The Honor of Family

When we started this crazy ride of Samson’s life, his parents were childless. The Angel of Yahweh visits them, and bingo, no longer childless. But we’re never told there are more kids following, at least not until now. Up to this point Samson has even acted like an only child, as if the world revolved around him. Only now do we discover that wasn’t it.

And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:30 — 31 NASB)

Samson’s claim to fame lay in his great strength. And this strength was not in his muscles, but in Yahweh. The key to unlocking his strength was in his choice of Delilah over Yahweh. Sure, she had his hair cut, but it was his choice to tell her that brought him down. And, it’s in his death, in finally choosing Yahweh, he becomes the quintessential weapon of Yahweh against the Philistines. 

But, it’s also in his death we learn more of his family. We learn he had brothers. We learn of the family grave. And we learn of their honor of Samson. He is “gathered to his fathers”, which, in that culture, is acceptance highly prized. It means that, in his death, probably more so than during his life, he was accepted as one of the people of God. 

He went from “terrifying freak” to “Samson son of Manoah”, from weapon to champion. It’s not so subtle a change in their culture. In a way, his burial with his father, Manoah, brings this one so-holy-as-to-be-avoided, into the circle of a holy people. He was a Nazarite from birth who tears lions, kills a thousand men with a donkey jawbone, and carries the city gates of Gaza up a prominent hill. He probably gives people the creeps, especially when they look into his eyes and see the a man trapped in there. It’s haunting.

Now he’s home, finally. He’s at peace, finally. He’s among his people to stay, finally. And he’s welcomed, finally. There aren’t 3,000 of his own people showing up with new ropes to bind him and hand him over to his enemies. Samson is a tragic character. His tragedy is partly due to his lousy choices, but also due, maybe mostly due, to Yahweh’s choices of how to use him. 

We can’t blame others for our bad choices, not even our Master, Jesus. When our Master calls us to a purpose that we find uncomfortable or detestable, what choices will we make? Not the missionary type? Too invested in your secular job to consider vocational ministry? Does a jail or prison chaplain ministry scare you too much to consider?  Perhaps you’re too busy to be a hospital chaplain. 

The callings of our Master, from local soup kitchens to foreign missions, force us to choose. The Spirit of Jesus, living in us, empowers us for His use. And that empowerment can have detrimental effects in other areas of our lives when we resist that call to service. Often, people cling to the master of our warped culture’s pantheon, and resist the Master living within us. 

There’s time to relent, to cease resisting, to acquiesce to our Master’s intentions for us. I have, sort of. And in the struggle to be what He wants rather than what I want, I move in and out of bad choices along the way. I medicate fears and frustrations with choices that gratify my desires, not His. In a sense, it’s like I’m being passively aggressive with my Master, I’ll do what He wants, but refuse to be happy with it. 

And my culture says that it can’t be His call if I’m not happy. Not according to Samson. Not if we read of Jephthah. Not anyone familiar, really familiar, with Jeremiah. Scripture teaches me about my Master, and that He’s less interested in my happiness than in my usefulness to His Kingdom. My happiness saves no one. But His Kingdom redeems the whole cosmos.

That’s my view through my knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours? 

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Financial Management?

“And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:8-9 NASB)

Last time I said that the parable of the Unrighteous Steward was financial in meaning.  Then I proceeded to draw an application that was generic rather than specific to finances.  Basically I said that disciples of Jesus should be able to endure the trials of this life better than people who don’t know Jesus.  Yet Jesus’ statements strung together by Luke are more specific.

First of all, the problem or challenge before the steward had to do with his livelihood.  While some understand him to be seeking a new place to live.  I believe that he sought other employment as his goal.  That makes his problem financial.  And Jesus continues this “theme” into the next three statements.  I want to look at the first of these, which is arguably the most puzzling as well.

First off, who is this “they” referred to who will welcome us into eternal dwellings?  I prefer the view that they are the “friends” made with the unrighteous wealth (or mammon).  If this is the case, then the process of making friends with such resources really would either include or entirely refer to making disciples. In our day that would mean spending money on making disciples, which seems an overly easy way out.  But that doesn’t make it wrong.  On the other hand it doesn’t seem to relate at all to the actions of the steward.

But what if the reduction of debt followed by the steward might be understood to mean that we “reduce” the debt (or sin?) of those we seek to disciple?  I’m not sure how that would look today, perhaps in being willing to overlook someone’s sin instead of considering it to be a barrier to discipleship.  Since repentance is such an integral element of discipleship, that might make sense…might.  But then how would we be using the “mammon” to reduce debt?  It still doesn’t fit all the elements, regardless of how attractive it might be to any point of view, I can’t accept overlooking sin as the point of view of this passage.

The idea of reducing debt and the use of wealth are connected though.  The problem is determining how they are connected.  If the parable characters refer as so often to the Father as the master of the house, then who becomes the steward?  What then would be the “wealth”?  Wouldn’t that almost completely divorce the application from the financial arena?  So then why would Jesus clearly state the use of unrighteous wealth to be the point?  Clearly Jesus sees this entirely as a teaching about the use of wealth, unrighteous wealth at that.

Yesterday I said that the lesson of the steward was that we “children of light” should be able to deal wisely with adversity, even more so than those considered “sons of this age”.  I don’t recant that, but I do further believe Jesus is tying His point to the use of wealth gained by unrighteous means.  So, in adversity where we have at our disposal unrighteous wealth (ours or another’s) we are to focus on making eternal friends.  In the case of the steward, he was losing his source of income, his livelihood.  What would that look like for us, especially where the process involved having unrighteous assets?  And what would we do with such assets in such a situation which would result in friends in heaven?

I have a cop-out.  Suppose this results from Luke as “editor” preserving the words of Jesus, but choosing the order in which he presents them?  What if he is using his arrangement to address a problem with which he knows “Theophilus” (or that church, or churches) would be familiar?  What if this is something we don’t face today, but which was of concern then?  What if monkeys suddenly sprang from my closet, stole my laptop, and made off into the desert riding wild horses?  There are definitely problems playing “what if”?  I play it anyway, but since it often ends with senseless monkeys springing into existence it’s usually a short game.

What if a church is faced with a large donation from the winner of a gambling venture, who then, the next day, impoverishes himself?  What if a church is presented a gift which turns out to be from a noted criminal trying to assuage his guilt for his many sins; but then who is also determined to remain in his current life?  What if then the FBI asks for the money donated by the criminal, after it has been used to “make eternal friends”?  Again with the monkeys.

My point is that the specific application depends on the situation, but the basic concept remains that all financial adversity should be approached with the goal of making those eternal friends.  In other words, when financial decisions have to be made the goal of our Master in such decisions is that His Kingdom grows, He has more disciples, and the result is eternal friends.  So that should be our goal as well.  At least I think so.  That could be overly reductionist (can you believe I actually got to use that word in a sentence?).

Now you know why this passage is so difficult for disciples to understand.  But even so, what’s your understanding?

Striving For The Narrow Door

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’;  and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.”  (Luke 13:24-28 NASB)

We quote that it is by grace we are saved, not works.  And this is true, and extremely important.  Yet the Apostle Paul was very clear about how hard he worked for his salvation (see Philippians 3).  He knew he was saved, that he couldn’t trade his salvation even for his own people, and he knew that he was loved and excepted by Jesus.  But he worked in the Kingdom of God as if he wasn’t.  He worked, as it were, for his salvation.

Jesus says here to “strive to enter”; to work hard, get sweaty.  He’s talking about the Kingdom of God, and He says many will seek to enter, in the future, not necessarily now.  But then, in the future it will be too late.  The door will be shut, and the master of the house (I’m thinking God) will not recognize their origin, where they are from.  The thing they think gets them in, their origin, will not be recognized.  There will be those who thought that because Jesus taught in their streets, and because they ate with Him, they should be obvious shoe-in’s for the Kingdom, yet are shut out.

The key here, which is different than the key in the parallel in Matthew 7, is that the narrow door is found through striving.  But the what keeps those outside on the outside is that they did not really know Jesus.  He taught in their streets, they ate with Him, but didn’t know Him.  They figured it was enough that they hang out with Him from time to time, but it wasn’t.  He refused to recognize where they were from, and even calls them those who work unrighteousness (perform deeds contrary to righteousness or outside a relationship with God).  This should shake us up.  It scare the willies out me.

The Kingdom of God is found through striving to enter the narrow door.  It may not be popular right now, but it will be; after it’s too late.  Having heard the gospel isn’t enough.  Having shared a meal with Jesus isn’t enough.  The question plaguing me is how hard am I striving for that narrow door?  Does my life look like Paul’s?  Do I push on for the upward call of Christ?  Or am I mired in the things of this world?  Do I get so distracted by work, family, and even “church” that my relationship with my Master becomes another set of tasks?  I ate with Him, check that off.  I heard a sermon, check that off.  I did whatever, check that off.  What have I done to get into His presence?  And having been in His presence, what distracted me, and how hard am I trying to get back there?

Yes, my relationship with my family is important.  My relationship with my wife is primary among all my other human relationships  I have on earth.  And I do need to characterize Jesus as I relate to others.  But don’t I also in doing so have to do as He did in those relationships?  Jesus wasn’t “nice” to everyone.  He wasn’t, and it doesn’t take much study to see that.  Jesus didn’t try to please everyone, didn’t accommodate His preaching to everyone, didn’t tell some to repent but not others lest He offend them.  He said, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  In other words, “Change your mind to agree with God’s mind because His authority over all things is coming.”  The truth is that a day is coming when the narrow door will be shut.  Those inside the door will be the ones who strove to please their Maker.  Don’t my neighbors need to know that?

