Dig Go Down Deep

Once there were these fishermen who never fished. They traveled around and went to conferences about fishing. They blogged about fishing. They debated about proper fishing technics. They argued about whether using a fishing pole or net or your bare hands was the proper way to fish. They discussed the pros and cons of using a boat; of fishing from the peer; of standing in the middle of a river. They were fishing scholars who never practiced any of the technics they considered themselves to be experts of. They were articulate and well educated, having a doctorate in ixthology. However, they had never caught a single fish because they never went fishing.

              Luke 6:46-49 begins with a question which is followed by a parable illustrating the question. The question is “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” It seems likely that “Lord” means more than “sir” here. A respectful greeting does not require obedience. The word can mean “owner” referring to the master of an estate. It was also used for kings who were considered to be divine. Some suggest that in this context it may have to do with calling Jesus something like “rabbi.” The question suggests that the word refers to some kind of authority; the Lord expects to not only be listened to, but obeyed. This would fit the rabbi/disciple relationship. Jesus is more than a guru spewing words or wisdom so that people will be impressed. He fully expects people to alter how they live based on his message. There will always be people who will name Jesus “Lord” without any impact on their lives. Clearly, this is not what Jesus asked of us. Nope! He asked so much more.

              The person who hears Jesus’ message and practices it; is transformed by it, is like a man who built a house well. He dug – he went deep – and laid his foundation on the bedrock. Many translations throw the words “dig” and “go deep” together and translate “dug deep.” It seems better to keep them as two verbs: “He dug; he went down deep.” This would emphasize the effort. Bailey states that every builder in Palestine understands that you always dig until you reach bedrock. This is often very hard work because the clay in Palestine, during the dry season, having been baked by the sun, is extremely hard. But during the rainy season, this clay softens and shifts. If you are going to claim Jesus as Lord you are going to work hard. His message is more than nice pithy sayings. They are life forming mantras; words to live by. So you dig; you go down deep and you lay your foundation on the bedrock. When the river overruns its banks and the torrent crashes against your house, it will stand because it has been built well.

              But the one who has heard, but doesn’t change his life; doesn’t obey; doesn’t act – he is like a person who lazily builds his house. He lays his foundation on top of the ground. It seems solid. Why work so hard to get to the bedrock? He might as well not even have a foundation. When the torrent crashes against his house, the clay is softened and washed right out from underneath the house and it collapses in on itself. The word “ruin” has the idea of “being split open.” It is a medical term for a laceration or rupture. Building a house is always a large investment of resources and time. So, even though this builder lazily decided to not dig, not to go down deep, he has worked hard and has sunk a lot of money into this house. And now? Well, now it lies split open, having collapsed on itself. The person who wants to name Jesus as Lord, but doesn’t want to go down deep, may as well not build at all. All of his investment; all of his work; will lay in ruins.

              Jesus is not just a wise teacher. He is the Lord; the owner; the divine king. And if you hear the Lord tell you to measure out forgiveness and generosity and you say, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but there are things I refuse to forgive,” your house will split open. There is no foundation here. Just clay that will not withstand the crashing torrent. And does it matter whether the torrent references the painful moments of life or the judgment of God? The end result is the same: ruin!

              Sometimes it seems as if many are willing to listen to people who do not live Jesus merely because they have a degree and are well educated and articulate. Not every scholar fits this description. But some do. They debate; they lecture; they write books. But they have not dug – they have not gone down deep. The message of Jesus is merely an ancient text to be dissected and pontificate over. Their fishing poles have never been wet. Don’t be distracted. Dig – go down deep! Hear and do! Grace and peace, Walter

Blind Guides and Bad Trees

Plato said something like “Give me your children and I will change the world.” James, in his chapter on the tongue (James 3), which is really about teaching, said that the tongue can set on fire the very course of one’s life. The Nazis understood the significance of this truth and created the “Hitler Youth” in 1933. In 1936 they banned the Boy Scouts and made being a Hitler Youth member mandatory. All boys from age 6 and up were required to be a Hitler Youth. They camped, they did crafts, and they learned Hitler’s ideology. They became more and more militant in their training. The goal was to separate them from their parents as young as possible and to indoctrinate them and train them to be fanatic soldiers of the Third Reich. By 1945 ninety percent of the young men of Germany were Hitler Youth. And the course of a generation was set on fire by the tongue.

