Can You Imagine?

In storytelling, one foundational rule is “show, don’t tell”. It means that, in a scene, don’t tell the reader about the setting, a character, or an action. You show the scene, what would the reader see? You show the character demonstrating their…well, character. You describe the action as it happens rather than simply stating that it happened. Of course, you have to know when to break the rules.

The idea of writing this way is that you draw the reader into the story. They should be able to imagine being there and seeing it, smelling it, feeling the wind on their skin. The more senses involved, the more vibrant the engagement of the reader. Which is great when the scene is important, the character central, and the place meaningful to the plot. Sometimes, the writer simply doesn’t have the time for all that.

This entry is being written during COVID-19 restrictions. So, the scene about to be described has a whole new feeling about it. But, remember back to large sporting events, tens of thousands of people, food vendors, crowds? You remember those? Well, this is like that, only with more stink. You see, like those events, people came from all over. Like those events, people moved in massive “herds”. 

But unlike those, these people included many sick and “demon possessed”. There was a smell of the diseased on top of already pungent smell of sweat, the heightened stress of mentally and emotionally unstable people and caretakers trying to manage moving their charges in such conditions. It was chaos, all centered on Jesus.

Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. And from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done. Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Mark 3:7-12 NET

There’s a lot going on here, but not a lot of detail is given. But let’s see if we can unpack some of it. Mark says that the disciples and Jesus traveled to “the sea”, which might imply the Mediterranean, except for the instructions “to have a small boat ready”. Now we know the “sea” is the Sea of Galilee.

The crowd is next. It’s HUGE! And it’s made up people, literally, from all over. Look a the map below. These people came from the north, south, east and west. They came because they heard Jesus about the things Jesus was doing. In order to manage His ability to minister to the crowd, Jesus tells His disciples to have a boat ready so He can teach, possibly heal, from just off shore. But it is basically, an escape plan.

The sick pressed toward Him to touch Him and be healed. It is pandemonium around Jesus, and the noise had to be deafening. Normal business along the shore was probably disrupted, which means normal “tax collecting” was probably interrupted, which tends to bring the attention of the authorities. And yet, with all this going on, it seems that the region simply rolls with it. Perhaps this isn’t the first time, Jesus isn’t the first “messiah” to roll through town, or they’re not actually in town, but along the shore outside of a city.

And then there are those possessed by demons. Why are they even there? Don’t the demons know what will happen when they get close to Jesus? They cry out who He is, and He silences them. Obviously, Jesus does not what that sort of advertising, but it only adds to the mayhem around Him.

Imagine it. See Jesus along the shore, the crowd, the arms, the shouts, Jesus’ disciples trying, in vain, to make space around Him. Is Jesus at peace amidst the chaos? Do you hear His voice yelling in frustration or calmly commanding the unclean spirits? What do you smell among the sick? What are they sick with, the sniffles or a retching, wasting disease? What are those with unclean spirits like? Can you see them?

Jesus gives instructions to His disciples to commandeer a small boat just in case. So, are they walking along the shore, or is Jesus still, standing beside a boat as the mass crowds around Him? Is it a clear day, or cloudy with rain? Is it windy and hot, made more hot and smelly by the mass of humanity?

How do you feel to be among the crowd? How do you feel seeing Jesus? What emotions does His voice invoke in you? 

This is simply a passage linking Jesus’ work and teaching about one thing to another set of teachings. Mark mentions it in passing. Yet, so much is packed into it, that when you allow yourself to wander into it through your imagination it can be an overwhelming experience. If you are an introvert, it’s terrifying. If you are an extrovert, it’s exhilarating. For both, Jesus may bring peace amidst the chaos.

Jesus entered into this intentionally. He wades into the mass of humanity doing exactly what they came to see, healing physically and spiritually. What do you learn by seeing Him beside the sea? What do you learn by following His example?


The Main Thing

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

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

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

Hebrews 8:1-2 NASB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House of the Faithful

The use of metaphors is Scripture is pervasive. It has to be. Considering the difficulty of communicating spiritual realities using temporal/physical terminology, there is truly no other way. This use of metaphor makes it difficult for those who want to apply the “scientific method” to spiritual truths to do so. Of course, lots of things they take for granted can’t be subjected to the scientific method either. Like things they believe to be millions or billions of years old. seriously? How could they know or even test such a theory over merely 0.1% of that time. But it’s generally accepted just the same.

