Monday, April 23, 2018

Doth the Lady protest too much?

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 4:1-40
And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power. (Deuteronomy 4:37)
***
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don't waste my time, Show me!
Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall!
Don't talk at all! Show me! 

("Show Me," from the musical "My Fair Lady")
We spent the last couple days talking about musical declarations of love for Jesus. I wondered whether some of those songs are appropriate for a public setting. It wasn’t until the very end of a two-part article that we got around to what the Bible says love for God should look like:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
 (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
OK, we should love God, but how is that accomplished? The Bible makes it clear that obedience is man’s response to God’s love:
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
***
In the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) God models a very important axiom of true love: Show, then Tell.
We are not aware that he is modeling this axiom until we get all the way to Deuteronomy 4:37:
And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power.
Deuteronomy 4:37 is the first time in the Bible that God tells anybody he loved them. But he has demonstrated it from the first verse in Genesis.  We would do well to emulate God by letting our obedience demonstrate our love for him. Whether or not we ever get around to saying ‘love’ is very nearly immaterial.
In the great book of Psalms, which is the Bible’s collection of worship songs, I was able to locate just two verses where the Psalmist tells God that he loves Him. Here they are:
I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. (Psalm 116:1)
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, as we proclaim our lavish love for God every Sunday, whether our protestations of love are, as they should be, the exclamation point following a week of obedience.
If the Bride of Christ has not first demonstrated love by her obedience, then her 'love' is just a word that was never made flesh.
Sometimes I get the feeling, as we sing our ardent love songs to Jesus, that the Lady doth protest too much.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, April 22, 2018

heard it in a love song (can't be wrong) -- part 2

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 3
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
Yesterday, in part 1, we sampled a few lyrics from the current rash of "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs which have made their way into our churches. (If you aren't aware of this particular genre, we hope you'll click here to see what you haven't been missing.)
Part 1 concluded with these thoughts:

"Though (I guess) these songs are meant to be understood figuratively, I still fail to see how they advance an individual’s relationship to God. And when the song is over, it’s still not over; its effects linger in the air. I’m not offended as much as I am disturbed and saddened.
What saddens me is how many young guys, like my own sons, find these songs either faintly or overtly creepy and thus determine, mid-song, that they can’t wait to get out, and stay out, of anything resembling “church.”
To a large segment of the people we are trying to reach, such songs can be terminal to any possible relationship that they might develop with Jesus. They, and I, would feel more comfortable in the company of snake handlers.
With so many songs to choose from, why these? And even if someone might personally benefit from them, what are they doing in church?"
***
What disturbs me most about these songs is not the fact that they could be written about anybody’s boyfriend. What really bothers me is that they could be written about anybody’s false god. There is very little that is specific to Jesus Christ in these lyrics.
To keep things in perspective, I must say that the church has far bigger problems than this one. I don’t want to overstate the issue, so if you’ll allow me just a few scriptural precepts, I’ll be making my way towards the door:
1. There is nothing in Scripture which resembles these lyrics in tone or content. That does not make them wrong, per se, or unscriptural. But if we must sing them, could they at least be labeled “Other than Scriptural” or “Religiously Generic” (sort of like “X-mas” songs).
2. I say this very gently and respectfully, because most people (I hope) do sing these songs figuratively. So let me review a biblical figure of speech --the bride of Christ (1)-- which seems to be operative in these songs:
No one ever marries Jesus, even metaphorically. It’s the church (at large) and not the individual who is the scriptural “Bride of Christ.” Furthermore, “bride” is used figuratively to represent the spiritual faithfulness of the church -- as contrasted to the prostitute or adulterous wife, who figuratively represents spiritual unfaithfulness.
The predominant biblical description of our relationship to God is that we are children of God the Father by virtue of our relationship to his Son Jesus Christ (2). Believers have the same Father because we have the same Brother.
3. Love is a many-splendored thing, and that is precisely why the New Testament, in its original Greek, was careful to designate carnal love as “eros” and the love relationship we have with God as “agape.” It seems to me that to describe agape in terms of eros is unseemly at best.
4. Finally, back to our reading schedule. The theme of Deuteronomy, which we are just beginning, is to love and obey God:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
OK, we should love God, but how is that accomplished? The Bible makes it clear that obedience is man’s response to God’s love:
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
And while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt if the love lyrics we sing to him could never be mistaken for words we might direct towards the junior accountant three cubicles over.
Just sayin'.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) The phrase "Bride of Christ" does not specifically appear in your Bible, but it can be inferred from 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27, 32; Revelation 19:6-8; 21:2, 9.
(2) See Romans 8:29 and Hebrews 2:11-13