              Some see Luke 6:39-45 as a compilation of random sayings of Jesus. Some see this section as instructions to disciples and others as instructions given to teachers. What if it is about both student and teacher and the dance they do? Jesus gives us three images. The first is easy to identify as being about teaching. A blind man cannot guide a blind man. And if this is about teaching, which the next verse seems to verify, then teaching is more than imparting knowledge – it is guiding. Teaching is about a destination. But if the teacher cannot see and the student is also vision challenged, then a pit will be the destination they stumble into. So, the disciple is not be superior to his teacher. A disciple did not follow around a rabbi merely to learn how to interpret the Torah. He observed his life and tried to imitate it. So, if the teacher was judgmental and hateful, the disciple would do his level best to instill those lovely traits into his life. When the training was fully accomplished the goal was to be just like the teacher. Bad teacher = bad student = pit.

              So far so good, but what does the image of the splinter in the eye have to do with teaching and learning? A young man on the streets of Los Angeles tries to deal with his fractured home and his sense of abandonment. A gang may help him feel as if he belongs, but he has surrounded himself with people who have a log in their eye. What they are selling is not true community. The speck in the young man’s eye is not removed. Instead it grows into a beam. Learning is not only about a destination, it is about healing – removing the speck out of your eye so that you can see more clearly. If your teacher has the beam of hatred or some misguided sense of machismo in his eye, you will just get wacked upside the head. Your speck will remain and most likely will grow into a beam (picture a house beam sticking out of your eye).

              And learning is also about producing fruit. The destination of learning is to be a good tree. You will need to do some pruning to get there. A good tree, having received painful pruning, having had splinters removed, having humbled itself, does not produce rotten or worthless fruit. And a bad tree, all full of hatred and judgment, cannot produce love or forgiveness, you know, good fruit. Each tree can be known by its fruit. Ah man, there seems to be some judgment involved here. But the truth is, you can decide that someone is a bad tree because they drop bad fruit all around them and still love them – still desire for them to be saved. You have to know what a bad tree is, otherwise you may become the disciple of a bad tree, and the result of that will be you becoming a bad tree. The blind guide and the bad tree are one and the same. Falling into the pit and producing rotten fruit are the same result. This is all about learning and teaching.

              And the heart of the matter is, well, the heart. For the Jews, the heart was more the seat of thought than the seat of emotions. The heart represented the whole inner man. And inside each person there is a storeroom reserved for what is treasured. That is the key. What do you treasure? If you treasure good, you will produce good. If you treasure evil, if your storeroom is chock full of hatred, your fruit will be rotten. And your speech will be rotten, spewing forth evil from the treasure trove of your heart.

              In the western world, we really don’t get this concept. We have all had teachers we did not respect. We are taught that you can and should rise above your teachers. But Jesus is talking about a rabbi/disciple relationship. He is talking about people your respect and admire. Do you admire the religious teacher who belittles and despises those simpletons who don’t agree with him? Bad tree = bad fruit. Admire the good tree, producing the fruit of love and mercy. Be a good tree producing good fruit. Blessings, Walter

The coin you use

The coin you use! Let’s say that there was this good ol’ boy who decided to take himself a trip to Europe. People told him to exchange his money when he got there, but he refused. He said, “This is good ol’ American money. Its better than whatever money they have.” He went into a shop and tried to buy a souvenir. They wouldn’t take his money. He called them names and walked out angry. He went into a coffee shop. They wouldn’t take his money. He yelled at them and slammed the door on his way out. He grew more and more belligerent. He began to rant and rave to everyone around him. Everyone avoided him and the coins he used. He couldn’t understand why people in Europe were so unfriendly. I mean why wouldn’t they like a good ol’ boy from America? The coin you use!

              Luke 6:37-38 is all about the coin you use. If judgment is your currency of choice, you will be judged. Jesus begins with two negative statements followed by two positive. Do not judge. The word “judge” means anything from “decide” to “condemn.” In this context Jesus is talking about deciding that people are deserving of judgment; that they are rotten and deserve whatever they may get. If you don’t judge you will not be judged. What? Does he mean that God won’t judge us as long as we don’t judge others? We can commit any other sin as long as we don’t judge? Not at all. Stick with him. The second negative statement is an intensification of the first. Do not condemn. This word is the same as the first word with the preposition that means “against” tacked onto the beginning. Do not judge against. Do not decide someone is unworthy of any kind of grace. Once you condemn a person, no matter what that person may do, it is pulled through your lens of condemnation. When you see them do something good, you will automatically declare their motives are evil. If you don’t condemn you will not be condemned.

              Forgive and you will be forgiven. The word “forgive” means “let go, set free, dismiss.” If your currency is letting go, then letting go will be used toward you. Judgment and condemnation are all about holding on; demanding restitution; wanting to feel like you have been repaid in some way. It is about bitterness. Forgiveness is about freeing yourself from that kind of hatred and anger. And if you are a giving person, it will be given to you. Some suggest the point here is not only forgiving but being generous with money toward those who may deserve your judgment. It seems to me that forgiving people are giving people. What I mean is that when you let go, you are giving up something of yourself. I have a friend whose wife had an affair with his best friend. His sponsor at AA told him that he would need to forgive his ex-wife. Not only did he forgive her but he helped her out financially a couple of times. This is the currency Jesus is talking about.

              In Jesus day, when you bought grain, you would have a belt and a fold in your garment above the belt that would work much like an oversized pocket. In Isaiah 65:6 God told the people he would repay the people into their bosom (the word for this pocket-like fold). Sometimes, when the amount was large, they would hike up their outer garment and the grain was poured into their lap (same word). This may be what we see in Ruth 3:15. Not only will they fill this fold up, but they will press it down and shake it, so that all of the grain shifts together and they will fill it past the rim so that it is pouring over the side. This is about abundance. And then Jesus said that whatever they measure with, that is what will be measured to them. It was common to measure out the grain using the instrument of measurement of the purchaser.

              The point of all this is that what ever coin you use is the coin that will be used with you. What is your currency? What is your instrument of measuring? There is a proverbial truth here. A proverb is not a promise – it is a statement that is generally true. How you deal with people is how people will deal with you. If you are a harsh unyielding person, people will most likely be harsh and unyielding toward you. But Jesus is also saying that whatever currency you use, that is what God will use with you. If forgiveness and giving, then you will experience the abundance of God’s forgiveness and giving. If it is judgment and condemnation then that is what you will receive. I know, God loves everyone. And yes he does. But if you spend your life spewing hatred and condemnation; if that is your currency that you are measuring out from a withered-up heart, then you will be in no condition to receive God’s forgiveness. And no one can stand up to God’s justice and judgment. No one! The coin you use! Let it be forgiveness and giving. Grace, Walter.

Love Your Enemies

In the early 1980s, King Hussein of Jordan received word that seventy-five of his army officers were meeting in a barracks plotting a coup. The soldier giving the intel asked for permission to surround the barracks and arrest the men. King Hussein contemplated for a moment and then said, “No. Acquire a small helicopter and have me flown to the barracks.” A helicopter and pilot were promptly at his disposal. Hussein got in the helicopter and flew to the rooftop of the barracks. In helicopter there was only himself and the pilot. When they landed, Hussein told the pilot that if he heard gun fire, he was to take off immediately. Then he descended to the basement of the barracks and walked into the room where his men were busy plotting. He said, “Gentleman, it has come to my attention that you are seeking to set up a military run government. This will lead to many deaths and the end result will be a tyrant. I am here. Kill me so that there will only be one death this night and then proceed.” There was stunned silence and then they, as one, fell down before the King and claimed their devotion to him. He won with vulnerability. Not that this would always be the result. But it is a great story.

              Luke 6:27-35 is sandwiched with the command “Love your enemies.” So, I’m guessing that is the theme. But Jesus doesn’t just throw this out there and let us grapple with it. He goes on and says, “Do good to those who hate you.” I guess he does want us to grapple. We are okay with loving our enemies if that means we don’t actively try to harm them, but doing good . . . Well, that is something else entirely. And blessing those who curse us? What in the world Jesus? Later on, the Jewish people will make cursing the followers of Jesus a regular part of their prayers; one of the eighteen benedictions. The response of Christ followers is to bless, praise, speak well of those cursers. And to pray for those who threaten. And if someone takes a step beyond a threat and actually strikes your cheek, why, you offer up your other cheek. And if someone takes away your outer garment? Heck, you make sure he gets your shirt as well. “Oh, hey, you are going take my cloak. Well, alrighty then, you might as well also have my shirt.” Does this feel uncomfortable to anyone else? One source stresses that this is about not allowing anything, your possession, your safety, your anything, to break up community. And yes, that makes sense, but there may be something else here as well. Maybe Jesus is giving his followers a way not to be controlled, owned, by others and by things.

              And then in the middle of this you have the golden rule. “Do to others what you want men to do to you.” Notice Jesus’ statement takes the other person out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what they have done. If they have taken something of yours, you respond, thinking about how you want to be treated. You don’t want to be punched or stolen from, so you don’t do that to anyone else – even if they have done it to you. Man, this stuff is hard. And it seems as if Jesus himself didn’t live it. When he was hit during his trial, he did not offer up his other cheek. Instead he said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) Hmmm. Again, I say, this stuff is hard. Again, I think part of what Jesus is doing here is giving his followers freedom. The person who strikes you will not dictate your behavior. So, you offer up your other cheek, almost to say, “your abuse does not affect me, have a nice day.” But it is also about the golden rule and loving even your enemies. And at the trial, Jesus loved.

              Then Jesus explains that he is calling them to live above what everyone else does. If you love those who love you, well, good job, but what are you doing different than any sinner? If you do good to those who do good to you how is that grace to you? Yeah, that one is a little hard to translate and most have “what credit is that to you?” Except the word Jesus used was “grace, thankfulness, favor.” How does this bring about favor? Any old sinner does this on the daily. So, love without expecting anything in return because that’s how God loves. And if you want to be a son of God, you kind of have to try to be like him.

              This is about strengthening community; about loving with no demand of being loved back. But it is also about freedom that comes from this kind of love. God loves us. And we in turn can offer God nothing. And therefore, we cannot bind God to our silly manipulations. Be compassionate simply because God your father is compassionate. A love without expectations frees you from being dictated to with a slap or a theft or a curse. You are free to love, to bless, to pray for, to show mercy. Love your enemies! Grace, Walter

Happiness or Horror

Jesus tells the parable of the farmer with a bumper crop who decides to build larger barns to store it all in only to have God say, “You fool, this very night your soul is required of you.” He tells the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. After that encounter, he said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is not saying it is difficult for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom. He is saying it is impossible. A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle. Are the wealthy doomed to spend eternity in torment along with Lazarus’ rich man? In all of this Jesus is exposing a danger; a danger that is often very hard to see. Wealth is seductive and often entraps people in a hazy bog in which they are convinced that their wealth is all they need. They have food; they have joy; they are content thank you very much. What else could they need? And ruin dances on the horizon.

              Jesus lifted up his eyes and took notice of his disciples in the crowd. It is specifically to them that he directs his teaching. And he begins with “Blessed are the poor.” The word “blessed” refers to a state of being happy. It does not imply the expectation of some kind of favorable attention – it is not that kind of blessing. It is about an attitude of being happy right now. Is Jesus making this blanket statement about how happy poor people are? The word “poor” means “destitute, reduced to begging,” and it can refer to “being worthless.” If this is about the physically poor and afflicted, it would be about poor disciples. But there is this passage in Isaiah 66:1-5 that bears many points of similarity to our passage. And in Isaiah 66:2, God says, “I will look upon the humble, the poor (contrite) in spirit, and the one who trembles.” Often in Isaiah, the poor are those who are humble; those who trust in God rather than themselves or their wealth. I believe that it is this kind of poverty that Jesus is lifting up. People who are destitute are those who trust in God – and this is why they are happy. And this is why they are in the kingdom of God. They know they need God. They are not blinded by their own wealth; their own ability; their own anything.

              And blessed are those who hunger. Hunger can refer to a physical gnawing, but it can also refer to any strong desire; a hungering for something. But there is this reality: It is often those who don’t have enough food to eat, who know they need God. They will be satisfied – have enough to eat – but they are happy now. Their blessing does not come when they finally fill their bellies. It comes because their hunger drives them to the throne of God. It is the same for those who weep. This word implies a loud wailing; an intense grief breaking out from the depths of the soul. They are blessed now. They will laugh later, but that is not the source of their blessing. The source? Their grief breaks them into little pieces and they cry out to God. We are talking about disciples, remember? Oh, and if people hate you and exclude you from their group and denounce you and throw out your name or reputation as evil, you are blessed. But only if these things are done because of your association with the Son of Man. In that day you should be glad and do a happy dance. The rejoicing and dancing is because of anticipation of heaven. No matter what is done to you here, you have a reward in heaven. And you are in good company. The prophets of old were treated the same way.

              Jesus follows these four beatitudes with four woes. The word woe means “horror, disaster, ruin.” And the four woes match the four beatitudes. Ironically, the rich were actually ruin. They are ruin now even though they experience encouragement. It is implied that the encouragement they have now is all they will receive. And the well-fed are satisfied now, but later they will hunger. Those who laugh now will mourn later. Those who are praised by all now are just like the false prophets of old; the men and women who would spout whatever the multitude wanted to hear. Woe! Horror! Disaster!

              What do you turn to in the midst of the darkness? If you rely on your wealth; your having plenty to eat; your enjoyment of this life; your reputation, well then, horror is yours because these things cannot sustain you. And generally speaking, the more people have, the more they tend to rely on what they have. The truly happy person is the one who humbly understands that he stands empty before God. You need Jesus. And that need is what will bring you joy – real joy. So, let go of all the stuff. Stand humbly as a beggar before God, knowing that you have nothing of value. You need God! Trust in him. Be happy! Grace.

Wait for it

“Faith, in and of itself, has no power.” I read that in a commentary. My first reaction was to balk. To argue. I read on and realized that the author’s point was a good one. If you put your faith in the wrong thing, it cannot help you. Let’s say you have turned to alcohol to manage the pain of your life. You have all the faith in the world that you can drink your problems away. But this faith will not, cannot, save you. Now, faith in the right thing, that is very powerful. We have all heard that good things come to those who wait. But merely waiting is not the power. It is waiting on something that is good and right and beautiful. That is where the power of waiting is found. So, don’t waste your time waiting for any old thing. Wait for the good. Wait for it!

              Luke 6:17-19 is a transitional passage. It transitions from the choosing of the Twelve to the Sermon on the Plain. I would like to suggest that this is not the same sermon that is called the Sermon on the Mount which is found in Matthew 5-7. They have similarities for sure and some suggest that Luke gave us a compressed version of Matthew’s account and placed it in a different setting. But we know that, Jesus, just like many speakers, often said similar things at different times. The easiest explanation is that Jesus preached a similar message at least twice and probably more often than that.

              Okay, so Jesus spent the night up on the Mountain praying. After the prayer he chose from among his disciples, twelve who he named as apostles. Then we see Jesus coming down and stopping at a level place (or plain) because there was a large crowd of disciples and a large throng of people from as far away as the region of Tyre and Sidon. This throng is composed of disciples, people who have committed to following Jesus, and others who may be eager to hear what this new kind of rabbi has to say or maybe some are there just to be healed. And the implication is that this throng was there waiting patiently for Jesus to come down. We have no idea how long they had been waiting and we don’t know exactly how many people we’re talking about, but Luke emphasizes its great size. It seems likely that this was a remote area. So, picture this multitude of people waiting in this level spot out in the wilderness. As the time marched on, did they begin to get anxious. Did some wander away?

              They came to listen and to be healed of their illnesses. And there were also those who were being afflicted by defiled spirits, longing to be set free from the foul evil. Was it likely that those who were ill or possessed would give up and walk away before Jesus came down from the mountain? Maybe if they had doubts that it would do any good. But they had heard the stories. Maybe they even knew someone who had already been healed or set free. So, they were willing to wait. And because of their patience, they were rewarded. Those who wanted to hear, heard; those who wanted to be healed, were healed; and those who longed to be free of the unclean spirits afflicting them, were set free.

              We are told that the crowd was seeking to touch Jesus because power was coming out of him and healing them all. Maybe we are intended to envision moments in Jesus’ life when the power was pulsing out of him and all people needed to do was get close enough. Reach out a hand and feel the power flow through your sickened body revitalizing and bursting with health. Take one step closer and feel the unclean spirit in you cringe with fear. There must have been some chaotic reaching and grasping as desperate people became frantic with hope.

              Wait for it! But don’t just wait for anything. Not everything is worth waiting for. Some people waste a lot of time waiting for the turn of a friendly card. If they were able to get a better job, their life would be okay. If they could find a significant other, then their life would take a turn for the better. If they could move to a different state, or maybe even a different country, then they would be happy. This kind of waiting is rather wispy and true happiness is allusively always around the corner. But whether you are in a wilderness plain or a crowded city, you probably should patiently wait for Jesus. I don’t know if you are in a dark place right now. I don’t know if life has beaten you up and left you weary and nearly hopeless. I don’t know if desperation sits in your soul. I do know that you will not be disappointed if you wait for Jesus. I don’t always know how that plays out, but I believe it to be true. Relief may no come overnight or in a month. Wait for it! Jesus is making all things new. Wait for it! Grace and peace, Walter

Chosen

There are things that a sign-up sheet is aptly suited for. A sign-up sheet implies that anyone can add their name to the list. Do you want to clean the building? Anyone can do it. there is a sign-up sheet for that. Do you want to help with snow removal? Anyone is welcome to do that as well. Don’t fight over being the first to sign up. Continue reading

Do Good Not Evil

According to 1 Macabees 1-2, Antiochus Epiphanes decided that everyone in his kingdom should have the same religion. That included the Jews. So, he marched into Jerusalem and set up idols in the temple. He also commanded that everyone worship the idols that he had set up all over Israel. Mattathias and his sons refused and ended up killing the kings emissary. And thus began the Macabean revolt. Continue reading

An Old Approach to Sabbath

What is the purpose of law? If it is merely about rules, then keeping those rules will supersede all else. When I traveled to The Netherlands to serve as a missionary apprentice, the rules said that I had to leave. After being detained for four hours at the airport, I was allowed to enter the country with strict instructions to report to the police within days. Continue reading

Stale Approach

On a Sunday, in the stale valley, the stale church sang out stale songs. Meaning scampered out of reach as stale worshipers comforted themselves with the comfortable. The preacher stood and droned out a stale sermon he dusted off earlier in the morning. The worshipers stood and sang out a stale invitation song, long forgotten were the whys. And just as Stale Stanly was about to utter a stale prayer, a young man burst into the building like a fresh breeze. He shouted happily, “Praise God!” He sang excitedly a new song. Continue reading