Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One simple truth

Obedience is boring when things are going well.

That's when I'm tempted by the enticement: think of all the things you're missing because you don't . . . .

I must admit: the allurement of sin makes me wonder about the forbidden. Why not spice up your life with a little indulgence?

The problem is: I fear God.

I'm afraid He will say, "So, let's get this straight. Life is so good, every once in a while you get bored. Want a little action? Want to shake things up a little? A little intensity? Want to go to a place where you long for the good ol' days, when good things were predictably boring?"

No. No. I take it back. I'm so grateful your goodness is so reliable I feel like I'm missing out on other things.

Honestly, I wouldn't make a very good rebel, anyways.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Christian War

I've been working through the Revelation of John, developing an idea that worship is an act of war in the Apocalypse. When we gather to worship God on the Lord's day, we are declaring war on the world. That's the sequence of the seven visions. Each vision begins with a festal gathering of worshippers around God's throne or in God's temple, then forces are marshalled against the powers of evil on earth. Heaven comes to earth when God is worshipped. And, with his presence, so comes the kingdom of God. It's a breath-taking vision--one that each of the seven churches desperately needed. The letter reveals the challenges/problems each church faced. And, I believe, each vision addresses how each church overcomes them.

Here's my thesis: Revelation is a behind the scenes peak at liturgy. So, each vision reveals what happens during the constitutive parts of worship (adoration, prayer, presenting the word, song, confession, commission). And, each part of worship is the answer to each problem the seven churches were facing. Ephesus needed to recover the adoration of God (vision #1), Smyrna needed to be reminded that prayer works (vision #2), and so on.

So, Revelation is a manual for recovering authentic worship of God and bringing justice to the earth.

A little different read than your "left behind" approach. What do you think?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Hell?

Hell may be a strange place to begin a discussion about self-defense, but we all know sometimes it's best to start with last things (Schweitzer!?). The more I think/read about hell according to the NT, the more I'm beginning to see a two-fold purpose: to punish disobedience and to stop evil. Beyond question, God takes violent measures to stop evil (John's Revelation is filled with such imagery). And, according to Paul, God even uses evil empires (Rome!) to stop evil (the infamous Ro. 13 passage). In fact, Revelation tells a similar story: the kings of the earth destroy the Harlot and the heavens rejoice. In other words, even from a NT perspective, God takes violent measures to stop evil.

But, here comes the real question: does that give us precedent for doing the same?

The only scriptural justification in the NT that I can see to support using violence for self-defense is Luke 22:36. Here Jesus seems to imply that his disciples are going to need to take care of themselves since he will no longer be with them. Thus, the advice: if you don't have a sword, sell your coat and get one. But, before we build a case on such cryptic advice, we must consider the rest of the story. When one of his disciples reveal the swords they have already been carrying around (I haven't heard a single sermon stressing this part of the story--but, what does that say about the sword-carrying disciple? Maybe he wasn't so sure Jesus would protect him from evil? Where's the faith?), Jesus reveals a reason why he made such a request: having sword-toting disciples will fulfill Scripture when he is arrested. Is this the only reason Jesus gave the advice to buy a sword? I don't think so. It strains at credulity to think that Jesus expects his disciples, so late in the evening, to secure a sword before they get to Gethsemane. Something else is going on here. (I think Jesus knew a few of his disciples were carrying swords--what, were they hiding them in their pockets? Jesus made his statement to draw out the implications of what would transpire in the garden. He wouldn't need their help. But, at the same time, they wouldn't have his anymore.) But, I don't think this one text stands up very well as a proof text for violent, self-defense--especially against the sea of evidence we call the NT. No where do we have stories of Christians using violence to defend themselves. Not even in the Revelation of John do we have scenes of God or Christ marshalling forces on earth to conquer evil. The only armies that do violence come from heaven. Instead, throughout the Revelation, the faithful on earth are encouraged to remain faithful witnesses (martyrs).

So, would God allow me, a follower of Christ, to use violent means to stop an evil attack on me, just like God does/did?

I don't think so. But, that doesn't mean I won't. After all, I'm evil, too (Mt. 7:11).

Which is why, when it comes to stopping evil, I can eventually count on hell.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rediscovering Paul

IVP has listed our textbook (written by Capes, Reeves, and Richards) as a future release on their website. "Rediscovering Paul" is supposed to come out the end of October/beginning of November. Getting some good reviews. Looking forward to seeing what readers think. I'll be using it this Fall for Early Pauline Epistles.

Here's the link:

Friday, July 13, 2007


We were sitting on the beach in Maui and it dawned on me that we were enjoying the perfect day.

My beautiful wife by my side.

Our son and daughters reveling in the sand, surf, and sun.

Drip sand castles. Boogie boards. Paperback novels.

Rolling waves, indigo sea, clear blue skies, basaltic mountains, tropical flowers, distant islands.

Rest. Sabbath. Selah. Pause.

Breathe in, breathe out.

This is paradise.

Wait. No, it's not. This too shall pass. Even though I want this moment to be eternal, I know time marches on. Like the wind, I don't know why it moves on. But it always does. I can take a picture and try to capture the moment. Video tape may take me back vicariously to this perfect day, helping to preserve a memory. But, indeed, it's never the same. Even now, that blissful time dances in my mind like a dream, a vision, a recollection.

One day, time will be frozen. The eternal moment will be upon us. Paradise--like we've known only for a few moments in this beautiful world made by a God who is Beauty--it will be forever ours. Until then, whispers of what has been continue to push me forward to what will be.

He is Paradise. And, one day, I will be with Him, with my beautiful wife by my side, with our children reveling in the sea of His presence, and a clear vision of all that is Beauty and Goodness and Fun.

Oh God. What a day that will be.

The perfect day.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Zeroes and ones

I was recently informed by Baker Books that they're going to declare my book, "A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today" out of print. Seems that 4,000+ copies in two years isn't enough to justify keeping it around. Since this was my first attempt at writing/publishing for the general market, I'm not surprised. At the same time, it kind of "hurts" to know that what I wrote didn't appeal to very many readers (at least, by Baker Books' standards). Obviously, I didn't try to write something that would be "marketable." Yet, I secretly hoped it would do well.

Thanks to all who bought a copy, read a copy, or shared a copy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Just Jesus

There is no such thing as a "just war" according to the New Testament. That's why most Christians who argue for a "just war" appeal to the Old Testament. But, to use the Old Testament to justify war is about as precarious as justifying polygamy (Gen. 30) or divorce (Ezra 10:3) or adultery (Gen. 38). No doubt, some might point out: but God never told them to marry another or divorce their wives or commit adultery to preserve a blood line. He did say to Joshua to "utterly kill every enemy." Ah, but therein lies the rub: God used to say "kill your enemies," but now he says "love your enemies." He used to say "an eye for an eye," but now he says, "take no revenge." At least, that's what Jesus said God says. Was Jesus right about God? Has God "changed his mind"--once he was for genocide but now he's against it? That's the question "just war" theorists must answer. Be careful little mouths what you say! You might just find yourself disagreeing with the one you claim to follow.

Jesus didn't have the same sense of justice as we do. For me, the classic example is found in Luke 12. A man asked Jesus to take up his cause. The injustice? His brother was not obeying the Torah. So, the man appealed to Jesus: "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." What Jesus should have said was, "Let's go find this scoundrel and teach him a lesson about greed." Instead, Jesus warns the victim about the dangers of "every form of greed." If Jesus were out to right every wrong, he shouldn't have walked away from this fight. He should have corrected the injustice. He is, after all, the righteous one. But, this injustice wasn't worth his time. Instead, he said (somewhat callously), "What's that got to do with me?"

Jesus wasn't out to make sure people get what they deserve. In fact, he lived and died so that none of us would get what we deserve. In a "just" world, everyone is supposed to get what they deserve. We make laws and wars to make sure of it. We know that law and order doesn't work sometimes. We know that war is bad. Innocent people can suffer from both. But, we believe the lesser of two evils is required if we're going to strive for justice. And yet, most of the time, preserving our justice comes at the expense of another. Justifying war seems just as easy as justifying our sin.

So, how did Jesus deal with this mess? What did he do? Jesus believed the only way we can do justice is to show mercy. That's what the cross proves to us. To quote Paul, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And, here's the hard part: Jesus expected us to follow his lead. Paul did. Peter did. John did.

Do we?

Honestly, I'd rather have "justice" on my terms than his.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why I am not a pacifist

Once again, after working through the Sermon on the Mount, I am faced with the blunt reminder that I'm not following Jesus. He said we're supposed to gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands if they offend us. He said we're not supposed to call anyone a fool. He said we're not supposed to take revenge. He said we're supposed to love our enemies.

Here is my confession: I want to follow Jesus, but I don't. I want to turn the other cheek, but I can't. I want to be a pacifist, but I'm not. Here's why.

1. Hypocrisy. I don't believe those who live in America can be pacifists. To me it is hypocrisy to enjoy "peace and security" via violent resistance (police and military protection) and claim to follow the way of Jesus, i.e., non-violent resistance. It reminds me of the wealthy who are troubled by their fate--how horrible it is to be imprisoned by the power of money and greed. The easy solution? Give away your wealth. But, we won't do that, will we? We'd rather complain about how hard it is to live with money than do something about it. Pacifists who complain about the injustices of war and benefit from military protection have little moral authority to preach their sermons. Genuine pacifists live under facist dictators, where the context of Jesus' teaching matches the conviction of those who would live out non-violent resistance. Even though I think the Amish come closest in our country to following the teachings of non-violent resistance, even they will call the police when an unspeakable tragedy has befallen them (Paradise, Pennyslvania).

2. Interpreting Jesus. None of us take Jesus' sermon literally. Even though he lived what he preached (read the rest of the story. Did he not turn the other cheek? Did he not love his enemies?), we don't. Take for example the way we read his teachings about lust. Bonhoeffer rightly suggested why Jesus targeted eyes and hands as instruments of offense. These are the tools of lust. Yet, I have never met a single disciple of Jesus who is maimed or blind because they tried to follow Jesus' teachings literally. Instead, we recognize that Jesus' may have used hyperbole (exaggeration for effect) when speaking of the dangers of lust. Was Jesus also exaggerating when he talked about giving away our coats or turning the other cheek? At the same time, we know that lust is sin; violence is evil. So, the fact that Jesus was exaggerating to make his point doesn't excuse our behavior, either. Can you imagine any disciple of Jesus saying, "I'm still going to harbor lustful desires for another woman. I'm still going to hate my enemies and try to destroy them"? Whether we like it or not, we still have to intepret what Jesus said not only by what we think he meant, but also by what he did. Who is following him?

3. Context is key. Jesus gave instructions for his disciples in a time when Roman Imperial oppression was reality. I'm a white, male who lives in America (no oppression). I don't live in a land of foreign occupation (I'm not full-blooded Indian). I've never been struck on the cheek. My government defines who my enemies are supposed to be. Even though, as an American, I have certain rights and privileges protected by law (violent resistance!), here I am, wanting to follow Jesus because I claim to be his disciple. Is that possible? Jesus' world was so different from mine. What is non-violent resistance supposed to look like in place like America? Maybe it looks like Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe it looks like an abused wife who refrains from killing her husband. Maybe it looks like American Christian Arabs who live under the oppressive weight of suspicious neighbors. It certainly doesn't look like me.

Lord Jesus, help me follow you.

Next post: why I don't believe in a just war.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Resurrection is the Kingdom of God

Jesus predicted that some of his disciples wouldn't die until they saw the kingdom of God (Mark 9:1). As far as Mark is concerned, that prophecy began to be fulfilled just "six days later" when Jesus was transfigured before three of the twelve. Jesus was radiant that day, all white and sparkly. Indeed, the metamophosis of Jesus was (in the words of Richard Hays) a "sneak preview of Easter." Glorious. Brilliant. Shining. A shade of white no laundry could produce (no kidding, Mark).

I think it's significant that Jesus said some of his disciples wouldn't die until they saw the glory of the kingdom. He didn't use any other benchmark for life. "I tell you, some of you won't get married until . . . some of you won't leave the country until . . . some of you won't observe another seder until . . ." No. It was the terminus of life--death itself--which hung over all their heads like a guillotine. And, ironically, it would be the death of Jesus that would bring about the end of death's reign. For, when Christ was raised from the dead, the glory of God's kingdom was revealed. Jesus killed death, our greatest enemy, so that life would reign forevermore.

In Mark's gospel, the disciples never got to see the fulfillment of that prophecy. All they had to go on was what they heard: Christ is risen and he goes ahead to meet you, "just as he said he would." And so it is.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

X Marks the Spot

(I'm currently writing about Paul's spirituality. So, thought I'd post a paragraph or two.)

When you see a cross, what do you think of? Churches and jewelry, vampires and cemeteries, or crusades and swords? Crosses are worn religiously by the fashionable and the pious. Crosses ward off evil spirits and mark off dead men’s bones. Crosses shield the faithful warrior and are driven into the ground by the victorious. Indeed, over time, the Roman cross has come to symbolize many things: power, sacredness, beauty, and hope. But, to the people of Paul’s day, crosses meant one thing: death. Outside nearly every Roman town, along the major roads that funneled travelers into the cities, there were crosses. Sometimes holding their latest victim, with birds perched on their shoulders, picking at the carrion left exposed to the elements, crosses stood like soldiers holding post, guarding Roman interests, warning violators of imminent death. You couldn’t leave town or enter a city without the daily reminder of death’s ugly pallor. Travel along the roads of the first-century Roman Empire and you would always find a cross.
When I travel, I can’t help but notice the crosses that line the highways, marking the sacred places where somebody died. A husband, wife, son, daughter—an entire family. Sometimes adorned with placards, pictures, flowers, wreaths—these makeshift monuments remind all travelers that death could be waiting for us around the corner. A cross marks the spot, a time and a place. Every time I pass one, my heart hurts. Without dwelling on the mystery too long, I wonder what happened. Who died? When did it happen? Sometimes the large collection of gifts around the cross makes me wonder if the accident occurred last week. At other times these sacred sites look weathered and cluttered—the pitiful remains of a holy pilgrimage no longer dutifully kept. Even after road crews carefully remove the tattered teddy bears and broken wreaths, the crosses often remain. Indeed, one cannot travel across our country without seeing a cross, the end of life, the last place on earth for somebody.

“Who lives there?” That’s the question our daughter asked when we drove by a cemetery several years ago. Emma was only six years old at the time. We had passed by that graveyard many times before. Had never talked about it. Never pointed it out. It’s one of the older cemeteries in Jonesboro, the kind that have the large monuments, statues of angels, and crosses. I really don’t know why she assumed that such a place had anything to do with people. But she did. “That’s where dead people live,” I said rather callously, enjoying the paradox. My wife, Sheri, was taken back by my blunt response, giving me the “that-was-insensitive look” I have come to recognize so well. “What do you mean?” Emma asked with her usual matter-of-fact tone. “Well, when we die, our souls go to be with Jesus in heaven, but our bodies stay here—so they have to put them somewhere.” Sheri interrupted my indelicate answer with a more careful explanation. “Most of the time the body is placed in a box called a ‘casket.’ Then, family and friends go to the cemetery to have the funeral, and the casket is placed underground.” No response. Emma seemed satisfied with her little tutorial about death, caskets, dead bodies, and cemeteries. Then, several minutes later, after the conversation had thankfully turned to another subject, Emma interrupted, “Then why does our church have a cross on it. Dead people don’t live there, too, do they?”

A cross is supposed to show where you can find a dead man. When we hang them around our necks or mount them on top of our church buildings, we’re actually declaring to the world: “dead people live here.” Paradoxically, the cross of Jesus marks the end of our life, which is death, and the beginning of our death, which is life. X marks the spot where we gave up our life and found it at the same time. For all practical purposes, when we bent our knee to Jesus, when we embraced the cross of his death as our life, we kissed the world goodbye. Like a reversal of the betrayer’s kiss in Gethsemane, we have signaled to our captors that friendship with the world is enmity toward God. Not in remorse, but with gratitude we throw our thirty pieces of silver into the temple because an innocent man was sacrificed for us. Arrested by God’s grace, we claim that money isn’t the root of all good, that pedigree means nothing, that the pursuit of happiness is a waste of time, that the world can never fail us because we’re no longer counting on it. For us, the cross of Jesus is not losing some to gain more—an investment strategy. This is giving up. When Jesus forgave my sins he took my pitiful, irreplaceable life as well. What a relief! Travelers to southern California and southwest Missouri may not see it, but a cross on life’s highway marks the spot where I died.

Paul’s cross stands on the road to Damascus, Syria. It must have been quite a shock. Up to that point, Paul was convinced that he was in the center of God’s will, doing exactly what God wanted him to do—arresting fellow Jews who belonged to “the Way.” As persecutor of the church, Paul considered himself “blameless” in the ways of righteousness (Phil. 3:6). He was doing God’s work, zealous for God’s law. Imagine his surprise when he found out he was doing the exact opposite of what God wanted. One minute you’re walking confidently on the path of righteousness, the next moment your face is on the ground looking for a little mercy. Life changes like lightning flashes. Sight one moment, blind the next. Paul lost it all that day—the day he was knocked to the ground and blinded by a heavenly light. He knew what this meant. He had been wrong—wrong about Jesus, wrong about the law, wrong about the Christians, wrong about the cross. And, he knew what this would mean. Nothing would stay the same: in an instant, old things passed away and everything became new. It was an unbelievable reversal—the rumor spread quickly: “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Ga. 1:23). For Paul, this was more than a prophet’s calling: “Go, preach to the Gentiles.” This was conversion. Embracing the cross of Jesus meant turning his back on his previous life. But, did it have to be that way? Why did Paul automatically assume that he would have to give up his “former life in Judaism”—that he couldn’t be a Pharisee and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ at the same time (Ga. 1:13-16)?

Some think Paul was tired of trying to please God by obeying all the rules. That trusting in Christ came as a welcome relief to this frustrated, obedient Jew. But, that doesn’t square with the way Paul characterized his life in Judaism before he met Christ. For him, the law was the means to life—a gift from God. Paul loved the law; it was holy and good (see Ro. 7:10-12). And, he was keeping it better than anyone. He liked the way things were before Damascus. So, why did he give it all up?

When Paul met Christ it was the end of the world. Seeing the Messiah in all of his glory meant that the kingdom of God had come. That’s what Paul had been told all of his life: if you see a glorified Messiah, it’s all over. It’s kind of like the constant idea you run into when reading the Old Testament. When a person saw God, they thought they were dead because no one looks upon the face of the Lord and lives to tell about it. Likewise, many Jews believed that when Messiah appeared in all his glory it would signal the end of this age, this time, this world. That’s what happened to Paul the day Christ appeared to him. His world was over. His life had come to an end. Traditions (preserving the old) became irrelevant because the new had come. Old ways died. The new age had begun. Nothing would be the same again.

Paul claimed that the gospel of Jesus was “apocalypsed” in him (Gal 1:16). Indeed, what happened to him on the road of Damascus was an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world event. The Christophany just didn’t happen to him, but exploded within him. From that day forward, Paul’s life would no longer be defined by the law, by ethnicity, by nationality, by traditions—everything that gave him an identity was gone. From the time he hobbled into Damascus like a blind man until the day he was thrown into prison like a criminal, his life would look like the life of the Crucified One. Paul lost it all that day: status, family, ethnic pride. Everything that defined who he was—how he saw himself and the world—was gone. Before, he saw all things through the lens of the law—a binary world of men/women, Jew/Gentile, blessed/cursed, holy/unclean. But now, after Damascus, he sees neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave or free. Can you imagine how difficult it was? Being a Jew doesn’t matter anymore, so now I have to start over. Keeping the law doesn’t define who I am anymore, so now I can hang out with Gentiles and eat pork. Women can handle the scriptures. The cursed are loved by God. The orderly world, the comfortable world, the world as he knew it was no more. When Paul gained Christ, he lost it all.

I hope it's not too late to realize what I lost when I gained Christ: I am not an American. I am not a Baptist. I am not a Professor. I am not a success. I am a man who hopes to find life in a cross.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hurry up, Jesus

Believing isn't difficult. Waiting is the hard part. As believers we're taught to consider the injustices of our world. We try to do our part to help relieve human suffering (do we ever do enough?). Tired of things "the way they are," we want God to "put the world to rights," to use N.T. Wright's favorite expression. But, what happens when it's our world that is out of joint? What happens when we're the one looking for help, feeling the injustice, setting our face against the winds of resistance? It's one thing to contend with the God of the heavens, trying to get him to reverse the curse and bring help and hope to our friend or neighbor. It's quite something else to shake the heavens with our prayers for our own family. Who cares about the principle of the matter? I'm not arguing theology. This time, injustice is personal. This time, evil hurts. This time, we want God to favor us regardless. I'm not thinking about others right now.

I'm drawn to this story because of what it doesn't say. I've always been intrigued by Mark's weaving of these two stories together--the woman with female problems and Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:21-43). For both, the number 12 is significant--the woman suffered from her condition for 12 years, the little girl who died was 12 years old. Uncleanness runs throughout both stories: the woman's constant period rendered her perpetually unclean; the little girl was dead (the epitome of uncleanness). And, I've always appreciated how Jesus "reversed the curse" in both stories. The Pharisees taught the touch of unclean persons made the clean unclean. In these stories, in dramatic fashion, Mark shows how Jesus reversed the polarity of clean and unclean: this time, it's the clean touch of a holy man who makes the unclean clean. Making a big deal about "who touched me" and ordering the parents to give the once-dead-but-now-alive girl something to eat (unclean!!!) proves Jesus' point very well. And yet, there are things that didn't happen that should have happened that make me consider the faith of one person--the man who appears in both stories.

Jairus had been waiting for Jesus for quite some time. To Jewish eyes, I'm sure, Jesus had been "wasting time" in Gentile country before coming back across the Sea to Jewish territory. Desperate, Jairus falls on his knees and begs for Jesus to come and "lay hands" on his daughter because he believed she was "close to death." Much to his delight, Jesus decides to follow the man to his house. This was the time to make haste. The girl was about to die. But, Jesus didn't make very good time for two reasons: the huge crowd prevented an expeditious trip, and there was some commotion about touching Jesus and an unclean woman begging for forgiveness. If I were the man, the snail pace of Jesus pushing through the crowds would have made me desperately angry. "Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Move! Move! Hurray. We've got to go. Would you numbskulls get OUT OF THE WAY!" I would have been screaming my head off. Then, inexplicably, Jesus stops in the middle of this mad scene, the masses pressing in against him, with signs of paranoia, "Who touched me? Who touched me?" Even the disciples were incredulous, "What do you mean, 'Who touched you?' Do you see the crowd? Who isn't touching you?" But Jesus wouldn't budge. He wouldn't take another step until he got his answer. At this point, my desperation would have turned to exhaustion. "Who cares? Who cares? We'll find out later. Let's go, for heaven's sake. MY DAUGHTER IS DYING."

But, he didn't say a word. Patiently waiting his turn, he gets word that it's too late. His little girl is dead. But, Jesus knows it's never too late--especially when a holy man says he's coming to your house to take care of business.

Oh Lord. Please come to my house and take care of your business . . . whenever you get the time.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Come and See

I recently received an invitation to attend a conference where Christian theologians are going to defend the faith against deconstructionists. The best defense, the organizers claim, is wielding the sword of "propositional truth." After all, if deconstructionists maintain there is no absolute truth (oxymoron!), then the best thing we can do is to show them what is absolutely true: arguing for the verities of our faith one proposition at a time.

Ever since my first philosophy class, I've always been a bit suspicious of "propositional truth." My philosopher professor loved to show his students how absolute claims rarely bear the weight of careful argumentation. Like cracks in a concrete foundation, flaws in the premise of an argument eventually brings the whole house down. I decided right then I wouldn't ever find shelter from the storm of doubt in a house built on rationalism. One person's reason is another person's invitation to try to blow the house down.

Greek students know that "abide" or "remain" is a code word in John's gospel and letters. As a matter of fact, it appears so often, they get sick of seeing it. Abide here, abide there, abide everywhere. Abide, abide, abide. That's why most readers miss the irony of the question when a couple of would-be disciples of Jesus asked him, "where do you abide?" They had begun to follow Jesus because their mentor, John the Baptizer, told them to. Jesus, perhaps curious about their intentions asked them, "what are you looking for?" (Jo. 1:38). "Rabbi, where do you abide?" Jesus said, "Come and see."

I'm so glad he said, "Come and see," rather than, "I'm staying in Capernaum" or "The Son of Man has no where to lay his head" or "You have no idea what you're asking. Do you realize the implications of 'abiding'? That's one loaded question. Let's see. Some might say that I abide with the Father. Others might say that I abide in the hearts of believers. . ." or [I'm especially glad he didn't say] "split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift up a stone, and I am there."

Instead, he gave one of the most tempting, tantalizing, curiously inviting, intriguing, provocative, profound replies. Come and see. Come and see. Oh God, I'm so glad he said, "come and see."

Out of my wonder, sorrow, and night. Jesus, I come to thee.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ashamed of Jesus

There's a story in Mark's gospel that I've never really paid much attention to. It's when Jesus' family comes for him when he's teaching but they can't get to him because of the crowded house. They send word for him. Jesus, obviously interrupted by their notice of arrival, callously replies, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then he says to those listening to him, "See! My mother and my brothers." Justifying his strange comment, Jesus states, "Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." The reason, I think, I've never been bothered by Jesus' provocative statement is that I have always found myself in the company of those who belong to Jesus' new family. Sitting at his feet, I hear his words as if he were talking to me. I revel in the fact that, even though I don't have Jewish blood coursing through my veins, I'm still Jesus' brother because I try to do God's will. So, I belong to him. He's like family to me.

Mark finishes off the story as a continuation of what happened before. Because Jesus reconstituted Israel by choosing the twelve (God is starting over!), his family thought he had lost his mind (Mark 3:21). They, embarassed by Jesus, came to retrieve him--to get him out of the mess he was making. Even for them, things had gone too far. This is why they come to remove him from the crowded house. But, to their surprise, Jesus went even further with his charade. Not only was Israel being redefined. Jesus was re-imaging what it meant to be family. Imagine how shocking it must have been for his mother and brothers to hear the report. "Did you tell him we're out here? Yes, we told him. What did he say? He said you're not his family anymore. He said we're his family now."

Now, I find myself outside the crowded house where people who are not Jesus' family gather to listen to him. They're addicts and divorcees and homosexuals and foul-mouthed vagrants. They're also Asians and Africans and South Americans and Indians. They don't worship God like I do. They don't talk like I do. They don't eat and drink the right things, read the right books, or listen to the right preachers. Yet, there they sit. Gathered around his feet. Studying his every word. Trying to make sense of his life, his teachings, his ways.

This is embarassing. They act like they are his family. They act like they know him. They act like they're listening to him. They even quote him (like they know what he's talking about). Somebody needs to go to Jesus and pull him out of this mess. He needs to know things have gone too far. This is getting out of hand.

I know. I'll do it. I'll go and tell him his brother is here. We need to talk.

"God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him." Karl Barth