Only One Thing Matters

 

Three scenarios, two Marys, and only one thing matters:

Jesus’s parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up as usual…

After the festival, Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem for their home in Galilee. They went on for a day’s journey thinking the boy was with the traveling party. But Jesus had remained in Jerusalem. When it as discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem. There, they found the boy in the temple courts sitting among the teachers. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his answers. And the teachers were not the only ones who were taken aback. When Joseph and Mary saw the boy they were quit overwhelmed.

“Child,” said his mother, “why did you do this to us?” Look—your father and I have been in a terrible state looking for you!”

“Why were you looking for me?” he replied. “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?”

 

It appears from Luke’s Gospel text that Joseph and Mary assumed that the boy Jesus was mature enough to make his way home within the traveling party and without oversight. Maybe at that time Mary was caring for or carrying another child. Chasing a twelve-year-old boy around would have been too much.

What we do know is that Mary did keep track in her heart of what the angel had said to her before her pregnancy. No doubt she also remembered that she and Joseph had escaped the rage of a king. And, she must have told Luke after the resurrection and ascension that the boy Jesus was “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40). Yet, with such unique events (including wise men appearing) surrounding the child, I wonder why a closer eye wasn’t kept on the boy. It appears that Mary did not comprehend Jesus.

One observation, based on this early account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own parents in this case, feel OK about him. His parent’s assumptions, in fact, had them carry on thinking all was well. But the harsh reality had them turn around and look for Jesus.

 

It is said that Saint Teresa of Avila once remarked to the Lord, regarding not being OK with how he treated her, that, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

Now, let’s turn to a wedding. (No, not that wedding.)

 

Roughly eighteen years after Joseph and Mary catch up to Jesus, Jesus and Mary attend a wedding in Cana. Mary invokes mother privilege when the wine runs out. What prompted her to think Jesus should do something about empty wine glasses? Did she remember boy Jesus asking, “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” Had she seen Jesus perform other such miracles? Was she simply trying to get him involved in procuring more wine for the wedding feast? I assume that Mary, like most mothers, was concerned about guests being taken care of. The wedding invite likely meant that she was close to the wedding family. In any case, mother gets involved…

 

Jesus’s mother came over to him.

“They haven’t got any wine!” she said.

“Oh, Mother!”, replied Jesus. What’s that got to do with you and me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

 

The apostle John records (Chapter 2) Jesus’s act of transubstantiation — turning water into wine — as the first sign of Jesus’s public ministry. The One who is involved with his Father’s work knew that once the signs of his kingdom had begun publicly, that everything would change. It would be the end of a quiet family life. The public ministry would involve throngs of people around him. It would involve choosing disciples from the locals. It would involve facing down all the powers in heaven and on earth. It would involve the ultimate sacrifice, his death on a cross.

Mary did not see this coming. She only saw in Jesus what most Jews had hoped for – a promise come true, a covenant kept, a prophet, a teacher and, a triumphant Messiah — one who came and conquered. The Jews of the first century believed a Messiah would come to save God’s people. Going up to the Passover festival every year would reinforce that thinking. Their Deliverer was coming. It was Mary who said, [God] “has rescued his servant, Israel, his child, because he remembered his mercy of old…”.

The Jews assumed that this Messiah would be a special human, a “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him” human. They assumed wrong. And, when the wine ran out, did Mary assume that she could force Jesus to deliver the goods and reveal himself to the world? Others would later demand a sign from Jesus (Matthew 12:38).

Jesus counters Mary’s assumption on that “Oh, Mother!”’s Day: “My time hasn’t come yet.”

One observation, based on this account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own mother in this case, feel OK about things. Mary’s assumption, in fact, likely had her thinking all will be well if Jesus just does what she asked of him. Wine glasses were empty and more wine was needed immediately for the celebration to continue. An honest need. But, more wine depended on the Father. Listening to the Father was the only thing that mattered to Jesus.

 

Now, let’s turn to a third scenario found in Luke’s Gospel account 10: 38-42.

 

On their journey, Jesus came into a village. There was a woman there named Martha, who welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the master’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen.

“Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

 

A Proverbs 31 woman/host has major setbacks when that woman is determined to lord her peace of mind over another. That was what Martha sought to do to Mary. Martha assumed that her demands would be met. She assumed that the Lord would put Mary in her place – the woman’s space. I think it is safe to assume that Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to Jesus as he talked to Mary’s brother Lazarus, as they sat together in the men’s space.

We are told in John’s gospel account chapter 11: 2 that this Mary was the same Mary who would anoint the feet of Jesus with myrrh and then wipe them with her hair. Listening to Jesus and then responding to him with extravagant love defines the ultimate woman and more so than Proverbs 31 could ever do. 

 

Assumptions about Jesus can make us frantic, as when Joseph and Mary, after thinking that Jesus was under control, had to turn around and look for their missing child. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fret, as when the wine runs out at a wedding feast. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fussy when we make a demand for satisfaction. Discard assumptions about Jesus. Turn off social media. Turn off noise.

