Redemption

He was born in Boston the last of seventeen children. His parents He wanted their little boy to have a career in the church. He attended school only two years before giving up on formal school and thought being a tradesman was a better life. Working for his brother as an apprentice, he learned the printing business.When he submitted a letter to his brother for publication he was turned down as simply to radical. Undaunted, he began writing to the paper with a false name and the identity of a middle-aged widow. When his brother was jailed for three weeks , he was released from the constraining editorial comments. His pseudonym said, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and not such thing as public liberty without the freedom of speech.” He left town and his brothers’ business a political fugitive.No one thought Benjamin Franklin would ever amount to much.2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here.”We all need redemption!

Living up to a name

Writer David Roper wrote of an account in an elevator. Three men were quietly and complacently riding down from their workplaces. None of them seemed excited or even aware of their surroundings. For them, the day was done and were anxious to go home. Two floors above the lobby the elevator stopped to let on more passengers. The doors opened and a larger-than-life image of cowboy stared in. He was wearing an old and stained grey hat, a stained sheepskin coat and well scuffed boots.

This tall, rough, and lanky man looked intently through the open door at the current occupants and said, “Good, evening men.” All three men immediately straightened up and squared their shoulders. They all were making a new effort to live up to the name “men.”

Living up to the name. Being a Christian is more than living a life not much different from everyone else. Being a Christian is not living up to an idea or an implied expectation. Being a Christian is straightening up our shoulders and bearing proudly our faith.

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. I Corinthians 16:13

On the Move

The accounts of Jesus seem to be characterized by movement.  He would never stay tarry long in any one spot.  Move, walk, go, come, get into a boat, go to a wedding, Jerusalem, Capernaum, always moving.  

The disciples had been sent two by two on missionary journeys. The teams were now returning to report their successes and disappointments. When the disciples had returned to the Master, they were tired, hungry, and wanted to share their experiences (Mark 6:30).  These disciples had traveled far and upon arrival, they were confronted by throngs of the curious, the hangers-on, and other would-be disciples all trying to get the attention of the Master. Pushing through the crowd they were situating themselves in the little space which remained in front of Jesus.  Each taking a seat in a semi-circle to isolate Jesus from the masses. It was their place of honor; all the others would have to wait. The oral reports were made, duly given in turn.  It was difficult to hear over the crowd’s comings and goings. Additionally, the rumbling of empty stomachs was adding to the distractions.

They had completed the stories of great and small successes and a few not so great.  Jesus listened intently and said nothing in direct response. They wanted to hear how they had scored on their first missionary efforts. They expected great accolades and praise from Jesus after recounting the fantastic things they had done.

“Come with me.” “I know you need rest and a time to recoup, but let’s take a walk first.”

They were already footsore from walking for the last two weeks or so.  Reluctantly these tired, hungry, and now frustrated disciples followed Jesus for a brisk two-mile hike down to the Sea of Galilee. Just a little stretch of the legs.  Besides, it was not time to eat lunch quite yet.

They arrived at the shoreline. The Sea edge was soft with small breaking waves. The soft breezes of the lake filled their lungs.  It was a good place to stop and rest. One by one the weary disciples sat down on the sand.

“Let’s get into the boats and to over to the other shore.”

Back on their feet they all boarded one of the boats and set sail for the other side. The wind was blowing in a direction making the journey longer than expected. Unfortunately for the missionary travelers, the word got out that they were on the move, and the people arrived at their destination first. The slow boat of disciples was slower than running around the lake.

They had been recognized and the whole of the region was alerted. Five thousand had come to see and hear Jesus. Jesus had compassion on them and started to teach.  As the words of God flowed as water upon the dusty ground the crowd was in rapt attention.

It was now late in the day and the disciples had not eaten much of anything all day.  Jesus did not show any hint of a conclusion. and with rumbling stomachs and sore feet, the disciples attracted the attention of Jesus saying, “We are in a very secluded spot and it is getting late. It would be best if you would send the crowds away so they can secure their physical needs.”

“You give them something to eat.”

They looked at Judas who was carrying the cadre’s combined treasury who simply shook his head. “That would take almost a year’s wages. Are we to spend the last of our money to feed the uninvited?”

After additional ceremony and miracles, the five thousand and the disciples were fed.

Time to move again, “Get into the boat and off you go to Bethsaida, I will meet you there.”

I get the impression from this account and many like them, that Jesus is a restless spirit.

I like the sense of God moving around. I like to think that God is already ahead of me wherever I am going, preparing the way, hoping that I will notice him in that place and that time. I also like the idea of Jesus continually on the move. He went to where the people were. And once he showed up somewhere, more people thronged to see him. The presence of Jesus was compelling, and even his detractors showed up to see what all the fuss was about.

