has known.  Not the wasteful living he has known, but the life he has known with his father.  He compares his circumstances with those of his fathers field workers.  He’s actually worse off than they are.

Keep in mind that his assessment is a comparison with the results of his choices versus the circumstances of his life with the father.  This parable presupposes an experience with the father with which to compare current circumstances. In other words, for the popular understanding of repentance, he had something to return to; it is going back to something once possessed and enjoyed.  This is going to have meaning for us as we apply this concept to any evangelistic endeavor.

The younger son then comes up with an apology.  He will go back and ask to be a hired person.  This is the humbling part of the process, the part where we acknowledge we are entitled to nothing.  That’s difficult for us as people.  Regardless of culture, we have this concept of entitlement of one sort or another.  But repentance brings us to a place where we renounce any entitlement.

Finally, the younger son stood up and went back.  This is the final part of a process that included much more.  We’d love to skip to this part, and return to the robe and ring and sandals and veal without honesty and humility.  Then, when the robe, ring, and veal are missing from our “return” we are upset with the results, thinking we did our part, where’s God’s part?  Repentance cannot simply be a return.  It must be a process of changing how we think about what we did and do.

Having been in a 12-step program for years, I described the program to those outside and inside as a spiritual discipline of repentance.  I got a lot of confused stares doing that. I was okay with such a response.  I still believe it is a spiritual discipline of repentance.  And to an extent, I still follow those tenants.  The program systematized repentance so people had steps to follow instead of a word to figure out.  And it also brilliantly illustrates how difficult the process can be.

So this is what I learn from the parable of the lost son, or one of the things.  What do you learn?

The Overwhelming Difference

 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. (Luke 7:37-38 NASB)

One of the elements of the Gospel accounts I have to keep reminding myself of is that no one around Jesus really understood Him.  Even as Peter makes his dramatic statement about Jesus being the “Son of the Living God” he turns around and rebukes Jesus.  So, when I read about someone responding to Him in a way that seems to recognize something about Him that is obvious to me but couldn’t be even known to them, it should stand out.  This woman is one of the most dramatic examples.

Continue reading The Overwhelming Difference