Archive for January, 2009

Like Filling a Cup from a Waterfall
2 Samuel 9:1-12

Introduction

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“Your servant,” he replied.

The king asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”

“Where is he?” the king asked.

Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.
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Two things absolutely basic to the Christian life are, unfortunately, counter to most things North American, which makes this intersection a confused place, clogged with accidents, snarled traffic, and short tempers. To begin with, the Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called ‘deeper life.’ We are in on it, to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action. We get included by means of a few prepositions: God with us (Matthew 1:23), Christ in me (Galatians 2:20), God for us (Romans 8:31). With…in…for…: powerful, connecting, relation-forming words, but none of them making us either subject or predicate. We are the tag-end of a prepositional phrase.

The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God. -Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335

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Our story for today actually begins in chapter 4 of 2 Samuel. We read in verse 4 of that chapter that Jonathan son of Saul who had been king of Israel had also had a son who was lame in both feet. “He was five years old when the new about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.”

So this young man of five who had once know the pleasure and presence of dwelling in the kings’ court, with his father, Jonathan, heir to the throne, was now alone in the world. He was on his own. His father dead. His mother evidently dead. His grandfather dead. He was no longer the prince of Israel, but now just a crippled in the feet commoner.

But it was worse in that he was crippled. There was no, back then, any Society of/for the Handicapped, no Wheelchairs for America or anything of the sort. Never again would he enjoy working feet. Never again would his life be the same. He would be, forever, dependent upon everyone around him. He would be reduced from royalty to stock. He would be a societal outcast, barred from the presence of the king and reduced to an insignificant place in the temple worship.

By the standards of those days, he would be lucky to escape with his life.

But then one day something changed. In the midst of all the changes: David the New King, the Great military leader, God’s great promise to David in chapter 7, the ark returning to Jerusalem, David taking Jerusalem-in the midst of all this-David asks, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

When it is found out that there was someone left, David again asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s Kindness?”  And in the end it was this young man named Mephibosheth. He comes before the King to be questioned.
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I’d like to make a couple of points just now. First, I find it most interesting that David sought out Mephibosheth and not the other way around. It was David who took it upon himself to seek out this crippled man and shower him with God’s Kindness. The crippled and destitute Mephibosheth had done nothing to earn this from the king, he had done nothing to deserve such unbelievable treatment at the hands of the one who was sitting on the throne that he himself would have inherited one day.

And yet that is what happened. Typically, in those ancient of days, when someone new ascended to the throne, all the members of the previous regime were put to death-Solomon follows this course when he becomes king. I don’t think David here is merely making political alliances to secure his throne. This is a different sort of kindness that he is bestowing upon Mephibosheth-it is an unmerited grace. All he had to do was open his hands and receive what was being offered to him; all he had to do was turn his back and limp away from Lo Debar and enjoy the king’s presence.

Second, I would like to note that the author of 2 Samuel goes quite out of their way to insure against any misunderstanding on our part. We are told that Mephibosheth was living in a land called Lo Debar-a place of ‘no pasture.’ He was living with a person named Makir, son of Ammiel, in a house that was not his. We are told that Mephibosheth thinks of himself as a dog-a dead dog. We are told twice that he was crippled in both feet. And we are told that the servant Ziba was better off than was Mephibosheth. We get the picture then that this young man was in quite difficult straits when David seeks him out.

Finally, I would point out to you what David did for him. He brought him from the land of no pasture and gave him quarters in Jerusalem. We are told a third time in verse 7 that David showed him kindness, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” We are told that David restored all of the ancestral land of Saul, his servants in order to works the land a provide Mephibosheth with an income. We are told four times that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, ‘like one of the king’s sons.’ David simply overwhelmed Mephibosheth for no other reason than the kindness he desired to share with him, God’s kindness.
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I don’t want to stress this too much. Seeing the tree with the lights in it was an experience vastly different in quality as well as in import from patting the puppy. On that cedar tree shone, however briefly, the steady, inward flames of eternity; across the mountain by the gas station raced the familiar flames of the falling sun. But on both occasions I though, with rising exultation, this is it; praise the Lord; praise the land. Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 81-82

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It does make one wonder, though, why the story of Mephibosheth’s waterfall experience ends the way it does. “And Mephibosheth lived in Jersusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.”  I wonder if that is what Mephibosheth remembered too each day as he limped to David’s table or as he was carried in to the king’s dining room by others. No matter how often he ate at the table of David, he was continually reminded that it was the kindness of David that invited him to be there in the first place.

It was a constant reminder that he had done nothing to merit the position the king had placed him in that day. I wonder if Mephibosheth ever thought to himself: I’d rather have two perfect legs than to be here right now. Or, I wonder if he had the courage to say, David is a gracious man.  He wasn’t invited in because he was alive, or because David had sympathy for a cripple, or because he deserved it. He was invited in because of David’s kindness.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7ff)

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You see, friends, you should quite understand by now that this story is not about the dead-dog named Mephibosheth. A careful reading shows that this story in 2 Samuel is about David, king of Israel. It is about showing the actions that David took-note how his kindness imitates God’s kindness-at the beginning of his reign as king. It was David who asked. It was David who sought. It was David’s table. It was David’s kindness. It was David who restored the land and servants. It was David who was king. It was David who adopted Mephibosheth as a son much like Saul had done to David early on in David’s life.

It is God who takes the initiative in our lives. It is God who invites us to His table. It is God who invites into His Royal presence. It is God who seeks us out. It is God who shows us kindness-But when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy-in the midst of our trouble. It is God who invites to dine at his table. It is God who is King and by his own prerogative makes us adopted children by his grace. It is God who has promised us a place in His Kingdom.

