The Third Hour

So much can happen as the sun races a quarter of the way across the sky. From dawn to the third hour, so much did change.

The crowd, which had worried the chief priests and teachers of the law so much earlier in the week (Luke 22.1-6), were now standing outside of Pilates residence. Before dawn, Jesus was taken there for more questioning. Both Herod and Pilate had their turns at him in the early hours of daylight. The Jewish authorities had decided upon death, but without the authority to carry out their own executions, they needed Pilate to sign off.

Word raced through the city streets of the arrest and Pilates house was in the center of Jerusalem. In a way, Pilate was only there because of the crowd. He usually lived in Caesarea Maritima, the capital of the Judean province. But with the religious festival of Passover upcoming and the increase of people in the city, historically Jerusalem on the holy days was a golden opportunity for uprisings. As an occupying force, thousands of miles from home and in a volatile situation, the Roman army had reason to be weary and Pilate, a reason to be in town.

The Jewish leaders had their own reason to fear a scene. The crowd, just five days prior, bearing palm leaves and throwing down their cloaks, hailed him as a King (Mark 11.1-11). Jesus astride his donkey rode through the lines of the crowd hearing their praise of adoration:

“Hosanna!” — a praise of salvation

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118.26 quoted in Mark 11.9-10)

Both are acclimations of the identity and the activity of the King that has come. The highest praise saved for the one deserving. Its fitting really because if you want to find Jesus in the book of Mark, you have to follow the crowd [ochlos]. The paraplegic couldn’t get to Him because of them (Mark 2). He couldn’t preach loud enough to them (Mark 4.1). The crowd pressed him as he traveled (5.24) and tried to speak (3.9). He was teaching the crowd, feeding the crowd (Mark 6.34; 8.1), and healing in front of the crowd (9.25). Everywhere he went, the crowd ran to meet him (9.15). Jesus even let them in on the whole plan when he told the crowd what was going to happen to him (8.34).

If you want to find Jesus in Mark, look for the crowd. The crowd [ochlos] found him at night and arrested him (Mark 14.43). There was a crowd that hailed him as king, then a crowd who arrested him, and now the crowd is in front of Pilate. They asked Pilate to release a prisoner (Mark 15.8) as was the custom. Stirring up the crowd was the chief priests asking for the release of Barabbas (Mark 15.11). It’s fascinating that the greek word for ‘stirred up’ [anaseio] in Mark 15.11, is the same charge the chief priests accused Jesus of doing with his teaching when they went to Pilate (Luke 23.5).

Pilate’s next question elicited a response far removed from Sunday’s Triumphal Entry.

“What shall I do, then with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked the crowd.

“Crucify him!” the crowd shouted. (Mark 15.13)

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate…handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15.15)

From there it went so fast: the beating, flogging, mocking, and procession to Golgatha.

The crowd is fickle: from a victors parade to a death row walk. The crowd had turned over five days. As I ponder their change of heart, the quickness of their desertion, and the strength (or lack there) of their resolve, I realize that my own devotion is far more vacillating than theirs. With every act of obedience, faith, and trust I shout “Hosanna, Hail to the King” but with every thought of lust, falsehood of the tongue, lack of compassion, or hateful thought towards my brother I shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” With every act of denying my self, taking up my cross, and following in his steps I proclaim “Hosanna, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” And a split second later, I refuse to trust, envy another, gossip about a friend, or profane God and I cry out alongside the crowd: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

As Pilate scanned the crowd during those early morning hours between sunrise and 9, he saw many faces chanting in unison “Crucify!”. Two thousand years later, as I scan the text, I am catch my own face in the crowd; out of my mouth come the words “Crucify Him!”. Crowds are made up of many individuals. It just so happens that that crowd was made up of individuals like me.

