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It was one. Just one of the ten. He noticed. He returned.
He always stood at a distance. Never close to anyone, except the few social rejects with him. The “others”. The un-welcome.
Never would he be allowed to come inside. To sit with friends. To eat with others.
He and the other nine had leprosy, a chronic infectious disease that causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. It just gets worse over time, until the light colored skin starts to fall off. Nobody wants to be near you.
Keep your distance! You’re UNCLEAN!
By law, you must announce yourself, “unclean”, and stay away.
So distant. Nobody will touch you.
He could never shake hands. Never embrace a fellow human being. Never hold a child to comfort. Never receive comfort.
Keep your distance. That was the rule.
Then the Teacher came walking through their village, with many followers.
“Have pity!”, he and the other nine cried out from a distance.
When Jesus saw them, He responded, but with the requirements of the law. Anyone with leprosy must do this:
“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (Luke 17:14 NASB)
Sent away again.
But the words of this Teacher were strangely different. It was warmth. There was compassion in his voice, in his eyes. It was like physical touch. How did he do that?
So the ten misfits did what he told them to do. They went to see the priest.
Why? Not sure.
But as they were going, they were cleansed.
What? Amazing! Clean!
No longer must I announce to strangers, fearful of my curse, “Unclean.”
I am freed from my loneliness. I can be close. I can touch. I can get lost in a crowd.
And that is exactly what the other nine did. They blended into the crowd, never again required to announce:
I’m different. I’m cursed. I’m to be rejected.
It was just one. Just one foreigner. A Samaritan. A hated stranger to the people that live so close, the people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.
Just one noticed.
Just one could not be unnoticed. One of the healed lepers could not allow this amazing miracle to go unnoticed.
It was the stranger, the foreigner, the one rejected because of both disease and heritage who returned to Jesus.
It was just one who approached the crowd that still rejected him. It was just one who came glorifying God with a loud voice. “I’m clean! I’m clean!”
He came very close to Jesus, close enough to touch him..
… and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. (Luke 17:14, 16 NASB)
This Thanksgiving, as we enjoy time with family, may we all take notice of the amazing miracle Jesus has done for us.
Though we were once far away, rejected, and under a curse, we have been brought near. We have been brought into intimate, loving friendship with The Lord of every family.
‘… Yet if the gross national product measures all of this, there is much that it does not include. It measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It pays no heed to the intelligence of our public debate, nor the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living, and it can tell us everything about our country except those things that make us proud to be a part of it.’
Robert Kennedy, US Senator;
Kansas city, 1968.
Amid all the protests of 2011, Robert Kennedy’s words are a timely reminder of what is really important for the citizens of a nation. Of course, the famous words of Jesus of Nazareth are most appropriate for the citizens of his kingdom. Jesus instructed his disciples by telling a story about a king that went on a journey. He told them to “Occupy Until I Come.” He told them to stop concerning themselves about when the end of the world would come (hello 2012!) or when the world would somehow suddenly have justice (hello “Occupy”). Instead he told them to remain faithful and fruitful in their life and work.
Ps. 90:12 (Message) reads: “Teach us to live wisely and well!”
Before this New Year begins, stop a moment to consider making these three things your priorities for 2012. I’m convinced by doing so, we will avoid the dead-ends of life, such as climbing the corporate ladder, joining a protest movement, or sitting in a religious sanctuary waiting for the return of the king. Instead of measuring our bank accounts or the days until Jesus returns, we can choose to measure what is really important.
1. Be Creative.
Eleanor Roosevelt said it well, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Invest the time to do that big project you hoped to do “someday.” I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been around the world several times, but I still have very big dreams. So, this year I recommit to getting some big projects started and some smaller projects accomplished. This year, I recommit to closing the door and shutting myself off from distractions so I may finish my book manuscript and seek to get it published. I also recommit to a radical redesign of our student outreaches. By the end of 2012, I commit to identifying 100 Field Projects for student outreaches doing things like volunteering in orphanages and clinics in China, helping start businesses in the Middle East, and teaching forgiveness in war-torn cities of Africa and Ireland.
What about you? Stop dreaming and start doing. There’s no better time than now.