There is only one thing that matters and we see it restated in the three scenarios above. First, Mary and Joseph find the missing boy Jesus instructing the teachers in the temple. Those who heard the boy Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. Second, Mary tells the servants at the wedding to listen to Jesus. And finally, Jesus honors Mary because she is listening to him.

If you think you know what Jesus would do, you don’t. You begin to know him as you listen to him and not to your assumptions about him. To listen to him means to be at his feet without your Smartphone assumptions. Choose “the best part” and not frantic fussy fretting. Choose the one thing that matters and you won’t lose it, empty it and, it’s not going to be taken away from you.

Slippery Slopes are Not Defensible Positions

The following Tweet appeared in my Twitter feed. As one can see, the Tweet is not a response to a particular person. Rather it is a scourging of the topics discussed in a Tennessee Sunday School, as noted in the article posted. It is also obvious that the Tweet was meant for Janet Mefferd’s followers. My response was to the content of the Tweet and its implications for those who call Jesus “Lord”.

There were several responses to my reply, including, “Total capitulation. So sad professing Christians think they need to do this.” It was if I had succumbed to the world and had become a carnal Christian in accepting a scientific understanding of creation.

One woman had a most vehement disagreement with me regarding my use of science. She has since blocked me.

Her arguments against my positing evolutionary creation were not arguments at all. Rather, she quoted Scripture verses denouncing me as promoting false doctrine and 1 Cor. 1:27:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

And in keeping with Mefferd, she also posted slippery slope warning diatribes denouncing evolutionary creation as the road to outer Darwinism.

This woman’s responses implied that since I held to a science-explained creation that I did not know Scripture and that I was not a Rock-solid Fundamentalist and therefore already on a slippery slope. She would only accept a literal 6-day (24 hour/day) creation reading of Genesis. Here is one of my responses to her:

To allay misunderstanding, I was not trying to win an argument when I posted my replies. I did state my position in my initial response. I did try to further discussion of the science versus Scripture and Faith issue that seems so prevalent in Christian circles. I did try to jump start a conversation about evolutionary creation. And, in so doing I implied that it is appropriate to discuss science in church. I also felt that I had to stand up for scientific study, as nature is God’s revelation to us along with Scripture.

But, the minds of those who replied were in lock-down mode. They would not hear of such a thing. They became defensive. And, that is the implication and force of Tweets like the above: to shut down any thinking that comes from outside the narrative and to reinforce the closely held narrative. I am reminded of Plato’s cave allegory (see below). The mind-shackled use the shadows – illusions- on a cave wall as their shared narrative.

As anyone can observe today, groups on both Right and Left have their hard-drive narratives and fire-walls set up against any knowledge that would corrupt their narrative. Offensively, ultraconservative Fundamentalists use dictatorial piety with a formatted Sola Scriptura narrative to counter-spam the ultraliberal dictatorial piety of Progressives and their formatted Sola Pretium Affectionis (Values) narratives. And, vice versa.

Both groups use virtue signaling in social media to reinforce their narrative to their followers and to ward off criticism of and debate about their narrative. Both groups use slippery slope scenarios to buttress their narratives against challenges. Both group’s narrative reinforcements are those whose personal version of God is one created in their own image. As such, both group’s absolutist narratives allow one to presume to know all there is about an issue. Both group’s narratives are for the simple-minded: the narratives make no demands of you; the narratives require no effort or thought; the narrative only requires that you repeat its words over and over. But, as someone also observed, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” (Chaucer, 1374).

 

You can go to a church week after week and have your narrative reinforced. Or, you can go to church and have your narrative brought out into the open and challenged. Jesus challenged hard-wired fire-wall protected absolutist dictatorial narratives. Disciples followed to hear more. Others walked away and back to their safe space narrative cave.

In the world where a Christian’s replies instantly equate my inquiry and debate to heresy and to precipitous slippery slope scenarios or to Fundamentalism, nothing is ventured and nothing is gained. Fear of the unknown is what is being defended against with such rebuffing Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. The Gospel was NOT being defended or upheld for all to see with such dismissive Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. And that’s because the Gospel is not cave-ridden. Those who embrace the Gospel walk in the light. But for some, tweeting from the safe space narrative cave about slippery slopes outside somewhere is all that matters.

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,

for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

 

