Not In This Alone

We are not alone. There is a lot of possible inference possible in that statement. Who is “we”? That’s probably the first question to ask. So, if I told you that ‘we’ refers to “disciples of Jesus”, that would clear up only part of the meaning. The other part, “why are we not alone, who is with us?” remains unanswered.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are never left alone by our Savior. His Spirit lives within us, so, in that sense, we are never alone. But there is another sense in which we are not alone that tends to escape us. It has to do with an anomaly in English where the same word is used for the second-person pronoun whether singular, or plural. This obscures for us when Scripture teaches something for many and for a singular person.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13 NASB

For instance, the “your” in the above passage, the pronoun that reveals the writer of Hebrews is asking his audience to work on themselves, it’s a plural reference. That’s not surprising, and may be obvious to anyone thinking it through. Why would it be singular? Even so, we want to take this and apply it ourselves, individually, which would be wrong. That’s what escapes us.

Perhaps to call it wrong is to overstate the problem. The letter was written to a group, and this section details the application of the previous 10 chapters to that group. Therefore, when we seek to apply it to an individual, we apply it in a way it wasn’t designed. It may allow for such application, but that wasn’t the intent. How can I know that? Let’s read further…

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

The verbs beginning these verses are imperatives (commands), but guess what “person” they are in. If you guessed second-person-plural you would be right. That first imperative sets up the remaining verb, “see to it”, which is also plural. The verb “falls short” is also plural, but in reference to “others” it’s third-person. These are clear in Greek, but understood only by inference in English.

The context of these admonitions to apply the truth of the supremacy of Jesus, of His supreme covenant, and the discipline of our Savior as proof of our acceptance, all this application happens in groups. All of it. Yet we are slow to apply it to ourselves within church, although we may judge others by it in church. We are slow to let this command to “live at peace with all men” sink into our souls. Instead we allow hate, anger, even what some may refer to as “righteous anger” drive us. Yet the anger of man never accomplishes the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

I don’t think it is a sustainable position that people out of control doing damage and breaking Scriptural laws glorifies our Creator. I don’t think it is a sustainable position that there is any excuse for it because, from the above passage the root of bitterness defiles many. Just because our Savior died for our sins does not give us leave to create more for Him to die for (Romans 6:1). There are alternatives to wanton mob violence. Although such violence seems to pervade our planet, we, as disciples of Jesus, do not have leave from our Master to join in such things.

So, it falls to “us” to “see to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” We are to speak out, to call out the sin, to call out the disregard for our Savior. But, let’s do so living at peace with all men, not by joining the violence or starting our own. And, let’s be clear, mobs respond to perceived injustice, and are often right about that injustice. But they also often follow a horribly wrong response.

Many people reading this blog may not know that this isn’t just Minneapolis, it is Hong Kong, Delhi, and places in Indonesia and more places. All of them are violent mobs, but no one religion, no one race, not even the same “injustice”. It is still the same destructive response which falls short of the grace of our Creator and Savior.

So, this isn’t an entry to a single person, but to all y’all claiming Jesus as your Savior, to all y’all following Jesus as His disciples, and to all y’all having “tasted the heavenly gift” of Hebrews 6:4. To all of you, pursue peace with all men and sanctification of the Spirit of Jesus. Please drop the torches and pitchforks, and make peace and holiness your goal and purpose.


Stupid Oaths

In the Occidental mind, rule is best when spread among many individuals, either in a parliament or congress.  On the other hand the truly ridiculous is only possible with a group mentality.  Individuals are rarely this creative or destructive.  Once body parts have been sent as invitations, anything becomes possible for the resulting assembly.

Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.” (Judges 21:1 NASB)

Considering the problem, that Benjamin seems to persist in defending repulsive transgression, this seems like an acceptable oath.  Which father wants his daughter mixed up in a such a group.  But they are there to fix the problem, not avoid being mixed up in it.  So, actually the oath is truly ridiculous.  Once “repaired”, and Benjamin restored, this might be an important element in restoring the tribe and mitigating further transgression.  But, just as on TV, wait, there’s more!

Then the sons of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up in the assembly to the LORD?” For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” (Judges 21:5 NASB)

Of course, anyone not answering the summons of a severed body part, that should be a capital offense.  Where is the sense of that?  The sense to them was that something detestable to God had been done (technically twice), and refusing to come deal with it was like approving of the behavior.  On the other hand, this particular oath also put the entire tribe of Benjamin under the ban.  There was no other option with this oath than to leave no survivors in Benjamin since no one from that tribe showed up to the assembly.  So, even before starting out on this expedition, the end was already determined, not by God, but by the ridiculous mob mentality of the assembly.