“It was the third hour when they crucified him.” (Mark 15.25)


205375_10150948166057687_1855399445_nAmber rays crest the horizon, illuminating and revealing the undertakings of the night prior.  Whether the destruction of a storm, who’s fury is first seen as the sun begins its ascent for the day, the presence of a deer from its bed of CRP grasses that was hidden in the secrecy of the night, or the flickering of charcoal feathers as a turkey lands in the dew-slick-end-grass.  If morning brings with it new sights, sounds, and experiences, then dawn also brings accountability, the demanding of a reason and explanation for the hours dominated by the darkness.

Dawn is where this story begins.  Unable to be divorce itself from the night before, the events that transpired in the hours of darkness before the dawn are connected and must be discussed before the sun even begins to rise.  The world didn’t cease to exist or stand still on its axis during that night.  Dawn arrives carried along by the momentum of the night.

On this night, in a garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is confronted, yet again, with the failure of his disciples.  They are sleepy.  It had been a long week and with the anticipation of the upcoming holiday, the stress of the city, and the duration of their day, their eyes were heavy.  Jesus wakes them up as a familiar face approaches.  Under the cover of darkness, an army wound its way up the hill and into the garden.  With torches lighting the way and light reflecting off their weapons (John 18.3), the mob was on a mission to apprehend Jesus.

The arrest of Jesus had been at the forefront of their plans since he had entered the city 5 days ago causing an uproar.  The leadership, however, was afraid of the people.  What kind of riot would ensue if they arrested a Rabbi and Miracle worker, in the midst of a festival week at that? (Luke 22.1-6)

The leader of the mob was Judas, who himself had had a long night.  He had been with Jesus since the beginning and watched his rise to fame.  Now he was the one with poison on his lips and blood on his hands.  He was the catalyst on that night.  He pulled the pin to the grenade that would start exploding at dawn.

Jesus was bound, led into the city and tried before the courts.  Under the glowing light of oil candles, Jesus stood and was interrogated before Annas, the former high priest (John 18.19) and then Caiaphas, the current high priest (John 18.24).  In he final phase of the Jewish proceedings, Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin.  The judge, jury, and final say in Jewish law.  During the meeting, the sun was rising.

The whole night could be summed up in Matthew 27.1:

“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.”  (see also Mark 15.1; Luke 22.66; John 18.28)

Dawn that Friday, was the result of a trajectory begun that night.  A night filled with betrayals (Judas), denials (Peter), abandonment (the disciples), and kangaroo courts (the Jewish leaders).  The night began with Jesus and his disciples, by dawn he stood there alone.  Dawn calls into account the events of the night.

As the sun rises on the Friday of this story, I am reminded of how appealing the darkness can be.  We can act, hide, run, and deceive in it.  What is done remains hidden so long as the darkness remains.  But eventually dawn comes and the light penetrates the darkness, revealing and illuminating the activities and actions once covered.  Standing there, at dawn, is the condemned to die Jesus…ready to die because of what was done in the dark!

Manlier than most 11-year-olds

Lucas Littles on the Job
Lucas Littles on the Job

I would give anything:

  • to ride a horse like Josh Rushing
  • fight bulls like Lucas Littles and Daniel Unruh
  • rope like Vincent Oullette
  • raise stock like Jake Stubbs, Matt Williams, or Brian Adams
  • teach and preach like Doug Aldridge or Chad Chambers
  • cowboy like Doug Reser or Tyrell McClintock
  • be a husband and father like James Hurla, Clark Boatright, or Tim Schultz.

…but I cant and probably never will. These men have skills that God did not encode into my DNA.

The comparison game is played anytime people converge. For guys it started in grade school where we needed the same shoes, a cooler bike, or lego set that a friend had. In Middle School, it was football or basketball ability, clothes, or game systems. With high school comes car, girl, popularity, college offers, and power index comparisons that command man’s attention. College brings girls, parties, cars, clothes, and talents that arise envy. When they enter the workforce its salary, benefits, houses, vehicles, vacations, and girls and before we know it we are sitting at Bakers Dozen Doughnuts comparing 401 K’s, retirement funds, and our ability to greet more people at Wal-Mart than our doughnut-dinning-buddies.

The cover of the April 2015 edition of Popular Science caught my eye on the magazine rack. The cover showed Corey Kluber, the American League Cy Young winner, throwing a curve ball.. The title of the article, accompanying the cover, read: “42 Things You Should Know How to do at Every Age”.

I will have you know that I knew all 7 things in ages 1-11 (riding a bike, shooting a bb gun, tying my shoes, hammer a nail, pitch a tent, and paddle a canoe) except for properly loading a dishwasher.   Now before you blame my mother, I’m sure she tried to teach me and it didn’t take. I know how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, hammer a nail and do the rest. So rest assured I am more manly than most 11 year olds.

I also have accomplished almost all the skills that should be learned from ages 12-17. I can drive a stick shift, jump start a car, do a donut, survive in the woods, find myself on a map and get down a mountain. The last skill is throwing a curve ball, which I do during softball warm ups just to tick people off. I, however, have not done a flip off a rope swing for 2 reasons: a) lack of opportunity; b) it scares me to death to dive head first into water.

From ages 18-22 it gets a bit sketchy. I know how to safely cut down a tree, plan a road trip, throw a curve in bowling, light fireworks, and fit a couch through a door. I do not know how to unsnap a bra with one hand (didn’t need to know that until 2 ½ years ago) or throw a punch. In a fight I am less than worthless and when it comes down too it, I’m more likely to throw a haymaker than a jab and pray that it lands at its target because my eyes will be closed.

At ages 23-30, I plateuaed because I can’t do anything that the age requires of me. Butchering a pig, making a cocktail, or knowing how to plane a door are things that never came up on my to do list.   Even in the next age range, 31-45, the only thing I know how to do there is to work a circular saw. I have never been able to whistle, hate golf, don’t know what a roux is, and the thought of changing diapers makes me throw up in my mouth.

I fare no better in the last two age ranges save one skill: fly-fishing. Sailing seems to expensive, driving over 100 mph too illegal, playing poker for money seems to costly, building a stone wall too extravagant; but I can fly fish. My dad taught me year’s back and I still have my pole somewhere and would love to do it more often. It beats golfing I guess.

All in all, I guess I’m manlier than most 11-year-olds out there. Still the comparison game is haunting.

Before David goes out to fight Goliath, Saul tries to make David like him. He dresses him in the King’s armor, with the King’s sword. Saul is saying “you must be like me to fight Goliath” but David refuses to play the comparison game. He gathers his own sling and stones and goes out to fight (1 Samuel 17.38-40).

In Mark 5, Jesus heals a demoniac. Upon his healing, he desperately wants to join Jesus. He wants to follow and be like the other disciples, but Jesus says “no”. Anyone familiar with Jesus mission is befuddled at this point. Wait, wasn’t that what he came for? To have people follow him? But the former demoniac heads home and tells everyone what Jesus did and the next time Jesus comes back to that place, the whole region comes to him. Jesus wouldn’t let this guy play the comparison game.

I may be behind in my manly report card. My lack of muscles, the smattering of chest hair, and inability to do many manly things are not what stunts my development, leaving me stranded at age 22. What leaves me stranded in immaturity is my inability to drop the comparison game and walk faithfully in the role God has written for me. I desperately want to be like the guys I mentioned…but ultimately God is asking me to be faithful with the skills, abilities, gifts, and people that He has placed in my life. Just as the guys above are doing in their lives.

Belief in the Age of Disbelief

rtr1v96d“We’ll get through this.”, “Rain will come.”, “It’s just a rough patch.”, “Prices will turn around.”; Sentiments that I have heard old ranchers say more than a few times. Belief is central to the way of an agrarian society. The crossing of the line between skepticism and belief was done for the men I know long ago. The close connection to the land has fostered a culture toward belief; a culture under fire today.

