Thursday, November 18, 2010

Until that day

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 88

Read: Revelation 18:1-22:21

Verse that stood out:
Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book - Revelation 22:7

Yesterday we entertained the possibility that the book of Revelation is not intended to answer the question "Are we there yet?" Instead, its main purpose is to help us answer a different question, "What are we here for, until we get there?" John answers that question way back in his introduction to the seven churches of Asia Minor, “Grace and peace.” Yes, that’s right – the purpose of this book is to bring us grace and peace for today. Notice, he doesn’t say, “Grace and peace when Jesus comes back.” No, the implication is that through this revelation of Jesus Christ, grace and peace can be yours today.

How can we have grace and peace today? Well, for one thing, the book of Revelation assures us that God has not and will not give up on the world. New Testament scholar Mitchell Reddish put it this way, “The book of Revelation does not present a picture of a God who has given up on the world and is ready to discard it. The message of Revelation is that God is the creator of the world. This world is God’s ‘baby,’ God’s creation. Rather than discard it, God seeks to save it, to rid it of its beasts and its monstrous evils, to drive out its dragons, to purge it of its impurities.” So if God, in his grace, hasn’t given up on the world (and us in it!), then we can live in peace today no matter our circumstances.

Not only can we have peace, but we can persevere. If God hasn't given up on us then we can keep holding fast to him. No matter our trials, no matter our troubles, we keep living towards Christ's return trusting that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). How do we live towards Christ's return? How do we keep from giving up on God? By extending God's grace to others. By refusing to give up on each other.

We live out the kingdom come's values when we refuse to give on the kid who’s hooked on drugs. After all, there will be no beasts of addiction in God's future kingdom. We live our the kingdom come's values when we refuse to accept poverty or hunger as simply the way things are. After all, when the Lord comes we'll all dine in abundance at the Lord's great banqueting table. We refuse to give up on God when we refuse to give up on our attempts to live in unity here on earth. After all, the holy city is not a segregated city (not racially, not denominationally, not economically!) Think of the Christian you like the least. He or she’s going to be right there next to you singing God’s praises! So to be faithful to God's vision, keep doing your best to live it out here in anticipation of there.

While we can do anything to usher in God's kingdom come, we can certainly be its ambassadors until it does.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Are we there yet?"

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 87

Read: Jude; Revelation 1:1-17:18

Verse that stood out:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near - Revelation 1:3

The year was 1988, I was in the fifth grade, and the hot topic of the day on the playground was whether or not we thought Jesus would be coming back before we died. I don’t even remember who brought it up (I sure didn’t – my church didn’t spend a lot of time on the issue), but I do remember the general consensus – yes, Jesus was coming back before we died. Maybe someone in my class had gotten a hold of one of the hot books that year, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 by Edgar C. Whisenant, a retired NASA rocket engineer living in Little Rock at the time. Over six million copies were either sold or handed out leading up to that year. I don’t know how many people it convinced, but the filter down affect had many in my class convinced that we wouldn’t make it out of the fifth grade. It had something to do with the Russians.

Needless to say, I was a little concerned. I personally was not ready for Jesus to come back. Don’t get me wrong. I was a believer. I was glad to have Jesus in my heart – I just wasn’t ready to see Him in the clouds. What I was ready for (or at least thought I was) was for a girlfriend. My guess was, there was no kissing in heaven, and I was pretty sure I wanted to try that out before I got there. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t come back in 1988, or 1989, or 1990, or well – it took me a while to get that first kiss. Let’s just say I’m glad we have a patient God.

While I may have eventually gotten that first kiss, there was a casualty of 1988. And I don’t mean Edgar C. Whisenant. Apparently, he was undaunted by Jesus failure to return, made a few adjustments to his calculations and released a new version – you guessed it, 89 Reasons Why the Rapture will Be in 89. I don’t think it sold as well. I sure wasn’t buying. For the casualty of 1988 was my interest in the book of Revelation. From about that time period onward I just didn’t pay any attention to prophesies or predictions. And I didn’t ever open my Bible to the book of Revelation. “Why bother?” I thought. It’s like asking “Are we there yet?” on a long trip only to have your dad yell back at you, “We’ll get there when we get there.”