So, off the people go to battle, and then return, leaving 600 men of Benjamin alive at a rock.  That’s all that’s left of Benjamin.  The other 11 tribes sacked and burned all the cities, all the people were killed, men, women, children, and animals in Benjamin, except for these 600 at the rock.  Then Israel mourns for the lost tribe.  A bit late, somewhat of an afterthought, but they mourn all the same.  The senselessness of their oaths begins to settle on them.  But wait, can they somehow use these oaths to their advantage?  No, not really.

The first oath mentioned, no one gives their daughters to Benjamin, that one causes a problem of the remnant of Benjamin surviving.  There’s really no advantage there.  So, the next oath, kill anyone who didn’t show up to the assembly, they try to use to fix the first one.  They kill the people of Jabesh-Gilead so they can take their virgins to give to the remnant of Benjamin as wives.  The “solution” only nets 400 wives for 600 men, not enough.  The destruction of Jabesh-Gilead is a “sacrifice” because they put the city under the “ban”, like Jericho.  I just don’t think this is the sacrifice God was looking for.

So, what is the perspective of God in all of this?  In the previous chapter, Yahweh gives Israel marching orders, but still they fail twice against underwhelming odds.  Finally the 360,000 men are able to defeat 26,000 men of Benjamin, leaving only 600 alive.  God seems involved at least, but why the first two failures?  The people offer sacrifices, they seek His face, they cry out to Him.  But then there are these oaths?  They are made before Yahweh, and they do keep them.  But, was all that was said before God at this sacred assembly really the will of God?  I think it’s safe to say no, not all that was said was of God.  On the other hand, some was according to His will, and even according to His commandment.

We, the modern scientific human, want consistency, our favorite litmus test of truth!  As our Master reveals Himself in Scripture, He seems to want relationship.  Relationships are messy, don’t follow consistent rules, and even seem chaotic at times.  The way that Yahweh reveals Himself in Scripture, He sets out on a relational adventure, adds some laws, and then tends to ignore or break these rules while holding His chosen people to account for them.  He’s bewildering.  And He does break the covenant obligations:  He tends to be more forgiving than the covenant stipulates, shows more compassion than promised, and is more persistent in His presence among His people than expected.

That’s my view through the fence this morning.  What do you see through your knothole?

Open Minded

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” (Luke 24:36 NASB)

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  (Luke 24:44-47 NASB)

Understanding is elusive.  The moment it is achieved, awareness of more that is unknown accompanies it.  The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.  Bible study is like that.  There’s always another question.  But there are two things from this encounter with Jesus that help.  In fact, they are what make Bible study possible.

The most obvious is that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.  He opened their minds.  It was something that happened to them.  They didn’t simply “have an open mind”, their minds were opened.  So, understanding of Scripture comes from God.

If this is truly and experience we can have, then there’s no room for pride in what we find.  On the other hand, it’s very common to focus on what God shows me, when it’s not about that either.  That’s a Western Cultural problem of a self-centered focus and paradigm.  It is more true, or more often true, that God will use His people to help deepen and broaden our understanding of Scripture.  And in that sense, what He shows us is not just for us.

The other, less obvious, thing which helps our understanding of Scripture is Jesus’ statement when He first arrives:  “Peace be to you.”  Peace, or the traditional Jewish greeting of “Shalom”, is what Jesus says.  This peace isn’t the absence of strife.  This peace is a wholeness of being.  Peace is not being divided in purpose, or fractured in spirit.  It is more than serenity, or, perhaps, it is serenity divorced from the circumstances, immediate or remote.

When the peace from Jesus characterizes us, then study of Scripture is much easier, and more effective.  Sometimes, in order to regain this peace, prayer must replace the time spent in study.  In other times, the peace enabling study drives us to pray.  In either case, this peace of God is tied inexorably to prayer.  Jesus shows up and brings peace.  If we want Him to “open our minds”, then we must be in His presence.  The surest way to know that we are in His presence is to sense the fruit of His Spirit, one of which is peace.

Years ago, my Master called me His servant, but also His “knight”.  Later He revealed to me that, as His servant and knight, I am to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  It sounds simple, but consider that a knight is called to strife, yet to be in His presence instills peace.  In order to walk before Him, I must live prayer.  The result of this is a life characterized by peace.  This peace, which should characterize me, is the context in which I fight as His knight.  The only reason this sounds contradictory is that we have different definitions of peace and strife from God’s definitions.  The challenge is let Him redefine my understanding of both.

As you study, what view of God do you gain through your knothole?

Passion Week XXVIII

Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.  And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently.  And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.  (Luke 23:8-12 NASB)

For some reason, Herod Antipas is a character on whom Luke spends time.  The other Gospels barely mention him except in relation to John the Baptist.  Matthew 14 and Mark 6 are the other two Gospel references to this “tetrarch”.  But Luke has chapters 9, 13, and 23 in his Gospel.  The “Herod” later in Acts is most likely Agrippa I.  For Luke, the Herodian line of rulers holds interest.  It’s very possible that they would also hold interest for Luke’s audience or at least for Theophilus.