We too often focus on this idea that Christian life is about me. The Bible declares unequivocally that the Christian life is about God. It is about His power. His salvation. We live, and move and have our being in Him. It is not about becoming sound. It is about opening our hands under the waterfall and allowing his grace to be poured out in such abundance that we can scarcely stand under its weight. In other words, grace will always say far more about the gracious one than it does about the one receiving the grace.
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Philip Yancey, in his book Rumors of Another World, brings out an intelligent point. He writes

…I found myself reflecting…on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how the church often does. Jesus elevated sinners…He appointed a Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume…He restored Peter to leadership…

I reflected also on the greatest gift we have from the unseen world, the gift of grace. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing. We live in a world that judges people by their behavior and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to live with the consequences…even the church finds it difficult to forgive those who fall short.

Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. (222-223)

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So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free. -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69

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Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. When he was finally released he was elected president of South Africa. He appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But he also did something else: If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Many grumbled. But, “Mandela insisted that the country need healing more than it needed justice.” Philip Yancey continues the story:

At one hearing, a policeman name van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18 year old boy and burned the body, turning it on the first like a piece of BBQ meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had first lost her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she want van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policemen nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors from Another World, 223-224)
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Grace takes the focus away from the ugly, the heinous, the vicious. It turns our attention towards the lovely, the beautiful, the majestic. That is what God does for us, and what we must do for one another. “We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus.” (Peterson, 336) We must be people like David, like the unnamed old woman of two murdered loved ones-if grace is received like a waterfall filling our hands, then we certainly have more than enough to share. So let the grace you have received spill over, intentionally, to the lives of others.

This is but one way you can demonstrate that you do love.
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David was reckless for inviting Mephibosheth into his palace to eat around his table, but it was the only hope Mephibosheth had. Tim Keller wrote a little book called The Prodigal God, in it he notes that the word ‘prodigal’ means not ‘wayward’ (as we have been taught to believe) but actually ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ He writes, ‘It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the Father in [the story Luke 15] as his younger son. The Father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him or demand repayment…God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience…” (xiv-xv).

Don’t Be Afraid
Genesis 15, Psalm 7-8

Well, there is a day skipped in here. Sorry.

I think I mentioned the other day that Abram is one of my favorite biblical stories. I would love to spend a day with Abram and learn from him and talk to him about his story and his life. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for him: Called away from his family, given a promise by God that one day he would own land, have an heir, and be a blessing (all of which must have seemed radically impossible, endured a huge battle against a bunch of kings—this was a man who saw a lot of things in his years. He had endured famines, travels to Egypt, the wrath of Pharaoh, quarrels with his nephew, and his life would grow no easier as the years went by and the narrative of God’s providence unfolded.

Chapter 15 is unique, I think, in this sense. It is sort of a peaceful chapter, and yet the things that happen in it are rather frightening. Nevertheless, it is the opening words that thrill and delight me. Can you imagine the ‘Sovereign Lord’ (v 2) speaking to you in such a direct way saying, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’” Imagine that! God was his reward! This means, to me, that of all Abram had to look forward to (land, blessing, and not least a son), his greatest reward, his ultimate reward, was YHWH himself. God was his protection. Abram would not rely upon military prowess or the gifts of kings or anything but God.

God would do everything needed to protect Abram and bring about His intended purposes; namely, to provide the seed who would destroy the serpent.

For Abram’s part, all he had to do was ‘not be afraid.’

God was calling Abram into scary, uncharted territory. He was asking Abram to do things that no one else had ever been asked to do. He was asking Abram to believe things that no one else had ever had to believe. He was asking Abram to go to places where no one had ever been asked to go. “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I seriously cannot imagine doing what God was calling Abram to do, and I can scarcely imagine having the sort of faith Abram had to believe God. Doesn’t it take a lot of effort to go in the direction that God calls us to go?

Isn’t it strange, somewhat, that the first command God gives Abram is, “Don’t be afraid?” You know, I need to read that verse every single day and hear those words spoken to me every minute of the day. I need to hear the word of the Lord speak in the midst of the ‘everydayness’ of every day and remind me that ‘it’ is not dependent upon me: “I am your shield; I am your very great reward.” This is God’s way of letting Abram know that ‘it’ does not depend upon Abram. It is God’s way of taking the burden off of the human and putting it back on himself. It is, to be sure, another instance of God’s grace in action.

“Don’t be afraid.” Why? There are a million reasons every single day to be afraid—especially living here in the world now where everything seems so damned uncertain. But God spoke to Abram about uncertainty too, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country no their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” There will be uncertainty, but that’s the whole thing. God’s plan doesn’t seem to depend upon the strength of certainty in human circumstances. That is, life can be topsy-turvy and upside down and God remains true and faithful: Don’t look around, Abram, keep your eyes fixed on me, your shield and very great reward. Nothing else you see, nothing else you possess, nothing else I give you is the substance of your reward. Your reward is nothing less than Me.

“Don’t be afraid!” Right. Kids. Money. Bills. How are we to not be afraid? In a sense, not being afraid is the essence of faith because that is when we trust that God’s wisdom and purposes and plans are far greater and far more likely to succeed than our own. Of course we shouldn’t be afraid. Sometimes, however, we are just too darn afraid of living without fear because it is like a crutch that we feel we need to get around from day to day. God, however, was telling Abram: You won’t need the crutch of fear because you belong to me and that is, and will be, enough for you. Your faith will be the standard by which all generations will be measured. Indeed, the righteous will live by the same faith Abram did.

That is the sincere call we have as people of faith, as Jesus followers.

The other day, I posted this but now I think it is worth a re-read:

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”

Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)

Resurrection people do not live in fear because perfect love has driven out all fear.