If you have dreams, or ideas that you think would change the world for the better, write them down.
“And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.” Habukkuk 2:3 (Message)
2. Enter the Story
The thought of making New Year’s resolutions is a bit annoying. Lose weight? Pay off debt? If you are like me, you can get a bit overwhelmed with the realities of life. Paying bills, family pressures, deadlines to meet, and the barrage of bad news and suffering we read about and see on the nightly news, it’s too much to handle. And yet, this is our reality. It’s a drama playing out in our lives and the lives of our families and neighbors. Some may seek escape from the pain with a diversion. That diversion may start as a harmless hobby and become an obsession, a wall around your heart to protect you from seeing and hearing the suffering all around. Whether you drown your sorrows with a six-pack of Budweiser, smother the pain with another brownie, or resolve to lose the weight, fit in those jeans, and buy that new car, you may have lost something important along the way. You’ve lost your story.
This year I am committing to enter the story more fully, to listen, and pay greater attention to the drama playing out all around me. I recommit to engaging with the grand narrative through prayer.
“Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Matt. 26:40b-41
When we are wide awake, we can learn the art of storytelling. I recommit to learning from the stories of the Bible. But I want to learn from the stories playing out on the world’s stage, in my neighborhood, and in my family. I also want to learn from the great fiction writers. Their stories may not be “true,” but it’s “truth.”
3. Enjoy God’s Presence and Listen to His Voice
If you are reading this post, you are likely “connected” to Facebook or Twitter and the expanding blogosphere. I’ve found it tempting to get distracted, to check Facebook before reading the Bible in the morning. True, God can speak to you through a friend’s post. However, you need your time with the Father. In order to share the good news of the Father’s love with a hurting world, you and I need to first enjoy his presence. I recommit to time with my dearest friend, my hope, and my king in 2012. I love his presence.
Though I may experience pressures and fears of failure, and though I may not have a lot of money, I know I have a calling from God to fulfill. He’s my source and my supply. He does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called. The concern for paying bills and raising funds sufficient to accomplish all that God has called me to do may weigh heavy on my, but when I am in his presence there is joy and hope with faith to fulfill all he asks of me.
Whether you are rich or poor, we all have the same precious and practical asset. It isn’t money or even knowledge; it’s time. I read recently that time is the currency of the most successful people in the world. My prayer for you in 2012 is that you really live in the time you have this year, that you really live each day before the face of God.
Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you’re best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.
And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!Ps. 90:12-17
- To foster missional partnerships, placing interns to serve field projects worldwide.
- To recruit and place students and staff ready to serve and learn a biblical worldview as a missional strategy worldwide.
- To establish an international coordination office, including guest house, study center, and library.
At first I feel Christmas pressure, a negative reaction to the appearance of Santa in shopping malls. Have you noticed he’s earlier every year? What are they going to do, have him sit on pumpkins next year? I react to the World’s Way trying to press me into it’s mold. That first wave of pressure makes me resist shopping. So I put off shopping to the last week or so, until after a careful look at my budget. It’s not that I don’t want to give gifts; I just want to give freely, and without all the commercial expectation.
The Appearing of Christ at Christmas
That early phase of unholy pressure begins to fade as the date draws near. My heart warms to a different expectation. I begin to hope for the appearing of the Christ of Christmas. But then I notice the World’s reaction. Here in Madison, the Freedom from Religion foundation objects to a Christmas tree on public property and so they protest by placing a fake crèche and a baby girl doll and Thomas Jefferson figurine in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Sadly, those who reject Christ are stuck in a world without hope, a Darwinian world where survival of the fittest remains the ultimate value. The hopelessness of a purely materialist worldview will drive people to seek significance and happiness in material things, including saving the planet.
Then, the deep hope of Christ’s appearing takes new root again in my heart. Slowly, subtly, I find the grace to celebrate the birth of Christ. I realize that the expectation of his appearing is not complete in merely remembering that manger scene, where the Son of God was born 2000 years ago. He has come. He is Emanuel, God with us.
The expectation of Christmas, the Advent season, is his appearing AGAIN. He is coming. And all creation is longing for his appearing. That same longing is for the appearance of the sons of God, the Body of Christ. Not only will Christ Jesus come, he will set all things right.