 As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

 

~~~

Some things to ponder:

Allegory of the Cave

 

“Despite the efforts of a few evangelical intellectuals like B. B. Warfield and James Orr, to work patiently through the mid-level science literature of the day, evangelicalism as a whole relied more on popular argumentation aimed at democratic audiences, rather than on discriminating advanced learning, to counter the anti -Christian uses of modern science.  Powerful social forces fueled this populist approach.”

-Mark Noll, Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview

“The fact that the human and chimpanzee genomes exhibit striking synteny with only subtle differences in genomic organization has been known for some time, based on chromosome staining and molecular hybridization techniques.The main differences between human and chimpanzee chromosome sets are nine intrachromosomal inversions and one chromosome fusion. These observations have now been confirmed at the molecular level by whole-genome sequencing of humans and chimpanzees.”

-Dennis R. Venema, Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes

“Now we Reformed Christians are wholly in earnest about the Bible. We are people of the Word; Sola Scriptura is our cry; we take Scripture to be a special revelation from God himself, demanding our absolute trust and allegiance. But we are equally enthusiastic about reason, a God-given power by virtue of which we have knowledge of ourselves, our world, our past, logic and mathematics, right and wrong, and God himself; reason is one of the chief features of the image of God in us. And if we are enthusiastic about reason, we must also be enthusiastic about contemporary natural science, which is a powerful and vastly impressive manifestation of reason. So this is my question: given our Reformed proclivities and this apparent conflict, what are we to do? How shall we think about this matter?”

-Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” [1 Timothy 1.7]

-Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) (emphasis mine)

From Rage to Rage or Age to Age the Same

 

It seems that for much of the Evangelical Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns getting people saved from hell and then setting them on the path of a fundamentalist political narrative. The right people must be elected by the right people to protect the rights of the right people. For heaven’s sake.

It also seems that for the Progressive Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns saving folks from material concerns and then discipling them to be a fellow traveler in the Long March toward cultural hegemony where individuated rights reign supreme. For social justice’s sake.

Are the two narratives ascribed above oversimplifications? Judging by their social media content I would say they are not. And though there are narrative differences, both groups do let their narrative identify them politically. Both groups wrangle for power over the other to gain narrative advantage. Both group’s worldview is refracted by their narrative window. Both groups tend toward stream of consciousness narratives: reacting to events as they go along and providing their own context. And yet, as I read Scripture, I find that the Christian world has already been defined by the all-encompassing Kingdom of God narrative handed down to us.

As there is one God, there is one narrative. From the beginning Word (John 1), God gave His people the storyline. His people, for the most part, were and still are the characters in that storyline. His people have and still must walk in that narrative because they and us are held accountable for what we do with that imperishable narrative. So that there was no doubt as to what narrative eclipses all others, Jesus told his disciples, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never, ever disappear”. The Kingdom of God people narrative was not going away with a vote or a change in government or with new laws passed.

 

What is that narrative handed down to the Kingdom of God people to walk in? The account was written down by several of God’s chosen people. Israel was to be the personification of the narrative, as the creation and covenant people, a people holy and separated unto God and for His glory. What characterizes the Kingdom of God people and their narrative? There are several aspects.

They are monotheistic. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and usually the first scripture a Jewish child learns: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” Israel was strictly warned by God to not make idols of false gods or to make any image of God.

The Kingdom of God people come to understand that God is both personal and transcendent. The narrative they pass onto to their children is that not only is God the Creator but that He is also personally involved with his creation. The Kingdom of God narrative does not include deism.

God’s Kingdom people are temple-centered people. The temple is where the personal-infinite God dwells with man. The temple is where heaven and earth come together.

God’s people rely on God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s righteousness. God made promises to Abraham and to David. His people expect those promises to be fulfilled within the same narrative.

God’s Kingdom people are Exodus people. They know what God had done for their ancestors. They expect God to take them out from under the rulers of this world.

God’s Kingdom people are the Messiah people. They expect a Savior to take his place over the rulers of this world and bring ultimate justice. The Messiah – God’s faithfulness to His covenant or God’s righteousness – is their hope (Gal. 5:5).

God’s Kingdom people are eschatological people. They believe that God would ultimately put the world right and restore His creation, and dwell with man in His temple forever.

God’s Kingdom people are Holy God people. They were given the Commandments and Laws of a Holy God. And though Wisdom tells us (Eccl. 1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun”, ‘Enlightened’ Post-modernist Progressives seek to rewrite God’s moral laws to fit an Epicurean culture. But, the Kingdom of God narrative of a holy God has never changed.

 

In previous posts I have given you accounts of how the Kingdom of God people narrative has played out in some character’s lives. The accounts of Joseph, Esther and Daniel provide us, the Kingdom of God people, with an understanding of how to live in this world but not like this world. In other words, how to live out the Kingdom of God narrative. Their stories relate confrontations between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. 

Because Joseph and Esther and Daniel embraced the Kingdom of God narrative as their own, they held fast to their separate-from-the-world ways. Each character knew that God was not off somewhere and uninvolved in their situation. From the accounts of their ancestors, each understood God to be a personal and yet transcendent God. Their desire for God’s dwelling place with man is at the center of their lives, even in exile. And, each knew that God would ultimately put things right. As such, none of the three wavered into other narratives to secure power or a safe space or to receive praise from men.

Esther points out the evil.

Their accounts relate how the Kingdom of God people can live in the most adverse circumstances and yet live out the Kingdom of God people narrative. Each faced life and death choices. Each came through the fire to be found faithful. So, they were rewarded in a way that gave God the glory.

In each of their stories, Joseph, Esther and Daniel, were chosen out from their lowly and displaced estate and placed into exalted positions. They were chosen based on their wisdom, insight and character qualities in line with the Kingdom of God people narrative. 

 

The only narrative that matters is the Kingdom of God narrative. All other narratives will pass away. Those who call Jesus “Lord” will walk in the Kingdom of God narrative. It is their storyline. If they don’t, they will likely receive a written message from the First and Last Narrator:

 

“Now write what you see, both the things that already are, and also the things that are going to happen afterward.” The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:19

Joseph, Esther and Daniel:

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) Meet the Hangman, Part One

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Two

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Three

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Four, Conclusion

All the Difference in the World

The Grace Given to Each of Us

 

My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is, the purpose that’s been hidden from the very beginning of the world in God who created all things. This is it: that God’s wisdom, in all its rich variety, was to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places – through the church.” The Apostle Paul, Ephesian 3: 9 & 10

 

This weekend is our church’s 150th anniversary of the chapel. The church: St. Mark’s, named after the Evangelist.

St. Mark, the Evangelist

The Anniversary booklet states,

St. Mark’s origins go back to the earliest days of Geneva, around 1830, when Episcopal services were held in a log house belonging to Mrs. Charity Herrirngton, which stood at what is now State Street near River Lane. These were the first religious services held in Geneva [IL].

And this,

Early in 1868 plans were drawn and a contractor selected to erect a church in the Gothic style, built of local riverstone with limestone sills and hood moldings, to seat 250….

There is much more of St. Mark’s history to recount. But here, I’ll share my St. Mark’s experience and the photos I shot today after the 8:00 service.

 

I came to St. Mark’s after moving into the area. At the same time, I was moving away from attending Bible churches. Raised in Evangelical churches and then attending them for years as an adult, I became desirous of a higher church setting, one that honored the beauty of words, of music, of architecture and the sacred. The Bible churches and many others, it seemed to me, were becoming more and more like the surrounding culture in their desire to be relevant.

I like Anglicanism’s emphasis on the Word and Sacrament along with the informing elements of tradition (the practices of the historical church) and reason (involving the intellectual). I like how the liturgy (worship hymns, reading of Scripture, offering, sermon, confession, the Creed, the Peace) points to the apex of the service – the Eucharist. In the churches I attended previously the service is centered around Scripturally illiterate sermons.

The words of The Book of Common Prayer have a stately beauty and sacredness to them. The wording should be so. We are petitioning royalty. Who in turn, points me to the Eucharist — the REAL Presence of Jesus Christ offered to me each week. It is the main reason I attend St. Mark’s.

The church has been a tremendous blessing to me over the almost eleven years I have attended. And, that is why I also must mention the many good people of St. Marks. They have been generous with their grace towards me. What they have received they have passed on to me.

One last word. I have spent many a time alone in St. Mark’s Chapel. This occurs during the Good Friday night vigil. I sign up for an hour alone before the cross, keeping watch. As such, it is a sacred time at 4:00 am. It is my time to come away and meditate on the cross. I come away from the chapel with a gift of grace, given to me “according to the measure the king used when he was distributing gifts. That’s why it says…

When he went up on high

He led bondage itself into bondage

And he gave gifts to people.

(Ephesians 4:7 & 8)

 

St. Marks’ is a gift of grace to me. Rulers and authorities would be wise to take note.

Pentecost mural by Louis Frederick Grell (1919)

Burning Bush

 

