Monday, July 30, 2012

STORY TIME WITH JESUS



Jesus was masterful at teaching on the complexities of God, religion and common life. He communicated in a way that opened understanding for children and baffled the doctors of the Law. How often do we hear him after teaching say, “For him who has ears to hear, let him hear?” “For he who has eyes to see, let him see.” He could teach all day and do miracles into the evening and often people were blind and deaf to God’s message.

Maybe the listener’s problem was fixing their gaze elsewhere and tuning their ears to other voices. Unless we are able to see and listen with humility and curiosity, we will miss a great deal of truth. 

Too often, we look and listen with fear and pride. We smugly rely on our previous conclusions. I know that I do that all the time. I want to be right about everything and have an answer. Jesus encountered many people like me.

So how did Jesus communicate without turning everything into complex hypotheses and unending lists of data?


Mark 4:
26-29Then Jesus said, "God's kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!
 30-32"How can we picture God's kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It's like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it."
 33-34With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.
(The Message)


Right in the middle of this passage, Jesus asks the question. How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use?

This was always on Jesus’ mind. Do we also ask the same questions? How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use?

Jesus told many parables. These earthly stories brought heavenly truth to earthly minds.

Friday, July 27, 2012

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY


‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’

This phrase emerged in the USA in the early part of the 20th century. Its introduction is widely attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, who published a piece commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising with the title "One look is worth a thousand words", in Printer's Ink, December 1921. [i]

Study this painting for a few moments and reflect on the messages that you hear from considering it.



What do you see here?

While most questions are left for the observer to answer, the picture is telling us a story. 






Each may see a different story while looking at the same image.

Who is the woman?

What do you make of her appearance?

What is her mood?

What is the vehicle behind her?

What is the building in the background?

What do the colors convey to your imagination?

The roof of the bus and the sky seem to blend. Any thought on what the artist is thinking with this?

The woman is facing one-way and the bus another. Is she arriving or leaving? Coming or going?

Al Scott attends New Song Church and this is one of his pieces. I’m sure he had thoughts about the subject matter when he painted this.

By the time we have had some dialogue on this one painting we have easily exchanged a thousand words.

A similar idea was seen very widely in the USA from the early 20th century, in adverts for Doan's Backache Kidney Pills, which included a picture of a man holding his back and the text "Every picture tells a story".[i]

In art, music, spoken and written word the potential exists to have a layered effect on the observer. You can understand new things as you come back and examine it again.

Communication depends on body language, illustrations, tone, color, dynamics, smiley characters and a vast array of conditions to be fully expressed-- and that’s only half of communication! The other half depends on the listener. Some people are easy to communicate with while others leave you scratching your head and wondering what just happened.

Clear communication often requires that the best words, images and emotion be issued with precision and simplicity. If it’s too complex, the message gets lost.





Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PRAYING FOR A BIGGER FAMILY



Jesus still wants to agitate His tribe, the one that we have been adopted into. The gospel calls us to enlarge our vision of family, church and community. We have been called to work in the ‘Father’s Business’.


When Paul was called by Jesus to be a messenger to the Gentiles, he described his part in God’s work this way:


Ephesians 3:
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.


Paul was humble in his realization that his own adoption into God’s family was a gift that he did not earn. It was God’s initiative that saved him and God’s empowerment enabling him to go to those outside the tribe.

We need that same humility and recognition of God’s heart to see a larger family than our own.

To the end that God’s desire be accomplished, I leave you with one of Paul’s prayers for the church at Ephesus.


Ephesians 3:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.



Sunday, July 22, 2012

BEYOND 'US AND THEM'


The ‘us and them’ mindset is pervasive and requires one to choose their own tribe or family over all others. In the example of his own family, Jesus demonstrated that His family was not just the biological relatives. The Father in Heaven is aggressively adopting all who will enter His House.

The ‘Us and them’ philosophy teaches us that our church is better than the others. ‘We good – they bad.’

The mindset is applicable to race, culture, socio-economic status, religion, political ideology, sport teams and choice of consumer goods.

What does God think of our tribalism? He creates tribes, but not as an end in themselves. His chosen nation was called to be a blessing to the whole earth.  Everyone is in line to be saved and reconciled to God. If we focus on that potential, we are able to see all people as God sees them. While many will reject their invitation to belong, it does not change the heart of God to adopt, benefit and restore.

In the end, God will take ‘no’ for an answer and also is able to reject and expel the ones who do not belong in His family. Love always makes room for the risk of rejection.

In God’s nation of nomadic earth wanderers, there is a hospitality and shared life to embrace. The ancient clans of God’s Holy Nation give us a model to follow in our families, our churches and our communities.

Jeff Benner describes the clan life in this way:

The men would often gather together, usually at meal times, to discuss past events, needs, locations and other details of operating the camp. The women gathered together to prepare foods, make clothing and make tent repairs. Storytelling was probably one of the most important forms of entertainment. The older members of the clan would tell the stories of their history to the children in order to pass on the experiences of the tribe and clans to the next generation.
One of the major responsibilities of the clan is to provide hospitality to anyone who comes to them. This may be a member of a related clan or even an enemy of another tribe. In both cases it was the responsibility of the clan to provide food, shelter and protection as long as they were within their camp.[i]

Everyone finds his or her place in God’s community. There are different generations, genders and jobs to do. Everyone is valued and shares in welcoming those from outside who need to be cared for.

If Jesus were going to preach the Kingdom of God’s inclusion, He must first provoke the tribe. The ministry of Jesus began clearly with a focus on His people. His own people rejected Him and the idea of a worldwide tribe that would welcome sinners and ‘the others’.



