Down the Road

100_6520_0010 On the road is where people mingle, meet, and interact.

He introduced himself as Santa Clause in the middle of the Frankfurt, Germany terminal.  It was 2-in-the-morning-ish but you couldn’t tell from his demeanor.  He had a banjo.  He was was a missionary headed to India to spread the gospel by banjo-ing.  It was 2011.

A few years later, wandering down a  crowded walkway at the International Conference of Missions, I bump into a portly man sporting a grey beard and a familiar banjo.  It was Santa Claus.  He says “I remember you!”   It was odd because of the two of us, I figured I would be the one more easily forgettable.  Had I not gone out on the road, I never would meet such interesting people.

The same can be said for Jesus.  Luke 9.51 reads:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

The NIV renders the phrase ‘resolutely set out’ translating a greek idiom.  The greek literally reads: he “established his face toward Jerusalem”.  The idea is that he would not be deterred from making his way to Jerusalem.  This verse begins a section of Luke that would be called the Travel Narrative by scholars.  The reason is that Jesus is continually traveling up to Jerusalem.  Along the way he keeps meeting people.  Also of note is that the material contained in Luke 9-19, the Travel Narrative, is largely unique to Luke and not found in other Gospels.  What fascinates me is what these people who meet Jesus leave with.

Some left with teaching.  “As they walked along the road…” (10.57), “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and loks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'” (10.62) They learn the cost of following Jesus.  He teaches them about prayer, the how and the why (11) and on worry (12.22ff).  As he “went through towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem…”(13.22), “he said to them, ‘make every effort to enter through the narrow door…” (13.23ff), teaching them the difficulty of salvation.  “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (14.25,27,33)  He touched on eternal life (10.25; 18.18); hypocrisy (12.1); and the Sabbath (13.15).  Some meet Jesus on the road and need some wisdom.  His message is clear, “here’s how to be a disciple!” which is the perfect message given that the stage is a road, where discipleship is shown.

Some left with healing.  There were some that shown up on this road with some physical baggage that needed to be handled.  There was the man who had the demon (11.14); a crippled woman (13.11); a man with swelling (14.2); and the Ten Lepers (17.11).  He was on his way to Jerusalem, but it was never beyond his time to show mercy and compassion to these people.  Healing would always have a place and time on this road.  These people knew that meeting Jesus would change their lives.  That is why the last healing, the blind beggar in Jericho, was one that was instigated by a man shouting out Jesus name and causing a scene.  When all you have known your entire life is blindness and begging, Jesus is your only viable option and you would do what you could to get to him. (18.35)

Some left with a story.  This travel narrative is full of stories.  Jesus is constantly telling these short stories that make a point.  Jesus knew that stories stick with people so he uses this method to change people.  The stories are the ones that everyone grew up with…

  • “There was a man who had two sons…” (Luke 15)
  • “A certain man was preparing a great banquet…” (Luke 14)
  • “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed…” (Luke 13)
  • “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them…” (Luke 15)
  • “Two men went up to the temple to pray…” (Luke 18)

And there are others on the road.  A parable is a simple story with a deeper significance.  Each of these stories were meant to teach a truth to the person(s) there.  The prodigal son puts the love of God and the pride of righteousness on display.  The great banquet is a meal open to anyone who will respond.  The mustard seed is 12 men who changed the world.  The lost sheep is the persistent love of God.  The Pharisee and Tax collector offer insight into pride and hubris.  I’m going to borrow a term from Aristotle to describe the literary device that Jesus employs.   The term is anagnorisis which means “discovery”.  Nearly every story begins by our identification with the hero of the story, the good son or the Pharisee, but by the end of the story, we realize that we have problems.  In an instant, we discover that maybe we don’t have it all together.

So there he is on the road.  Wandering back and forth between the countryside and Jerusalem.  He is meeting and walking with any who would take the time to come to him.  What is it that you need to meet Jesus on this road about?  Do you need teaching?  A reminder concerning worry, prayer, discipleship?  Maybe it’s healing?  Do you need his power to overcome depression or addiction?  Maybe it’s a story?  Perhaps you just need to meet him to get a good story?

Its time we get out and meet him on the road.

 

Advertisements

Twix

DDFC98DD-975D-428F-AA77-8EC4A2E00DE9Dear Mars.com,

Since you began your right Twix vs left Twix campaign, this philosophical distinction has brought forth a serious question: what constitutes a Twix bar? Is it one candy bar made of two parts or two parts packaged together? If packaged for Halloween candy it is a single bar named Twix, but if it’s got two bars it is still Twix. This is a question with philosophical implications, so I come to the source! What is the real name of your candy bar and how should we refer to a single Twix candy bar? I humbly wait for your reply and will wait to rely on your expertise.

