The Basics

You would think that it makes more sense to start with basics, and move to the more complicated issues. That’s how we typically communicate or train others: move from the simple to the complex. The author of Hebrews does not.

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”

Hebrews 13:1-5 (NASB)

After covering the supremacy of Jesus over all other competitors for our devotion, after going into great detail about the heavenly ministry of Jesus on our behalf, after listing off examples of faith from Scripture, and after pushing for endurance in the face of difficulty, we finally have the basics.

It seems that these things can’t be left out, but they aren’t part of his discussion either. What we typically leave to the end is the “punchline”, but this seems different, like it should be the basic call on how to live. It’s true that Paul doesn’t put those sorts of things right up front, but he didn’t typically leave them to the closing either (Exceptions might be: 1 Thes. and 1 Tim.).

But, what if this is the punchline? What if the writer has been leading here all along, and all that has been said, was said to support these words? Honestly, I don’t think that’s true. A house isn’t finished until the trim and painting is done, and I believe that’s what we have here.

The argument may be “complete” in a sense, in that all the pieces and parts are there, and laid out in order with the proper structure. But the life of a disciple of Jesus is not intuitive. These things cannot be left unsaid. They are not part of the argument supporting the supremacy of Jesus. But anyone believing the supremacy of Jesus needs to live according to these basics.

So, here they are in bullet form:

  1. Love your fellow disciples
  2. Welcome those you don’t know
  3. Identify with the persecuted
  4. Honor pure marriage
  5. Be responsible with money, not motivated by it

They’re pretty simple and straight forward. And they’re hard. They don’t allow us to be selfish, self-motivated, or self-centered. They don’t allow us to be comfortable.

They do allow us to be loving, they allow us to be at peace with our Savior. This sort of behavior is external evidence of inner holiness. And these things are things with which I struggle.

What I have discovered is that I have to persevere in the struggle, and not be content with my failures in any one of them. It’s not okay that I’m selfish. It’s not okay that I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it however I want to do it. I live for my King, and at His pleasure. I am not my own, and I am not home yet. Neither are you.

So, what’s your view through this knothole this morning?

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


When It’s Not Fair

One of my pet peeves is when things aren’t fair. It’s actually funny how fast that gets me going. Even in a computer game. I play an online game that I believe has “balancing” issues, pairing me against players I have no chance with, and dropping me into the game in the worst possible place. I get frustrated for a while, and then I remember that they let me play for free, but to win all the time, I would need to spend money. The imbalance is a design “feature”.

But life, the big things in life, sweeping events of history, social and cultural trends, and opportunities, we tend to believe those should be fair. That may be a classic “Americanism”, honestly. I can claim that, about myself, perhaps. Although, I suspect that other cultures without that sense of “fairness” have lost it due to cynicism, they’ve lost hope.

The reason I suspect this is because of the concept, at least in Western thought, of justice. The statue is a woman, she’s blindfolded, holds an unsheathed sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. The ideas embodied in that image are compassion, a refusal to judge by what is seen on the surface, execution of judgement and equality. The blindfold was added later it seems, but the other elements have been around since the Ancient Greeks.

We have reached a point when one of the common lessons we pass on is that “life isn’t fair.” But think about that. Why do we need to teach that? Why is that expectation so deeply ingrained, it’s instinctive. Life is supposed to be fair, and it isn’t. The removal (or suppression) of that instinctive expectation leaves us with this blank, a cipher, a vacuum in our soul abhorred by our human nature.

The question for us all is, “How will we respond to the unfairness of this life?” Will we stop and complain, for a very long time? Will we stuff those feelings, and “soldier on”? Will we weep for what is lost, and seek that which is missing? I believe it’s fair to say that everyone chooses one of those three options, however they define the option or describe the outcome or benefit.

As disciples of Jesus, how are we to respond to the unfairness of this life? Well, consider Jesus, as Paul did, in Philippians 2:5-11.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Was it fair that Jesus emptied Himself? Was it fair that the Divine took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of the creature, though He is the Creator? Was it fair that He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the extreme of death by crucifixion? Was that fair? No. And the sheer unimaginable magnitude of the Divine Creator choosing to endure all of that offsets overwhelmingly the scales of justice. Now it’s unfair, but in our favor.