I’ll be honest with you, that was pretty much my attitude until just a few years ago when thanks to Dr. David Garland, my New Testament professor at Truett challenged me and my classmates to question our basic assumptions about the basic purpose of the book. What if Revelation wasn’t meant to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” Most of us didn’t think that was a question that could be answered in the first place. Jesus, himself had said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). So, my professor asked, “What’s Revelation there for? Why’s it in the Bible? Is God just trying to confuse us?” I certainly didn’t think that. I remembered a saying of Elisabeth Elliot’s that went something like, “Don’t you believe the shepherd wants to get the sheep where they need to go even more than the sheep want to get there?” God loves us. He’s not trying to trick us.

Now, Revelation obviously speaks something of the future. It speaks repeatedly of the second coming of Christ, of the coming of a new heaven and a new earth – all future events. But if the purpose isn’t to ask “Are we there yet?,” what’s all that future talk there for? Just maybe, like all of the prophets of the Old Testament, John’s prophecy is meant to be less of a fortune telling and more of a forth telling. Yes the prophets give glimpses of God’s future plans, but they do so that they might give a relevant word for today. John tells us about Christ’s return, not so we can mark it on our calendars, but so that we might live more faithfully today. Maybe the question Revelation seeks to give an answer to is, “What are we here for, till we get there?”

More tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More important than your facebook status

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 86

Read: James 3:13-5:20; 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2, & 3 John;

Verse that stood out:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! - 1 John 3:1

God’s love is so different from most of the pseudo-loves we encounter in this world that the very idea of it leaves many people doubting whether or not they could really be considered God’s children. "No one could love me like that," we think. The apostle John seems prepared for our objections: “You say it isn’t so? That God couldn’t love us to the point of making sinful humans his own children? We’ll frankly, it doesn’t matter what you think. For God calls us his children and that is what we are!” I like his phrasing. Sometimes we can get far too wrapped up in what we think about things. Self-expression seems to be both the blessing and the curse of our generation. All around us people are constantly telling us what they are thinking. We are no longer a world that values expert testimony. We want to know what the common man thinks about things.

Take Facebook for example. This social networking site has exploded in just a couple of years. Why? Pretty simple really. Facebook lets you almost constantly keep your several hundred closest friends updated as to what you are thinking. That primarily takes the form of status updates – short little blurbs about what you are doing or thinking.

Taylor is playing with his kids.

Alyson is reading a book.

Matt is thinking he’ll go to Double Dave's for lunch.

Fascinating stuff isn’t it? For awhile, those status updates started including a lost of top five lists. John’s top five movies. Carey's top five cereals. One time, I even had this one come across my screen: Michael’s top five people he’d like to punch in the face.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in any of this (OK, maybe there is with that last one). Mostly, these sights are just a way to keep of with friends and have a little fun. But the subtle danger is that we can mistakenly come to believe that what’s most important in this world is what we think about something – that our thoughts somehow define reality. This can be especially true when it comes to what we believe about God. I mean it sounds correct to say, the most important thing in the world is what you think about God. It might sound good, but it’s wrong.

Here’s the thing, we think a lot of different things about God. Some of us think of God as an authoritative judge out to get those who do wrong. Others think of God as a hippie dude in the sky just out to help everyone have a good time. Still others imagine God as an absentee father who God this whole world started but has since checked out. Sometimes one individual may think all these things jumbled up together. Yes, people have lots of different views of God, but that doesn’t really change who God is. We can be wrong about God. Our feelings about God can certainly come and go, but ultimately what we need to know, what matters most is what does God thinks of us.

C. S. Lewis, in his classic address, “The Weight of Glory,” put it this way:

How God thinks of us is not only more important [than how we think of him], but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us. It is written that we shall ‘stand before’ Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness. . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so.

Whether or not we fully understand it, whether or not we feel it, it is so. God loves us and has made us his children. God doesn’t pity us. He delights in us. We are a very real ingredient in the divine happiness. It may be too much for us to grasp, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Our people

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 85

Read: Hebrews; James 1:1-3:12

Verse that stood out:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us - Hebrews 12:1

I read somewhere recently about the increasing irrelevance of last names. Once upon a time, one's surname connected a person to his or her family. The mention of someone's surname carried with it not simply that person's identity, but that of their parents, grand-parents, great-great grandparents, as well. This was especially true if your family had lived in the same place for a long time. For good or for ill, your last name meant something.