Because we received the free Christmas gift
Meanwhile, the sons of God, those of us who have received the free Christmas gift of faith, are urged to “appear” with Christmas gifts. We’re called to make things right, reconciling relationships of all sorts, in his Name. We’re called to reconcile all relationships, beginning with our relationship with Him.
We “appear” as “Sons” when we love God and our neighbors. The Christmas season is the time to be reconciled with family, with our community, and with our nation (despite political differences), It is the time to be reconciled with our world. It is wrong to reject the world, the world to which Jesus was sent, because he loves the world.
Receive and Give the Free Gifts of Christmas
This Christmas, we can receive again the free gift of our world and we can choose to love it. We can love the amazing creative structure of our world, and we can help reconcile the mis-direction, the way of the World.
This Christmas, may you enjoy the wondrous appearing of Christ again in your family, in your world. Have a blessed Christmas!
Rituals are among several ways we picture and practice our ideals, our vision of a kingdom with human flourishing. For example, the marriage ceremony is the ideal of marriage. The bride is in white, representing purity, and celebrated for her surrendered devotion to one man. The groom is in tuxedo, honoring the bride with his commitment to love and cherish one woman.
In a few months the two will be settling into married life, with daily chores, and other habits. Some habits are not bad at first. However they can grow in their influence, often with ill effects on cherished institutions like marriage. Shopping at the mall or jockeying a recliner in sweats for weekend football games are not harmful if we are attentive to their potentially destructive power.
In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith outlines how over time our rituals, especially our most cherished practices, help train our desires. Rituals mold and shape our worldview, our precognition of the world. Our daily motions and rhythms, our embodied routines, train our minds and hearts so that we develop habits. Habits are like attitudinal reflexes; they make us tend to act in certain ways toward certain ends.
For example, most of us use a keyboard pretty regularly. So, where is “d” key. Do you know? Not so easy to say where it is, is it? But, your hands “know”, don’t they? How? By practice. rituals, routines, and exercises. It’s not reasoned thought that tells you where to find the “d” key.
Philosopher-scientist Blaise Pascal writes, “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
There are different levels of habits according to Smith: thin and thick.
The thin habits are mundane, like brushing teeth; they are the instrumental things we do. Thin habits do not touch our identity, or our fundamental desire, our love.
Thick habits are meaningful, significant to identity. They are representative of our core values. Often, they are religious habits.
Cultural anthropologist Charles Taylor emphasizes that we understand before we “know”. And we love before we know. Ancient Christian ascetic tradition had the axiom: “Desire forms knowledge.”
So James Smith proposes: “We must shape desire in order to know.”
He continues: “What we do (practice) is intimately linked to what we desire (love), so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know.”
Maximus the Confessor in One Hundred Chapters of Love, writes about the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God; it’s in the acquisition of virtues.
How are Christian virtues acquired? Through concrete practices like confession, communion, prayer, service, etc.
According to research by Bargh & Chartrand, “the development of most acquired forms of automaticity (habits/virtues/skills) depends on the frequent and consistent pairing of internal responses with external events..over time, conscious choice drops out as it is not needed.”
In my final post on this book, I will ask several questions to help us think through the implications for our lives, particularly as habits and “cultural liturgies” relate to Christ’s mission. Of course, for those of us in university life, the implications are culture forming. Look for that final post very soon.
At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. - Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
- Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
- Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations.
To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation.
In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
- In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation”
- Does not imply rejection of other nations
- Not due to special features of Israel
- Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
- Instrumental, not an end in itself
- Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
- Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
Dear gentle reader,
Thank you for your interest in this blog. During the past month or so I have been on a blogging hiatus. This was for a variety of reasons, but it was mostly a season of rest from writing. I’m back now and will be posting at least once per week. I will also be limiting my posts to no more than 800 words per post. This is partly a service to you, my dear gentle readers, and partly a discipline I need to develop, brevity.
So, I will keep posts short and if I need to further develop the idea on my mind I will simply continue in the next post. Here’s an example: I will begin a thought today on worship.
“Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.”
Worship is more than a song. It is “bowing down,” submitting your life to another. The joy of worshipping Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, cannot be measured. Worship is not merely what takes place during the four or five songs at a gathering of fellow believers on a sunday morning.