Saturday, April 21, 2018

heard it in a love song (can't be wrong) -- part 1

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 2
May I be frank?
Well, I already am. That’s my name.
I thought I’d start out with some disarming drivel because what I’m about to say will step on some toes:
I can’t stomach the prevalent “Jesus is my boyfriend” theme that seems to have permeated Christian music.
And you might, rightly, say to me, “Then turn to another station.” But I don’t listen to Christian music on the radio, which is optional. I’m getting more than my fill of it at church (which is less optional), and I'm left with very few places to “turn.”
In seemingly every church, some overwrought singer is gushing every Sunday about his or her desire to feel Jesus’ heartbeat. If it weren’t for the name Jesus (which is sometimes in the chorus) and the fact that I’m in a church, there is absolutely no difference between these lyrics and the pining of a moonstruck 7th grader who has developed a rampant crush for her paperboy:
“Draw Me Close”
Draw me close to You, never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I'm Your friend
You are my desire no one else will do
'Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find the way, bring me back to You
If I may be both frank and curt, Yuck!
Here (if you can stand it) is another example. This one is called (wouldn’t you know it) “Hold Me.” Though not by the same composer, it sounds as if the moonstruck lass in “Draw Me Close” graduated from high school, got a job, and is now pining for the junior accountant in the third cubicle to the right:
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You, the way Ya, the way Ya)
I've had a long day I just wanna relax
Don't have time for my friends, no time to chit-chat
Problems at my job, wonderin' what to do
I know I should be working, but I'm thinking of You and
Just when I feel this crazy world is gonna bring me down
That's when Your smile comes around
Oo, I love the way You hold me, by my side You'll always be
You take each and everyday, make it special in some way
I love the way You hold me, in Your arms I'll always be
You take each and everyday, make it special in some way
I love You more than the words in my brain can express
Oh my!
"Your Love is Extravagant"
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant
Oh dear!
And, finally, the song that gave me the heebie jeebies just 5 days ago in church :
I wanna sit at your feet.
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breathe, hear your heart beat
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming.
The lyrics on paper are unsettling enough, but you should have seen the accompanying look on this dame's face as she sang them. OMG!
There is very nearly nothing in this recent rash of songs which separates them from the carnal realm. Which makes it impossible to stand next to my sons during these songs without longing to disappear beneath the floorboards.
Though (I guess) these songs are meant to be understood figuratively, I still fail to see how they advance an individual’s relationship to God. And when the song is over, it’s still not over; its effects linger in the air. I’m not offended as much as I am disturbed and saddened.
What saddens me is how many young guys, like my own sons, find these songs either faintly or overtly creepy and thus determine, mid-song, that they can’t wait to get out, and stay out, of anything resembling “church.”
To a large segment of the people we are trying to reach, such songs can be terminal to any possible relationship that they might have developed with Jesus. They, and I, would feel more comfortable in the company of snake handlers.
With so many songs to choose from, why these? And even if someone might personally benefit from such songs, what are such songs doing in church?
***
Alright, I've had my say. Tomorrow we will see if the Bible has anything to say about some of the issues I've raised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, April 20, 2018

yours for the taking

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 1
“Deuteronomy.”
Literally, it means “the second law.” But that’s a little misleading. Actually, Deuteronomy tells the eternal “law” to the next generation. Same Word, new hearers.
Behind them, in the wilderness, was a national cemetery -- an entire generation who would not enter the land.
From that generation, only Caleb and Joshua -- the men of faith -- would cross over Jordan into the Promised Land:
I said to you, "You have now come to the mountain country of the Amorites, to the land the Lord our God will give us. Look, here it is! Go up and take it. Then all of you came to me and said, "Let's send men before us to spy out the land. They can come back and tell us about the way we should go and the cities we will find." I thought that was a good idea, so I chose twelve of your men, one for each tribe. They left and went up to the mountains, and when they came to the Valley of Eshcol they explored it. They took some of the fruit from that land and brought it down to us, saying, "It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us." But you refused to go. When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and made an oath, saying, "I promised a good land to your ancestors, but none of you evil people will see it. Only Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun and your little children that you said would be captured will go into the land. I will give the land to them, and they will take it for their own.” (excerpted from Deuteronomy 1:20-39)
Let’s stop right here to hammer a precept home. Though I know the precept and you know the precept, let’s hammer it deeper into our souls:
The Land, though promised to all, was only entered by those who believed. This principal prevails all the way to the cross. Let’s listen, again, to the Bible’s most well-known verse:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16/KJV)
The Promised Land, and the greater Promise of salvation through Jesus Christ, are given to all:
God so loved the entire world, and every last soul within it, that he gave…
But the promises are received only by those who believe:
…that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The fact that all are not saved can never be charged to God’s side of the covenant equation. God is a universal giver, but the people are not, universally, takers.
Jesus Christ urged his disciples to Take, and eat (1). We associate the phrase with the communion service, but we should not confine it to a ceremony.
It should also be applied to the milk and honey of the Promised Land, and to the fruit of the Spirit.
They are yours, for the taking.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew 26:26