Something to Do with Resurrection
Luke 12, Genesis 13

People are fond of using Jesus for the wrong ends. We have all seen it. Jesus the judge. Jesus the arbiter of relationships. Jesus the ‘good teacher’ of ‘our theology.’ We silly people have all sorts of ideas swirling around inside our toilet bowl heads about what we think Jesus should be and do. Many of these ideas, sadly enough, end up published by ‘Christian’ publishers. More of them end up be bought by ‘Christian’ readers. And way too much of it ends up as ‘Gospel’ (i.e. Left Behind).

‘Jesus’ has said a whole bunch of things that Jesus never said. This is sad because it really messes people up when they are trying to understand the things Jesus did say.

This pericope in Luke 12:13-21 is one such story. “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” This is Jesus’ rather pointed way of saying, “I’m not here to do the things you want me to do. I’m not here to fill roles you have designated. I’m not here to accomplish the purposes of man.” But even this is quite beside the point of these verses. The real point comes in where Jesus uses the occasion to teach about what matters here on earth, among men who live here: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

There are kinds of greed?

Then Jesus tells a parable. The parable seems simple enough and rather straightforward. There parable has something to do with a type of greed that lingers in the hearts of man. It is the type of greed that ‘stores up things for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ This is a dangerous type of greed and I think it has something to do with resurrection. That is, the person engaged in this type of greed simply does not believe in Resurrection.

I think this is a safe guess because the man in the parable, the unnamed man, the every-man, says something like, “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” Well what caught my eye about this verse is that it is quoted by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (32). Paul quotes it in the context of talking about someone who does not believe in resurrection.

This person has nothing to live for later. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection are not defined by the worries and cares and wealths and greeds and ambitions of this world and this life. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection can afford to sell all again and again and give it to the poor. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection can afford to store up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-21)

But the resurrection person stands in stark contrast to the man in the parable. The man in the parable is self-reliant and has no use for resurrection talk or of a need to consider himself as the man in the ditch who needs lifting out (see Luke 10:25-37). The man in the parable will use his ingenuity more than faith. He will not acknowledge the source of his blessing and life. He is not prepared to face the prospect of death and all of his stuff, all of the stuff he used to define himself here on earth, will be lost. For him, this life is enough. There’s no need to think about tomorrow because all he has or needs or wants is today. Resurrection people don’t think this way or live this way.

I have a sneaking suspicion that resurrection people are never quite so content. There is always something to do, someone to serve, someone to love. Resurrection people are restless.

So it makes me wonder: What defines us? NT Wright well asks, “We have now reached the point where we must ask: So what? Is all this talk about God’s ultimate future, about ‘life after life after death,’ simply a matter of tidying up our beliefs about what will happen in the very end, or does it have any practical consequences now? Is it simply a matter of getting our teaching and preaching right and of ordering our funerals and other liturgies so that they reflect biblical teaching about death and what lies beyond instead of nonbiblical and even antibiblical ideas that have crept into the church here and there?” (Surprised by Hope, 189)

He’s right, of course. We are resurrection people who are not just building little fiefdoms to the self here. We are resurrection people who, like Abraham, are going around conquering the land, building little altars here and there to the greater glory of God. The ‘parable of the rich fool’ has very little, in fact, to do with the personal wealth of the person and everything to do with the deafening roar of unbelief. Jesus is saying: There’s something more. How can you be so content with mere stuff? How can you miss that you were made for more? How can you ever be satisfied with merely eating, drinking and being merry?

There might just be a life that consists in the absence of possessions. I think this parable has something to do with Resurrection. The resurrection life is necessarily, and decidedly, different from the dead life.

Abraham the Warrior
Genesis 12, Luke 11

Abraham is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. There is something about his character, his unassuming personality, his toughness that resonates with my own spirit. Not that I am tough or unassuming like he was, but just that…well, I just like Abraham. He, along with David and Moses, is one of the most often spoken of people in the Biblical narrative and what is ironic about it is that he just sort of appears out of nowhere. I know he is mentioned at the end of chapter 11 in connection with his father, Terah, and his brothers and Lot. But after all that took place in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, I guess I have always been somewhat surprised at the intrusive nature of the Abraham narratives.

It’s such a striking contrast, this call of Abram. One is forced to wonder: What is God up to? How does this seemingly new story flow out of the previous stories?

To be sure, it is startling to me, as a reader. That doesn’t mean his intrusion is altogether intrusive to the narrative though. The genealogies connect Abraham with the previous eleven chapters which suggests to me at least that the narrative assumed Abraham at some level. At least I think it is safe to say the author of Genesis didn’t find Abraham’s story an intrusion but that ‘he’ rather saw it as a necessary denouement to the first eleven chapters and also a perfect preface to the rest of Scripture. The call of Abraham is a watershed moment in the Biblical narrative, but perhaps there is something more to the narrative about Abraham that should be noticed.

I will branch into chapter 13 just a bit in this brief sketch, so I ask your patience.

Israel, Abraham’s son, eventually went into exile in Egypt. Long before that God had promised Abraham on oath, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” He had also promised him this: “ ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” To an extent, I am at a loss as to why Abraham would want this promised land, and I am at an even greater loss as to why God would give him this particular land. Time and time again we read, “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (These are the same Canaanites who were cursed by Noah in chapter 9, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’) Why would anyone want to live in such a place, a place inhabited by people under a curse of slavery? Strange, but that’s what happened.

As time moved along, Abraham was forced to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. He was forced to go because ‘there was a famine in the land.’ This is the same circumstance that forced Israel to Egypt many years later. There is also no little foreshadowing in Pharaoh’s rejection of Abram, “ ‘Take her and go!’ Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.” While Abram was in Egpyt, he plundered them: “[Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels.” It’s all a rather brilliant scheme on the part of Abram. This all reminds me of the life of Israel in Egypt as we are told of in Exodus. Pharaoh didn’t change much in that period of time. Abram’s going up from Egypt foreshadows Israel’s going up from Egypt many years and generations later.