“I’ll give you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have desired.”
Worship is directed outward, giving honor, respect, and trust to some greater being than ourselves. Trouble is, many of us sing songs on sunday morning, while putting our ultimate trust in something or someone else.
Little do most of us realize, the source of our pain, our sinfulness, and our bondage is in the battle for the mind. We need to learn to take every thought captive. We need to take hold of those pesky ideas that come creeping into our daily habits. We need to take those thoughts by the throat and squeeze hard. We need to wrestle those thoughts to the ground and demand an answer to this simple question:
“Where did you come from!”
More on this in my next post.
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a reformed Benedictine abbot in France during the time of great challenges to the Church. Islamic nations, European kings, and even as many as three simultaneous popes all vied for power in “Christendom,” where the Roman Church was preeminent in the Western culture. I cannot defend all that Bernard did during his thirty years as a minister, however I can safely say that his life’s work elevated personal faith over religious ritual. He called upon his generation to truly know Jesus.
I am moved again today by this personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
Nearly every time I teach for a week in a Youth With A Mission training school, I invariably return to the primal call of this hymn to intimacy with Jesus. This call is consistent throughout the Bible and throughout history. God calls us to intimacy.
When God called him by name, Moses replied, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo. 3:5)
How strange. What made that place holy? The Almighty not only introduced Himself to Moses, but He shared the deep things of His own heart with someone he chose to trust. The LORD said,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
What made that place holy was intimacy; God revealed his deepest hurts to Moses. It is the same when I share from my heart the things that cause me pain. These things are not for everyone to know. If I choose to trust someone and share my pain, it is a ‘set apart’ conversation, a holy moment with a trusted friend.
That place of trusting relationship is ‘set apart’ – it is a ‘holy’ place. When God chooses to open His heart to reveal His thoughts, it is a most Holy place because His character is perfect and His abilities are limitless.
God knows all things perfectly. He saw the suffering of the people of Israel in captivity that He chose to represent His name and bring forth the Messiah. They were in chains and cruelly mistreated and He heard their cries. God felt something in His heart that He shared with Moses. God invited Moses to the Holy place of intimacy where He felt that pain.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul went to Athens where he found an altar with the enscription: To the UNKNOWN GOD. This was Mars Hill, the place where people considered ultimate questions of origin, destiny, and value. Plato had taught his students, including Aristotle, to consider the uncaused cause, the wholly unchangeable and ultimate good. Perhaps Plato was a pre-Christian prophet to the Western world?
The difficulty with Plato’s line of thinking is that the ultimate good, the UNKNOWN GOD, cannot change. He cannot experience anything, including pain. This line of thinking became the frame of reference for Western theologians for most of Christian history.
However, the God who is revealed in scripture, Righteous and Holy, is also honest when He says He feels pain. Scripture says in Genesis 6:6:
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Some say these ‘human-like’ expressions of God are anthropomorphisms, that God is only using language that we can understand in our frailty and limited understanding. They say God is pretending to be like us so that we may relate to him.
If that is true, the ultimate anthropomorphism is Jesus. The ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He is Immanuel, God with us, offering intimate friendship to all who will come near.
Jesus is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being (Heb. 1). He represented perfectly the love and justice of His Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
When Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the Father wept. When Jesus felt the pain of rejection, the Father felt pain too. When Jesus made the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the Father made the sacrifice as well. God knows everything about everyone, including me. He knows every sin act that produces broken relationship and it causes Him pain.
God is all-powerful and all knowing, but He restrains His power and knowledge for the sake of relationship with us. If I had all power and all knowledge, I am sure I would determine to make use of my abilities. The results would be disastrous. However, I am not God. Inasmuch as I chose to break with my conscience and choose to selfishness, I became morally depraved. I was without hope and without God. I was in need of a Savior.
God could judge the earth and all the wickedness, but he waits patiently for you and me to return to our source of life and hope and love. God is restrained from judgment for the sake of relationship. He always chooses the highest and best for everyone.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15)
His invitation to “Take my yoke … and learn from me” is a call to intimacy with Him, “for (He is) gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
God is patient. He limits His judgment, not his ability or his knowledge, for the sake of relationship.