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Please pass the salt.

The Word for today:
Mark 9:30-50
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves... (Mark 9:50)
The sins that get the most attention are known as sins of commission. They are sins that we do: we get drunk, we have adulterous affairs, we gossip, we surf porn sites, we steal, and we kill. These sins of commission are the kind that make the six o’clock news.
Not as newsworthy, but just as spiritually grievous, are sins of omission. They are the things we don’t do: we don’t forgive, we don’t help when we should, we don’t stand up against evil, we don’t give a damn when a damn should be given. It’s hard to show something that didn’t happen on the 11 o’clock news, so while sins of omission generate sermons and preachy editorials, they don’t generate as much buzz as sins of commission do.
But the sins of commission or omission are just surface sins compared with sins of being.
Don’t look up the term, because I just made it up. These sins are not about what we do or don’t do, but about who we are.
Jesus alludes to these under-the-surface sins in today’s reading when he says,
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? (Mark 9:30)
I make soups and stews, and I know how bland they are without salt. So I think (1) that Jesus is urging us to let his influence permeate our being like salt permeates a stew and makes it palatable.
We have been so consumed with doing -- or not doing -- the surface stuff that we’ve forgotten to let his Person permeate to the core.
If we want the world to taste and see that the LORD is good (2), then we must, as Jesus said, have salt in ourselves. (Mark 9:50)
So, for myself and for the entire church, I pray, “Please pass the salt.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) If you peruse the commentaries, you will see various interpretations of this passage. Most of them mention salt’s preservative properties and derive their interpretation from there. But, silly me, I read the word flavor and I hear Jesus mentioning salt’s seasoning properties. So I’ll go with my unschooled eye and ear, and derive my interpretation from there.
(2) Psalm 34:8

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

the best advice my Father ever gave me

The Word for today:
Mark 9:1-29
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (from Mark 9:2-7)
Note: The Transfiguration of Jesus is crucial to overall biblical understanding. Indeed, it is so significant that we urge the reader to  click here first, where we concentrated on the Transfiguration’s central character and its most significant truths.
Our article for today, found below, will focus on the supporting actors in the scene. It is meant to be only a supplement to the article we linked to, above.
***
The Transfiguration is so cinematically stunning and so spiritually significant that we forget how strange it is.
Visually, the Shekinah glory (which hadn’t been seen for 600 years) shows up to engulf the characters in glory (or in light or in whatever Shekinah is.) Then, audibly and majestically, the voice of God proclaims the three most important words in any language:
“Listen to Him!”
Meanwhile, we almost forget that standing there as witnesses to all of this are none other than Moses and Elijah.
You remember them, right? They merely personify “the Law and the Prophets” (which was shorthand for the entire Bible at that time.)
They were graphic confirmation of Peter’s confession (Mark 8:29) that Jesus was the Messiah—that he was the fulfillment of everything toward which the law pointed. He fulfilled what the sacrificial system (the heart of the Mosaic Law) was teaching. He fulfilled every messianic prophecy.
There they were, carrying on a conversation with Jesus, who had previously said,
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
A fulfillment which he explained, in detail, on the Road to Emmaus:
He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
The Law and the Prophets were preliminary and partial. Their purpose was to point to Him. The first words of the book of Hebrews say it this way:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
“Listen to Him!” Those three words are the best advice my Father ever gave me. As a son, I hope to heed His advice. As a father, I hope to pass it along.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

losers are keepers



The Word for today:
Mark 8:27-38


Jesus is famous for turning the tables in the Temple upside down.