Really? It doesn’t feel that way when I get up in the morning. It doesn’t feel that way when I watch the news. It doesn’t feel that way when I talk to my family and friends enduring stress. It doesn’t feel as if the scales of justice and fairness have been tipped in my favor. It feels like the opposite, like I’m being oppressed, spiritually and emotionally, if not physically. But the truth is, I’m not being oppressed, in any way.

So, what do we, as disciples of our Divine Savior, do in response to the apparent inequality of this life? The answer found in Scripture, inspired by our Creator who saves us, is this: Hope in Heaven.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Do you see the contrast? The world, those outside the kingdom of Jesus, they see the first part, the blazing fire, the whirlwind, the darkness and gloom. It’s still our Creator, but it’s frightening, terrifying in fact. And it is true, He is all of that, and more.

We see the holy city and temple described in the next. We hope in the city with angels the assembly of those called out first, those perfected, and, best of all, our Creator, Savior, and Judge. Our Mediator, the One interceding for us is right there! That is what we hope in, that is why we can endure this life full of inequality, injustice, pain, and death. Those are the hallmarks of the devil, but the hallmarks of our Savior is abundant eternal life (John 10:10).

We, as disciples of Jesus, are to see things differently, act differently, speak differently. But this isn’t just about ourselves. If we see things from the perspective of our Creator, then we are to call out the works of the devil for what they are. We are to be different, and we are not to tolerate evil in silence. We are to speak out as our Savior spoke out while He walked this earth, loving Samaritans, honoring women, and blessing Gentiles. He wasn’t the typical Jewish male. Nor are we to be the typical human where we are.

What can you do in your community to push back against the darkness of the devil’s kingdom with the light of the abundant life of Jesus within you? Do that.

Enabling All The Rest

I remember, as a kid, going to “camp”. It didn’t really matter what sort of camp, they all had one thing in common:  a list of what to bring. In a sense, we attempt to do the same thing with our relationship with our Creator, act like there was a list of what to bring. But there isn’t. Every bit of our righteousness is like dirty rags. Paul writes of “putting off the old man” and “putting on Christ Jesus”. Yet that’s a difficult concept to receive and live out.

But here’s why that is so crucial, if we bring anything with us in our relationship with Jesus, our hope is divided. We may hope in Jesus, but we also hope in whatever we bring. And hope is essential for faith and love. 

Now faith is the  assurance of things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NASB

How can faith be assurance of something we don’t have? And if we have it, but it isn’t entirely in Jesus, then how is our faith in Jesus alone?

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB

Faith, hope, and love remain, or abide, or dwell, live together. The greatest is love, although they come as a set with the other two, and, as the previous verse makes clear, there’s no faith without hope. Hope is essential for faith, and, as it turns out, love.

Think about the idea of hope for a minute. Does it bother you? Is there a little fear, fear that it will not be fulfilled? That’s common, and the best indicator that our hope is mixed with Jesus and something else. But what does hope in Jesus look like?

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Hebrews 12:14-16 NASB

Hope in Jesus looks like disciples actively pursuing peace with all men, pursuing the process of being made holy to Jesus, working together to ensure we reach the grace of God together, ensuring roots of bitterness are removed even as they spring up, and not permitting godless or immoral activity among disciples as if it were simply part of our culture. Why? Because we are pursuing something not of this world:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB

Paul applies the call to follow the pattern of thinking in Jesus using himself as an example in Philippians 3:7-16. In Philippians 2:5-11, he lays out the pattern of Jesus, in 2:19-23, Paul uses Timothy as an example of Jesus’ servanthood. In 2:25-30, he uses Epaphroditus as an example of Jesus’ obedience to the point of death. But the emptying of Himself, for that element of Jesus’ pattern Paul uses himself as the example in 3:7-16.

It’s crucial for the disciple to grasp this, because it is the application of hope. That is the effect on us of having hope. And it is the antithesis of what we are seeing in our nation, in Hong Kong, in Indonesia, in India, and all throughout our world. People, without hope, will follow the pattern of the devil, stealing, killing, and destroying. Only Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full.

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

Eyeing Your Neighbor

Can we all agree that our culture is obsessed with the “stuff of life” rather than the living of it? It seems like, even to mention living life, requires the right set of stuff to do so, and if you don’t have that set, you’re not actually living to the fullest. That’s a generalization. Some are striving to simplify, but honestly, there’s a “market” for that as well (Google “simplify my life”, and hit the “Shopping” link in the results – it’s crazy).

