Saturday, September 24, 2011

New site

I have moved my blog over to a Wordpress site. This one will remain up as an archive but I'll only be posting at the Wordpress one from now on.

Only one thing

Luke 10:38-42 NASB

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up  to Him  and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

My thoughts -

For as much as I hate to admit it I've always been more of a Martha than a Mary. Sure, I'm a musician, an "artistic type" with long hair, sandals, and a beard. I like to think I'm a "live in the moment" kind of a guy, but not really. I can bury my head in my work and get bogged down in preparation and logistics with the best of them. The sad fact is if Jesus came back and showed up at my church on a Sunday morning I might miss Him because I was too busy getting "ready" for worship.

That's what Martha is doing here, in a sense. Jesus is their guest. Martha is busy with preparations for the guest. Mary is busy experiencing the guest. Mary is in the room. Mary is in the moment. Martha is preparing. Not that there's anything wrong with preparation but look at what Martha is missing out on! She's distracted because there are things to do to prepare for Jesus but Jesus is right there!

As a worship leader there are things that I have to do to prepare for worship. There are things to be planned and rehearsed. There are logistics. Worship services don't just happen by themselves. But when the service starts Jesus is right there! Preparation time is other. It is time to experience worship. It is time to be in the room. Too often I miss this. I am sure that I am not alone.

I don't know all the preparations that Mary and Martha needed to make in advance of Jesus's arrival. I don't know how much lead time they had. I don't know if Martha wasn't the kind of person who would fuss over the preparations no matter how well prepared she was. But I am certain in my own life that the earlier I prepare and the more disciplined I am in that preparation during the week the more "in the moment" I can be for worship.

There are times to prepare and there are times to experience the Risen Lord. Preparation isn't a bad thing. It is necessary. But we can't allow preparation to keep us from experiencing Jesus. Mary sat at Jesus's feet and listened, hanging on every word. Martha missed out on that because she had her head buried in preparation. Mary was in the room. Martha was in the next room fretting.

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who is my neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37 NASB

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

My thoughts -

"Wishing to justify himself..."

Those four words just jump out at me this morning. Here's a lawyer, I don't know his age but I always picture him as young, who asks Jesus a question. This is an important question. This may be the important question. What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?

There's all kinds of questions rolled up in this one. What does God desire? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? There is a fear of death, sure, but also a longing for life and for meaning and for purpose.

And Jesus answers with a question. What does the Law say. The lawyer responds that the Law says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus tells him that is correct. Do it and you'll live. Now, it can't be that easy, can it? I mean, Jesus didn't even really answer the question, did he? He let the guy who asked it do that. And such a simple answer, too. Love God. Love neighbor. Do this and you'll live. There's not a lot of debate here. There's not a lot of deep, complicated theology or philosophy. No real secrets or mysteries revealed. Just love God and love neighbor.

And then we get to those four words: "Wishing to justify himself..."

I don't know if he felt like he was wasting Jesus's time or if he felt stupid or what, but the lawyer obviously felt as though his question and the answer to it weren't good enough. Maybe he's insecure. Maybe he wants to be seen as smart. Maybe he was looking for a theological debate that didn't pan out. Whatever the reason it inspired him to ask a great question: Who is my neighbor?

So the secret to life both abundant and eternal is to love God and to love your neighbor. Two questions follow. Who is God? And who is the neighbor? The God question is debated regularly and has been for as long as there have been people. The lawyer didn't get into that here. This is a room full of people who probably all had pretty similar views on God. They worship the Lord. No sense hashing all that out. They knew God. But neighbor, there's a question.

Now maybe the lawyer is looking for a loophole. Maybe he's trying to find out who he is obligated to love and who he doesn't have to. Maybe he's just asking a deep.question. It's impossible for me to tell and quite frankly not all that important to me. What is important is Jesus's answer.

Jesus answers with what we now know as the parable of the good Samaritan. I won't rehash all of it here. You probably know the parable and if not it's in today's text above.

We have hospitals named Good Samaritan. This story is a big part of our culture. And I wonder sometimes if we don't overlook something important that Jesus is saying to the people he is speaking to here.

Jesus is speaking to Jewish religious leaders. In fact, this exchange starts with a man who looks to be wanting to debate the Law with Jesus. And this man, a Jewish expert in the Law, asks who his neighbor is the answer involves telling a story in which a priest and a Levite do not help a man who has been beaten and robbed but a Samaritan does.

The priest and the Levite would be like the men in this room. They are Jewish religious leaders. They are "good" religious people. The Samaritan is the outcast. The Samaritan worships the "wrong" God in the "wrong" way at the "wrong" places.