A lot of people value that scene for its graphics. I am one of them, because I think its graphics are truthful. It presents a picture of a more “muscular” Jesus, which corresponds to the hints we’re given in the Bible:
1. As a carpenter, he worked with heavy beams, heavy hammers, and with the omnipresent building material in Israel--stone. Think “construction worker,” not “cabinet maker.”
2. In today’s reading, when he asked what the people were saying about him, the disciples agreed that the man-on-the-street saw him as the return of either John the Baptist or Elijah (1). Since the people perceived both John and Elijah as tower-of-power prophets, we can infer that Jesus could not be the mild flower child that many, today, perceive him to be.

But while I do value that scene pictorially, I value it metaphorically even more,  because Jesus turned thought, itself, upside down. He single-handedly turned truth, as the world perceives it, on its head.

With astonishing authority, he addresses their misperceived notion of the Messiah. When Peter confessed that “You are the Christ,” he and the disciples had in mind the superhuman leader Israel had been waiting for since the time of David—who would overthrow Israel’s enemies, make Jerusalem the center of the world, and establish the perfect reign of God.

But Jesus turns the tables, teaching them what had never entered their imaginations: the Messiah would conquer sin through his suffering.

When well-meaning Peter took him aside to help him re-think his mission statement, Jesus turns the tables again, identifying Peter’s traditional view of the Messiah as the logic of Satan:
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Mark 8:33)

Then, as if all of that were not enough table-turning for one afternoon, he decides to flip the definition of “winning” and “losing” upside down:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

From that day to this, the world (whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we admit to it or not) has had to re-think every one of its standard suppositions.  All because a single voice insisted that suffering was salvation and that losers are keepers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Mark 8:27-28

Monday, April 16, 2018

found poetry

The Word for today:
Mark 8:1-26
When we went to Florida for Easter, we were reminded of how little shade a palm tree provides. We were also reminded of what it’s like to drive all over Florida without air conditioning.
We don’t use our air conditioning much during the perfectly temperate Western New York summers, so it wasn’t worth fixing when it broke down. Thus, when we got to Florida we tried to make sure we parked beneath the better shade trees. But everybody else in Florida had the same intentions, so we were often relegated to the meager shade of a palm tree.
We could usually position most of the car in shade, but while the car and the tree didn’t move, the sun never stands still. So when we returned from a beach or a store or wherever we went for a while, the car was no longer in shade.
Which caused Shelley, at one point, to remark, “The shade always moves.”
“That’s found poetry at its finest!” I exclaimed.
“Found poetry?“
“Yes, ‘found poetry.’ It’s poetry that’s apparently (at first glance) not there at all. It just shows up accidentally. It can be found all over the place—on billboards, embedded in casual speech, on the backs of cereal boxes and shoe boxes. It can show up anywhere, if you’re listening and looking for it.”
“Dad," Eddy then asked, "what’s poetic about ‘The shade always moves?’ ”
“Eddy, what is shade?”
“It’s shelter from the hot sun.”
“That’s right. So give me a wider meaning than what Mommy meant in the first place.”
“Just when you think you’re protected from the elements, you find out you’re not.”
“Perfect!  You found metaphorical meaning where it wasn’t meant to be found. You found poetry!”
“I get it! Let’s find some more!”
I happened, at that time, to be a few steps ahead in the Stand in the Rain reading schedule. So I took my Bible off the dashboard, which was bookmarked at Mark 8:1-26 (today’s reading). Handing it to Eddy, I told him, “You find some more.”
“In the Bible?”
“There’s more found poetry in the Bible than anywhere else. Just look for phrases that convey a wider meaning than the original speaker probably meant.”
I waited as Eddy slowly, audibly read through the passage. “There’s none there, Dad.”
“Yes there is. Try again. Don’t look at single words, but see words in chunks, in phrases.”
This time he read it silently. I watched his eyes as they lingered on sections of text at a time. He was getting it.
“‘Bread in the wilderness (1).’ Is that found poetry?”
“Maybe. What does bread in the wilderness mean, beyond what the speaker first intended?”
“Well, it’s like what God gave Israel in the wilderness every day.”
“Manna,” Frankie interjected.
“Keep going, Eddy. You’re almost there.”
“Well, Jesus was about to miraculously give the people bread in the wilderness -- just like God gave to the people of Israel.”
“Keep going.”
“And he’s the Bread of life,” added Frankie.
“That’s right! So the disciples spoke a phrase -- bread in the wilderness -- without knowing that they were alluding to the Old Testament, to the miraculous manna, and most importantly to Jesus Himself! They were poets who didn’t know it!”
“Is there any more found poetry in this chapter?”
“You tell me.”
Now Frankie was avidly searching the page alongside him. “‘I see men like trees, walking (2).’ Is that found poetry?” 
“Maybe. Tell me what wider meaning it conveys.”
“It’s like at the end of the love chapter in Corinthians where we see indistinctly-- through a glass darkly -- but when we come face to face with Jesus someday, like this blind man did in the story, then we will see Jesus as clearly as he sees us.”
***
I was in awe. A metaphor for misperception (which up til then I’d misperceived) had given me new perception -- about how a clearer and clearer perception of God gives us a clearer and clearer perception of everything, including ourselves. Whew! They’d found a metaphoric hall of mirrors.
That man in the story is not the only one who sees men like trees, walking. Nor is he the only one who will see clearly, someday:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Mark 8:4; (2) Mark 8:24