~~~
Imagine 150 years of marriages and baptisms and confirmations and funerals and friendships and giving, and the Eucharist, and witness for Christ to the community. Imagine the Kingdom Continuum.

All the Difference in the World

If anyone had a reason to be politically correct it was the deported and exiled Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. But, confronted not with a raging Twitter feed or a riotous SJW protest but with life or death choices, they acted in full confidence in who they were.

They were the chosen people of God. They knew what they were about even when their names were changed to Babylonian names. Chosen once again out of the Jewish exiles because of their unique qualities, these four were to become advisors to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It was during the start of their three-year training that Daniel balked at eating the royal food.

The food may have been offered to idols. Eating the food may have gone against their ritual purity. Most likely, saying no to the food after being given Babylonian names would have been a political statement: “We will not let you redefine us as Babylonians”.

 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. – Daniel chapter one

 

You know the story. Though it would have been politically correct to eat the King’s food, Daniel and the others knew that if you drink the King’s wine, you sing the King’s songs. They instead chose to be faithful to God even in this small matter. So, God gave them greater things to be faithful in. One of those greater things was a smelting furnace.

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel chapter three

 

Though bowing to the image would have been politically correct, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have nothing to do with worshiping anything other than the one true God. So, because of the decree, they were thrown into a seven-times stoked blazing furnace. This furnace is likely the oven where metals were refined to make idols like the “image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” But that kind of heat is nothing to the Creator of the Big Bang, especially with regard to his faithful ones. In the heat of the moment, the true God was revealed:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel chapter three

 

 

In Daniel chapter six we read that Daniel, a newly appointed satrap (basically, an overseer of a district) was the focus of the other satrap’s and their social justice jealousy. The satraps didn’t like it that Daniel had qualities and favor they didn’t possess. So, they devised a devilish edict formulated to depose Daniel from King Darius’ good pleasure: “the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.”

You know the story. Being thrown into the lion’s den is something Daniel’s Creator God could also handle. The Lord God shut the lions’ mouths and the mouths of the ends-justifying-the-means SJWs.

By now you should be able to glimpse that the book of Daniel provides us with, among its telescoped history, its dreams and interpretations, an understanding of how God’s people are to live in this world and under its rulers. God’s chosen appear different, peculiar, to those onlookers standing outside the furnace and outside our place of prayer and outside the lion’s den. The reason the world does not know them is that it does not know the One True God.

 

 

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 6), Paul pleads with the readers to see what he and others have suffered to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. He lists the adversities they encountered. He tells them that the hardships and their Christian character throughout are confirmed “by speaking the truth, by God’s power”.

The Corinthians Christians certainly may have presumed that because Paul and the others faced so many adversities and challenges, that they could off in their messaging. Paul wanted them to know that their messaging, though it kicked against the goads of the Roman empire (“Jesus is Lord”) and popular opinion (“food for the stomach, the stomach for food”), was not an attempt at politically correct virtue signaling. The message cost him and others dearly. The grace of his Lord cost him the cross. At the beginning of chapter six Paul appeals to the Corinthians saying, “when you accept God’s grace, don’t let it go to waste! Paul was not talking about cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later sum up cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

 

 

Unlike many church leaders today, Paul, Apostle and pastor, made sure his message and his character were one and the same. Otherwise, the Gospel would be compromised. Again, Corinthians six:

We put no obstacles in anybody’s way, so that nobody will say abusive things about our ministry. …

We have been wide open in our speaking to you, my dear Corinthians! Our heart has been open wide! There are no restrictions at our end…

Don’t be drawn into partnerships with unbelievers. What kind of sharing can there be, after all, between justice and lawlessness? What kind of partnership can there be between light and darkness? What kind of harmony can the Messiah have with Beliar? What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What kind of agreement can there be between God’s temple and idols? We are the temple of the living God, you see, just as God said:

I will live among them and walk about them;

I will be their God, and they will be my people.

So come out from the midst of them,

And separate yourselves, says the Lord:

No unclean thing must you touch.

Then I will receive you gladly,

And I will be to you as a father,

And you will be to me as sons and daughters,

Says the Lord, the Almighty.

 

 

So, my beloved people, with promises like these, let’s make ourselves clean from everything that defiles us, outside and inside, and let’s become completely holy in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6: 1-7-1)

 

Reading this passage, do you think that Paul was talking about how the church should become acculturated to better evangelize? Do you think Paul was talking about the church assimilating the Post-modern New Age Epicurean culture surrounding it?  Do you think Paul was talking here was about being inclusive? About diversity? About unleashing one’s feelings as the criteria for love?

The words Paul wrote to the Corinthian church came from the narrative God gave to his people long ago – to be a people unto himself. This is the same narrative that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah understood and honored. In the passage Paul references the prophet Isaiah. His language is priestly temple language. Holiness is to be narrative of God’s people. Holiness separates them from an ego-centric life full of earthly desires to be a nation for God. Holiness is an upward and outward movement of the soul towards the Father, whereas narcissism, promoted in the world since the beginning of our time, is just the opposite, focusing the soul inward and downward towards the baser elements.

The Apostle Peter wrote in the same fashion (2:9-10):

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you were “no people; now you are “god’s people.” Once you had not received mercy; now you have received mercy.

 

 

 

There are several abhorrent notions going around in churches that rubber stamp Jesus on their narratives: all religions seek the same God and are equal in that respect; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor, so advocating for a social gospel akin to Marxism is acceptable to God; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor and not judging so you must love sinners and accept their values; America is a Christian nation; our priority as Christians is to make a just and fair world; illegal immigration is an acceptable form of lawlessness; homosexuality is just another version of human sexuality. Sex/gender are not binary; prayer doesn’t feed the thousands, Progressivism’s social gospel does; prayer is a nice sentiment but action and advocacy move mountains; democracy is the best and desired form of government for everyone; revealed values trump revealed truth, as values are based one’s sincere feelings.

That is the short list.

 

As a teenager I read Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles. As I read, I encountered a living and vibrant church whose members were not politically motivated and who demanded nothing of the Roman empire other than for it to honor its laws and to maintain order. The church was the church and the state was the state. The early church was not democratic. Leaders were Godly men. Prayer, prayer, prayer, reading Scripture, prayer, the words of the Apostles, preparing for the return of the Lord, and, prayer, was the culture for the early church.

The early church did not push for Constantinianism. The church knew that governments were in place, by God’s will, to provide order. They prayed for those in authority. They had their own political reality.

The early Christians only political motivation, their only ideology came down to a personal statement: “Jesus is Lord”. Everything and everyone fell underneath his jurisdiction, since all things were created for Jesus and for his good pleasure. The early Kingdom Christians also anticipated and prepared in holiness for the Lord’s return to fully establish his kingdom on earth. Today’s Christians anxiously await the election of their candidate to establish their kingdom of values.

As the world asked, “What is truth?” the early Christians put on Christ and became Truth incarnate. The church became a community of Truth. The embodied Truth suffered persecution and martyrdom just as their Lord told them they would. The world looked on and saw that the early Christians were turning the world upside down. They were making all the difference in the world. Today’s Christians are letting the world turn them upside down and that is making all the difference in the world, too.

 

 

 

As I finished writing this post, I heard the Lord say to me, “Write these words: ‘I am with you and will never forsake you.’”

 

~~~

Here are two church position statements I came across this past week. I endorse their message.

Adapted from American Anglican Council’s “A Place to Stand

FOR TRUE INCLUSIVITY

In grateful response to Christ Jesus, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we will extend the welcome of the Church to every person, regardless of race, sex, social or economic status, sexual orientation, or past behavior. We will oppose prejudice in ourselves and others and renounce any false notion of inclusivity that denies that all are sinners who need to repent. (emphasis mine)

 

 

FOR HUMAN SEXUALITY

Sexuality is inherent in God’s creation of every human person in his image as male and female. All Christians are called to chastity: Husbands and wives by exclusive sexual fidelity to one another and single persons by abstinence from sexual intercourse. God intends and enables all people to live within these boundaries through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

~~~

Here are some interesting links I came across this past week:

 

 

Wheaton Offers Scholarship Named for Former Professor Who Said Muslims, Christians Worship Same God

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.

-Proverbs 17:9

~~~

If anyone had a right to settle accounts it was the young dreamer Joseph. Cast into a hole in the ground by his brothers over a dream he relayed to them and a love gift his father imparted to him, Joseph had every right to be up in arms.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. …

 

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37)

  

The dream and the ornate garment where not prompted by Joseph. The God of Jacob gave Joseph the dream. Jacob, Joseph’s father, out of love for the son of his old age, gave Joseph an ornate garment. As father he had the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. But, the brothers decided that such a dream and such a gift to one member, a younger brother at that, and not to the many represented a horrible injustice. So, they brought about their version of justice: kill Joseph and dump the object of their resentment into a dry cistern. After Reuben’s pleas they dumped Joseph alive into the dry well. Joseph’s flesh and blood did not want flesh and blood on their hands. So, it was decided by the brothers that Joseph should be sold as a slave instead of done away with. To throw their father off the trail of Joseph’s whereabouts, the ornate garment yanked off of Joseph was dabbed with blood. The brothers wanted their father to think Joseph had been eaten by wild animals

What the brothers didn’t know, and didn’t know all along, was that in spite of the being tossed into a pit, Joseph had a different perspective. Sure, he questioned his brothers from the pit. “Why have you done this? What have I done to you?” Joseph had every right to be up in arms. But in that pit Joseph laid down his claim for justice and looked to the Sovereign God for resolution.

The resolution brought Joseph to Egypt and away from his father. We never hear of Joseph griping about the injustice done to him, though. Over time God would reverse Joseph’s slave status making him a master of much of the Egyptian people.

The resolution also brought his brothers to Egypt. There, they would not stand trial before Joseph for their crimes. But they would be tested by him to see if they could be trusted anew. 

After the testing, a reconciliation would ensue, brought about by Joseph. It happened when their father Jacob died:

After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-21)

 

We read in Genesis 39:2 that, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

 

Alternative ending: After being thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave, Joseph vowed to take vengeance on every last one of those who did him wrong. Once in Egypt, he slaughtered the slave traders who bought him there. He slaughtered their families and his task masters and their families. He returned home and slaughtered his brothers and their wives and children. He threw their bodies into a cistern. He became a warlord and began ransacking and raping those he came upon. He rode into towns wearing the ornate garments he stole from those he killed. He slew anyone who looked at him the wrong way. His father Jacob would not bless Joseph after Joseph’s murderous rampage. Joseph slew his father after he forced a blessing out of him with torture. Nothing would stop Joseph’s quest for justice. Accounts had to be settled.

 

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a litigious world. There are caseloads of lawsuits in the courts. Closer to home, in the social media realm of words, the hyperbole used to describe offense taken is akin to that of an attorney who makes his case to the public.

Certainly, there are legitimate offenses that occur. Just as certain, there are also illegitimate offenses that are drummed up for the sake of personal benefit. Much of what is on TV is highlighting offenses taken. You never see forgiveness highlighted on TV. It is as if forgiveness is a sign of weakness in a world where power is the most sought-after commodity.

 As mentioned in my last post, people hold grudges. Many will take an offense if any one looks at them the wrong way or drives the ‘wrong’ way or words are not received in the manner given. There are those who generate their own offenses by their very nature. Some are envious. Some are covetous. Many, as seen this last presidential election, take offense that some folks have what they consider a bigger piece of pie, which they translate into a larger share of power over circumstances. Their form of social justice is not much different from Joseph’s brother’s. The envy-driven will call for the wealthy to be taken down and to have their costly ornate ‘garments’ removed and given to others before throwing them into a financial pit.

 

Parenthetically, it is important that I use both Old and New Testament accounts in my posts. I’ve learned from social media that many people consider the Old Testament a relic, outmoded, and archaic.  They contend that Jesus came to throw away all of those rule-ish books. But, nothing could be further from the truth. All of Scripture is one narrative about God’s interaction with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. As you read Scripture from cover to cover you will come across many parallel situations revealing God’s relationship with man. You will have to come to Scripture to find highlights of forgiveness. The world’s narrative is about highlighting those maintaining power.

The story of Joseph contains a dramatic turnaround – from victim of the merciless to merciful forgiver. The next account contains another dramatic turnaround – from mercifully forgiven to merciless.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus.

“Master”, he said, “how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I wouldn’t say seven time,” replied Jesus. “Why not—seventy times seven?

“So, you see,” he went on, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle up accounts with his servants. As he was beginning to sort it all out, one man was brought before him who owed ten thousand talents. He had no means of paying it back, so the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and everything he possessed, and payment to be made.

“So the servant fell down and prostrated himself before the master.

“’Be patient with me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll pay you everything!”

“The master was very sorry for his servant, and let him off. He forgave him the loan.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred dinars. He seized him and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me back what you owe me! He said.

“The colleague fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll repay you!’

“But he refused, and went and threw him into the prison until he could pay the debt.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very upset. They went and informed their master about the whole affair. Then the master summoned him.

“’You’re a scoundrel of a servant! He said to him. ‘I let you off the whole debt, because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have taken pity on your colleague, like I took pity on you?’

“His master was angry, and handed him over to the torturers, until he had paid the whole debt. And that’s what my heavenly father will do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”

        Matthew’s Gospel account 18: 21-35

 

I suspect like many in his day and in our day, Peter wanted to know if there is a limit to enduring an injustice. He likely wanted to know when he could settle accounts. Perhaps he was wondering to himself, “How long do I have to keep my anger in check?’ Jesus responded with the multiplicity of forgiving with mercy as the gift that keeps on forgiving. Jesus would not only tell the crowd that his kingdom encompassed those who forgive over and over the myriad offenses taken in. Jesus forgave those of the world their myriad offenses. About the matter of settling accounts, The Lord God spoke these words through Isaiah the prophet to the descendants of Jacob:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Isaiah 43: 25-26

A truly good Man was sentenced to die the horrific death of the cross. I wonder. Did Jesus think of Joseph in the cistern when he said, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.” (Psalm 88:4)? What we do know is what the Only Begotten Son said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

 

 Those of us who call Jesus “Lord” are a ‘storied’ people. Our narrative is Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Our narrative contains the Creator and Creation, the life of Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Our narrative highlights forgiveness. Our narrative contains the Lord’s teaching prayer. From that prayer we learn that we settle accounts with one another by forgiving one another.

Our story reveals that the Mercy shown to us is the Mercy we freely offer to the world around us.

Mercy, the gift that keeps on forgiving.

 

 

  

~~~

 “Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

A lack of forgiveness is absent in détente. Tit for tat aggression is the rule: you affected the means of our pleasure and now we will deal with you.

How can there be peace in this world? Holding up a placard and the peace sign doesn’t work. Holding up a palm branch of forgiveness just might. But, to not forgive is to say there is no sovereign God who will put things right someday. Because there will be the ultimate putting right of things, forgiveness does not seek revenge. Forgiveness can let go of control because there is One who will ultimately bring justice and put things right. And, don’t forget: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord”.

 

Coming up: To Remain the Church, The Church Cannot Remain Tolerant

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

“Behold! Watch me pull a resentment out of my high hat!”.

 

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter you are well aware that people hold grudges – election result grudges, offense taken grudges and reply grudges generated when someone disagrees with your entrenched point of view. The ‘magic’ of holding grudges is that one can take offense out of thin air and then present the illusion of an injustice done to them for all to see

Holding a grudge has become a national pastime. On Twitter there seems to be a reply thread competition to see who can hold the bigger grudge and hold it the longest. With such carrying on, I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t a National Offense Taken Day. In the meantime, though, one can watch The Real Housewives of Bitter End County to get their fill of outrage. Week after week resentments are pulled out of thin air and viewers keep coming back for more high-hat hocus-pocus. There is even a show about the shows to summarize offenses taken.

I sense that behind all of the chicanery is a hot bed of unresolved anger. One person cannot forgive their parent for perceived wrongs. Another cannot forgive a friend who said something to someone about something. A parishioner cannot let go of her hurt and so she talks to others. Many others, as it seems to go. Soon a flock of resentful sheep head out the gate, creating a schism in the church. One national group decides that it must be the angry #Resistance against another national group who they feel is not like them and therefore does not give them pleasure. Such fuming unresolved anger is given new firewood to burn by social media, the place to disengage the “other” at will and without personal cost. Where does all this unresolved anger come from? It is the internalized desire to be justified.

“Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Those entrenched and warring members of your soul do not stay entrenched. They are brought out to the light of day in pursuit of validation. Remember the illustrative story Jesus told his disciples about the tax collector and the Pharisee?

He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others

“Two men,” he said. “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood a long way off and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”  – Jesus, Luke’s Gospel record 18: 9-14

 

The Pharisee, in trying to justify himself before God, pulled a resentment out of his high hat: God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector.

The Pharisee gave himself and his audience the illusion of being justified before God. But his self-justification was not validated by the Lord. And, that is the heart of this parable: you cannot justify yourself to the Lord. You must come humbly before the Lord for his assessment of your motives and your behavior. His light must reveal your heart and motives. Trusting in your inner ‘light’ or your sincerity is self-deceiving artifice.

Now, I have seen this parable used on Twitter to decry looking down one’s nose and judging others. In that context, a Jesuit projected condemnation onto conservatives, implying that they judge sinners and that, by contrast, Progressives love the sinner and do not judge. Yet, this application of Jesus’ parable is exactly what Jesus is teaching against: self-justification.

It seems to me that we learn to self-justify. We learn early on to measure ourselves by the perceived good or bad of others. We always find someone who we feel is beneath us. I would suggest that since the Enlightenment, though it brought about many good things, there are some self-justifying folks using mis-guided reason as a measuring stick. They see themselves as “too good, too smart” to believe in a Creator God or the concept of sin. They resent anyone telling them that there is a God and that one day we are held accountable. They belittle you If you say so.

Self-justifying resentment is used to disengage and distance oneself from the “other”, as seen in the case of the Pharisee. This disengagement, in my thinking, is also the origin of malignant use of power over others. Resentments are employing the troops of warring desires to destroy the “other”. Resentments use the force of self-justifying power to isolate and then crush the enemy – the “other”. Holding a grudge is the use of self-justification to disparage the “other” and then abandon them on the field to bleed out.

Resentment, and its unresolved warring desire to be justified at all costs, excludes the “other” who does not validate them. The person holding resentment begrudges others. This state of heart, left unchecked, can lead to violent revenge. And self-justifying exclusion of the “other” leads, not to love but to fear and hate and, even murder. When resentment is deployed on a national level there are wars and genocide.

 

Every time you pull resentment out of your high-hat to feign offense its root of bitterness is exposed. The audience can see it even if you do not. You fool no one. Before another self-justifying ‘illusion’ cut that root off, curse it and throw into the fires of hell. Though you once provided a showy diversion for your audience you provided nothing of substance. (See the Gospel of Mark 11:12-14)

If you do not deal with that root, it will continue to grow until it chokes the life out of you and others before too long.

 

 

 

Coming up: Forgiveness is Never Optional

~~~

 

Two-minutes of hate can turn into fifteen minutes of murderous infamy:

 

“A 38-year-old woman who was angry at YouTube and believed the company was discriminating against her videos, causing her to lose money and views, opened fire with a handgun at the video-sharing website’s California headquarters Tuesday, wounding three people before fatally shooting herself…

“Nasim the Persian Azeri female vegan bodybuilder, also animal rights activist promoting healthy and humane living.”

Nasim Aghdam: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

 

Aghdam shot three victims in the courtyard of the YouTube campus in San Bruno on Tuesday. Police say she then killed herself. Law enforcement officials say they believe that the motive behind the shooting is a domestic-related dispute.

Suspect in YouTube Shooting Posted Rants About the Company Online

The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

~~~

A summing junction symbol:

Yes, even the death of the cross

 

 

“…I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit…

…Now my heart is troubled,” Jesus went on. “What am I going to say? ‘Father, save me from this moment’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

 

 

Here is Our King!

 

 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you

Psalm 118:25, 26

 

When he came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen

“Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing,”

They sang.

Welcome to the king in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven and glory on high!”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “teacher, tell your disciples to stop that.”

“Let me tell you,” replied Jesus, “if they stayed silent, the stones would be shouting out!”

Luke 19: 37-40

“Save Eternal King!”

 

 

Let’s start with some extreme telescoping of history: Long before Palm Sunday there was the Big Bang and the creation of the cosmos over billions of years. A people were later chosen by God. Those people wanted a king. First came Saul, then came David.

Do you remember the Davidic covenant made by God?

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”  The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant

Our God was faithful and fulfilled this covenant. A descendent of King David – Mary – gave birth to a King who would reign over the house of David, and over all nations and, would rule forever. Do you remember David’s desire?

King David wanted to build a Temple for the presence of the Lord. He wasn’t allowed to do so. But his son King Solomon did build an impressive temporary one. It was later destroyed in ~586 BCE by the Babylonians. But God’s plan to dwell with man would not be thwarted. So, not only did Jesus become King forever, but Jesus would become a High Priest forever in a ‘forever’ Temple built to unite heaven and earth as one.

“[The Father’s] plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and earth in him.” Eph. 1: 10

 

Now we turn the telescope around.

Great news! “For unto you is born this Day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” A King was born in Bethlehem! A star created billions of years before guided wise men from the east to the place where the King stayed. These wise men brought gifts to the new King. Years later and a week before Passover, the crowd assembled along a road up to Jerusalem would honor King Jesus with palm branches and blessings.

King Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on his coronation day (1 Kings 1:28-40). The prophet Zechariah prophesied that the King of the Jews would do the same(Zechariah 9:9) 

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

The cheering crowd had witnessed signs of the King’s authority over his creation: water had been turned into wine; a blind man’s sight was restored; a lame man was able to walk, food was multiplied to feed thousands; a storm at sea was calmed by his words; Lazarus was raised form the dead, and a man was forgiven of his sins. That Palm Sunday was the royal appearing of the Son of Man, Lord of Creation and King. “Save Eternal King!”

 

 

At Christmas time we sing, “Joy to the world”. I say, let’s make this hymn a Palm Sunday hymn and throw ourselves down before Him right here and now! I’m guessing that stones would do so even if we didn’t!

 

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing