For What Do We Beg?

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!” (Lk. 18:35-38 NAU)

I asked what do we want earlier, but I wanted to point out that here that the “beggar” didn’t stop begging once he heard Who was coming along.  He had been begging before, for money from those passing by.  Once he hears Jesus is passing by, he still begs, but this time louder and with more vigor.  Like last time, he’s after his sight.  But I missed the change (pun unintended, but I like it).

The change to which I refer is the change from begging for coins to begging for healing.  Either way, he’s a beggar.  And keep in mind he’s a beggar because that’s what he’s doing, not because he’s blind.  He only chose to beg because he was blind, but he had a very limited number of other options.  Begging was actually fairly risky for a blind person.

The thing is, I’m supposed to see myself in this blind man.  He’s important.  Mark 10:46-52 (therefore Mark’s source of info on Jesus) actually has his name (Bartimaeus) and his father’s name (Timaeus)…okay, so that’s a translation of his name, but still, it has this sense of familiarity.  The sense in Mark is that this guy is known within the church in Jerusalem or Judea at any rate.

The irony is that this guy is known forever after his healing as Blind Bartimaeus.  Here’s what I’m seeing in this guy’s status, he was a beggar and blind.  And after being healed, he was remembered as blind but not a beggar.  He asked for his sight, and those who knew him later remembered his story, the story of Blind Bartimaeus, but not the story of Beggar Bartimaeus.  He was a blind beggar.  Now’s he’s not.  Poof.

See, one of the things that’s so hard to help people get is some sense of what they don’t know.  I deal with this at work all the time.  It drives me nuts.  On the other hand, I’m honing a skill in helping people get a sense of what they don’t know, can’t see, and have no idea is even possible.  It’s amazing, and I love that part.

In one instant, some poor guy (or gal) is moping along saddled with a regulatory requirement.  The next, they have this potential to know the background about the regulatory implications of any random occurrence their clients spring on them.  One instant they are the victims of the random business choices of their clients, the next they have the business agility to appear as magical sages of all things business.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get clients to see this.  Most of the time they only see the regulatory compliance as a necessary evil.  They remain on the roadside begging.  And many times, so do I.  I hear of great things Jesus is doing in the lives of others, and I look over and smile, but assume that’s not for me.  I’ve heard too many faddish stories of wondrous things that never happened or never materialized in my life.

After trying to replicate the work of God in my life I heard about in another’s, I give up and keep begging by the roadside.  I remain a beggar.  I remain blind.  But on the other hand, I’m vaguely aware that there is more.  I have heard of this Jesus who heals.  There is this ridge line of spiritual life that I dare not ascend and cross.  He calls me up to it, and I shrink back from the effort, having been disappointed so often by the strain of it and pain.

But on the other hand, sometimes the crowd passing me by gets my attention.  I perceive the commotion, the fervor, the excitement, and hope begins to well up.  Maybe this time.  And once more I begin the ascent.  But along the way, I am forced to give up resentments, to stop behaviors I’ve come to love, to see myself for all the accumulated garbage that has begun to define me (I’m a beggar?).  As that begins to fall away, the entanglements and sin of Hebrews 12, I find the climbing easier, the ridge line comes into view once again.  I’m repenting.

And on the other side will be another valley, and another ridge line.  But a better valley, and a higher ridge line.  I will be stronger, know my Jesus more, and I will be remembered as blind, but no longer a beggar.  I’m okay here in this valley, but I know there’s more.  I want to be more than an okay beggar.

What do you see through your knothole?  What does the former blind beggar teach you?


What Do You Want?