I see a scary passage here.  What do you see?

Kingdom Starter

And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:20-21 NASB)

I have this weird drive to know how stuff works.  It’s almost a mania with me.  So, drinking coffee morphed into roasting it.  Owning a firearm morphed into reloading ammunition.  And then came this drive to discover how to make my favorite type of bread, sourdough.  I couldn’t find a recipe to use in a bread machine that also used starter.  So, I experimented and found one.  Then I moved to an elevation of 4,000 feet and had to reinvent the recipe for “high altitude”.  But I’ve always had a problem with sourdough starter.

Sourdough starter is somewhat like owning a pet; a needy, selfish, stinky, moody pet.  I think “Bill the Cat” when I think of such pets; Garfield on the Adkin’s Diet.  But the bread it produces is amazing.  While in Alaska, I picked up a sourdough starter “kit” with a book on the history of the stuff.  In it I learned something I’d never really imagined.  Sourdough starter became popular because it was easy to use and therefore made transporting and keeping yeast very easy.  Yeast, as it turns out, is free-floating through the air – everywhere.  I doubted this, but went through their process for making starter, and it worked!  Here in the high desert of Nevada I found the air full of yeast!  Well, okay, not full exactly, but it is there nonetheless.

Now, about this “yeast” or “leaven” referred to in this oblique obfuscating parable; it literally refers to a lump of dough already full of yeast.  It’s how the ancients kept their yeast ready to go without having to wait for “air-yeast” to find its way into the dough.  That’s right, it was a dough “starter” or “sponge”.  Which makes sense because they couldn’t go down to the local supermarket and get a packet of bread yeast.  They had to have some way to control the leavening process, and their method was what we call a starter.  Do any of you remember the “Friendship Bread” craze from the 80’s and 90’s?  It’s like that, but without the vast amounts of sugar.

So, the Kingdom of God is like this sourdough starter…I’m having trouble not still thinking of Bill the Cat.  It’s like this starter.  How?  The qualities of the Kingdom of God spread.  The woman added the leaven to 3 measures of flour and it all became leavened.  The qualities spread to whatever was added to it.  It shares it’s qualities with those it comes into contact.  Honestly, I’m not sure how else to understand this.  It’s not an exhaustive theological work by Jesus expounding the qualities of Life with our Creator, it’s simply a statement that this Kingdom He has been proclaiming shares its qualities with those with whom it comes into contact.

Well, wonderful for the Kingdom.  Way to go, sharing is so important, what a wonderful thing for it to do…except that if I’m part of this Kingdom, sharing the duties of serving the King (what Kingdom doesn’t have a King?), then I’m sharing my qualities.  I’m part of what is being shared, part of the effect.  And I suppose the question I need to ask myself (perhaps you could ask yourself as well), am I sharing good qualities or bad ones?  And yes, that can happen.

Making bread with a starter is actually pretty cool.  But like all bread making, rules have to be followed.  And like baking or cooking in general, things that aren’t supposed to be ingredients can get into a dish.  So, while the effect of “rising” still occurs, if I’m also adding in some of my rebellious qualities, the bread may look fine, but taste really bad.  I once forgot salt.  NEVER do that.  I once added too much salt.  Yeah, bad idea as well.  Salt ended up being the thing I had to really adjust more than any other ingredient to get my recipe right.  I got the flour pretty quickly, the starter, was basically the same, the other things like baking soda and so on were also fairly easy.  Salt was my downfall for so long.

So, what am I, as part of my Master’s Kingdom, adding to the lives of those around me?  Do they smell and enjoy the aroma of my Master’s presence?  Or does my odor still permeate a bit too far?  The beautiful thing is that the closer I get to my Master, the less of me there is to influence those around me, and the more of Him they see.  The goal is to be transformed into His image.  But I have to be transformed.  I don’t do it, He does.  I just get close to Him so He can.  He won’t grab me and force me to be anything.

What do you learn from this obscure parable?

Parables As Divine Obfuscation

 And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. (Lk. 8:10 NASB)

One of my pet peeves is when I’m not being understood, or more accurately, when I think I’m not being understood.  Honestly, it’s usually more accurate that I’m not being taken seriously which is not the same thing at all.  In fact, I confess, it’s probably a sign I’m being understood very well when people don’t take me seriously.  But I want to be understood, I want to be liked, I want others to weigh my words and find them powerful and effective, meaningful.  I want to “play the Great Man” as they say in 12-step programs (The Big Blue Book specifically).  Once again, it’s silly and selfish.

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