In today's transient world, last names are still family names, but families are no longer connected. It may be important to me that my name connects me with my parents, but since I know longer live near them, my surname doesn't carry with it any of my parents' reputation. It doesn't give anyone in my current community a "heads up" about where or from whom I've come.

This new world is neither good nor bad (some people are glad to escape their family's reputation!) bad, except for the reality that people are communal people. We want to belong. We want to have people that are our people. It doesn't so much matter if they're related by blood as much as it matters that there is some genuine connection. In a world that's more and more disconnected from familial ties, what identifier will take the place of a surname?

Before the use of surnames, genealogies played the role of identifying us with our people. That's why genealogies show up so often in the Bible. For Israel, who was often in exile, remembering who their people were, was of utmost importance. But who could the church look to as their people? They were a hodge-podge of ethnicity's and people, most without any kind of pedigree. Who could be their people? The book of Hebrews gives them a list, all those who in the past have lived by faith. These were and continue to be the church's people. This rag-tag group of believers were now forever connected to a great cloud of witness. So now, no matter where this life takes them, they are a people of faith.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

So close! I drop the ball on day 83

Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 84 (& 83!)

Read: Galatians 3:26-6:18; Ephesians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon

Verse that stood out:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me - Philippians 3:12

I don't know what happened yesterday. I got up. I actually read the day's reading. Then got going with kids and football games and never made it back to blog. Never even thought about it really. Eighty-two days of doing something. You'd think it would be quite the habit - and then I just forgot. Oh, well. The blogging everyday has been a good discipline, but it's been more difficult than I thought. Weekend posts have definitely been a little weak, anyway. I may have to do an extra post to make up for the missed one later in the week. The readings end on Thursday, so I have a few extra days before the final sermon in this series.

As to today's reading (actually yesterday's), I've always loved Paul's deep sense of purpose in the book of Philippians. All that forgetting what's behind, pressing on towards what's ahead. His words remind me that as Christians, we are to be a forward looking people (not just looking forward to finishing with our reading the Bible through!). We're to have our eyes pointed forward towards God's kingdom come, always on the lookout for the places and ways God's kingdom is breaking into the world and our lives today.

We believe his coming is a sure thing, so we can go ahead and live full out attempting to lay hold of that for which Christ has already laid hold of us. Think of anytime a special family member has been on their way to visit. How much effort we put forth getting things ready for their coming! Their visit is a grace, a gift. We don't deserve their coming, but their furture arrival inspires us to prepare for their future presence. We don't do this so that we can earn their visit, but so that we may honor their coming. When we are especially excited by a future visit, say in the ancipation of a newborn's arrival, our preparations are a kind of reaching forward into the future in an attempt to lay hold of their visit which is to come.

In much the same way we live today in joyful anticipation of Christ's return. Through our lives and our worship we prepare our hearts and this world for his coming. Through our faithfulness we reach into the future to lay hold of that moment when he once and for all, lays hold of us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Overflowing with thanksgiving

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 82

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-16:24; 2 Corinthians; Galatians 1:1-3:25

Verse that stood out:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God - 1 Corinthians 9:12

I've always found Paul's instructions to the Corinthians concerning generosity encouraging. There's a little arm twisting, but not much. Mainly, there is an open invitation to give generously as a way towards joy. You aren't to give until it hurts so much as you are to give until it results in true joy, yours and everyone else's. Paul concludes the section by encouraging that Corinthians that as a result of their gifts, others are praising God. Anyone whose ever been a part of a project that brings much needed resources to a people in need knows what this is like. To see people rejoice over the simplest of gifts, a shoebox filled with toys, a water well, a hot meal, it reminds us that far from being an obligation, giving is a privilege.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You are not your own

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 81

Read: Romans 15:1-1 Corinthians 14:40

Verse that stood out:
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

According to advertisers and rock stars, the great goal of the modern-Western project is to be one's own man or woman. Never mind that reality confirms that none of us are where we are all on our own. In our culture, a person is deemed valuable, successful if they are self-made, self-aware, self-actualized. Be your own man. Be your own woman. Don't let anyone tell you what to do. You gotta do what makes you happy. To be owned is to be shamed, played, degraded by another.

And yet, right in the middle of the New Testament are these words, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body." It doesn’t get more counter cultural than that – you aren’t your own person, you are owned by another, so act like it. The paradox of the gospel is that being owned is the only way to true life. Remember, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables?

There, the story is told of a Jean Valjean, a criminal, who is released from a life of hard labor into the world to fend for himself. A law breaker, he is unable to find work or even lodging. He can do what he wants, but doing what he wants doesn’t get him very far. He is dead in his supposed freedom. He’s taken in by a humble bishop. The bishop feeds Valjean supper and gives him a place to sleep. Life in prison, however, has made Valjean a hardened man. He knows no gratefulness. During the night he sneaks through the house, steals the silver and makes out into the darkness.

Soon, however, Valjean is apprehended by the police who drag him back to the bishop’s house. Before the police can get out much of an explanation for their arrival the Bishop interrupts:

“Ah, there you are,” said he, looking towards Jean Valjean, “I am glad to see you. But! I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?” Hugo writes that “Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the Bishop with an expression which no human tongue could describe.”

Well, there is some back and forth between the police and the bishop, but ultimately, without the Bishop’s cooperation the police have no case – so they let Valjean go. Hugo continues the story:

Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint. The Bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice: ‘Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The Bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued solemnly: ‘Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying or you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

While the story takes a while to unfold, we eventually come to realize that Jean Valjean had indeed been transformed by mercy, and he would therefore, from that day forth live his life in view of another’s mercy. Valjean was no longer his own man. He was owned by another.

As a Christian, we are not our own. We can't just do whatever we want, even if doing so makes us happy. We are not self-made people. We have been saved, rescued, bought by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Therefore, we must do what God wants us to do. In the context of 1 Corinthians, we can't just do whatever makes us feel good sexually, we must honor God with our bodies. In the context of the rest of the New Testament, every aspect of our lives are included. No longer can we simply think about our own interests, we must spend our lives focused upon the glory of God and the well-being of others.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We don't always have to have a word

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 80

Read: Acts 28:17-Romans 14:23

Verse that stood out:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God - Romans 8:26-27

Reading the Bible through in 90 days hasn't been the easiest thing I've ever attempted. Blogging about the journey certainly hasn't. I don't always have something to say. That doesn't mean the Bible doesn't have something to say. Or more specifically, that God doesn't have anything to say through the scriptures. He does. But there is always a distance between "Thus saith the Lord" and my words. Sometimes more than others.

Romans is a spectacular book of the Bible. Its words have shaped some of Christianity's brightest thinkers - Luther, Barth, etc. There is a lot to write on in this book. And yet when you read it in a day, it's difficult to narrow in on anything. I find comfort in Paul admitting that often we don't know what to say, or what to pray for. On the one hand, often the world's struggles leave us at a loss for words. On the other, God's majesty and mercy and sheer otherness leave us searching for any word that could capture God.

Our hopes, our fears, God's greatness, God's love, they each defy description at times. Paul assures us, we don't always have to have a word in order to be faithful. Thank God.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's not always easy to tell what about today we'll remember tomorrow

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 79

Read: Acts 16:38-28:16

Verse that stood out:
When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive - Acts 25:18-19

This week Alyson asked me to pull some of her old children's books down from the attic for our daughter whose beginning to read with gusto. Among the eight boxes of books that I hoisted down from the attic happened to be one that contained all of my childhood yearbooks. It had been years since I'd looked through them. Slowly I flipped through the pages laughing at the inscriptions made by friends - comments about girls, and grades, and all manner of things that occupied our childhood minds. How such comments seemed to be what life was all about in those days! Now, I can hardly remember anything they reference.

No doubt at the same time as we were signing those yearbooks, significant things were happening in the world around us. History making things like the fall communism or world altering advances like the creation of the Internet. For the most part, such events go unmentioned. We were either unaware or unconcerned. Even those unmentioned historical events are probably not as significant in our personal lives as a myriad of other events that went unreported - the divorce of parents, the death of a friend, a simple conversation that opened up glorious new possibilities.

I'm reminded that the things we often think are most important in life, turn out to be not so monumental. The side stories, the overlooked moments, the unmentioned occasions, these can in turn become the most significant moments of all. As the book of Acts unfolds, the reader witnesses the birth of the church, really the birth of Christianity, a movement that would alter the world as we know it. At the time, however, it was a side story in the culture at large. Just a blip on the radar screen, really, in the lives of most, including the lives of the Roman officials like Felix, Festus, and Agrippa.

These three leaders make appearances in the book of Acts. In each case, they show about as much interest in the early Christians as we do in an evening TV show. They pay attention, briefly, but then they go to bed and forget what it is they just watched. In fact, by the next week, they probably won't remember it all, their memory of the encounter drowned out by a myriad of other more "important" events. While most of the other events that drew their attention have faded from history's collective memory, this side story of a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive? That story continues on.

Monday, November 8, 2010

As good as a miracle

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 78

Read: Acts 6:8-16:37

Verse that stood out:
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. . . when [Peter] arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them - Acts 9:36, 39

The story of Tabitha is remarkable primarily because she is brought back to life from the dead. The Bible tells us that many believed in the Lord after learning of this great miracle. Apparently, hearing about the gospel from a person who used to be dead but now is alive is a powerful experience.

A close reading of the story, however, reminds us that our lives can have that kind of effect on folks even without the miracles. After all, Tabitha's spectacular come-back-to-life story was preceded by the most ordinary of actions: a woman using her God given talents with a needle and thread to bless those around her. These clothes, these tangible expressions of love, were making a mark in her community long before the extraordinary story of her resuscitation. So much so, that when Tabitha died, the whole community was deeply moved because she had lived so well, "always doing good and helping the poor." They brought the clothes Tabitha had made for them and laid them at the apostles' feet, a memorial to Tabitha's love.

This story reminds me of two things. First, God does sometimes does move in miraculous ways. That's his prerogative. Second, God more often moves in the most ordinary of ways - through the faithful deeds of his people. That's our responsibility. Tabitha made clothes for Jesus. What are you doing for him?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The whole message of this Life

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 77

read John 15:18-Acts 6:7

Verse that stood out: "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life" - Acts 5:20

My calling into the ministry was not a spectacular one. No vision from heaven like many of the prophets we've been reading about. Just a nagging sense that if I believed what I read in the pages of the scripture, I couldn't give my life to anything else. I don't even remember any one moment when I decided to be a minister. I do remember this verse resonating with me as a teenager: "Go stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life" (from the NASB).

A lot has changed since those days. I have fewer answers for life's troubles. I'm certain about far less than I once was. Many of the doctrines I once held dear I now consider secondary at best. But, I do still believe this story of Jesus, the one we call the Christ, is the whole message of this life. That when we proclaim the story of of his death, the story of his resurrection, the hope of his return, we proclaim the very essence of what life is all about. In some ways, even though I understand less than ever, I find myself believing all the more.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Abide. Remain. Be Still.

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 76

Read: John 6:1-John 15:17

Verse that stood out:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing - John 15:5.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is just be. Have you ever noticed that? To wait. To continue on with the slow deliberate prodding that bring success. We want things now and in a hurry. Diet and Exercise take too long to reduce the inches; we want pills or surgeries that give instant results. We don’t want to work and save; we’d rather win the lottery. Just look at the poor careers of coaches and CEO’s. I’ve decided I never want to be either of those professions. A coach is given one, maybe two years to turn around a program that hasn’t seen a win in a decade. A CEO’s success is not measured even in years anymore, but in quarters. We want success and we want it now.

This desire for quick results bleeds over into our spiritual lives. We want things easy and we want them quick. We want the three spiritual laws to happiness. Just implement these three things today and by this afternoon you’ll be a spiritual giant. We think a weekend conference or that new paper back book that can be read in a couple of afternoons will bring about instant Christian maturity. We want the feeling of maturity, without the work to achieve it. Preachers jump on the bandwagon with the 10 keys to success at everything. I’m not trying to be critical, I’m sure much of what they say is good and applicable and helpful, but to me it just gives the wrong impression. Can spiritual maturity really come about in 10 easy steps?

