Christianity 201

October 16, 2020

Parable Reflects a First Century Hostility Between Two Religious Groups

Things have never been so divided and those divisions have cut through families and churches. Longtime friends have stopped speaking to each other. Examples of what is behind the divisions probably aren’t needed, but many are related to political views.

I would expect all readers here are familiar with the parable that we call The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33-34 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines.  There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. As I write this, news stories in my native Canada remind me that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype.  But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15-16 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51-53 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself.  After all she says,

NIV John 4:19-20 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you pick up milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be the family member or co-worker who doesn’t share your political perspective.  Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically…

Or your Samaritan might just be someone sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

August 10, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times

For three days (here, here and here) we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew: the Ethical Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount, which we skipped since it is so often covered), the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Reading prophecy, people can become obsessed with trying to figure out “the day and the hour” but it’s more about understanding “the time and the season.”

This final teaching block, also called the Eschatological Discourse, is the second longest and spans all of chapters 24 and 25.

■ If you are able, take the time now to read both chapters.

The second of the two chapters (25) is, in many respects, easier for us to deal with as it also contains two parables, and one teaching section couched in the metaphor of sheep and goats.

The Ten Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegoom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”  – Matthew 25: 1-4 (parable continues to verse 13)

The purpose of this story is to remind us of the importance of being diligent; of being ready for Christ (the master) to return. However, if time permitted I would argue that this imagery has implications for other things as well, such as the teaching on the rapture.

The Bags of Gold

This is the section header used in the NIV 2011, but most of know this as the Parable of the Talents.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey…”  – Matthew 25: 14-15 (parable continues to verse 30)

Each of us then is like those to whom something valuable — here the modern use of the word talents actually works in our favor — has been given and is both expected and accountable to make the best use of those gifts and resources.

But note the text itself goes far beyond that, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (verse 29)

The Sheep and the Goats

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  – Matthew 25: 32-33 (the metaphor is implied throughout verses 31 – 45)

There is a future time coming when there will be a great separation.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25: 37-40 (this passage begins further back at verse 34 and is followed by a very similar set of verses which re-positions all of this in the negative sense.)

This contrast of charitable acts of commission and charitable acts of omission is in many ways similar to the teaching in the Ethical Discourse, aka Sermon on the Mount; but with the added judgment that those who failed to act “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (verse 46)

And that would wrap up the fifth and final teaching block, right?

Not yet. Remember, we skipped chapter 24 just now.

Signs of the End

Chapter 24 is every bit as much entitled to be considered prophecy as is the Book of Revelation and the latter chapters of the Book of Daniel. We don’t always think of Matthew as a prophetic book, but it contains — mostly in this first chapter of this discourse — a number of prophetic descriptions and markers as do passages like chapter 4 of  I Thessalonians (“…caught up to meet him in the air”) or chapter 3 of II Timothy (“In the last days, perilous times will come.”)

Those prophecies include

  • the destruction of the temple
  • the coming of false Messiahs, false Christs
  • wars and threats of wars
  • famines and earthquakes
  • persecution
  • believers betraying other believers
  • an increase of wickedness; lawlessness
  • believers growing cold in their faith
  • the “sacrilegious object that causes desecration” (NLT) in the Holy Place
  • the flight of those heading for the hills
  • “trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen” (The Message)
  • the sun darkened, “the moon turned to blood” (echo of Joel’s prophecy in 2:31)
  • the unmistakable return of Christ on the clouds
  • the gathering of “the chosen ones” (CEB) from around the world

Positive words of encouragement from Jesus:

  • “Watch out that no one deceives you…”
  • “…see to it that you are not alarmed
  • the one who stands firm to the end will be saved
  • this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world
  • “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened
  • “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
  • “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”
  • “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

What can all this tell us?

Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)

But while we may not know the day or hour, we can know the times and seasons. Just a few verses earlier he offers a one-verse mini-parable: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. (24:32)

We can be prepared, unlike the people he compares to those from the time of Noah for whom life was “business as usual” right up to the time God shut in his faithful, and the raindrops started to fall.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this four part series. I’ve never done anything quite like this in the history of Christianity 201, and I hope these four articles stand as a fairly decent overview of the four (out of the five) discourses we don’t hear as often.

August 8, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore Then he told them many things in parables… Matthew 13 1-3a NIV

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.This is why I speak to them in parables… Matthew 13 10-13a NIV

Yesterday we introduced “the five discourses” in Matthew, namely, “the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.”

If this is what you think is meant by The Parabolic Discourse, you’ve come to the wrong page!

The third of these, The Parabolic Discourse, has nothing to do with parabolas, in case you were wondering. Rather it is a section consisting of consecutive parables.

■ Take time now to read the entire section in Matthew 13.