Joel Achenbach, science writer for the Washington Post, wrote the cover article in National Geographic this month entitled “Age of Disbelief”. The core of the article is the skepticism of Americans toward scientific and technological innovation and discovery. Citing issues like the presence of fluoride in water, the moon landing, creationism, climate change, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations, the article draws the lines dividing the debate, and then mocks one side or the other as uniformed. Achenbach is offering up a chance to live life unencumbered by the ignorance of skepticism (in place because of our primitive and native beliefs), by embracing the scientific methods and questioning everything as long as those things are the correct things. I did not appreciate his linking many Christians with those who despise vaccines, hated Galileo, and don’t believe in the Moon landing, but he was painting with a broad brush those who have trouble with beliefs the same as he has.

Belief in itself is honorable. It takes courage and vulnerability. Fear of persecution, being mistaken, or “not believing enough” makes skepticism a viable alternative as a worldview. In the end, skepticism may hurt less, but it offers nothing to this life. Skepticism is the easy way out; never having to defend a position, always questioning. Living in fog is always easier than trying to see through the mist. Those who believe in something (even if it is opposite of me) should be held in high regards, as belief is one of the toughest things to hold on to.

Belief, to some, is considered a crutch, a hindrance, and weakness. Today, in our technologically and scientifically charged and run generation, belief is something to rid you of, like lice or bed bugs. By whatever means necessary, belief is to be thrown off and removed.

Achenbach argues for belief based upon a journey of inquiry and discovery. John would agree.

John wrote his book for a very specific purpose: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.31)

John, from the first verses of his book, begins a trail of evidence pointing the person and works of Jesus, drawing a line in the sand begging a decision of belief.

What lines of evidence does he provide?

  • The Signs. He alluded to it in the aforementioned verse when he wrote: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs…” (John 20.30) Later he would write that the amount of things that Jesus had done would fill so many books the world could not contain them (John 21.25). But for John, the seven he recorded would be enough for a decision to cross the line or stay put (and an eighth that would put him over the line). The water to wine (John 2), healing the officials son (John 4), the healing at the pool (John 5), the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6), walking on the water (John 6), healing the man born blind (John 9), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11), like the highlight reel moments of Jesus ministry, are described to the reader. All in effort to help make a decision. Then of course the biggie, the empty tomb, where John saw and believed (John 20.8); the reason that he crossed the line, is depicted in line with the rest.
  • The Statements. Seven times Jesus is recorded making a profound statement about his character and identity. Beginning with the words “I Am…”, a reference to the self-disclosure of God to Moses in Exodus 3-4, Jesus tells anyone who will listen who he is. In contrast to Mark’s messianic secret, where Jesus keeps telling people to not tell who he is, Jesus in the book of John makes it quite clear about his identity. He is “the bread of life” (John 6); the “light of the world” (John 9.8); the “gate for the sheep” (John 10.7); the “good shepherd” (John 10.14); the “resurrection and the life” (John 11.25); the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14.6); and “the true vine” (John 15.1). John records these statements to bring us to the line of decision. He postures the question: Does Jesus words match who he was?
  • The People. Like a parade, people are marched through the pages of John’s gospel. Each one carrying a story about their interactions with Jesus. From John the Baptist, a prophet in the wilderness (John 1) to Pilate, the Roman Governor (John 18-19). In talks with the religious elite (John 3), a dishonorable woman (John 4), friends like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (John 11) to complete strangers (John 9). He taught great crowds (John 6) and the three. He talked with Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier, and Thomas the doubter. John has each take the stand, give their testimony, their story, and lets us be the judge and jury. Each bringing us to the line of decision.
  • The Divisions. The line in the sand was not drawn for us first. It was for the disciples (John 6); three times the crowd of John 7 divided (v. 12-13, 30-31, 40-43); the Pharisees and others over the Sabbath (John 9.16); Jewish leaders (John 10.19-21); the Jewish leaders and crowd (John 11.36-37, 45-46), and the crowd after the signs (12.37-43). Each showdown, each division, is woven into the story by John, as a device to bring the conflict to the forefront in order to reveal our own. The line is brought before us.