The tenth law of the Decalogue is about “coveting”:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17 NASB

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? You shall not covet, how hard can it be? Yet, when your neighbor gets something new, or new to them, do you notice? Do you consider the cost, the potential for you to acquire the same thing or something even better? Maybe not. Perhaps you are more admiring of their ability, intelligence, or luck, perhaps? Coveting doesn’t have to be about noting their recent purchase of a rhinoceros, and thinking how you’ve always wanted one of those. Sometimes it’s that they could buy one, and you wouldn’t even know where to shop for an affordable puppy.

The process of comparing ourselves to others, and measuring ourselves by the standards of others, is common, constant, and exhausting. I’m tired just writing about it. The thing is, there’s more at stake than I think we realize.

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:5 NASB (emphasis mine)

It turns out that this law violates the first and second ones. What a horror to discover that these laws are interrelated! Oh wait. We sort of already knew that, or we should have. The greatest commandment isn’t even one of the Ten Commandments, and the second greatest isn’t either. The summary commands go together. Paul points out in the connection in Romans:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10 NASB

Jesus gave priority to the “Shema”, the call to Israel to listen and love God with their whole being. Yet Paul clarifies that the law is actually summarized in how we treat others, loving them as we love ourselves. How can he do that? How can he dodge loving our Creator with our entire being? He doesn’t. He has spent nearly 12 chapters pointing out that it is impossible to love others without loving Jesus with our whole being. He has pointed out that without the law we wouldn’t know sin, without the standard of our Creator there is no understanding of how much we need Him, and without Him there is no meeting the standard. Yet with Him all things are possible, including obedience.

When we covet, we live trapped in a belief that our Creator is not sufficient for us. When we do that, He is no longer our first love.

When we love others so freely we rejoice when they succeed, even in midst of our own defeat, we live out a belief that our Creator is wholly sufficient for everything we need. Believe first, the rest is the result of the belief. Believe that, and we will never covet, murder, steal, commit adultery or bring false testimony. It’s all connected.

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

The Para-Myth of Love

Myth. The word inspires images of unicorns and dragons, gods and heroes. We define myth as antithetical to fact, stories that may have a point, but no basis in truth. This is a cultural definition, not an ancient one. At it’s core, the word, regardless of culture, refers to a story. In our culture, that story is always false. But for the ancients, these stories inspired people, and taught them important lessons.

Today, we don’t use the word that way. We think in terms of false stories that people believe, and, most often, to their detriment. False stories or beliefs on which people base their lives can be dangerous. Because of this danger, we avoid myths, or try to. So, you may be surprised that this word is used, in a compound form, several times in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s my favorite:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 NASB

Did you spot it, the mythic reference? You may not, most people don’t. I missed it for years, and then one day I realized that the word I was drifting past contained the word, myth. The word in Greek is paramuthion, and can be found in the Strong’s Concordance at G3890. It’s made up of the Greek preposition “para”, referring to something alongside another. We get our word, parallel from it, two things laid alongside each other.

What is alongside here is a myth. And this myth comes from love, agape love. The context clearly implies that this “para-myth” of love is what is supposed to happen, so it can’t be a myth in the sense we think of myths. It’s not a false story, but a true story. And this story is what we’re supposed to gain from love. It’s a story to inspire and teach us. But what is it?

There are options for the content of this story. An obvious one is the content of Jesus’ life and ministry. From His life we learn what love truly is, how love is defined by our Creator. That is probably the best option for the content of this particular story. But I believe there are others as well.

Remember that Paul is about to use the life of Jesus, in a shortened form, to inspire the Philippians to regard each other in unified humility (Philippians 2:5-11). But I believe that part of unified humility is to follow in Jesus’ pattern in the stories we tell each other. Think about the sheer volume of reversals Jesus brings about in those He meets. A leper is touchable, an adulterous woman escapes judgement, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, and fishermen become theologians. Life stories are retold, changed, becoming something completely different.

When was the last time, you sat with the downcast, the depressed, or the mourner, and told them a new story? We do it, actually, we do it a lot of the time. But more often than not, we do it clumsily. We want them to stop bringing us down with them, so, we give them some other way to look at their circumstances that will cheer them up so they can refocus on us. Or, at least they may stop depressing us.

Jesus told a different set of stories than we do. To Martha, the woman who lost her brother, Lazarus, Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will never die, and those that die will live again. She is encouraged to go get her sister, Mary. To Mary, Jesus tells a different story. He simply weeps with her, then raises her brother to life. For Martha, it could be a story about Himself, but for Mary it had to be tears. For both, it included an act of power.