Now I'm starting to wonder about the questions that obviously follow from Jesus's earlier answer. The lawyer asked "who is my neighbor?" and not "who is God?" seemingly because all the people in that room had very similar views about God. But the answer Jesus provides for the neighbor question reveals something about those views on God.

The neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed was the man who did not believe and worship in the same way as the men in that room. How important is that? There's no way that this is just some coincidence. Jesus didn't just throw that in there incidentally while riffing on some story. Jesus is telling these men that what and how they believe is not nearly as important as how they love.

The outcast, the stranger, the reject, the one who is different and worships differently from these "good" religious people loves his neighbor in this parable. In Matthew 22 we have Jesus answer a question about the most important commandment. His answer to that ties love for neighbor together with love for God. (Matthew 22:39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'.")

Now none of this is to say that belief in and beliefs about God are not important. But love seems to Jesus to trump belief. Right beliefs mean nothing without love. And let's not forget that this all came from a question about inheriting eternal life. Jesus didn't say the key was to believe. He said it was to love. Then when pressed the hero of the story he told was a man who believed differently than the people he was telling the story to. I can't see this is a coincidence.

I'm not saying beliefs aren't important. But love is essential.

And we get this radical shift in how we think about God, neighbor, and love because a lawyer wished to justify himself.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Biking Fools

My youngest son has started biking with me in the mornings. My Mom lives at about the halfway point of my morning commute and she takes my kids to school in the morning so it has worked out pretty well that Caleb will get up a little early and then bike with me over to Ma's house. I'll drop him off there and then continue on my way to work. When I get done with work I'll bike over there to pick him up and then he and I will bike home.

This is an awesome way to spend time together doing something we both love doing. In fact, this morning we both got to experience the beauty of the sunrise from our bicycles. There are not words to describe what an awesome experience that is to share with your child.

Caleb has been working on his brother and sister to take it up as well but there's a cost of entry involved. To bike you've got to get up earlier and you've got to be on the ball about getting ready. If not you're going to be late. Neither of my older two are what you'd call morning people so they've taken to the idea with about as much enthusiasm as a cat would to a bath. Which is to say that they have not done it at all. Not even once.

But they do bike. My whole family does. It's something we all enjoy doing and can do together. I think it is important for families to have some shared interests. I would like to think that when they are adults they will look back on these family bicycle outings and remember them fondly. I know I will. I have a folder on my work computer of pictures I've taken on our bicycle excursions. They remind me of where we've been and offer promises of experiences to come. Here are a few of them:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Luke 10:1-3, 17-20 NASB

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. "Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."

My thoughts -

Jesus sent the seventy out. He gave them instructions to go minister to communities. And upon their return it was clear that they had an amazing experience.

"Can you believe what we did?" they asked. "That was awesome! We even cast out demons!"

They were riding high. And Jesus didn't exactly kill their buzz. But he reminded them of something I think we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Whatever awesome things that have happened. Whatever you see or do or hear. Whatever amazing ministry you are a part of. None of that compares to simply belonging to Christ.

We want to be moved. We want to be inspired. We want to have these "mountain top" experiences. But none of that compares to the "mundane" reality that we belong to Jesus. That our names are written in the Book of Life. That we have been redeemed. That we are loved.

The most moving worship service, the most life changing retreat, the most inspiring sermon, the best praise band in the world, the most intense missions opportunity, none of that compares to being redeemed by God through Christ. None of that compares to being saved.

I hear all the time from people that worship didn't "have it" or a retreat was "kind of boring" or some experience "just wasn't moving" and I have to wonder if sometimes we don't just sit back and hope the Holy Spirit will entertain us.

But Jesus told his followers not to rejoice in the amazing experiences they had. Jesus told them to rejoice that their names were written down in heaven. I think sometimes we forget what we are saved from and what we are saved to. I think sometimes we take the opportunity to worship and serve the Lord our God to whom we have, through no act or virtue of our own but through grace alone, been reconciled, for granted.

Rejoice in your salvation! Rejoice that you have been redeemed! Rejoice that you have been reconciled to God through Christ! Rejoice that you have been saved! Don't wait for the mountain top. Every day that you have been saved from your sins is the mountain top. Every day that you have been redeemed is the mountain top. Every day that you thank God that Christ intervened on your behalf is the mountain top.

If we're not rejoicing in our salvation then we're just doing it wrong. There's nothing wrong with amazing experiences. There's nothing wrong with being moved or inspired. But this is not what we should be rejoicing in. Not when we compare it to the miracle that is every day spent in a reconciled relationship with our Creator.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jesus didn't make it easy, did he?

Luke 9:57-62 NASB

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

My thoughts -

There are things I wish Jesus didn't say, there are things I really wish Jesus didn't say, and then there's this morning's passage. What I really need is a good theologian to explain that what I'm reading here isn't really what Jesus meant; that there are cultural issues or situational issues or some kind of contextual something that makes this passage a lot more palatable.

Barring some kind of a theological intervention this morning I'm stuck with this reality: Jesus did not make it easy to follow him.

That makes sense. When he called his disciples they left everything to follow him. Peter, James, and John left behind a thriving fishing business and the biggest catch of their lives, for instance. But they knew that what Jesus had to offer was better than anything in this world.

Jesus's ministry grew by leads and bounds early on. He had thousands come to hear him speak. They followed him everywhere. They wouldn't leave him alone. He was mobbed wherever he went. But those numbers dwindled until he had just a handful left at the end. He didn't reward the casual follower. His teaching was too demanding. He was too demanding.

But this passage here seems especially difficult to swallow. First, Jesus explains that following him is not a particularly comfortable lifestyle.

"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

As a Christian I can say that I don't like what Jesus is getting at. We want to be like Jesus, but in a comfortable way. I know I want to be more like Jesus but I'd like a nice home, a reliable car, a steady paycheck, and the possibility of retirement some day. Jesus isn't offering these things, though. Jesus is letting this prospective follower know that the going is tough, even for the Son of God. Life is hard and there are no promises here that it will get any easier.

Where's my "name it and claim it"? Where's my "health and wealth". Where's my "the Lord wants you to prosper"? Theologically I don't like that doctrine but as a practicing Christian (and I'm getting better at it - ba-da-ching) I think I could learn to live with a unique material blessing from God, you know?

But the fun doesn't stop there. Jesus goes on to tell some other prospective followers that they can neither bury their dead nor even say goodbye to their loved ones. Like I said earlier, I'd love for a good theologian to explain that these things don't mean what they seem to mean. Bible scholars, get on this one please. And let me know what you find pretty quickly. Because I'm the kind of guy who just might look back after putting my hand to the plow.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The wrong spirit

Luke 9:51-56 NASB

When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw  this,  they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."] And they went on to another village.

My thoughts -

Jesus was rejected. He was rejected for religious/political reasons. This was something of a culture war issue. Jesus was Jewish. He was travelling towards Jerusalem. The Samaritans wanted no part of helping him with this.

Did they not know who he was? Did they not know what he taught? Did they not realize that in Jesus they had a fierce advocate?

In this moment, unfortunately, Jesus was not a person to them. He was not the person Jesus nor was he the office of the Christ. He was the office of Jewish teacher travelling to Jerusalem. And the Samaritans wanted no part of that.

He was dehumanized. I'm sure that hurt. It hurt James and John. In fact, they were enraged. At first read their reaction might seem a little over the top. The Samaritans reject them so they ask to call fire down from heaven to burn them alive. That may be a bit of an overreaction.

But is that so different from how we would respond? James and John were out to "get" those who hurt them. They felt the sting of rejection, the embarrassment and shame of dehumanization, and they lashed right back. This is a natural reaction if a little more violent than what we'd feel comfortable admitting to.

But Jesus didn't have this same reaction. He was rejected and dehumanized the same as James and John. But Jesus didn't blow his top. Jesus didn't lash out in anger. Jesus didn't condemn them. Jesus didn't "get" them. Instead he rebuked his disciples.

"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

What do these words mean to us? What do these words mean for us? Jesus, after being rejected, says that he came to save and not to destroy. He says James and John don't get why he's here. Do we get it?

Jesus was rejected. Jesus was shunned. Jesus was ultimately killed. And he took it willingly. He didn't lash out. He didn't use his power as God Incarnate to get even with anyone. He didn't call down fire to burn his enemies, he did call for angels to rescue him from suffering, he didn't call for his followers to wield swords to prevent his capture and crucifixion.

Jesus didn't come to destroy. Jesus came to save. And yet it seems as though Jesus's followers have been destroying in his name for as long as there have been followers of Jesus. James and John were the first but by no means the last. The Prince of Peace has had wars fought in his name. Our Lord who was unjustly executed has had others kill in his name. Jesus, who came to save and not to destroy, has seen a fair amount of destruction carried out in his name.

James and John responded to rejection in a natural way. They just did what people do. James and John responded to their enemies in a natural way. They just did what people do. What sets, or should set Christians apart is that we serve a Saviour who demonstrated that we do not have to be slaves to our natural impulses and who empowers us to overcome our sinful nature.

Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. And he lived it. Jesus wad the Christ, our Saviour, the Son of God sent to reconcile God's enemies to Himself. When Jesus was wronged he didn't lash out in anger. When Jesus was struck he didn't strike back. When Jesus was rejected he didn't "show them". Jesus did not come to destroy no matter how much we deserved destruction.

Jesus came to save. To desire destruction, as James and John did, was to not understand this. They had the wrong spirit and Jesus rebuked them for it.

How is our spirit?