Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bringing Judgment to the Gentiles

"Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, Mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles" Isaiah 42:1.

Judgment to the Gentiles, according to Jesus, looked nothing like what those of His day and even some Christians today envision.

During His ministry Christ endured more opposition from His own than from the Gentiles. A careful look at his travel itinerary reveals He spent a good deal of time outside the confines of Jewish territory, which often proved to be more hospitable.

When encountering the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus passed judgment. The woman's background was sketchy. His verdict...she was the perfect candidate to be His first evangelist. Despite her past history and the fact that women weren't permitted to give testimony to anything, even if they were eyewitnesses, Jesus believed she fit the bill. And He was right.

Gadara is Gentile country. Upon arrival, the warning to avoid the uncontrollable demoniac was promptly ignored. Once again, Jesus passed judgment, this time on the man's condition. It was unacceptable and had to go.

Now, free from the possession that had robbed him of a meaningful life, Jesus had a new plan for the man. For a number of reasons he couldn't join Christ's roving band, but there was a more important role for this former crazy man to play. Traveling around the area, this newly hatched evangelist could tell all who would listen about God's power to heal and love demonstrated by his own miraculous deliverance. When Jesus returned the crowds were waiting.

For the disciples, bless their hearts, this had to be confusing. Jews harbored real deep-seated animosity toward Gentiles and even more toward Samaritans. Had Jesus' ministry occurred in the Deep South after the Civil War, His followers would have been culture shocked for sure. Jesus wouldn't have ignored the freed slaves, the Carpetbaggers, the Yankee soldiers and other Northerners now in the South. Strong feelings of prejudice and superiority would have quickly surfaced and been challenged as they were in Christ's day.

Matt 12:17-21 records Jesus' quotation of a familiar passage in Isaiah 42. However, in His version the prophet's declaration is altered. According to Isaiah, God's Servant wouldn't rest until law and order was established. In particular, in His cross-hairs, were the Gentiles upon whom the Law would be imposed.

Jesus felt free to correct Isaiah's misunderstanding of Christ's role as the Servant. God already had one nation trying to keep the Law as a means of establishing and maintaining a relationship with Him. And it wasn't working. Jesus was unwilling to put the burden of the Law on anyone, including the Gentiles. "In His name the Gentiles will trust." Matt. 12:21.

It's still the same today. God's not looking to exclude but to include all in His family. Sin is already forgiven and everyone's already reconciled back to Him. The only ones disqualified, so to speak, are those who decline His invitation. And like every good parent, God will deal with our problems and issues, but as Jesus demonstrated, it won't be with a heavy hand.

How about you? From a Biblical standpoint, what does judgment look like to you? Is it always harsh and punitive? As a believer will that type of action draw you closer to God or send you heading to the exits?

God's all inclusive nature was hard for the Jews during Jesus' day to accept, but it's not like that now. Or is it? God doesn't want anyone left out, so we better enlarge our nets, look for fresh, different bait and expect a bigger, more interesting and diverse catch. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Source

"YHVH said to Abram: 'I am El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect'" Gen. 17:1.

A female! Could he believe his ears? This invisible deity Who had called Abram to forsake family and familiar wasn't a warrior like the god's of his culture, but was a woman? What other surprises did this God have up her sleeve?

If this reference to God as feminine rankles your religious sensibilities - blame Him. God's the one who identified Himself as the Many-breasted One.

Ancient cultures had their versions of fertility goddesses usually depicted as a woman with many breasts... kinda creepy actually. These deities were considered the source of good crops, prolific flocks and most importantly, offspring.

An image of a nurturing deity responsible for life's provision wasn't unusual for Abram. However, living in a strong patriarchal society and having an invisible God (which was a stretch in and of itself) Who was female must have been very unsettling. God just loves upsetting our ideas of how things should be.

According to Ex. 6:2-3, El Shaddai was the only name God chose to reveal Himself by until Moses was given the name YHWH which suggested God's absolute self-sufficiency. Why the switch?

Starting with Abram, God began the birthing process of the nation of Israel. At the Exodus the child, so to speak, was delivered and now in need of a father, hence the name change. This never implied a pantheistic form of theology, rather it was an unfolding of a deeper understanding of the complex nature of God.

For any in the birthing process (spiritual and otherwise) God understands the rigors of pregnancy. He can relate to the initial elation of knowing there's a child on the way and how that can fade when the unborn child's growth makes life very difficult and uncomfortable.

He knows the feeling of uncertainty concerning the unknown delivery date. Will the birth be quick and relative pain free or long, arduous or even dangerous? Mother's of the world say "Amen!"

One need only go back a few chapter to the beginning in Genesis to see God's identification with the female sex. Man was created "in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" Gen. 1:27. Adam initially possessed this dual nature like God's until it was separated out of him with Eve's creation.

To be clear, God is neither male nor female - He is Spirit and the source of both sexes. Therefore, He is capable of being either Father or Mother depending on the need and circumstances. He understands both men and women so all have someone who really gets them.

How about you? How does God's feminine nature sit with you? Does it bring you comfort or make you want to squirm? It's in the Bible. So, how will this truth impact how you relate to God? If you're in the process of bringing something to birth take heart that God really knows what you're going through.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'"
Luke 7:34.

Jesus, as the Son of Man, did much to upset people's notions of how the Son of God should behave. Claiming God as His Father was at least controversial and at worse scandalous. If He was God's Son, He certainly wasn't a chip off the 'Old Block'.