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Say "Cheese!"

The Word for today:
Mark 7:24-37
I hope you love my Bible cover as much as I do. As you can see (above) it’s yellow and a little tattered, but that smile sure comes through!
My Bible cover used to be my son Eddy’s Bible cover when Eddy was just a little lad. But when he turned twelve, well, he thought his Bible cover should grow up with him. So we got him a Bible cover that looks and feels like the pebbly cover of a basketball (which was his game at the time.)
Anyway, that’s how I inherited my Bible cover from my son, who thought it was a little too young for him!
It’s my cover now, so I get to say whose picture is on it. But I’m not telling you who that is yet. First, I’ll give you some hints and you try to guess:
Hint #1: It is not a picture of me.
Hint # 2: It is not a picture of Eddy.
Hint # 3: The person whose picture is on the cover also has his name on the cover.
OK, those are all the hints. So now it’s your turn to take a guess…
If you said that's God on the cover, then you are right! So the deep meaning of my Bible cover is that God loves us so much that it makes Him smile!
I like to see God smile, but he hardly ever does in the Bible. Well, he does but it doesn’t directly say so. Once, when I set out to look for God’s smile in the Bible, I couldn’t even find the word smile, except for a few times in, of all places, the book of Job (where you’d least expect it.)
Though it doesn’t really spell out s-m-i-l-e, my life verse (if I’ve got one) shows God smiling:
For not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them. (Psalm 44:3)
I’m sure that shows God smiling, because light caused by delight is sure to be a smile.
I don’t want to tell too many people about a verse that says I cause God to smile, because if everybody knew about it then they would probably make it their special verse, too. So I’m telling only you, OK? That way God will be smiling at just me and you and he won’t have to shed the light of his face all over the place. Which leaves more light/delight for you and me, see?
Now before I go, I’m going to show you (shhhh!) another place where God smiles. It’s found in our reading today, when Jesus sort of starts trash-talking with the Gentile (non-Jewish) woman whose daughter is spiritually sick. Jesus tells her that only the children of Israel (1) get to receive the generosity of the king:
Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Mark 7:26-27)
We know that Jesus must have said this with a sparkle in his eye, because he had already reminded his disciples that God healed only Naaman (another Gentile) in the days of Elisha:
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and 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 the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:25-27)
The other reason we know Jesus was speaking playfully is that the woman returned his banter:
But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." (Mark 7:27-29)
Now I’d be careful, if I were you, about trying to see God smile by trash-talking with him. We should leave that to experts like the lady in Mark chapter 7.
Better yet to turn back to Psalm 44:3, where God is always smiling. Or you could wait for a little kid to grow out of his groovy yellow Bible cover.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see the parallel account of this incident in Matthew 15:22-28

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Iconoclast, part 2

The Word for today:
Mark 7:1-13
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8)
When we compile a list of what Jesus did and who he was, we read wonderful titles like Deliverer, King, Redeemer, Prophet, Savior…
But you never see “Iconoclast” on that list. And I wonder why, because it’s one of my favorite things about him. Whenever a tradition of man obscured the word and character of God, Jesus didn’t just break it, he smashed it to smithereens. On one occasion, when he'd healed a man on the Sabbath and was criticized for breaking the Pharisees’ hallowed Sabbath traditions, he immediately withdrew to the streets, where great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all! (Matthew 12:1-15)
Most of our church traditions were God-honoring at one time. They brought people into a closer relationship with God. But over time, the tradition begins to honor itself.
Many of our traditions and creeds eventually supplant the Word of God:
And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” (Mar 7:9-13)
In Jesus' day and in ours, traditions eventually depart from the scriptures they were founded upon. Pretty soon we have a lot of people just going through the motions, until going through the motions is what church is all about.
My hope is that we take a long look at the rituals and traditions in our own lives and churches. What is their purpose? Are they still serving that purpose? If not, let’s honor the tradition of iconoclasm, as practiced by the great iconoclast Himself.
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Friday, April 13, 2018