If we can come alongside each other, and tell different stories from the love of our Savior passing through us into them, then completely fill up joy by being like-minded, together-souled, and of the same love. It doesn’t begin with these para-myths of love. But it includes them. Let’s not forget them. Jesus tells a different love-story to His human creatures, one they can’t even imagine.

He’s given you one, and He has one for the others around you as well. So, pass along the love-story He has for someone else. Tell them the story Jesus has for them, but from beside them, holding their hands. Do not tell the story from above them, or from in front of them, behind them, or below them. Sit with them in their pain, sorrow, frustration, or despair. And tell them the love story Jesus has for their lives.

Passion Week XVII

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching.  The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.  And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve.  And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.  They were glad and agreed to give him money.  So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd. (Luke 22:1-6 NASB)

It was really hard not to drop the passion week numbering and call this entry “Sold Out”.  In terms of what those words mean, it can be positive or negative, especially in regards to our relationship with Jesus.  In Judas we see the clear negative meaning in someone who should surprise us.

Judas was chosen just like the others.  Judas was one of those who were familiar with Jesus from the time of the baptism until His death.  He had seen Jesus heal, raise the dead, feed five thousand, walk on water, and calm storms.  He heard demons cry out in terror at Jesus’ approach, seen them flee and loudly leave those whom Jesus cured.  Judas knew Jesus was Master of the natural and spiritual realms.  And Judas sold Jesus out for silver.

I believe that, in retrospect, the disciples saw in Judas the worst of human character.  But at the time, suspected none of it.  It’s one of the ironies of Scripture that this man can be so close to the Savior of the world, be so accepted and loved by Jesus, and then betray Him.  John especially has no good thing to say about Judas, even about his conduct while among the disciples (6:70,71; 12:4-6, 13:2, 26-30).

This character then, when viewed as the disciples looked back to tell the story of Jesus’ life, was rotten from early on.  He was one of those who no one would have picked for holy service. And yet Jesus, who knew a guy with a jar of water would go to a house ready to use for the Passover, looks at Judas and invites him in.  In John 13, it’s clear Jesus knows exactly what Judas is doing.  Any theories that Judas is a close friend, ally, or some other inner-circle sort of character clearly has a lot of Scripture to ignore.  He wasn’t seen that way by the disciples.

So why?  Why did Jesus pick this thoroughly wicked looser?  Why did God-in-the-flesh call this twisted and deviant version of His beautiful human creatures?  In Lord of the Rings, he’s Gollum.  In Star Wars, he is portrayed in the betrayal of the good by Anakin surrendering to be Darth Vader.  All good fairy stories have a betrayer character, and Judas is the penultimate betrayer in the one fairy story that’s actually true.  He had the best of all circumstances available to him, but he chose silver instead.  He saw it all, he heard it all, he was a witness of the Fullness of God in bodily form; yet, in the end, it was all for sale.

Even so, Jesus celebrates His memorial supper with Judas.  Jesus washes Judas’ feet.  Jesus gives Judas the preferred morsel of “friendship” at the Passover.  Jesus gives Judas every opportunity to stop the train wreck of his life.  But Satan entered into Judas.  Satan had put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2), so in a sense, he had already possessed this sorry puppet, as Luke says in verse 3.  But when Judas accepts the morsel of friendship, Judas accelerates down the disastrous rails to his doom.

A great Communion message I heard this past weekend said that Judas was interesting, not as a pattern to follow, but as a warning of what working for salvation looks like.  I thought that was an odd thing to say until the gentlemen explained that, after he betrayed Jesus, he then tried to repent by giving the money back and, in despair, committing suicide.  In other words, Judas tried to earn his way back in, when the very thing he caused was actually the only means of his salvation.  Once again, Judas completely missed it.  I thought that was an amazing observation to make.  The tragic figure of Judas is as important as the malevolent evil one.