“What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” (Luke 18:41 NASB)

It’s hard for me to read this without hearing Annie Potts in Ghost Busters answering the phone saying, “Ghost Busters, what do you want?” in a very grumpy angry voice.  And I am on phones all day long, so you don’t even know how often I’ve wanted to answer them like that.  Sometimes my day isn’t fun, the circumstances aren’t the way I want, and I’m stuck still waiting for that “idea” I had to produce fruit.  I’m still waiting.  You never know though.  God brings about amazing things.  So it’s not a question of can or will He, it’s often a question of Him looking into my eyes and asking, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

What do I want?  Sometimes that question speaks so much more loudly of my human relationships than the relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Sometimes the two are so intertwined I can’t see any distinction.  But at other times, very infrequent times, my answer will have everything to do with Him and His Kingdom.  Those are the ones I don’t feel guilty for asking Him to do.  But my day is often overshadowed by the requirements of my job, the ever-present pressure to produce, the push to make more calls and therefore more money.  And, yes, “I’m in sales”.

I know enough about myself to know I’m no sales person.  I’m a problem-solver who cares about people.  I don’t want their money, I want them to work better for less.  That last part creates a problem because I’m actually measured on how many people give me their money.  Whatever.  I have my own canon of measure, one I borrowed from my King.  It frustrates my manager, but she understands.  I produce enough to keep my job, but find the tediousness of the process grating.  It’s the people I talk to that I enjoy the most.  I get to know them, help them through the problem they face, and they call back to get more help.  Sometimes in that process they spend money with me.

The challenge is to really know what I want.  Honestly, I don’t want to be the best, to make the most, the adulation of my peers, or my manger’s job.  I’m good where I am on this “food-chain”.  I wouldn’t mind jumping over to a different chain, but I’m not relocating to do so. So here I am.  What do I want my Master to do for me?  Maybe I’m so consumed by the enormity of my struggle with work that I’m missing another view.

If I look up and around me, what I want my Master to do for me is transform my community.  But that entails changing my church, which means we commit to Him and submit to Him.  And that means so many people changing their priorities, which means they somehow make that “leap” to seeing the benefit.  Which means they “buy into” some point of view that discipleship, which costs so much, returns so much more.  That’s a lot for which to ask my Master.

The blind man wanted to see.  What he wanted was to be changed.  So perhaps I need to ask for what I want Jesus to change in me.  It would be different than changing my circumstances (work) or my environment (community).  What do I want Him to change in me?  My attitude toward work?  Yes.  And perhaps my attitude toward my community? Yes.  If He asked me what He asked the blind man, both those things would be things for which I need to ask.  I need an attitude change.  I need it at work and at church.  That’s what I need, but is it what I want?

What do you want Jesus do to for you?  What’s your view through your knothole?

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?

Understanding Hidden Lessons

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”  But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.  (Luke 18:31-34 NASB)

Jesus predicted His coming death and resurrection several times in each Gospel.  But in each case the disciples didn’t get it.  Their understanding of what “Messiah” would be was cultural, driven by the lessons of the teachers of the day.  And it was completely different from Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have this prediction right before Jesus enters Jerusalem.  But there are some differences in Luke.

One of the things Luke has different is that Jesus says He will be handed over to “Gentiles”.  The other two both say He will be delivered to “Chief Priests and Scribes”, and then handed over to the Gentiles.  Luke leaves out the Jewish element here.  Since the other two have Jewish audiences and Luke has a Gentile one, I’m guessing the audience had something to do with the difference.

But the other difference is the obfuscation verse missing from the other two in this account.  In fact Luke includes this element in the second prediction found in Luke 9 as well.  For Luke it was clear that the disciples were kept from understanding what Jesus was saying.  In this passage here is how Luke makes that clear:

  1. The verb translated “understood” literally means to “send together”.  It implies taking two things and connecting them in the mind.  They didn’t do it.  “Messiah” and “death” just weren’t two things they could bring together.
  2. The verb translated “hidden” is exactly that.  This verb is a perfect passive participle, meaning the effect of the action happens to the subject (the disciples) and continues on into the indeterminable future.  The concepts couldn’t be brought together because the connections were hidden from them, and continued that way even after the resurrection (at least for a short time after).
  3. The verb translated as “comprehend” is the basic Greek verb for ‘to know’.  You know?  They didn’t.  But, of course, they were prevented (passive verb) from “knowing” because the connection between “Messiah” and “death” was hidden.

