Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis

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You Will Even Accuse Yourself

You Will Even Accuse Yourself

Last time I wrote, I finished by saying that Jesus had to react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke (accusation?) at Jesus’s telling to the disciples that  the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again because this rebuke/accusation from Peter (You’ve got the wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah Jesus!) had the potential to put self-doubt in the mind of Jesus.   And yes, Jesus could suffer from the temptation to self-doubt.  To doubt oneself is a very human thing to do, and Jesus was very human of very human….and therefore subject to all the temptations we humans suffer with.

Was Jesus tempted with self doubt?   I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but it’s certainly possible.   And I do know this – everybody doubted Jesus.  And I do mean everybody.  Think about the struggle this would cause for you and I.

Think about the struggle Jesus must have had with this.  He was doubted by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.   Did this affect him?   I don’t know, but they were the authorities, the scholars, the theologians, and they were saying Jesus, you’re vision is wrong.  Did this induce any self doubt?  I don’t know, maybe not.  We’ll say that no, it didn’t.

Jesus was doubted by his own disciples.   That’s got to hurt.  He was doubted by his own brothers – For not even his brothers believed in him.”  John 7:5 ESV.  Even worse than that, Jesus’ own mother doubted him.   And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.””  Mark 3:21 ESV.   We read this and chuckle, but there’s nothing funny going on.   This is a family intervention.  Mary gets James and Joses and Judas and Simon, Jesus’ four brothers, maybe some of his sisters, and says to them “Jesus is mentally unstable.  Your older brother is mentally unstable.  He’s got these ideas and they’re just going to get him killed.   We’ve got to intervene.”   And they go to seize him because they think Jesus is suffering a mental breakdown.

Think I’m reading too much into this?   Maybe.   But let’s skip 10 verses later, and what does it say?   “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.“” Mark 3:31-35 ESV.   We like to spiritualize this, I would say we over-spiritualize it.  This is a serious family situation.  Jesus is with a group of disciples, they had just tried a family intervention and they are coming to try again.  Mom and the brothers send word in to Jesus that they are looking for him, and Jesus says what?  Who are my mother and my brothers?”   Hmmmmpht.   My brothers and my mother??!!  These people that are hearing the word of God and doing it, these are my mother and brothers!   Ok, when your mom calls you, just say “Who is my mother”, and let me know how that works out for you.   This is a very tense family situation.

They don’t believe in him.  They love him, but they don’t believe in him.  They don’t believe he can go about being Messiah and live the Sermon on the Mount at the same time.   He has this idea, somehow, that he’s going to liberate Israel and bring about the kingdom of God, yet not kill anybody!!   Turn the other cheek and bring the kingdom of God? That’ll never work.  That’ll just get you killed Jesus….and that’ll be the end of that.

Know what’s really heartbreaking, when you think about it??   Jesus went to the cross with NOBODY believing in him.  They loved him, yes, but they did not believe in him.  James loved him, John loved him, Peter loved him.  Other disciples loved him.  Judas, maybe not.  Mary Magdalene loved him, his mother loved him.   Yes they loved him.  But they did not believe in him.  They believed Jesus had missed it.  He’d had the potential to be Messiah, he coulda been Messiah.  But he clung to his lofty ideals, and now the whole thing is falling apart, and just like they said he went and got himself killed.   And in the eyes of those whom Jesus most cared about, he was dying as a failure.   Please try to imagine how hard that must have been…to go through all that with nobody believing in him.   That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel had to come and strengthen him.  He had to have a direct message from the father.  You’re doing the right thing.  Don’t give way to self doubt now.  Don’t let those negative people and comments get through to your psyche and cripple you.  Stay the course.

When people get into their head that messiah, Christ, is to be a certain way, it’s almost impossible to change it.  If you try to change their idea of Christ, you will be subject to accusation.   Even Jesus did not succeed in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be Christ until after his resurrection.  They just could not accept, and their response was to do what Peter did, and accuse him of making a mistake.