Sincerely,

Travis Long

Skittles are plural.  M and M’s are as well.  Twix carries with it an immense amount of ambiguity.  Is it one or two? (Or 4 in the case of King Size)?  If each side of Twix is going to obtain an individual personality, where does that leave us?  To sentient individuals or one scidzophrenic?

Where Resees seems to be uniting us (see the previous two posts); Twix seems content to drive a wedge in.  Let’s just say that in some instances Jesus brought the duct tape, but in others he brought a pry bar.

One key concept in the book of John is division.  John understands that sometimes discipleship is moved forward by people being added to the number, and other times it happens by others leaving.

John uses division as a iteray device.  The whole purpose of Johns book is found in chapter 20:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (30-31)

Johns gospel brings the reader to the crossroad where a decision needs to be made about “who Jesus is?”  But throughout the book, people have been brought to the line of decision.

  • John 6, Jesus teaches on the life that he alone can give and the people divide (6.60,66)
  • The crowds and even his family don’t know what to do with his abscence at the festival. (7.12)
  • Jesus teaches from God’s authority and above Moses’ in the Temple and the people are divided. (7.30-31)
  • The Pharisees are up in arms and division I’ve how Jesus can heal blindness.  The real issue is Jesus place of origin. (9.16ff.)
  • Then the apex of the book, the antithesis of the thesis statement in chapter 12, “after Jesus has done all these  miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(John 12.37-42)

Like Col. Travis or Jean Luc Picard drawing a line in the sand, Jesus has clearly declared the two sides. But there is an interesting dynamic at work here.

When a line is drawn, battle, political, or ideological, the image at the forefront of your mind is often of two sides, yelling at each other while encroaching upon the line.  They are two opposing forces bent over the line with bulging veins in their forheads and necks, screaming obscenities at one another.  That is not the case here.

Certainly, the battle over the identity of Jesus is as real and vital as it had ever been.  John’s excessive use of metaphor shows this.  Life and death; light and dark; the city of God and the World.  But it is not two sides attacking one another.

Instead, it is two lines that are not attacking each other but ignoring one another.  It’s like everyone is standing with their backs to the line.  The groups never really enter debate about Jesus’ identity, but instead ask searching questions.  With each inquiry, individuals on either side of the line step backward over it, switching positions, or stepping forward strengthening their position and allegiance.

This “cross-the-line” mentality is paramount for Johns gospel because of his stance on culture.  Of the New Testament authors, John’s position on how a follower of Christ should interact with the world around him is firmest and recessive.  Jokingly it’s hard to figure out whether John turned his back on the world, “Do not love the world or anything in it…”(1 John 2.15), or the world turned its back on him, he was “…on the island of Patmos beacause of the word of God.” (Rev. 1.9)  Johns attitude is withdrawal.

Paul takes a much softer position.  “I have become all things…” (1 Cor. 9.22); using his political position (Acts 22.22-30; 25.11-12); and quoting the philosophers of the day (Acts 17.28) and referencing their gods (Acts 17.23).  Paul utilizes culture in order to transform culture (Romans 12.1-2).  But this study is for another time and place (and one that I hope warrants time and discussion here).

Johns division is between the followers of Christ and the world that surrounds them.  John is certain that believers are to be seperate from the world in far not ways than where they spend 2 hours on Sunday morning.

It’s in the way we tallk;  the content of of our conversations.  Listened to two high school boys use the f-word 18 different times in 6 sentences and in four different parts of speech in 6 sentences, the other day.  I didn’t know whether to get me a dictionary so I really knew what the word meant, or to get them a thesaurus so the could learn a new word.

It’s the way we parent and serve in schools.  It bothers me that PTO is such poorly attended and how hard schools have too look when the numbers suggest how many Christian parents are connected to the school.  It is disconcerting as to how many single parents lack support from the church in raising their kids.  I struggle with how many parents feel like the are on an island in raising their kids.  Christians are called to be different.

It is in the books that are kept.  It’s the amazon accounts, credit card debt, Craigslist addiction, and Cabelas points.  “Stuff” is a currency all by itself now a days.  Followers of Christ, and their stuff, the amount, how it’s used, and how it is obtained, is one way that they are divided from the world.

