Friday, April 12, 2019

Luke 22:39-62

There is a powerful song -- probably one of the earliest Christian worship songs -- recorded in Philippians 2. It talks about how the eternal Son of God did not count his status as God something to be grasped but emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Theologians talk about this as Jesus' kenosis, from the Greek word used here to describe this "emptying." What we see in this passage of Luke is still more of Jesus emptying himself. At the beginning of this passage you could make the argument that Jesus is still a powerful figure. He is an influential teacher, the leader of a committed group of disciples. He has widespread appeal to masses of people and some influential friends. His miracles and his movement have drawn the attention of both the crowds of common people and of the ruling elite. Little by little, everything is stripped from Jesus.

Jesus goes in darkness to the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, to pray. This was near the home of his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus, but Jesus stays in the garden that night, in a grove of ancient olive trees. He is in agony, knowing what is to come and yearning for another way forward. His committed disciples are a short distance away, but they're sleeping. Of course they still believe themselves loyal, even to death, but they just can't stay awake.

Except Judas. Judas is wide awake, and he leads a band of thugs to this spot precisely for the purpose of betraying Jesus. The disciples try to fight and Jesus prevents the conflict from escalating. Cut off from their "fight" reflex, the disciples resort to "flight" and run off into the darkness. Jesus is left alone with his betrayer and with those who will take him to an illegal trial under cover of darkness.

Peter trails along at a distance in the dark. He longs to stand up for Jesus, but after being rebuked by Jesus for striking out with his sword (not to mention proving himself a less-than-adequate swordsman by merely cutting off a man's ear) he is uncertain. Like so many of us Peter is drawn to Jesus but afraid to take a stand.

Peter's presence provides the next step in Jesus' emptying. As long as Peter kept his mouth shut, we might believe that at the very least, scattered though they are, Jesus' followers remain loyal. We might say that Jesus still has some stalwarts hidden here and there. But Peter betrays this fantasy for what it is. Peter speaks three times, each time denying that he even knows Jesus -- and this (in all likelihood) happens in Jesus' hearing.

The eternal Son of God gave up the glory of heaven -- the incessant worship of angels who  sang his praises and proclaimed his power, the acknowledgement that it is him, the Son, who holds all the universe together -- he gave all that up to become human. In the measureless wisdom of God, he was born as a tiny baby in an out-of-the-way corner of Judea. We celebrate that at Christmas every year. But here the incarnation becomes complete in its unfathomable existential measure: Jesus is cut off from his community, his influence, his reputation. He is no longer the one who gave sight to the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, he is a shameful criminal, deserted by his band of rabble and pressed into an inquisition under cover of darkness.

He is truly what Isaiah described -- despised and rejected, a man from whom we hide our faces. Smitten and rejected, utterly alone, without appeal and without beauty.

Strangely, the Bible insists that Jesus did this for us. There are depths to plumb here, but for the moment let it be enough to say this: No matter what rejection you have suffered, what betrayals you have endured; no matter what loneliness haunts you, what isolation cuts you off from love and from community; no matter how your reputation has been smeared, no matter how your actions and words have been twisted, Jesus has been there before you, and he has fallen deeper into the abyss than you have gone. You are not alone in the pit. The Son of God loved you and gave his life -- not just his ability to breathe, not just his heartbeat, but his relationships, his reputation, his status -- for you. He died the death you fear, so that you are never, can never be alone. Even if your narrative gets worse -- and it might -- so will Jesus' story. He has the trials, the flogging, the cross yet to endure. But in the end, he died your death so that you need not endure without hope, and he rose from death so that you know you, too, will rise -- not just from death but from meaninglessness, from hopelessness, from alienation and isolation. The Garden of Gethsemane is for you. The cross is for you. The resurrection is for you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Luke 22:24-38

It is the night of Jesus' betrayal and arrest. He has shared in his last meal with the disciples, and now he has a few key things to teach them before he is taken from them. What will he focus on?