I learn two lessons from the character of Judas and his relationship to Jesus.  On the one hand, I see that the danger of missing who Jesus truly is, is a danger even the ones closest to Him face.  I can’t stop focusing on my Master, loosing sight of His face for a moment, or thinking I’ve figured Him out.  But the second thing I learn is from Jesus’ choice to hang with this tragic creature. Who is so evil that I can’t love them?  Isn’t that true even though their life may be a train wreck coming on at break-neck speed?  Even if I know I can’t change them, should I too love them and accept them, and give them every chance to jump from the train of disaster?  But I typically find them too risky or not worth my time and effort.  I don’t want to jump on their train, but I should be willing to wait at the next whistle stop to invite them to get off.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week V

As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:37-40 NASB)

I noticed we have either two crowds (disciples and travelers), or one crowd with interlopers (disciples with Pharisee interlopers).  Along through Luke I have contended that the Pharisees with whom Jesus is in dialogue as He moves about are actually disciples of His; or at least followers.  If that was true, at this point these wish to distance themselves from Jesus’ followers.  Have these Pharisees “repented” from following Jesus?

First off, “crowd” in verse 37 and “crowd” in verse 39 are actually different words.  Before you get confused, they aren’t related to each other either.  One refers to a “bunch of somethings” in other words, a subset of a larger category, hence “crowd of disciples”.  The other is a noun, a complete category.  At least I thought that was the case. It’s nice theory, but it’s wrong.  I looked it up thinking I had found something possibly profound, and easily disproved it.  It happens to me a lot actually.

The two are different words, but essentially synonymous; at least as they refer to crowds of people.  I believe that Luke is using a literary device at this point which serves two purposes.  One, it avoids repetition, and two, it differentiates between two “crowds”.  One crowd is the disciples of Jesus, the other is the crowd heading into Jerusalem.  The Pharisees are from the second group.  So now I ask, were the Pharisees from the first crowd, and now have decided to distance themselves from the disciples?

I don’t think so.  I think, because of how their plea with Jesus is worded, that they simply are going along at the same time, and are alarmed at the clearly “messianic” (i.e. royal) quality of the disciples singing.  They’re concerned it may cause a riot or worse during the festival.  But I think there may have also been other Pharisees who have traveled with Jesus, who may have also been among those praising God as they entered Jerusalem.  Maybe.  It’s hard to say because I don’t know if they had “jackets” or something designating them as Pharisees.  Or whether they had the freedom to simply drop everything and follow Jesus all over.  I simply don’t know.  It didn’t slow Peter and others down, so maybe it didn’t slow them down either.  But Luke doesn’t say.

The point I’m making here is that incidental crowds versus those crowds of followers/disciples have different perspectives.  They’re both crowds, but not gathered for the same purpose.  This gets at “popularity”, being “politically correct”, and wanting to avoid offending people.  The good news of salvation through Jesus Christ is offensive.  But not to the crowd following Him.  It’s offensive to the incidental crowd who happens to coexisting with the crowd following Him.  I think sometimes we may be trying to please the wrong crowd.  Remember that the aroma of the gospel is life to us and death to them (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

I get that we can be offensive within the body  of our Master.  This happens all the time.  And at times people are simply loveless, acting out of their hurt and anger instead of the love they have been shown.  I get that, and I confess, have done that.  But this isn’t the only time people are offended.  There are also some who are offended out of selfishness, self-centered sense of entitlement, and/or pride.  Love is said to “cover all things”.  It’s a strange quality in 1 Corinthians 13:7 usually translated as “endures” or “bears”.  However it’s translated I believe it relates to the quality of love mentioned earlier of not accounting wrongs.  I think true mature followers of Jesus don’t become offended, but they can be considered offensive to others.

There are two crowds juxtaposed with Jesus and His followers.  We choose the crowd with whom we flow. And either crowd can distract us from our Master, Jesus.  The challenge is to be followers of Jesus, not of either crowd.  Together, we will then form a crowd unified by One.  Let the other crowd ask us to pipe down, tell us to take it somewhere else, and quit being so offensive.  It’s fine to ask, but we are to obey our Master.  It would be really embarrassing to have the rocks cry out in the praise we fail to give because we fear the wrong master.

Anyway, that’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see through the fence in your knothole?

Some Rich Guy…And Lazarus

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.”  (Luke 16:19-21 NASB)

This parable isn’t one of the more difficult to understand, it’s just one of the more disturbing that Jesus tells.  It’s possible there are some literary genius elements in it, like that Lazarus is the only named character between the two, but never speaks.  But other points, primarily the details of the setting after death are particularly troubling.

For instance, does it bother anyone else that heaven and hell are within sight, and close enough to discern actual people?  Does it bother anyone that in heaven it’s possible to see tormented people in hell?  I think, if you’re like me, you sort of figured that they would be “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” for eternity.  I just never thought about it actually.  You, know, except for now.