I think the point Luke was trying to make was that the disciples weren’t intellectual rodents.  The question is left as to who or what hid the meaning.  Was it God the Father, the One revealing to Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?  Or was it the culture that defined the Messiah as a religious/political figure?  Or was it the desire of God that the cultural barriers would be insurmountable for them at that time?  I’m not sure (and neither are you), but there are lots of opinions.  Regardless, the disciples weren’t idiots for not getting it, they were “victims” of a sort.  That’s different.

The lesson I learn here is that spiritual comprehension isn’t something my Master allows me to weigh.  Luke was careful to point out that the disciples weren’t dull but were prevented from understanding.  How about others to whom we relate the good news of Jesus?  Are they dull or also victims of their culture/Creator?  What about those in our congregations who continue to operate as if God requires sacrifice to remain appeased?  What about those who give in order to receive more from their King?  What about ministers who consider themselves more, volunteers who consider themselves less, or those who consider themselves exempt from service altogether?

It’s easy to point fingers, but Paul points out in Romans 12 that to each was given a measure of faith, and that we’re not to exceed that.  For me personally, I am again confronted with forgiveness.  I have a record of wrong to let go.  I have someone I have judged, and honestly I don’t know what prevented them from understanding.  Perhaps they were prevented by some design, perhaps by some of their own pain, perhaps it was me.  It’s possible I contributed to the misunderstanding.  I feel pain, a deep sense of betrayal.  But is it possible for me to let that go?  Is it beneficial to not regard the one who hurt me as my enemy but instead as one on whom my Master is working?

I’m seeing that my Master seeks to teach me through the others He brings into my life.  So if I don’t let this resentment go, then I’m missing a lesson my Master has for me.  But if I’m able to regard this person as one on whom my Master works, then he is like me, a project of our Creator.  But I want vindication.  That’s part of the problem.  Vindication would validate me over him.  I would “win”, and that would solve nothing really.  So part of what I have to release is that desire for vindication, validation, and to win.  Death to self becomes down and dirty, tangible and concrete, foolish and humbling.  Dang it.

What do you learn from the confused disciples?  What’s your view through the knothole?

Spiritual Investing

And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”  Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  (Luke 18:24-30 NASB)

Sometimes, I find that promises in Scripture, from Jesus Himself even, are hard to swallow.  Will I really gain much more than I sacrifice in this life?  I leave my family, goods, and whatnot for the Kingdom of God and I will gain many times as much at this time? Seriously?  I find that strangely at odds with themes we covered prior.  What about the cost of discipleship?  So, I can safely cast away everything now, and have much more at this time not just eternal life in the age to come?

Yes, I doubt. I do.  I’m not apologetic about it, I doubt.  I read the Hebrew Scriptures about how the people followed God, and then fell away.  I see how they were oppressed and cried out and God delivered.  I think of God watching them worship after deliverance, only to have them fall away again, be oppressed, and delivered all over again.  It’s the “Judges Cycle”, but repeated in Samuel and Kings as well.  It happens when the rain doesn’t fall, the crops aren’t ripening, and the grapes and olives fail.  Their neighbors seem fine and worship another god, some storm god, and their crops look good.  So the people hedge their bets and worship both.  I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve seen the pattern in my own culture, sometimes even in my own life.

The problem with which I wrestle is what if I don’t receive many times more?  What if God’s promise doesn’t come about?  Peter is crucified upside down, not in a bigger house with a bigger family.  John dies after somehow surviving Patmos with criminals.  The other ten are all killed for their faith, James almost immediately.  Where was the “many times more at this time” that Jesus promised?  I don’t see that but I do see the faithfulness of the ones Jesus told that to.  They heard that, invested, but didn’t record how they experienced that blessing at that time.  We hear later they all died.  Is it a “Role Call of Faith” sort of thing where they all died without seeing what was promised?  Why even put that tidbit in there about “at this time” in the first place?

I struggle with it.  I read it, but I struggle with believing it.  I suppose the answer is to invest and learn what it really means.  Perhaps I need to sacrifice to understand what exactly Jesus meant by gaining much more at this time.  I don’t see it, but trust Him.  I don’t read about how the disciples and followers gained much more of the same sort of thing, but so what?  Do it anyway.  They did.  And they still recorded this promise, do you get that?  This promise of Jesus was heard by all three sources used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And they heard it and the Gospel writers recorded it.  And yet no one felt compelled to explain how it was true in the lives of the disciples.  It was supposed to be obvious without the need for explanation.

So, I don’t get it, but there’s so much that goes into that category.  I don’t really understand how the promise was fulfilled in the life of Peter, James, John, Paul, or the others.  I don’t understand, but I won’t either until I invest, and wait for the return on that investment from my Master.  And so here I go…

What’s your view through this knothole?  What do you learn from this assurance from Jesus that it’s safe to invest everything with Him and for His Kingdom?

The Cost You Don’t See

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:21-23 NASB)

Back in Luke 14 (25-33) Jesus describes the cost of discipleship.  Here this cost is illustrated.  Jesus discusses with this ruler the way he can inherit eternal life.  The ruler believes that the association necessary to inherit this gift is through something he does. Since he already follows the law, Jesus notes that he recognizes that isn’t enough.  So Jesus adds another, give up everything and follow Me.

Sometimes we think of those extravagant costs Jesus notes as excessive and naively believe He can’t be serious.  But think of that challenge in this way, for what are we willing to sell eternal life in heaven, or for what will we trade heaven later to gain now?  Economically, that’s what we do.  We sell heaven for stuff we have here, but notice what Jesus says, “…and you will have treasure in heaven;” it’s a trade!  But the ruler sold heaven for what he had at hand.

This is the same thing we do when we look at the cost of discipleship and choose something else.  When we decide not to study, to pray, to meet together and make those things priorities; we sell heaven for whatever we do instead.  I’ve heard it lots of times from a wide variety of people that this view is legalistic.  I believe that too is an excuse to ignore it.  Because when I ask them what it means to them, they still aren’t doing even what they believe it means.  But at least they aren’t legalistic.

The truth is that “goods” aren’t always the problem, the thing that keeps us from devotion to Jesus.  But for many, and in our culture many more than most, the ease of our lives takes priority over the discomfort of being a disciple.  I know it does for me.  I know that for many of the decisions I make, my comfort winds up being the priority.  So, I see where my Master is revealing these things to me, where He is moving me, prodding me off my comfortable couch and easy chair, and into His kingdom work.

What keeps you distracted from obedience?  For what are you “selling” eternal life?  For what will you trade to get it, or get it back?  What’s your view through the knothole?

What Is Good?

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'”  And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  (Luke 18:18-21 NASB)

The beginning of this conversation always sort of amused me.  First off, some “ruler” comes to Jesus.  Ruler of what?  The word used is “archon” which can mean chief or leader of just about anything.  Luke wants us to know this guy is the chief or head of something, but what isn’t important.  In Matthew and Mark he’s also an “archon”, but in Matthew he’s also young, which would exclude him from being the head of some family.  So we don’t know what he leads, but he’s a recognized leader, that detail remained in tact.

Second, he asks about inheriting eternal life.  Why is that a quality we can inherit?  The word-choice carries an understanding that this eternal life is something that one gains by association.  But the leader asks what he must do, as opposed to who he should associate with.  It’s a weird way to word the question, yet that detail remains consistent in all three as well.  Shouldn’t he ask, “Who do I inherit eternal life from?”  And yet I think the answer to that is obvious, we would only get that from God.  So, the doing he asks about has to do with doing something to gain and maintain that association with God.

Thirdly, Jesus questions the man’s reference to Him as “good”.  I thought that was strange because Jesus doesn’t disagree, He questions the ruler about what he meant?  No one is good but God alone.  Is Jesus asking the ruler if he believes Jesus is God?  If he is, why doesn’t He allow him an opportunity to respond?  It’s as if the question is really for those hearing.  Maybe they wondered that themselves, or maybe they saw that as the expected humble response of a responsible Teacher.  Either way or another, Jesus doesn’t wait for a response.  He moves on, and so will I.