Jesus' initial teaching goes to the heart of his message, but it doesn't arise from a carefully prepared lesson plan. Instead, Jesus responds to his disciples' bickering -- whether playful or serious, we can't know -- about who would have the highest station in his coming kingdom. There is so much a person could say about this: the height of the disciples' rudeness, how completely they have missed his point over the past three years, the radical shift in understanding that is to come in the next few days, and more. Let's focus for just a moment on what seems to be Jesus' key point. He contrasts the world's understanding of authority and power and greatness over against his own kingdom and a kingdom-based understanding of power. Jesus says "I am among you as one who serves."

Then Jesus says something that, if we're not careful, sounds like underneath it all he truly does buy into this world's views on power. He affirms that the disciples have stayed with him in his trials (v. 28) and he goes on to say that he is giving them his kingdom, just as his Father gave it to him, that they may eat and drink and serve as judges in that kingdom. Our initial assumption about Jesus' meaning might be that finally they will be rewarded for their faithfulness -- that Jesus will give them some indulgence, some reward. Be careful here: Our views on what constitutes power have been so twisted by this world's assumptions that we are in great danger of completely missing Jesus here.

When Jesus assigns a kingdom to his disciples, when he affirms them for standing with him over time and trial, when he tells them they will eat and drink and judge the twelve tribes of Israel, he is not conferring titles and uniforms and power structures on them. Rather, he is telling them that as he has invited them to follow him and they have obeyed, they will step into his character and his role. He is the one who rules over the kingdom as the suffering king. He is the one who eats (by being obedient to his Father's will, cf. John 4) and drinks the cup he is about to suffer (cf. v. 42). He is the judge who, by his very presence and by people's reactions to him, judges the nation. So the disciples will "rule" by embodying Jesus' nature as the suffering king. They will be figures of immense spiritual authority as they go out into the world to proclaim Jesus' resurrection, and they will suffer terribly. They will recognize God's will to save the nations through Jesus' death and resurrection and through their proclamation, and they will strive to be obedient to that will. They will take up the cup of martyrdom. They will indeed inherit Jesus' kingdom. They will proclaim freedom for the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty for the oppressed in the name of the risen King Jesus.

None of this confers on them the authority to raise an army, levy taxes, build a property base, or line their own pockets. When Jesus' followers have stepped into these kinds of worldly activities, we are a far cry from his kingship and his kingdom. As if to make this comically clear, Jesus advises the disciples to arm themselves (this is a tough passage for those who say Jesus is a pure pacifist). In response to Jesus' words about making sure they have swords, the disciples say they have two. Hardly an army, not enough even to be an armed gang -- but Jesus says it is enough.

Working through the gospel of Luke these past months, I have been struck over and over again how completely Jesus turns the values of our world upside-down, and how hard it is for us to read his words without simply importing them into our own understandings. We must learn to know Jesus' character and read his heart. As we do, we will find ourselves bit by bit transformed until we look like him in some ways ... and we will begin to take up the kingdom of servant-love he has assigned to us.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Luke 22:1-23

The threads of the story draw together now. The authorities have taken their stand against Jesus, and have moved from being disgruntled and upset about him to actively plotting to kill him. Jesus' disciples are nervous, even terrified, but even more they are clueless and simply trying to follow faithfully. Judas steps up to be the tool of Jesus' betrayal, willingly putting himself in the breach between the Jewish authorities and their plots and Jesus' last few days of human freedom before his death.

What of Jesus? Do we see Jesus as a victim or victor here? In the way of biblical truth, Jesus is both. Biblical truth is usually paradoxical; we must not choose a middle ground that reconciles the extremes, but rather live in both ends of the extremes at once. Most of the classic arguments of Christian theology find their best solutions in this methodology. Take, for example, the ongoing debate in our day between those who say God is absolutely sovereign and all is predetermined, on one hand, and those who say we are free to choose salvation on the other. Sometimes these positions are labeled Calvinism and Arminianism, though I'm of course caricaturing both without doing justice to either. But I know several prominent Christian schools that expect their students to choose, and thereby to align themselves with one or the other. How can we do this? The only way to do Christian theology in a biblical way is to live at both extremes. Of course God's sovereignty extends to the movement of every atom in the universe. Of course God has given us mind-boggling freedom to choose. If we let go of either extreme, our theology quickly becomes twisted and unbiblical.