As Mr. Achenbach chides this generation for their skepticism, as they refuse to cross the line of belief about vaccines or climate change, John, 2,000 years ago, begged, pleaded, and implored his readers to cross the line of skepticism about Jesus to belief. He has shown them the evidence to bring about the cognitive aspect of belief and now he asks for the volitional side of belief. He says “now you can believe with your head, will you believe with your feet?”

Bob, Bezalel, and Ohilhab: Men the Church Need

IMG_0709During life, everyone meets a “Bob”. My Bob was a child of the depression; a GI, retired Postal worker and entrepreneur.  He was able to make just about anything with his hands. Perched on pillars at the edge of his driveway, sat two eagles, mid-flight, that he had carved with his own two hands and cast in bronze. He built a kwanza hut for him and his wife to live in as he built his house.  But before he built the house, he had to move the Boce ball court he had built for his wife. I first got to know him because of his handiwork.

My sermon was forgettable (and I know because I had forgotten it), but I had mentioned new research on whether or not Noah’s Ark was a sewn boat based on an ancient boat excavated in the Sea of Galilee. Bob met me down stairs and asked for a picture of the boat. The following week he arrived at church, far to excited for a man who carries glycerin tablets for his heart, with two boards held together with twine based exactly off the archaeological diagrams.

It would be three years and countless numbers of breakfast’s at the Grantville “Almost Home Café” when our next project would arise. I was planning a purity dinner for the middle school girls at the Church and I searched far and wide for a trinket for them to take home. A friend showed me how simple it would be to weld a piece of steel to a horseshoe and write the Bible Verse on it. The problem however, was twofold: 1) I didn’t have access to a welder; 2) I had no idea how to weld. Bob was the answer to both. When he heard about my predicament, he told me to meet him at his house one afternoon. I met him as he was pulling out all of his equipment ready to go to work. He would spend the next 3 hours teaching me to weld, showing me how to set things up, and how to make a clean bead. After 40 horse shoes (80 welds), which for him must have seemed like eternity with my shaky hands in control, we had accomplished our goal. Just before I left his house he said this, “I feel guilty that I don’t help you out enough.”  One of his attempts to help was buying me a mule to train, but that story is for another time.

That was the beginning of Bob helping out at middle school youth group. An 80 year-old-man hanging out with between 50-75 inner city middle school students sounds like a social science experiment, but for some reason it worked. Bob showed up every week. He handed out snacks, talked with the kids, and helped me out. He didn’t understand a lot about them, questioned some things, but he was faithful and devoted to teaching the kids.

Bob’s are a rare find today, just as they seemed to be back in Moses’ day.

“And he [the Lord] has given both him [Bezalel] and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan the ability to teach others.” (Exodus 35.34)

The placement of this verse is interesting. In verse 31-33, Bezalel is described as having both the theoretical ability (31), the material ability (32), and the physical ability (33) to make the structure and furnishings of the Tabernacle. On the other side, in verse 35, Moses reiterates the physical skills needed to make all the things of the Tabernacle. To link together, these thoughts, Moses shows how God has given them the ability to teach others to be master craftsmen and designers.

The word the NIV translates “ability” in verse 34, is the hebrew word leb which is most commonly translated heart. So Bezalel and Ohilhab, didn’t just have the ability to do the tasks, but the heart to “teach” people how to do it. Elsewhere it ahs been discussed how the heart is more than just feelings and emotions in the ancient near eastern mindset. For Bezalel and Ohilhab, teaching [yare] or probably more accurate, showing or displaying for others, was a passion and desire. It was their will and motivation to help and teach others.

I have known great and skilled people, who’s ministries, business, and legacies, did not outlive them, because they were unable to teach others. What makes Bezalel and Ohilhab, so special is not just their skill but their heart to teach. God set these men apart, because the job was bigger than just them. He knew that they needed to be leaders on display, teachers able to communicate, workers with dirt under their fingernails.

Bob spent time investing in me. Bezalel and Ohilhab, spent time investing and training their people to the point where they became master craftsmen. There have been numerous men who have invested into me on all sorts of levels. It should be our heart, our will, our passion to do the same for the next group of men coming up in the Church. Whether it is going through a book with them, drinking some root beer and watching a game, showing them how to change the oil, or even just lunch after church, men take a moment to teach the next group of men. Church’s are full of young men needing spiritual mentoring and it needs to become our heart to teach others.

Runnin’ on all cylinders

195157I inherited an 8n tractor. Inherited is probably not the correct word. Dad upgraded and the 8n became yard art. It hasn’t ran since the upgrade and if I can drive it off its mine. The engine, a 4 cylinder, needs some work. I think it will run, but not fully. At least one of the cylinders has a compression problem (I think!). If you had to use it, it would probably work, but wouldn’t be able to do the things it’s supposed to be able to do; the things that made it the most popular tractor in American history. I wonder how many of us aren’t running on all cylinders.

The saying “running on all 6 cylinders” alludes to an engine where the injectors, spark plugs, pistons, and values, are working in proper timing and coordination to move the drive train, which inturn drives the transmission, which drives the car/truck/tractor. If just one of all the parts is ineffective, out of time, or out of commission, the whole system suffers and thought the machine may run, will prove to be lacking in performance. How often in life would you say you spend running on all 6 cylinders? Part of the problem is that we often don’t know what the cylinders are. Human beings, like legos, were created to be in relationship and community. In the same way that you can’t play with a single Lincoln log, lego, or eat a single Pringles chip, humans don’t do well in isolation.   We were made to have certain relationships. When one of our relationships goes bad, the entire system suffers. Though it may still work and run, it isn’t performing at peak performance. So these relationships help our lives run at peak performance:

  • Our relationship with God. When Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God (Gen 3.8-10) and we have been in hiding ever since. Sin and disobedience have clouded our relationship with God.
  • Our relationship with family. Adam and Eve…Cain and Able…James and Jesus. Nearly every page of Scripture save the first and the last is riddled with family strife. Sin took the family apart piece by piece. The same can be said for our own families.
  • Our relationship with self.  Shame entered the world with Adam and Eve. They sowed leaves together to hide their nakedness. Shame and pride are inward emotions. So sin distanced us from God, from others, and from ourselves.
  • Our relationship with others. The world has 6.8 billion people on it and there is more strife than ever before. With Babel in Genesis 11, the world was divided by thoughts, language and worldview. We are divided by oceans, continents, and seas, but our greatest divide is worldview.
  • Our relationship with Creation. Creation was God’s gift to us to explore, work and learn from. Now creation is marked with disasters, tragedies, and struggle. We fight it, use it up, and toil against it.
  • Our relationship with Culture. Society, music, media, and communication are areas that were taken captive after sin entered the world. Sin has tainted our relationship with the arts, creativity, and expression. Messages are lost, mistranslated, and under communicated because of the distance because of disobedience.

We went from a six cylinder fine ride, to a bike without pedals. From a high performance engine to a Fred Flintstone foot-powered mobile with a single decision of disobedience.

How do we get back to running full speed, full power, on all cylinders? Jesus says “…I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10.10b) John uses the greek word for life [zoe] thirty-six times in his book. The word is most often used in reference to the life given by a person’s proximity to Jesus. John writes the purpose of his book is: “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.31) Many times we thing about the life that Jesus offers is life after death, but with John it is so much more. Life, as described in the book of John, is not just a life like the one we have now with no end, but a quality of life that is promised. This is adventure; it is excitement, contentment, and joy. The life promised in John, as a gift from Jesus, is fulfilling and sustaining like bread (John 6.35-49), refreshing and quenching like water (John 4.14), illuminating and focusing like light (John 8.12), and directing and true (John 14.6).

My life needs some maintenance work. I have ran down a few cylinders for a while, mostly because I think I can solve and diagnose my own issues. Jesus promises the life that I want, the one I need. The beauty of Jesus words and his story is that no one is beyond restoration.