would I go?

I tried to imagine myself among the twelve men Jesus called and then sent in chapter 10 of the gospel of Matthew. As I read the scriptures, I pictured myself standing among them, hearing these instructions for the first time with them. I then wondered how I would receive His instructions today, in the world I inhabit, in the Church as it is today. What follows are my thoughts as I read chapter 10 as though I am standing with the twelve. In all fairness though, these are not just my own thoughts. I have heard the same kind of thoughts expressed by others, so I can’t take all of the credit (or the rap) for what follows.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”   What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t have enough faith in that? What if I pray for them and they don’t get healed or come back to life? Then I’ll look like an idiot, and I’ll make people doubt Your power.

“Do not take any gold or silver…take no bag for the journey or extra tunic or sandals…”  No provisions? No money? That doesn’t seem very prepared to me. What if there’s an emergency? How can I wear the same clothes the whole time? Is it wise to depend on the generosity of the people we are being sent to?

“Be on your guard..they will hand you over…and flog you.” Beg your pardon?  Surely there is some other, less dangerous way to do this.

“All men will hate you…when you are persecuted, flee…”  I don’t want people to hate me. I work very hard to make sure people like me. And I can’t run very fast. Seriously. I can’t.

“Do not  be afraid of those who kill the body  but cannot kill the soul.”  Don’t be afraid? I’m already afraid. I was afraid when you said “flog”. Now you’re saying I might die. I don’t know about this. I have a family to think about. 

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” There must be some other meaning to that statement.

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  I don’t know. This all sounds extreme. I’m going to have to pray about this. You can’t make this kind of commitment without a lot of prayer and counsel. I need to be wise and figure out if I am really being called to do something this radical.

I wonder. If Jesus chose 12 of us today, how many of us would still be standing there at the end of His instructions? Would there be one who would say “Here I am. Send me.”?

We don’t know what those disciples were thinking or feeling.  What we do know is this. Because of the commitment of the early followers of Jesus, you and I received the good news. The willingness of a few to lay down their lives for Christ completely changed the world. We also know that the world still needs to hear about Jesus.

As I put myself among them, hearing the instructions Jesus sent them out with, I marvel at their courage. And I am inspired by their love for the One sending them. I am also very aware that I don’t really know if I would have remained standing there. I need to search my heart and examine the strength of my love and commitment to Jesus and the radical way of life that comes with being His follower. And then I need to get at His feet and ask Him to strengthen that in me that feels so weak at the moment.

I should probably also stop trying to figure out just how much a flogging would hurt. I think I may be obsessing.

welcome to the harvest

In frustration the lawyer throws up his hands and says, “I’d have a great job if it weren’t for all these clients!”.  Of course, the humor in that statement is in the fact that if it weren’t for all those clients, he wouldn’t have a job.

In Matthew 9:35-38, they followed Him through the towns and villages, watching as He taught in the synagogues, preached the gospel, and healed every disease and sickness.  And then Jesus introduced the disciples to what it’s really all about. People. 

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (v. 36)  The original word for “harassed” meant weary, exhausted. He looked out and saw a crowd of tired, helpless people, and was moved with compassion.  Then He turned to His disciples and basically said “Welcome to the “harvest”. Oh, and by the way,  you should probably ask Me to send help. You’re going to need it.”

But my eyes are continually drawn to “He had compassion on them”.  Them. Tired, worn out, helpless sheep. And as usual, my mind goes to what Jesus did not have compassion on, in order for me to grasp the importance of the real object of His compassion.

His compassion was not for a ministry, or a ministry event. He wasn’t moved on behalf of a vision statement, a fund raiser or a program. The beautiful new building that we’re so proud of doesn’t do it, nor does the sermon preached in that building, (as fascinating as I’m sure it was).

What moves the heart of Jesus is people. It has always been about people. Yes, all those needy people who aggravate us, irritate us, wear us out.  Where would we be without them? Pastors would have no calling. Nor would bible study leaders and teachers. The mercy givers would have no place to put their mercy. The givers…who would they give to? (God doesn’t need your money…people do). Who would those with the gift of healing heal? Who would the evangelists evangelize? On whom would I learn to give grace? Who would I forgive? Who would teach me how very hard it is to maintain true unity?