Jesus here is absolutely a victim. He is the innocent lamb, about to be taken by the powers, run through an illegal sham of a trial, and sacrificed through the machinations of the Roman overseers. Satan will have a field day manipulating the temple authorities, the Roman governor, the disciples, Judas, and all the rest. How can you read this story and not have a terrible, pit-of-the-stomach sense of revulsion and hopelessness in the face of such injustice, such brutality, such horror?

But Jesus is the victor. Like Aslan knowing the deeper magic of the Stone Table, Jesus deftly navigates the machinations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He has carefully arranged allies in key positions that will allow him to fulfill the scriptures, to tie together the threads of the Passover into a simple meal of bread and wine that he will bequeath to his followers in the night in which he is betrayed. He directs Peter and John to the upper room like a spymaster, knowing the hours are counting down and he will soon give himself to those who will beat and crucify him. He is absolutely powerless and absolutely in control.

There is hope for us in seeing Jesus in this biblical way. We have freedom to create webs of sin and error, intrigue and entropy, and we deal with the consequences of our own actions. We bear our sin and its fathomless stupidity. At the same time, Jesus, the Crucified One, lives to pardon us, to wipe our slates clean, to speak a new identity into our poisonous webs: There is therefore now no condemnation. Find yourself in me. Know yourself through my Father's words. You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

Both are true. You are a sinner, deserving of complete condemnation. You are completely free, exalted in Christ to complete innocence before your heavenly Father.

You say you can't reconcile these extremes? Don't try. Hold them in tension, rather, and use each to respond to the other. When you wake up and see only ugliness in the mirror, hear the words of Jesus calling you his beloved. When you exult in your achievements and your holiness, be reminded that you are completely undeserving, saved only by the goodness of God's grace.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Biblical faithfulness?

It's interesting to consider what faithfulness to God's calling really looks like. Biblically speaking, so often it looks foolish to the people around us, and the Bible is clear about that.

I really appreciated Carey Nieuwhof's thoughts on the topic here. Hope you take time to read it and pore / pray over both past and future decisions!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Luke 21:5-38

We need to take seriously that all of Christianity is based historically, and the basis of Christianity is not our period in history, but that of Jesus.

This is so obviously important when it comes to a passage like this in Luke 21. Too often, modern readers read a passage like this purely in reference to themselves and an anticipated "second coming of Jesus." Now, the New Testament does talk about Jesus coming again, very clearly. But we so often become self-centered and read this chapter purely in reference to our own time, to our own expectations, to our own anticipation of how soon Jesus might come back for us. We completely miss the point, and it has hurt our churches. So much.

While deeply committed Christians may read the Bible, even they rarely get to know the history of the first century. Some will know a little bit about the fact that the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, but even that tidbit doesn't help them read their Bibles better. Instead, they go on reading as though every word was written for their self-focus.

Fact is, it is of tremendous value to read the Bible, and I believe with all my heart that God speaks through its words. But we have to add a step. Like Linus in the Peanuts comic strip when he was telling Charlie Brown how he felt guilty going to Vacation Bible School where they were studying the letters of Paul, we are "reading other people's mail." That's exactly what we are doing, and we need to take that seriously.

The original audience for Luke's gospel was a man named Theophilus, most likely a Roman official who had become a Christian. Beyond that, Luke rapidly came to circulate within the Christian communities of the first century. They at least could read it with some sense of its proper context.

We, however, take a chapter like this one and we read it from our own perspective, never thinking about the fact that Jesus' original hearers lived in a completely different frame of reference than we do. So we misunderstand a lot of what Jesus said because we read in this irresponsible way.

When we start to dig into the first century historical events Jesus was talking about -- and if you doubt that was Jesus' intent, you are ignoring verses 6-7 and verse 32 -- there is a lot to learn. Where can a person start? Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Get a good academic study Bible. Life Application Bibles and such are great, but if you want to dig deeper into what the Bible is really saying and learn a bit of the history, find a Bible that includes diagrams of Jerusalem, timelines of the period between the Testaments, and talks about which Roman emperors were in power when the New Testament was being written.
  2. Read a few articles on an easy to understand source, even one like Wikipedia. Here are some ideas what might be most helpful to read about: 
    1. The Jewish War of 66-70
    2. Several Roman emperors including Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and Domitian. 
    3. Study up on "apocalyptic literature" and realize what exactly it is, and what it is trying to accomplish.
  3. A good historical atlas of the Bible is very helpful, whether online or in print. Often church libraries have one of these stuck back in a dusty corner somewhere. 
  4. Read up on Josephus, and then dabble in his histories a bit. Josephus was roughly contemporary of the Apostle Paul and wrote extensive histories of the Jewish people and a fascinating autobiography that gives us tremendous insights into the world of the New Testament. 
How will this kind of study change your reading of the Bible? Let's start with Luke 21. What will we learn about this chapter?
  • Realize the context. Jesus and his disciples are speaking as they look at the temple, still under construction, being built out of massive limestone blocks. It was a huge project undertaken by Herod the Great who died in 4 BC, but the project continued on and was finished a few years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The project was designed to intimidate and inspire. The giant white blocks (a few from the platform are still visible at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but as Jesus predicted the temple itself was knocked down completely) gleamed and gave the Jewish people of Jesus' day a deep sense of national pride -- a national pride that eventually led to the revolts that precipitated the Jewish War of 66-70 AD. 
  • Everything Jesus described in this chapter happened in the generation after his crucifixion and resurrection. But what about verses 25-33?? Surely here Jesus is talking about his own second coming? Not so fast. Don't skip over verse 32! Jesus says he is talking about the generation of his hearers. What then, to do with the words about "the Son of Man coming on the clouds"? Here is where studying apocalyptic literature becomes helpful. While in our day we are tempted to read for some literal meaning, Jesus' contemporaries out of necessity became experts at shrouding their meanings in figurative religious language. So the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation in our Bible, along with other passages here and there, are full of apocalyptic imagery that is designed to hide its meaning from the enemies of God's people but to reveal basic truths and encourage God's faithful people. Jesus' words here are an apocalyptic way of speaking of the rise of Jesus' own followers and the spread of his message throughout the Roman world, not of some cosmic second coming. (Though, as stated earlier, the New Testament does in fact teach about Jesus' second coming -- just not right here.) 
  • Always, always in the New Testament when we read about these "end times" kinds of teachings, scripture points us clearly -- usually in the very next breath -- to pay attention to our own conduct. This passage is no exception, as Jesus brings his teaching home in verse 34-36. Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Pay attention. This is where Jesus calls us to focus. Don't get fascinated by end times speculation. Instead, do what Jesus clearly calls you to do. Meet together for worship. Pray. Steep yourself in scripture. Be kind to your neighbors. Bear witness to all God has done for you. Don't grow weary. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Luke 20:41-21:4

Jesus turns the tables on his detractors. He asks them a thorny scriptural question that contradicts their common wisdom and opens the door for them to recognize his authority if they're willing. But sadly, they are not. So Jesus speaks an open warning that his disciples, the crowds, and even the Jewish leaders can hear: Beware of them, beware of their love of appearances, of their longing for human recognition. They love status. They serve themselves rather than living in submission and dependence on God. Jesus says they "devour widows' houses" -- a ringing condemnation that echoes many of the prophets. (I'm currently reading Amos, and his condemnation of the Israelites' social injustice and their religious hypocrisy and showmanship are lockstep with Jesus at this point.)

