Thursday, July 28, 2011

Imagining 'Well Done'

Been thinking a lot lately about a little phrase that Jesus uses in Luke 18:14. He's finishing up His story about the prayers of the pharisee and the tax collector (missionary and abortion doctor) and He makes this statement:

...everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled,
but everyone who humbles himself
will be exalted

Jesus inverts things on us again. But that should not be new to us—you can't read very far in any of the Gospels and not catch that the realm that Jesus describes as the kingdom of God runs very differently from the world we normally live in. What is curious to me here is that Jesus is stressing how the humility or exaltation happens. There's a humility born of our failures that comes our way whether we seek it or not. Likewise, we can have our nose to the grindstone, minding our own business and find that our work meets with some level of success—and a level of acclaim is thrust upon on us whether we're looking for it or not. But this is not what Jesus is talking about here—he carefully chooses His words and is specifically targeting our passionate desire to see ourselves honored and exalted. It's he 'who exalts himself' and he 'who humbles himself' that is in focus.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mercy Me

One thing I've noticed as I've read through Luke's gospel this time is how often Jesus tells designer stories. He targets a specific audience. The mark of a true teacher...He doesn't have a canned message that He repeats verbatim irrespective of the context...He knows his audience and knows what they need to hear. The story that Jesus tells beginning in the ninth verse of the 18th chapter He told specifically to be heard by a group of people who were

confident of their own righteousness

That has got to be the definition of ugly. And Jesus wants them to see it. Beyond that, He wants to turn their definition of beautiful on its head. Two guys praying. One a pastor...ok, let's say missionary...that's a little closer to home. The other an abortion doctor (worse, I think he may even have been a Democrat). The missionary confidently looks God in the eye and, with a straight face, thanks God that he is being used of God to reach the lost. Speaking of the lost, he expresses his profound gratitude that he's not like them...especially not like that lost guy over there with so much blood on his hands. Special section of hell for him.

As per Jesus' habit, He turns everything on its head. The righteous dude, despite his Mdiv and impressive list of evangelical credentials (a copy of which he presents to his Creator) isn't righteous at all...and it's the unrighteous dude that ends up able to stand in the presence of the Holy God. What gives? The abortion doctor sees no righteousness in himself, and unable to look God in the eye, he hangs his head in shame and, clinging to his pebble of faith, pleads,

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Just a few words, packed with meaning...and beauty. Words that the pharisee writing these words needs to utter much more often. The amazing thing, and it almost seems criminal in my evangelical worldview, is that the abortion doctor

went home justified before God.

It's the 'missionary' that God rejects.

Lord, strip me of my confidence in my own righteousness. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do The Bums Like Us?

You can tell a lot about someone from a quick study of their friends. Who do I choose to hang with? Who feels comfortable hanging with me? Who would rather keep a respectful distance? Who can't stand being in the same room with me?

Like moths to a flame, the folks that gravitated to Jesus were generally people that I'm much afraid wouldn't be caught dead spending the weekend with your average evangelical. Checkout the preface to the 15th chapter of Luke's gospel, found in verse 1:

Now the tax collectors and "sinners"
were all gathering around to hear him

Do the bums like us? How about gays and strident evolutionists? Sure, in the field of debate we are bound to disagree strongly, but as people, do they want to go camping with us, for instance, just because they feel warmly accepted...and we're fun to be around? We love the field of debate and the thought of camping with a beer drinking sinner gives us the heebs.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Peace In The Middle East

Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable ChoicesJust finished reading Mosab Hassan Yousef's story, Son of Hamas. Absolutely a wonderful read. Ripped through it in a couple of sittings. The story of the son of one of the founders of Hamas caught in the vortex of the eye-for-an-eye Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I've been privileged to witness a number of occasions where a people group receives the New Testament for the first time in their own language (one story here), so perhaps it's not surprising that I found the most gripping passage in the book to be where Mosab reads the New Testament for the first time in his life. This young Palestinian, deeply involved in the conflict, reads Matthew's record of the Sermon on the Mount. This is what he has to say about his first encounter with the words of Jesus:

Everything He says is beautiful. I couldn't put the book down. Every verse seemed to touch a deep wound in my life. It was a very simple message, but somehow it had the power to heal my soul and give me hope.

Then I read this: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

That's it! I was thunderstruck by these words. Never before had I heard anything like this, but I knew that this was the message I had been searching for all of my life.

As a simple taxi-driver for remote missionaries, I feel a bit ridiculous even commenting on the most unsolvable international problem in our world today...but looking at these words of Jesus that completely changed the direction of Mosab's life—and gave him a love for the Israeli people—it seems to me that a small movement of people, on both sides of the Jordan, comitted to loving their enemies...this would be Jesus' starting point.

2000 years after Matthew records Jesus' words, they are still having an impact in the land in which they were written...bringing true peace to a few in the Middle East.