When we begin to discover Christ in a deeper way, when we begin talk about Jesus in a different way, when we take the American varnish off of Jesus and show people that Jesus is not an American committed to the American dream and our superpower status, and that in fact the American way and the Jesus way are not the same way but  are often at odds with one another, people might say all kinds of things about you.   Just like his own countrymen said all kinds of thing about Jesus for showing that God was not just God for the Jews, but for Gentiles and the whole world as well.

But it was true.  It’s still true.  We need to come to see Jesus as he is, Christ for all, not just a nationalized Christ, the American Jesus.  But this messes with peoples understanding of Christ and who Christ is.   When we begin to rub that red white and blue varnish off of Jesus, people will not like it.  People are very comfortable with that red white and blue varnish, start rubbing that off and people will accuse you of all kinds of things.   Start rubbing that off, there will be star spangled trouble.

If you get accused, though, you can’t lash out.  If you lash out, it just fuels the Satan, It gets worse and worse and turns into a hurricane.  You forgive.  You absorb the blow and forgive.  Father forgive them because they don’t know what they do.  If possible, you try to help them see what they are doing.  But what you cannot do is let the accusation get into your head and become self doubt.  Because what happens is you take the accusation up and begin to practice self accusation.    You become your own Satan in your own head, and you go to hell inside your own head.  Anybody else know about this?   You become subject to unjust accusation, but you begin to take it up against yourself.  You begin to accuse yourself.  You idiot, you’re stupid. What in the world are you doing?   Am I the only one?

It will begin to flood you with self doubt, you will be paralyzed, things will spiral out of control.  We can’t lash out, but we also cannot afford to allow these accusations to lodge in our head and fill us with self doubt.  How many if you have ever been the victim of unjust accusation?   Might go all the way back to when you were five years old.  Maybe your dad or your mom told you you idiot.  You’re no good,  you’ll never amount to anything.   That was unjust.  Nobody should ever say that to anybody, especially a child.  Rationally you know it was unjust, not right, yet forty years later it’s still lodged in you.  So now you take up against yourself.  You say to yourself, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything.   Maybe it was a parent, a brother, a friend, maybe it was an enemy.  Maybe a boss, could be anybody.  You’ve begun to be victimized by unjust accusation but it’s gotten into your head.  And you need to pray like this – “Lord, give me the strength to be strong and true, because lord when the devil gets in my head I’m so blue…”.  (From an Irish folk song…)

Never forget that the spirit of accusation is the spirit of Satan.  It’s the un-holy spirit.  The opposite of this is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy.   God says “I love you.  I’m for you.  I’m on your side.  You’re going to make it.”   You’re ok, and when you’re not ok it’s ok not to be ok.  Bring it to the Holy Spirit, to your brothers and sisters who do the will of God and lift you up.

John Lewis

Peter’s Accusation

So what did that discussion about the satan being the Accuser have to do with Jesus rebuking Peter with Get behind me, Satan!??

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” Mark 8:31-33 ESV.   So what is going on here??   Let’s expand the text, get the rest of the story.  Peter has just made the seminal confession that Jesus is the Messiah.   “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.“”  Mark 8:27-29 ESV.   Is Peter right??   Of course he is!   You are the one who is sent by God to be the true king of Israel to restore Israel!   Jesus says so immediately, as recorded by Matthew.   “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”   Matthew 16:17 ESV.   But there is a problem.  Whereas Peter is correct in identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the true anointed king of Israel who will restore the fortunes of Israel, he has many wrong conceptions about what it means to be Messiah.  He has many wrong ideas about who and what Christ is.

His controlling paradigm are the great delivering kings that have come before Jesus.  Peter, along with everyone else st this time, thinks of Messiah in terms  of Joshua, David, and Judah Maccabaeus.  These were the three icons, the three pictures of what messiah was to be like in the Jewish mind.  Joshua, who led them into the promised land and drove out the Canaanites.  David, who conquered the Philistines and led Israel into its greatest glory.  And 200 years earlier, Judah Maccabaeus, who is a kind of national hero, a kind of George Washington, who had led the war of independence against the Greeks.  Now, they were waiting for the Messiah who would do like Joshua, who killed the Canaanites.  Like David, who killed the Philistines.  And like Judah Maccabaeus who killed the Greeks, now they were waiting for the Messiah who would kill the Romans and bring about the glory of Israel.

So Peter is right when he says Jesus is the messiah, the true king of Israel who will redeem the nation.  But he’s controlled by a paradigm that says this means that he must mount an army, win a war, and kill the enemies.  Peter is controlled by a nationalistic vision.  So when Jesus in this exact same context at Caesarea Phillipi says the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise againPeter and the rest couldn’t hear the part about being raised again.   For about 200-300 years the idea of a general resurrection and being raised from the dead at the end of the age had come into the Jewish mind, and they might’ve heard “yeah, ok, we’re all going to be raised from the dead….someday.”

So instead, all Peter could hear was “I’m going to go to Jerusalem, and instead of sitting upon a throne, and conquering the Romans, the Herodiams, and the Hasmoneans, I’m going to be killed..,”.  This is seriously messing with Peters vision of Christ.  He can not accept that, he is in fact threatened by this.  Peter did not  leave his fishing nets to go to Jerusalem and lose.   But Jesus is saying he’s going to fail, he’s going to die.  He’s going to lose.  He’s got to win!!!

So read what it says.  He takes Jesus aside, not to be counseled by Jesus, not to ask for clarification, for a better understanding of what Jesus was saying.  No, it says  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.   He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him, to accuse him.  He began to say “Jesus, you have misunderstood what it means to be Messiah!  You are wrong about the idea of what Messiah is supposed to do.  I rebuke you!”   Can you picture this conversation??   And Jesus whirls around and says Get behind me, Satan!   Back off Accuser!!  Get back in line Accuser!!

Let’s play the scene again.  Who do people say that I am??…Elijah, John the Baptist raised again, others…Who do you say that I am?…The Messiah, the christ, the one who will redeem israel…you’re blessed, Simon son of Jonah, God has shown this to you…. But know this.  I’m going to go to Jerusalem, I’m going to suffer many things, I’ll be killed, but then, yes I’ll be raised….Jesus, this will never happen to you, you are wrong.  I rebuke that!  You have a wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah, I rebuke that Jesus!!…Get behind me Satan!  Get in line Accuser!   Back off Accuser.  Satan, back off!!!!

Why did Jesus respond  so strongly to Peters accusation??   Because he had to.  Not so much for Peters sake, or for our sake, but for his own sake.   When Peter accused Jesus of being wrong about the mission of Messiah (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what Peter was doing, accusing Jesus of being wrong about what messiah was to be and do), it fed right into what was always Jesus’ greatest temptation.  Jesus’s greatest recurring temptation was to go about being messiah the old way.  The way of Joshua, the way of David, the way of Judah Maccabaeus, the way that everybody wanted and expected him to do.  They wanted the second coming of David, just like David had done it.  Or Joshua, or Judah Maccabaeus.

That was a real temptation for Jesus.  We see it crop up in the wilderness when he is fasting and praying before he began his ministry.   He’s praying and contemplating how he’s going to begin his ministry.  He says, you know, I could be like those Pharaohs, I could be like those Caesars, and I could gather all the nations under my….but that’s a Satanic idea.  He has to say get behind me Satan.  He recognizes it as bowing down and worshipping the Satan.  “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'””  Matthew 4:10 ESV.

This temptation comes through the mouth of Peter, and Jesus has to react harshly to Peter because Jesus himself was tempted to go that way.  When Peter says ….“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  Matthew 16:22 ESV, part of Jesus, part of the humanity of Jesus, says Ohhh, I want that!  I don’t want this to happen to me!   Jesus has to react because he too is tempted to go the old way.  

Finally It shows up again in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He’s praying God I don’t  want to go this way!  Father Not this way!  Take the cup from me!   Not this way!   ….“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”” Luke 22:42 ESV.  But he wins.   Not my will, but yours, be done.

Peter’s accusation – You’ve made a mistake about what Messiah is like and is supposed to do –  had the possibility of getting into Jesus’s head and filling him with self doubt.  (??????).   How can that be?   Jesus was fully human, AMEN??!!   And tempted in all things as we are!!   Amen again.    Anybody reading this ever been tempted by self doubt??   Well so was Jesus.

And Jesus was doubted by everybody.  And I do mean everybody.   More on this next time.

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.””

Mark 8:31-33 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.8.31-33.esv

John Lewis

The Accuser

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.””  Mark 8:31-33 ESV

If we are to understand what Jesus means by Get behind me, Satan!addressed to his disciple Peter, we need to revisit a little bit of the origin of what the Bible calls “the Satan”, Ha-Satan. We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of Satan as a proper noun or name.  Look, there’s Mark, there’s Jon, there’s Satan!    But it’s not that way.  It’s simply a noun which is always used with the definitive article, the Ha-Satan, the satan, which simply means the accuser.

The satan is referred to three times in the Old Testament.  Once in passing in an episode with David, once in Zechariah where it says “Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua.”  Zechariah 3:1 NLT

But the only episode that has a lot of detail about HaSatan comes from the book of Job.  In the book of Job we find the HaSatan, the satan, accusing Job before God, and then orchestrating three successive catastrophes that befall righteous Job.  First, he loses his livelihood and he’s bankrupt.  On the heels of that, he loses his children.  He’s bereaved.   As if these two were not enough, Job loses his health and is struck down with terrible afflicting boils.   The satan is behind it all…

Yet after chapter 2, and Job is a very lengthy book, satan is never again mentioned.  He disappears from the text but does not disappear from the story.  Beginning in chapter 3, satan, the accuser, morphs into or posseses Jobs three friends, Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar.   These are three friends of Job who come to commiserate with him in his sorrow and suffering.   He’s lost his livelihood, his children and his health and they come as friends to share his sorrow.

But very quickly, they morph into or become possessed by HaSatan and they begin to accuse Job.  They begin to attempt to explain to Job why these three catastrophes have come upon him and they insist it must be because Job has sinned.  Somehow Job has done something to cause him to deserve this horrible fate.  And Job protests his innocence.  As these successive debates continue to rage through the book, they become increasingly vicious as they become more and more HaSatan-esque, or satanic, and more viciously accuse their friend Job.

Now when God does arrive on the scene in the book of Job, he announces clearly that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have NOT spoken accurately concerning Job.  They have falsely accused him.  But let’s take a moment and ask why?  Why did Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar pile on and accuse their suffering friend.  Why would anyone do that to their friend??

The reason they were accusing Job was out of a motivation to preserve their world view.  Their world view was this – “Good things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to bad people (does this sound familiar?).   We are good people, so nothing bad will ever happen to us.”   That was the false foundation to their false security.   It’s how they maintained their peace of mind.  It’s how they slept at night.  That was their paradigm.

So when Job says “No, that’s not true.  Because I’m a good man to whom horrible things have happened…”, it threatens the very foundation of their security.  So they have to attack Job in order to preserve the false foundation of their false security, and they manifest the satan.   See how that works?  It’s very interesting, very diabolical.   But we need to recognize it.  You could say it this way – satan is the spirit of accusation.

Learn this – the satan is the spirit of accusation, especially of fear based accusation, which is what was motivating the miserable comforters of Job.   It wasn’t that they hated Job, they didn’t.   But it was that they needed to preserve their own sense of well being and future security by assuring themselves that this is true – that good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.   And we’re good people, nothing bad will ever happen to us.  And Job was threatening to undo that, to expose that as a lie, because he was saying, “No, I’m a good man to whom bad things have happened.”   And so to preserve the false foundation of their false security, they manifested the satan and began to accuse him.

The spirit of accusation is the spirit of satan, especially fear based accusation.  Because when people feel threatened in some way, their security, their position, their politics, their ideology, their worldview, when they feel that threatened, they tend to  channel that anxiety into accusation.   And here’s the kicker – it works.  If you are feeling threatened in some way, something is happening in your world, in your worldview, you ideology, in your situation, your circumstances that is causing you anxiety, if you will channel that anxiety into an accusation against someone else, it will make you feel better.  Just like meth, or heroin, or alcohol, or whatever your drug of choice, will make you feel better.   But it’s also satanic.