They were led to the reason for everything. A bunch of tired, helpless, directionless people that Jesus called the “harvest”. And His heart moved at the sight of them.

I guess my final thought is this. We’d have a great Church, if it weren’t for all these sheep, wouldn’t we?

they’re everywhere!

Chapter 9 is not the first sighting, but it is where Jesus taught me two lessons about Pharisees. Before I start on that, below is a partial definition of a “pharisee” from Strong’s Concordance:

They sought for distinction and praise by outward observance of external rites and by outward forms of piety, and such as ceremonial washings, fastings, prayers, and alms giving; and, comparatively negligent of genuine piety, they prided themselves on their fancied good works…According to Josephus they numbered more than 6000. They were bitter enemies of Jesus and his cause; and were in turn severely rebuked by him for their avarice, ambition, hollow reliance on outward works, and affection of piety in order to gain popularity.

I did some looking around for definitions of a “modern day Pharisee”, so that I could try to see what it might look like to be one today. I found some interesting definitions on various websites, primarily Wikipedia.

Someone that attends church every time the doors are open, yet doesn’t put what is taught into practice. They may know the Bible front to back, and back to front, but not really get the meaning of it all. They look at others, and wonder why they don’t know as much as they do about God.Their hearts are not in it, although their actions are doing all the right things, so they think. Jesus said they were clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside.

the word “Pharisee” has taken up a connotation that means a person who self-righteously follows minute religious regulations and feels holier than those who don’t.

I am going to add to these my own definition:  Someone who studies scripture and knows it well, but uses it primarily for the purpose of pointing out the “sins” of others. They hold the Word of God up to everyone’s heart but their own.

Now, onto my lessons.  In chapter 9, Jesus continues to heal, teach, and cast out demons. Everywhere He was, Pharisees were close by. They accused Him of blasphemy (v.3), questioned His association with sinners (v.11), and decided that He drove out demons by the “prince of demons” (v.34). As I read and re-read these passages, I noticed something. The Pharisees themselves never questioned or commented directly to Jesus. They said things to themselves, and they questioned His disciples. Yet, every time, Jesus stepped in and did the answering.  I asked God, “what is it that You want me to see in this?” And He asnwered.

“Pharisees are everywhere. Do not defend yourself against their questioning or their accusations. Leave that to Me. Just keep following.”

There is a difference between the loving rebuke of a brother or sister in Christ, and the accusation of a Pharisee. One will bring conviction and the encouragement to keep following Jesus, and the other will bring condemnation and the desire to give up.

So my first lesson was that they are everywhere, so just keep walking. Leave them to God. What was my second lesson?

I sometimes have the heart of a Pharisee. If you see me coming with that heart, just keep walking. Follow Jesus.

 

he went

Chaise lounge and umbrella on sand beach.

 

The storm passed and the boat arrived safely on the other side of the lake. I imagine they would still be a bit shaky from the storm, looking forward to some rest on the beach perhaps.

Actually, I’m not imagining them at all right now. I’m thinking of me, on a beach. We should move on.

As I looked at Matthew 8:28-34 in light of my question “how and where did Jesus lead His disciples”, my first thought was “He led them to the demon possessed”. While technically this is true, I believe God wants us to see what isn’t so obvious.

First, let’s back up to 8:18 – “…He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.”  Jesus went. That’s going to be my point today. On purpose, He went to the “other side”. Scripture only tells us of one thing He did when He reached the other side, so it’s safe to assume that Jesus went to the other side for just one reason.

He went to set someone free.

I like the seeing what Jesus does by looking at what He didn’t do. It’s often how my mind processes. He didn’t wait for the bound man to come to Him (clearly, this bound man could not have “come to Jesus” even if he wanted to…note to the Church). He didn’t demand that the man acknowledge his need to be free, or that he had to tell the demons they had to leave. There was not a three week, 12 step, or otherwise long process for freeing the man.  Jesus came to a demon possessed man and demanded his freedom. I love what Jesus does, but I also love what He doesn’t do.

He went. Combine this scripture passage with Matthew 18:12, and you have my real point.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”

And He will still go to the other side after the one who needs to be free, and He will still go after the one who has wandered away from Him. This revelation forever changed my prayer life many years ago. I was frustrated in my prayer for a prodigal, because I kept praying for the prodigal to “do something”… to return, to wake up, come to her senses, etc.  After all, this is what the story of the prodigal in scripture is all about. What the prodigal did, and the fact that the father was waiting with open arms. So we box God in with His own story, assuming that it is the only way a prodigal comes home, and our prayer for them becomes frustratingly limited. Then Jesus led me to the two scriptures above, and everything changed. Instead of praying for the prodigal to do something, I prayed for God to do what He clearly says He will do. Go.

cropped-cropped-cropped-running-away.jpgThat prodigal is now running after God, and I believe it is because He went after her. He went, because she needed Him to come after her, set her free, and bring her back from the other side. This is our God and this is what He does.

Jesus led His disciples to the other side, to a man who was demon possessed. But they had seen Him deliver people from demons before, so power over darkness was not what they were there to learn.

I wonder if they were meant to see the same thing I see when I follow Him to the other side in this story.

To Jesus, the one is always worth going after.

              We tend to complicate what Jesus made very simple.

                           Some people just can’t come to Jesus. That’s ok. He’ll come to them.

God came to us and God goes after us.

May we never lose the wonder of that.

led to the storm

I want to continue with Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus gave orders to get into the boat (Matthew 8:18). So they followed Him into the boat, and into a storm.  After the storm, they reached the “other side”. Matthew 8:28 tells us that on the “other side” were the demon-possessed men in the Gadarenes. We’re going to discuss that passage later.

Up to this point in time, the disciples had been following Jesus in fairly calm waters, so to speak. Some healings, some teachings, and a lot of crowds. Nothing too strenuous. But suddenly, they have been led into a storm. Not just any storm, but a fierce storm that came with no warning. We can go a couple of ways here. We can say that Jesus knew the storm was coming, so He took His followers into it in order to show them that He can calm the storm. We could say that Jesus caused the storm, for the same reason. We could also say that the enemy knew, or at least suspected, where Jesus was heading and what He would do there, so he caused the storm in an attempt to thwart the plan.

We could, in fact, spend copious amounts of time and energy trying to figure out where the storm came from, and why it came. We could even throw around the idea that the disciples caused the storm by their own lack of faith (a stretch, I admit).

In the end, two facts remain. Jesus led them into a storm, and the storm served a purpose. Everything else is really just fodder for argument that takes up time and energy, and gets us nowhere. And this, unfortunately, is where many storm dwellers live. Trying so hard to figure it out and find a way out. They become exhausted and angry, and they lose hope. They blame themselves, they blame others, and they blame God. And the storm rages on.

When this storm hit my life, I did spend time trying to figure it out. Why did it come? Who sent it? Was it from God or the devil? Had I done something wrong? What would be the best way out of it? Precious time wasted on questions that really don’t matter, the answers to which will not make this storm one bit less than it is. I am not the commander of any storm, so knowing all these answers won’t help. I only need one answer, and His name is Jesus. The great commander of the winds and waves that buffet my life.

I will waste not one more minute trying to psychoanalyze this storm, or in trying to find my own way out of it. I won’t spend the breath it takes to feel bad about the boat I’m in. I will choose instead to be thankful that I followed Jesus onto this boat. I will rest in the knowledge that I sail with the Commander of all storms, that this storm has a particular purpose in my life, and that sooner or later, we will get to the “other side”.

Are you a storm dweller? Have you been chasing after answers to the wind and rain that is blowing your life apart? Your answer is Jesus. He is the only One who can bring calm to chaos and command the storm in your life. I want to encourage you that He is fully aware of your storm and fully capable of bringing it into submission to Him. Not to you, to Him.  It doesn’t matter why the storm came. All that matters is that there is only One that it must obey.  Call on Jesus, get behind Him, and He will calm your storm and get you to the other side.

are you watching?

They watched Him get into a boat, and they followed Him. They were fishermen, so they had been getting into boats their entire lives. Just another “boat” day for them, very familiar, very comfortable. They had no idea they would soon be fearing for their lives. Of course they didn’t know. If they had known, they may not have stepped onto that boat at all. They may have decided to stay on the shore, to watch Him from a distance, a safe distance.

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake so that the waves swept over the boat.” (Matthew 8:24) I have been in a storm or two in my life, but I’ve never been in a furious storm that hit without warning. There were always signs that a storm was coming…darkening skies, the wind picks up, a little rainfall…signs that something is coming that you may want to watch from a safe distance. The disciples had no such warning. They followed Him into the boat, and then the suddenly of God hit. Suddenly they were in fear for their lives. Keep in mind that these men are fishermen, no doubt accustomed to being on a boat even in stormy weather. So this had to be a storm of some impressive proportions. Big enough to make these rugged, seafaring fishermen run to Jesus, the carpenter…the One taking a nap.

He calmed the storm, the men were amazed, end of story. But it’s in the end of the story that I find a revelation of truth for my life.

These men had been following Jesus, watching His miraculous power to heal (not just once, but many times), and watching the effect He had on literally crowds of people. But it was when He calmed their storm, when He personally touched their lives that they finally asked “Who is this man?”, and learned that He is the One who commands the storm.

Jesus is not content to allow us to stay at a distance. He doesn’t want watchers who have seen Him, He wants followers who know Him. If we are going to know Him as the One who calms the storm, then a storm must come to our lives. If we are to know Him as the One who heals, we will first need to be healed. If we are to know Him as our Provider, we will need to be without provision. Watching Him heal, provide, and calm the storms in other people’s lives isn’t the life of a follower, it is the life of a watcher.

 

the mourners

stained

The word mourning is primarily used for the loss of a loved one through death. I have mourned the death of my mother, my grandfather, and my brother. I watched my dad mourn the loss of my mother, and the look of absolute lostness in his eyes was heartbreaking.

But as I type this, I think of the people I know who have suffered the loss of a child. It is an unspeakable pain that I have witnessed, but not truly felt. I spent 2 days in the hospital with dear friends of mine as they endured their daughter’s death of a heroin overdose. She was the age of my own daughter, and I cannot tell you the thoughts and emotions that were so raw in me as I walked with my friends through such a grievous time, ending with turning off the respirator. Their fear, turned to desperation, turned to resignation, and then turned to realization, was almost more than my mother’s heart could handle. I am convinced that nothing but the grace and mercy of God can touch that kind of pain.

The word comforted in the passage above means “to call to ones’ self, to call near”. The picture I get is of a Father calling His child to come to Him, drawing that child into His arms and giving the comfort of His nearness to counter the loss. I can’t help but wonder if the comfort of a God they cannot see or touch would be enough in the waves of such a devastating loss, if the comfort of anyone or anything would be enough. But my friends would testify that the nearness of God, even though felt only through the presence of His servants, is indeed a great comfort, even in that kind of loss. They would say that while they could not see or touch God during those days in the hospital, they saw and touched those He had sent to be near to them, and they were comforted.

In the midst of the losses I have suffered, both of loved ones, and the loss of love, trust and affection in relationship, my initial tendency was to withdraw and be alone with my wounds. But I learned that as I allowed myself to be drawn near to God, through worship, through His Word, and through the love of His Body, I found the comfort I desperately needed.

Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted. It is His promise to us. On one hand, I would have preferred the promise that we would never mourn. But on the other hand, we would then never truly know the comfort of the nearness of God.

If you are experiencing mourning, I pray that the God of all comfort will call you near to Him, and that His nearness will be a balm for your wounded heart.

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