[i] Jeff A. Benner, The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/33_nomadic.html

Thursday, July 19, 2012

JOINING GOD'S NOMADIC FAMILY



As we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we find a man who lived at home and entered his father Joseph’s carpentry business. Then at age thirty, he left the woodworking and began a nomadic quest to meet people and promote the Kingdom of God.

Even as a young man of twelve years, Jesus wandered from the security of mom and dad to visit the Temple where he made conversation with the priests. 

From an early age He was driven to think about the Heavenly Father’s business.

There is no evidence that Jesus ever married, but evidently some of the disciples did so. As Jesus understood His mission, there would not be a wife in his thirties or any little boys and girls growing up in his house.

Instead, He found other men and called them away from their pre-occupation with work. Away from the fishing trade, the tax collector’s table and political activism—they were called to follow God’s nomad through the wilderness. They were called from pre-occupation to a higher occupation.

Once a woman was impressed by His teaching and spoke like a proud mother to him.


Luke 11:
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”


In the woman’s comment we hear a great affirmation of Jesus’ character. He was a fine young man who would make a mother proud. But, instead of thanking her and moving on, Jesus points to a greater truth. It is true that a parent is blessed when their children turn out well, but more important is the person’s receptivity to God and their obedience.

On one hand I see Jesus showing great respect and obedience toward parents. At the same time he demonstrates a larger social contextualization than was provided by his family and tribe of origin.

Another example demonstrates an allegiance that includes, but supersedes his family of origin.


Mark 3:
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”


Jesus points to a context that is greater than the tribalism He was raised in. Ancient Hebrew culture was intimately tied to one’s family of origin. What tribe were you a part of? The ancestors and many of the people in the countryside were nomadic.

In ‘The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews’ author Jeff Benner says,

A nomadic camp consisted of about 25 to 50 members. Any less and it would be difficult to protect the family and any more would be difficult to feed. Usually the oldest member of the family was the head, or chief, of the clan. The remainder of the clan would consist of his brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons as well as their wives. Each clan was an independent entity with the chief as judge and ruler. He had the ultimate authority in all manners including where they go, discipline, management of the flocks and herds and the daily tasks of the camp.
When a clan became too large to support it was divided and separated with all of the clans belonging to one tribe. The name of the tribe was generally that of the original family patriarch and each clan carried the name of its original patriarch.[i]

An entire nation of people traced their ancestry back to the twelve sons of Jacob. Jesus came preaching a Kingdom that encompassed all nations and tribes, most of which were considered ‘the others’ to Israel.



[i] Jeff A. Benner, The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/33_nomadic.html

Sunday, July 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: THE WAY (NLT)




Just last week a man at my church asked me if there is a book or something he can read that would help him understand the Bible better. He is a newbie to the Book and expecting it to be understandable at the first pass.

He is not alone in wanting some 'Bible For Dummies' notes. He enjoys listening to me preach because I'm a slightly more experienced 'Dummie' who helps him get into the larger story, the historical background and the real world context of what it means for him today.

I think I'll recommend 'The Way' New Living Translation to him.




Remember The 70's?


The Living Bible version of 'The Way' appeared under the arms of Jesus people and youth groups during the 1970's. That version exposed a generation of 16 - 30 year olds to the riches of Scripture, but in a language and packaging that said, "This book is for now."


And it was. Insightful accompaniment notes, personal stories and intriguing photographs helped us get past our ignorance of ancient cultures and see the application of truth for our times.





The same strategy is applied to the updated version with some valuable changes. Thought provoking resources are categorized as follows:

Living In The Way
- stopping points that reflect on what it means to live in the way of Jesus

What I Wish I'd Known
- important insights into the big picture of Scripture and ways of focusing on core ideas

Lament
- giving voice to common doubts and grieving the hard things of life. These are hardcore.

This Is My Story
- interesting stories of people who encounter God and become followers of Jesus



The 1970's experienced The Jesus Movement, a massive explosion of young people who decided to follow Jesus (millions of them worldwide). Many of them had dog-eared copies of 'The Way' tucked under their arm.

The world is ready for another Jesus Movement.



___________________________________



"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MEN ARE LIKE DOGS


Men are like dogs. They need to wander but eventually come home.”

I do not remember who first told me this, but I understand it. Many of the guys I know have a nomadic instinct. They enjoy a good road trip or exploration of a different environment. When they pack for a trip, a small bag or backpack is usually enough. They do not pack extra clothes and will wear the same thing more than one day in a row. They do not pack for contingencies like weather or a variety of social occasions. They do not need their own pillow to sleep comfortably.

Women also enjoy travelling, but often have a greater concern for time, the comfort of the destination and the physical needs of the little tribe. Often a woman’s state of well-being is attached to the environment she finds herself in.

Dogs are happy to wander and check things out.

Sometimes this is a tension between husband and wife. Why does he not have the same level of detailed concern for where the kids are, what they’re doing, the weeds in the flowerbed or the paint color for the bathroom?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to provide a satisfactory explanation for the women. Anything I say might sound like, “Woof! Woof!”

However, you may want to consider this. There is a difference between a mongrel dog and a domesticated one.

A wild dog is more driven by appetite and avoids human contact. It is more susceptible to attack, danger and starvation. Wild dogs may travel in packs to reduce their vulnerability. Wild dogs do not smile.

A domesticated dog is humanized. It has routines like daily, prepared food, walks on a leash and the ridiculous baby talk of its master. Domesticated dogs learn to co-exist with cats, small children and become protective of their master’s territory. I’m reasonably certain that domesticated dogs enjoy the pampering and comfortable routines.

Every man must decide whether or not he will be a wild dog or domesticated. Will a stronger wolf be the pack leader or will he submit to a good master? Will he be a vicious hunter or loyal friend?


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