Author

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

Invasion of Grace – No Other Gospel

Galatians 1:3-9

Pastoral Prayer: Loving and Gracious Lord of All, influences in our lives lure us to be observers and consumers. In order to live that way and claim to follow your Son we must de-form the Gospel, the Good News. Remind us today that our Amen is not a verbal affirmation but our response to the call to participate in the invasion of Grace you began in Jesus our Lord. By whose faith we are saved and in whose name we pray . . And All God’s people say . . . Amen.

There seems to be great concern about an invasion. Estimates are that it will cost some $200 million dollars to stop the perceived threat. Too often we are distracted away from the invasion of Grace rooted in the sovereign Love of God. Just listen to the anger that spews in our partisan politics.

Anger is big business. In 2014 Cory noticed his comments on what he termed Liberal political sites got him banned. Whether he was responding to articles about ISIS, police violence, Black Lives Matter or the Hobby Lobby decision he was met with pushback. It was then he decided to create his own website. Stirred by the Tea Party movement, the reaction to President Obama and the rise of social media he began posting his own stuff. He would take articles and rework them, turning up the rhetoric.

He admitted that his early stuff was not well written. Even then, the response was such that he hit a nerve. Maybe it was his desire to stop working at the factory. Could be he really was interested in countering what he was reading. Taking his queue from what people wanted Cory added advertisements to his website. He learned that if he could make a good story sound bad it would go viral. More clicks meant more money. He wrote highly opinionated pieces. He saw that people wanted gossip and bad news more than good news. People wanted to read what would make them angry. In a recent interview he said,

“I would love to write about good news all day but that is not what they want.” 

Cory, and then his wife and a group of contract writers, began to write about race, extremism and Muslims. The result was he quit his job after making more in one week from his website than a month at his previous job. He persuaded his wife to quit her nursing job. They said,

“We had a month where we made more than we did in our previous jobs for a whole year.”

For a period of time they made $120,000 a month. People they said,

“Love to hate.”

Anger is big business. The Greatest Showman gave people what they wanted – a circus.

It is not hard to see from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Asia Minor, Galatians specifically, that anger and hostility ruled the day. Why else would Paul  counter the climate with, 

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, since you all are one in Christ Jesus?

The apparent hostilities associated with these groups illustrate the current animosities at work in our Country. The young man in Tallahassee that shot and killed two women and wounded four others before taking his life was part of a self-identified group, Involuntary Celibates, In Cels for short. The group hates women because they cannot persuade them to go out with them or get them into bed. 

It is clear what a world captive to the Powers of Sin and Death, what Paul calls, “this present evil age”, looks like. 

Everyone, in every era, looks for good news.

When Caesar Augustus came to power, the term good tidings, good news, applied to his birth, his coming of age, his rise to power and his victories. Everyone knew that this son of god would bring a new world, a new day. The word good news, glad tidings, used by the Greeks was plural. That little distinction is important. It meant that each future emperor would follow that same pattern. The good tidings, plural, referred to every benchmark moment in the life of the one in whom everyone put their trust and hoped for enough food, better roads, better sanitation, fewer wars. 

When the Apostle Paul used that same word, he used the singular. When he described the Good News of God he was making a statement. Everyone puts their trust in a king: the Israelites in Samuel’s day, the emperors in Rome’s day and Presidents, Governors and Legislators in our day. Luke gives us the announcement of the glad tiding to the shepherds. He too uses the singular form. In fact, his announcement is a direct counter to the way emperors were celebrated. He and Paul both present the coming of Jesus, the event of his coming, as God’s Good News for the world – an invasion of grace.

Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia runs counter to every human attempt to provide what only comes in Jesus Christ. There is no other Good News – no other Gospel.

However, as in Paul’s day, so in ours. People desert, defect from, the Good News of God in Christ for good tidings at the ballot box. What King David could not provide, what no Roman Emperor could provide and what no President can provide or create is a community of grace. When the Gospel of Grace is absent from the Church, from churches, they cease to be, well, churches.

