Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Macaroni Necklaces

What is perhaps most concerning about the Sabbath slipping away from me was how quickly, and how easily, I came to justify all of the little things that would have been unthinkable for so long. How I kept cutting away little bits of time and little bits of time and little bits of time and convincing myself that it was still possible to practice the Sabbath in the little bit that remained. How easy it was to tell myself that two hours of Sabbath on a Sunday was still a Sabbath, that "life" just required my Sabbath to look different for awhile. 

It wasn't true, of course, but it didn't stop me from telling myself these things. And it didn't stop me from wanting to believe them. 

Do you remember the story in Acts where the husband and wife - Ananias and Sapphira - sold their land and said they were bringing all of the proceeds to God to benefit the work of the Kingdom, but then, they didn't bring all of it? They were condemned; both of them died right there on the spot. But it's not because they didn't bring all of their proceeds.

It's because they had said they were bringing all of their proceeds, but then didn't. It's because they lied to God about the totality of what they were giving Him. It's because they said they were doing one thing but actually were doing another, then trying to pass off the lesser thing as just as holy as the promised thing. 

In other words, they were setting aside two hours of their day of rest, when it was convenient and nothing else was pressing it, and calling it Sabbath. 


This is probably our greatest temptation as Christians. We want to believe that whatever we are able to bring to God is holy - and it is - but we've also fallen into this trap where we believe that bringing any little holy thing is the same as bringing everything. That God loves our two hours as much as our whole Sabbath. That God Himself is as satisfied with our excuses as we are. That He's not only satisfied with them, but that He affirms them. 

Of course you can't Sabbath in a time like this! We're in a global pandemic. You're working on a book. You need to wake up your mind for good writing. Your boss might be trying to get in touch with you. (By the way, this last problem has always been solved in my life by simply making it clear to those who know me and might need me that I am unavailable by email/instant message/internet contact on Sundays and that if they should need anything, they must call or stop by. Without exception, every single person in my life has always respected this.) 

Still, we run these dialogues in our heads where God sounds an awful lot like us, and we convince ourselves that He's on board with our slipping away. That He's okay with it. That He just knows and trusts that our hearts don't love it (spoiler alert: they actually kind of do, or else we wouldn't do it) and that He loves whatever little gifts we bring Him. 

Make no mistake: God does love every little gift that we bring Him, but when you've promised to bring all your proceeds and you start storing a little off to the side for yourself, God is neither honored nor glorified (nor impressed - though not in the sense that we should be aiming to "impress" God; rather, more like He is "not amused." He is heartbroken). 

So we have to stop thinking that God doesn't notice, or doesn't care, or even that He agrees with us when our discipline starts slipping away. We have to stop thinking that any little thing is enough when we know that we are committed in our hearts to bringing so much more. We have to stop confusing the Father who loves us and who loves the macaroni necklaces we make Him with a God who wants nothing more than for us to make Him macaroni necklaces. 

For God desires - and deserves - much more. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Slipping Away

It may have come as a surprise to you to hear that I have been reclaiming my Sabbath. It's been no secret that I instituted a Sabbath practice about ten years ago that has grown quite a bit since those early days. What began as an opportunity to take a break from the constant grind of searching for a job and trying to prove myself became a real habit of rest, something that I came to look forward to even long after I "needed" it.

But as so often happens, I let myself ride down a bit of a slippery slope and it wasn't a falling away all at once, but a gradual slipping until all of a sudden, my Sabbath was no longer something that I recognized...let alone practiced. 

It started last year when I undertook the writing of my newest book, a daily devotional. I wanted to ensure that I had one good thought for each day of the year, so I told myself that I would turn my computer on briefly in the morning, even on the Sabbath, and write that day's devotional. Then, I would turn my computer off and enjoy the rest of my Sabbath. 

A few months in, I decided that maybe I would go ahead and add my morning daily challenges on my solitaire game. This would help to wake my brain up and engage it for the day. Then, I would turn my computer off. 

Then, the pandemic hit, and my work schedule got all crazy. I volunteered to work through the shutdown, so I would check my email on that Sunday morning, as well, to see if my boss had anything to say about Monday's work. A few weeks into that, I realized that my boss was more prone to email on Sunday afternoon or evening, so I started turning my computer on twice on Sundays - once in the morning to write my devotional and play a couple of games and once in the evening to check my email. 

From there, it didn't take long before I figured out that maybe one of my coworkers on Facebook had heard something before I had, so I started logging into Facebook on Sundays to see whether anyone else was posting about work for the upcoming week. That's when I realized that the glitch in Facebook that was making me miss most of my posts was relatively fixed if I didn't skip a day of logging in, so I started logging in just to make sure I would see everything on Monday when I came back. 

And hey, if I'm checking Facebook, I might as well scroll through Twitter real quick, too. 

And then, stores started shutting down and mandates started going into place and my mom was worried about going out, which made me the shopper in the family, so I stopped objecting to shopping on Sundays (a practice I instituted because it would make someone else work on a day that I had set aside not to work) and started running out whenever we needed something, especially something that may have been hard to find (like toilet paper). 

To top it all off, church went virtual and now, I had a real dilemma - log into Facebook in the middle of a Sabbath to livestream my services...or skip them, and the virtual fellowship, and catch a replay sometime later in the week. 

Little by little by little, I let my Sabbath get eaten away. It started innocently enough, with a commitment to make a meaningful devotional and something authentic to offer to my fellow Christians who want to engage with and love the Bible. From there, though, it became easier and easier to chip away a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more until my Sunday...no longer looked that different from any other day of the week. 

Oh, I kept telling myself it was still my Sabbath, but...it wasn't. It didn't feel like it any more. It was no longer full of rest, but of so many lesser things. "Today is the Sabbath" was no longer a reason to abstain from something - from anything - because hey, I was already doing x, y, and z....what's a little q matter at this point?

And that's how it happens, for far too many of us. It's not that we turn our backs or that we take a hard fall. It's that we just start slipping and then, it takes so little to keep moving just a little further away...a little further away...a little further away.... 

But the good news is that there's a way back. And that's the journey I am on right now. Reclaiming the Sabbath. 

Because my soul craves rest.  

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Reclaiming the Sabbath

A couple of Sundays ago, I enjoyed my first real Sabbath in quite a long time. If you know me, you know that I instituted a practice of Sabbath about ten years ago and have been faithfully committed to it...well, kind of. 

More about that later this week.

Sabbath seems like such an antiquated practice. How are we supposed to observe a time of rest in a world that runs around the clock? How can we set aside any time when the world doesn't want to give it to us? Most important, I think, we ask ourselves - what am I going to miss out on while I'm "resting," as though rest is some kind of selfish luxury. 

And that's really the biggest obstacle to our Sabbath - FOMO. Fear of missing out. Fear that something is going to happen that we'll wish we had taken part in and we're going to pass up that chance for the opportunity to do...nothing? Isn't that what Sabbath is? Isn't Sabbath doing...nothing? 

Sabbath is not doing nothing, though. Not in the passive sense. Sabbath is an active restraint. It is an intentional nothing. It is consistently choosing against the pressure to perform and to participate and to run ourselves down to empty. 

Sabbath comes out of this place of deep longing, this gnawing ache that realizes that nothing in this world can satisfy it...and so it goes out purposely in search of "nothing" of this world. It purposely disengages, intentionally rests because it understands that only "nothing" is going to make this burning in our souls better. Only "nothing" stands a chance of touching our most empty place. 

Sabbath hears the call of the heart and has to keep reminding itself that the urge that we feel to go out and satisfy our souls...will never lead us to real satisfaction. It has to keep reflecting on what's really happening and realize, all over again with every breath, that the human tendency to want to heal ourselves won't work here. It has to keep choosing to let that ache settle a little bit, to let it come to rest in real rest because literally nothing else will do. 

Sabbath understands that the only thing that can speak to our very human experience...is God Himself. 