At least some thought He wasn't.

As a traveling rabbi invitations of hospitality could come from a broad spectrum of people. Being hosted was a demonstration of honor. However, being the guest of someone deemed undesirable or untouchable was this person's way of showing respect and honor for someone they esteemed more worthy than themselves. Such invitations might raise an eyebrow or two, but who knew. Perhaps this young rabbi just might rub off of on the low lifes to their betterment.

However Jesus didn't just eat with the riff-raff. The problem - He threw parties for them! This was over-the-top unacceptable to the religious authorities.

In his two books Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes author Kenneth E. Bailey extensively explores the cultural roots of Luke's parables. Bailey notes that casual associations with sinners, including eating at their homes, weren't out of the norm for a rabbi. However it wasn't customary. So what upset the Pharisees so much about Jesus' social schedule?

Hosting publicans and sinners meant He showed honor to these individuals. At the event, Jesus would have been expected to extend the guest(s) of honor His utmost respect and to laud them to all those in attendance. Unthinkable!

Unfortunately, this still happens today. God is portrayed as aloof from and completely cut off from sinners. The thought that He'd welcome them with open arms is repugnant. Certainly God has standards.

Indeed He does.

God sees everyone as already reconciled, therefore, all are welcome. This may offend some Christian's sensibilities because after all, God is holy. He can't be around sin or sinners. Either God never got our memo concerning this, or if He did, He chose to ignore it, pitching it into the celestial trashcan where it belongs.

Jesus' mode of hospitality may have driven his neighbor's crazy and their property values down, however, Heaven is filled to the brim with earth's undesirables. They are now citizens of good standing in the Kingdom of God. Those who accept His invitation find the welcome mat is always out and the relationship's already restored.

How about you? If Jesus lived next door and regularly threw house parties for those you deemed unworthy, how would you react? What message would your response convey about your understanding of God's character and nature, and His choice of friends? Would you find His "open door" policy towards sinners reprehensible and if so, why?

God is looking to include not exclude. Can we as His ambassadors here on earth do any less? 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


"Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'" John 6:35.

Sometimes we refer to sharing a meal as the breaking of bread. In Jesus' time this phrase had a richer and more practical meaning.

Typically, when we eat we apportion individual servings from a common dish onto our plate. Some occasions, such as chips and salsa, require all to plunge their portion into a communal bowl and hence the warning, "No double dipping!"

Jesus and his contemporaries would have been well acquainted with the need to refrain from said practice. Their meals were served like our chips and salsa. There were no individual portions. Everyone ate from the same pot. To avoid contamination diners used an particular type of silverware - a piece of bread.

"Bread was not the meal. Bread is the knife, fork and spoon with which the meal was eaten." Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, pg 123.

When Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 He wasn't equating Himself to just a primary source of sustenance, but also as the role of bread as Middle Eastern flatware. He is the absolute main utensil in order to partake of everything needed for life.

With Jesus as our silverware we're never a source of contamination to ourselves or others. In addition, Middle Eastern bread is typically either seasoned to compliment the meal or salted in order to enhance the food's flavor. As our bread, Jesus adds flavors to our life and prevents it from becoming ho-hum and boring.

In a Middle Eastern meal the one without bread goes hungry. Everything needed to meet one's needs and satisfy one's hunger is so close-but inaccessible. This is true of life. Without Jesus as our means to consistently receive nourishment - we die.

Just as the diner's portion of bread was torn from the loaf in order to provide access to the food, Christ's body was torn so we can access real life through Him. Communion reminds us of this and provides the opportunity to re-member with Him.

How about you? How does Jesus as your silverware enhance the fares life serves you? How does He add zest and flavor particularly to those portions we'd just as soon skip over? With him as the main facilitator of all we ingest, what does this say about being contamination free?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What is Love?

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8.

These Scriptures are indelibly burned into my brain compliments of Psalty, a series of children's recordings. My now adult daughter had the full compilation and several songs from them are available on instant replay in my head.

Recently, in an encounter with God, He asked for an accounting of my understanding of love's definition. Immediately I remembered these verses from 1 John and I premised my response based on the fact that God is love. Every word that I could think of that defined love I attributed to God as a facet of His character.

God is good, kind, compassionate, long-suffering, patient and non-judgmental, just for starters. In addition He is joy, peaceful, pleasant, easy-to-get-along with, playful, funny and cheerful. God convicts and corrects without a hint of condemnation. The more I contemplated the question the more I realized how much I underestimated what true love and God are really like.

I was a bit disheartened. I realized that the in breadth of my understanding of love, I haven't understood or experienced God in the totality of any of them. Not only do I not live in their full expression personally, but also I see how little I comprehend them as part of God's nature. He's so  much more than I can imagine.

Entering the pool of God's love, metaphorically speaking, is like plunging into the deep end. It's vast and can't be fathomed. Meditating on the individual words I used to describe love revealed depths I'd not explored before. These attributes of God run far deeper than my superficial attempts to understand and live them.

I know God didn't design this as an exercise in frustration. This was, as it turns out, an exploration in wonder and a chance to ponder more fully His majesty. Trying to unpack the totality of Him as love personified revealed layer upon layer of richness. I'm still delving deeper and there's no hint of a bottom in sight.

How about you? How do you describe love? How does it correlate to the personhood of God? So much greater than words can express and our ability to grasp, God who is love can keep our hearts and heads engaged in divine conversations on this subject for a long, long time. Even eternally.