Luke also seems to know something of the household of Antipas.  Knows enough to know that this ruler wanted to see Jesus, had heard of Him, and sought to see a miracle (sign).  We can only surmise why that might be, but the life in Roman and regional politics offers lots of opportunities to become jaded toward anything truly supernatural.  On the other hand, the opportunity for entertainment through the miraculous is also a possible reason.  Either way, or some other, Jesus decides to not play along.  Herod gets nothing out of Him, no sign, no words, no defense, no entertainment or proof of any sort.

Antipas then joins in the derision of Jesus, possibly lending weight to the “entertainment” reason for wanting to see a sign.  Herod’s soldiers and he treat Jesus with contempt and mock Him.  Herod throws a “gorgeous” robe on Him, and Jesus is sent back to Pilate.  It had to be somewhat depressing, and real “killjoy” for this wealthy center of attention.  There is a game rulers play called “puppet master”, where the king and those around him attempt to get everyone else to be their “puppet” and do what they want.  Trickery, lies, intimidation, and even torture are valid methods to achieve success in this game.  Jesus refuses to play.

Ironically, the chief priests and scribes are playing the game.  They like it too, only they play the “Jewish Leadership” version, which has more rules for religious hypocrisy, subterfuge, and mob control.  It’s often a popular edition widely available in churches today.  This group stands and accuses Jesus of everything they can think of, and somethings suggested by others on the way to Herod’s.  Again Jesus just stands at the center of the swirling maelstrom of vehemence and contempt, totally at peace.

Jesus’ peace came from a teleological perspective.  He had already given up His will to avoid what is coming.  He had only the view point of the end.  For Him, the end passed through being tortured to death, and separation from the substance of God.  But able to see beyond, He had a resurrection and ascension on which to focus.

I think we’ve largely lost that teleological perspective.  We can have it too, but 2,000 years just seems so long to wait.  So much has happened to jade our view of the miraculous.  We too, now focus on entertainment over substance.  We content ourselves with the “games people play” rather than the “…prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

There is an alternative.  We can consider heaven.  We can dream of it.  We can imagine the Descent of the Lord, the shout of heaven, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God, and the rising of the dead in Christ.  But we don’t.  We should, but we don’t.  Instead we fall into the quagmire of “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” theology that seeks “relevance” marketed as a “good-return-on-investment”.    As if what we receive here is worth going through what we go through here.  It’s not, and it can never be.  Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.  So, it’s time to dream of something else.

Jesus looks at the splendor of Herod, the wealth and power of the religious leaders, and the military might of Pilate and the Romans.  He does see it.  But He also sees the glory of heaven, the brilliance of the armies of God, and the sheer overwhelming power of the Giver of Life.  His perspective is different.  But Jesus shares this perspective with us!  He doesn’t keep it to Himself, He doesn’t bogard the riches of His Kingdom, He does not consider equality with God to be plunder.

The real question is whether or not we will avail ourselves of the perspective of Jesus.  Will we take the long view?  Because the view of where we are from where we are is really depressing.  Isn’t it much more sensible to look at where God is?  Isn’t the face of Jesus a much more pleasant view?  What would happen here if we were more concerned about what’s happening there?  Probably not what you think.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What’s yours?

Passion Week XIII

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.  And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.  And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”  (Luke 21:1-4 NASB)

The Widow’s Mite!  It’s been used in “Stewardship Sermons” for ages.  In Mark, Jesus goes and intentionally sits and waits for her to give.  In Matthew, this account is missing, as it is in John.  Here in Luke, Jesus looks up.  It’s as if, in the midst of all He is saying and doing, He remembers, “Oh right, the widow!”.  He looks up and points her out.

There are many interesting things about this account, not the least of which is the question of what happened to the widow?  But another is whether anyone else noticed.  The chances were high that she was easy to spot for what she was.  She probably looked the part since she had reached that point only after selling everything else.  Would anyone else have spotted the unaccompanied woman in old worn clothes?

But what sort of person, or what drives a person to the point where putting the last two coins in the treasury is good idea?  How does that happen?  When does that happen?  In a sense we might think she’s given up, reached a point where there is no point, so might as well give the rest.

But think about what she’s done.  She’s given the last of what she had to the One she figured was responsible.  All things come from God, good or bad.  Yet, regardless of her circumstances, she gives to the One having landed her in them.  The God of her fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has taken her husband, left her without children to support her, without land, without legal protection, and without finances.  And to Whom does she give her last two coins?  This God of her fathers.