Listen to the way Paul begins other letters,

To the saints in Christ at Colossae.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Phillippi.

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus.

Absent in his letter to the churches in Galatia is any reference to saints. What could that mean?

Reading clue: when Paul changes his normal pattern, look for a reason. Rather than tip his hat at their faithfulness, as with the Christians in Ephesus, he jumps right into his argument. We do not want to miss this.

First, the new disciples started well. We find this noted in Paul’s remark,

I am surprised, astonished, amazed that you are so quickly turning away.

From what did they turn? What drew their first allegiance?

They like others in Collossae, Phillippi, Ephesus and Rome heard the good tiding that in Christ God had invaded the world with grace. Using the military imagery of invasion made sense in a day when the Roman army was the measure of power. They had the best weapons and the largest army. And at the same time, the people suffered lack. Poverty and hunger was the norm for most. Allegiance to the emperor came with a cost. Listen to what kings cost Israel,

He will take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots. He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his group and reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war and the equipment for his chariots. He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give then to his servants. He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and his servants. He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys, and use them for his work. He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. 

Whether kings or emperors or any of the branches in a Democratic Republic, human beings will use human beings, all the while leading them to believe they will do better than anyone else to give you what you want.

When Paul came with the good tiding of God’s invasion of grace in Jesus Christ, that God gave himself for them rather thantake from them, those in Galatia turned toward God. The startling part of the story was that this invasion came via the death of Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead. This Jesus Christ,

gave himself for our sins to rescue, to snatch, us from, the grasp, of this present evil age

They started out well.

Second, the new disciples added something to the glad tiding. Not long after Paul left another group of Teachers came along. They came with the same language of good tiding. Likely they too had heard the news of God in Christ Jesus. Their zeal had made them good evangelists. The one problem: they had added to the good tiding. In fact, Paul actually writes to the Galatian Christians that when we add anything to the good tiding, it becomes something other than the Gospel. 

For the Teachers, the addition was the Law of Moses. They taught that Moses received the Law from an angel. Given such an act, these Teachers persuaded the Christians in Galatia that there was more to the story. Their good news was that Jesus and the Law would bring about the peace for which they longed. What was once only grace was now grace plus something. Paul described the work of these Teachers as, troubling you.

In the heightened rhetoric of our political climate, some have decided that to be real Christians requires the proper party affiliation, a particular position on health care, immigration and the use of force around the world. Anything less that what these new Teachers tell you means that somehow we are not Christian enough. Listen to the language games that are played. Quickly you find that prominent Evangelicals have created a new law to add to the work of grace.

These folks are keeping records of pastors and churches that support their vision. This database is used to shame and create division in churches that don’t fall in line. 

We Baptist pastors may have not done such a good job. Our history is one influenced by Separatists and Anabaptists. In England the Separatists took opposition to political power as a means to further the Gospel. Feeling the brunt of persecution that came if you were not a part of the approved church was a very real experience. Even further back, our history includes the Anabaptists. These were Christians committed to peace, non-violence. They believed that to participate in the political system actually undermined their commitment to Jesus as Lord. They too suffered persecution at the hands of others for not being considered part of the “right church.”

Somewhere along the way the form of discipleship in Western churches has looked more like grooming us to be good citizens of the Nation-State than citizens of the Kingdom of God. We forget the words in Hebrews,

By faith Abraham when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise, for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Rather than living as Exiles in Babylon, we have decided Babylon is home.

There is no other Gospel. There is no Gospel plus the Law. There is no Gospel plus the proper political affiliation. Adding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ strips the Good News of anything good and eliminates the Gospel of Grace. There is only the good tiding that God invaded the world in Jesus Christ to snatch us from the grasp of the Powers at work in this present evil age.

There is neither Democrat nor Republican nor Independent  – there is a community of grace.

Finally, they forgot the Amen.

