Jesonian… June 17th, 2017

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Leprosy is a loser.

You lose feeling. You lose your fingers and your toes; you lose your friends. You lose interaction with the world around you. You lose control of your life. At least, that’s the way it was in Jesus’ day.

That is why it’s so remarkable that ten lepers got together and overlooked their angst to come up with a plan. They decided to go see Jesus.

I’m not so sure lepers do a whole lot together. I suppose there would be the fear that the infection in your brother or sister might even be worse than yours.

But ten of them planned a road trip. They even included one Samaritan, which all the Jews hated. I guess they gave him a free pass since they shared dying in common.

Ten lepers traveling together caused quite a stir. Everyone was frightened of the disease. Multiply that fear by ten. Therefore, getting anywhere near Jesus must have been a feat, and being granted an audience–the first miracle.

So when Jesus tells all ten lepers to go and show themselves to their priest, they launch off together on a mission of questionable potential. They are not immediately healed, nothing is changed and they’re on their way to see an aged rabbi who certainly possessed no remedy..

But along the way, suddenly each one of them is restored to wholeness, with beautiful pink flesh (or whatever color they originally had). We don’t know how long it took.

But being faithful, and even more aggressive to achieve their mission because of their restoration, they plunged ahead to come in contact with what would surely be a dumbfounded clergyman.

All except one.

The Samaritan–that renegade outsider–decides to turn back to see Jesus and thank him for the miracle. The other nine shake their heads in disbelief. They view themselves “the good ones”–the souls being obedient. They trudge on, praying for their errant companion as he races back to express his gratitude.

When the grateful, healed man from Samaria arrived and worshipped Jesus for giving him back his life, Jesus had a very interesting response.

First, let’s look at what he did not say. Jesus didn’t say, “Why are you here? I told you to go to the priest. Just like you Samaritans to not follow the rules.”

Or, “Because you didn’t do what I said, here’s your leprosy again.”

No–Jesus says something surprising. “Where are the other nine?”

This strikes me as a bit hypocritical, since Jesus sent them on a specific task to show themselves to a religious fellow to confirm their healing. But Jesus not only asks where they are–he mocks the nine for not having the gumption of the Samaritan, to return and express appreciation.

I view this as a warning–a gunshot in the air for all the righteous rowdies in our world who think because they follow some verse of scripture or some isolated command that they are viewed by the heavens as supernally superior. They tell you everything they are sure God finds unfavorable, and cite verses to prove their point.

They are wrong.

Jesus makes it clear–there is something greater than the written or spoken Word of God. It’s called “being led of the Spirit.”

And when the Spirit confirms to you that you’re healed and no priest had anything to do with it, and that the most valuable thing in life is to be grateful, you will bypass the initial command in order to follow the greater calling.

You don’t have to look very far in the life of Jesus to see that the scribes and Pharisees constantly reminded him that he was breaking Jewish law. His response was always basically the same: “You pursue the traditions of men instead of the heart of God.”

A Samaritan former leper broke a rule to fulfill a promise. Because he did, he was praised. And those who did everything by the book were mocked.

If you’re not prepared to go against the rules to fulfill the righteousness of where the Spirit is leading, don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus.

 

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Catchy (Sitting One)This Old Man … June 11th, 2017

Preface

Welcome to the first installment of our next story, “Catchy.” I will continue to pursue it until it has finished or I run out of ideas, which I hope will be simultaneous. Enjoy.

Sitting One — This Old Man

Arthur Harts was an old man, and being an old man, he had long since forgotten a conviction he held to be true when much younger: old folks should just be ready to die at any time.

He was a billionaire oil tycoon who at one time possessed a reputation of being a playboy, but through the years, due primarily to an aging body, had transformed himself into a philanthropist, and eventually, a somewhat religious fellow.

Eight years ago he had run for President of the United States on what he dubbed the “5000 Plan”–a contention that every man and woman in America should be given $5,000 to begin a business of their own, to stimulate the economy with new products and ideas, and foster what he called “inventionism” amongst the common folk. Amazing as it may seem, those same simple sorts chose not to vote for Mr. Harts, opting to punch the time clock.

So Arthur had spent recent months funding ventures to reach those same individuals with a quasi-spiritual message–combining, as he phrased it, “an ongoing spirit of revision with a heapin’ helpin’ of self-esteem.”

But Arthur was old, and as often happens with those who persist in adding years to their time, his energy waned, his health failed, and well, one night he died in his sleep: the poetic end to a life spent in peaceful pursuit.

Now when a poor man dies, all relatives and friends tend to scatter, not wishing to acquire any of his personal indebtedness. It is much different with a rich man—especially a billionaire. There was a widespread interest in the will and testament of Arthur Harts, including friends, relatives and the collective masses he once stumped for votes and sought to redeem.

So one morning, in a large room with a large mahogany table, a large group of lawyers got together and read a very large document that explained how this man of large influence wished to distribute his large sums of money.

Item #44-A of the testament—a recent codicil–was most intriguing to everyone. It read as follows:

“I, Arthur Harts, being of sound mind (and if I weren’t, there’s not much you can do about it now) wish to leave two hundred and fifty million dollars to a well-recognized, well-selected and well-intentioned advertising company to propel and promote one great idea: find a way to make Jesus popular again. I, Arthur Harts, am not speaking of some anemic attempt to promote a church or religious institution, but rather, in some way to convey to the people of this earth the intensity and intelligence of the person who once walked with us, bearing the name Jesus of Nazareth. There were few more popular than he was when donning a loincloth. So I see no reason why, if he were promoted correctly in our multi-media society, he shouldn’t be just as popular today.”

As the team of bewildered barristers finished reading the passage, there was a hush. Perplexity. How were they supposed to fulfill this bizarre request from this eccentric billionaire?

Perhaps some attempt would have been made to interpret the passage in a different way by evenly distributing the money to the larger denominations of the Christian faith, but time and chance stepped in and the unusual request was leaked to the press. So it would be impossible to ignore Mr. Harts’ wishes, implausible as they may seem.

This is where our story begins–a quandary wrapped in a mystery drenched in an impossibility, garnished with just a little weirdness.

 

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Jesonian… May 27th, 2017

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While half of the organization of Christian saints clamor to preach a message of the fulfillment of Judaism, with the human sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the other fifty percent portray the Nazarene as soft on sin and heavy on compassion, it occasionally might be a good idea to take the available reference material we possess to get a more thorough picture of how Jesus thought, felt and lived.

There were many broken people in his life–no doubt about it. Also, it’s irrefutable that he did die on the cross, and it has become our salvation.

But for the purpose of progressing the Christian message, we must claim the mind of Christ, not just the theology. It begins with understanding his approach: blind men, prostitutes, demon-possessed souls, lepers and probably a lot of manic-depressives came to Jesus and received a touch of healing.

Yet none of them ended up in his traveling troupe. Jesus did not turn his kingdom of God on Earth into a nursing home, mental hospital or rehab center. Although he brought great benefit to the lives of many souls, his practice was to send them back to their home towns–to assimilate and offer up the story of their transformation as evidence of the goodness of God.

Even though a demon-possessed man who had just been set free came to his boat and begged him to join the band, Jesus sent him away.

It sends a message to the church today. We spend too much time adjusting our programs, the temperature in the sanctuary and our vision to those who are needy, hurt and emotionally challenged, instead of encouraging working folks, entrepreneurs, artists and inventors to come into the body to leaven the lump.

A quick look at the twelve disciples will tell you that you had four working fishermen, one tax collector, two followers that came over from the ministry of John the Baptist, one zealot, a pair of brothers who were tradesmen, a Judean and Thomas, who most people believe bounced between the ministry of John and a little fishing himself.

But anyone who believes that Jesus was just a human sacrifice is errant. And anyone who contends that Jesus was all-forgiving, looking for the next loser to turn into a winner, would also be completely out of line with the narrative.

If you want to build a work, you teach healthy people how to help the unhealthy, not harbor unhealthy people, hoping they will draw in the healthy.

The Christian church today is possessed by either an overabundance of zeal towards charity, or a greed towards prosperity. So we minister to the fringes instead the heart of mankind.

To minister to the heart of mankind, you have to understand what a fisherman is really looking for.

 

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Jesonian… May 6th, 2017

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He’s “Joseph’s son.”

“The carpenter’s kid.”

These were the comments from the people of Nazareth when Jesus dared to express his individuality.

He had already established some obvious success. He had partaken of the baptism of his cousin, John, been in the wilderness seeking guidance, garnered some followers and had made quite a splash changing water to wine in Cana.

Rumors of his escapades had already come to his hometown. So when he arrived at the synagogue and was given the scroll to read, and he spouted the words of the prophet Isaiah about the Gospel being preached to the poor, and then told them that “this day the prophecy was being fulfilled,” they became infuriated.

They attacked him. What was the weapon? They chose to lump him in with his family. “You’re just a local boy.”

That brings me to a thought.

One of the more crippling proclamations being uttered in our time, when referring to our offspring, is to say, “They will always be my children.”

No, they won’t.

There comes a time when they need to be themselves.

They need to take responsibility for their lives and their kids, knowing when they grow up they will need to let them go as well.

Family sucks–it sucks the life out of each and every one of us, trying to make us dependent on a tiny nucleus of identity. Sometimes we stop growing, but more often than not we end up mimicking the actions of our parents instead of creating the fresh soil for an awakening in generosity and mercy.

Jesus was rejected in his hometown because he dared to be something different from just “Joseph’s son.”

The Nazarenes became infuriated when he explained that he would be unable to do much to help them “because of their unbelief.”

It caused them to rise as a mob and push him to the edge of a cliff, with the intention of shoving him to his death. You see, they went from being a small town church gathering to an enraged, out of control gang, ready to commit murder.

All because Jesus refused to follow the rules of family.

What would have happened if Jesus had stayed in Nazareth, been the carpenter’s son and complied with the local menu of activities?

We would be lost.

Yet it is possible to love your family, honor your mother and father and still quickly and intentionally separate yourself from them, find your direction and pursue your calling.

I would hope that my sons would find comfort in their upbringing, but never, ever consider themselves to just be my sons.

America is drunk on the elixir of family. We use it as an excuse for all sorts of indifference to the world around us.

Fortunately for us, Jesus of Nazareth was not really Jesus of Nazareth.

 

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Jesonian… April 15th, 2017

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A Saturday many, many years ago, the beaten, bruised and bloodied body of Jesus of Nazareth lay still in the darkness of a borrowed tomb, as his spirit communed with the angels and his mind reasoned over the unfoldings of a truly abundant life.

We are not privy to those thoughts.

Matter of fact, all we know of the life of Jesus comes from four major biographers who borrowed pieces from one another, and each, in his own way, had an agenda to offer insights to please his readers.

There is no autobiography.

So we aren’t sure of the emotion in the words attributed to him. Therefore theologians decipher and agnostics disembowel the remnants of the script left to us of this magnificent life.

Yet every once in a while, we get a deeper glimpse. Such is the case in Matthew the 23rd Chapter, Verse 37-38:

“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets and stone them which are sent unto you. How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

The great debate over the centuries has been whether Jesus was Jewish or whether he came, in a certain sense, to abolish Judaism in favor of the New Covenant.

If you study the writings of Martin Luther, you might begin to believe that the Great Reformer was anti-Semetic. Yet in many evangelical churches, there seems to be a return to Jewish traditions, including them with their Christian rituals.

What did Jesus feel about the Jews?

What was the heart of the matter?

First and foremost, you must understand, for Jesus to include Gentiles and Samaritans in his movement immediately made him an outcast from the Jewish religious community.

Matter of fact, the Jewish Council that condemned him to death granted him none of the courtesy that was normally extended to brethren.

The reality that Jesus did not believe that the Jews were special because they were the “children of Abraham,” but rather put forth the opinion that God “could take stones” and make offspring of Abe, certainly did not put him in favor with those of the Zionist profile.

Yet John tells us that he “came to his own and his own received him not.”

When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he did use the phrase “we Jews.” It is the only time he did, but he certainly had a kindness and favorability for those who lived in Judea and Galilee.

But Jesus was a man of vision–the Gospel would never reach China or the Native Americans if it were left in the hands of the Jews. The Jewish people had already aggravated the Romans to the point that the annihilation and dispersion of their kindred was inevitable, if not imminent. The Gospel would only survive in the hands of the Greeks and the Romans, who would take it to the rest of the world.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that when the early church was trying to force Gentile converts to comply with Jewish practices, the former Pharisee condemned them and called them “Judaizers” for limiting the scope and power of the message.

In the two verses recited above, Jesus announces the fate of Judaism.

It is in a coma.

It is left desolate and abandoned.

It is awaiting a day when it can be awakened and all the promises given by the prophets can be fulfilled.

But for a season, it was set aside in favor of salvation and “loving your neighbor” being shared with the entire world.

Basically, if you want to sum up Jesus’ feelings on Judaism, it’s very simple: Jesus loves them.

He just does not believe they’re “chosen people.”

There are no chosen people–just people who choose well.

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Jesonian… March 25th, 2017

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When John, son of Zebedee, sat down to pen his recollections of traveling with Jesus of Nazareth, he had two goals in mind:

  1.  He wanted the reader to know that Jesus was the only begotten son of God.
  2. He also wanted the reader to understand that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being.

So the same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead often finds himself trapped in squabbles with disciples and Pharisees who totally misunderstand his motives.

Nowhere is this clearer than in John the 7th Chapter, when Jesus is once again thrust in the middle of a squall with his Nazareth family. Since he spent his first thirty years in the household of Joseph the Carpenter, one might think that many of these misunderstandings would have been worked out, and that smoother paths would have been pursued.

But as soon as Jesus decided not to be “normal,” his family dubbed him “weird.”

  • They sought him out to bring him home because they thought he was crazy.
  • They stood idly by when the townspeople of Nazareth pushed him to the edge of the cliff, threatening to cast him to his death.
  • And in John the 7th Chapter, they taunt him about his newfound fame, asserting that if he really wanted to “promote his gig,” he should do it at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, where there would be large crowds.

It is a nasty and bitter piece of resentment and jealousy. Some theologians even think that his family members may bave been paid to intimidate him into going to Jerusalem so that assassins lying in wait could kill him on the journey.

We know that Jesus is still trying to work out his own feelings about this nuclear family, because he speaks back to them just as bratty as they spoke to him.

Paraphrasing, “Since you are common laborers with nothing special about you, you can go to the feasst anytime you want and no one will care one way or another. I, on the other hand, wait on instructions from my Father.”

It is one of those examples where Jesus breaks pattern with the conservative Christians of our generation today. On any given Sunday, almost every minister will tout from the pulpit the importance of our personal families–the beauty of fellowship involved in those relationships. But even with a cursory look, we quickly discover that Jesus loved his family, but not more than he loved his fellow humans.

Cases in point:

When they told him that his family had come to see him, he pointed to the crowd and said, “These are my family–those who do the will of my Father.”

When Mary asked him to do something to provide wine for the Cana wedding feast, he called her “woman” and said that he was not at her bidding, but waiting for the right time.

Of course, in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “If you only love those who love you, you’re no better than the heathen.”

And he goes on to say that if you don’t “hate your mother and father, you are not worthy of the kingdom”–not because he was trying to pull families apart, but rather, trying to break curses, genetic trends and predilections which cause children to become just like their parents, choiceless.

And on this occasion in John 7, he makes it clear that he will not be intimidated by his brothers and sisters just so they can force him to become “one of the clan.”

Later, he does attend the Feast of Tabernacles–but on the bidding of the Spirit, not the coercion of family.

What can we learn from Jesus about family?

You can love them, trust them and listen to them as long as they do not steal your identity and your calling. Then, if they choose to do that, for a while you can just love them–until the day that they finally understand.

Even though Jesus died, rose from the grave and went to heaven without the support of his Nazareth home, we know that at least three of them–James, Jude, and of course, Mother Mary–ended up becoming ardent followers of his message. 

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Jesonian… February 25th, 2017

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Completely inundated by a traffic jam of divergent opinions, many of which are directly or indirectly attributed to the thinking of Jesus of Nazareth, I decided to sit down one afternoon this week and spend some time with my good old buddies, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–reading all the “red stuff.”

Yes, I still have one of those Bibles where all the things Jesus said are highlighted in red, granting them the significance of being the thoughts of God.

The purpose for my quest was simple–I wanted to narrow down the three basic topics of Jesus’ mindset. Because when you finish perusing all this material, you realize that he said a lot–and you also quickly conclude that he intended his words to be honored, to the point that he measured the love of his followers by how much they held his teachings in regard.

I finally came up with three. You might have different suggestions. Honestly, there were a lot of great runner-ups.

My three statements of Jesus that punctuate his ministry are as follows:

1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Just about a third of what Jesus talked about has to do with human relationships.

Candidly, Jesus was not terribly concerned about our relationship with God. Instead, he paralleled and intertwined it with our interactions with our fellow humans. So even though “turn the other cheek” was nearly a winner, it fell under “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And “loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…” was included because Jesus closed it out by saying “… and your neighbor as yourself.”

2. Count the cost.

This is about human common sense.

Anyone who believes they can live a life to honor Father God by spitting in the eye of Mother Nature is in for a sorry conclusion. Jesus never suggested that we ignore the signs of the times or even the color of the sky, if it might give us wisdom on whether to bring an umbrella.

In other words, get saved but don’t lose your brain. You’ll need it.

3. Go the second mile.

This is human motivation.

Try as I will to find teachings of Jesus where he advocates languishing in grace or getting sleepy in our salvation, I fell short. He believed that “by our fruits” we will be known. He also said, “if somebody takes your coat, give them your cloak also.”

He contended that the power we have is our ability to continue the race when others have fallen out.

So a third of the Gospel is about human relationships. Another chunk is about human common sense, and the final piece is human motivation.

If we simply return to that glorious format laid out for us in the writings in red, the people around us who desire relationships, common sense and motivation will find the BEST FRIEND they ever had in the world.

Until Jesus is honored as a life coach instead of merely a baby born to die for our sins, we will hemorrhage people from the church.

 

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