God stoops down to love you and me, free moral beings, because He is condescendingly gracious. God’s eternal nature is limitless from time eternal past to time eternal future; He is eternal in duration. The Greek notion, representing mankind’s highest thinking, says God is timeless. This sophisticated human invention gave rise to the ultimate ideal, the UNKNOWN GOD, who exercises His power and knowledge without restraint.
There is no point in confusing this issue; we either worship an ideal UNKNOWN who controls all things perfectly and is therefore responsible for all things good and bad, or we worship the God who is all powerful, yet patient, humble, and not responsible for the evil acts of humanity. We either worship a god who could not limit his power or we worship the One Moses met at the burning bush, the all-powerful “I AM” who shows restraint. We either worship a god who absolutely never changes, including no emotional responses to the acts of his human creation, or we worship the God of the Bible who responds to our prayers, is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses, and feels the pain of rejection and the joy of new life. We either worship a god who controls all things, or we worship Jesus who makes us free to choose to love him or reject him. We either worship a god who is created after our own image, or we worship the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 who went to the cross to die for my sin.
Relationship with an UNKNOWN GOD is impossible. That is how we have true intimate relationship with a wholly blameless Eternal God. And this is why my prayers echo the words of Bernard of Clairvaux:
“Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
In September 1809, college student Adoniram Judson began to ponder seriously the subject of foreign missions. At the age of twenty-one, he had just finished his first year of theological studies at Andover. Judson read a sermon which was preached in the parish church of Bristol, England, by Dr. Claudius Buchanan. Buchanan had been a chaplain in the service of the British East India Company. The sermon entitled “The Star in the East” had a profound impact on Judson. The sermon text came from Matt. 2:2: “For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Through this brief publication, Judson learned of the progress of the gospel in India, and it sparked a flame in Judson’s soul.
In February 1810, just six months later, Judson decided to become a missionary. This decision was stimulated by his close contact with several other young men, members of the secret Society of Brethren, an inter-collegiate student movement to mobilize prayer and missions.
This earliest American student ministry organization had it’s roots in the Haystack Prayer Meeting, which took place at Williams College the summer of 1806. At that haystack near the campus, these students prayed and committed to to join Christ’s mission to communicate the gospel to those who have not yet heard it. The students of the Haystack Prayer Meeting transferred to other colleges to spread the vision and within three years, they established student groups committed to world mission in almost every one of the 25 colleges in the young nation. Four of the original “Haystack” men from Williams College — Samuel Mills, James Richards, Luther Rice, and Gordon Hall– visited Andover with the simple challenge that came from their own example; they told the story of their commitment to become the answer to their prayers. This changed the life of Adoniram Judson, who became the first American foreign missionary.
Adoniram Judson sailed for India to work with William Carey in India. Shortly thereafter, Judson moved on as a missionary to Burma (modern day Myanmar). More students continued to go to the foreign fields. Over 263 students became missionaries. About 80 years later, this early impulse of student involvement in world missions came into full bloom with the Student Volunteer Movement. This marvelous story began as a few students answered the call to perseverance in pray and corresponding obedience to become the answer to their own prayer.
Walking through the Salt Palace and Museum took only a few moments. It was no bigger than a two-car garage built out of large blocks of salt. Not terribly impressive, but I learned a few things.
My family and I are visiting Texas for a family wedding and a large Thanksgiving celebration. We took a picnic basket and visited Grand Saline, TX where the Morton Salt Company’s mines have sufficient supply for 20,000 years.
Did you know the phrase “he’s not worth his salt” comes from the fact that slaves were once sold for salt? And did you know the word “salary” comes from the Latin root for “salt” because Roman soldiers were paid their wages with salt?
Knowing this use of salt, what then do you think Jesus meant when he said, “You are the salt of the earth”? Just wondering…
I recently read an article by Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine, entitled: “Paradigm of the Prodigal Sons.” In it he is quoted saying, “Truth without love is like sodium without chloride: Poison, not salt.” The proper handling of the truth requires something more than a “younger brother” or an “older brother” relationship with the Father and view of our situation.