It will make you feel better.  If you are anxious and tense because something is challenging your worldview or circumstances or assumptions and you’re being forced to look at things differently and it is causing you anxiety and you channel that anxiety into an accusation against someone else, you will feel better.  And because you feel better, you might think “this must be God…”.  You’re only off a little bit…it’s actually the devil.

This is the primary work of satan, and it’s the opposite of the Holy Spirit.   The spirit of satan is the spirit of accusation, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy.  He is the advocate.  He is the one who comes and takes our side and stands with us and comforts us.  He stands with us against the accusation.

Whats this got to do with Jesus rebuking Peter with Get behind me, Satan!??   Guess that’s for next time…

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.””

Mark 8:31-33 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.8.31-33.esv

John Lewis

All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

Did some reading aver my vacation, including Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace?    In a world full of ungrace, grace is the one thing Christians have to offer that is found nowhere else.   As George MacDonald once said, “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”

At one point in the book, Yancey takes an interesting look at Peter’s encounter with God in Acts Chapter 10.  It is in Acts chapter 10 that the diet of the new church was greatly expanded.  As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the end of the story.  Before, Jews were not allowed to eat many foods, many things were just not “kosher” for them.  Know that “kosher” may best be translated into English, if we would, as “fit”.   So we would say that if something were not “kosher”, that means it is “unfit” for us to eat.   Or that dreaded term in the Old Testament, “unclean”.

So we see in Acts 10 Peter’s vision on a rooftop.   Peter has gone up onto the roof to pray in privacy, but he begins to get hungry.   His mind begins to wander, and he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”    This is not very specific about what the animals on the sheet were, but if we read Leviticus 11 we can get an idea.  Pigs, camels, rabbits, vultures, ravens, horned owls, screech owls, storks, bats, ants, beetles, bears, lizards, skinks, weasels, rats, snakes, all would have been on the do not eat list.   Being raised a Jew is Palestine, Peter would have been raised from his earliest memories that these foods were not just off the diet – they were an abomination to be detested.

If during the course of the day Peter had so much as touched the carcass of a dead insect, he would wash himself and his clothes and be unclean until evening, not allowed in the temple until he was clean of such errors.   If a lizard or a spider had fallen into one of the clay cooking pots, whatever was in the pot would have been thrown out, and the pot smashed along with it.

So now, all these unclean animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are all crawling around on a sheet falling from heaven with the instruction  “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”.   To which Peter reminded God of his own rules – “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  To which Peter is told “What God has made clean, do not call common.”   This is repeated a total of three times, followed by Peter immediately descending from the rooftop back downstairs to be confronted with a group of “unclean” Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus.

While this incident may have greatly expanded our diets (hurray for shrimp and bacon!!), why were all these foods banned in the first place?   What did God have against shrimp, lobster, bacon, sausage?   This is how God himself explains the ban – “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…” Leviticus 11:44 ESV.  Lots of room for interpretation here, and it’s been interpreted lots of different ways.

First, there were certain health benefits that could be cited as a reason.  The ban on pork would have protected the Israelites from trichinosis, the ban on shellfish kept them safe from viruses sometimes found in oysters and mussels.

Some of the banned animals were scavengers who would have fed on carrion.   Other portions would have insulated God’s people from participating in the customs of their pagan neighbors.   Specifically, the seemingly strange ban against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk would have kept the Israelites from imitating a magic spell ritual of the Canaanites.

So, if we think about it many of these animals we can understand why it makes sense to declare them “unclean”.   But others just don’t.  What’s wrong with lobsters or shrimp?   Or rabbits, which have no health risk and eat grass, not carrion?   Or camels and donkeys?

Remember, maybe the best English translation for “kosher” would be “fit”.  The Levitical law judges some animals to be “fit”, or proper for the Jews to eat, others to be unfit.   If we look a little bit closer though, we can see that all of the animals on the “unfit” have done anomaly, maybe they are just aren’t all the way “normal”.   Fish are supposed to have fins and scales, shellfish are just a little bit weird.   Birds are supposed to fly, ostriches and emus don’t fit in.  Animals on the land are supposed to walk on four legs, not crawl on the ground.   The domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goats all eat grass (chew the cud) and have cloven hooves, shouldn’t therefore all edible animals be like that?   As Rabbi Jacob Neusner says, “If I had to say in a few words what makes something unclean, it is something that, for one reason or another, is abnormal.”

And as the author Phillip Yancey sums up in his book, you might say there is one phrase, one principle, that can sum up all the Old Testament laws on uncleanness – No Oddballs Allowed.  No oddball animals on the menu, and the same could be said about “clean” animals used in worship or for sacrifice in the temple.  No worshipper could bring a defective, injured or otherwise imperfect lamb into the temple, because God only wanted the unblemished lamb from the flock.  From the time of Cain forward, people followed precise instructions or risked having their offering rejected.  God demanded perfection, God deserved only the best, no oddballs allowed.

And so this applies to people as well.  In the very temple of God, there were rules that applied as to whom, exactly, was “fit” to go into the ever constrictive circles.  There were the outer courts, where even the Gentiles were allowed.  A little farther in, and Jewish women were no longer allowed.   Beyond that, only the priests were fit to enter, all the way to the inner most holy-of-holies, where only the high priest was allowed once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied to his ankle just in case he screwed it up somehow and got struck down by God, they could pull him out without having to enter.  Because, after all, they were unfit to enter the most holy meeting place of the most high God.

And now to what really is the whole point of writing this.   It’s one thing to label certain animals unfit to eat, unclean.  But the Old Testament does not stop there.   How can we forget the long list of people who were rendered “unclean”, unworthy, less than, unfit?  “”Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.”  Leviticus 21:17-20 ESV.   If you had a damaged body, or damaged family lines (bastard child), you don’t qualify, you’re not worthy.  Menstruating women, men who had just had a nocturnal emission, women who had recently given birth, people with any skin disease or open sores (lepers), anyone who had touched a corpse, all these people were unclean, unfit to be touched or associated with.   No wonder the religious leaders in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan ran to the other side of the street!!   They would be made unclean just by the potential  contact with that poor sap on the road.

To us, we don’t understand this blatant ranking of people based on gender, race, and bodily health, but this the exact system that defined Judaism.  Jewish men would begin each day with a prayer thanking God, “who has not made me a Gentile…has not made me a slave…and has not made me a woman…”

Acts 10 shows us the result of this attitude.  Peter, introducing himself upon visiting the house of a Roman centurion, says it well – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””  Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  God called Peter to go to the Gentiles.  Peter argued.  God won the argument.   The revolution of grace was underway, whether Peter understood or not.

The customs and traditions of Judaism ran deep in Peters blood.  Yet Peter had been there all along with Jesus as Jesus would systematically break down those barriers which separated Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean.  It seems in fact, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus always was much closer to the sinners than the saints, doesn’t it?   (Of course, our true saints never lost sight of the fact that they, too, were really just sinners who needed a savior). Jesus never avoided all those branded “unclean” or unfit by the law.   Yet, somehow, Jesus was never made “unclean” by his unsavory contacts.  Somehow, by meeting and coming into contact with Jesus, all those who were once unclean became  clean, the unfit became fit once and for all for the kingdom of God.

Today, we have a new holy-of-holies.  We have a meeting place with God where all are invited, no one is considered unclean.  In fact, the only way we can make ourselves unfit for this meeting place is by putting up barriers or otherwise making it hard for someone else to come to the meeting place of God.   Isn’t this what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11 (message translation being used.  I hear a lot of people don’t like this translation.  I think a lot of people also don’t much care for the Bible once they actually understand what it says!).    “And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.”   1 Corinthians 11:20-28 MSG.

So we come to the holy-of-holies.  No one is excluded.  All are invited.  Many of you like a good “altar call”, a call for all those who don’t know Jesus to come to the altar and meet him.  Isn’t every time we take communion the best and truest “altar call” there is??!!   Come to the table, meet Jesus Christ in his glory, all the glory of his shed blood and broken body!!  As he himself told us, Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.   And just like those Emmaus Road disciples, we can know him best in the breaking of the bread.

Misfits and Oddballs are always welcome at the table of grace…

  “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”   Acts 10:9-16 ESV.     

“Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/lev.11.4-8,10-19.esv

John Lewis

Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”   Luke 23:46 ESV.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

Right in our Own Eyes

In reading the Old Testament book of Judges, there is a phrase that appears, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  This is during the period when Israel had no government as we currently understand it.   In fact, in both these verses from Judges 17:6 and 21:25, it says precisely the same thing – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   There was no king in Israel.

We think in America that we are the first to institute such a limited government, but we have nothing on Israel in the days of the judges.  In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave him a system for local, direct governance, which Moses put into place in Deuteronomy chapter 1.  The system of Judges.  Moses had been trying to do too much, as can be the case sometimes in any form of government.  He was trying to guide, counsel, and help people in all matters where they had need.  But, then as in now, there is a limit to what one person can do for the entire social order and individuals need, no matter how close to God that person may be.

So Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him to look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  These able, God-fearing and trustworthy men were to “judge” the people in all matters as needed, bringing only the most challenging cases to Moses.

Here is Moses’ own description for what he told them to do – And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” Deuteronomy 1:16-18 ESV.  So, this system of Judges was in force as the “government” of Israel, most visibly in the form of the “elders” who sat regularly in public places to take care of any matter that required such attention.  And in times of need or emergency, a “judge” would become a “natural” national leader, as seen in the book of Judges.

Which brings me to my point.   We read in the book of Judges and find it said In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   And we think in our own 21st century secular minds all the terrible things that must have been going on as Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   Probably because we think of the things that might be right in our own eyes.   And yes, the people of this time went wrong in many ways.  But isn’t doing as one pleases really the ideal condition of humanity?   Isn’t that what we would call “freedom”?    Why do we think this implies wrongdoing?   In fact, it implies no wrongdoing at all.   In Judges, doing what was right in ones own eyes was not opposed to doing what was right in God’s eyes, but it was opposed to doing as some government official saw as right.  It was always God’s intention, all the way back to the garden, that we walk with him on a personal basis, be pleased by and come to love all the right things, and then do what is right in our own eyes.   This is why we were made and what makes up our individuality.

So what did God say when the time of the Judges, this time when Everyone did what was right in his own eyescame to an end ?   What did He say when his people Israel demanded to have a king and a traditional, power and force based government to replace their condition of freedom under God?   Was He pleased by this.   Did He say his people were moving onto some better way of being by giving up their natural born position of walking with God and doing what was right in their own eyes?   This is what he told Samuel, the last of the judges in the original, full sense – And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV.   We have rejected God as our true king and demanded a king to rule over us.  Instead of doing what is right in our own eyes, we now must bow down to whatever government official might claim jurisdiction over a certain place or action.  Is this a better way of being than walking directly with god as our one true king?   As Samuel told the people when he presented Saul as King, But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’…” 1 Samuel 10:19 ESV.

As the people had earlier refused to speak directly with God and had Moses do it for them (Deut 5:24-27), to this day we refuse to let God (or his Son Jesus Christ) directly govern us by his law and empowering individuals for tasks as occasions might demand.  We prefer to have an ever more powerful and omnipresent standing government running on its own power, and running our lives.  And we assume that a time when God most directly his people and Everyone did what was right in his own eyes must have been a time filled with sin and evil, more so than even our world today.   Really??

But as Jesus told us in his great announcement, Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” Matthew 4:17 NLT.  All of humanity is invited into a family, we are all called to recline at the table in the kingdom of heaven.   When this Gospel, this good news, has been adequately presented in the lives of Christ’s people, it will mark the end of human history as we know it.   “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14 ESV.  Humanity will once again fall under the leadership of those who stand upon the earth as judges. As Paul tells us “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV

Then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to walk once again directly in the government of God, and everyone will once again do what is right in his own eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 17:6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.17.6.esv

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 21:25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.21.25.esv

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”

Exodus 18:21 ESV

http://bible.com/59/exo.18.21.esv

John Lewis