Jesus seems to take a different angle. In several agonizing chapters in the gospel of John, he leaves his disciples with some last instructions on what it means to be a disciple. He promises them the guiding of the Holy Spirit. He talks a good long while about obedience. He talks about his own impending persecution and death and then also about the disciples’ similar fates. Nothing sounds easy, nothing sounds quick. Right in the middle of this last discourse we find these words “If a [person] remains in me and I in him . . . If you remain in me and my words remain in you . . . remain in my love . . . remain in the [Father’s] love.” I like the NASB and the KJV, “Abide in me.” Abide isn't a word we use very much. It means the same as remain, it just sounds slower, more permanent. Maybe because so many of us don’t remain anywhere for very long. Ours is a culture on the go. We want to rush to the promise, “Ask whatever you wish and it will be given you . . . you will bear much fruit . . . your joy may be complete.” We want the result without the stipulation. Abide. Remain. Be still.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Be careful who you mock

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 75

Read: Luke 20:20-John 5:47

Verse that stood out:
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him - Luke 22:63-65

Mocking someone else is one of the easiest ways to feel better about oneself. Put another person down and for some odd reason, you feel lifted up. Who knows what our thought process is? "I may be sorry, but I'm not as sorry as you?" is that what we think? What pitiful judges of character we are. We mock the very Son of God. It wasn't just the soldiers, after all, who belittled the Messiah. We do, too, everytime we mock one made in his image.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We have to do more than read well

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 74

Read: Luke 10:1-20:19

Verse that stood out:
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied, "Do this and you will live?" - Luke 10:28

In Luke 10, an expert in the law approaches Jesus. In keeping with his professional training as a lawyer, he approaches asking questions. Good questions. He begins with the question of all questions, in fact, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as any good teacher might, answers with a question of his own. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The young man jumps at the opportunity to showcase his learning and answers with words consistent with Jewish teachings of the day, and surprisingly, words close to Jesus’ own teachings, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I’m sure the young man bit his lip to conceal a smile as Jesus confirmed that he had read well. But I wonder if the smile faded when Jesus made clear that reading well wasn’t the key to participating in the Kingdom of God? One must also do what one has read in order to truly live. That is after all what the young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus had caught him in his own words.

The sharp, young lawyer quickly picked up on Jesus’ prodding, and asks a second question, “Who is my neighbor?” The question “Who is my neighbor?” is really the question of who they’re not. The young man basically wanted to know “Where does my neighborhood end? Where is that line that separates us from them? What distinguishes those for whom I am responsible from those for whom I am not?” For if someone isn’t my neighbor then they’re pretty much a stranger. And we all know that strangers aren’t that far removed from being enemies. And no one would be expected to love their enemies, would they?

At this point Jesus continues the conversation by telling a story. What initially looks like an answer to the man’s question ends up being an extended opening to another question. Jesus wants to move the conversation from asking, “Who is my neighbor?” or “Where does my neighborhood end?” to the far more important inquiry “Am I a part of God’s neighborhood? Am I a resident of the coming Kingdom of God?” Jesus does this by first exposing the unhelpfulness of “Who is my neighbor?” kinds of questions with the story of a man who became a victim of the notoriously dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Robbed of even his clothes, beaten, and left for dead we find ourselves with a man who has no identity other than his need. Is he a neighbor, someone I know, or a foreigner? It’s hard to tell with all the bruises on his face. Is he a Jew or a Gentile? A respectable man or an outlaw, himself? Without clothes or other cultural markers one can’t be sure. It reminds us that the vast majority of the ways we divide one another up are pretty artificial. Naked and in need we’re all more alike than we care to admit. We’re all potential neighbors, even if we were once (or still remain) so called enemies.

As the story unfolds, Jesus continues to challenge assumptions by warning that just as it’s not always easy to recognize our neighbors, it is equally difficult to pick out those who are the neighbors of God. The two obvious residents of God’s subdivision, a priest and a Levite (perhaps coworkers of the young lawyer) each take turns happening upon the wounded man and each for reasons unknown, pass by on the other side without rendering aid. Did their hearts struggle with the decision to stop or not? Were they just cowards? Jesus doesn’t say and his silence indicates that their motivations for refusing to show compassion were irrelevant . . . whether ill or well intentioned, the outcome was the same.