To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Amen that Paul has in mind is not the Amen that listens and observes a good point made in a sermon. Paul’s Amen is the Amen of participation. It is the response to the Good News that says, Truly! Let it be so. 

Paul’s Amen calls us to take up the event of Christ’s death and resurrection as Good News for the world. An Amen whose response is, “Yes,” and “Finally.” 

We may wonder how it is that this Good News has not seemed to change much in our world. Maybe it is the hard work of the Powers of this age that convince us that there has to be more to Grace, that God’s Love is somehow insufficient to save us. Maybe it plays to our need to do something, to contribute something else we feel that we are taking charity. And we are. Subject to the Powers of the world and often influenced to add to the Gospel, we are always on the verge of deserting, of turning away, from the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. 

Rather than offer a new Law in response, maybe we would hear that Good News again and give with Paul a hearty Amen.

To him be the glory forever and ever.

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

Audio

He Threw Off His Coat – Seeing with His


Mark 10:46-52 (Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28)

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, help us to see. Give us ears to hear what our eyes cannot see. As we see, by your Spirit, may your, “Go”, be met with our, “Follow.” And all God’s people say . . . Amen.

Saint Augustine wrote, 

The wretched helplessness of fallen humanity is seen symbolically in the blindness of Bartimaeus. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures)

Seems a harsh evaluation of a story that is limited to seven verses. Even more, what would Augustine have in mind that would lead him to such a conclusion in an account with little more background than a name that follows an ancient naming pattern. Bartimaeus is the combination of bar, which means son, and Timaeus. The blind man is identified by the name of his father and presented to us by virtue of his condition. He is blind. Some, even me, have playfully referred to the man as, Blind Bart. His condition is anything but playful.

Our situation is not playful. 

It seems apparent that our world, more specifically the situation in our Country, is such that we cannot see the connection between words spoken and the bad news we hear. Code words used among those that foster hatred toward others becomes fuel for those willing to act on that hate. Even more astounding is that we pass off the rantings of fringe groups as inconsequential until a person takes up an AR-15 and handguns and sets out to kill a specifically identifiable group of people. For what? Because they supported and practiced helping others in need.

Our situation seems helpless.

Worse we fail to see.

Our Scripture readings for this week were selected years ago. Only those with eyes to see and ears to hear might consider that God’s Spirit just might be saying what we are not willing to see. Our lack of sight may be willful. We see events like that in Pittsburg and we immediately look to the deep well of conspiracy theories that will no doubt abound. Our lack of seeing may be ignorance. We really don’t care much what happens that is not in our backyard so we ignore. Whatever the reason for our failed eyesight, the Spirit of God continues to speak . . . Who will listen?

Maybe Augustine too lived in a day where it seemed that those with eyes to see failed to listen. Could he have seen it in Isaiah’s words?

Go, Say to these people:
Keep listening but do not understand;
Keep looking, but do not perceive.
Make the minds of these people dull;
Deafen their ears and blind their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes
And hear with their ears,
Understand with thier minds,
Turn back and be healed.

Keep in mind that Isaiah 6 begins with the prophet re-telling something he saw,

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne . . . 

The one who sees is given the task of telling the people to keep doing as they are – not hearing, not seeing and not understanding. How long?, the prophet asks. The reply comes, until everything is ruined.

Can you see any parallels? In the name of greatness, our attempts at greatness, we fail to see and hear until everything is ruined. It may actually be worse. Writing about the community on the way, a technical way to talk about discipleship, Ched Myers writes, 

The community cannot be resisting the powers’ exercise of domination while re-producing their patterns in its own midst.

In other words, the Church cannot resist the world’s way if it is simply reproducing the world’s way in its own exercise of power. Challenging the way of Jesus like Peter did, or arguing about greatness the way the Twelve did, or asking for the seats of greatness as the Sons of Thunder did, is not the same as,

He emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had become a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.