For the most part, however, Abram wandered around the land of Canaan. He lived near a tree at Shechem. Later he moved along to Bethel near Ai. Then Egypt. Then we are told of Abram’s ‘great wealth.’ Back to Bethel and as chapter 13 rounds out, he has separated from Lot and moved near more trees, the trees of Mamre at Hebron. He would go to a place and, evidently, live there for a while, pitch a tent, acquire wealth, the move to a new place. It’s rather brilliant never staying in one place too long and giving your enemies a chance to wrestle from you your wealth.

So here’s where all this comes together for me. Everywhere Abram went he did what? Not only pitched his tents and fed his cattle and grew wealthy, but what? Look, it’s there; in verses 12:7, 12:8, 13:4, 13:8: He built an altar! Well this is certainly not a mere side note to the narrative. The author is telling us something. Not only did he plunder Egypt (12:10-20), but he was, in effect, conquering Canaan! You see every place he went he built an altar which was Abram’s way of conquering that land for the Lord. Abram was dotting the land with not so subtle reminders of YHWH’s presence.

That’s also where Luke chapter 11 comes into the picture: “ ‘When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder’” (11:21-22). As Jesus went through the land, that’s exactly what he did. He plucked off a demon possession here, healed a cripple there, raised a dead man in this place, healed a bleeding woman in that place. That’s what Jesus did every single time he went about preaching the kingdom: he was building little or giant altars to God in the midst of Canaan. He was continuing the conquering of the land that was begun in the life of Abraham and continued under Joshua and David; the Land that was lost in the exile; the land eventually taken over by the Romans.

Everywhere Abram went, he built an altar. Everywhere he went, he conquered a small piece of the land–driving out all the demons and claiming that place for the Lord. He was taking it back for the Lord. I am hard pressed to believe that our goals are any different now. We are sent out, in the power of the Spirit of God, and commissioned, empowered, to take back the land, which in this case is the people of God, a little at a time. Abram wasn’t taking back the land for himself: he was conquering for the Lord. That is, he didn’t build altars to Abram; he did build altars for the Lord. Every life that Jesus touched was another altar he built for the Lord.

I’m hard pressed to think that it is any different for us now. (See Romans 12:1-2)

Friends,

This is a special episode of the Life Under the Blue Sky podcast. This is the audio from the sermon I preached on January 25, 2009. I have already published the print version here. The sermon takes about 37 minutes and is based on Luke 9–the entire chapter.

Download here: Kingdom of the Cross

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As People Moved Eastward
Genesis 11, Luke 10

The first time we read of man moving ‘eastward’ it was in Genesis 3 and in direct relation to the curse which was a direct result of the sin. The eastward march continued with Cain who ‘went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden’ (4:16). Here, a few chapters later, and a significant narrative distance removed from the flood, man’s march continued, ‘As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.’

God drove Adam and Eve east, and seems to have done so with Cain. Here in chapter 11 it appears that man’s eastward march seems to be under his own power. And not only is man ‘moving’ eastward, but now he is ‘settling’ in the east; a place geographically ‘out of the Lord’s presence.’ I don’t see anything here that suggests God is behind man’s eastward pilgrimage. I guess it is fair and safe to conclude that perhaps man is simply starting to feel far more comfortable in the east, away from God’s presence, away from Eden.

I’ve often wondered if Adam ever sat outside the Garden of Eden staring at the flashing sword as it flashed back and forth and sighed with regret. I wonder if he ever tried an end-around or tried to out-flank the flashing sword and sneak back inside the Garden.

It’s that word ‘settled’ that has me rather unsettled. I think that is the author’s way of saying that the people made a permanent residence away from God. Thus, they start building a tower. I have had this Sunday school image in my head forever that they were trying to build a sort of stairway to heaven or maybe a stairway from heaven. Maybe they wanted to climb up or maybe they wanted God climb down. Then I got to thinking, dangerous I know, what if that tower were more like a watchtower built to keep watch and make sure God wasn’t coming? What if the tower wasn’t so much an attempt at salvation as it was an attempt to keep guard against God moving in or against God destroying them with another flood?

I know they wanted to make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the whole earth, but what does that mean to us? Maybe they were simply marshaling their forces and efforts and power against the prospect of God moving in and outflanking them?

Frankly that seems to make a lot better sense to me. They were moving east, settling east, building a watchtower, trying to make a name for themselves, and prevent scattering—these aren’t people who were building a tower to climb to heaven or bring God down, these are people doing everything they can do to war against God. Bricks and mortar suggest permanence and defense. They were building defenses. Against whom? I suggest at this point their enemy had become God. They were no longer running: they were fighting. They were fortifying, building defenses.

These are a people who had come to see God as the enemy. That is a long way from Eden.

But what is perhaps the worst part of this, at least as far as the English translations are concerned, is this: ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’ Do I hear God saying that he, at least in a sense, feared what man could do when united together in such an effort? Well, of course a God who has the power to confuse language and accomplish the very thing man feared (‘scattering’, see vs 4 & 8 ) is not a God who fears man. Rather, it seems to me that what God is doing here is preventing this united, unified effort against himself. I suspect that this is actually a picture of grace at some level.

And no matter how far east they moved, no matter how impressive their fortifications against him, no matter how unified their efforts they cannot thwart God or hide from him. They cannot, as it were, win. Or, maybe we look at it this way: No matter how much they waged war against him, no matter how much they tried to defend themselves against him, he was still gracious enough to come down among them. He still cared about them. He still heard them. He still saw them. Instead of waging war against them, he demonstrated grace. He came down among them

Isn’t that like God?