Jesus then states that the ruler already knows the answer, and cites the law.  In each Gospel, Jesus cites a different numbers of laws.  Luke has the fewest, but all of his are included in the other two.  Matthew cites the most, and all of Marks are in his list. Even so, the difference amounts to two laws, one of which Mark seems to have invented (do not defraud).  So, why, if Jesus knows that the law won’t bring the guy eternal life, does He cite the law?  It seems weird to me that Jesus would tell a religious leader at night to be born again to enter into the Kingdom, yet tells this guy to follow the law to inherit eternal life.

But here again, I think Jesus may be speaking to be heard by more than just this leader.  The leader has done these from his youth.  So why is he still thinking he isn’t going to inherit eternal life?  Or is he looking for Jesus to give him a stamp of approval?  Or is he looking for more adulation from the people?  Or is he really, in his gut, pretty sure something is missing, even with the obedience?   That would play more into Jesus’ teaching that the law doesn’t save, He does.

So why would Jesus take this guy through this route?  I’ve always wondered that. With Nicodemus Jesus cuts right to the end, “You must be born again.”  But with this guy, Jesus meanders around “good”, and through legal issues before arriving at the core issue.  Was it for the crowd to hear?  Was it so this guy could travel the road he’d traveled so much already and yet found wanting?  Was it for Jesus’ disciples?  Why take this route at this time?  Maybe it was the cut of the leader’s clothes, the quality of the sash, the colors of his turban.  Maybe the army of sycophants surrounding the leader, hanging on his every word.

I think that everyone present knew this leader.  And I think everyone present were not surprised by the man’s claim he had done all the law from his youth.  I think that Jesus walked him down this road for the crowd and so he wouldn’t have an out.  The point hasn’t been reached yet, and the point will be the shocker Jesus pulls out about camels and needles.  But it has to be settled first that the law isn’t a sufficient path, that God is good, and that Jesus is He.

That’s my view through this part of a knothole.  What’s your view?  Why this path with this guy at this point in Jesus’ ministry?


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?

Who Are You Thankful To?

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  (Luke 18:10-12 NASB)

The point of this parable, as described in the introduction, is that some trust in themselves for their righteousness.  So Jesus contrasts two men from very different segments of their society.  The Pharisee begins his prayer with thankfulness.  That makes sense, until we see what he’s thankful for. He thanks God, but he lists the things he’s thankful for as things he does.  In other words, he sounds right on the front end, but his actual content indicates a huge error.

It’s easy to spot.  It’s easy to criticize in others.  You’ve probably heard the prayers of others with such content.  But have you ever truly analyzed your own prayer content?  I have discovered that mine is often peppered with things I want others around me to know.  Sometimes, in private prayer, I’ve discovered that I’m actually telling God what to do rather than asking for what He wants to do.  Sometimes I’ve tried to “paint God into a corner” so that He is honor-bound to answer my prayer.

Sure, I can poke fun at those who seem to punctuate their prayers with “Lord God” or “Oh Lord”, or whatever.  But I’m discovering that their actual prayers mean a lot more than mine do.  I often find that there is a lot less of them in what they actually say to God than there is of me in what I say.  And before you point out that I’m paying way too much attention, comparing myself to others, may I just point out that I’m also learning what my Master has from me by working out my salvation with others.  I’m learning.  And hopefully, growing in my faith and practice.

See, the problem isn’t my prayer, it’s my heart.  My intent and focus is too much on myself and what I want when I pray like this.  When I notice it in myself or when I realize my prayers so different from others, I realize I’m letting my “old nature” live too much.  It’s part of my repentance, part of my sanctification, part of my death that I learn these lessons.  I must decrease and He must increase; it’s my reality not just the one John the Baptist found himself in.