Does it bother anyone that Abraham and the unnamed rich-guy can talk across the gulf that no one can travel across?  There’s no bridge, but they can shout at each other.  Isn’t that a bit too close for “comfort”?  How is the blessed existence of heaven possible when you can witness the torment of those who refused the kingdom of God?  That sounds a bit morbid or at least sadistic in nature.

So now the real question: If all that is accurate about the parable, did Jesus intend for it to be an accurate depiction of heaven, what John saw from Patmos?  I have heard it various ways: heaven & hell prior to the cross, heaven & hell prior to the final “new heaven/new earth” (during the “church-age” – nonsense), and so on.  Jesus simply leaves that question unanswered.

John’s vision on Patmos was different in a lot of ways, but some details he simply didn’t mention.  For instance, John mentions the “lake of fire” but doesn’t say whether it was visible from the “New Jerusalem”.  He has an abyss, but again it sounds like a lockable hole, temporary place for the Devil prior to the final battle.  Still no mention as to the “layout” and whether there was this “chasm fixed” that no one can cross.  So, it’s possible that John’s vision and this parable describe very similar settings.  How’s that for uncomfortable?

One of the real problems here is how this depiction seems to cast God in a unloving light, at least by our definitions of love.  Even if people in rebellious ignorance chose to go there, why leave both places within sight of each other for eternity?  Can you imagine an eternity of worship before the Throne of God with tormented souls as “backup”?  You can see them and hear them while worshiping with an unnumbered throng before the throne.  Seems some how discordant.

So what do we do with this depiction?  My favorite choice is to go with the main point, and trust God for the setting.  The main point is that the wealthy need to reach out to the poor in recognition of the Sovereignty of God; viewing themselves as equal with the poor.  It’s a matter of responsibility with the resources God has provided us, rich, comfortable, getting by, barely making it, stretching, or homeless.

If I focus on the obvious point, and let God worry about the “setting” after this life, then I’m not distracted sitting as judge over the Maker of the entire universe.  See the problem?  When we call God’s character into question, we do so at a very core level.  It erodes our faith just to do so.  If we believe that Scripture is inspired, that Jesus actually said these things, then draw the conclusion from those beliefs that Jesus reveals God as a very unloving harsh God; we reject other passages that say otherwise.

Part of the problem we face on this side of the “afterlife” is that we have little idea what we will be like on that side.  It could be that “the glory to be revealed” so far surpasses our ability to comprehend now that any vision of the torment of others actually becomes incorporated into the glory of God and His character.  To say that’s not possible from this side is fine, but impossible to actually know.  So the challenge is to learn the obvious lesson, and also hang on to what we already know about God.

That’s my view through this knothole…you?  What do you see?

Repentance and Proximity

“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)

So, when did the younger brother, the one having wasted his share of the inheritance on wild living, actually repent?  Was it when he “came to his senses”, when he determined to return to his father, or when he actually got up and headed back?  The tax collectors and sinners crowded to Jesus to hear Him.  Had they repented or was this definition of repentance for them as well as the Pharisees to whom Jesus responds?

Jesus begins His ministry crying out “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near!”  He sends His disciples out on two separate occasions, and their message is the same.  And yet, as one of my friends who comments on these entries at times points out, Jesus healed people regardless of whether they demonstrate repentance or not.  In fact in both instances of sending out His disciples, they too heal and cast out demons regardless of the repentant response.

So repentance can’t be the dividing line between the activity of God in the lives of people.  It can only be seen as the dividing line between those who determine to live like Jesus and those who simply want to hear and be entertained.  Jesus relied on proximity to proclaim His message of repentance.  So if people came to be entertained, He used their proximity to announce a radical paradigm shift.  Some took Him up on His offer, but most did not.  Either way many were healed, had demons cast out, and were fed.  In the process they had at least heard God calls us to a different life.

Here’s one of the sad ironies about this view of Jesus: If someone claims to have accepted Jesus’ radical paradigm shift and then refuses to be around the “sinners and tax collectors” of our day, then they’ve adopted the wrong paradigm.  Over the centuries since Jesus said these words, walked these places, and did these things, many competing paradigms have emerged.  They claim to be the world view of Jesus, His direct apostolic anointing, and so on.  Unfortunately they bear only passing resemblance to Jesus’ life.  Claim what you like, only the paradigm that matches the life of Jesus is the paradigm of a disciple.  If we going to focus on making disciples, then we to be very careful to adopt the right paradigm.