In contrast to the Priest and the Levite Jesus introduces a Samaritan. For the original listeners, the Samaritan was a clear outsider, a religious heretic, one whose countrymen have already shown themselves hostile to Jesus and his disciples just the chapter before. But this Samaritan acts against type and actually does something good. He does much good. Having compassion on the man, he tends to his wounds, places him on his own donkey, and takes him to an inn where he cares for him all night long and then gives two full days worth of wages to the inn keeper with the promise of more.

Who is a neighbor in God’s kingdom? Remarkably, not the ones with the best theology. Not the ones with the best answers. Not even the ones who’ve read the Bible through in 90 days. No, the one who shared the same zip code as the Almighty according to Jesus was the one who shared in the Lord’s compassion for the wounded man. Even the lawyer could see that. The question remains though, did he go and do likewise? I wonder, will we?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

He's willing

Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 73

Read: Luke 2:1-9:62

Verse that stood out:
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him - Luke 5:13

Luke's gospel spends a lot of time on people who lived on the fringes of society, like the man with leprosy in Luke 5. The word leprosy was used for a variety of skin diseases in Jesus day. Any one of them would have exiled this man to life outside of his community. His request to Jesus, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" hints at an isolated life. A life in which few were willing to do much of anything for or with him. The law even required him to shout out "Unclean" anytime he approached another soul.

How remarkable the words of Christ, "I am willing." How significant the Savior's touch. How restorative his command, "Be clean!" Not only did it bring healing to the man's skin, it brought reconciliation, allowing the man to return to community life. He would be unclean no more.

We've all felt isolated, lonely, unclean before. Many of still do. Often we're unable to find someone who is willing to enter into our exiled lives. Christ is willing. His presence can make us clean.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two invited, only one followed

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 72

Read: Mark 9:14-Luke 1:80

Verse that stood out:
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus - Mark 10:49.

Jesus invites two people to follow him in Mark 10. One followed. One did not. One had riches he could not let go of. The other owned only a cloak and he gladly tossed to the ground. One went off in sorrow. The other followed Jesus with joy. Prior to these encounters with Jesus, all would have preferred the life of the rich young man over that of the blind Bartimaeus. After? Well, at least for one chapter, the last become first, and the first last.

Monday, November 1, 2010

When normal is frightening

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 71

Read: Matthew 26:57-Mark 9:13

Verse that stood out:
When [the townspeople] came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid - Mark 5:15

What makes something frightening? Lots of children found my costume frightening last night, even though all I had on was one of those dollar store disguises. You know, the ones with the glasses, big nose, and mustache. I thought I looked pretty tame compared to the vampires and werewolves all around me. But what do I know. I wouldn't think a man sitting calmly and "in his right mind" would be all that frightening either. But according to Mark 9, this man, this normal man struck fear in the hearts of ordinary townsfolk. Why? Well, just that morning he'd been anything but normal. For years, he'd lived in the graveyard up in the hill a menace to himself and all who drew near. He'd been demon possessed. Now . . . now he sat like a man in complete control of himself. He was a man at peace. And he was scaring the living daylights out of his neighbors more now than ever before.

It's not that we like the brokenness and the evil of this world. It's just, we've grown so accustomed to it. We've learned to live in the midst of evil, even if doing so means banishing those who are the most broken to the hills. We've learned to expect sorrow. We've learned to tolerate pain. We've had to in order to survive. In the process we've so organized our lives around the brokenness of this world, that when the power of God shows up we're left terrified, not by evil, but by the good. Remember, the first reaction to the resurrection wasn't joy but fear.

I don't guess it can be any other way for us, so long as we remain in a world where normal is really abnormal. God's breaking in is going to terrify us, just like any kind of surprising interruption does. The real issue isn't whether or not the moves of God scare us (they will!), but rather, what we do after the initial fright passes by? Do we like the townspeople in Mark 9, ask Jesus to leave, preferring the normalcy of evil over the unpredictability of the good? Or, or do we take a leap of faith and ask to frightened all over again?