Twix has it right, the followers need to be distinct from the world. We may be in the same package as the world, breathing the same oxygen, living in the same space, struggling with the same sins, but John knows we are not the same!

Ps.  Still no reply from Mars or Hershey!

100 Grand

s643667121527569464_p68_i3_w640“Turkeys flock, but Eagles soar.”

”In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson

”If everyone else jumped off a bridge…”

Ancient proverbs, founding fathers, your Mother; all have their advice about succumbing to peer pressure and following the crowd.  Nature understands the safety in numbers: the adjectival crash of rhino’s or murder of crows (nod to Poe); the aptly named tower of giraffes or bloat of hippos; or the alliterated leap of leopards or prickle of porcupines.  If you have ever watched one of those nature documentaries on Nat. Geo or the Discovery channel, before reality mechanic shows and survival shows took over, of the wildebeests crossing the river in front of the crocodiles, the principle is fully on display.  But success, especially in America and contrary to all of history, is all about standing out and swimming upstream.  Mike Rowe put it best in this video (if you watch until the end).  That American ideal is also contrarian to understanding Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. To understand what Jesus did in the book of Mark, follow the crowd.

Much of Jesus ministry was done in view of the crowds.

  • He led them
  • He fed them
  • He taught them
  • He performed miracles before them
  • He was praised, arrested, sentenced and mocked by them (all in a week)

His public ministry was just that: it was public.  Despite some of his best efforts, he was with people most of the time.  He was forced “to get up while it was still dark, very early in the morning” in order to pray (Mark 1.35).  The only times that Jesus is recorded to be alone in Mark, he is either praying (1.35; 6.42; 14.35) or healing (7.53).

One of the biggest things he did in front of them was healed.  On 8 different occasions Jesus healed before the crowds. Sixty-six percent of the time he healed someone, it was before the people.  Only 4 times did he not follow this pattern.

  • He healed a deaf and mute man privately (7.53)
  • He raised a girl from the dead in front of Peter, James, and John (Mark 5)
  • He healed Peter’s mother-in-law with Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 1.31)
  • He drove the Evil Spirits out of the Gadarenes Demoniac with the Twelve watching on (Mark 5) because the crowds couldn’t get around the lake fast enough.

The pattern had been set as healing was meant to be seen publicly.  All the times it wasn’t on display, the connecting ties are few and far between.  The number of people who were either healed, witnessed his healing power, or saw the result of his healing power would have stretched exponentially both in geography and in time.

  • Every marriage that is saved through repentance and submission has been touched with his healing.
  • Every man who finds recovery from a porn addiction has felt it.
  • Every middle school student who has felt the sting of depression and loneliness, who finds grace and compassion in Jesus arms, knows his healing.
  • Every parent who has lost a child, but finally is able to pen a letter to them, knows the power of his healing.
  • Every victim of disaster who has ever received a warm meal and a warm blanket as they begin to piece back together their life, has felt his touch of healing.

Healing was communal.  It is communal.  It was public and it was celebrated.  Jesus lived this out.

Indications point to a population of 500,000 in Palestine during the Second Temple Period.  I think this easily puts a 100 grand within 2 degrees of seperation of Jesus and his healing ministry.

While Jesus was alone, he prayed.  While he was with the Twelve, he explained, corrected, and taught.  With the crowds, the 100 grand, Jesus was the compassionate healer, who’s arms were open to all who came.

But what about the Three Musketeers?

To be continued…

Leverage: This Life

Leverage (vb.) to use something for its maximum force

Mark understood how to leverage this life.  At a turning point in his book, he included an interaction between Jesus and Peter that contains some kernels of truth, that when planted, give rise to a leveraged life.  Near the end of the encounter, Jesus speaks these words: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35)  Jesus knew how to use his time on earth, his life on earth, for the maximum effect.

To live a life of leverage, one used to the fullest extent, first off, we must understand the identity of Jesus.  Mark begins the narrative with a question from the mouth of Jesus: “who do people say that I am?”  This is a vital question for Mark who begins his Gospel with “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”(1.1) and arrives at his pint in chapter 15 with a Roman Soldier confessing “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” (15.39). Linking these two confessions, there were multiple partial-confessions throughout the book.

  • After he stilled the stormy sea, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him?” (Mark 4.41)
  • After teaching in the Synagogue, the people of his hometown asked, “Where did this man get these things?  What’s the wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles?  Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (6.2-3)
  • After healing the deaf and mute man, people were amazed and said, “He has done everything well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.37)

The identity of Jesus was a high point on Mark’s list of things that he wanted his gospel to communicate.  Many in Mark’s gospel missed the point.  In John, everyone who walked away knew exactly who Jesus was…not so for Mark. They may have walked away healed, but they walked away from Jesus, leaving life with Jesus on the table.  When and only when we understand and can answer the question “who is Jesus?” will we be able to leverage our lives to the fullest.  Peter’s answer sums it up.  “You are the Christ!”  A few words with thousands of implications.  Christ is the greek equivalent of the hebrew word Messiah.  Messiah was the one sent from God to save his people.  He is the one who would hear his people, fight for his people, and ultimately bring rule to the people.  Peter is saying: “Jesus you are the Messiah.”  It was as close to the true identity of Jesus as any human confession seen in Mark’s gospel up to this point.

The real identity of Jesus changes us.  When I understand the power that Jesus has, over the spiritual world of demons in this particular case or over the physical world’s greatest attempt to dissuade us, death, does it begin to resonate that it too lives in me.  Only when I understand that Jesus stopped for little children, reached out and touched lepers, took time for a desperate father, and spoke to a broken woman, will I realize that he has promised to do the same for me.  When I understand his humanity, after all Mark does paint a more “human” figure of Jesus than the other gospel writers, only then do I bear my own soul to him for his working.  “Who Jesus is” changes the way we live.

The second thing needed to live a life of leverage, is an understanding of his mission.  Following Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach about his betrayal, death, and resurrection.  It is no coincidence that when we first learn of Jesus true identity, as the Christ, is when he first predicts his death.  It is true.  He came to die for us!  Let that be known.  In the next two chapters, 9 and 10 respectively, we will learn further of his death.  But for now, he sticks to the bare bones of it.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8.31)  Jesus mission had taken on different forms starting early in Mark’s book.  He came to preach (1.38), then to call sinners (2.17).  Then he came to be killed (8.31; 9.31) which you would think would be the pinnacle of his mission.  But its not.  See dying for no reason has no effect.  Jesus death would have meaning, purpose…leverage.  He came to be served up, sold out, and handed over (10.33-34); ultimately he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10.45)  His mission was revealed in greater detail as the book progressed.

Peter, upon hearing the news of Jesus ultimate demise, rebuked him.  For all the progress he had made in the prior paragraph, now he seems to be sliding back into his old ways.  He didn’t understand Jesus’s ultimate mission.  For a man who understood Jesus’ identity, he missed the mission of Jesus.  If we are to life a life of leverage, it has to center around the mission of Jesus.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to testify to the truth and show us the light.  He came as a ransom, a peace offering, a sacrifice.  He came in order to give us life.  He came, his mission, was to let us leverage this life.

The third necessity of a leveraged life, is following Him. (Mark 8.34-37) Jesus turns the private rebuke of Peter into a public teaching to the crowd.  The message is: “Follow”.  It is made clear that this teaching is not just for Peter, but for everyone.  Crowds were essential to the “following” in Mark’s book.  Sixteen times, Mark uses the word akouloutheo, when translated to English is “follow” and it breaks down this way.

  • Twice, it is used in the context of two men [Simon/Andrew and 2 unnamed disciples] (1.18; 14.13)
  • Twice, it is used in the context of the disciples (6.1; 9.38)

and here are the important two:

  • Once it is used of an individual.  Peter follow’s “from a distance” in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest.  Not a good thing. (14.54)
  • Eleven times, it is used in the context of the crowd.  Either the crowd “followed Jesus” or heard Jesus teach on “following”, or watched someone “follow” (2.14,15; 3.7; 5.24; 8.34; 10.21, 28, 32, 52; 11.9; 15.41)

Crowds were essential to Mark’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  Discipleship is a communal effort; a team sport.  For sure, the path to Jesus was as varied and individualized as the people themselves, but the work of following is every bit a group movement.

Discipleship of Minor Characters in Mark

If we follow Jesus with passion, joining with others who are like-minded like ourselves, we will begin to live a leveraged life.  Following Jesus gives a purpose and meaning to this life.  When we pour out our life in service to others, following his example in Mark 10.45, we will find our life.  Jesus says it plainly: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  (Mark 8.35)  Taking up our cross is a request to die.   When we die to ourselves and follow Jesus, we are embarking on a journey that is unparalleled.  Those who get the most out of life are those who hold onto it the least.  Only in welcoming the risk, taking the steps, and engaging in the call to follow, will this life have ultimate meaning and purpose.

Leverage (vb) to use something for its maximum force