Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Job security

We have a guy in our office building who does all of the maintenance. He's awesome. He does really good work. And he's an artist.

 I'm not just saying that. He does woodworking art outside of work. He's brought some pieces in to show some of us in the building. I don't know a lot about art but they seem gorgeous to me. He really puts a lot of himself into them.

 But he does the same thing at work. He redesigned the lobby recently. He hung beautiful wood panels everywhere. He put them in the elevator, too. They really give the place a less industrial, more "homey" feel.

As I came in today he was pulling a panel down from the elevator and replacing it. A new office is opening in the building and someone, while moving their stuff in, destroyed a panel. Our maintenance guy makes each one himself by hand. I expressed to him that it was a shame that someone destroyed one. I wondered (though not aloud) if he would be upset that the product of such obvious care and labor of his was destroyed.

 He said it was not a shame it was destroyed. He said it was "job security".

 I like that. I wish I had his perspective.

I wish Jesus didn't say that

Luke 8:16-18 NASB

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. "So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

My thoughts -

Go ahead and put this the "I wish Jesus didn't say that" file.

"Whoever has, to him more shall be given"?

"Whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away"?

I don't like the sound of that.

So what is Jesus saying here? This passage immediately follows his explanation of the parable of the sower. The particular lines I find discomforting come after two warnings. The first, whatever you do will eventually be known. There aren't any secrets. Everything comes into the light.

The second, be careful how you listen. What does that mean? The language here in the NASB is "take care how you listen". What about other translations? In the NIV it's "consider carefully how you listen". In the King James it is "take heed therefore how ye hear".

Of course if we're looking at how we listen or hear in proximity to the parable of the sower then I start wondering again about being good or rocky soil. Are we fertile ground to receive the Word of God?

Do the worries and distractions of this life prevent us from receiving the Word? Is our faith weak enough that when trouble comes, though we have received the Word, we can not rely on God and turn away? Are we too proud to subvert our own will and do God's will? Do we receive the Word with no intention of changing? Do we have hardened hearts?

This warning strikes me because at times all of these things are true of me. I am worried. I am distracted. I am proud. I can be some pretty rocky ground if I decide to be. I can harden my heart and nothing can bend it. I can be granite if I'm in the mood to be.

Maybe that's why this bothers me so much:

"(W)hoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

What is it Jesus is referring to when he says "even what he thinks he has"? If I think I have a nice comfortable relationship with my buddy Jesus and it turns out that Jesus was less interested in being my buddy than being my Lord, do I lose that relationship that I think I have? How terrifying a thought is that? If we make God in our own image and it turns out that God isn't like that at all do we lose our image of God? Do we lose our idols? Do we lose our religion? Could that be what Jesus is saying?

I don't know. I wish I had direct access to Jesus. I wish I could ask and get a direct answer. But God doesn't work that way. God came near once in Jesus. Jesus died and was resurrected and ascended into Heaven sending the Spirit to us. But the Spirit seems to prefer mystery, wonder, and a still, small voice. Sometimes I would prefer clarity and a megaphone. But the ones screaming in the megaphone don't speak for God. They just want their own voice to be heard.

The best I can do is to honestly pray,

Jesus, help me to humbly listen to you. Help me to be still and fertile ground for your Spirit's still, small voice. Help me to understand and to do your will and not my own.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mysterious ways

Luke 8:1-15 NASB

Soon afterwards, He  began  going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and  also  some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

His disciples  began  questioning Him as to what this parable meant. 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.

"Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. "Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.

"Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. "But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

My thoughts -

I pay a lot of lip service to gender equality. That's all I can do, really. But if I don't notice the women who supported Jesus when I read this chapter I'm just full of hot air. Their contributions were great enough to get specifically mentioned here; Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna. Also "many others" who supported Jesus's ministry "out of their private means".

How do I know next to nothing about these women? What can be known and where can I read about them? Was their support strictly financial? We know all about the twelve and yet their individual names are rarely mentioned.

We get Peter mentioned a lot because of his interactions with Jesus. I love Peter. He wore his heart on his sleeve and wasn't afraid to ask the stupid questions. I'm a proud stupid question asker. Peter just needed to know more all the time and wasn't ashamed.

We read a lot about the Sons of Zebedee. Maybe I notice them more than others having grown up as one half of a whole (the Baker twins). And of course we all know Judas and Thomas's names, but not for good reasons. Judas betrayed and Thomas doubted.

But by and large the twelve are nameless as individuals. They exist as a group. They are the disciples. If you gave me a pop quiz I doubt I could name all twelve. Sure, I could probably memorize them. But they are rarely mentioned in the Bible or in our culture individually by name.

And here these three women are listed by name. They contributions must have been important. I want to know more.

Another question I've always had is why Jesus taught in parables. His answer to his disciples was, "so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." Well call me one of "they" because that doesn't make sense to me.

Is there a deeper truth that can only be understood in stories? Or was there a political reason to obscure some meanings? You'd think this explanation wouldn't have been too hard for Jesus to give the crowd, yet he reserved it for those closest to him.

Every time I try to understand why God works in mysterious ways I fail. I want more clarity from the Divine. I want more revelation. But God doesn't exist to please me. I don't get my way. I get just enough to be desperate for more.

This parable has always disturbed me. I like a good, streamlined chain of events. I don't like variables. I don't like a lot of options. Give me "a sower went out, sowed seed, and it produced crops". That's easy. It's comforting. It works. And we're all saved that way.

But that's not what Jesus said. There's this rocky soil. And sometimes the seed doesn't produce strong roots. And the sun withers the crops. And the thorns choke them out. And then, rarely it would seem, some seed falls on good soil and produces crops. Now that soil is good enough to produce a high yield but still, this disturbs me. Do you know how rare good soil is?

So why am I so bugged? Am I afraid that I'm not good soil? Does my heart break for others who hear the gospel preached and are unmoved? Maybe both?

How easy is it to fall into worry or distraction about the things of this life! I worry all the time. What good does it do? Not much. But what if I lose my job? What of we can't pay all the bills this month? How are we going to make ends meet? How could I possibly go back to school? How can we afford to get the medical care we need? What are we going to feed the kids? There are so many things to worry about in this economy and this job market. And I do worry.

But when things go well I don't worry. Instead I get distracted by shiny junk. What kind of new guitar should I get? What kind of TV or computer? Should I get an Android phone? What restaurant should we eat at? Where should we go for vacation? What kind of new car would have enough room for our family while being cooler than a minivan. How can I dress to look a little younger and cooler?

It's not that the worries are not legitimate. It's not that the distractions are all bad things. But they take my focus away from things that are eternal and on to concerns for the temporary. I am less focused on the Kingdom of God and more focused on the kingdom of Tom.

And so I fear. I am afraid that when Jesus talks about the things that keep the seed from producing he's talking about me.

Am I bearing fruit?

Can anyone be saved?

Does God really love us?

How can we be sure?

These questions I ask myself constantly and sometimes the reassurance I so desperately crave isn't there. God is working in mysterious ways again. God is speaking in cryptic messages again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who does this guy think he is?

Luke 7:36-50 NASB

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined  at the table.   And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining  at the table  in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,  and standing behind  Him  at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." 

And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." 

"A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" 

Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." 

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.  "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.  "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." 

Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." 

Those who were reclining  at the table  with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this  man  who even forgives sins?" 

And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

My thoughts -

Who does this guy think he is?

The "good" religious people asked that a lot about Jesus. He spent a lot of time with the "wrong" crowd. He didn't hold conventional views. He shirked tradition. He attracted a lot of attention from "questionable" people like the woman in this story. And he seemed to have delusions of grandeur.

How many healings would it take for them to see Jesus for who he was/is? How many times would he have needed to raise the dead for them to get it?

That's the thing. Jesus didn't just talk the talk. He performed signs and miracles at every turn. But you can't convince people who already know everything of anything. The "good" religious people knew what "good" religious people look like. Jesus wasn't one of them. How could he be the Saviour? How could he be the Son of God?

The woman approached Jesus with humility and passionate, desperate affection. She knew what Jesus had done for her. She knew she was a sinner. Jesus came to reconcile us sinners to God. There is nothing better than that in the entire Universe.

But the "good" religious people aren't sinners, right? They're the good guys. A shining example for all those sinners to look up to. They've got it down. And if you work hard enough at it you can be just like them. Well, maybe not just like them. They are pretty darn good. But you can certainly try to be more like them.

So the "good" religious people skip the hospitality. A sinner has to do it for them. I guess they were too busy being "good". And, of course, this woman is a little weird. What, with washing Jesus's feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. That's certainly not proper. It's odd. It's unseemly. It's inappropriate. It's something to look down on.

Of course, we "good" religious people are nothing if not good at looking down on others. But that's no way to approach Jesus. This woman approached Jesus with humility and desperate, passionate gratitude. The "good" religious people approached Jesus to straighten him out.

The Kingdom of God is no place for people who have all the answers. The Kingdom of God is no place for religious rules wielded oppressively. There's only one way in.

Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me

Luke 7:18-30 NASB

The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.  Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"  When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’" 

At that very time He cured many  people  of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many  who were  blind.  And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the  blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the  poor have the gospel preached to them. 

"Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?  "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!  "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 

"This is the one about whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send My messenger  ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’
"I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." 

When all the people and the tax collectors heard  this,  they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 

But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

My thoughts -

Jesus makes who he is clear to John's followers here. He does so by quoting scripture and pointing to signs and miracles he has performed. He points out that the  blind can see, the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised up. Oh yeah. There's one more thing. The poor have the gospel preached to them.

I am not a pastor or a preacher. I am not a scholar or a teacher. I am not a particularly well educated man. That verse is just jumping off the page and slapping me in the face. Maybe a historian could put it in better context and it wouldn't stare at me so loudly this morning.

The poor have the gospel preached to them.

That's the last of the signs Jesus points to. Is that more miraculous than a healing? Is that more incredible than a cleansing? Is that more important than overcoming death? Sure, Jesus did those other things, but he preached the gospel to the poor.

Is that what made Jesus different?

Also, what did Jesus mean when he followed that statement up with "blessed is he who does not take offense at Me"?

The "good" religious people of his day certainly took offense. He spent most of his time with sinners. He hung out with the "wrong" kind of people. His followers weren't well educated. They were kind of a rough crew, fishermen and tax collectors and whatnot. What kind of a teacher, what kind of a "good" religious leader teaches "those people".

And as for the rules, he had a hard time sticking to them. He kept healing on the Sabbath. He kept doing things that "good" religious people know better than to do. He was kind of offensive.

But was preaching to the poor offensive. Did the "good" religious people object to that, too?

In Lexington about a year or so ago there was an affluent neighborhood that objected to a church moving in. They didn't like that the church had a history of programs that cared for the needs of poor people. They didn't like the kind of people who were drawn to that church. They didn't want them in their neighborhood.

So they protested. They put out signs in front of their houses. They complained to the newspaper. They complained to the TV stations. They complained to the city. They complained and complained and complained until the church decided it wasn't worth it and moved into another space instead.

I wonder how many of the people who complained go to church somewhere. The numbers say it's somewhere between a quarter and a third of them. Some of them are "good" religious people. Is their Jesus not as offensive?

Jesus gave John's followers the assurance that they needed to take back to John. Jesus was/is who John was waiting for. Then Jesus turns to his crowd and tells them about John.

John was a weird guy. He lived in the wilderness. He didn't wear "conventional" clothes. He didn't eat a "conventional" diet. He was intense. He preached repentance. That can be a tough message to hear. We like to be affirmed. We don't like to hear that we need to turn from our sin. We don't like that we need to prepare ourselves if we're going to be reconciled to God. That sounds hard. That sounds like work. We don't want to have to work for it.

But John was preparing them for Jesus, who was sent by God to reconcile us, God's enemies, we who have deliberately turned our backs on God, to Himself.

The "wrong" sort of people acknowledged this. They had been baptised by John. They received the baptism of repentance. The sinners, the tax collectors, the outcasts, the rejects, the lost the lonely and the broken, they all received John's baptism.

Luke specifically mentions tax collectors a few times in this passage. You wouldn't have been looked down on more in this culture than if you were a tax collector. They were liars, cheaters, and thieves who sold their own people out to the state for a tidy prophet. They were despised.

But they repented. They turned. They're right here with Jesus having received the baptism of John. Who didn't?

The "good" religious people. They rejected John. They rejected Jesus. They were too good to turn. They weren't like "those people". They were better than that.

And they missed out on the most important thing in the Universe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

He felt compassion for her

Luke 7:11-16 NASB

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd.  Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.  When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep."  And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!"  The dead man sat up and began to speak. And  Jesus  gave him back to his mother.  Fear gripped them all, and they  began  glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!"

My thoughts -

I love verse 13:

"When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, 'Do not weep.'"

This woman has lost everything. She is a widow. She had one son. And she is burying him. We serve a God who sees this loss and has compassion.

In a patriarchal society this woman's worth was found in her men. And they are gone. There is the human cost. She is grieving. But there is a financial cost for her being alone as well. She has no means for support. Jesus sees this horrible situation and he has compassion.

Jesus doesn't just have kind words. He doesn't just comfort the woman. He restores her son to her. He fixes the situation. His compassion is not found just in his words but in his actions.

For whom did Jesus raise this woman's son from the dead? Surely it wasn't for the man. I don't understand all of the logistics involved in life, death, resurrection, and eternity. But I know that this dead man was experiencing what we all will. And Jesus interrupted that to restore him to his mother. Because Jesus felt compassion for her.

Death wasn't the tragedy here. We don't weep for the dead. Life alone was the tragedy. To live without your lived ones is the tragedy. To be without support is the tragedy. To face every day with no hope, no help, and no love. She had lost everything. That was the tragedy. So Jesus felt compassion for her and restored her son to her.

Jesus could not prevent this tragedy. God does not keep horrible things from happening. This is a fact of life. We can say that He can. We can say that He should. But we can't honestly say that He does. Bad things happen every day.

But we serve a God that has compassion. God may not prevent the bad things from happening. God may not prevent tragedies. But God restores. God redeems. God works through the awful things that happen and has compassion as heals us. God takes our messes and God fixes them.

I don't know why God works in this way. I wish I did. I wish I had all the answers. But I love that when God came near, when God dwelled among us in Jesus, he had compassion for this widow. He wept at his friend's tomb. He mourned for his city and his people. He had compassion.

Jesus raised this man from the dead. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He healed countless people. He rebuked demons. He rebuked religious authorities that persecuted others. He performed miracles and produced signs and wonders. But the most amazing thing was compassion.

God loves us so much. I can't answer the existential questions. I don't know why we're here. I don't know why the world is the way that it is. I don't know why bad things happen. I don't know why God is distant. I don't know what happens when we die. I don't understand the logistics of eternity.

But I know that God loves us. Horrible things happen. A woman loses everything she has in the world. God didn't prevent it. I don't know if God even could. But Jesus had compassion. And Jesus restored her. Jesus redeemed this horrible situation.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just give me your word...

Luke 7:1-10 NASB

When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.
And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.  When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.  When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him;  for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue." 

Now Jesus  started  on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof;  for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but  just  say the word, and my servant will be healed.  "For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it." 

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."  When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

My thoughts -

I want God close to me. I don't like distance. I don't like doubt. I don't like insecurity.

But that doesn't seem to be the way God works. At least not for me. Not for many of us, really. God is in Heaven. We are on Earth. There is distance. And every once in a while we have an experience in which we feel the presence of God so close we almost feel like we're going to suffocate and explode with joy and peace all at the same time.

My faith resides in the moments I can't feel God near. There is almost always distance. There is almost always uncertainty. God's presence just doesn't feel "there" and "close" as often as I'd like. This is not an obstacle to be eluded but a fact of life to be lived with.

I love this story for that reason. This man had faith in Jesus to heal his servant. He had such faith that he didn't need Jesus's physical presence. He didn't need Jesus to be there. He didn't need to touch Jesus's cloak or to have Jesus spit in mud and rub it on him or to do any kind of ritual. He didn't need Jesus to lay hands and pray over him.

This man had faith. He didn't need Jesus's presence. Jesus's word was enough.

"Just say the word and my servant will be healed."

I find this to be remarkable. Jesus did, too, exclaiming that he had not seen such faith in all of Israel.

I don't have the presence of God in my life all the time. That's not true. I don't feel the presence of God in my life all the time. Heck, not even most of the time. God, in Christ, came near once. The Spirit reveals God to us but I don't always have enough revealed to me for my liking. It seems like I get just enough to get me by until each next day. My daily Spiritual bread, as it were.

But for this man the presence of Jesus was not as important as Jesus's word. That is the kind of faith I desire. That is the kind of faith I think we all need.

God, your Word is good enough for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sorry, Lord. Maybe next time...

Luke 6:46-49 NASB

"Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?  "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.  "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

My thoughts -

This was hard for me to read this morning, especially in light of some of the difficult teachings the precede it here.

Although I didn't post it part of my reading this morning included what I call the "Plankeye" verse. I'm sure you know the one. Luke 6:42:

""Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye."

This is a tough teaching. This is the sort of thing that we want Jesus to be telling others. I know I do, at least. You know, the people who disagree with me. They can be so judgemental and mean. They need to hear this. But not me. I'm good.

And of course that's nonsense. I find what is wrong with others much easier and much, much more comfortably than I do my own faults.

But this is not the only tough teaching we've looked at lately. Jesus was/is nothing if not willing to challenge his followers. We've read over the last few days that we need to love our enemies, be good to people who are bad to us, bless those who curse us, lend without expecting anything in return, that we are blessed when we are persecuted, that the poor are blessed, and that the rich, comfortable, and powerful have received their reward in this life and not the next to the point that Jesus says "woe" to them.

These are tough things. They challenge us. They turn our worldview absent Jesus upside down. They are hard to hear. They are hard to follow. Jesus is asking us to love like God loves. To love our enemies. To expect nothing in return. To devalue the tangible things in this life and to only value the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom we don't have access to here and now. And then Jesus says this and it just rubs it in.

"Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?"

Is it because we don't think he's serious? Jesus doesn't really mean these things, right? They're some kind of academic ideal. Everyone should be like this. Of course it isn't really attainable and grace covers your shortcomings so don't sweat it if you can't pull it off. Seriously. We're cool.

Is Jesus not showing us a better way to live, a better way to be? Are we who claim salvation in Christ willing to trust him only with eternity and not with this present life? Are we just stubborn, stuck in our ways? Do we like control? Is it just too hard?

I can't answer these questions for you. I can barely answer them for me. Mostly I can look at this passage sheepishly, like a child being scolded who has no good explanation for his behavior. It was more work than I was willing to put in. Anger is addicting. I enjoy getting worked up. I enjoy a good tirade. I like holding grudges. It is a lot easier to hate your enemies than to love them. It is a lot easier to continue to do what I have always done than to seriously follow Jesus and do what he says.

That's all I've got. Sorry, Lord. My way was just easier. Maybe next time.

Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You didn't really mean that, did you Jesus?

Luke 6:27-35 NASB

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.  "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  "If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  "If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is  that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.  "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

My thoughts -

Yesterday we read about Jesus turning some assumptions about God's blessings on their heads. It's a little jarring to hear "blessed are the poor" and "woe to the rich". It is perhaps even more jarring to hear that you a blessed when others curse you and woe to you when they speak well of you. We like to be comfortable. We like to be safe and secure. We like to be well regarded. It just feels better. But Jesus didn't come to give us what we want. He came to give us what we need, a restored relationship with God. And the Kingdom of God looks an awful lot different than what we have made for ourselves on Earth.

Here Jesus says that we are to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us, and if someone smacks us across the face we are to present the other side of our face for them to smack as well. That's some pretty radical stuff. And I completely fail to do any of it.

I want to say that I love my enemies but that love is strictly some kind of academic idea of love that is available to everyone. There's no specific loving actions offered. There's no sentiment there, either. The best I can offer as far as loving goes is that I generally don't act on my hate. That's not the same thing. Not by a long shot. And there's no way, if someone decks me, that I'm not going to return the favor or die trying. To suggest otherwise is just crazy talk. It's nonsense.

So then, how am I following Jesus? He says that even sinners can love people who love them. Anyone can love their "loved ones". There's nothing special about that. But God loves His enemies. Christ came while we were sinners, while we were God's enemies, while we were in open rebellion against God, to reconcile us to God. God loved us, God's enemies. Christ was/is the vehicle for that love. Jesus, as an expression of God's love for God's enemies is teaching us to love like God. And it's not easy.

Now, if you think that's radical there's even more. Jesus tells us to lend without expecting anything in return. So if you're following here Jesus has asked us to love our enemies. He has asked us to do good to people who hate us. He has asked us bless those who curse us and to pray for those who mistreat us. We are to suffer indignities so peacefully that even if we get hit upside the head we are not to retaliate but instead to turn the other side of our head to get smacked as well. And if that's not enough we are supposed to shell out our money not to make a profit, not to invest wisely, not to people we know are good for it; but we are instead to lend it expecting nothing in return.

Now Jesus, I was with you when you prescribed two concussions for the price of one but now you want me to just give my money away to people who may not be able to repay and you don't even want me to charge interest? That's crazy, man. It'll never work.

Can you imagine a world run with the kind of radical generosity Jesus prescribes here? It's just not practical. We all know this, right? Surely Jesus didn't really mean this, did he?

If he did he doesn't actually expect us to do it, right? It's just some romantic ideal, isn't it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Did he just say "blessed"? Wait... What?

Luke 6:20-26 NASB

And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He  began  to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.  "Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.  "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.  "Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.  "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

My thoughts -

That Jesus fellow is an odd, odd bird. Maybe I didn't hear correctly. You know, I do have trouble hearing sometimes. But I swear he just said that the poor are blessed. Not only that but woe to the rich?

Now, far be it for me to argue with such an esteemed teacher but how can this be? Aren't the rich blessed? Can't we tell that God favors them by how God has blessed them? When we suffer isn't because God is punishing us?

If we are hungry, or poor, or scorned; if we suffer isn't it because we have done something wrong? Isn't that God's way of calling attention to our sin and demanding that we repent? Don't we suffer because we deserve it?

And we know the rich deserve how God has blessed them. I mean, look at our history. Some of our greatest kings were wealthy beyond our wildest imaginations. Look at Solomon. Look at David. God blessed them beyond measure. Didn't they deserve it? Don't the rich deserve to be blessed? Isn't that how God has ordered things? Be righteous and be blessed. Be a sinner and be punished. If you suffer you deserve it.

Yes, I suppose Job didn't really deserve his afflictions. But that's different. Job was sort of the exception that proves the rule, right? And I suppose there have been more than a few righteous widows. They seem to always be helping prophets out in scripture. But we don't know a lot about them. And maybe they had been punished by God for some previous life of sin we don't have access to.

Where is Jesus coming from with this whole "blessed are the poor thing", anyway? Doesn't he know anything? It just doesn't make any sense. It's so confusing. I don't understand.

But what if he's right? What does that mean for us? If the poor and the hungry and the suffering and the loathed and the shunned and the powerless and the oppressed are blessed are blessed by God what does that mean for me? Should I care for them? Should I have compassion? Should I do anything differently?

And when Jesus says "woe", what does that mean? Do I even want to know?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Breakin' the law

Luke 6:1-11 NASB

Now it happened that He was passing through  some  grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating  the grain.   But some of the Pharisees said, "Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  And Jesus answering them said, "Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him,  how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?"  And He was saying to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.  The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely  to see  if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find   reason  to accuse Him.  But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And he got up and came forward.  And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?"  After looking around at them all, He said to him, "Stretch out your hand!" And he did  so;  and his hand was restored.  But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

My thoughts -

What is work? If I'm coaching my son's baseball team, is that work? If I'm training for a long fundraising bike ride, is that work? Can I do these things on my day off and still consider myself to be off? Can I volunteer at the church and still be off? What about an emergency food agency?

God gave His people the Sabbath as a day off. They didn't have to work seven days a week. God rested on the seventh day and so should they. This seems like a pretty simple thing, right?

But there's this theology involved. We humans can't make anything simple when it comes to God. We have to make it so complicated. And this isn't all bad. Good theology prevents religious leaders from trampling and abusing their followers. But not all theology is good. Some of it is abusive.

Look at the first instance Jesus "violates" the Sabbath here. Jesus and his followers are hungry. So they get themselves something to eat. Unfortunately the way that Jesus and his disciples acquired food could be construed as work. That's a no-no. It's the Sabbath. They're breaking the law.

Now, they're not harvesting here. They just picked some wheat to eat as they were passing by. They're not laboring in the field. They're just getting lunch. They're hungry. To say this is work and they're violating the Sabbath is an example of abusive theology and Jesus calls the Pharisees on this.

In fact, Jesus shows them how David, their ideal king, a man after God's own heart, violated the law when it came to feeding his hungry followers. What's good and what's bad gets a little fuzzy when people are starving.

The second example is, in my opinion, even worse than the first. It's the Sabbath and Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. There is a man who is disabled there. The "good" religious people don't care about this man. They care about busting Jesus. They know that Jesus has the power and desire to heal this man, but it's the Sabbath. Can't work on the Sabbath. No, no, no. That would be breaking the law.

But Jesus knows what these "good" religious people are thinking. He knows their hearts. He knows they're trying to trap him. But he's not falling for it. He won't heal this guy. Not on the Sabbath. That would be bad.

Just kidding. Of course Jesus healed him. But not before rebuking the "good" religious people about this absurdity.

"I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?"

Jesus can not see good that should be done and is in his power to do and simply not do it because it's against the rules. He is not violating God's Sabbath. He is just violating the idea that humans have of God's Sabbath.
The "good" religious people here are calloused and evil. They don't care about a man who is suffering. They don't care about people who are hurting and starving. They care about the rules and about their power to wield the rules against God's people. They love power, not people.

Jesus was sent to reconcile us to God. He taught us to live God and love each other. These two go hand in hand. These "good" religious people hate Jesus. They don't love God or people, they love power and being in control.

They left the synagogue enraged. Jesus was not subject to their rules. Rather than being excited about the restoration of a broken man they were angry because Jesus was a rule breaker.

He broke the law.

How dare he.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life never had a chance

A runt. The abandoned son of a feral barn cat. We brought him home. We nursed him. We loved him. We cleaned him. We snuggled him. We kept him warm and safe.

He was underweight. We knew this. The odds were long. He likely wouldn't survive. We named him Chayyim. Chai for short. His name meant life.

But life never had a chance. Chayyim left us this evening. We knew this would likely come. We knew we shouldn't get attached. But you can't love like that.

Chai was born to be abandoned. He was born to a mother that didn't want him. He was doomed to die alone. No one should die alone.

So we loved him. Not for long. Not nearly long enough. But we loved him. He was held. He was kept safe and warm. He was given as much affection as any living thing has ever received.

He was loved. Not for long enough. But he was loved. He didn't live alone. He didn't die alone. He was held at the end. He snuggled in. He passed peacefully.

He was loved. No one should not know love. No one should not know a mother's love, her touch, her kiss, her warm embrace.

Chai had a mother. A cat birthed him but Shannon held him and loved him and changed him and swaddled him and worried over him and kept him safe and loved best of all.

We named him Chayyim. His name meant life. Life never had a chance.

But he was loved.

It is not the well...

Luke 5:27-32 NASB

After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me." And he left everything behind, and got up and  began  to follow Him.

And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other  people  who were reclining  at the table  with them.  The Pharisees and their scribes  began  grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?"

And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 

"I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

My thoughts -

Matthew (Levi) was not a "good" religious person. He was a tax collector. Tax collectors were the wrong sort of people. They were liars, thieves, and swindlers. They took your hard earned money and enriched themselves off of it through the power of their office. They were the guys who were looked down on as being the kind of people who would sell out their own people to the state. Tax collectors were, to "good" religious people, sinners of the worst sort.

I imagine, much like lawyer jokes, there were tax collector jokes in Jesus's day. As the son of a lawyer I heard plenty of good lawyer jokes. Probably my favorite on was:

What do you call a thousand lawyers on a sinking ship towards the bottom of the ocean?

A good start.

It is culturally assumed that there are no honest lawyers. Those people would do anything for a buck. They represent crooks and shady politicians. They chase ambulances. They'd sue their own mothers if they thought they could collect.

Tax collectors were, to the "good" religious people of Jesus's day, every bit as bad as the worst caricatures of lawyers in lawyer jokes. They were liars and thieves. They sold out their own people. They valued only money and would do anything for a buck.

So Jesus calls on of these tax collectors to follow him and it's a scandal to the "good" religious people. But then again, we "good" religious people love a scandal. We love to be outraged. It gives us something to talk about.

But look at this horrible, irredeemable, almost sub-human sinner's response to Jesus is. It's one we see all the time in the gospels. He drops everything and follows Jesus. In fact, he's so stoked about following this Jesus fellow that he throws a big party to celebrate and invites all of his friends. All of his tax collector friends. You know, those horrible sinners the "good" religious people look down on.

So the "good" religious people give Jesus some flack for hanging out with "those people". And he responds saying ""It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

Jesus came to save sinners and to reconcile us, the fallen children of God, to our Heavenly Father.

Have you ever tried to tell something to someone who thinks that they know everything, though? It isn't possible. These "good" religious people knew everything. They knew that they were righteous, so Jesus doesn't confront them with their sin. Not here. Not yet.

Jesus is dealing with the people who know that they need him. He is dealing with people who are desperate for the love of God and for reconciliation. He is dealing with people who know that the things of this world don't satisfy the longing in their heart for this reconciliation. He is dealing with the people that the "good" religious people of our world don't have time for.

I'm sure this answer placated and satisfied the Pharisees. It reaffirmed their belief in themselves and about "those people". Jesus is ministering to those "sinners". Maybe they thought he was weird. Maybe they pitied him wasting his time and energy. Maybe they thought that if Jesus stuck with this ministry thing long enough he'd grow out of that naive way of being and become like them. Give him a little time and he'll learn. Some day he'll know better. He's just wasting his time. Some day he'll understand that some people can't and shouldn't be saved.

Little did they know that they were sinners, too. They followed the law, but not perfectly. No one can followed the law perfectly. No one but Jesus.

These "good" religious people had no love. Jesus established the law of love and they were lost and didn't even know it. Their righteousness depended on believing and saying the right things and performing the right rituals. But God desires that we love Him and love each other. We don't need rituals to love. We need love, and they didn't have any.

Matthew was a sinner. He knew this. Jesus called and he came running. He knew he needed Jesus so badly that he dropped everything to follow him. And he loved his friends so much that he threw this party so they could meet Jesus, too.

There's really no better response to Jesus than this. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seeing their faith

Luke 5:17-25 NASB

One day He was teaching; and there were  some  Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting  there,  who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and  from  Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was  present  for Him to perform healing.  And  some  men  were  carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him.  But not finding any  way  to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle  of the crowd,  in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."  The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this  man  who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?"  But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  "Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  "But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,"--He said to the paralytic--"I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home."  Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God.

My thoughts -

How many of us have friends who would open up the roof of the church and lower us in to be healed if that were the only way it could be done? How many of us are friends like that?

Here they are, a normal worship service. Jesus is preaching, the roof opens, and chaos ensues.

First, look at what Jesus does here. He doesn't heal the man. He forgives his sins. This sends the "good" religious people into a tizzy. That's the thing about us "good" religious people. We're always good for a tizzy. We know what we know and we're comfortable there. These people knew Jesus didn't have the authority to forgive sins. What Jesus said here was "wrong". And when dealing with matters of theology one must never be "wrong". That is a sin punishable by death, and worse.

That Jesus forgave the man's sin is no big deal to us. We know who Jesus is. We know Jesus is the Son of God. We know Jesus is our Saviour. We know Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. In fact, we're counting on it. But there is something here that I think is very much a big deal to us. Or at least it should be.

Because of whose faith was the man forgiven? Because of whose faith was the man healed?

See, what Jesus did here has never made sense to me with the way I was raised. We talk all the time about the individual's relationship with Jesus. We talk all the time about the individual coming to Jesus. But this man didn't come to Jesus by himself. He didn't really come to Jesus at all. His friends led him there. And Jesus saw their faith and forgave him.

I've heard that walked back a bit before. I've heard it speculated that the man obviously had faith or he wouldn't have been forgiven and healed. I've heard it speculated that this whole harebrained scheme was his idea. Of course it was, I've heard it said, or there's no way Jesus would have done what he did.

But it doesn't say anything about his faith here. It doesn't say that Jesus saw his faith. It says that he saw their faith. And that raises all kinds of questions for me.

Can one be saved on the basis of the faith of one's friends and family? Can we be the kinds of friends and family who would do anything to bring our loved ones to Christ, even ripping open a whole in the roof because that's the only way to get in?

That's another thing about this passage. The structural integrity of the roof of the building is far less important than bringing this man to Christ. And the faith of those who literally tore open the building was rewarded. How would this be viewed in our churches today? What of we said to the trustees, "Sorry about the whole in the roof but we led another sinner to Jesus"? How would that go over?

The Pharisees and the other "good" religious people had their hangups here. We "good" religious people today have our own. But a miracle happened here. This man was healed. This man was forgiven. Jesus saved him. And he did so on account of the amazing faith of this man's friends.

This man was restored both body and soul. Nothing could be more important than that. Not our theology. Not our buildings.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hipster Jesus

I've got beef with hipsters. I don't like them. I want to say it's nothing personal, but it is. One of the biggest things I don't like about hipsters is how much like me they tend to be. It aggravates me because my friends often assume, because of the similarities, that I am a hipster.

I work near campus. My office is across the railroad tracks from the University. We're on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. The neighborhood that surrounds us is an impoverished one, filled with little shotgun houses.

Through the years that I have worked in the neighborhood I have made it a habit to walk through it on my lunch breaks, as well as "smoke breaks" (I don't smoke but I take the breaks anyway and walk). I have gotten to know several of my neighbors during this time.

The neighborhood is changing. If you look at it from an outside perspective it appears to be getting "better". The old, run down shotgun shacks are being knocked down and new student housing is being erected. The new houses are larger and nicer. The people who occupy them are younger, more attractive, and more affluent. The neighborhood is looking less blighted. This could be a success story.

But it isn't. Not to me. These shotgun houses are small and in poor repair, but they are cheap. They often rent for $300 or so a month. You can't find housing cheaper than that anywhere. The people who live in the neighborhood, my friends and neighbors, are being displaced. They often have nowhere else to go. One of my neighbors moved in with his sister. Another left town to go back to his family's farm. Many others I don't know where they've gone. Their lease runs up and you see all of their items on the front lawn the next day. Someone comes by and picks it all up and that's the last you ever see of them. Where do they go? Who knows.

The college students move in. They like the neighborhood. They like the blight around them. It's urban, edgy, and cool. They are not like their buddies in the dorms. They are "keeping it real". They are hipsters.

My wife works with a feeding ministry in the north end. The neighborhood she serves in is experiencing this same shift. It isn't college students in her case, mostly. It's just young, middle class hipsters who are drawn to these communities. They come from privilege but don't want to acknowledge it. They could live anywhere but they want to "keep it real" (yes, I hear that phrase a lot). So they move in and take homes and displace people who have lived in the community for generations. They have money and some stability. I can see why a landlord would want to rent to them. It looks like progress. It feels like progress. But it's just an invasion of middle class white people. It's just the hipster gentrification.

I got slapped in the face with this today and I almost lost my mind. I went off on hipsters. I went off on gentrification. I got to ranting something awful and it felt like, if given the opportunity, I could get violent about the subject. And then it hit me. I don't show the love of Jesus Christ to hipsters.

Hit with that conviction I decided to try to see Jesus in hipsters. As I was walking on my lunch I looked around at some hipsters and tried to see Jesus in them. And then I laughed at the idea that hit me. I was picturing a Hipster Jesus. So, as I am wont to do, I tweeted:

This led to a few more tweets and then an entire afternoon filled with Hipster Jesus jokes. Some funny. Some odd. Some a little serious. My brother had my favorite one:

Well, maybe that's my favorite one. You see, what started out as me trying to see Jesus in people who I categorically hate turned rather quickly into me and my friends making hipster jokes. I guess I should have seen that one coming.

But when I searched the #hipsterjesus hashtag to see what others were saying I found one that I thought was a good one that expressed the best in Jesus and hipsters:

Someone beat me to the whole Hipster Jesus thing by a day. And she did it better. And she did it with a better heart. 

Gentrification is still an issue. Fixies are still horrible bikes to ride in hilly communities like the one I live in. And I still don't understand why anyone would want to wear skinny jeans or drink PBR. 

But Jesus loves hipsters. And I should too. Jesus, help me to love hipsters like you do.

An addition to the family

We have a new addition to the Baker household. My daughter brought this adorable kitten home from gymnastics. This cute little guy (probably a guy, at least - it's a little hard to tell at this age) was left to die by his mother. Maggie's coach found him in her barn and was looking for someone to take him in. My daughter was more than happy to.

He's so little and helpless we have to feed him with a dropper, wash him, fix his mats, and even help him poop. It amazes me how helplessly we all come into the world. Pretty soon he'll be growing up so fast, just like my kids.

We need help naming him. If any of you have any ideas I'm all ears.

And I mean that figuratively. I'm not all ears. I don't even have a third one growing out of my forehead like Roger Clemons.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Sometimes I wonder how we get our ideas on how to interpret scripture. And don't say that we don't. We don't just receive the unvarnished word of God directly from God with no human action. Every time we read we interpret. Sometimes we interpret scripture literally. Sometimes not. Sometimes we consider a particular passage to apply universally. Sometimes we consider cultural context. But we always interpret.

I was thinking about two different passages today and how we interpret them and it occurred to me that we will often look at them differently and the pessimist in me can see why. Here's the first:

John 12:3-8 NASB 
Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said,  "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor  people? "  Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.  Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.  "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."

Now, we can see what's going on here. Mary has poured perfume on Jesus. While the others may not realize this she is preparing him to be buried. Judas claims to take offense as the perfume could be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus says something in response that I have heard a mentioned a lot lately:

"You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."

What is Jesus saying there. Is he saying that loving him is more important than caring for the needy? Is he saying that a seemingly wasteful act was in that instance a better use of resources than spending money to feed the hungry? Maybe.

Does this passage apply universally? Does this mean that having beautiful, fragrant buildings, facilities, and sanctuaries is more important than care for the poor? Probably not, and honestly I haven't had anyone tell me that one. But I have heard repeatedly that this is an acknowledgement that, universally, no matter how hard we try we can't solve the issue of poverty.

This seems reasonable if a little pessimistic. But why apply this statement, made to a man in response to a disingenuous argument (remember Judas is advocating for the poor while planning on stealing the money) as some kind of literal, universal truth? Is it because it's easier for us that way? Is it because it gets us off the hook?

Let's look at another passage:
Luke 18:18-25 NASB 
A ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  "You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’"  And he said, "All these things I have kept from  my  youth."  When Jesus heard  this,  He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  "For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
I have talked to a number of people who are quick to point out that this is a statement Jesus made in a very specific context to a very specific person. Why is that? Why should this statement of Jesus's be interpreted within the context of Jesus speaking specifically to one person at one time while the other one is a universal truth?

I find this odd especially in light of the number of times Jesus calls his followers to leave everything to follow him. We saw an example of that earlier this morning with Simon Peter, James, and John.

The reason we might interpret these two passages in a very different manner may be because it is easiest for us to do so. To say that Jesus literally meant that the poor will universally always be with all of us is because that doesn't demand that we solve the problem of poverty. To say that Jesus very specifically demanded only one specific person to sell all he had and give the money to the poor is easier for us because we are not that person.

In fact, we describe that person as being rich. Most Americans, no matter how much they make, consider themselves to be "middle class". This is true of people who make $30,000 per year and people who make $500,000. We don't want to think of ourselves as rich. The rich are someone else. There's always someone who has more.

In the meantime by virtue of being born in the place and at the time that we have most of us have more than almost anyone else in the world. We are all rich. But to admit we are is to have Jesus be talking about us when he says "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

And he's not talking about us. He's not even talking to us. And this is not some kind of universal truth anyway.


Talking back and walking away

Luke 5:1-11 NASB

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret;  and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.  And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and  began  teaching the people from the boat.  When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."  Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say  and  let down the nets."  When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets  began  to break;  so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw  that,  he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken;  and so also  were  James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men."  When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

My thoughts -

What was the first thing that Simon Peter did when he met Jesus? He talked back and walked away.

Now that sounds harsh. And in truth it is phrased to sound like it means the opposite of what it does. Well, I guess the talking back part is pretty accurate.

Simon Peter experiences the same kind of incredulity that Zacharias did upon meeting Gabriel and hearing news that sounds impossible. Our God likes to exceed our expectations.

The crew had been fishing all night. They caught nothing. This is what they do for a living. And now some dude who's been teaching on the boat (how did that happen?) tells these experienced professional fishermen to just head out a little deeper and drop their net. That's crazy. Why should that work? Doesn't this teacher know they're the experts here?

But Simon Peter, though he questions Jesus, does what he says. They drop the net and they find the catch of a lifetime. This is where Simon Peter, along with James and John, walk away.

This is the kind of catch that leaves these professional fishermen in amazement. Not just in how it happened, but the quantity too is overwhelming. There so man fish they can't haul the net in without help. There's so many fish that the boat very nearly sinks. They have struck gold. This is the biggest catch they'll likely ever see. And they just walk away from it.

They walk away from the catch, their boats, their profession, and everything in their lives up to that point. They leave it all to follow Jesus. Simon Peter was incredulous when Jesus told him to drop the net. But when that catch came he knew this Jesus fellow was something else. Something different. He fell to his knees and begged Jesus to leave. Simon Peter couldn't stand to be in his presence. Simon Peter had to confess spontaneously that he was a sinner and unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.

Did Simon Peter know Jesus was the Christ then? Could he tell? I don't know. But he had to know there was something different about Jesus. Something better. Something holy.

These fishermen see the catch. They see the pinnacle of their careers. It doesn't get any better than this kind of catch for these men. And somehow following a strange teacher they hardly know becomes as more appealing option.

Do they see the emptiness of life, even at its "best" without Christ? Have they, when presented with the catch of a lifetime, realized that unless something changes this is as good as it gets?

I don't know. I can't explain what they are thinking. But I do know that they walked away from what would have been the biggest payday of their lives to follow Jesus. And not very many of us would do the same.

They dropped everything to follow Jesus. Are we willing to? If asked could we leave everything behind? If asked could we sell all we have and give to the poor? If asked could we follow?

Simon Peter talked back. But when push came to shove he followed, no questions asked. Can we do the same?

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Luke 4:17-21 NASB

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,  To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
  And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

My thoughts -

We're going to take a little closer look today at part of the passage from yesterday. Jesus here is beginning his public ministry, he is revealing who he is, and he is doing so by quoting the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah's indictment on Israel was two fold. First, Israel did not worship God and only God. Second, they did not care for the poor, powerless, and oppressed. In not doing so they had broken their covenant with God, a covenant that had been repeatedly violated during their entire history. While God's chosen people suffered invasion and conquer as a result of the violation of this covenant and the loss of God's protection God would not allow them to be destroyed. And Isaiah foresaw that God would send a Messiah to restore the people to God and make things right.

Jesus as the Messiah was sent by God to restore God's people to Him. Jesus, though, as we know, came to save all people and not just one nation. We focus a lot when we talk of Jesus on grace. We focus on the forgiveness of sins. We focus on the reconciliation that leads to eternal life. These are huge things. Important things. We have been saved from our sins and from the consequences of our sins and restored to God and are free to live in that restored relationship both here and forever.

But look at what Jesus, quoting Isaiah, says to kick off his ministry. He says he has come to preach the gospel to the poor. He says he has come to release the captives, give sight to the blind, and to free the oppressed.

We love the egalitarian nature of all being sinners and Jesus coming to save all from sin. But Christ's own words, in kicking off his public ministry, betray a particular commitment to the poor, the powerless, the oppressed, the "least of these".

Jesus likened himself repeatedly to the prophets. He did so when speaking to the religious authorities of his day. He would do so while pointing out that, by and large, the people would end up killing those God sent to speak on His behalf. He echoed God's concern for the poor, the weak, and the powerless as expressed by the prophets and in the covenant between God and Israel. They were to care for their needy. This was a huge deal.

Jesus, of course, was also put to death. We can claim this not to be the horrible tragedy it could have been by pointing both to atonement theology and to the resurrection and ascension. Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins so we're absolved. We may claim because Christ died we are saved as though we could not be reconciled any other way. Christ had to die. We had to kill him. Right?

Besides, Christ was resurrected. Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. Jesus is at God's right hand. No harm no foul, right? It's all good.

So how have we changed since we put Jesus to death? How have we lived lives with concern for God's purpose? How have we cared for the poor, the lost, the powerless, the vulnerable, the weak, and the oppressed? How do we minister to and with them?

How do we live lives that reflect salvation received through Christ whose first words of public ministry expressed a particular concern for societies most vulnerable?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who he's always been

Luke 4:14-29 NASB

And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.  And He  began  teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,  To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph’s son?" 

And He said to them, "No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’"  And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.  "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;  and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 

And all  the people  in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;  and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

My thoughts -

In his home town Jesus had always been Joseph's son. He was the son of a carpenter. That was an easy way to categorize him. It didn't require any work. There was no reason to confuse it with new information. Jesus, Joseph's son, to the people of Nazareth was just that. That is all he was. It was who he had always been.

We shouldn't look down on the people of Nazareth too much for this. We seldom allow for people in our own lives to grow, to mature, and to change. This is not to say that Jesus as the only Son of God, changed to become the Messiah. But clearly he was different after he began his public ministry. The Spirit was with him and he was ready to reveal who he really was. Who he was didn't necessarily change but how he would be received by others certainly did.

I know that I don't often allow for growth and change in those I have known for a long time. More than once lately I have said things like "I can't believe he's getting married" or "I can't believe he's going to be a father" or most especially with some of my friends "I can't believe he's going to seminary, he'd make a terrible pastor".

Of course when I think and say these things I'm not thinking about who these people are now, I'm thinking of who they've always been to me. I'm thinking of the person I knew back in high school. I haven't allowed for growth. I haven't allowed for maturity. I have taken my friends and frozen them in time, preserving them in a way that is comfortable to me. They become easy to categorize. They are who they've always been, even if I've known them since childhood. It's just easier for me that way.

Jesus revealed himself publicly to the people he had known longest on this planet. But to them Jesus was who he had always been. He was Joseph's son. Nothing more. In their minds he was the son of a carpenter. He was the kid they watched grow up. He was the guy who was going to settle into the same life he had grown up in. He was one of them. They knew him. He was not the Messiah. That was just crazy talk.

I mean, this is Jesus. We know him. We know his parents. Just who the heck does he think he is?

They have placed this person, Jesus, in a box. They have frozen him in a time and place that is comfortable for them. It doesn't require any effort. It doesn't allow for new information or for change. And Jesus has shattered their comfortable image of him. He has given them new information to deal with. And they can't handle it. So they try to kill him.

I can't imagine the pain this brought him and his family. But then again, this reject thing is something he had to deal with. His public ministry begins with rejection and attempted murder. It also ends with rejection and crucifixtion. Jesus was God's only Son sent to reconcile a people who had rejected God to God. Rejection was always part of the mission. We still reject Jesus.

Does our rejection hurt any less?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Temptation and power

Luke 4:1-13 NASB

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness  for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.  And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."  And Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’"
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours."  Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’"
And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here;  for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning You to guard you,’
‘On   their   hands they will bear You up, 
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’"
And Jesus answered and said to him, "It is said, ‘You shall not  put the Lord your God to the test.’"
When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.

My thoughts -

I have heard people say before that the devil tempted Jesus here because he was physically weak. He was fasting. If you've never fasted I suggest that you do. Some of my biggest spiritual "highs" have come while fasting. And yet you don't see me jumping at the opportunity to do another fast or to make regular fasting a part of my Spiritual discipline. I also recommend that if you fast you do not bike everywhere as I am wont to do.

I don't know about the "Jesus was weak" thing here. I guess it makes sense on the surface. His blood sugar would have been low. But in his weakness Jesus was forced to rely completely on the Father. It is hard to argue that the devil caught him at a "good" time, as the temptation here didn't work. Also, verse 13 tells us that the devil left Jesus to come back at a more "opportune" time. Of course we know the rest of this story. There was no "opportune" time. Jesus didn't fall.

Let's look at how the devil tempted Jesus. As we go through Luke you're probably going to get sick of me writing about "power". But I'm going to do it again here. The devil tempted Jesus to abuse his power.

In the first temptation here Jesus is tempted to turn rocks into bread. Jesus hasn't eaten in forty days. He must be starving. But is he hungry enough to alter the fabric of the universe to fill his stomach? No. Jesus clearly had the power to do so. He performed several miracles with food so he can't be squeamish about using that power, either.

Look at Jesus's response. He tells the devil that "man can not live on bread alone". Jesus was fasting. He chose not to eat. He was preparing himself for his ministry. It seems odd that God incarnate would need this for Spiritual growth, but he did. And if even Jesus needed to fast to prepare himself for ministry then maybe I should reconsider the practice for myself.

In the next temptation the devil offers Jesus "more" power. The devil offers Jesus everything in the world. This may seem like a stupid offer. What good is everything in the world to the Author of Existence? But Jesus, although fully God, was also fully human. And we humans have fallen for much less than everything in the world. We'll fall for just a little bit of shiny junk.

Jesus knows that worship belongs to God and to God alone and he quotes scripture again to tell the devil so.

Maybe the devil is catching on. For the next temptation, which is also the last, the devil quotes scripture to Jesus regarding the Messiah, whom they both know that Jesus is. The devil tells Jesus that he can't be harmed. He says that scripture says so. He says that angels will come to his rescue. Why doesn't Jesus just throw himself off of the temple to show who he is?

That would be a heck of an entrance wouldn't it? Talk about a great way to kick off Jesus's public ministry. Show your power to these people, the devil says. Let them see who you are. Let them see how God will lift you up and send angels to guard and protect you. It will be an awesome event. Then you'll really have their attention. Show them who you are.

Jesus isn't buying any of this crap. He knows that throwing himself off the temple to be guided by angels would just be some cheap parlor trick. He doesn't need to test God's commitment to him in this way. In fact, scripture says that he should not be testing God at all. So he quotes scripture right back at the devil.

So Jesus avoided falling in this time of temptation. Having resisted the devil the devil turns and leaves. Jesus isn't in love with himself and his own power. He doesn't need to abuse it to get his own way. He doesn't need to acquire more of it in a worldly manner. He doesn't need to show it off to impress others.

How unlike Jesus are we? I'm pretty sure I would have fallen for each of those, especially the last. If I can do something I need everyone to see it. I am not secure in who I am in Christ. I would like to be, but I need to impress the world, too. I like power. I like approval. I like stuff. I like all of the shiny junk here in this place.

I need to be more like Christ. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fruits of repentance

Luke 3:1-20 NASB
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.  And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;  as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
make His paths straight. ‘Every ravine will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be  brought low;
The crooked will become straight,
And the rough roads smooth; And all  flesh will  see the salvation of God.’"
  So he  began  saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.  "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
  And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?"  And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise."  And  some  tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to."  Some  soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And  what about  us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse  anyone  falsely, and be content with your wages."
  Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ,  John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  "His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
  So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.  But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done,  Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison.

My thoughts -

There are prophets and there are priests, and John was a prophet. Would any church accept a pastor who lived in the woods, ate locusts and wild honey, and dressed in burlap? Would any church accept a pastor who addressed the congregation as "you brood of vipors" and chastised them for attending service?

We must, at a fundamental level, really need to hear the word of God, because people traveled from all over to hear this man speak it. Word got out that there was a prophet and they flooded to him. And it certainly wasn't because of John's pleasant demeanor, uplifting message, polished service, and beautiful music.

The people wanted to know how to be saved. They wanted to know how to live in God's will. They needed to know how to live reconciled lives with God, and John prepared them. John's message to the people in anticipating Jesus's ministry seems to be a simple one with varying specifics. John is telling them not to abuse their power.

Remember a few days ago when we went over how God, through Jesus, turned the way we view power upside down? John here is participating in this ministry. He is preparing the people to receive Jesus by telling them not to abuse their power. Look what he says,

He tells the tax collector not to collect more than he is owed. It may not seem like much to tell someone not to steal but what if this theft is common practice? What if this is just the way they do business? To be a tax collector you would, in this culture, become socially ostracized. The benefit, though, would be that you could enrich yourself. An honest tax collector then would be something of an oxymoron. And yet this is what John demands.

From the soldiers he demands also that they do not abuse their power. They are to not take money by force. They could view themselves as entitled to what their own might can provide for them but this would not be a godly outlook.

And from everyone he demands generosity. If you have two coats, give one of them to someone who doesn't have any. You are not entitled to have excess while others go without. Again, from a human perspective you may be entitled to all that you can acquire. We do this. We trust in ourselves, our own strengths, our own abilities, and our own power. We get what we can. We look out for ourselves. We lift ourselves up and look down on those who are less fortunate as being leeches on us and the "hard earned" fruits of our labor.

But John, in preparing the people for Jesus, is not interested in the fruits of labor. He is interested in the fruits of repentance. All of the people he is addressing have sought him out. All of the people he is addressing want to be reconciled to God. All of the people he is addressing have been baptized in repentance. And now they want to know how to live lives in that repentance. And so he tells them these things.

We have these strange notions about Jesus and a personal relationship and sometimes what that means to us is that in Jesus we are all good. We get to do whatever we want. We get to live however we want. We have forgiveness. We have reconciliation. When we die we get to go to heaven. It's all good.

But repentance was necessary to prepare for Jesus. This is the entirety of John's ministry. And John demands here that those who are preparing for Jesus live lives reflecting this repentance. They turn from their old ways. They turn from their selfish sin. They turn from reliance on their own power at the expense of others and they learn to live in and rely on God.

John spoke God's truth plainly. He spoke a hard message to hear. He was a prophet. And we people eventually kill prophets. So when John spoke God's truth to the powerful he eventually lost his freedom and then his head. But he was not concerned with human power except to get us to repent of it and to stop abusing it.

It seems odd to me that we who follow Jesus, whose ministry was preceded by John and whose purpose was to overturn human ideas of power (see the details of his birth in a manger to an unwed working class couple, interactions with the Pharisees and other powerful religious people, and his relationship with his own disciples including the foot washing incident with Peter as well as the teaching that to lead is to serve and to be great is to be last) seem to be keen to acquire so much human, political power. I may never understand this. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jesus was a middle schooler

Luke 2:41-52 NASB

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He became twelve, they went up  there  according to the custom of the Feast;  and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it,  but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they  began  looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.  Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You."  And He said to them, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?"  But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all  these  things in her heart.
  And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

My thoughts -

Maybe it's that I'm a parent now. My oldest son is almost twelve. Maybe it's that. But for whatever reason this account didn't used to faze me and now it does.

Jesus's family went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And, presumably, every year went back home. All of them. Without incident. That is, they all made it back home every year except for when Jesus was twelve.

Was this foreshadowing? Mary and Joseph would lose their son. Like all people their son did not belong to them but to God. Their son was in their care but he was not theirs. Unlike most other's children, though, Jesus was also the Son of God, the Chosen One, the Messiah. This may have hammered home the temporary nature of their relationship just a bit more.

Twelve year olds are children. They may not think of themselves as such. My son alternates between wanting to be much, much older and wanting to be a child. Sometimes you can see that cute little boy you sent off to kindergarten seemingly just last week. Other times you see a confused but defiant teenager or even a productive, together adult. They're all wrapped up in there somewhere. But he is a child. Our child. Even if he doesn't always want to be.

Jesus was at that awkward age, too. We have no trouble with the image of the baby Jesus. We see it every year at Christmas in the manger. We see that image in paintings, on greeting cards, in churches, even in the mall. We're used to that image.

We are equally used to the image of Jesus as a thirty-something with long hair, a beard, and sandals, even if he's maybe a little too white for the region of his birth. We see this image everywhere. This is the image of Jesus that dominates pop culture. This is what people see when they picture Jesus.

What we have a hard time with, or at least I do, is the image of Jesus as a middle schooler. But if God became fully human in the form of Jesus then God was subject to the entire growing up experience, including this awkward adolescent stage. So who had the authority, God incarnate or his mom?

Jesus stayed in the temple. His parents left, like they always did, every year. It was assumed that Jesus was with the group they were traveling in. It was assumed that someone had him. It was assumed that they were all together heading home just like always. But Jesus was still in the temple.

Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was not with them and responded as parents should. They freaked. They looked desperately for him. And when they found them they were relieved. But, as parents know, this relief gave way to anger at having been panicked.

"We searched EVERYWHERE for you!" they exclaimed. "Are you trying to give us a heart attack?"

Jesus responded by telling them they should have known that he would be in his Father's house.

This adolescent Saviour had been teaching the adults. He amazed them with his understanding of scripture. But he was still a child. His time had not come. I wonder if he, like my son, like all at that awkward stage in development, was trying to skip ahead to adulthood. He was ready. He knew it. They all do. He could do anything.

But he was still a child. He was still in the care of his parents. His adulthood and ministry would come soon enough. But it was not time. Not yet.

So Jesus went home with Mary and Joseph. He subjected himself to their authority. They got to care for him for a few more years. And those years, it seems, always go by so fast.