Then Jesus moves on to contrast an actual widow with these leaders. Remember that the chapter divisions were added later. If you were just reading through this text as a narrative, it would be hard to miss the obvious connection between "widows' houses" and the widow who, out of her poverty and out of her faith offers her pittance to God. She becomes the poster child for trust and submission, in contrast to the scribes' scheming and self-focus. She is living out Jesus' command in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to "seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness" and to lay up treasures in heaven. Jesus makes this connection explicit when he comments on her giving by saying "this poor widow has put in more than all of them."

As we'll see next time, the self-seeking power games of the scribes and authorities bring down not only condemnation on themselves, but on the whole temple institution and the future of Israel as a political entity. Again, Jesus echoes the prophets when he says that their agendas and refusal to recognize what God is doing will not stand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Luke 20:27-40

Writing and pondering this story in the run-up to Valentines Day, I suppose it's not surprising that the biggest contrast I see between Jesus and his detractors (in this case, the Sadducees) is love.

Ironic, isn't it, that the Sadducees' question is built around marriage. But their approach (besides the fact that they are simply using this hypothetical situation to entrap Jesus, and so love is out the window from the get-go) is legalistic, rule-bound, wooden. There's no pathos in their storytelling. There's no concern for the specific people in the situation. There's no compassion. It's exactly like the "lifeboat" ethics problems that were popular a generation ago -- there are five people on a lifeboat, but the lifeboat can only hold two. Who will you throw overboard?

I've been reading Bob Goff's book, Everybody Always lately. Goff does a great job of pointing in his homespun way back to Jesus' command that we should love one another. Always. Almost without exception, our rules and principles get in the way of love rather than empowering it. Beyond the basic expectations of human decency that are reflected in the most elementary structures of justice, we fine-tune our systems to decide who is in and who is out, who measures up and who doesn't, who is worthy and who is to be discarded. There's also a serious irony here. Perhaps more than anything else, we focus these systems on ourselves and not surprisingly, find ourselves wanting. We fall short. We are broken. We have sinned and continue to sin. We don't look like the airbrushed models in the ads. We've gained a few pounds. We binge-watch Netflix. We find the most creative ways to shame ourselves, to draw circles that exclude us from being accepted, from being loved.

Without doubt, the most systematic of the New Testament writers is the Apostle Paul. He carefully reasons out the philosophical and theological underpinnings of Jesus' death and resurrection, and if anyone is willing to draw hard lines, it's Paul. Yet, when he's summing up the implications of what Jesus did, Paul over and over again says it comes down to drawing bigger circles that include us all. My favorite summary of this position comes at the beginning of one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Romans 8. Paul writes, "There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus" (emphasis added, though it's fair to say that the entire New Testament was written in ALL CAPS in the original Greek, which is kind of funny when you think of it through the filter of today's social media conventions). No condemnation is another way of saying there's no shame. There's no possibility of being excluded. As Paul says at the end of that same wonderful chapter, there's nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Nothing.

We can certainly turn away, rebel, exclude ourselves, and most of us do. But the upshot of this brilliant message is that when we allow God to turn us back to himself, we find open doors and open arms. The tragedy (as C.S. Lewis so strikingly portrays in his excellent book The Great Divorce) is that so many of us choose separation from God and condemn ourselves, in spite of God's superabundant love.

So the Sadducees lay a trap for Jesus, and Jesus responds with something like, "Don't you get it? It's about love, and you've completely missed the point." Human love -- even the greatest human love like that in an excellent marriage -- is an arrow pointing toward the real source of love, God himself and his love for us. Why would you keep the treasure map when you find the treasure? Though I suppose you might tack the treasure map up on the wall as a nostalgic reminder of the journey and what an adventure it was. In a similar way, maybe our imperfect human loves will be nostalgic reminders in heaven of God's love and how we began in imperfect, partial ways to know him and his measureless love for us.