Did the foot-sore disciples ever get their well-deserved rest?  The closest I find is in the upper room, as they were reclining at table.  Yet even then Jesus was still teaching.  He goes before us and He goes with us, and sometimes he hangs back to clean up our mess.  God is always moving.

pinogam

The more I study His word the more I realize my own self-worth is not worth at all. I see all mankind in one of two groups.  You may well think these groups may be categorized as the Good and the bad.  But I don’t see it that way. Let me explain

Group one includes those who think they are righteous and the second are those who know they are sinners.  Matthew 9:13. One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need for God.

The common denominator is that we all need help. The catch is that we don’t all admit it. Rather than realizing everyone is in this together, that we are all in need of help, we often prop up our self-esteem by looking at people who do supposedly worse things than ourselves.

We create a scale and somewhere there is a line between good and bad.  In our scale we work diligently to stay above the line. We live our lives in a two-story home on a quiet cul-de-sac, we keep our lawn well-manicured and our cars washed, we stay faithful to our spouse, we work hard at our chosen vocations, we pay our bills, and never cheats on taxes. We compare our goodness to others’ badness and think, “I’m a morally sound person. I’m doing pretty well. I don’t need help.”

All have sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal. We are all PINOGAMS (People In Need of Grace and Mercy). One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need.

Our superficial labeling system guarantees that we will never find freedom ourselves. It takes courage and humility to recognize we are as messed up as the drug addict next door. Few ever get that honest with ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we’ll never be honest with God. We will continue to whitewash our dark sides and flaunt our good deeds, and nothing will ever change.

I guess we are really all in one category after all. We all need.

Teacher or Preacher

Going through Matthew again to catalog the roles of Jesus.  My list is now twenty-six and therefore I thought I must combine a few.  On the list are both preaching and teaching.  So, I ask myself, “self, what is the difference to you?” Both words have been used in the church interchangeably at times. What is the difference?  Or is there a difference?  When I hear preaching am I being taught?  So off I go, on another tangent to discover answers.

I have found information about the characteristics of both.  Audience, focus, language, motivation, and even the form of speech have been raised as the difference.  I have references to preaching teachers and teachers that have been accused of preaching.  Another reference stated that “preaching is much simpler than teaching.” 

Again, what is the difference?

Putting it all together I have found several simply ridiculous ideas.

  1.  Preaching is based on the Bible and preaching is more personal. The inference here is that preaching uses more “up to date” illustrations.  If I discover a preacher not using the Bible, I am out of there.
  2. Preaching is much more emotional, and teaching is slow and very intellectual.  Preaching is all shouts and amens.  I do not think so.  I have heard some great preachers with a very calm demeanor that were simply great.
  3. Teaching has its aim at the head, while preaching is an arrow pointing toward the heart.  But if you ask me to park my mind at the door to listen to a preacher, it is not for me.  Further, if I attend a Bible study that does not bring me to an internal, life-changing experience, they equally have missed the mark.
  4. Preaching is mostly topical and teaching is more methodical and calculated.  I can’t find that distinction in the Bible.  I read the sermon on the mount, obviously preaching, there are great topical ideas but I also see a marvelous cohesiveness to it.  When Jesus is teaching his disciples with parables they all have a specific topic but follow a pattern.
  5. Teaching must be more complicated than preaching. Teaching strains at the minutia and preaching are broad strokes. It has been said, “You can’t preach the tough stuff to new Christians, they won’t get it.”  “Teach them in Sunday School.”  But again, Jesus’ teaching to the disciples was simple.
  6. Teaching is all about relaying information, whereas preaching aims at the revelation.  The preacher is the imparter of God’s prophetic wisdom and the teacher is simply a spouter of the normal and understood.
  7. Preaching is a calling of God and anyone can teach.  Let the gifted and the well learned, ordained be the preacher and leave all else to the teacher.  As if the teacher was much lower on the religious hierarchy.  I really don’t think God sees it that way.

So what is the difference if these proposed ideas are quite askew? In the original language of the Bible, there are two different words and different meanings:  didáskalos for teacher and kēryx for preacher. 

A preacher was a herald or messenger vested with public authority, who conveyed the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave a public summons or demand, or a proclaimer of the divine word. Preaching is proclaiming, is the provision of the Good News. It is the call to the light.

A teacher was, according to the definition, is someone who to holds discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses, impart instruction, instill doctrine, to explain a thing. Teaching is the clarification of the Good news.  It is the explanation of the Gospel. It is how to live in light.

A helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming the Good News, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions. What does amnesty mean? When does this announcement take effect? Does that mean I can leave my slave master now? Will compensation be paid to masters? And so on. At that point, Piper says, you must start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response to the proclamation.

The difference is not in form or in enthusiasm.  Not shouting with “give me an amen” thrown in once and a while.  It isn’t even a revelation versus informing. The difference is between heralding and explaining.  It is about knowledge of the offering of grace and living in that grace.

My conclusion is Jesus did both. Therefore I must be very careful when I profess to either. I must set my goal for each with the intent of the calling.

Motive and action

I don’t think I am a bad person.  I may not get along with everyone and often become the source of criticism because I ask questions that are hard to answer.  I have a friend that is both caring and inquisitive. In my opinion, he listens to my rants and questions because he is too polite to tell me off.  It is not a judgment of my self-worth or even my methods, but frustration with my methods.  One of my favorite idioms is, “One good question is better than a hundred bad answers.”  Therefore, I ask and sometimes my friend almost blows steam out of his ears in frustration.   I ask not because there are good answers or even bad but to make my friend think, to challenge the norm, to overcome complacency in his own intellectual pursuits.  

There seems to be an internal desire to set standards for good and bad.  Good is determined by mostly external sources and the most common determination is the lack of bad.  Sources such as laws, rules, culture, norms, and sometimes the perceived condemnation or acceptance of a close loved one.  Every action is measured by the company we keep. 

In my most recent foray into understanding the revealed intent of God for me, my focus has been on the words and actions of Jesus.  My prime source of determination of good and bad is set by that singular man. He is the solid surface by which I set my level.  I can find no better.

One of the interactions between Jesus and his historical culture is summed up by a question presented by a self-proclaimed culture measurer, “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” Mark 12:28-34 For any teacher or rabbi, it was an excellent question. It is the motive behind the question which draws my attention today. Why did he ask the question?  What was his motive behind the question?  What is the need that required satisfaction?  If there is no motive, no need, why ask in the first place.

There are well over 600 commandments in the Old Testament Law.  Each of these commandments was written to address practically every facet of Jewish life.  The teachers had difficult times to keep up with every commandment, mandate, rule, and punishment.  The question this teacher of the law presented was a very valid question. 

Every action, thought, attitude, impression is metered by a need.  Paired with every volitional act there is a twin need.  There is a necessity, a reason for doing.  The why of the act.  We may well focus on the response of Jesus.  I will save that response for another day. Never-the-less I need to understand the inquisitor and his motives. I want to step into the world of this teacher and understand what motivates, what empowers, what energizes this act of inquiry. Very seldom does an action have a singular motive.  The motive of the questioner must be taken into the understanding of the answer from Jesus.  I can quickly pick at the knot of understanding by examining the possible why of the question.

Looking at the context from Mark12:12-34, there are several groups confronting Jesus. First with the Pharisees and Herodians questioned about money to cast Jesus as a revolutionary against Rome.  as.  Then the Sadducees took their turn questioning Jesus on Marriage and the Resurrection. Each in turn tried to catch Jesus in a logical error. The Pharisees, the Herodians, and then the Sadducees all failed at their questioning.  Each in turn was simply trying to trap Jesus in some heresy.

Most writers on this passage lump this lone teacher in with the other entrapment groups. The teacher questioner was trying to trap Jesus into saying something out of the norm.  He was not trying to show the others up but was trying to be accepted by them. He took on this adversarial role to be accepted by the religious, legalistic, self-promoting, and judgmental upper-class religionist group. He was trying to be seen as part of a larger cultural social strata. That he deserved to be in their company. “I can join in and emulate your line of questioning and be as good as you.” A motive of acceptance of perceived superiors.

Secondly, perhaps this simple teacher thought he could do better than the other judgmental entrappers.  Perhaps, part of the motivation of this Rabbi, this teacher of the law, was to show his hierarchal superiors he could do better. To state a question to demonstrate his superior intellect.  An intellect that would reveal his current place in life did not restrict his upward mobility. To show he deserved to be among this upper class. If he could show them up he could raise his status in the religious hierarchy of the culture. If he could submit a question that was better formed, more effective, more thought-provoking than all the best religionist questions previously made he could show them up. “You guys all failed, now watch and learn.”  Simply it was a motive of self-promotion. I can do better.

The third motive in this gamut of conversations could be a simple academic exercise. An earnest quest for knowledge and understanding. Teachers are always thirsty for knowledge, for new ideas, new insights, new questions, new conclusions.  Here was this new rabbi proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the questioner wanted to soak it all in. A tell me more attitude from a sincere learner. “Rabbi, in your understanding of God, what do you place as more important than any other.   I need to make note of these for my upcoming debates with my study group.”  The motive of learning or self-actualization.

Another of the paramount motives a person can have is for a good self-image.  It is self-awareness of where you fit. It may be judged by the external, but in reality, we are who we think we are. It is only the individual which can look deep within himself to see the good and the bad, the lovely and the ugly. You may call it honor, or reputation, or even “thine on-self be true.” It is a deeply personal thing that calls from our very soul.  As David said, “Search me and know me.” This inquisitive questioner this interrogatory was simply asking for reinforcement of his own view of himself. “Jesus draw for me a line so I can compare my soul and spirit to your estimation of the hierarchy of good and bad”.  The motive of self-worth

Fifth motive for this teacher is judgmentalism.  Being a judge has always been seen as a very important place in society. Impartial, knowledgeable, just, and fair are all qualities of a judge. Here the inquisitor of the law was simply asking the question of the greatest commandment to set a measuring rod for his quest for impartiality.  I have said to my children, “I don’t care what are the rules, just don’t change them mid-game.” Here the teacher of the law needed a stated expectation of goodness. And with that statement, he could count himself worthy to judge others. If I can meet your expectation of goodness, I can feel better about myself and can rightly judge everyone around me.” Judgmental qualifications as a motive.

Additionally, the motive could well be an effort to set for himself a line by which he would or could did not cross.  To see himself as better than the other guy.  I have heard it in the church, “At least I don’t steal from the offering plate.” It was a motive that was and is most selfish of all.  Self-justification. I don’t need God or man to judge me.  I can do what I will if I keep this one thing. “Show me the line by which I may justify myself.”  Self-justification is a motivating factor.

There could have been many more motives.  But every motive is driven by need. The question could have been motivated by the need to be accepted in a new and upwardly mobile religious group of Jesus. The crowds had become larger and larger.  Miracles of bread and fish, of resurrections and water into wine.  “I want to be a part of that.”  “I want to be a friend of Jesus.”  Every society, culture, or group has requirements for membership. The question could well be taken as a measuring rod for inclusion. He was posing the question needing an invitation to belong. “Tell me if I can join you in your quest of God. Give me an absolute measuring rod, so I may conform to your expectations and include me into your circle of friends.”The motivation of being part of something new and fresh.  The unique motive.

Whether the reason for the question was to be acceptance of authority, self-promotion, intellectual appetite, appraisal of self-worth, qualification of credentials, a friend of Jesus, or a combination of two or more, I would submit it went deeper than all these motives. He was something special. 

Had Jesus given an answer similar to those given to the other religious groups, it would have stopped there. Jesus saw beyond all the other possible motives and saw someone genially seeking God. In the Hebrew mindset, it was all about rules and commandments.  When Jesus quoted from the Old Testament there was a mutual agreement. But look closely at this account as it continued.

Jesus made his statement. ‘Hear O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these”.

In response, the teacher rephrased it to include something very important. He added, “these are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  The establishment, the religious culture, the other trapper groups based all their questions on hypothetical situations.  Each question or hypothetical was to provide no out in the response. Each was dependent on outward acts and they could construe or twist into the alienation of a portion of the culture. To them, it was all about the action and not the motive.  As long as you did a certain thing you could be seen as righteous.

The teacher of the Law concluded, it was the motive and not the action.  All the actions of sacrifice, burnt offerings, all the things they did to justify themselves were not as important as the Love of God and the Love of man.

It was not actions that promoted acceptance by authority, it was not actions to promote self, it was not an intellectual exercise, it was not an assessment of self, it was not a qualification of duty, it was not even to be a friend of Jesus.  None of these things mean anything without the love of God and of man.   Hence, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

So why do I ask questions and sometimes make those who hear a little annoyed? Because I need them to come closer to God.  To irritate them to a point of understanding, like the teacher of the law, it is about why you do more than what you do.

Faith and Science: a political viewpoint

The defining difference between Liberals and Conservative has often been proposed as the acceptance of science over liberty.  One group would include a scientific reason for any proposal.  Whether it be Global warming, wearing masks for all time, universal healthcare, wealth inequality, and identity politics, each may well be associated to a statistic, scientific study, authority of record, or cultural norm. 

As we enter the holiday season, mandates have been set as to the size and place of our celebrations of love, thanks, appreciation, and fellowship.  And these mandates are all made by scientific reasoning.