It’s the same sort of picture we see of God in Luke 10 if we imagine ourselves to be the man in the ditch (as suggested by William Willimon). God climbs into the ditch and rescues us: “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).

Or, Jesus in Luke 10 does this: He sends out seventy-two others to go out ahead of him and gather those who had been scattered. Tell them, he said, “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). In Genesis 11, God came down. In Luke 10, the Kingdom was near. Isn’t it like God: The further we move away, the more he chases after us?

The further eastward we wander, the more defenses we build up against him, the more he chases after us. He pursues us. He comes down, destroys all that we build against him. He comes down, and breaks all united fronts. We can stand against him. Our best efforts against him are nothing. He laughs at our efforts against him because he is not the one sending us east any longer. Now he is gathering to himself. Now his kingdom has come near.

As people moved eastward, God went with them. They tried to run away, he was already there. That’s grace.

Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.

The Kingdom of Crucifixion
Luke 9:1ff

Introduction

“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)

___________________

1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
____________________

Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.

It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.

He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:

But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)

So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.

It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.

Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
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Well, didn’t take president Obama long to get his feet wet did it? One of his first acts of manly US Presidential power: Reverse an executive order that prevented International Groups from receiving  Money for ‘family planning.’

“For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us,” Obama said in a statement released from the White House. “I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.”

He said the ban was unnecessarily broad and undermined family planning in developing countries.

“In the coming weeks, my administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world,” the president said.

I’m glad I didn’t vote for Mr Obama. Way to work on ‘reducing the number of abortions’ Mr Obama. Said a few members of the opposition:

“I have long supported the Mexico City Policy and believe this administration’s decision to be counter to our nation’s interests,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Coming just one day after the 36th anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision, this presidential directive forces taxpayers to subsidize abortions overseas — something no American should be required by government to do,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., called it “morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans to promote abortion around the world.”

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Click [National Right to Life] for more information on this decision.

Well…let’s see: Abortion is a primary function of the Obama administration. I’m trying very hard to be loving of Mr Obama, but right now I have no respect for him at all.

National Right to Life

I have listened to people complain about the war for the last 6-7 years and how terrible it is that people have died as a result. Well, I think I will keep track, over the next four years, how hard Mr Obama works to ‘reduce the number of abortions.’ So far, he’s not working too hard is he?

A Powerful Kingdom of Poverty
Genesis 10, Luke 9

I’m not a little behind on these, but I promise I have been doing the reading. I actually have notes for several days’ worth of writing. I’ve just been wiped out lately and unmotivated to write. Nevertheless, today I’m in the mood to write. Today mostly focuses on Luke 9.

I love that Jesus called his disciples together and ‘gave them power.’ But he didn’t give them power for the sake of giving them power. No, he gave them a vocation as well: Power was accompanied by authority to drive out demons. Ability and responsibility. Power is never an exclusive possession. Power is a gift given to be administered in service to those who lack power—in this case, those who didn’t know the Kingdom; those who were sick. Power and proclamation seem to go hand in hand, and here the power is given for both purposes.

Jesus sent them out with nothing but power and proclamation (1-6) and after they returned, it was these two that still remained (10-11). Jesus models for his disciples what he expects them to do and be to those who come to him.

Later (49-50) we learn that this power is not an exclusive power for a few close people. Jesus’ power is spread about for his purposes, and to accomplish his ends.

As the chapter moves on, we learn about the cost of following Jesus and this cost is not cheap. There is power, yes; and authority, yes; and responsibility, yes. But there is more, and the more doesn’t just come in verses 57-62. Underlying this chapter is the simple fact that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (51) and even before that Jesus has said twice (I don’t like the term ‘predicts’) that he is going there to die (21-22 & 43-45). So the cost of following Jesus is no small investment. It will involve all our being. There are no shortcuts. As I looked at this chapter and saw how Jesus interacted with his disciples and the things he said, I became convinced that following Jesus is not for the faint of heart.

He is going to Jerusalem (51). We go forth with nothing but power and proclamation (1ff). There will be little rest (10-11). Ours is a cross life (23ff). There will be heights of glory that we misunderstand and misinterpret (28-36). We will fail (37-43). We will be rebuked (55). We will not be great (48). We will not be exclusive (50). We will travel through the land of opposition (53). We will be homeless, discipleship will be urgent, and there will be no time for anything else (57-62). Truly, being a disciple of Jesus is an effort, not something for those who are inclined to give in easily when the pressures of said discipleship start pressing in all around us.

In the midst of all this talk of discipleship is talk of crucifixion. I count three times if you include the talk in verse 31 about his ‘departure.’ It is interesting to me that so much of the Kingdom talk in this chapter is mingled with crucifixion talk. Another serious implication to our discipleship is that we are following a Jesus who was going to the cross, going to Jerusalem, who had ‘set his face like flint’ towards that place. Strangely enough, he warns us that if we continue following him through Samaritan territory and on to Jerusalem we too must ‘take up our cross daily’ and follow.

And this Kingdom talk is also all mixed up with talk about opposition and poverty and rejection. How can power be woven into a conversation about weakness? What kind of Kingdom is this that Jesus is building? What sort of kingdom does he expect ‘us’ to go out and proclaim? Does he really expect to win people over to this kingdom when all he talks about is crucifixion, rejection, opposition, homelessness, no bags, no staff, no bread, no coins, and no turning back? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I’m not a little afraid of this. Who can accept it? This is just not the sort of kingdom that most people are looking for today and yet we are supposed to, in some way, and with power and authority, proclaim it! How can we reconcile our concept of kingdom as power, wealth, influence and politics with Jesus’ idea that kingdom is poverty, opposition, hiddenness, shared-influence, crucifixion, poverty, loving enemies, carrying crosses, childlike humility and dependence? Jesus’ idea of kingdom is nothing like the one we have constructed and continue to construct.