The last point to make is this: Jesus' response to the Sadducees, though it seems harsh, was exactly what love looked like in that situation. He was confronting not their surface question, but the assumptions that kept them from knowing the living God in his fullness. The last line of the story -- that from that point on they no longer dared to ask him any question -- is hopeful not because questioning God is wrong, but because questioning God from a position of arrogant superiority is foolhardy. One can hope that their silence came from humility and a sense of having their eyes opened to the love standing in front of them.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Luke 20:19-26

This brief story points out exactly how the world treats Jesus, and exactly how Jesus treats the world.

Note, to start with, that the religious leaders understand (v. 18) that Jesus has publicly called them out by telling the previous parable. He has named them as unfaithful tenants in God's vineyard. Their response? They could have repented, but instead they sent spies hoping to catch Jesus in words they could later use to convict him. Note also that they have increased the stakes in the game: They're no longer just trying to smear Jesus in the court of public opinion, but their question is specifically about how to deal with the Romans. They want to get Jesus not just disgraced, but executed.

The heart of their question: Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not? The people hated their Roman overlords, and popular sentiment would immediately answer, who cares if it's lawful -- we need to rebel! The Jewish leaders who sent these spies, however, were colluding with the Romans to maintain a relatively stable political climate so they could maintain their power base.

Jesus takes his answer, again, to a new level. It's not just a question of taxation, he says, but of identity. Show me the coin. Whose image is on the coin? (Jewish coinage, by the way, never included a human form like Roman coins did, because of the Old Testament prohibition against graven images.) Caesar's image is on the coin, they said. So Jesus, knowing that these spies as well as everyone else in earshot will get the allusion, says they should give to Caesar the things that bear his image (i.e., the coins -- pay your taxes) and to God the things that bear his image.

No listener would have missed this: In Genesis 1, God said he was going to make human beings in his own image and according to his likeness. So even in the face of this seemingly niggling question about taxation, Jesus points to the ultimate authority of God and challenges his hearers toward repentance: You are made in the image of God. Therefore, pay your coins to Caesar but give yourself to God. Stop worrying about self-preservation and render your heart to God, then see where he leads you.

It is not very hard to transpose Jesus' comments into our own era. We who tend to be so consumed with the matters of costs and benefits, of ownership and acquisition: Whose image do we bear? And are we giving ourselves, heart and soul, to God, living as his reflections, his image, in this world?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Luke 20:1-18

The two related pieces of this text force us to examine a Jesus with sharp edges. The New Testament is clear that Jesus comes as judge -- but our normal picture of what this means, of Jesus sitting on a throne saying "This one's a sheep ... this one's a goat ... sheep ... goat ... goat ... sheep" is incomplete at best, and probably messes us up in some significant ways. In these eighteen verses we see a clear example of how Jesus judges people and what that looks like. If we're paying attention, we might find out something about our own call to "judge" and what it looks like for Jesus-followers to act as judges over the world.

First section: Verses 1-8:
The Jewish leaders (who are nervous about protecting their own authority) come to Jesus to challenge him. They want to know how come he sees his own teachings and actions, which are often critical of the current leadership, as legitimate. Where does his authority come from? Jesus recognizes that it's not an honest question, so he poses a question in return, asking about the legitimacy of John's prophetic movement and his practice of baptizing people who came to repent and align themselves with what God was doing. The leaders had stood at a safe distance evaluating John's movement, of course, so they couldn't answer either way, and they realize it. Recognizing their unwillingness to be judged, Jesus refuses to answer their question. And in their actions, in their unwillingness to side with Jesus even if he is legitimate, they judge themselves. (For a longer, but extremely provocative take on this, read C.S. Lewis' excellent book The Great Divorce and get multiple examples of what it looks like when people judge themselves.) They reveal the state of their unrepentant hearts. Jesus doesn't need to say, "See? You're a bunch of unholy jerks." Their self-protection, their motives, their unwillingness to interact honestly with the truth, are all visible for anyone with eyes to see.