Olasky points to Tim Keller’s book: “The Prodigal God” (Dutton, 2008) in which Keller suggests the parable of the prodigal son should have a plural in its name: sons.
Most of us know too well, some by experience, of the younger brother’s playboy life-style. Some are also acutely aware of the elder brother’s more subtle problem: He is self-righteous and lacks joy.
Jesus seems to encourage another relationship with the Father, a third brother relationship. Jesus celebrates the one who
knows deeply that the Father loves them. Jesus models a relationship of love for and patience with both elder and younger brothers. Are you a “Third brother”?
As a third brother, you’ll become
bilingual and bicultural in relationship with people from other cultures and backgrounds.
As a third brother, you’ll be able to move in both Christian and secular circles without ignoring the problems of the former or the knowledge generated in the latter, through common grace.
As a third brother, you’ll read in chapter
seven of the book of Acts about Stephen, the servant of tables to Greek widows, who was neither an elder brother with pridefulness nor a younger brother with sarcasm. You’ll realistically emphasize the fallenness of your people and the holiness of God. As a third brother, you will not seek life’s meaning in the formation of or adherence to a man-made religion that sets up a code of morality.
As a third brother, you will appreciate the Founders of the American republic who fought for both liberty and virtue. Elder brothers tend to forget liberty, younger
brothers virtue. Third brothers understand that there can never be enough laws to banish sin. Third brothers tell the truth but they do not rant at abortionists and gay rights activists. Third brothers control their tongues not because killing babies and killing marriage is right, but because their goal is to change hearts.
This Thanksgiving, I pray for your family gatherings. May you be seasoned with salt and may you be like the third brother, being an expression of God’s grace in the earth.
A Paper written in partial fulfillment of NE500 New Testament Gospels
Fuller Theological Seminary
March 11, 2009
Let Anyone With Ears To Hear Listen
The challenge for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a twenty-first century international missionary community, is to examine what Jesus said and did in Palestine two thousand years ago, compare that to our contemporary picture of Jesus, and then to assess how the Jesus of history informs how we understand him here and now. Chaim Potok’s novel, The Promise, presents the comparable struggle of a Jewish Talmudic student who faces critical questions regarding the ancient texts relating to faith in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities Kelly Brown Douglas’s The Black Christ similarly describes the struggle of understanding a contemporary Jesus within the African-American community. In his book, The Challenge of Jesus, Bishop N.T. Wright offers a portrait of our struggle to know the Jesus of history, his life in first-century Palestine, in order that we may more faithfully follow the resurrected Christ of faith today.
Could the YWAM community misunderstand the biblical testimony and historical context of the Jesus of history? It is very possible. This study is an attempt to reconstruct the original historical setting of a selection of key passages that relate to YWAM’s understanding of Jesus’ practice and teaching of hearing his Father’s voice. Recognizing our personal knowledge of Jesus is not the same as a scientific certitude; we must avoid the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus and the conservative reaction against it. YWAM, an international mission committed to know God and to make Him known, follows the Christ of faith to the best of our understanding in our present day reality in every nation.
YWAM leaders periodically gather from across the globe to listen to God’s voice for direction by studying the Scriptures, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and through our communal sharing. The doctrine of hearing God’s voice is our understanding of the practice of listening to God, which takes place in virtually every YWAM community. Why do we have the expectation that Jesus will speak? Have the Scriptures informed us or have we created some other Jesus through the influence of our cultural context? I will argue here that Jesus speaks to anyone who will listen and obey. I will show that Jesus modeled the way, taught the importance, and interceded on behalf of all nations to know God through the practice of hearing his voice.
Jesus Modeled the Way for Us to Hear God’s Voice
YWAM is part of a long history of communities seeking to translate the Jesus of history into a contemporary and often changing cultural context. YWAM leaders encourage fearless and courteous conversation among Christian traditions by inviting those from many denominations to teach and participate in its various programs. This continuing conversation, including discussions of the lives and backgrounds of the Gospels’ authors and the literary relationships of the Gospels and other source materials, is appropriate for those seeking to hear God’s voice today. In this section, I will show that the Jesus of history has modeled the way for YWAM’s understanding and practice of hearing God’s voice.