But where is the liberty of free choice?  Why does science seem to overrule our own ability to determine for ourselves a personal response to risk? In 1966, a distinguished Canadian-born anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge.  Science over the free exercise of faith was his prophesied result of our culture. Social sciences, either presuming or sometimes predicted all cultures would eventually converge on something roughly approximating secular, Western, liberal democracy.

If prediction is true, I want no part of it. Give me the liberty to make my own decisions.  Yes, I will be accountable for my decisions, but I was created in the image of God.  And with that image comes the possibility of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.  And all these things cannot be legislated against or demanded from anyone.  Science does not provide any of these things. All science provides is despair, turmoil, cruelty, apathy, greed, and legislation.

Tell me what you think.

Disclaimer

I am reticent to state an obvious, self-evident, and understandable idea which may or may not be self-evident to the all or part of the readers of this idea.  But I am compelled to state a prima-facie case for any and or all that would agree or not agree with it.  Without any pretense or intent to defraud, mislead, or cause to be misunderstood, I state this premise as a perfectly honest and currently within my humble opinion to state. I reserve the right to change or not to change my personal level of understanding now or at any time in the future. It is stated as is and is not to be construed as an aphorism, fact, truth, or accepted maxim. I do so in due course and without a willful foreknowledge of offending anyone who may or may not think differently from my stated point of view. I acknowledge this statement may or may not be within accepted current cultural mores, traditions, beliefs, philosophies, religion or the the lack of religion, conventions or dogmas.  This idea may well be seen from as many different points of view as there are readers.  My objective is this statement does not include the want to objectify, classify, discount or even nullify anyone with a divergent personal, self-conceived, contextual, multi-personal cultural lens. I acknowledge differing ideas, prejudices, lifestyles, inclusion in one or more identity defined classes or groups that may or may not have existing or inferred statements of being or understandings.   I personally do not assume, in the statement of this idea, there is an inferred, dictated, or required acceptance. Further, in the statement of this idea, any acceptance, rejection, deviance, or restatement is wholly the responsibility of the reader. I acknowledge the reader may well have a contrary or parallel or concurrent faith, principle, trust, confidence, principle, enlightenment, or belief;  all valid opinions. Therefore,  I must state without any hesitancy or intent to affront, without any intent to infer, construe, or confuse, I must say that I just completely forgot what I was going to say, but it was going to be profound.

The Intent of God

Fear does not rule my life. I live in hope and great expectations.  Never-the-less, I look at our current place in history and perceive a radical change in our culture.  The number of persons which have no belief in God it at about 7%. Further 16% of the world’s population do not identify with any religion. Both these statistics suffer from the ebbs and flows of perception.  That is not what is disturbing me.

What brings me to a point of consternation is the change in the loss of the understanding of the true intent of God. Theology (Study of God), Christology (Study of Christ), Ecclesiology (Study of the Church), and the plethora of Bible resources all have become entities in themselves without much on the intent of God.  Study for study sake has taken the place of study to discover what God wants. To discover what God’s intent is toward me.  What does God want for me?

What does God’s intent mean to the way I live my life?  What does God’s intent change me?  Or for that matter how am I to know that I need to change?

Maybe I it is just to late for me to embark on a quest for God’s intent for me and simply and blindly follow all those who have boldly gone before.  Or just perchance there is an inner need that has to be satisfied.  A need to know.  And in knowing, a chance to change.

Change for Change sake, I think not.

How are we to assume we have a better idea of how to make over our American culture?  How can we simply say, “my own intellect is better and I can conceive and implement a better way of making a new process to make our culture better.”  How is my mind  or your mind, any better than the cumulative wisdom and practices of two hundred years?  How is my mind, my understandings, my process, my politics, my take on what is right and wrong, more suited to the task of molding my culture than the sum of eight or nine generations before me. 

A politician once ran for President of the United States on a platform of “Hope and Change.” I often see the need for change for a thousand reasons.  Inequality, social class, life taken as a whim, liberty limited by government, and even the pursuit of happiness has hundreds of regulations and restrictions.  All of them were implemented in the name of justice. They all seem to shout for change. We are on the edge of great decisions for our country. 

At issue is the current political majority demands change by the implementation of additional restrictions and regulations.  More kinking of the hose in the hope that everyone will get enough water.

But is this new “change for change sake” methodology, this social solution better than what has gone on before.  Is our United States Constitution to be thrown away just because someone has a better idea? Can we permit the rule of Law to be circumvented by personal fiat?  How does a body of men and women, each with their own agendas, seem to be bent to change our country just for the sake of change?

Help me to understand.

The Study of God and Life