Jesus told his disciples to preach the kingdom and care for the poor (sick). We have preached affluence and ignored the poor. Jesus said we are armed only with the word and healing. No sandals. No bags. No staffs. No nothing that might suggest power, influence, or self-sufficiency. In other words, we go out armed with nothing that will suggest the kingdom is of ourselves or our making or that it is anything other than what it is: A kingdom of the cross.

That is power!

He gave his disciples power and yet told them that power would not gain them a home, friends, position, immunity from trouble, exemption from the cross or anything else of that sort. Those who are given the power of Christ are still expected, and must necessarily, live the life of crucifixion. The power and authority give by Jesus to preach and heal is to build up the kingdom of God—not the kingdom of self.

“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)

Friends,

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”

Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)

For your consumption and encouragement.

jerry

Friends,

This clip takes about 9:45. If you skip through or try to cut to the end, you will miss the entire point of the video. Watch the entire clip. The whole thing. I love the line, “God in his wisdom allows what his power easily could have prevented.” Wonderful. Every Christian needs to hear and be reminded of Cooke’s point.

HT: Chris

Friends,

Here is episode #2 of the Rain and Snow Skycast. In this episode, I finish my exploration of Revelation 1 by studying with you verses 9-21. I also included a book review of NT Wright’s book Surprised By Hope. I close the Skycast by talking about God’s grace and how the modern manifestation of the church seems to be lacking in grace to one another and those who are not like us. This is a serious, serious problem. The podcast opens with a quote from the book The Justification of God (or free here). by PT Forsyth which I believe serves as a great segue into my discussion of the contents of Revelation 1:9-21. This episode is about 34 minutes long. Thanks for stopping by. Tell your friends about the Rain and Snow Skycast. Thanks, and may God bless you as you search His Scripture, jerry

Listen here: Resurrected Jesus among the Churches

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Abounding Boundless Love
Genesis 9, Luke 8

If I am brave enough to do so, I will take Luke chapter 8 at face value. I realize that this might get me in trouble with some Christians who are more cutting-edge than I, but I’m willing to take that risk. At face value, Jesus talks about things that are not altogether great topics for discussions. I don’t happen to recall the last time I told a sermon about dirt. I haven’t spent any time at all talking with anyone about lamps. And just to be on the safe side, I have used zero of my life expectancy driving out demons, raising the dead, calming storms, or healing anyone of any kind of disease let alone a woman with a bleeding issue. But here’s Jesus, in Luke 8, attempting to win a crowd by talking about, of all things, dirt, seeds, and lamps.

After the initial teaching section of Luke 8, there are three stories tied together by one common theme: In them, Jesus did something that no one else could do. In the first story, he rebuked a storm that was threatening the small boat he was on with his disciples; his disciples couldn’t do that and were afraid. In the second story, he rebukes a man possessed by more than one demon and calms his mind; he had been bound with chains and guarded with guards which couldn’t calm him down. In the third story, he cured a woman who had suffered for twelve years with a blood issue; no doctors had been able to heal her. The third story contains also the story of a dead girl whom Jesus raised; since she was dead, I assume no one else had the ability to do that either.

Jesus overcomes all sorts of obstacles and manifestations of devilry and restores people, humans who were suffering in one way or another. We readers see clearly the point of these stories: Jesus’ power goes out and trumps the power of evil and destruction. Jesus walks right into the territory of the enemy and takes it back for himself. He rebukes the storm. Well, who ‘rebukes’ a storm? That’s the point. The storm came upon them while they were on the sea, the abyss, the place of ultimate chaos and devilry. Jesus rebukes and takes it back for himself.

He does the same thing with the man named Legion. Jesus walks right into the place of the dead (the man had been confined to the ‘tombs’, v 27). Jesus doesn’t fear the darkness of the tombs. He doesn’t fear the place marked by a raving lunatic who, possessed as he was, couldn’t be kept bound even in chains or by an armed (?) guard. Jesus takes back this man for himself; steals him from the demons that held him in a captivity worse than the chains he so easily broke.

And the woman with the blood issue? Well, Jesus rescues her too, doesn’t he? He takes this woman who was necessarily and outcast (because of her blood issue) and restores her to the community. Mark says of this story, “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (5:29). He takes this woman and reclaims her for himself, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” He calls her daughter because she too is a child of Abraham.

Finally, the little girl who was held in the bonds of death. It’s rather easy to see how he sets her free is it not? He says, “My child, get up!” She too belongs to Jesus. Death, in other words, has no claim on this little one. Death cannot hold in bondage that which Jesus sets free. Jesus called her back, or woke her up, to himself. She is his. Death is made impotent. Death is defeated.

The abyss is now the sea. Legion is now a man again. That bleeding woman is now daughter. The dead girl is now alive.

He calms a storm and the faithless are astonished. He rebukes a herd of demons and the town-folk are terrified. He heals a bleeding woman and the disciples question him. He raises a dead child and everyone laughs at him.

The sea is calm and obeys Jesus. The man formerly known as Legion is sitting at the feet of Jesus in his right mind. The formerly bleeding woman has fallen at his feet cleansed and healed. The little girl, once lying flat and dead, stands up at his command. Who is this indeed?

The raging sea rebuked listens to Jesus. Legion running wild in the tombs falls at the feet of Jesus and begs for mercy. The woman with the blood issue knows that Jesus is talking about her and comes to him trembling. And the dead child, dead as she was, still hears the voice of Jesus and obeys his command. “Who is this that the wind and waves obey?” they asked. Who is this that the dead hear his voice and wake up!

Jesus is not afraid of the fringe elements of society. He’s not afraid of men who may as well be dead if their place of residence means anything (v 27); he’s not afraid of storms and, perhaps, is a little upset that he had to be awakened from a nap to deal with it (more an inconvenience than anything); he’s not afraid of a social outcast; he’s not afraid of dead body. These things have no power over him. He’s not afraid of the faithless (8:25), or legions, or unclean, or the dead. Not Jesus. It seems he does his best work out on the margins, on the fringes, among the weak and powerless and faithless.

Storms cannot overpower him. Demons cannot disobey him. The unclean cannot ‘infect’ him. And the dead cannot defile him. He is Jesus: Master of storms and Lord of the faithless. He is Jesus: Compassionate enough to ask the man his name before he drives out the demons. He is Jesus: Powerful enough to heal even when he is not trying to. He is Jesus: Strong enough to reverse death.

Jesus’ love knew no bounds. He saved his faithless friends. He cared more for one man than he did for a whole herd of pigs. He did not rebuke the smoldering wick of a woman who had suffered for twelve years. And he gave a young child back to her parents so great was his love. I see in these stories more than a man or a God with great power and will. I see in these stories a man and a God with such great love and compassion that it knows no bounds. He will let nothing stand in the way of taking back what is His from the one to whom it does not belong.

No, nothing stands in his way. So great is his love and compassion, that he will go anywhere, with anyone, to rescue anyone from any problem. Jesus proves his power to undo any evil and any bondage caused by evil. More, Jesus demonstrates the reason why he does so: He loves.

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I’ve been trying to think about what I would like to preach this year. Back in November and December of ‘08, I wrote out two complete series of sermons-each 10 weeks long. I was ready for ‘09. Then, well, let’s just say there were some issues with my mouth and my pen and then, well, let’s just say that I won’t be preaching either of those series of sermons anytime soon. Sermon schedules aren’t that helpful when the preacher is being undone by the Spirit.

So that leaves me here, wondering, staring at snow and a computer monitor, drinking a cup of hot tea, contemplating…what shall I preach? What does my church need to hear? What do I need to wrestle with in prayer and what Scripture do I need to be confronted with over and over again so that it becomes the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and every waking thought in my head and heart? No, not that one!

Then on the way home from the gym this morning, I was suddenly overcome by a thought, one word, something I had toyed with but that seemed too convenient at the time. (I don’t suppose there is ever a convenient time to preach it.) I mean, of course I should preach about that. Always; who shouldn’t? It’s not that I don’t preach about it, every sermon I preached is infused with and under-girded by this. And I think also, at the same time, even though the thought has continued to regurgitate itself, I have been fighting against it. Seriously: there is a part of me that does not want to preach this. There is a part of me that thinks if I preach it now it might seem choreographed to justify myself or something silly like that. Strange that I cannot get beyond trying to discern the motives of others when I should really be examining my own motives.

Even now, I am afraid somewhat to post this, lest someone misunderstand MY motives. It is a terrible thing, it seems to me, to live for nothing other than trying to discern motives when even the apostle Paul didn’t care about motives.

William Willimon wrote, “Preachers, by the nature of their vocation, are those who speak because they have been told something to say. Can you imagine Paul pacing about his prison cell, agonizing because ‘I have nothing to say to First Church Corinth?’” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 47). We speak, he notes, because God has spoken. I am normally very organized in my preaching schedule. Right now I’m not. This is one of those times when I have to ‘not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit is teaching me what to speak’ and, I am fighting it. I don’t want to preach what the Holy Spirit is telling me to preach. I want to preach from my neatly organized sermon schedules that are lying upon my desk, printed on nice clean paper, not from some fit of inspiration that certainly did not come from within me. He’s stalking me.

Seriously. I don’t want preach this word, but as I was on my way home from the gym this morning, was so overcome by this that I literally had to pull off the road. I’m not like that at all. I’m organized. I’m a planner. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. “Oh God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to preach on that.” Christus Victor, yes! Resurrection, yes! Anything but this. But it is a losing battle. I can’t shake it. I’m defeated. I’m undone! It’s much easier to preach what I want, when I want. It’s much harder to listen and follow and preach what he commands.

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

“‘Lord, where are you going?’”

Jesus commands us to love. Why? Because if it is not commanded we will likely not do it. Seriously, loving one another is hard work and not work we are likely to engage in if we don’t have to. How many of us make an effort to love the ‘least of these’? How many of us go out of our way to ‘love one another’?

I don’t want to preach on love, not now. How can I love now when I know there are ‘issues’ and when I feel like some haven’t loved me. It might seem too fake, too contrived, too choreographed. Right. Like preaching a ten-week series on church leadership isn’t contrived! Still, God is not being at all merciful to me right now. I don’t want to do this, but…

And here’s the worst part of it: I know he’s talking to me; first. I looked briefly at another blog yesterday (I won’t mention which one, but use your imagination) and saw that the top three posts on the front page were all scathing attacks against pastors, men who stand in a pulpit each week and proclaim the Gospel of Christ; imperfectly all, yes, but done nonetheless. And Christ empowers their words or he doesn’t. My heart broke when I saw those blog posts–vitriolic un-love against pastors of Christ’s Church. I am asked to love a person who has not a kind word for even these preachers? How can I do that?  “I don’t want to preach on love! I can’t preach on love! I am too angry to preach about something so redemptive, something so resurrection empowered, something so kingdom oriented as love. Can’t I just preach on something else. What words could come out of my mouth now about love?” That Hound of Heaven has me in his jaws and the more I wriggle around and excuse myself and justify my Jonah-like attitude about this sermon, the deeper in those jaws sink to my flesh and spirit.

Who cares if we don’t love one another? And how will preaching change any of that at all? Then I was slapped in the jaw with this: If we don’t love one another, how on earth are we going to love our enemies and the poor and those who persecute us? That is, if we don’t, won’t, or can’t love one another-those whom it should be easiest to love-then how on earth are we ever going to be able to love those it is the most difficult to love? Or, worse, if I cannot love those I can see in the flesh, then how can I ever begin to love the God whom I cannot see?

It is far easier, I think, to simply pretend that I love ‘one another’ and go on in life without any real level of commitment to those persons. Words can be terribly empty at times, can’t they? I think it is far more complicated and difficult to be obedient to the command to love one another when there is nothing to gain except a possible rejection. Yet the command is not abated or rescinded. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Wait until everything is A-OK and then love one another’ He just said, “Love one another” and he qualified this in no way at all. Love. We are the only ones who qualify love.

Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no records of wrongs,’ but that doesn’t mean love begins with a clean slate. It means that love wipes the slate clean and starts all over again-each second, each minute, each hour, each day. It means that I forgive 70 times 7 70 times 7 times a day. Do you understand why my flesh is rebelling against this? Jesus has commanded us to do the most difficult thing imaginable: Love one another. My God, I cannot love one another. Or maybe, I don’t want to. Either way, what you are asking Lord is too difficult. Lord, how do I love those and preach love to those that I am struggling to love right now and who are not struggling at all to love me? Is there room in the church for this love? Better: Can the church survive without it right now?

And I don’t want to preach it. I really don’t. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us if we didn’t have to love those we are like and unlike? Wouldn’t it be safer if I didn’t have to extend and expend myself for someone else and take the risk that they might just be in need of love or that I am commanded to love regardless of reciprocation? Loving one another might mean I have to forgive or humble myself or repent or admit that I am wrong-sometimes even if I am not wrong. Loving one another might mean that I have do all that I can to secure peace even if means that I have to ‘be wrong’, which Paul seems to think is far better (1 Corinthians 6:7). What is impossible with man, is possible with God.

Why is it easier to love those outside the church than those inside it? Why does our flesh rebel against this command of Christ? Why is it that ‘loving one another’ has to be commanded in the first place? Well, I sure don’t understand that at all!

Jesus three times said, “Love one another.” Yet when he was finished Peter looked at him, I assume with a straight face, and said, “Lord where are you going?” You know why I don’t want to preach it, love, that is? That’s why. What Peter said, or what Peter asked. Right over his head what Jesus said.

And yet, Sunday’s sermon is already written. Now I am free to practice what I preach. Better, now I am free to love. That is, Jesus didn’t tell me to preach love, even though I should preach love. He told me to love. And he set no boundaries for doing so.

Semper Deo Gloria!

God Remembers Us
Genesis 8, Proverbs 2

In my estimation, those three words are some of the most important words in the Bible. “God remembered Noah.” Not only are they some of the most important words in the Bible, but they are some of the most beautiful.

I don’t happen to think there is anything profoundly theological about those words. They are just words that describe a thinking God. God remembered Noah. That is to say, He didn’t forget him.

Floating around in the ark, I suppose it would have been easy enough for Noah to think that God had not remembered. All that water, swelling up around on every side, all those animals, all that time. I think sometimes there are long periods of time in between the times when God makes an ‘appearance.’ I suppose, too, that it would be only logical for Noah to assume that perhaps God had forgotten him.

God remembered Noah, and all the wild animals, the livestock—everything; He remembered.

I love that God remembers. It gives me great comfort and encouragement to know that God is thinking of me, thinking of you. Not only did he remember Noah (and the animals), but I think he remembered something else too. Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers’ he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.” This is what God remembered: he remembered that he had promised with his own mouth to utterly undo evil, to utterly destroy enmity, to utterly wipe out all that prevents ‘Emmanuel’, all that prevents such victory.

‘God remembered Noah,’ which is the author’s way of saying God remember his prophecy of Genesis 3:15.

God loves his creation. He is faithful, Paul said, even though we are not (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Genesis 8 is a re-envisioning of Genesis 1. Noah’s story is, to an extent, Adam’s story. What God began in Adam, what Adam ruined, God restarts in Noah. The earth is wiped clean. Just as ‘streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground’ (2:6) so too did they with Noah (7:11-12).

God remembered Noah, but let’s be honest, God doesn’t just remember the parts we would like him to remember. So before the flood, God noticed that that ‘every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time’ (6:5, 11-12). After the flood, I noticed that not much had changed, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (8:21). In other words, not much had changed: God remembered. God remembered Noah and God remembered man’s inclination and proclivity towards sin and degradation.

But there is another verse that intrigues me. It’s verse 22: “As long as the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

Man didn’t change, but neither did God.

And the beauty of chapter 8 is that it is a chapter about grace. It is logical to assume that God has no responsibility or obligation to remember those who never change. Yet God, in his grace, chooses to remember us in spite of the fact that we don’t change. Verse 22 is God’s declaration of his manner of dealing with humanity: It’s called grace. Even though he knows man is a rebel, still the world will be filled with his grace and operate according to the principle of his grace.

That the God of the universe is ‘small’ enough to remember us is simply astonishing. That he even remembers the animals is astonishing more. All I’m saying is this, just ponder it for a minute: God does not forget you. “But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:14-16)

‘God remembered Noah,’ which is the Scripture’s way of saying God is faithful to his promise. ‘God remembered Noah,’ which is Scripture’s way of saying God is not at all like us.

That’s comforting.