Who knows what happened to Timaeus. We know not what caused his son’s blindness. We do know that for whatever reason, the blind son was left to beg. Reduced to panhandling, scorned by those who passed by, his family either did not have the means to care for him or they did not care for him. Where was the family, the community, that would hear his cries and help? He surely was helpless.

Whatever the reason for his lack of help, Augustine finds the absence of help from family or community an apt description for humanity that always seems to see itself better than it is. If you happen to be on Facebook or Instagram, I know, same thing, you more often than not find people’s own stories full of the better part of their lives. Vacation destinations. No unkept living areas. Photos of when the children are playing sports. No shots of when they are exasperating their parents. Anniversary photos. No pictures of that last big argument. 

We want people to think better of us. We want to think better of ourselves. The problem is no amount of positive self-talk undoes those moments after you realize you may have yelled too much about that messy room, those ungrateful children, that frustrating spouse. Regret and guilt are difficult taskmasters. Shame is a tyrant. Oh, our children may forgive us, as may our spouse. But, we are much harder on ourselves. We expect better. We desire to be better.

Repressing the notion that we suck only increases our odds of un-health. 

Consider Job. Stuck in a cycle of seeing his life one way while battling friends who saw it another left him stuck between the temptations of self-righteousness and righteous indignation. Then, he heard from God. Once God responded to his pleas, his eyes were opened to things he did not understand.

You asked, "Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wondrous for me to know . . . 
I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.

Job’s confession is not a revelation that his suffering came as a result of his sin. But, he was aware of his own attempt to understand the arbitrary experiences of life. Was God merely the puppet master who toyed with his life? Job learned that God was the one with him, all around him, and that about the time he wondered if he had been abandoned to the arbitrariness of life, God speaks. Job heard what he could not see.

God revealed Godself to Job by inviting Job into the expanse of the created world and the life that teams within it.

I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.?

Could it be that God shows up in Jesus to a people, a world, that teams with the arbitrariness of human weakness, human helplessness? Oppressed by earthly powers and subject to unseen powers, human beings everywhere were want to make sense of their arbitrary experiences and the flood of emotions that accompany the pursuit of answers. Left helpless under the weight, we find ourselves panhandling and scorned. Helpless.

The Rich Man ran up to Jesus looking for affirmation of his greatness. Bartimaeus, helpless to run, could only shout. Too many find themselves subject to forces beyond their control. Unsure where to run, we find ourselves shouting at the darkness. In desperation we may take up this way or that. Reading about the blind man gives us hope that along the way we realize Jesus has traveled to us.

Isn’t that what happens in our text. The man whom Augustine says symbolically illustrates our helplessness hears that Jesus has come to him?

Mark teaches the church what it means to follow Jesus and his way. He begins in Mark 8,

They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.

Spitting on his eyes and laying hands on him the man at first only saw people like trees walking. Then Jesus put his hands on his eyes and the man saw everything clearly. The series of events after that indicate that the disciples saw dimly what Jesus was up to. Over and again they tried to work Jesus’ teaching into the ways they had already learned. Time and again, Jesus undermined what they had learned by talking about the kingdom of God. Finally, here in Mark 10, just before Jesus will go into Jerusalem, Mark concludes the section with the healing of Bartimaeus.

It is as if to say the disciples, who have traveled with Jesus on his way, have not been listening and so have not seen. Here the blind man hears Jesus’ voice and will see.

Paul writes,

So faith comes by what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message of Christ.

No help had come to Bartimaeus. But look at what unfolds when he hears.

First, he heard Jesus was coming. It was not uncommon for people to travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. In fact, with Passover approaching, it would not have been odd a crowd traveled together. Filtering through the crowd, word spread that it was Jesus. Bartimaeus could not see him but he heard the word that Jesus was coming.

Second, he heard the warnings to keep quiet. Upon hearing that Jesus was traveling the same road, the man began to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Stoked by the prohibition, the man shouted louder. Rather than be hushed, even shouted down, the man who knew from where his help would come, cried out more.