How easy is it for me to give in to my circumstances, blaming and resenting my Father in Heaven?  How cheaply do I sell my joy and contentment?  For what will I trade the blessings of being a child of the King?  She held on through everything, and gave right to the end of everything she had.  I have much and give out of my abundance, and whine like a mule because my job is boring.  Really?

The thing distracting me is me.  What gets my view off my Savior and on my circumstances is my discomfort, my boredom, my frustration with management from whom I feel disconnected and marginalized.  Ah, poor blessed employed whiner, such a pity he’s being ignored by people he doesn’t know.  Funny how I have such a problem getting people to come over to my pity party.  I probably should have had cake and balloons.

So different from a widow with two coppers.  Maybe if I grew up to be like her my life would be more of a blessing to others.  I can’t imagine her mindset, which is really dangerous.  I should be living it, forget imagining it.  I’m going to force my focus on Jesus.  Today I will practice the presence of my Savior.  Booyah!

What’s your view of our Master through the fence?

Rules For Apostles

 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.  And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.  (Luke 10:5-7 ESV)

Regardless of what you think the term “apostle” means, at the time of this event in Jesus’ ministry, the term was derived from the verb used for what Jesus did, “sent out” seventy.  So, if this is a special term for a special office for special people for you, keep in mind it meant something else before it ever meant that.  This passage is part of the set of rules for those being sent out by Jesus.

In Luke, this is the second “sending”.  The other writers have the sending of the Twelve, and so does Luke.  They record some of these rules there, and Luke includes some there, some here, and some that make it into both.  Luke is much more detailed in the rules in this second sending of so many more.  And this passage is one of those places of greater detail.

There are really two elements that different here.  First is the direction to bless the house with your peace.  The second is about the eating whatever is placed before them.  The third element of remaining in a single house is in both of Luke’s “sendings”, and Matthew and Mark.

The direction to bless the house with peace is interesting to me because of the way it’s described.  “If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him,” means that there is this understanding that hospitable people may also be peaceable.  If so, then the peace of the one following Jesus will rest there enhancing the peace.  But it also says, “But if not, it will return to you,” which means that hospitable people may not be peaceable, but they are to remain anyway.  Let the peace return means that the only peace in the house may  be the sent-one, and they are to be okay with that.  So, it may be a hard situation to be a part of, but they were to remain with it nonetheless.

The second element is repeated again in verse 8, eating whatever they set before you, but with a different emphasis.  In these verses, eating what is “provided” is a command to receive because their work is worth the “pay” of a meal.  Which means that “ministry” is understood by Jesus to be a sort of service worth a wage.  That a debate continues to rage as to whether ministers should be paid or derive their living  from it is really ironic.  But that could be because sometimes ministry for some stops being a “service” worth a wage.  When ministry becomes a regular routine where little is rendered to those “attending” then really nothing is gained, so where’s the return on the investment?

This is an embarrassingly easy trap to get caught in.  Ministry can be hard, should be hard, and sometimes taking an easy path becomes not a momentary rest, but a ministry approach.  Excuses are easy to come by, but the reality is that ministers can and do lose their first love of Jesus and His people.  Think of what it would mean if the first element were also a part of ministry.  If your “sheep” aren’t people of peace, let your peace return to you.  But you still minister in peace, even when you are the only peace present.  Can you imagine?  When the going gets tough, you remain the person of peace.  That gets difficult to sustain, and can only be done when ministering in the power of the Spirit, rather than ones own.  But when done, is worth being paid for.

So, what do I see here?  An excuse for not giving?  If you saw that, you will be punished.  You may see a reason to “garnish” wages, but not to limit giving, as you give to God, not to a minister.  What do I learn of peace?  If I am a man of peace and other aren’t, I am to remain a man of peace.  Wherever I am sent, whatever I am sent to do, I go and do in peace.  I share the peace, but retain it if it’s not received.  The peace I have in my Master remains regardless of those to whom I minister.

I also learn that what I do for others as a servant to my King must be of value.  I can’t simply go through motions, providing nothing enriching to their lives.  As my Master enriches my life, I need to share that with those to whom I minister, not hoard it.  As I do, there is a give-and-take of riches, spiritual for material.  On the other hand, I have eschewed material gain for ministry.  From my past experiences, I have lost my trust for any body of believers.  From this passage I see that I don’t really have that luxury.  Which I really don’t like, at all, not even a little.  I get that though.  The minister can then focus their attention to the ministry without distraction; and they are motivated to do good work (provide a marketable service?) because their living depends on it.

I feel like I’ve looked through the knothole and saw an at-bat I was trying to avoid seeing.  I suppose that indicates growth, or at least does if I permit what I learn to sink in and germinate, take root, and grow.  Well, what did you see through the knothole?  Something easier I hope!