the iconoclast -- part 1

The Word for today:
Mark 6:30-56
Jesus met tradition at every turn:
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" (Mark 7:1-5)
When he met it, he met it head on:
And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." (Mark 7:6-8)
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On another occasion, he healed a man on the Sabbath and was criticized for breaking the Pharisees’ hallowed Sabbath traditions. So what did the Lord of the Sabbath do? He immediately withdrew to the streets, where great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him. He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all. (Matthew 12:1-15)
***
When we compile a list of what Jesus did and who he was, we read wonderful titles like Deliverer, King, Redeemer, Prophet, Savior…
But you never see “Iconoclast” on that list. And I wonder why, because it’s one of my favorite things about him. Whenever a tradition of man obscured the word and character of God, Jesus didn't just break it, he smashed it to smithereens with a deft irony that always strikes me as funny, whenever it doesn't strike fear in my heart.
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

John, we hardly knew ye


The Word for today:
Mark 6.6b-29
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:17-28)
When I read the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, I feel as if we’ve located the Hall of Shame.
The Bible has a Hall of Fame, located in Hebrews 11. There you will find Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and Samson and Rahab and the rest, all heroes of faith.
What a contrast when we walk into Herod’s Palace and find Herod himself along with his wife Herodias, who had left his brother Philip in order to marry him.
Which John the Baptist said was wrong.  So his head ended up on a platter, because that’s where Herodias wanted it. She rather enjoyed being queen instead of the relative nobody she’d been, so when she found out Herod was listening a little too intently to John the Baptist about the adultery issue, she looked for a way to snuff John.
Which opportunity presented itself after Herod, in the presence of his drunken entourage (with bellies full of wine and eyes full of candy) promised Herodias’ dancing daughter up to half the kingdom for her pleasing performance.
Which was worth more than the head of a prophet on a platter, so that’s what Herodias told her daughter to ask for.
Had enough? Me, too. I’ve often thought that if you peeled back the layers of that scene, every sin known to mankind was in attendance at their grotesque banquet.
And how awful for the Story’s sake, to see the poignant and powerful presence of John the Baptist vanish from the page. We sense we hardly knew him.
But I’ve got a feeling, just a feeling, that we haven’t heard the last from John the Baptist. Second comings in Scripture are not confined to Jesus. Moses already made his way back here and so did Elijah.
There’s a real biblical case to be made that John the Baptist will reappear before “The Day of the Lord” (The Second Coming of Jesus).  So if you miss John, do not dismay.
Just keep a supply of locusts and wild honey on hand. And if you hear a commanding voice condemning the self-righteous as a “brood of vipers,” then you’ll know it’s either Jesus or John the Baptist—or both.
They are the only two who ever used the phrase. They are the only two who could.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

he could hardly believe unbelief

The Word for today:
Mark 5.21-6.6a
It’s not often that Jesus is caught by surprise. One of those times occurs in our reading today:
And He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:6)
There is only one other instance when Jesus marveled at something:
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! (Matthew 8:10)
These two incidents, when juxtaposed, give us a glimpse into Jesus’ head. But what does that glimpse show us?
At first glance, it seems that Jesus marveled the first time at unbelief and the second time at great faith. But I think a closer reading reveals that he marveled at unbelief both times.
In the first instance, we are specifically told he marveled at their unbelief. The next time, we are only told he marveled. But at what? Let’s look again:
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! (Matthew 8:10)
It seems to me that his astonishment was, again, over the unbelief of the many in Israel.
Faith never startled Jesus.  Faith was his mindset, his outlook, the way he saw the world.  What amazed him was whenever somebody could see things so faith-lessly.
What if we were to flip our own outlooks upside down, making faith our norm? That would make unbelief unusual, even startling!
These marvel-ous passages reveal something about the mind of Christ which we should begin to ponder:
It was difficult for Jesus to fathom unbelief. It was strange, even foreign to him. It was unnatural. It was a lie.
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