Second section: Verses 9-18:
So Jesus tells a story not to scold them, but to put their actions in context. He chooses the familiar imagery of a vineyard (see Isaiah 5, for example), a common way of speaking figuratively about God's chosen people. The question is, have you who are in authority been faithful tenants? Have you recognized the rights and supremacy of the owner rather than just serving yourselves? Through Jesus' story, the lesson finally starts to sink in. When Jesus tells what will happen to the tenants of the vineyard, the leaders hear him speaking their future, and they respond "Surely not!" If all Jesus is doing is telling a story, why does it matter? But Jesus is telling their story, making their actions clear for all to understand.

The question we have to ask, then, is this: What authority has God given you? What is the vineyard God has entrusted to you, and are you honoring him in the way you manage it?

Lest we read this selfishly and make it all about ourselves -- "Someday Jesus will come back ... maybe any day now ... and then this will be fulfilled!" -- know that Jesus' words very literally came true about forty years later. The vineyard that was Israel was gutted and the current systems of leadership were completely destroyed. What wasn't completed in the Jewish War of 66-70 AD was mopped up in the Bar Kochba revolt another sixty-five years later. From that day on, Jewish leadership in the world was radically changed. It is also arguable that the primary vehicle God uses to communicate his presence and character to the world shifted from Second Temple Judaism to the fledgling Jesus movement that spread like wildfire through the Roman Empire and beyond.

History is important, because we might be able to see in these events some indicators of our own situation. We live in one of the great shifts of the Christian movement, what some have described as a shift past the "Christendom" where Christianity enjoyed status and privilege and power, into something we don't know how to define yet but for the moment we're just calling "post-Christendom." Is it possible that for decades and even centuries Christian churches got complacent serving themselves rather than recognizing and participating in the mission God had for them? And is it possible that in our day, God is giving that "vineyard" to Jesus-focused movements that are more true to his mission?

It's worth pondering.

In the next few verses we'll be seeing Jesus' own perspective on living in tension with culture -- especially religious culture -- and how to interact with a wider society that is opposed to God's rule. Hang on for the ride!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Watching the snow fall

My attention lately has been focused elsewhere, and I've been delinquent about updating this blog. I've been focusing on the launch of some mid-sized groups -- "pastorates" in the language I've used in the past, and "Life Groups" according to what we're currently calling them. They're mid-sized groups (25-50 people) that meet in homes (yes, it's wonderfully crowded, and yes, your home is big enough) and are led by a team of people who cover the various roles of teaching, administration, mission, hospitality, etc. This has been exciting for me. It's really fun to see these home-based groups launching in a way that brings so much of what the New Testament describes as "church" to life in the 21st century! We've got three Life Groups up and running now, and anticipate launching at least a couple more later this spring.

I've also been launching another Alpha course, and that will take up the lion's share of my day today. Alpha complements Life Groups so well, and provides such a great way for people to build community, explore life's deeper questions, and come to know Jesus in a more personal way.

At the moment I'm watching the snow falling outside my window. This isn't supposed to amount to much, but it's coming down pretty enthusiastically at the moment. And tomorrow (first real Alpha session so the timing isn't great) we're supposed to get 5-8 inches of snow. I always get my hopes up for these storms and then too often they fizzle. However, once again I'm an optimist. I invested in a pair of aluminum snowshoes and trekking poles yesterday -- something I've been debating for at least a decade. I've got a traditional pair of snowshoes, and they're great, but for more serious winter activity the modern ones work a little more efficiently. I'm excited to get out on them later today, hopefully, if I can get my Alpha preparations done. We've had about four inches of a good base of snow here, and if we get another half a foot or more it will be about ideal for snowshoeing. I'll keep you posted.

That's my intention now -- to mix up posts that complete the task of working through Luke (I haven't forgotten) mixed with more personal updates about life on the lake here at Decision Hills. I've been embroiled in vehicle maintenance, furnace repair, and other joys of winter in Minnesota these last few weeks. But my intention, as I said, is to reengage in the discipline of writing here a bit. Apologies to those of you who might be checking this blog from time to time! Don't give up on me just yet.

In the meantime, since I'm continuing to pursue the discipline (ever so slowly) of learning Spanish, I'll say:

Qué día tan bonita! La nieve es muy hermosa!