The Gospel writers’ selection, arrangement, and adaptation of their source materials portray Jesus in his own discourse between ancient Hebrew traditions and his contemporary culture. The Gospel writers appear to follow Jesus’ example. Rather than remove themselves from the story as teachers, the Gospel writers have entered the story by interpreting Jesus to their cultural context. All appear to agree that Jesus’ followers were to hear and obey God’s voice, which commands all to make him known among every people. Jesus is portrayed in each Gospel as the fulfillment of all that God said he would do. N.T. Wright argues that Jesus’ announcement of a new kingdom was also a judgment against Israel coupled to his own representative fulfillment of Israel’s purpose to be a light to the Gentiles.
The story of Jesus’ baptism shows how Jesus modeled the way to hear the voice of God. The Gospel writers all agree regarding the historical importance and particulars of the event. In the synoptic Gospels we find the near word-for-word account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and “a voice from heaven, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” John’s Gospel adds the Baptist’s narrative, “he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (Jn. 1:33). Matthew’s adaptation, likely on behalf of his primarily Jewish audience, includes the narrative of Jesus modeling the necessity “to fulfill all righteousness” (Jn. 1:15).
Three things should be noted regarding the Gospel writers’ accounts of this historic event. First, all the Gospel accounts agree that this event took place, including a sign of Holy Spirit’s appearance. Second, God’s voice is reportedly heard as an announcement from heaven, as well as privately to John the Baptist. And third, Matthew highlights Jesus’ demonstrated commitment to personally submit to all that is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition. These ancient texts together affirm that God communicates in human history and that Jesus modeled the way for us to hear God’s voice. YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice corresponds with the Jesus of history who modeled a commitment to fulfill the purposes of God in his contemporary setting.
Jesus Taught the Importance of Hearing and Obeying God’s Word
Though often misunderstood, parables represent Jesus’ chief teaching method. The Gospels depict Jesus’ penchant for perplexing and mystifying his hearers with simple, ordinary, yet startling messages. Jesus’ parables were stories of fields, vineyards, yeast, houses, and a “high incidence of agrarian motifs.” Jesus parabolic teachings are more than an effective technique to teach the kingdom. In this section, I will show how Jesus taught the importance of hearing God’s voice through the parables, calling the hearers to obedience with resulting changed lives, which are the fruit of the kingdom of God.
Throughout the Mediterranean in the first century C.E., broadcasting seed, some of which would fall on a beaten path, or rocky ground, or among weeds, was common practice. Probably eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ audience engaged in agricultural work. The people of Jesus’ day knew a good harvest would at best yield ten to fifteen times what was planted. Jesus taught his contemporaries the prominent Parable of the Sower, also found in all three synoptic Gospels , with the surprising conclusion that seed sown upon “good soil” would bring forth a phenomenal harvest of “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Certainly Jesus had the attention of his hearers! Jesus concludes this parable with the adage, “He who has ears, let him hear,” which presumes most anyone could and should.
The Gospel writers also select and arrange Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, including a triple-tradition explanation for speaking in parables. It appears the author of Mark’s Gospel had the help of an eyewitness who was one of Jesus’ twelve. All synoptic Gospel writers intentionally invite the reader into a more intimate understanding. Jesus tells the twelve with him, “To you has been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). N.T. Wright explains that, despite their rootedness in the prophetic language of return from exile, Jesus’ message to his contemporaries is that God is “sowing his people again in their own land ” The explanation Jesus offers is like a riddle. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus explains his use of parables, “so that they may indeed…hear but not understand.” (Mark 4:12) Jesus is in fact judging Israel while “simultaneously calling into being a new people, a renewed Israel.” While this background is not obvious to the twenty-first century YWAMer, the Gospel writers all suggest that this parable is to teach the importance of listening with a good heart and obeying by becoming a fruitful participant in God’s continuing story.
Jesus Interceded on Behalf of All to Hear His Father’s Voice
YWAM’s commitment to listen to God’s voice is not merely for the purpose of private guidance and individual fruitfulness. YWAM’s mission is not limited to one nation or group; we are an international family of ministries called to listen to God’s voice together for the purpose of knowing God’s plans and purposes to preach the Gospel to every person and disciple all nations in our generation and in our varied and particular cultural settings. In this section, I will show that YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice is congruent with Jesus historical example of interceding on behalf of all nations to communicate with God.
Appealing for every person, from every background, nationality, and economic status, Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” The political, economic, and religious systems of second-temple Judaism presented an insurmountable obstacle for the ordinary person of Jesus day to approach God freely. Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” It is into this larger story that all four Gospel writers portray Jesus driving out all those selling animal sacrifices and moneychangers. Jesus was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims, his subversive message and action was to single-handedly confront the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system, which had become an obstacle to God’s plan for Israel to be a light to all nations.
Appealing with the ancient text of his own Jewish tradition, Jesus asks, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be…a house of prayer’? Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel, likely the source for Matthew and Luke, also includes “for all the nations.” The exclusion of this appeal for all nations in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels is a concern, however further examination will show that the act of turning over tables was clearly an appeal for all nations to come to his Father’s house. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told those who sold pigeons, which were offered to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations,” that they should not “make my Father’s house a house of trade.” This dramatic act overturning tables is coupled with his appeal for his Father’s family, which he indicates should not be a matter of “trade” or limited to an exclusive bloodline. Jesus appeal that day was within view of the inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the bloodline of Abraham. Jesus instituted a new Temple (himself), through whom purity and forgiveness is now available to all people everywhere. Jesus has made the way for all nations to pray to and communicate with his Father, fulfilling the covenant given to Abraham. (Gen. 12:1-3)
The calling and the mission of YWAM is to enter this continuing story fulfilling all that is required to reflect the life of Jesus in our multi-cultural and multi-national contexts. Just as Jesus taught the abundant fruitfulness resulting from hearing and obeying God’s voice, Jesus followers may expect the same abundance. And just as Jesus confronted political, economic, and religious systems that hindered people from coming into relationship, including the intimacy of hearing God’s voice, Jesus followers must also appeal for every person and every nation to enjoy the blessedness of intimate relationship with his Father.
The Gospels, especially John, have much more instruction about the importance of hearing God’s voice. This study has been limited to only a few events paralleled in the Gospels. In those events, the historical Jesus demonstrated the attitude and obedience required to hear God, as well as God’s inclination to speak. He modeled the way at his baptism, he taught the importance of hearing God through the bearing of fruit from a heart of faithfulness, and he overturned symbolically every hindrance to hearing God’s voice. Jesus instituted a new Temple worship, constituted in himself and wherever two or more gather in his name, through which all nations are welcomed to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Youth With A Mission practices hearing God’s voice through the Christ of our faith in a multi-national and multi-denominational community. This Christ of faith can be properly understood to be the Jesus of history. Through YWAM communities around the world, Jesus’ words echo today: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Aland, Kurt. 1982. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th edition and Greek New Testament 3rd edition: The Text is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. English ed. [New York]: United Bible Societies.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ, The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Religion;. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. 1998. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Potok, Chaim. 1969. The Promise. 1st ed. New York,: Knopf.
Powell, Mark Allan. 1998. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Wright, N. T. 1999. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
At our church community prayer gathering this week, two ladies stood beside me and prayed for me. As they finished praying, one of the women suddenly asked me, “John, what do you want?” I looked up a the tears running down her face and wondered how I should answer. Before I tell you what I said, I’ll share the vision I had only moments before that question.
As I prayed, I saw the dark soil of a rain forest and a magnificient fruit tree with dark green leaves the size of dinner plates. Large colorful fruit was hanging just beyond my reach. As I looked at it I immediately knew this substantial fruit could nourish a whole city. I asked the Lord what this vision means and two words came to my mind. Before I share those two words, let me return to the woman’s question.
“What do you want, John?” As I watched her wipe away her tears, I said “Nourishment.” I said, “I want to see the city nourished with God’s fruit.”
I told her the two words God spoke to me. “Unrelenting Surrender.” I said, “The path to fruitfulness is unrelenting surrender.” You see, a tree must surrender to the soil. There is no fruit without surrender. Jesus did not quit. He fulfilled his mission. The spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead is the same spirit that led him to full surrender at the cross. If we are to abide in Christ, to bear fruit that lasts, we must learn to surrender as he did to the will of God.