Monthly Archives: February 2013

Rubbing the Grain (of the Pharisees)

Wheat near Mount Nemrut, Eastern TurkeyContinuing on in my sporadic look at Luke, I reflected on Luke 6:1-11 today. Jesus rubs the Pharisees the wrong way (doesn’t He always?), by “working” on the Sabbath – picking and eating grain with His disciples, and healing a man with a withered hand.

In the account of the man with the withered hand, the text says that Jesus knew what the pharisees were thinking, and He healed the man anyway, something He described as ‘lawfully doing good.’ Sometimes we may need to go against the grain of our church’s traditions or practices, even when people in our tribe may disagree, in order to do good. I think of my friend who went to an affluent church where people dressed up every Sunday. He brought someone with him who could not afford nice clothes, and despite the frowning looks he got he also dressed down when he brought him. That’s a trivial example, but an example nonetheless, and showed love and gave dignity to his friend.1280px-CodexEgberti-Fol023v-HealingOfTheManWithTheWitheredHand

Luke also mentions that the Pharisees were watching Jesus, to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. They knew He could heal, but that didn’t seem to phase them. In fact, one of Pharisees who visits Jesus at night even admits that the they know He is from God (John 3:2). Yet that doesn’t seem to matter; they hold him to their traditions’ standards, and judge Him based on them.

One of the challenges from this passage then, is to look at how we judge our brothers and sisters from different denominations or theological traditions (cessationist vs. continuationist anyone? or how about Free Will vs. Predestination? Dare I even say Protestant vs. Catholic?), or those who worship differently than we do, or practice differently than we do, and to knock it off. Because frankly, our preferences for a certain interpretation or style of worship or dress or… anything, are just those – our preferences. And we may be condemning the work of God when we condemn our brothers and sisters, whom God has called and reconciled to Himself.

In the end, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). He is Lord over both our traditions and preferences, and yes, even over the commands He has laid out in Scripture. Now, I don’t believe He will ever contradict Scripture, but we must be very careful that we don’t turn our interpretations or traditions or preferences into the mark of orthodoxy – something I fear we do far too often.

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Listening to Jesus

Today, Feb. 10th 2013, is Transfiguration Sunday, or the Feast of the Transfiguration.pic-transfiguration

It’s a well known story, and all three of the Synoptic Gospels recounts it almost exactly the same. Here’s Mark’s version:

Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them alone up a high mountain privately. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!”Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8 NET)

Peter’s first reaction to seeing the glorified Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses was to build three tents for them; places where they could reside. This hearkens back to the tabernacle that the Israelites carried around in the desert with them, and which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and God’s glory. God the Father kaiboshes Peter’s idea, and instead affirms who Jesus is (“My Son,” or “My Chosen One”), and tells the disciples to listen to Him.

Mount Tabor is where historians think the Transfiguration took place, and ironically there are now two large churches on the site, a Catholic one and an Orthodox one right beside it.

Mount Tabor

“Listen to him”

But Peter’s reaction is not unique; I think all of us have a tendency to want to keep God at arms length, and in essence, to contain who He is (‘build a shelter for Him’), putting him in a box. Enshrining Him. This is largely subconscious, I’d wager. But God’s words to the three disciples are equally a commandment for us today – “Listen to him.”

The fact that Jesus doesn’t have any recorded words in this passage suggests to me that God wasn’t referring to any specific thing that Jesus said, but to everything that He said. And ‘listen’ doesn’t just mean ‘hear,’ of course, but to hear and do. Jesus essentially says this in John 14:23 – “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” And James affirms it – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

In the church today we have a tendency to focus on studying what the Bible teaches, what Jesus said and did, and what we as Christians are to do. There’s no shortage of new books coming out all the time on how to pray, how to evangelize, how to study the Bible, etc. But we’re woefully bad at actually doing these things. As Francis Chan has said, in the Great Commission we’ve focused on the “teaching the nations everything Jesus said” part, but not the “to obey” part. But it’s easy to hear. It’s difficult and costly to listen. But this is what God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (through the biblical writers) all call us to. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13).

So I think the lesson of the Transfiguration, at least for me and at least at this point in my life, is to pause, and prayerfully take stock of where I may have built shrines to Jesus’ commands instead of listening to Him about them. What teachings I honour or think are important, but don’t put into practice, making me a fool.

Today, may you take time to do the same.

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Patience in Prayer

I think nowadays we’re not that patient in prayer anymore.

It’s a common complaint that our “instant” society wants everything now. That email or text or Facebook post or tweet demands an immediate response (regardless of how trivial it is), and we expect an immediate response to our messages, offended when it doesn’t come. We can’t be bothered or don’t have the time in our busy lives to cook our own meals, so we go to restaurants instead. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

This mindset has of course affected those within the church as well, and we’ve applied it to our relationship with God. We want instant sanctification (hold the discipline, please!), and for God to immediately provide all our needs or bless us despite our actions or circumstances.

This attitude has also affected how we pray. We spend maybe 5 minutes asking God for His intervention in a certain area or for a touch of His presence, and then expect to have an answer or to feel it right away. And when we don’t, as I’d wager is often the case, we feel like God is rejecting us, or maybe there’s something wrong with us.

This problem is compounded by popular depictions of prayer from the pulpit or from Christian media, with the idea that if you’re holy enough then you will have instant results. You see faith-healers proclaiming people healed after a brief touch and a few words spoken.

Or maybe more likely we know that we need to be persistent in our prayers, and that God’s timing is not our timing. We nod our heads wisely with mental assent when the pastor tells us this, but our prayer life still looks the same, and we go away with the same doubts as to it’s worth or benefit.

But if we look to Jesus as our model for life and spirituality (as we should), we see that he often spent much time in prayer (Luke 6:12, for example) often before the major decisions in his life.  “But he’s Jesus,” we say, “come on.”  But he addressed this very issue, in Luke 11 and 18, teaching us to persist in prayer. To be tenacious.

In Jeremiah there’s a story about some soldiers who come to Jeremiah and ask him to pray for them, seeking God’s will on their behalf. They come both humble and expectant, and Jeremiah says he’ll do it. The text then says “Ten days later, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (42:7). Ten days. That doesn’t sound like a long time, honestly, but when I think back to the last time I continuously prayed about something for 10 days… I come up with nothing. But maybe that’s just me.

In any case, if we want to be a people of ‘mini-Christs’ then we need to be a people of prayer. Patient, persistent, prayer.

And we have God’s character to rely on:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

 

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