R. K. Bingham, writing at GraceOfOurLord.com introduces these.  The points below are excerpted from Matthew 13 – Parabolic Discourse1

  • Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36…
  • He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts
  • This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables…
  • The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth…
  • The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large…
  • The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it.

Jeff Bryerley, writing at Burnside Family Church’s Bible Study page has some more extensive notes on the latter part of the discourse:

Why did Jesus ask if the disciples understood his parables (13:51)?
The disciples were chosen so that they would themselves be teachers (cf v.52 “scribes”) of others. Jesus was only too willing to give further explanation if needed. However, they replied that they understood. They understood (a) the importance of receiving well the kingdom (soils); (b) the humble growing / permeating of a great kingdom (mustard seed, yeast); (c) the consequences of receiving / rejecting the kingdom (wheat and tares, good and bad fish); and the priceless value of Jesus’ kingdom (hidden treasure, pearl of great price)… [L]ater events showed their understanding was not perfect, but it was growing and would be used fruitfully later.

What did Jesus mean “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (13:52)?
We believe this is referring to both the Old and New Testaments. The OT is an old treasure in revealing the Word of God and pointing to the coming Messiah. The NT is a treasure, revealing who Christ is, how He fulfills God’s promise of salvation and wraps up history with its eternal consequence. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching shows how the old is to be understood by the new. Michael Wilcox, in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, provides further background. The Greek word “oikedespoles” translated here as “householder”, is not just referring to someone bringing out old and new treasures to gaze upon and return to its safe location. The oikedespoles was someone who brought treasures out to be used fruitfully, such as dividing his estate among tenant farmers or to pay wages to his laborers. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be workers “who correctly handle the Word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Why did the people of Nazareth disbelieve Jesus (13:53-58)?
These verses show that Jesus was indeed fully human as well as divine. Before he began his ministry, Jesus led a very quiet ordinary life, albeit “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Indeed, this gives rise to evil suspicion among the townspeople as to the source of his wisdom and mighty works. This was not unlike the Pharisees who with blasphemy attributed the source of his power to Satan (12:22-32). The townspeople declared that Jesus was trained as a carpenter, (not as the student of some great rabbi). Also they note that he comes from a very ordinary poor family. They name his family members including his mother “Mary”, a quite common name. We believe the inference was that he cannot be genuine, that his power was not from a godly source and that he must be some sort of conjurer, an ordinary person contemptibly acting beyond his station in life, in an attempt to dupe them for some ill purpose. Their unbelief limits Jesus’ ability to do mighty works…

Returning to our first author quoted as to why the passage ends as it does:

…The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.


1Many of the blogs we use are now running rather firm copyright notices that are leaving us running scared of quoting material as we’ve done for over ten years now. I think this is a great overview and encourage you to read it in its original form, but I was nervous about simply re-blogging the entire post.

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

December 9, 2019

Who You Are in the Good Samaritan Story

NIV.Luke.10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘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.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Twitter is increasingly become a long-form medium. Individual tweets can be strung together in a thread to present more detail insights. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve occasionally encountered material there that might not get well-deserved exposure to the people who read blogs, and I’ve strung many of these together at Thinking Out Loud, and, as of three days ago, here at Christianity 201.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg describers herself as “Author, Survivor, Recording Artist, Mommy, Wife, Church Pianist.” Her book is Not Forsaken (Good Book Company). Learn more at her website. The link in the header below takes you to the thread itself which contains some highlighted verses.

Picked Up From the Dust

NIV.Luke.10.30 … Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The first thing we must ask is, “Who is Jesus telling this parable to, and why?” As we see in verses 25 and 29, Jesus is speaking to a lawyer who wants to justify himself. He asks Jesus for a to-do list of good works he can check off so he can get into Heaven on his own merit.

Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, asking, “What does the Law say?” The man, educated, correctly summarizes the Law. Jesus replies, “Do all that, and you’ll be saved.” The man knows he can’t love everyone, so he asks Jesus to narrow things down; “Who qualifies as my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with a parable. A man gets robbed and beaten. A priest – a holy man well versed in the Law – passes by the beaten man. A Levite – another holy religious leader – also sees the man but passes him by. Likely, they didn’t want to become unclean from touching him.

But then a Samaritan comes by.

Now, Samaritans were not full Jews, and were looked down on by the Jews as idolaters and sinners (the woman at the well in John 4 with seven husbands was a Samaritan). But this Samaritan proves himself more Godly than even the priest or the Levite.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a better neighbor?” In other words, who was more Godly? Who fulfilled the Law? The lawyer rightly answers, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus says, “Yes, be like that man.”