But this is the path of discipleship.  It’s a path of death by cross that I carry myself.  It’s a life of loving my Master so much it seems I hate my family and myself.  It’s a path where the mind of Christ Jesus wakens in me the compulsion to empty myself and take on the form of a servant.  It’s a life lived in the constant presence of the Creator God of the entire universe, from quarks to galaxies.  It’s actually kind of cool, but it includes these inane examinations of my prayer life to make sure the my nature doesn’t show on the dipstick.

On that note, how’s your prayer life?  What’s your view through the knothole?  Are you more “Pharisee” or “tax collector”?  Oh, and if you think you’re not as bad as me, if that actually went through your brain…well you probably get the point.

Why The Parable?

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, (Luke 18:1 NASB)

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8 NASB)

It’s real easy to criticize.  Even when there’s nothing gained, no point for the person being criticized, or when the criticism is unfounded, it’s still easy.  What’s not so easy is understanding.  Sometimes, understanding comes from re-reading, reevaluating, and stopping to think.  It takes time for impatient people to understand when criticism is so readily available.

Take the parable of the unjust judge for instance, the reason given for the parable on the front end is persistence in prayer.  Yet Jesus says on the back side that God will answer swiftly.  If God answers swiftly, why the need for persistence?  And before you think this is simple, justice is becoming a hot-button topic in the world, and religious persecution, especially of Christians, is on the rise.  Obviously, there are examples of injustice to believers where God did not answer at all, at least not with the justice prayed for.

But it’s not that hard to understand either.  In the parable the widow (a disenfranchised person within that culture) was persistent in asking the unjust judge for legal protection.  What happens is she wears the judge down.  Jesus’ point is that God loves us and doesn’t need to be worn down to answer.  On the other hand, the speedy answer of God is justice for those crying out to Him day and night.  They were persistent in prayer.

But clearly when people have been persistent, God doesn’t necessarily answer the way they want.  Good parents don’t just grant their kids request because they’re persistent and wear them down.  Parents who want their kids to shut up might do so a couple of times, but then learn it doesn’t work and actually reinforces the problem you were trying to prevent.  God doesn’t give us whatever we want because we want it and persistently ask for it.  He gives us what He wants to give us because He loves us and knows what we don’t.

The difficulty here is that justice is something different than a toy, a car, success at work, or a nice house.  Justice is something that humans sort of expect or have some sense about when it’s absent.  Often justice becomes the coin of our relationship negotiations.  And yet it’s something most of us would have difficulty defining clearly.  Simply put, justice is receiving the decency due every human being.  Justice is present when people are treated with respect regardless of their characteristics.  That’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s close enough for our discussion.

Justice is received, not taken.  So, we can control what we dispense it to others, but we cannot control what we receive.  The penalty for injustice varies, but in general you only get back what you dispense.  And I believe that this is one of the primary reasons God teaches us as He does.  God is a just God.  And yet, to appease His sense of justice, He took our penalty on Himself.  As He does so, He also teaches us to follow His pattern in our human relationships.  We are to give justice without the expectation of receiving it back.  In other words we’re to give justice in exchange for injustice.

The whole point of the parable is to continue in prayer.  I think God loves our company more than anything.  And the justice we seek is actually already present in Jesus and what He has already accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection.  We are justified before God, Maker and Sustainer of the universe.  What’s better than that?  Persistence in prayer puts us constantly in His presence, and that changes our sense of justice.  Mercy becomes the quality people see in us.  Mercy gives justice in exchange for injustice.  In a sense, we appease the injustice we receive by taking the penalty on ourselves.

So, as I face opponents in what I do for my King, injustice will often be what I receive as part of the deal.  My response to those people is supposed to be that mercy I received from my King.  The more time I spend in prayer to my King, the more often mercy will be my response.  As far as speedy justice from God, I think I have all I need already in Jesus.  But I will definitely keep praying for my brothers and sisters in persecution elsewhere.  They are legion, and the need is great.  Therefore I will need to be persistent on their behalf.

That’s my convoluted view through this particular knothole.  What do you see?