So, perhaps only disciples are saved, and the process of salvation can be said to be repentance.  But if so, then the result in a persons life should include proximity to sinners, ministry including the miraculous in their lives, and a call for them to repent.  So whether the “sinners” are found on Wall Street or in Battery Park, the need for proximity remains, as does the work, as does the call to repentance.

So, that’s my two cents, to borrow from my friends comment from yesterday.  What do you learn from Jesus’ description of repentance?

Why Justify?

 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”  But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:26-29 NASB)

There had to be something about Jesus that drove the religious elite up the wall.  I’m guessing it had to do with His attitude, demeanor, or perhaps His refusal to show off how much He knew what others knew.  He seemed to only quote Scripture.  He never referred to any known scholars of the day.  He only used His own interpretation of Scripture.  Or maybe it was that being anywhere close to Him made one acutely aware of how unholy and unrighteous one was.

This lawyer stands to “test” Jesus.  It’s a test that desires to see the quality of what is tested.  I infer from the context that the lawyer asks without any assumption as to the expected outcome.  I think he really wants to know who this Jesus person is.  When he stands, the lawyer is in the “driver seat” directing the conversation to his desired outcome.  Yet that lasts two sentences into the conversation.  He asks, then Jesus asks, and the lawyer is now the “occupant.”  Something about Jesus’ question, his answer, and Jesus’ response leaves the lawyer wanting.  I wonder if this feeling of being “undone” was the expected outcome of the test.

The lawyer desires, wishes, wants to be justified.  He wants to justify himself.  So, he’s looking for validation from Jesus.  Why?  What is it about Jesus’ response that has this legal eagle so bugged?  Jesus gave the expected response.  When asked, it’s a teacher’s normal process to ask a question in response.  The lawyer gives a good answer, one Jesus will use later on in the Temple with other lawyers.  Jesus affirms the answer.  So what’s the problem, why the need to justify himself?

Jesus heals lepers.  Jesus speaks with and stays with Samaritans.  He travels to Gentile regions, and even heals someone there.  Jesus seems to accept women, even ones with dubious histories.  It’s a fairly safe bet this lawyer does none of this, or rather accepts no one in any of these categories.  To be near Jesus and talk with Him is to throw into sharp relief the distance between the love Jesus lives out and the love this lawyer lives out.  He needs this validation because he has just subordinated himself to the teaching of One who loves the unlovable.  That was not what was supposed to happen.  It left the lawyer undone, needing justification.

Me too.  Seriously, me too.  How can anyone read and really study the Gospels, sift through the life of Jesus, and not be undone?  How can we be confronted by this One accepting the unlovable, touching the unclean, taking the time to speak with women, holding up a child as an example of greatness, and then feel justified?  It’s not possible.  Even if the deeds match, something in the attitude would leave us undone.  Unless we don’t care.  Unless we really are not that interested in Jesus’ life and seeing where we fall short.  We can even justify ourselves by skipping parts.  But when we don’t skip, when we allow ourselves to be confronted by the Teacher who lives out perfect love, we feel the need for justification.

It’s the desire to justify ourselves that holds the danger.  The whole parable was designed to remove the option of self-justification.  The lawyer may have wanted to justify himself, but the Teacher was not going to give him that option.  It was necessary for the lawyer, and for us, to feel the need for justification.  We need it.  It’s part of why Jesus came, part of why He went to the cross, and part of why He needed to rise from the dead.  Justification is the result of knowing Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord of our lives.  Justification is available because Jesus suffered, died, and rose again.  Justification happens because our “defense attorney” is the Son of the Judge who has already paid for our crimes.  The court is rigged, the trial is predetermined in its outcome.  We win.

A fool has himself as his attorney.  The lawyer failed to justify himself.  We fail to justify ourselves.  But we can always take the option left to us by the Teacher.  Would you rather be your own defense attorney before the Judge, being accused by the Satan?  Or would you rather opt for the rigged trial where the Son of the Judge defends you?  The path to that outcome is through Jesus as your Master.  It’s not exactly “free”, it costs your submission and belief.  You declare Jesus is Lord with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.  But God does not believe lies.  Our life and heart are the litmus tests as to whether we have done this.  So, is Jesus your Advocate or are you still trying to justify yourself?

What do you see in the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer?