Tag Archives: Action

Attacking “The Jesus Problem”

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him…
Matthew 22:15, 23, 34-35 (NIV)

Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the praises of the fickle crowd. He challenged the powerful bosses of institutional religion by creating a public disturbance amidst their religious racketeering. Jesus is on a mission. Matthew’s eye-witness account of these events does not reveal Jesus as a helpless victim of circumstance, but rather the One driving the action.

With each word and every action, Jesus is putting the powerful religious cartel into an increasingly difficult position. His popularity among the poor and marginalized has stirred public sentiment against the religious leaders. The small riot Jesus made among the money changers was not only an embarrassment and PR nightmare within the community of the Jewish commoners, but if Pilate gets wind that there’s unrest among the Jews he and the Roman occupational force might crack down hard on them, and that would be bad for business.

The Temple leadership have a good racket going. They are wealthy, and they have carved out a lucrative niche for themselves in their Temple business. Their powerful religious authority gives them an iron political grip over the Jewish people in Jerusalem and abroad. They may be living under Roman occupation, but under the Roman umbrella they are supreme rulers of their own small kingdom. From the perspective of the Temple’s religious leadership, this pesky would-be Messiah from Nazareth is bad for business. He’s listed as a “threat” in their SWOT analysis. “It’s not personal, Jesus,” you can imagine the High Priest muttering, “It’s strictly business.”

The end of yesterday’s chapter and the continuing events in today’s chapter reveal the initial strategy of the religious leaders to deal with “the Jesus problem.” These men were all well-educated lawyers and legal scholars who made an art form out of legal debate over the Law of Moses. They would leverage their expertise in legal minutiae to engage Jesus in very public debate in the Temple courts. Surely this uneducated yokel from the North country would give them a sound-byte they could tweet, print, and repeat endlessly to stem the tide of His popularity.

In today’s chapter, Matthew records wave after wave of envoys from the religious council testing Jesus with the hot political and religious topics of the day: Paying Roman taxes (politically heated issue), whether there is a resurrection (heated religious issue among factions within the temple), and which is the greatest commandment (hot religious debate among temple lawyers). Because these topics were as controversial in temple circles as abortion and gun control are in ours, whatever Jesus says can be used politically to ruin His approval ratings with one group or another.

But Jesus deftly responds to each question with answers His enemies did not expect. Then, after playing defense for several rounds of debate, Jesus turns the tables and goes on the offense. He tests the prestigious lawyers with a question of His own, and stumps them at their own game.

“No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

This morning I am thinking about the contrast between Jesus and the religious cartel who were threatened by Him. Jesus was a simple man of simple means born in a backwater town to poor, blue-collar parents. He was raised in a backwater region of the country. Jesus was not well connected, had no impressive education, and owned little more than the seamless tunic on His back (which was worth just enough that a couple of Roman guards would shoot craps over it). His political enemies, on the other hand, were upstanding religious people of elite pedigree, top-notch education, and shrewd business acumen. They would be hailed as hallmarks of success according to our contemporary culture’s criteria.

The uncomfortable question I ask myself in the quiet this morning is: Between Jesus and the religious leaders, who do I, and my life, most resemble? If I were standing in the temple courts listening to the debate between this poor teacher with His provocative views and the conservative, successful leaders of the traditional status quo, who would I be inclined to side with?

I confess that my honest answer is as uncomfortable as the question.

Driving the Action

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
Matthew 17:9, 22-23 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting a message and the text was the raising of Lazarus in John 11. As we unpacked the story together, I made the point that Jesus was not a victim of the events around Him, rather Jesus was driving the action of the scene.

Whenever a writer crafts a story, play, or screenplay, he or she must be mindful of how to drive the action of the story and propel events forward. Sometimes action can be circumstantially driven when an event takes place which unleashes a subsequent series of events. In The Godfather, there is an unexpected attempt on Vito’s life and an attack on the Corleone family. [spoiler alert!] As a result of these events Vito’s son, Michael, who wanted nothing to do with his father’s illegal business will become just like his father.

Other times action is driven by a character in the story whose words and actions propel the story forward. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf makes a prophetic observation that even Gollum has some part to play in the events leading to the ending of the One Ring. Time and again Gollum’s mischief and machinations drive the action, even to the climactic moment of the epic.

One of the things that becomes very clear as we read the story of Jesus is that Jesus is driving the action. He is not a passive victim of others. He is not the victim of unexpected events that lead to execution. At every turn Jesus is driving the action which will lead to His arrest and even foreshadowing the events to come. In today’s chapter, Jesus twice refers to his death and resurrection. He knows what is coming because it was part of a larger narrative that He had storyboarded in the beginning, and had been prophetically envisioned for centuries (see Psalm 22 [c. 1000 B.C.] and Isaiah 53 [c. 700 B.C.]).

This morning I’m thinking that Jesus came with purpose. He was on a mission and He drove the action. What about me? What’s my mission? Do I act, think, speak with purpose, or am I passively awaiting for circumstances to drive the narrative of my life?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that Jesus told us to ask, to seek, and to knock. Those are not commands to be passive, but to participate with God in driving the action of our stories.

Featured image courtesy of bnorthern via Flickr

Simple Contrast; Simple Choice

GnG

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
2 John 1:9, 10b, 12

When I was a kid and my mother had to take me to the Doctor’s office, there was always a Highlights magazine to peruse in the lobby. One of the regular features inside Highlights was a comic called Goofus and Gallant which simply contrasted the behaviors of good and bad behavior. Goofus always behaved improperly and Gallant always did the proper thing.

I thought of the two characters from my childhood as I read today’s chapter. In his letter to his friend Gaius, Paul calls out two specific men. First he calls out Diotrephes the self-seeker who is unwelcoming and mean spirited. Next, he compliments Demetrius who has a positive reputation among all the believers.

Today, I’m thinking about simple contrasts. Goofus and Gallant. Diotrephes and Demetrius. Sometimes life boils down to very simple questions:

  • What do I want my actions to say about me?
  • Who is it I really desire to be?
  • What do I need to change?

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Oh, Mercy

Forbearance
Forbearance (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us….
Psalm 123:3a (NIV)

Mercy (mur-see) n. 1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence. 2. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty. 3. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.

Sometimes we lose sight of what words really mean. Throughout God’s Message I read cries for mercy and calls for mercy. I regularly plead for God’s mercy. But, do I ever really stop to consider what that really means? I read the three definitions pasted above and find in each of them a slightly different but wholly apt nuance of the word.

I need God’s compassionate and kindly forbearance because despite my best efforts I keep testing God’s patience with my repeated offenses, my moral faults and my personal shortcomings.

I need God’s discretionary power to pardon and mitigate just punishment for my condemnable thoughts, words, acts and omissions.

I desire daily evidence of divine favor and blessing.

At the same instance, I am reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I need to show compassion and kindly forbearance towards those who have offended me.

I need to pardon those who have perpetrated hurtful thoughts, words, and actions towards me.

I need to give tangible favor and blessing to others who do not deserve it.

This morning I prepare for the day mindful of the truth that it is totally improper of me to pray for God’s mercy if I am unwilling to show mercy to others.

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Putting Our Gifts to Work

 

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:15 (NLT)

It has be an interesting week of reading deprivation which was part of the assignment for a creativity class I’m teaching. The idea of the assignment is to break out of normal routines, to do other things with your time, to be less distracted in order to focus on pursuing new paths of action. For me the lesson was in how much of a routine Wendy and I have in certain parts of our day, especially mornings, and how disruptive it can be to disturb those routines.

The class last night discussed the fact that we all feel called to be creative in our own pursuits whether it’s writing, music, artwork, crafts, and etc. We talk about the idea of being creative, but the actual creative work seems never to start. The canvas remains blank and sitting in the corner. The piano gathers dust. The play does not get revised as needed. For this we have a million excuses:

  • Too busy this week.
  • Can’t think of anything to write/draw/play.
  • I’ll get to it tomorrow.
  • I’m waiting for inspiration.

Yesterday, in preparation for class, I was investigating Pablo Picasso who was notorious for cranking out artwork in steady, flowing streams of creativity. He was constantly painting, sculpting, crafting, and drawing. An art professor of mine once commented that the vast majority of the work Picasso created was “crap” but he made so much of it that his work was constantly evolving and once in a while he would have a breakthrough of pure genius. But, he never would have had the breakthrough of genius if he hadn’t been willing to produce all the crap.

“Inspiration exists,” Picasso once said, “but it has to find us working.”

I thought of my classmates and of Picasso this morning when I read Paul’s encouragement to his protégé, Timothy. Give attention to your calling, your talents, and your gifts. Throw yourself into the action of pursuing and developing them. Only then will you make progress.

“Give me a museum, and I will fill it,” Picasso said.

Now there’s someone putting his gift to work.

Chapter-a-Day Colossians 3

from ricoslounge via Flickr

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Colossians 3:5a (NLT)

This morning I woke in my own bed. I’m happy to be home but tired and worn out from a long week of business travel. It is probably the weariness, but as I read through today’s chapter I felt the burden of how much further I have to go. Some mornings you look back on the road behind and feel like you’ve made little progress, then glance ahead and feel the burden of how far the road stretches out before you.

Consider, for example, the command to put to death the evil and dark things lurking in my soul. Some things are more easily eradicated than others and are long gone. Some things have died a slow, lingering death over time and distance. Then there are tenaciously proud, greedy, and selfish appetites of my soul with which I seem to endlessly struggle. Is struggle the right word? It’s easy to say that they are simply difficult to exterminate and impervious to my every attempt to deal with them. I’m afraid that the truth of the matter is that I lack the willingness. We tend to settle in to comfortable patterns with our appetites. Denial, avoidance, and distraction are easier than confession, confrontation and action.

Today, I’m feeling humbled and sobered by the road ahead and how far I have to go. I perceive that there is so much more of me and far too little of Jesus in me. Some times you don’t make progress until you’ve unburdened yourself from the things that weigh you down. Yet, there is no retiring from this journey. There is only the daily decision to go my own direction, go back, sit down on the path, or keep pressing on.

I’m lacing up the shoes. I’m determining to pitch some of this dead weight and continue pressing on.

Some days it’s not as easy as others.