Anyway, the use of metaphor and simile is ancient, and its use in Scripture is pervasive. The writer of Hebrews uses “house” as a metaphor in chapter 3. But the writer moves through several different uses of “house” as a metaphor in 6 verses:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:1-6 NASB

In verses 1 through 6, the term “house” occurs 7 times in the NASB, ESV, and KJV translations. Other translations follow suit, using either “house” or “household” in the same places. But the meaning of “house” changes. In verse 2, the reference is to the ministry of Moses. The house can either be God’s house, or Moses’, but the reference is still to the ministry of Moses, and whether it was in the tabernacle (God’s house) or among the people (God’s people as a house) is not obvious. There are even other options for interpretation. The part that is clear is that the ministry of Moses is in view.

The second reference to house in verse 3 contrasts the builder versus the actual house built. More glory goes to the builder than to the house itself. Rather than debate the validity of this assertion, let’s look at the use of metaphor. If “house” still refers to the ministry of Moses, which is possible, then the “builder” of the “house” has greater glory than the “house”. Or, the One who gave the ministry to Moses is greater than the ministry Moses performed. But the reference to “house” could refer to the tabernacle, a topic taken up by the writer later on. It could also refer to the establishment of the people of Israel, or even other options. I believe it’s more likely that it continues to refer to the ministry of Moses, but, because of verse 4, none of the other options diminishes the contrast. God is the Builder, regardless of what “house” refers to.

So, does “house” continue to refer to Moses’ ministry in verse 5? Because, if so, then “house” switches to refer to the ministry of Jesus in verse 6, and then again to refer to us in the same verse. It could be argued that it remains a reference to Jesus’ ministry since we are the result. And yet, I believe that the writer uses a construction in a way that seems to change the metaphoric meaning. He expands it from “the activity and purpose of Jesus”, to “those who have chosen to live out Jesus’ pattern”. The relative pronoun, “of which” or “of whom” precedes “house”, and is in a different grammatical form than house. House is the “subject” and “of whom/which” is a possessive relative pronoun. In English we might say, “a house of whom are we”, or “we are a house of whom” based on the verb number.

So, who’s completely lost, or has completely lost interest? Here’s the point: the ministry of Jesus is greater than the ministry of Moses, but neither ministry guarantees success of those ministered to, namely us. Read back over it, and see if you see something different, but it seems to be the writer’s point that, the superiority of Jesus does not guarantee that His followers will not rebel against Him.

Since it’s clear (to me) that the audience hasn’t rebelled, at least not yet, it seems that this is a warning not to go down the path of rebellion. Whatever it is that defines that path, it’s yet to be taken by the audience, but they are in danger of taking it. They are Hebrews in a Greek-speaking place (they use the Septuagint for Scripture). Could it be that they are pushing back against the rise of Gentiles in the church, their inclusion into the “People of God”, and perhaps even the eclipse of the Jews in importance within the church? If so, what are their options for protest? Could it be rebellion against the good news which they accepted at first? It’s not easy to decipher that as the potential rebellion, although that has been posed by commentators for centuries. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely.

So, what about today? Isn’t change within the church one of the most difficult things for churches to survive? Don’t we tend to love things the comfortable way they are? Who doesn’t like “homogeneous” congregations? Don’t we all like those “like us”? Who wants to give up all they have achieved to change, and possibly start all over? And yet, to prevent the change, to fight against it, to avoid losing our “house”, we fail to enter our Savior’s “house”. Those who failed to enter the “rest” were those called to leave their own settled lives and endure change. They wanted their own “house” and did not enter God’s house. We too have that choice, to do things our own way, what we like, where we are comfortable or have influence. Our Savior wants us to focus on Him, His house, His purpose, and His methods.

Perhaps, like Joshua, we need to hear the challenge to choose this day whom we will serve, which set of “gods” we will follow. Will you follow Jesus? If we choose Him, will we continue to endure the changes that will inevitably come? Will we persevere as a disciple to the end?

What Were You Thinking?

Predictable: It’s not what you want from your story plot. Who wants to be thought of as a predictable writer? Unless, of course, you’re Moses, then you want predictability. Or, at least, it seems that he does. In chapter 5 of Exodus, we have the first encounter between Moses and Pharaoh, and it’s not exactly what Moses was hoping for. But the reader is expecting something precisely like this.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:1-2 NASB

But why? Why is the reader not surprised, but Moses seems to be? Perhaps you’re not sure he is. Okay, then review Moses’ two responses, the first one in verse 3 and the second in verses 22 and 23:

Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

Exodus 5:3 NASB

Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”

Exodus 5:22-23 NASB

The surprising thing about Moses being surprised is that God has already told him that Pharaoh will not let the sons of Israel leave willingly:

“They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.

Exodus 3:18-20 NASB

And yet, Moses seems surprised by Pharaoh’s response. Which is surprising, or it should be. But think back to the discussion Moses and God were having. It was choppy, and Moses kept asking “what if…” questions, and making excuses. Is it possible that Moses stopped listening to God somewhere in the middle of God’s explanation?

Surely, we never do that. Who would refuse to give a burning bush their entire attention, and listen to every single word said? A burning bush has never spoken to you? Then, perhaps there is a danger you didn’t listen to everything your Savior has told you? Let’s be honest, this happens a lot. We will often find a nugget in Scripture, and run, excited about our discovered promise, and charge into a new ministry without listening to the whole… Wait, not you?

Oh, then perhaps we’re more like Moses, formulating our next protest rather than listening to God’s next detail? We read that passage of Scripture that’s supposed to launch us into a ministry, but excuse ourselves because we’re sure it’s for someone else. Still not you? You do read the Bible, right? One of those two things should happen. Either you read and become inspired to act, or you read, and excuse yourself from acting. If you’re not sure, then, by default, you fall into the second one. I’m there a lot with you, so, we can be embarrassed together.

Let’s be honest, we do that. We’re often Moses: surprised that what God told us would happen, actually happens. In this chapter Pharaoh sounds like a parent or mean teacher at school. He ramps up the work because we seem to have time to complain, therefore not enough work to keep us busy. Those of you who have been through basic training in the military should recognize this tactic.

Pharaoh’s response is common sense. Moses’ surprise is not. Our surprise is not. Not paying attention to the Creator of the universe isn’t smart, and we do it all the time. The real blessing in all of this is that God isn’t surprised. He doesn’t berate Moses, look at chapter 6 verse 1. God seems to know Moses wasn’t listening, or, at least He’s not surprised.

He is that way with us as well. When the consequences of not listening to our Creator come to haunt us, God is right there, ready to continue working with us. We excuse ourselves from service, we suffer some sort of loss, and suddenly, there is our Savior, coming alongside to help us minister to others. Oh wait, not you? Seriously? Have you never complained loudly to your Savior? Okay, then, when you did, He listened. Did you? Or, like me at times, did you stomp off and pout first? Either way, He listened, and He is ready to use you again.

How do I know? I wrote this blog entry. And right now, if you’re thinking about God using you in His Kingdom, then, even though I shouted and pouted, God used me in your life. If He is willing to use me, then you’re a shoe-in.

What My Thumb Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the body is not one member, but many.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion Week XXIX

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26 NASB)

A man in Jerusalem for the Passover is swept into the drama of the salvation of the world.  Three Gospels mention Simon of Cyrene, and Mark says he was the father of Rufus and Alexander.  There is familiarity with this man and his sons in the Jerusalem church after the crucifixion.  Witnessing what took place made such a mark on this man that he became part of this movement started by Jesus.  It seems that he did and what he saw made a mark that kept him from returning to Cyrene.

The person who becomes known as the one who carried the cross for Jesus would become someone of importance to the church.  He lived out a part of the story that was missing for them.  But he also was pressed into living out the lessons of Jesus, to bear one another’s burdens.  He rendered a service to Jesus for which every disciple probably envied him, Peter most of all.  He may not have done it willingly, but he did it, and it put him right in the event of Jesus’ death.  For all we know he may have supplied the details of the mocking, Jesus’ forgiveness of the people, and the repentance of the one criminal and the centurion.

What I learn from Simon of Cyrene is that I too may be “pressed” into service for my Master.  I’m supposed to be doing it anyway, so that’s not a huge thing.  Probably more importantly is that others without a relationship to Jesus may also be pressed into service.  Will what they witness bring them closer to the Son of God, their Savior?  And how can I help foster that drawing near to Jesus?

In the movie, “God’s Not Dead 2”, a court-appointed attorney, an atheist/agnostic, is required to represent the defendant in a First-Amendment Rights trial.  In the process, he is confronted with some facts that astonish him.  As it nears the end, his assumptions are challenged, and he is faced with making a choice about his belief, either against or in Jesus.  While this depiction is both fictional and dramatic, that it happens to some degree or another is actually probable.

Two of the witnesses in the fictional trial were believers who had been atheists, but came to faith in their examination of the evidence of Jesus.  They were attempting to disprove Jesus’ story, and in the end became believers.  Those stories are true, the people played themselves.  One was Lee Strobel, the author of “The Case for Christ”, and the other was J Warner Wallace, the author of “Cold Case Christianity”.  So, it does happen.  Some who are swept into the story of Jesus come out the other side believers and contributors to His story.  I’m already in it, and have been.  So, how can I help those unbelieving, unsuspecting participants find the truth about Jesus?

Simon witnessed the death of Jesus, participated in part of it, and became part of His following because of what he saw.  How can I contribute to the journey of others as they are swept into “church”, into contact with other believers, even just struggling with the existence of an “annoying worship” (i.e. too loud, can be heard across the street).  I can either help or hinder that journey among the people of God, and within His story of salvation.

That’s my “oblique” view through this knothole this morning.  What does yours look like?

Giving Up Our Titles

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?  But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink ‘?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luke 17:7-10 NASB)

One of the elements of Scripture that is often misunderstood is the status of the disciple of Jesus.  Jesus creates the potential of this misunderstanding when He tells us we are both “slaves” and “adopted children”.  We are both at the same time, and hold these two status’ in tension.  It is somewhat like working for your parent.  You would be loved more than other employees, but still have the responsibilities of an employee.

The reason I point this out is that Scripture uses this image of slave for followers of Jesus but we ignore it.  We typically run our normal entitlement approach because in our minds we can’t be both slaves and children.  Jesus seems to think we are.  We are adopted children who are called to serve our King/Father.  So when we reach these verses in Luke 17, we usually just move on.  Today, we will not be.  Today we will wallow in them, soaking in their truth.

The basic idea is easy to grasp.  A slave isn’t given a break until the day is done.  Then they have time for themselves.  They didn’t come in from the fields and were fed, they came in and continued to serve their master.  This sounds hard, but at the end of the illustration Jesus says it’s what is expected, that’s how slavery works.

Not us.  We want “kudos” for a days hard work.  We want the “master” to serve us!  It’s what we deserve for all our hard work.  It’s also completely false, and worse, selfish and self-centered.  Jesus makes it pretty clear here that once the day of work is done, our response should be ‘We are unworthy slaves, we have done only what that which we ought to have done.’

Doesn’t that “unworthy” just stick in your throat?  You may be able to say it, but think through what this means.  You just worked your behind off and you are unworthy, having done only what you were supposed to.  No kudos for you.  No plaque, no parade, no attaboy, not so much as a thank you.  Now how do you feel?

If that is difficult for you then you are finally getting the point.  Now before we go all “cultural setting then and now” on this passage, remember that if this were obvious to them, Jesus wouldn’t have had to say it.  Sure it made sense in how He described it, but it didn’t make sense in how He applied it to them.  In fact, from conversations of the disciples recorded in the Gospels, we get the clear sense they thought they were entitled.  So this very definitely applied to them in that day, and yes it means we’re not entitled either.

So, when we work in a ministry, whatever it might be, with children, with the homeless, with community leaders, or heaven forbid with youth; we are unworthy slaves having done only that which we ought to have done.  No thank you necessary.  No gratitude needed on the part of our Master or those whom we serve.  Uncomfortable yet?  I will go a bit further.  I will venture to say that “burn out” is selfish and demonstrates immature discipleship.  Oops, that was probably too far for some of us.  Consider why we get “burned out”.  It isn’t because we view what we’re doing as the work of an unworthy slave, only what we ought to have done.  It’s usually because they pay off (for ourselves) just doesn’t seem worth what it costs us to do it.  We loose the motivation, we forget we’re unworthy slaves.

Now, I will allow that this is true also for leaders who either forget this is true for them, or who will mistreat the “slaves” as if they are the Master.   Jesus has their punishment all set.  And I don’t think we’re called to follow those who are not following Jesus.  That’s another entry topic later I’m sure.  But it will suffice to say that burn out for those simply tired of doing what they’re doing is immature discipleship.  So am I saying we should pour out our lives into ministry with nothing to show for it?  Let me answer that with another question.  Do you believe in heaven?  If so, why would such a question even come to mind?  Any other questions?

That’s my view from this knothole.  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?

Responding to Repentance

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7 NASB)

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10 NASB)

Something that I keep forgetting to do with these parables is keep the beginning of this chapter in mind as I’m reading them.  The beginning, the setting of the scene, is the difficulty that the “righteous” had with Jesus gadding about with “sinners”.  What Jesus wanted is illustrated by the first two parables, and then left hanging in the air in the third.  He wants them to rejoice over these that return.

I sometimes find it hard to keep that in mind as I see what gets “caught in the net” of evangelism, or simple human need.  What these parables make clear is that when I choose not to rejoice, I’m missing out on what in heaven is an opportunity to party.  And the question for myself is why would I do that?

Probably one of the reasons, and I’m guessing there are several, is that I kind of like the setting of “working out my salvation” to be undisturbed.  I get how ridiculous that sounds, but I also suspect that I’m not alone, we just dare not speak it (or write it) aloud.  Stating the obvious, without being disturbed I will never be pushed to grow in my Christ-likeness.

Another reason that I, perhaps others, fail to party at appropriate times is that I think more in terms of resources and logistics than in terms of a life in need.  I’m wondering how I can help this person and am distracted by the limited resources I see.  Instead I believe I simply need to come along side with whatever resources I have and let One feeding 5,000 with simple fish sandwiches worry about the resources.

But I think the worst reason, the one that really misses the point of Jesus, replacing it with the point of my culture, is that the goal of myself and the person is life-change.  The truth is that the real need is a life patterned after Jesus.  Whatever I do should lead that direction.  Physical needs sometimes distract people, and are all they can see.  Repentance, or a change of mind and heart that permits the Spirit of God access to their lives, isn’t normally the first thing people want when they come to the church.  What they want is the stuff of their lives to improve.  I get lost trying to connect the one with the other, partly because I don’t think people see me as being much like Jesus.

These are just a few reasons I get distracted from the party over repentance.  Perhaps you have others.  What do you learn from the party in heaven missing here on earth?

Jesus Doesn’t “Believe” In People

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25 NASB)

It seems Jesus has a wide range of acceptance in a very wide range of people.  There are those who read the accounts of His life and say they’re made up and He was just a nice guy.  There are others who those same accounts and are completely consumed by Jesus as the Savior of all creation.  I love this account of Jesus though.  It helps me work with and among the spectrum of people reading or hearing those accounts.

Jesus was disillusioned about people in that He held no illusions about them.  I can’t tell you how much I want that.  People still surprise me.  I still want or expect more from them.  They still disappoint me.  I still disappoint them too, and I am even often disappointed in myself as well.  I once told some youth in our church that people suck, and if we didn’t we couldn’t use a straw.  It’s strange important truth.

The application for me is that I can’t nor should I trust people to be anything but people.  Instead, I can and must trust in the Holy Spirit and His work in and through people.  It’s not the people, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in and through people that makes church possible.  It may seem semantic but I had a huge test of this in my personal life just this week.

Did you know that commercial leases obligate the guarantors for the entire financial value of the lease?  I didn’t.  I found that out and experienced “sticker shock”.  As an elder at my church I was being asked to sign a lease obligating me to $272,160 which is more than the total assets entrusted to me by my Master.  If I trusted in the people of this church who have a track-record of pitiful giving, then I’d be in big trouble; I wouldn’t be able to sign it.  But I did sign because I trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of the people and His work in this place of worship.  Still, it wasn’t easy.

I needed this example of Jesus.  I needed to know I didn’t need to believe in people to minister to them and on their behalf.  I have other lessons to learn, like resisting the temptation to use the signing of the lease as that line of delineation between the committed and the uncommitted.  It’s not.  That’s not what my Master intended.  The Holy Spirit does not use such things to divide, He uses them to unite.  I know that because that is what the Holy Spirit does, He unifies His people.

What do you learn from Jesus’ disillusionment with people?