That's what makes Sabbath so hard. It keeps feeling like we ought to be doing something - at the very least, listening to ourselves and doing whatever it is that feels right to us. But the irony of Sabbath is that doing anything at all, once we're doing it, feels wrong. It feels empty. It feels hollow. It feels the full weight of how human an attempt it is to placate ourselves, to answer our gnawing ache and our hunger for something more. The more we try to do Sabbath, the more we realize that we can't. 

And it is then that we understand that Sabbath does require us to do something; it requires us to do nothing. It isn't passive. It isn't lazy. It isn't some kind of selfish luxury. It is diligent, disciplined engagement with nothing in order to connect the depths of our souls to everything. That is, to Him Who is everything. All of a sudden, our greatest fear is no longer what we might be missing, but that we might be missing this. That we might be missing Sabbath. That we might let it make us so uncomfortable that we trade it in for lesser things. 

That's the real bummer. 

We're going to talk about Sabbath for a few days, and I'm going to make a few confessions. Because the traps that I have found myself in - and the longings of my own soul - are the same traps and longings that are so common to all of us. This week, we are reclaiming the Sabbath. 

Starting with me. 

Friday, November 26, 2021


Thankfulness is our reflection on the way that things make our lives better. Gratefulness is our recognition of the sacrifices that have made something possible that makes our lives better. Blessedness, finally, is our confession that it is God Himself who has done this. 

And thus, we have our pillow. Thankful. Grateful. Blessed

Again, it's so tempting for us to think that these three words are roughly synonyms, and the truth is that we use them that way far too often. But when we separate them out and really think about what they mean, we come to a point where our experience of the good things in our lives is so much richer, so much deeper, so much more wonderful than we even imagined. 

This is as much true with blessed as with either of the other two. We have come to a place in our culture where we use this word "blessed" without any connection to God at all. What we mean when we say it is that we certainly are living the good life. That's all. Just the good life. Not the God life. Not the good life that was created for us by God. Not a life dependent upon our being blessed by God (the only place from which blessing ever comes). Just the good life. 

No wonder we've fallen into a complacency where God is not relevant to our daily living. Hey, not even our blessings depend upon Him. Apparently, they just...happen. 

Because we're good or something. And we deserve it. And we orchestrated our lives so that they would. Or maybe...maybe...we're just "lucky." 

Does that sound familiar? Do you know anyone in your life who views blessing as merely an act of luck? Are you one of those persons who believes that good things just happen, that things just randomly fall into place when you're a good person and you deserve good things? 

This...is another form of our thankfulness. It's self-centered. Its emphasis is primarily on how lovely it feels to have good things in our lives, with no reflection at all on where those good things actually come from or what they even mean. It keeps drawing us back into a dull sort of existence where all we think about is ourselves. 

But blessedness, as I said just a few paragraphs ago, always comes from God. It is always an act of God, always a movement of God. And I wonder how it would change our lives, particularly our lives of faith, if we remembered that every time we use the word. Every time we consider ourselves blessed. Every time we think about what it means to have good things in our lives. It means, above all else, that God loves us

And that, I think, would have to change our experience of it. It would have to shape the way we interact with goodness in our lives. It would have to change the way we worship in response to this goodness. It would change, well, everything...it would even change us. 

So be thankful, yes. Absolutely. But be more than that.

Be grateful, recognizing the sacrifices that have gone into making your good things possible. And be blessed, knowing that it is God alone who has done this for you. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


If thankfulness is our recognition of the way that something makes our life better and our ability to come to rest in goodness, isn't gratefulness pretty much the same thing? We often use the words as synonyms, but gratefulness is actually a bit different. 

Thankfulness is fairly self-centered; it is a reflection on the subjective impact that something has made in our lives. Gratefulness, however, is more other-centered. Gratefulness is a reflection on the cost that something exacted. It's a reflection on the sacrifice that someone or something else made to facilitate whatever you're thankful for. 

When you are thankful for hot food, you are reflecting on the way that it satisfies your belly. When you are grateful for it, you recognize the hands that went into preparing it. That's the difference. 

We are, too often, a self-centered people, and that's why it's so easy for us not to recognize this. We are tempted to call everything thankfulness and let it just be that. We are tempted to think that we are simply thankful - and often, we are - and that that is enough. But the truth is that most of us are doing gratefulness without even recognizing it. 

We're doing gratefulness, and we're calling it thankfulness, not bothering to differentiate between the two. We're doing gratefulness, and we're calling it thankfulness, and magically, it somehow becomes that - a reflection on ourselves instead of on the thing or person that we're actually grateful for. 

But it changes something in our living, something in our loving, when we recognize gratefulness for what it is. It changes the nature of our experience when we realize that we aren't thankful; we're grateful. It gets us outside of ourselves and adds a depth of meaning to what we're engaged in. It forces us to remember not only that it's not all about us, but that we're not alone here. 

Gratefulness is an act of connectedness. It's an expression of community and relationship. It's got to do with more than our own pleasure or satisfaction; it's soul-deep, even more than the rest that goodness brings into our lives. It starts to bring us toward that goodness that is not being alone, which is the only thing in all creation God ever said was not very good. Gratefulness puts us square into being together because someone or something made a sacrifice that made something possible in our lives, and that doesn't just make our lives/our world better; it makes it bigger. 

And that's a beautiful thing.

Today, we're all talking about how thankful we are, and that's great. And we should be. But let us not forget to be grateful, too. Because so much of what's happening in our lives is made possible at a cost - a cost that someone or something else is paying for us.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2021


I know what you're thinking - hey, Aidan. You're about a day early. 

Blame the pillow. 

You know - those pillows that say "Thankful, grateful, blessed." That's the one I'm talking about. Some of them change the word order a bit - "Grateful, thankful, blessed," but I think thankful usually comes first. At least, in terms of our hearts. And well, since it is the season for thankfulness, I thought we might as well take a few days and explain what that really means.

Most of us think that thankful and grateful are synonyms, that they mean roughly the same thing. Kind of the way we treat mercy and grace, even though anyone who has read this blog for awhile knows that mercy and grace are actually two distinctly different things. Well, so are thankfulness and gratefulness. Two distinctly different things.

Thankfulness has to do with something's perceived impact on our lives. We are thankful for the things that make our lives better. We are thankful for opportunities that we have to do certain things or to have certain things or to be certain things because we know that these things improve our quality of life. They make us happier. Whole-er. More fulfilled. Holier. We are thankful for things that fundamentally change the nature of our experience in the world for the good. 

Now, when it comes to thankfulness, it doesn't matter where these things come from. Thankfulness doesn't think a whole lot about the origin of the gift; it is too busy simply receiving and enjoying it. It is too busy reaping the benefits of the goodness to think much beyond that. 

That sounds like a bad thing, but not necessarily. We are wired to enjoy goodness. We are created to just settle into a rhythm of goodness and let it be wonderful in our lives. In goodness, our souls find rest, and it makes perfect natural sense that we would just be thankful in such a time. 

But it is also an echo of our own self-centeredness. It is, after all, a primarily self-centered reflection. I am thankful because this has made my personal life better, and I am enjoying this because I deserve to enjoy it...or at least, I want to enjoy it. Thankfulness fills us up with the satisfaction of the good life and, like many of us will do tomorrow, inspires us to loosen our belt loops a little bit and make ourselves bigger. 

Again, this sounds like a bad thing, but most of us could use to be more thankful in our lives. Most of us could use the kind of satisfaction that arises from the good things. Most of us could use the measure of rest that comes from thankfulness, that peace that gets down deep in our souls. 

So this season, be thankful. Be thankful for the good things that make your life better. Be thankful for the things that fill you up so much that you have to make yourself bigger. Be thankful for all of the wonderful things in the world that make your good life possible. 

But be more than that, too. Because the pillow is right. There is more to this season - and to this life - than thankfulness.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about how gratefulness, though it seems so much the same, goes even deeper into goodness. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

On Grace

Yesterday, we looked at the idea of justice and how, too often, justice is held hostage to a bigger story of injustice that we can't seem to put in its proper place. As a result, justice is often perverted in the very places where we are most likely to find it, precisely because we are so caught up on all the places where our justice has failed and we can no longer simply let justice be justice; it somehow has to atone for all of the injustice or else, we think, it is nothing at all. 

That post ruffled enough feathers. "How can you defend someone like Kyle?" But it wasn't really a post about Kyle; it was a post about justice and about how we let our savage hunger to set things right in the world get in the way of our actually setting things right in the world - because we try to take bites that are just too big and end up making a bigger mess of things. 

The same thing could be said about grace.

The truth is that we are always holding the world - and other persons - hostage to the things that we perceive are wrong with it. To ideals that we have about the way that things should be. 

It's why we have so much judgment for the single mother who asks for help paying her bills. If she would just work a little harder, or if she hadn't made poor decisions previously in her life, then she wouldn't be here right now. It's why we judge so harshly the man fallen into alcoholism whose kids are now in foster care. If he just cared more about others than about himself, his kids would still have a father. And on and on and on we go, having an opinion on literally everyone's life with absolutely no justification for it except the ideals that we hold. 

Our judgment is so rarely, if ever, based on the actual circumstances of someone else's trouble; rather, it is rooted in the broken systems of our own lives, the things we would change if we had the chance. If only we were chosen for the jury...(and yet, most Americans despise actual jury duty and would do anything they could to get out of it. Ironic, right?). 

The further truth, and you've heard this before, is that our ideals actually arise out of our own broken places, out of the shadows of our own selves that we don't particularly love to wrestle with (or perhaps have come to insecure conclusions about). We hate that single mother because we know how hard we work to have as little as we have, and we hate that she isn't just dealing with it like we are. Or maybe we hate that our story isn't compelling enough to get others to help us the way they are leaping to help her. So we resent her and as a result of our resentment, we hold her hostage to our own perspective on what the world should be like...based on nothing but our own struggle through it. 

We hate that alcoholic father because we, too, have wished for an "out." We have wished for a way to numb our pain and to remove our responsibilities and just have a minute where we don't feel so heavily the weight of our own world, but because he's chosen it in brokenness, the world feels somewhat empathetic toward him, while we are simply broken by our burdens and no one seems to care. So we hold him hostage to our own perspective of what the world should be like...again, based on nothing but our own struggle through it. 

The places where we are least likely to offer grace are the places where we have needed it the most and precisely because, sadly, these are the places where we ourselves have been least likely to find it. 

Want to know why justice is such a hot button topic for us? It is because life isn't fair and so many of us feel this to the core of our being. We see it every time we open our eyes, every time we trudge through one more day. And then we see a case, a real case with a prosecution and a defense and facts that seem so cut-and-dried, like everything just magically falls on one side of justice or the other and it's so easy for our souls to crave that, so easy for us to say, finally! An "easy" one. And then, even justice is complicated, and it troubles down into our souls and we're back where we started - life is just hard. 

And this is why we are in such desperate need of more grace for one another. More grace for ourselves. More grace for justice. We can't keep holding this world hostage to our own experience of it. Rather, we have to keep our eyes on heaven and on the way God Himself intended things to be. Not how we wish them. Not how we desire them. But how we long for them in the core of our beings, in those places without words but just aches...longings for restoration and redemption and hope. And we have to live out of that. 

Otherwise, there is no justice - and no grace - for any of us. And why? Because out of our own pain, that is what we have chosen. 

On Justice

We have a justice problem in America. If you've been paying attention to the headlines, you probably suspect something like this, but it's not really what you think. 

Because our biggest justice problem in America comes not from those who seem to be blind to the injustices in our system, but from those most keenly aware of them. 

A recent, well-publicized case has brought this once again to our attention. Despite the fact that race was not an issue in this particular case (the accused and the victims are all of the same race), many have chosen to bring race into it. Calling out hypotheticals, such as, "If this had been a black man...." Even some pastors have jumped on this boat, using an acquittal to jump in and list the names of victims of racial injustice as if there is some kind of equivalency here. 

There's not. 

A black kid being shot for holding his cell phone is simply not the same story as a white kid shooting someone who is attacking him in the streets. 

Listen, I get it - the circumstances of all of these cases are more complicated than we're able to really provide space for. Just as we did with Mary and Martha last week, we're talking about caricatures too often when we talk about justice and injustice, and what I don't want to do is to let this discussion get distracted by the fact that we're not including all of the details. So let me be clear - we are not including all of the details. We can't. We'll go off down a rabbit trail and miss the point of this post, which is the nature of our justice itself. 

And what I want to say on that front is this: this recent verdict, and the discussion and debate that have followed, have shown us what our true problem with justice in America is, and it is this:

There are too many who want to hold justice hostage to its injustices. There are too many who want everyone who is put through our justice system to pay for all of the things it's gotten wrong over the years. 

There are too many who want to put the burden of a broken system on any man who finds himself standing in it. 

And that, my friends, is as much a perversion of justice as anything else. 

Yes, there have been tragedies in our justice system. But the answer to that cannot be to create more tragedies in our justice system. The answer to what is seen as a systemic racism cannot be to shoulder every white guy with the burden of injustice just because he's white. You cannot hold Kyle Rittenhouse accountable for Trayvon Martin, no matter how many tweets you send out about it, and the very fact that you want to do so means you don't understand justice, either. 

We cannot let every acquittal of a white person be a commentary on every conviction of a black one. We cannot let the loss of a life be a commentary on the loss of every life. We cannot make everything about "the system" because at the heart of justice is still a human being, not a system, and when we can't get our eyes off the system to see the actual person in front of us, we are doing him or her a tremendous injustice...and for some reason, calling it "just." (It is no such thing.) 

The truth is - there are innocent white persons. There are. There are innocent white persons and guilty white persons and innocent black persons and guilty black persons. And every case deserves its fair hearing without the weight of a broken system weighing down on it. If we want justice to improve, then we have to focus on doing justice in every single individual case brought before us, not on compounding these cases with the others that left us with a bitter taste of injustice in our mouths. 

The best justice for Trayvon Martin is, however much you don't want to hear it, true justice for Kyle Rittenhouse. The best justice for George Floyd is true justice for the McMichaels. The best justice for every single victim of injustice...is true justice for everyone else. Because the more we get justice right, the more we create a culture of justice around us. And it is that culture that will condemn injustice and set it right. 

We don't get justice by having "victories against white supremacy." When a verdict is rendered and a white man convicted, it's not justice to say this is a victory against racism. That loses sight of everything and every human being involved. We are a people, not a set of principles. We are human beings, not ideologies. A white man going to jail for murder is not a victory for Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, or anyone else unless that is the man who actually killed them. 

I have seen so many calling out this recent verdict as "white supremacy at its finest" and throwing out the names of every black man they believe to be unjustly killed in the streets but neither - neither - has anything to do with this specific case. Thus, what we really seem to be advocating for right now is not justice; it's something far less. 

Maybe that's the point. I don't know. Maybe we want to break the broken system more so that the whole thing crumbles, but I don't think that's wise. Justice is a holy pursuit. 

And I'm just...not convinced we get there by way of injustice. 

These issues are complicated, and I don't want to pretend that they're not. There are a thousand layers to this story, systemic issues, compassion issues, perspective issues. There are so many things that we don't have the space here to dive into. 

But what I know for certain is that you don't get justice for victims of injustice by taking it from someone else. You don't fix a broken system by turning it to break the other way. You have to do the actual hard work here. Until we do that, we're stuck. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Human Caricatures

We are tempted to look at the biblical characters as caricatures because so often, what we see of them is one-dimensional. But the same thing is true about human characters in our own lives. We are tempted here, too, to see others as one-dimensional and for the very same reason - we only see a scene or two of their lives. 

We only see a little bit of who anyone else is at any given time. And it can be tempting to form an opinion of someone based on what we see, especially on a first meeting. We're really good at this. It's called a "first impression," but what often happens is that our first impression becomes our whole impression fairly quickly and from that point on, it is hard for us to let anyone out of the box that we've created for them. 

One semester when I went over to seminary for an intensive class, I got really carsick on the trip. By the time I got there, it was all I could do for the rest of the day not to vomit. But I had to go to class. So I went to class but wasn't really there; my focus was on calming my stomach down. The next morning when I got to class, the student sitting next to me said, "Good morning, Miss Grumpypants." 

Now, I had not been grumpy the day before and was not grumpy that morning. But it was the first impression this student had formed of me, and by that next morning, it was so firmly cemented in his head that it was all that he could see of me. 

Kind of like when you see Martha and all you can think of is a woman who stays in the kitchen. Or Mary and all you can think of is a woman at Jesus's feet. 

But what we often miss is that, much like our biblical characters, every human character in our life is more multi-dimensional than we think. And in fact, the "one" thing that we are supposed to know for sure is true about them...is simply that they have something to teach us about God. 

Wouldn't that change the way that you interact with nearly everyone? If the only thing that you were confident in knowing about him or her was that he or she has something to teach you about God? That his or her place in your story and in God's story is to reveal Him?

It seems to me that every time we meet someone, we are trying to figure them out. Trying to figure out their human nature. Because, I think, we want to figure out our own human nature. And there quickly becomes one thing that is primary in our impression of them - either because we love it or hate it, usually because we love it or hate it in ourselves. Or want to love it or hate it in ourselves. 

Yet if we would just use every human being to figure out God's holy nature, something amazing happens. Not only do we get to know who God is, but we get to know who we are. Our true human nature is discovered in His God nature because we are beings created in His image. And as a bonus, when this becomes our primary focus, we find that others are no longer caricatures in our lives but real characters - multi-dimensional human beings. And that gives us the freedom to be multi-dimensional human beings, as well, and know how God loves us

So let's stop making caricatures out of characters. As John tells us in the lives of Martha and Mary, it's just not that easy. 

And when we pretend that it is, what we really miss is not Mary nor Martha; it's Jesus.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Story of God

When we talk about how easy it is for us to see Mary and Martha as one-dimensional caricatures, it's important to admit that I think we actually got this idea from the Bible itself. Not specifically about Mary and Martha, but about biblical characters in general.

These characters in our bibles show up for a scene, and then they are gone. Some get a whole life story (like David, for example, or Joseph), but most get just a scene. Noah builds an Ark. Solomon builds a Temple. Zacchaeus climbs a tree. Jael drives a stake. Gideon defeats the Midianites in a single battle. Philip talks to Simon and to the eunuch, and then, he's gone. Thomas doubts. Judas betrays. 

There are so many characters in God's story that we hear about once, maybe twice, and not again. Thus, they become to us just characters in a story, like any number of characters in a fable - meant to prove a point, to show us something, and then be gone. We aren't supposed to think we can get to know them, not as if they were a protagonist or something. Not as if they were meant to be a main character. 

But neither can we reduce them to a caricature. Because while it's true that we don't get to know a whole lot about many of them, what we know for certain is this: they are not just characters. They are real persons. Human beings. Dynamic in their existence and in their relationship with God. 

And while, yes, they are there to show us maybe one thing, that one thing that each of these characters is meant to show us...is not about themselves. It is about God. And somehow, we lose that when we get all wrapped up in who is in the kitchen. 

We get distracted trying to define Martha. We lose focus when we try to figure out who Mary is. Sure, we can say something, but the more we talk about Mary and Martha, the easier it is for us to forget that the main character in the story is still Jesus. Always has been, always will be. Every single human being that we meet in the Bible is there to tell us something about God, not about themselves. 

So we read the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus comes to their house, and we figure out that Martha is the "type" of person who stays in the kitchen and busies herself and misses out on everything and that Mary is the "type" of person who gives up her earthly life to sit at the feet of Jesus and choose the better thing and what we miss is that Jesus is the type of God who goes into the house and talks with both of them. 

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you miss that? 

And then, we read the story of Martha rushing out to meet Jesus as He's on His way to her brother's dead body and we try to fit this into the "type" of person that Martha is while we know that Mary is at home with all the other mourners, and we're trying to fit this into the "type" of person that Mary is and all the while, we're missing that Jesus is the type of God who travels to see His friend's dead body, who weeps, who comforts His brother's sisters. 

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you miss that, too?

We get so distracted by our caricatures that we miss the heart of the Gospel for it, far too often. We are so busy trying to figure out Mary and Martha - because they are, after all, the human beings and we think the point of the story is to tell us what "type" of human beings we should be - that we read right past Jesus - who is, in fact, our God and the actual point of the story is to tell us what kind of God He is. 

And actually, if we'd stop having Mary and Martha be caricatures and let them be dynamic human beings, we'd be better off because it would help us to see how Jesus is God in relationship to our own dynamic humanity - to the multi-dimensional reality of who we really are, a people who sometimes run out to meet Jesus on the road and sometimes stay in the kitchen. A people who sometimes sit at His feet and sometimes stay home with the mourners. 

Stop seeing caricatures in your Bible. They aren't there. 

Start seeing God. He is on every page. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Hard Reading

One of the things that has me thinking about Mary and Martha is the way that the biblical commentator who wrote on the book of John for this Bible wanted to twist the narrative so that we understand that Mary and Martha aren't complicated, that they are exactly the same women in one story as they are in the other, even though they appear to be complete opposites. 

This is...confusing, but it's something that we need to be aware of, particularly when we are willing to listen to so-called "experts" on how we're supposed to understand our Bible. 

See, there's a principle in biblical interpretation that has determined that "the harder reading is usually the original one." In other words, the more mental gymnastics you have to do to figure out what the Bible is trying to say, the more likely it is that you're on the right track. The more confusing it seems, the more likely it is that it is God's actual Word to you. This is because it is more likely that men over the years have tried to add or modify things to clarify or to make the reading easier, so the easier it gets, the more likely it is that someone has already come through this text and tried to make it easier. 

So the basic principle of biblical interpretation is: "God is hard." The Bible is hard. It's supposed to be difficult. It's an entirely different language than we speak, and the chances are good that we just can't understand it (save for these "experts" who are generous enough to share their infinite knowledge with us). 

What's frustrating about this is that when it comes to biblical interpretation, it's apparently only God who is supposed to be complicated. Human beings...are supposed to be simple. 

Although the commentator has twisted and contorted and mangled this view of Mary and Martha so that it is so complicated as to be almost unfathomable, believing Mary and Martha to be caricatures is actually not the harder reading. The harder reading is to believe them to be actual human beings, as complicated as that is. 

Human beings are strange. They sometimes appear fickle. They are capable of growth and...whatever you want to call the opposite of growth. They change their minds. They are influenced by circumstances. They learn lessons the hard way and sometimes, they don't learn them at all. We know this because we live with them every day. We live with ourselves every day. We know that human beings just change all the time, for good reasons or bad reasons or no reason at all. 

For example, when I am walking through the parking lot of the local grocery store, I will sometimes take the empty cart of an older person and return it to the store as I go in. But sometimes, I walk right past them. What prompts me to take this woman's cart today, but not that woman's cart last week? Even if the circumstances are roughly the same, I might one day take a cart and the next day not, and there's no discernible rhyme or reason to it. 

If you were to step into my story on a day when I took the cart, you might be tempted to think something about me. But if you were to step into my story on a day when I did not take the cart, you might be tempted to think something else. If, then, you formed an opinion about who I must be based on that one observation, it would be hard for you to reconcile what it means when I do the opposite...unless you understand that I am simply a complicated human being or engage in the same kind of mental gymnastics that these biblical interpreters often do. 

So I'm going to tell you the truth about biblical interpretation - the interpreters have it backward. God is not complicated; humans are. God is not the harder reading; we are. 

The truth is that one day, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and the next day, she stayed at home. The truth is that Martha spent a whole day in the kitchen and then ran out to meet Jesus on the road. And if we try to say anything else, we're going to miss the heart of the story.  

Monday, November 15, 2021

Biblical Caricatures

I started thinking about Mary and Martha a couple of weeks ago when I was reading through John in my commentary Bible (if you've been around much this year, you know what I think about my commentary Bible, but at this point, I'm committed). The commentary on this story of the sisters at the death of their brother is striking. 

What's happened is that the "expert" contracted to interpret John for the rest of us spends a lengthy amount of time explaining how Martha continues to be just Martha, concerned more about hospitality and appearances and the guests who are at her home even when she's the one who leaves all of the hustle and bustle to go out and meet Jesus. This commentator insists that this proves that Martha really can't just get out of the kitchen and embrace Jesus. Even though she's the one outside of the kitchen, embracing Jesus. He (I assume, because most commentary Bibles still do not accept the scholarship of women) wastes a ton of his breath trying to explain to the reader who would never understand this on their own that Mary and Martha are, in this story of Lazarus's death, the exact same Mary and Martha who welcomed Jesus in their home - Mary devoutly at His feet and Martha busying herself with the things of this world. 

Except that's not how the story reads, not to most of us. Which means that one of two things is happening here:

Either we really are too stupid to understand even the humanly things of the Bible on our own...or this commentator has fallen into a very human trap himself. 

See, this is exactly the kind of thing that we are prone to do - we find out something about someone, or think that we do, and that becomes the only lens through which we see them. Forever. This doesn't cease to be true just because we are talking about biblical characters. 

We think of Judas only as a betrayer. We think of Thomas only as a doubter. We think of Paul only as a great evangelist (despite the fact that his story plainly confesses he was once a persecutor). We think of David as a great and faithful king (despite the fact that his story tells us he was also an adulterer and murderer). 

The woman down the street is just a single mother. The guy on the corner is just a drunk. The hermit in the busy house is just a drug dealer. The parent of that student is just a meddler. The lady at the church is just a gossip. And on and on and on we go, and once we have decided who we believe that someone is, we interpret everything that person does through that lens. They are forever and for always that thing. 

Martha is always in the kitchen, even when she is the one who runs out to meet Jesus. And Mary is always at His feet, even though in this story, she stayed home. 

But what if - hear me out on this - human beings are more complicated than that? What if we just can't caricature anyone like that? 

What if...we shouldn't? 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Mary and Martha

Quick - tell me what you know about Mary and Martha. 

At this point, you're probably thinking this one's easy - Martha is the busy type who was too concerned with playing hostess to Jesus and His disciples to even realize what was happening right in front of her, and Mary was the one who "chose the better thing, and it will not be taken away from her." Easy-peasy. Next question, please!

But what if what you think about Mary and Martha isn't the truth about who they are? What if they are more complex characters than we make them out to be? What if they aren't actually caricatures of busyness and devotion, but actual women - actual human beings - who are woven into the Good News about Jesus? 

And now, we're getting somewhere. 

Did you know that there are actually two scenes in the gospels that tell us about Mary and Martha? There are two stories about these sisters to which we need to pay attention, and the sad truth is that so many of us are familiar with one of them that it distorts or even diminishes our view of the other. 

We know what happened when these two ladies were hosting Jesus at their house. Mary chose to sit and listen to Him speak while Martha did all the cooking and cleaning and preparations, and Martha was so upset with Mary that she went to Jesus and demanded that some of His words include the phrase, "Mary, get back in the kitchen with your sister." 

From this one scene alone, we have formed an opinion of who Mary and Martha are, who they are supposed to represent, what kind of women Jesus was talking to and what He said. Thousands of devotionals and retreats and conferences have been done for women on "having a Mary faith in a Martha world" (just for the record, I think this is the actual title of a book that I once read - if it is, my apologies to the author; I am neither recommending nor decrying this book, but using this phrase as a type for the general category of material that I am talking about) or "getting out of the kitchen and sitting at the feet of Jesus." Sound familiar?

Yet there's this whole other story about these sisters. It's the story of when their brother, Lazarus, died. John tells us that the sisters - not one or the other, but both - sent for Jesus. And when Jesus is on His way, one of the sisters rushes out to meet Him. 

And it's Martha. 

Not Mary. It's not the sister who sits at the feet of Jesus and can't get enough of His teachings. It's not the sister who supposedly neglects her household duties to engage in something so idle - and so unladylike - as to sit in a circle of disciples and listen to a Rabbi talk. It's not the sister who pours out perfume on Him and wipes it with her hair. No. Mary stays home, and it is Martha who cannot wait one more second to see what Jesus is going to do. 

Still think you know these sisters? Still confident you're sure about who they are? Stay tuned, and we'll talk about some things. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

God Only Knows

We've been talking this week about a scene in the gospel of John in which it appears that Jesus told a lie. He said He was not going to Jerusalem for the feast, but in fact, He does go. Not only does He go, but He is very public about His going, even showing up at the Temple itself. And over the course of the week, we have seen a number of theologically-unsatisfying explanations that we have tried to make about what's really happening here.

And we could keep going with that. Maybe forever. For example, maybe we would say that Jesus changed His mind after His brothers left. That He really wasn't going to go, then decided to go. That makes sense...except that it gives us a God who changes His mind. That's not theologically satisfying. We can't worship a God who changes His mind and wants one thing today and something else tomorrow. We can't love a God whose love might be fickle. 

Or maybe we say that Jesus just couldn't deny the faithfulness that was inside of Him. That He didn't want to go, but His sense of duty compelled Him and finally won out. Any of us who has been tempted to skip a Sunday morning church service knows this feeling. There's an overwhelming sense of guilt at not doing what we believe we should do, and the guilt nags at us until we finally just do what is right. But do we want a God who is driven by guilt? Do we want a God who would even think about not doing that thing that is so nagging in His Spirit that He eventually cannot not do it? Again, this raises more questions than it answers. 

We have a thousand explanations and excuses for the things that we don't understand about God. We are always trying to come up with ways to fill the void of our knowledge or at least, to answer the ache that we feel when we don't have the answers. We keep running to these things that seem to make so much sense, at least on the surface, but the truth is that our faith is not strengthened by them; it's suffering because of them. Every attempt that we make to come up with something like this to answer the unanswerable seems to raise more questions than it answers and ends up more unsatisfying than satisfying. 

I know you've probably been waiting all week, being patient with me because you think that I'm going to tell you what is going on in this passage, what it really means. Well, I have bad news for you - I'm not going to do that. 

I'm not going to do that because I don't know. It's not something I understand...yet. It's not that I can't understand it (God is not unknowable), but just that I don't understand it right now. There are some things that I do know. I do know that God is not a liar. I do know that God does not change His mind. I do know that I can understand God and that He wants me to understand Him. I do know that God speaks plainly in most circumstances. I do know that whatever the answer to this particular question is, it does not call into question the answers of which I am certain on other questions of God - namely, of His nature and character and love. 

And I'm not troubled by not knowing. I'm really not. It took me a long time to get there, but the truth is that I want a God who is bigger than my understanding of Him. I need a God who is bigger than my understanding of Him. I am not troubled by the mystery; in fact, I am comforted by it. Because it means that my God really is who He says He is - God of all things and not just my things. And that's good news. 

Why did Jesus say He wasn't going and then go? I don't know. The only thing I know is that whatever the reason, it was a very Jesus-like reason. It was a very God-like thing to do. And I can't wait to know what that God-like reason is...because I know that when I do understand it, it will tell me something wonderful about God that clearly, I don't already know. And I just love it when that happens. Every little thing I learn about Him makes me love Him all the more, and I know that this particular thing will be no different.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Finite Nature

If there's no good theological way to explain that Jesus told a little fib because He had to or because He was human, then that still leaves us with the question of what we're supposed to do with this story in John where Jesus appears to tell a little fib. Where the God of truth appears to lie. He said He wasn't going to Jerusalem, but as soon as everyone else left, He did go. 

Maybe, we think to ourselves, Jesus didn't actually tell a lie. Maybe what looks like a lie is actually our inability to understand what He actually said. After all, we are finite human beings and our understanding is limited; we openly confess this. We know that we don't understand everything about God. Maybe this is one of those things we just don't understand because we don't have the ability to understand it. 

Now, there are two ways that we are most likely to approach this line of reasoning. But neither of these is theologically satisfying, either. In fact, they, too, create more problems for us than they solve. 

First, we might say that Jesus was speaking cryptically, that we weren't supposed to understand what He was saying here. We know He did this sometimes. The Bible tells us that He did it and in fact, Jesus Himself tells us that He did it. He spoke in parables quite often, using stories to illustrate points, and even His disciples had trouble understanding what He meant. Part of the Gospel story is Jesus explaining to the disciples later what they didn't understand when He said it. So maybe when He said He wasn't going to Jerusalem, it was one of those things that He'd have to explain later and John just doesn't give us the explanation. 

That would certainly explain things. Except...it doesn't. Because even though we know that Jesus spoke in parables, we also know that most of the time, He didn't. And there is no evidence at all that this little scene in John is a parable; it seems very clearly to be a historical recollection - His brothers asked, Jesus answered, then Jesus acted. That's not a parable. 

We know, though, that sometimes, Jesus spoke plainly and His disciples still didn't understand. But again, that's not a satisfying explanation, either. Every time this happened, it was about Jesus's upcoming crucifixion and glorification or about the Kingdom of God. It was never about an action that He was going to undertake in His physical life. So it's a hard stretch to try to say that this is the one and only time this ever happened. It's just unlikely. 

Even if these lines of thinking were not intellectually dishonest to the Scriptures, they would create theological problems for us. How are we supposed to worship a God whose Word we are not supposed to understand? How are we supposed to love a God who speaks to us in words we aren't supposed to comprehend? That doesn't make any sense. 

Second, if we decide that Jesus wasn't speaking cryptically, then we might say that there's a language barrier anyway. We don't understand fully what the Greek meant. Maybe we aren't translating it correctly. Maybe we're missing something about the nuance of the language, something maybe as simple as the words "with you." Jesus didn't say, "I'm not going to Jerusalem;" He said, "I'm not going to Jerusalem with you" and we just lost it in translation. Yes, that must be it. 

And we know that sometimes, this is true. Scholars have spent years trying to fill in the gaps of the Scriptures, especially where only partial manuscripts have been found or degraded manuscripts or whatever. Sometimes, they're right. Sometimes, you can tell they are just trying to fit things into a nice box. Sometimes, they'll even tell you that they found evidence that some ancient scribe was trying too hard to fit things into a nice box, so current scholars don't believe what they read. They think it's not "original" and that something else was meant or said. 

But again, this creates more theological difficulty than it solves, and for much the same reason. How are we supposed to come to know our God if His Word is distorted? How are we supposed to trust what we think we know about Him if we've had to fill in the blanks ourselves? What good is the Gospel witness if there is any suggestion at all that even one word of it doesn't mean what it appears to mean, if we are convinced that there's such a barrier of language between us and the Gospel that we cannot grasp it? We can't build a faith on this. Not a good one, anyway. 

So neither is it enough to simply say about this passage that our finite nature and limited understanding somehow keeps us from comprehending what's really going on here. 

Now what? 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

A Human Jesus

Maybe it doesn't trouble you that Jesus told a little fib. Maybe you're thinking, hey, the Bible tells us that He was human; this just proves it. In fact, maybe you think that this helps you relate to Jesus a little more. That He doesn't seem so strange once you realize that He's just like you. 

But that kind of thinking presents even bigger theological problems than we looked at yesterday. (Yesterday, we looked at problems created by just accepting the "fact" that sometimes, our God of truth "has" to lie to us.) 

There is, of course, the difficulty of saying that Jesus was "just human" like the rest of us because if that is the case - if Jesus is "just human" - then His death doesn't matter any more than any of the rest of our deaths. His life doesn't matter any more than any of the rest of our lives. If Jesus is just human - and not also God - then the Cross is null. It didn't mean anything. We are men and women still condemned. 

At the same time, if we say, sure, Jesus was God, but He lived as a human...that doesn't work, either. If the God-nature of Jesus didn't change the nature of Jesus in the flesh, then it still doesn't matter. It still doesn't make Him fundamentally different than any of the rest of us. If His God-nature doesn't impact His flesh-living, He is not the Son of God. For He could no more live without His God-nature than we could without the traits we inherited from our fleshly father. 

So we must say that Jesus was not "just human;" and if He was not "just human," then it needs to trouble us that we so quickly dismiss what we are supposed to know of His God-nature when He looks so...fleshly. 

The other theological difficulty that we create with this line of thinking is actually one of our favorites today - it's the notion that Jesus just looks an awful lot like us. He looks so much like us, in fact, that we're pretty certain we understand what it means that He came in the flesh to be with us. Of course He did! We have the same heart. 

For years, a number of pastors have been preaching something to this effect, trying to get the general population to understand who Jesus is by connecting Him with all of the things that we ourselves love about this life. Would Jesus go bowling with you? Of course Jesus would go bowling with you! Just like you, Jesus loves bowling!

Slowly, but surely, we have developed a God created in our image, and we have told ourselves that this helps us relate to Him. And maybe it does. But if we are loving a God made in our image, we are not really loving the God who made us in His. 

See, the whole goal of the Christian faith is that we would become more like Jesus, not that Jesus would become more like us. We have misinterpreted the incarnation to mean something that God never intended it to me. Jesus was meant to show us our glorified selves, our intended humanity, the way that we were meant to live before sin entered in at the Fall. Jesus lived a life untouched by the whisper of the serpent, at least in His heart (His body, of course, fell victim to it for a time), to show us what God created us to be. And if we live a faith that keeps telling us that Jesus is just like us...we no longer have motivation or even desire to become more like Him. We think we don't have to do better because hey, Jesus wasn't much better either. 

Just look at Him - even He told a lie. ....right? 

So you can see the problems that it sets up for us if we try to dismiss this story by just saying that Jesus was human like the rest of us and that this is just the nature of human beings - we fib sometimes. That's not satisfying theologically, and it's not satisfying to our souls.

Thus, we ask again, what are we supposed to do with this story? 

Monday, November 8, 2021

A Little Fib

In the Gospel of John, it looks like Jesus lied. He told His brothers that He was not going to Jerusalem for the feast - "I will not go up" - but then, He goes to Jerusalem for the feast. Not only does He go, but He goes right into the Temple courtyards. And this is one of those stories that we have to figure out because it holds tremendous theological implications for us as a people in love with the God of truth. 

How can He be a God of truth if He lied

Many of us, because we have become so accustomed to this kind of untruth in our culture, may not even be that concerned about this. After all, we always say this sort of thing to one another. "No, I'm not planning anything for your birthday." Because to say that we are would ruin the surprise. "No, I don't have any plans for tonight." Because it makes it all the more special when we show up unannounced and really surprise someone. We don't even consider these lies. But they are still untruths. 

We might think that this really does make Jesus just like the rest of us, that it shows His human nature pretty well. We may not even realize the theological problem that it causes, but it's a pretty significant one. If at any moment in time, Jesus could be telling us an untruth in order to make the glory of the coming moment bigger, how are we ever supposed to know when those moments are? How are we supposed to trust in Him when His eyes might not even be on our situation, but on what's coming next? Something that we know nothing about? 

It's hard to trust a God who might be planning something bigger, which you might or might not be part of. It's hard to trust a God who might have ulterior motives or who might be telling a "little fib" just to make the glory of the next moment bigger. Sure, if it's a birthday party, it's all fun and games, but what if it's not a birthday party? How are we ever supposed to know? Simply put, we cannot trust a God who is duping us, no matter what His motives are. 

And that's not the kind of God He has ever claimed to be. He has always told us He is truth, and we ought to expect that from Him at all times. 

Then there are some who say, well, Jesus had to tell a little fib because the people of Jerusalem were after Him. He had to protect Himself. He had to make sure that the people didn't get ahead of themselves, didn't act before the appointed time had come. Men are, after all, extremely sinful and sometimes, God has to do what God has to do to keep their sin from getting the best of them. 

But this isn't really any better. We are still extremely sinful men. Are we then supposed to expect that our God thus sometimes has to lie to us in order to keep us from ourselves? How, then, are we supposed to know whether this is one of those times God has to lie to us or if He's telling us the truth? How can we know if what God is telling us is for our own good or if it's tor protect Himself?

And wouldn't the greatest protection God could give Himself be to just be the kind of God He proclaimed Himself to be in the first place - a God of truth?

It's troubling to the very core of our souls if we simply justify what Jesus said in this passage in John, if we decide that it's either not that big of a deal or was entirely necessary in order to keep His plan in motion. If we just accept that sometimes, the God of truth lies, then we have created for ourselves a trouble in our faith that we simply cannot overcome. We can't. We cannot worship, put our faith in, or live our lives by a God whose word is usually true, but sometimes deceptive, no matter how we justify it. 

God knew that. That's why He tells us that in Him, there is no lie. Always truth. Every breath. Every moment. 

Now, that still leaves us with this Jesus. It still leaves us with this difficult scene where He says one thing and does the exact opposite. So where do we stand on that?  

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Jesus the Liar

Well, if that title doesn't catch your attention, I don't know what will. 

We all know that God is a God of truth, that God is Truth, that Jesus is the Word and that the Word is life. And therefore, we would think that in God, there would be no dishonesty. No lies. No games. Just truth. But then, there's this...

John tells a story in his gospel in which it appears that Jesus is lying. And it's a tension that John leaves us to wrestle with, never quite resolving (although theologians over the past 2,000 years have made many attempts). 

Jesus is hanging out with His brothers and the time for one of the feasts arrives, so everyone is going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. His brothers, of course, want Jesus to go with them, but Jesus declines. He is not going, He says. His time has not yet come, so He can't go to Jerusalem. He's going to sit this feast out. 

But a breath later, after His brothers have gone, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He goes into the heart of the celebration of the feast. He even goes into the Temple courtyards and into very public places. 

So how do we get from a Jesus who says, "I am not going up to Jerusalem" to a Jesus who actually then does go up to Jerusalem at exactly the same time He said He would not be going?

Christians have wrestled with this passage for generations. Many attempts have been made to make sense of what is happening here. Many have tried to explain it away using language or human nature or both or even something else entirely. We have tried to blame John for not quite capturing the conversation correctly, not quite getting it right. We have thought that maybe the Greek means something different than the way we've figured to translate it into English. We have said that maybe Jesus said that, but what He meant was...whatever. 

And that's the right approach...sort of. It follows the standard rule of biblical interpretation that ought to guide us, which is that any question that is raised about God cannot raise questions about the things about which we are certain. (That's a mouthful; sorry.) What I mean is that there are things that we know for certain about God. We are 100% sure of them. Like God is love. Like God created the heavens and the earth. Like God is gracious. And yes, God is truth. So then, anything that seems to come up against our faith cannot negate something that we are 100% sure of. 

Think of it like this: if we allow this story in John to let us question whether or not God is truth, then what we are saying is that we are now 100% certain that Jesus said these words, that they mean exactly what we think they mean, and that He acted directly opposite His words. If we shift our certainty to this, then we are now less than 100% certain that God is truth. And, well, you cannot build a faith on a few words that Jesus said in Jerusalem at one specific point in time, but you can absolutely build one on a character trait that has been demonstrated since the very beginning. 

It's the same thing that's happening all around us, right? We have persons who did amazing, wonderful, tremendous things for our society and then...they said a bad word on social media and now, they are forever a racist/bigot/homophobe/whatever. This is what we have to resist doing to Jesus when we read this passage. We have to put it in the context of who we know He is. 

That doesn't mean making excuses. And it doesn't mean ignoring it. And it doesn't mean it isn't hard. It is hard. It's incredibly hard to know what to do with this passage. 

What do you with a God who is truth who appears to be a liar?

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Our Luke Problem

You know that I'm not just going to let this be Luke's problem. The truth is that we all suffer from at least a little bit of Luke's oversight. We all seem to have a little bit of this natural bend toward the power, authority, and miracles of Jesus and not really the intimate, personal nature of Him. 

That is, we are more likely to tell each other about a healing that took place or a set of circumstances that miraculously came together than we are the conversation that God had with us in a moment of darkness. We're more likely to share the outcome than the prayer. More likely to talk about His performance than His promise. 

This, I think, is a challenge for us. It's a challenge for us inside the church because we are a people who desperately want to hear from God in our times of greatest need and yet, we are a people who aren't hearing stories about our God who is present in just those times. We're only hearing His victories, not His presence, and that sets up an unrealistic standard for us - namely, that God is going to solve every problem that we have in just the way that we want Him to or else, our faith must not be what we think it is. Or maybe our God is not who we think He is. 

Do you see how this intensifies our questions? Right at the moment when we most need assurance, we are confronted with more doubt because we have this limited view of Jesus, this view where He is supposed to come in and talk to demons and fevers and then what? We just get up and cook dinner or...? 

We need to know that Jesus speaks to more than demons and fevers. We need to know that He's in the waiting room just as profoundly as He is in the operating room. We need to know that He's just as present right now as He is when we approach that thin line between time and eternity. We need to know that when He looks at us, He sees more than our demons and fevers, that He sees us and loves us

And the sad truth is that we, like Luke, have a thousand stories about this, but we aren't telling them. These aren't the stories that we're sharing about Jesus. We aren't sharing His nearness. We aren't sharing His voice. We aren't sharing His laugh. We aren't sharing the way that He cries with us or joins us around our table or whispers His promises in our ears. 

We're waiting for the miracle, and when and if that happens, we'll talk about it.  

My friends, I am telling you, the miracle is already happening. Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, God in flesh, crossed eternity to get to us, to walk with us, to talk with us, and that is the heart of the Gospel. That is the good news that we need to be sharing. That is the story we need to tell one another. 

Because that is the hope that we need. 

Not a God of miracles. Every faith has that. Not a God who controls the wind and the waves; there are dozens of 'gods' who do such a thing. But our God? Our God speaks to the wind and the waves. Just like He speaks to us. That's what makes Him worthy of our praise. 

So let's start telling that story. Can we? Will we? Please? 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Miracles are Boring

Luke apparently didn't think that it was important to tell us that Jesus spoke to the man and the mother-in-law; he was too busy telling us about the Jesus who speaks to demons and fevers. But as we saw yesterday, the thing that sets our God apart from all of the other gods of the world is that He has been, from the very beginning, a God who speaks with us. And if that's what sets Him apart, then that's the witness that we need to hear. 

The truth is...miracles are boring. They are. If we had to spend our entire lives of faith, let alone all eternity, watching God manipulate the factors of the universe, we'd lose interest pretty fast. I know I would. And worse than that, we'd lose the heart of God. 

Think about some of the other gods. There have been cultures throughout history who have had a separate god for just about everything. A god, for example, who only controls thunderstorms. And they have had altars to these gods! But the only interaction they ever had with this god was when a thunderstorm arrived. Then, they knew the god was angry. That was it. There was a god somewhere in the heavens who controlled thunderstorms, and the only way the people had to know he existed was when he got angry and sent them a thunderstorm. 

Likewise, they had a god for, say, fertility or crop-growing. And they had a shrine to this god in their house, as well. But the only interaction they ever had with this god was when their crops grew. They knew this god was happy when they had good crops. That was the only relationship they ever had with him. 

That gets pretty boring after awhile. If the only thing your god ever does is thunderstorms, it doesn't take long for thunderstorms to become fairly boring. "Oh, my god's just up to his thing again. Whatever." If the only thing your god ever does is grow your crops, it doesn't take long before you start to take your crops for granted. After all, that's just what your god does. 

If the only thing your god ever does is miracles, it just doesn't take long before you lose interest in that god. Every miracle you encounter is just your god doing what your god does, and it's not spectacular any more. 

If we're being honest, I'd get tired of miracles pretty quickly. But I also think I could sit and listen to God talk forever. He doesn't even have to be talking to me. Just talking. 

I would never get tired of hearing how my God's heart sounds. I would never get tired of hearing mercy and grace spoken over those that He loves. I would never get tired of hearing Him speak love. I would never get tired of hearing Him laugh or share in the joy of His people. This is the heart of our God, and it is expressed in His speaking with us. And that is such a unique, intimate, personal, blessed experience that it's always dynamic. And because it's always dynamic, it never gets boring. 

And this is why we need to hear about Jesus speaking to the man and the mother-in-law. This is why we need to hear about Jesus speaking to anyone, to everyone. And it's not just from Luke that we need to hear it.... 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Simply Not Important

Yesterday, I said that I believe that Jesus spoke to the man and the mother-in-law (and not just to the demon and the fever) because to do so would be consistent with Jesus's nature. But if that's true, then why didn't Luke just tell us that? Why didn't he at least say, "then Jesus talked with these folks for a bit"? 

I don't even need to know what Jesus said, although that would be interesting. Just tell me that He took a minute or two and carried on a conversation with the human beings around Him. This is part of every other story in the Gospels, Jesus talking to human beings. But in Luke 4, silence. 

Here's what I think happened: I think Luke figured that what Jesus had to say to the man and the mother-in-law simply wasn't important. Luke didn't think Theophilus cared about the small talk that Jesus made. Like most other witnesses living around that time, and like so many of us today, the heart of the Jesus story was in the miracles. It was in the power. It was in the authority. It was in the death, burial, and resurrection. The main goal of most of the Gospel writers, and of many Christians today, was to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Promised One. 

Well, yeah. But does a Gospel preached only toward the Kingdom miss something essential about God? 

I think it does. And I know that comes as a shock to a lot of persons, even to a lot of Christians. Shouldn't we just be proclaiming God? Shouldn't we spend our time focused on His miracles, His power, His authority, His death and resurrection? Isn't that the heart of the story?

No. No, it's not. And this is one of the greatest struggles that the church has today. The world - and even Christians who have spent so much of their lives in church just going through the motions - they're not impressed with miracles. They're not impressed with a God who manipulates the world like a puppet master. It's a cool party trick, sure, but every people of every time and every place has claimed that their god can do this. That's the nature of a god. 

We don't have a god; we have a Lord. And what makes Jesus so cool is not that He can speak to demons and fevers; what makes Him cool is the Promise that He embodies, a Promise set forth in the beginning when God Himself walked with His people in the cool of the day. Do you think God walked around Eden talking to demons and fevers? Of course not. He walked around in the Garden talking with Adam and Eve, even after the fall. He talked with Abraham. He talked with Noah. He talked with Moses. He talked with David. What makes our God so cool is that He has been, from the very beginning, a God who talks with us. 

So maybe Luke didn't think it mattered much, that it wasn't important what Jesus said to the man or the mother-in-law, but it is. That is the essence of our Lord; that is the heart of who He is. And that's the kind of witness that we need.

Monday, November 1, 2021

A God Who Speaks

On the surface, it's troubling: these stories that we have in Luke where Jesus spoke to a demon and a fever, but not to the man or the mother-in-law. It paints this picture of Jesus that I have to wrestle with a little bit, this Jesus who walks in and takes care of things but...doesn't seem to take care of persons. This Jesus who is so different from the Jesus that I've fallen in love with on every other single page of the Scriptures. 

But if He's not a Jesus who speaks to the man and the mother-in-law....

Take heart, though, because you know what? I think He did. I think Jesus spoke directly to the man in the synagogue, and I think he spoke to Peter's mother-in-law at the house. 

I think the Jesus that healed this man and this mother-in-law is the same Jesus who turned around in a crowd to talk to a bleeding woman who had touched the hem of His garment. I think the Jesus that healed this man and this mother-in-law is the same Jesus who stopped on the side of the road to talk with a blind man who was calling out His name. I think the Jesus that healed this man and this mother-in-law is the very same Jesus who we see on every other single page of the Gospels, spending His time in the flesh with men and women in the flesh and talking to them, not just taking care of their problems. 

This is a challenge for some who want to say, wait a minute, Luke doesn't tell us that. It seems dangerous to just go about adding things to the Bible, expanding on the stories that we're given. Doesn't God give us those stories for a specific purpose? Aren't these stories in Luke what God wanted us to hear?

They are...and yet, we know instinctively that there are always details missing from the story of Jesus. For example, what was He wearing when the bleeding woman reached out and touched the hem of His garment? We assume it was just the standard attire of the day, but the writers don't tell us that. What kind of vessel were they drinking wine out of at Capernaum? We don't know, but we fill in that detail in our minds based on what we understand of the culture of the day. How did the friends get the paraplegic onto the roof to drop him in front of Jesus? We aren't told, but we know that houses of the day often had ladders or other roof access permanently built into their structures, so it's not hard for us to fathom something like this happening. (We do not think they had to go get a ladder and thus carry both a paraplegic and a ladder.) 

For that matter, the Scriptures never tell us what Jesus looks like and yet, we have a fairly standard representation of Him circulating in our midst (one that is being culturally corrected by our generation, but even this has no basis in the Scriptures - no one tells us what Jesus looked like). But we have a general idea based on what we know about what persons from this region and time looked like - from other sources that we have about this region and time and people. 

The truth is that we're always filling in the details based on what we know and what we understand. We are always, quite naturally, expanding upon the details given to us in the Scriptures to create a coherent picture of the events in our minds. 

And so, when we picture these scenes where Luke tells us that Jesus spoke to a demon and to a fever, it's not a stretch at all for our minds to picture a Jesus who is also speaking to a man and a woman. To a Jesus who fellowships with Peter's mother-in-law over the dinner that she got up to cook. To a Teacher in the synagogue who has a few words for the healed man, too. 

Because this would be consistent with Jesus's nature and what we know of it. This would fit with the facts that we understand about who Jesus is. Just as we have a concept of what a cup might have looked like at a wedding or how a ladder might have been attached to a house or what a tunic with tassels on it might have looked like, so we are certain that Jesus was a Lord who talked with persons. There is no conflict here. There is no distortion of the biblical witness. 

But there remains a question, and that is this: if Jesus indeed spoke to the man and the mother-in-law, why didn't Luke just tell us that? And that...is a question we're still answering in our own faith. We'll take more about this tomorrow. 

Jesus, Speak to Me

There are a couple of scenes in the Gospels that really bother me. They just sort of nag at my soul a little bit, and it's hard to really know what to do with them. Two such scenes can be found in Luke 4, in the healings Jesus performs. 

There is a man who is demon-possessed when Jesus comes into the synagogue, and the demon starts taunting Jesus in front of everyone. So Jesus speaks to the demon, and it comes out of the man without hurting him. 

Then, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to Peter's house, where Peter's mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Here again, Jesus speaks to the fever and the fever leaves the woman and she gets up and makes dinner for them all. 

These are two really great healings, and the people are amazed. They fall in love with Jesus, marveling at His power and authority to do such things. And that's great, but...

But in neither of these scenes does Jesus speak to the human being at the center of them. Luke doesn't tell us that Jesus spoke a single word at all to the demon-possessed man; He only spoke to the demon. Likewise, we have no words recorded between Jesus and Peter's mother-in-law; Jesus only addresses the fever. 

There are a lot of persons in our world who would love this kind of relationship with Jesus and in fact, there are a lot who seek it. Even many who call themselves Christians. In fact, too many Christians seek this kind of relationship with Jesus. They want His power and authority to come and speak away the bad things in their lives and then, they want to get up and make dinner. 

And listen, it's cool. It's a neat trick. It's a great ally to have on your side, this Jesus who speaks to demons and fevers. But I just...I want more. And I think God wants more, too. 

God didn't so love the world so that Jesus could come and speak to demons and fevers. He didn't. Jesus did not cross eternity to get here, lie in a manger, and die on a cross so that you could get up and cook dinner. God did not walk with us in the cool of the day and knit together fig leaves to cover our shame so that the people would marvel at His authority and whisper amongst themselves. 

So these two stories, told in the same breath in Luke, trouble me a little. I'm trying to think how I'd feel if I had a God who spoke to my demons and my fevers and not to me. I'm trying to think how I could fall in love with a Jesus who...seemed to be looking right past me. I'm trying to think how I would feel if at the precise moment that the Lord of the Universe was so near to me that I could smell Him, I somehow had the urge to just get up and cook dinner. I'm trying to fathom what it would be like to be in these stories that trouble me and then...

...and then I think...maybe I don't have to. Maybe it's not what it seems....

(Stay tuned.)