Jesus is telling this lawyer, in order to earn Heaven he must be holier than a priest and more righteous than a Levite. He must be perfect. He must know the Law backwards and forwards, and not only do everything in the Law, but be merciful and pay the price for other’s suffering.

What I want you to understand is, Jesus is The Good Samaritan. The glorious Son of God became a lowly human. He walked the road of life perfectly to pick us up out of the dust and filth of our sin and rescue us from the oppression of wicked people, Satan, and the powers of evil.

He has put us in the care of his Spirit, who tends our wounds and cleanses our sin. But Jesus has promised to return one day to redeem us once and for all. Jesus is telling this lawyer, who wants to justify himself with his own acts, “To earn Heaven on your own, you must be Me.”

You aren’t The Good Samaritan. You’re the guy lying on the side of the road, beaten up, dirty, bruised, and bleeding, incapable of saving yourself. Evil has been cruel to you. People have failed to love you. But Jesus got down into this dirty fallen world to pick you up.

It’s good to aspire to be merciful, compassionate, and helpful. We’re called to be Christlike, and the Spirit works in us to create good works. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing we do, no matter how well we try to follow the Law, we need Jesus to save us…

[Postscript]

…This tweet attracted some odd responses, including a “church leader” who thinks the Good Samaritan possibly did ask these questions, and a few who think the parable teaches free healthcare. So, I thought I’d do a little thread about what this parable means. Grab your popcorn.

Things the Good Samaritan did NOT say:

  • Have you forgiven the robbers yet?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why were you out here alone?
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • God’s trying to teach you something.
  • You need to have stronger faith.
  • Think positive.
  • God helps those who help themselves.

Oh yeah, and “Are you sure you’re not faking this to get attention?”

And, “It’s a sin to falsely accuse! You could ruin a robber’s life if you report.”

 

October 2, 2019

Burying Your Gifts = Living for Self

Six months ago we introduced you to the writing of Benjamin Moore. Click the title header below to read at source, and then take a few minutes to check out the rest of his site, including articles written in Spanish.

Purpose hidden life

Matthew 25:21
‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

It’s not about you

Rick Warren wrote a book titled Purpose Driven Life.

Which probably holds a record for one of the most sold books. The book begins with the statement it’s not about you.

My guess is that is not what many people expect to read.

You’re saying that my purpose is not about me?

We want the exact opposite.

Especially talking about purpose, we want to hear things like it’s all about me and my happiness, happiness is found within me, or I hold the keys to my destiny.

We want to live like the world revolves around us. And how we live and act prove it.

  • We get angry when traffic is not going fast enough.
  • Unkind thoughts pop through our heads when the waiter is taking to long.
  • If we need to talk to someone they should stop whatever they’re doing and gives us their full attention.
  • Service providers have picked up on this and have given us on-demand information, entertainment, and food.
  • Almost everything has found a way to please our immediate gratification.

But if you want a true out of this world purpose it doesn’t begin with you.

It begins with God

That’s how you can live a purpose driven life—by living with an acknowledgment and conviction that it’s about God and not you.

We have a choice

There is a story in Matthew 25 about a man who is given an opportunity to invest a large sum of money. If he just does the minimum he can at least gain some interest.

Instead, he chooses to make it all about himself. Out of fear he hides the money.

Lost potential, lost earnings, lost opportunity.

I don’t want to be like the servant who went and hid the money. What a waste of opportunity.

But what if we’re doing the same and we’re just not aware?

Is it possible that many of us are burying Gods gifts instead of investing them?

Rather than taking what God has given us and maximizing it for His glory, we have made it about ourselves and what we want.

What we want requires money, planning, energy, and most importantly time. This means there might not be anything left for God. We end up so weighed down with the weight of debt and fear of losing it all that we can never get out from under it.

After all of this, we don’t have any energy or time left for what God wants. So we hide any gifts or talents God has given us behind excuses.

And life goes by.

I think this is the sad truth for too many people around the world.

It might look different for some people but the consequences look the same. All their God-given potential buried, hidden away. It never gets invested and it never gives a return.

It’s about Him

When you start from the understanding that it’s not about you but God, you make it about God and about others.

You don’t give in to fear because there is more at stake than just your desires.

And you don’t hide your gifts, skills, and talents because it’s not about you.

It’s about God and His purpose for your life.

And when you live like that you don’t live a purpose hidden life rather you live with a purpose on full display for the world to see.

 

September 20, 2019

That Pesky Parable: Jesus Asks His Hearers to Look Inside

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Although he is no longer writing we want to return to ForeWords written by Rich Brown for this excellent article. Click the title to read at source and learn about the author’s books.

God’s Grace Is Generous and Unconditional

The Story of the Crooked Manager

Luke 16 (The Message)1-2 Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’

3-4 “The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do . . . then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’

“Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’

“The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.’

“To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’

“He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’

“He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

God Sees Behind Appearances

10-13 Jesus went on to make these comments:

If you’re honest in small things,
    you’ll be honest in big things;
If you’re a crook in small things,
    you’ll be a crook in big things.
If you’re not honest in small jobs,
    who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses:
    He’ll either hate the first and love the second
Or adore the first and despise the second.
    You can’t serve both God and the Bank.

The parable of the unjust steward has baffled and perplexed preachers and readers of the Bible perhaps since it was first written down by Luke. To begin with, it’s difficult to understand because on the surface Jesus appears to be commending unscrupulous, deceitful activity by the manager (steward). The manager has just been fired by his wealthy master for cooking the books. Then he turns around and secretly goes to each of the people who owed money to his master and works out a deal to pad his own pocketbook as well as ingratiate himself to them for possible future business ventures.

The temptation with all parables is to rush to allegorize them. Obviously, the master must be God (after all, that’s the way it works in other of Jesus’ allegory parables). Put yourself in the manager/steward’s place (or perhaps give that role to Jesus). Allegories can be such great fun. Everything in its place. All very tidy. But I think that’s exactly the wrong thing to do here.

Likewise, it’s almost as easy to turn this parable into some sort of road map for Christian stewards who live within capitalistic societies. Shrewdness (the softer term for cunning) comes in quite handy in managing money, and it certainly appears Jesus commends the manager for his shrewdness not his dishonesty. Manage your money wisely and make it grow and thus help bring God’s kingdom on earth a little closer. There’s wisdom interspersed in there, but I just can’t bring myself to complete agreement that is the right or best approach to this parable.

Having been a writer/editor almost my entire adult life, I know the value of words (forget that “one picture is worth a thousand words” quote artists and photographers are always throwing in our faces), how they can express beauty and power and immense meaning, with both depth and breadth. Words on paper, at least.

What I try to do with a parable is imagine Jesus actually saying the words, in the context they occurred.

Here he’s been talking with “tax collectors and sinners” (code words for the seedier elements of society) while Pharisees (important and proper religious authorities) are listening in from a distance. Jesus has just told three stories of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (the Prodigal). And so he’s made the point that everybody is of great value to God (yeah, even you tax collectors, sinners, and Pharisees).

But then he tells this crazy story about a lying, despicable, cheating businessman who has conned his chief investor out of untold amounts of money, gets caught, turns around and does even more underhanded business deals which will help tide him over until his next job and ingratiate himself with an expanded network of other business people. And for all that chicanery, his “master” commends him for his shrewdness. He’s still fired, mind you…

What if there’s a little more to this story that’s not written in words. Something you had to be there for originally to truly appreciate. What if Jesus told his story with a wink and a nudge of his elbow to the ribs of the guy standing next to him? What if Jesus was being sarcastic?

Oh, no, you probably would say: “Not our Lord Jesus. The ‘perfect’ man. The holiest one ever to walk the face of the earth. God in the flesh.”

But, of course, that’s not the guy telling stories to this little gathering of society’s outcasts. People I’m pretty sure could recognize and appreciate a little (or a lot) of sarcasm when they hear it. I really like the thought of Jesus of Nazareth having a wicked sense of humor.

Maybe, just maybe Jesus isn’t counseling folks to go over to the dark side for the sake of the kingdom, to become the Bernie Madoffs of his day (or for my Canadian friends, first-century Conrad Blacks; Black, incidentally, owned the newspaper where I had my first job as a reporter–let’s just say I had a front-row seat in seeing how he was refining his “skills” back in the day).

Jesus is not saying the ends justify the means. And I don’t think he’s even telling folks to be good little capitalists so they can grow their money for the sake of the kingdom (or the church), although given the popularity of today’s “Prosperity Gospel,” apparently lots of people today do.

No, Jesus’ primary point, I think, is pretty much the same as what Bob Dylan sang about decades ago: “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Look at it this way: There’s the children of darkness operating over here. And over there are the children of the light. Which group are you in?

Jesus may have been telling the story directly to tax collectors and other assorted “sinners,” but he knew the Pharisees were listening in, too. And so he wanted them to ask themselves the same question: Which children are you? And, just as importantly: Which children are you when you’re doing the “little things” as well as the “big things”? How faithful are you to God? Who are you/we serving?

 

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

February 25, 2019

The Blind Leading the Blind

The blog of K.W. Leslie never ceases to captivate me. I’ve been reading it for the past half hour; there is so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces. (Translations are his own.)

Can’t see? Pretty Sure They Can

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL

12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

Most interpreters of Matthew 15.14 tend to treat ἄφετε αὐτούς/áfete aftús, “forgive them,” as “dismiss them” (or KJV “let them be”) —when we’re being kind. More often than we oughta, we’re not. Too often we interpret it as “To hell with them.” As if Jesus had all he could stand of Pharisees and their nitpicking, Law-bending, phoniness, intolerance, you name it. Screw grace; Jesus doesn’t have infinite patience and compassion for just anyone.

Yeah, it’s an interpretation which violates Jesus’s character. Sounds more like a typical grace-deficient Christian than Christ.

Yes, Judgment Day is our deadline for getting our respective acts together. And we don’t know whether our individual judgment days will fall at the End, or in the next several seconds once that runaway truck plows into us. But Jesus didn’t come to earth to judge, but save. Jn 3.17 The Pharisees still had time to repent. Many did.

Blind Pharisees.

The bit where Jesus used the adjective τυφλοί/tyflí, “blind [people],” a lot is in Matthew 23, when he denounced Pharisees who couldn’t fathom how their loophole-ridden teachings were ruining their relationships with God. If you wanna see what a blind guide looks like, this would be the passage which explains just what Jesus is thinking.

Matthew 23.13-24 KWL
13 “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You shut off heaven’s kingdom to your people.
You don’t go in—nor permit others to enter.
[14 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You eat up single mothers’ homes.
And while praying huge prayers? This is why you’ll receive an extreme judgment.]
15 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You travel sea and land to make one proselyte—
and whenever you can, make them twice a child of ge-Henna as you.
16 How awful for you blind guides, who say,
‘Swearing by the temple is nothing. Swearing by the temple gold is binding.’
17 Stupid and blind. What’s greater, the gold? Or the temple sanctifying the gold?
18 And ‘Swearing by the altar is nothing. Swearing by the gift on it is binding.’
19 Blind. What’s greater, the gift? Or the altar sanctifying the gift?
20 Swearing by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it.
21 Swearing by the temple, swears by it and by the Spirit who dwells in it.
22 Swearing by heaven, swears by God’s throne and by the One sitting on it.
23 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You tithe mint, dill, and cumin.
You dismiss the Law’s central ideas: Justice, mercy, and faith.
You should do the one—and not dismiss the other!
24 Blind guides. You’re filtering out gnats and swallowing camels.”

“Filtering out gnats and swallowing camels” describes Pharisees perfectly. Either they were nitpicking fine details in the Law, much as one would try to make absolutely sure there were no bugs in their tea; or they found a loophole which let ’em break the Law altogether, much as one would gorge oneself on a ritually unclean animal if it were tasty enough.

Yet the Pharisees imagined themselves experts in the Law. Experts on God. Experts on how to have a proper, righteous relationship with him. People who could pressure others—for their own good!—into following God exactly the same as they; hence the proselytism instead of simply sharing. Mt 23.15 But once they get their hooks into such a person… well, they made ’em Pharisee. Their brand of Pharisee. Hillel’s disciples would make Hillelites; Shammai’s disciples would make Shammaites. And each would bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate the Law same as their teachers. “Once fully trained,” Jesus said, “everyone is like their teacher.” Lk 6.40

So in other words… just as bullheaded, fruitless, heretic, and so unfit for God’s kingdom they’ll never inherit it. Hence Jesus’s “child of ge-Henna” statement. Mt 23.15

Let’s be fair. Not all Pharisees were this type of dense hypocrite. The ones Jesus addressed in Matthew 23 were, but others studied with the Pharisees because they really did seek God—and knew the Sadducees weren’t gonna be any help. Pharisees like Nicodemus and Paul, who sought God with all their hearts (even though Paul made a lousy start of it); Pharisees who went to synagogue just to hear Jesus, who chased Jesus to the far side of the Galilee’s lake to hear him, who realized Jesus is Messiah: Some of ’em were earnest.

Those Pharisees harassing Jesus definitely weren’t. Because they should’ve quickly realized who Jesus is, and followed him. But they were blind.

And a blind guide isn’t on the path to God. Isn’t on any path. Basically they’re going nowhere. Round in circles; round like a loophole. Maybe they know it, but they really don’t appreciate you saying so. ’Cause they’re pretty sure they can see enough. Better than you, anyway.

Blind teachers.

In Luke the saying is right in the middle of Jesus’s lesson about judging by double standards. ’Cause if you have one standard for yourself, and another for others, what kind of standards are you demonstrating? You certainly aren’t teaching consistency. Or you’re teaching hypocrisy. Either way, you’re a bit of a blind guide.

Luke 6.39-40 KWL

39 Jesus also said this analogy to them: “Can a blind person guide the blind
without the both falling into a hole?”
40 A student doesn’t exceed the teacher;
once fully trained, everyone is like their teacher.”

To a degree, the idea of one blind person guiding another is ridiculous. Like Jesus said, they’ll both fall into a βόθυνον/vóthynon, “hole.” We don’t know if Jesus had a specific depth in mind for this hole, which is why some bibles go with “ditch” and others with “pit”; it depends on how badly the interpreter wants retribution on people. Still, tripping over or into any hole might seriously injure people.

Thing is, blind people are often the best guides for other blind people. They know how to advise ’em on how to get around, and do things despite their impaired vision or sightlessness. They know from experience. No, they can’t always navigate others around holes. But if they’re particularly good with their canes, they can. Commonsense will tell you whose guidance to trust. Much like commonsense makes it clear Jesus’s comment is generally true: Blind guides aren’t ideal when you’re trying to walk unfamiliar ground… full of holes.

Blind judges.

Now John 9. First Jesus cured a blind man on Sabbath, ’cause he does that. No, this doesn’t mean Jesus changed the Law and now we can work on Sabbath. We’re still meant to stop and rest. But Jesus points out doing good deeds is a totally valid exception. Mt 12.11-12 Problem was, Pharisees didn’t agree. Most insisted there were fewer exceptions than Jesus permitted; some graceless Pharisees might go so far as to say there were no exceptions at all.

Either way, Pharisees were so hidebound in their insistence Jesus was sinning, Jn 9.24 they refused to recognize him as a valid prophet, and wouldn’t listen to a thing he taught. And tossed this poor formerly-blind guy out of their synagogue because he dared state the obvious: “If this man isn’t from God, he hasn’t the power to do anything!” Jn 9.33 KWL

Jesus’s response to the whole sorry mess:

John 9.39-41 KWL

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world to provoke judgment.
Thus those who can’t see may see—and those who see may become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees with Jesus heard this and told him, “Surely we’re not also blind?”
41 Jesus told them, “If you’re blind, you didn’t sin!
But now you say ‘We see!’—so your sin stays on you.”

Now since Jesus was speaking with Pharisees, and suggesting they might possibly be blind, Christians tend to leap to the conclusion he was condemning them same as he did the Pharisees who opposed him in Matthew 23. Is that valid? Yes.

We don’t know if these were the same Pharisees as went to the formerly-blind guy’s synagogue. Maybe so. Maybe they’re the ones who told Jesus what had happened, and provoked Jesus to go find the blind guy. Jn 9.35 Since they assumed Jesus’s statement might apply to them, it’s a good bet they identified with the Pharisees in synagogue.

This blind guy hadn’t even seen Jesus. Couldn’t identify Jesus by sight till Jesus identified himself. Jn 9.37 But he knew since Jesus cured him, Jesus must be from God, and believed in him. Whereas the Pharisees in synagogue had seen Jesus, but because their customs identified Jesus as a sinner, they couldn’t imagine he was from God. Their eyes might work just fine, or not. But their ability to interpret spiritual things—their “vision,” so to speak—was kaput.

That’s what Jesus’s answer means. “If you’re blind”—like this man—“you didn’t sin!” You used your noggin; you figured Jesus out. “But now you say ‘We see!’ ”—like the Pharisees in synagogue—“your sin stays,” because you’re just as stubborn. Just as grace-deficient.

Blind means you can’t see past yourself to follow Jesus. And if you think you’re following God without Jesus, it’s not possible. Jn 14.6

Blindness doesn’t just apply to Pharisees, of course. It’s true of any person, Christian or not, who figure “We see!”—that they’re right and Jesus isn’t. That they know best, and Jesus… well, he can’t mean what he appears to mean, and they’re gonna have to reinterpret him till he means what they prefer he mean. Jesus gets in their way sometimes. Keeps closing their loopholes, or kicking down their legalism.

What to do? Well, realize we’re wrong and Jesus is right, and follow him. It’s not that complicated.

July 27, 2018

When the Religious Outsider Gets it Right

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead…

I’ve been a longtime reader of Ed Cyzewski but this is only his second time here at C201. Click the title to read at source.

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors

There is a significant benefit to explaining the Bible to our preschool age children: they ask a mountain of questions that help me see the stories with fresh eyes.

For instance, have you ever considered whether the robbers who attacked the man in the good Samaritan story also stole his lunch? What did he eat while he was stuck on the side of the road? Did he have more food at home? Would someone bring his lunch back to him if the robbers stole it?

No doubt the illustrations in our children’s Bible fueled this line of food-related questions, but as I’ve thought of this story over the past few week’s in light of the American government’s increasingly aggressive and cruel immigration policies on the southern border, my children continued to prompt me to look at this story. Outside of their concerns over the man’s lunch, it truly hit home how this story reveals the Samaritan as the hero.

At a time of manufactured crisis and unnecessary cruelty that has been condoned by far too many Christians or simply explained away with “law and order” arguments, many of us have spoken about loving our neighbors.

Are we loving our neighbors if we send asylum seekers back to their violent countries?

Are we loving our neighbors if we separate asylum-seeking parents from their children?

Are we loving our neighbors if our government shrugs its shoulders about reuniting parents and children?

These are all necessary and important discussions about loving our neighbors. There is no doubt that loving our neighbors will have political dimensions because government policies impact real people. Laws and policies aren’t just static givens that must be accepted with resignation.

Immoral or unjust laws and policies that deface the image of God in others should be countered by those who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” It shouldn’t be a stretch to believe that God cares for the well-being of his creation. However, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t approach love of neighbor from such an angle of advocacy or helping those in need from a majority culture position, let alone privilege.

In this story, the foreign man whose views of the Torah surely offended the listeners in Jesus’ audience was the hero. Jesus brought this outsider front and center, showing that despite his national and religious “barriers”, he had grasped what it meant to love a neighbor well. Love of neighbor extended beyond national and religious boundaries. You could even say that this love eradicates such boundaries.

The man going on the journey in this story is nondescript. His lack of defining features helps us identify with him. He could be all of us.

Any one of us could set out on a journey with certain plans and goals in mind. Any one of us could suffer an unexpected tragedy.

In a moment of need, perhaps I’ll turn to a pastor for help, but he may be on his way to a meeting about electing more conservative political leaders and leave me behind.

Perhaps I’ll turn to the leader of a ministry group, but she has big plans for a revival that she can’t neglect.

Finally, help arrives. It’s not the help I asked for. It’s not the help I expected. The help isn’t from the country or religion that I would have chosen. This is the person who meets me in my moment of crisis and cares for my wounds.

As Jesus sought to pull his listeners out of their national and religious prejudices, he challenged them to consider that the people they tried to avoid at all costs could be the ones who grasped the message of the Gospel best. It could even happen that one day their well-being would depend on the help of one such person.

Politicians seek to inflame hatred and suspicion of immigrants and asylum seekers to ignite the racist, nativist passions of their base for an election.

Jesus asks us to consider that our policies against asylum seekers could keep out the very people who may stop along their journey to help us in our moment of need one day. There’s a good chance that many have already done so on their journey north.

 

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

November 27, 2017

The Reckless Love of God

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Often here we begin with a devotional study and then end with a worship video. Today, I want to begin with the song, Reckless Love. The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I had a discussion about this song on the weekend. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; “[H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book nine years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is much in the spirit of the lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)

See also tomorrow’s devotional, The God Who Pursues Us.


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song.  Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a blog post with friends online, and my friend Martin at Flagrant Regard agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of):  to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

Words do matter. What do you think?

 

November 21, 2017

Bible Texts Offer Two Types of Wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,
and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,
and immortality brings one near to God;
so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

– Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (Deuterocanonical book) NRSV

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” And again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.”

-I Cor 3:18-20 NLT

Today’s author is a first-time appearance here at C201; Josh Blakesley came recommended. He is an ordained minister who has a heart for inter-faith interaction and dinner theatre! Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate around the rest of the website.

Alternative Wisdom

The most common type of wisdom in society is what we call conventional wisdom. This is the mainstream, what “everybody knows.” It is society’s understanding about what is real and how people should live. Conventional wisdom includes ideas that are so accepted they are not questioned. These ideas tell us now to live; we are socialized into conventional wisdom as we grow up.

Example: we are told that life is about reward and punishment, i.e. “your reap what you sow” or “get what you deserve.” Though this idea is prevalent in secular culture, it also exists in religion, i.e.: “God will reward or condemn you based on what you’ve done.” Obviously, conventional wisdom leads to social separations, because it claims that some people’s roles in society are more important than others.

A person’s self-worth or identity is based on how they measure up to society’s norms.

At the end of the day, conventional wisdom can lead to us thinking that the reality as we have labeled it is actually the end-all. This of course can close our minds to new realities and ideas.

There are many examples of conventional wisdom. Here are a few:

  • The Earth is flat. The Earth is the center of the Universe.
  • You have to make more money. It is always best to pursue promotions and jobs that pay more.
  • You should buy a house.
  • You should do tons of cardio exercise to lose weight.
  • Keep taking antibiotics so you won’t be sick.
  • In Hollywood: a movie can’t succeed unless it stars a famous actor.

What examples of conventional wisdom can you think of?

To bring this home, consider that many people’s image of God is based on their acceptance of conventional wisdom. God, for them, is the enforcer and the one who gives legitimacy to religious behaviors and viewpoints. It’s the idea that people must satisfy God…

Now let’s switch gears to alternative wisdom—a grouping of ideas and perspectives that are not afraid to ask questions, to challenge convention. Alternative wisdom confronts the so-called norms of society and asks why we consider these norms to be our reality. For example, conventional wisdom says that a person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards. Alternative wisdom says that all people have infinite worth that is intrinsic and not based on merit. Likewise, while conventional wisdom says that our identity comes from social tradition, alternative wisdom says that identity comes from centering in the sacred, and in our humanity. And finally, conventional wisdom tells us to strive to be first in line for everything, no matter what. Alternative wisdom says that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Can you think of your own examples of alternative wisdom?

More specifically, in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is most certainly a blend of conventional and alternative wisdom. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you can find various examples of both. To bring this conversation to its center I would like to hone in on alternative wisdom as it was for Jesus of Nazareth. For Jesus, parables were storytelling methods of imparting alternative wisdom. The parables were not black and white. They asked questions. Typically, wisdom teachers like Jesus, Socrates, Buddha—they focused on a “wise” way and a “foolish” way; a narrow way and a broad way. Instead of telling people how to live or which rules to follow, wisdom teachers made observations about life and spoke from experience. This is why Jesus periodically referred to nature.

Jesus of Nazareth, unlike other religious leaders and teachers of the time, and unlike many of the churches and religious leaders of today, did not spend so much time interpreting scriptures. Instead, Jesus taught and modeled experiential living—the daily experiences people have.

Rather than focusing on written words, Jesus focused on the experience of God.

Jesus and others invited people to see something they might not have otherwise seen, to look past conventional wisdom and conditioned culture to something beyond, something that could transform a person. For example, the idea that a person’s purpose in life is to follow certain rules so that God will be pleased and then, when they die, God will allow that person to go to heaven—this is not the alternative wisdom of Jesus. Instead, Jesus flipped this convention on its head, saying that those who were thought of as the lowest and the least religious would be the ones better off in the end. Jesus’ wisdom portrayed God as Giver of Compassion and not Judge. Further, when Jesus spoke of death, it was not a physical death, but a death of that conventional self—dying to the societal norms that trap us and living into a new reality of transformation, resurrection and enlightenment.

Friends, don’t buy into conventional wisdom. Be different, be weird, defy the conventions.

Ask questions about why we do this or that. Seek alternative wisdom—based on what you see in nature, what you actually feel within yourself, and your own experiences. Seek and develop alternative wisdom, as this will help you see the bigger picture and enable you to get to know yourself better, apart from all the social conditioning and convention.

Give heed to alternative wisdom, which gives assurance that we are truly alive.


Here’s another short article by Josh on the notion of being “blessed.”

November 21, 2015

Forgiveness for All

When the host of the party is outraged that a woman of sketchy reputation is devoting so much attention to the rabbi Jesus, the teacher launches into a parable

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Most people reading this know this story, and understand the parable, which sort of quantifies degrees of forgiveness. Debts do, after all, come in various sizes.

The parable itself comprises only two verses, 41 and 42, but it contains a foregone conclusion of a forgiveness that doesn’t take place until verse 48. The woman knows who she is, the life she’s lived, and her need of repentance. Jesus responds to the contriteness of her heart and tells her that her sins are forgiven.

But who else needs forgiving in this story?

Simon has not been very accommodating to Jesus, he has not acted as a host should, especially if we see this in light of 36 which seems to paint Jesus as the guest of honor. I’ve often wondered then, how this woman of ill repute gets in, but some suggest that certain occasions might have been open to a wider swath of people, not unlike a situation where a British lord might invite the villagers to a type of open house at the manor. By whatever means she gets in.

But Simon seems to have snubbed Jesus somewhat, and his outrage at the interaction between the woman and Jesus provides Jesus with a context to note Simon’s lack of social graces.

Clearly, Simon is also in need of forgiveness.

But here’s the good news: In the parable Jesus tells, two people are forgiven!

At this point, I need to acknowledge a footnote in Ann Spangler’s telling of the story in the recently released Wicked Women of the Bible:

I am indebted to Kenneth E. Baily for his fascinating interpretation of this story in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP, 2008, pp 239-60). Though Baily does not speculate on whether Simon showed signs of repentance as I have done… he does make it clear that the story Jesus tells Simon speaks of forgiveness that is extended to both people, the one with the large debt and the one with the small one, implying that Simon is the person with the smaller debt.

It must be said however that there’s nothing in the text to suggest Simon enters a posture of penitence. But the parable leaves the potential there for both the one with the great debt and the smaller debt to have the same opportunity to begin with a fresh slate.

How many people do you think were forgiven that day?

 

June 20, 2015

The Father Image Jesus Wanted Us To Keep

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago, for Father’s Day — which happens Sunday here in North America — our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

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