Third, he heard Jesus through the words of the people, Cheer up! This is the only time these words are spoken by anyone other than Jesus. Recall Paul’s words, 

So faith comes by what is heard.

The same way Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming is the same means he heard Jesus’ words – people. Now more than ever, when the feelings of helplessness abound, the words of Jesus, Cheer up! are needed. He’s calling for you. What? No one else had called for him. Would he hear?

When he heard, what did he do?

First, he shouted, cried out, to Jesus. His response to Jesus was an indication that he had heard if anyone could help him it would be Jesus.

Second, he obeyed the word he heard. Hearing the words from Jesus evoked faith. It was not that somehow the man possessed faith. Instead, upon hearing Jesus’ words, he threw off his coat. Or, put another way, when he had seen with his ears, he threw off his coat and came to Jesus. The Rich Man ran because he saw Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus had to follow the voice.

Third, when given the choice to go his way, he followed Jesus on his way. Jesus did not tell him to follow with him to Jerusalem. He told him he was free to go. Blindness no longer held him captive. Rather than Go his own way, he began to follow Jesus.

What have you heard today, in the retelling of this story, the message of Jesus, that you now see?

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

Audio

It Can’t Go Without Saying


Early this morning the local weather prognosticator provided the temperature pattern for the first 14 days of October. Generally we are dry and still longing for cooler temps. That it seemed summer was hanging on at the first of October was evident. Temperatures were well above normal.

Like a correction in the market, the temps of late have been well below normal. At a meeting earlier today the Mayor and I were complaining, er uh, talking, about the weather. Deer hunters are often sweating in their stands, swatting flies. Not so this week. We both must have seen a similar graphic. Our October temperatures are anything but normal. In fact, it looks like we will not see the normal low-70’s the rest of the month.

Ministry is like the weather in Oklahoma, more often not normal than normal. I guess someone could argue the irregularity of ministry is actually the norm.

Some years ago someone had the idea to set aside October as Pastor Appreciation Month. So, I thought I would put together a self-congratulatory post.

Not.

Instead, I want to give a shout out to the folks that lead out at Snow Hill as part of our team. Some are paid. Others are not. It takes us all.

The Usual Suspects. Nathan. Rusty. Brad.

These three have combined to serve at Snow Hill for 36 years. Nathan (16). Rusty (11). Brad (10). Nathan moved from Youth Minister to Community Ministry, from full-time to co-vocational, what used to be termed bi-vocational. He could not do what he does without quite a few folks. We added a monthly community meal and his wife Carrie is the coordinator for this group. LaRae, Eloise, Norma, Chrissy and Ginny lead out in sorting and stocking food for our Food Pantry. Others include Johnny, Jim, Glenn, Jeanene and Wes. Most weeks Mae, Ginny, Norma and others help prepare a food for folks who find it hard or can’t get out of the house. Brandi, Shelley, Connie, Shelley and Leslie help administrate our Food Pantry either ordering food, logging records, signing in and welcoming our friends.

Add John and Sandy, Charlotte, Stacy, Gary and Janice, Brad, Randy, a host of young people and some already mentioned help with the bread and produce line or putting food boxes into cars. Every one of them serves, ministers.

In an adjacent area you would find Frances, Linda, Janet and others who help sort and display clothes for our clothes closet. Just up the hall you would find Jeanene, Jeff and Ginny providing a craft, snack and Bible story for children.

Nathan or someone may want to comment if I left any deacons out of the group. That’s right, deacons are servants. They certainly are that!

Once a mont we provide a free clinic, Community of Hope. Jesse, Andrea and Charlotte work the pharmacy, Greg is our doctor and Tina our nurse. Connie, Barbara and Brandi sign in and welcome patients.

Often we think about these ministries being carried on and those that do serve without need for recognition or accolade. But, it cannot go without saying.

Rusty has planned and led out worship for more than eleven years. He depends on Ryan, Greg and Brad. He looks to Emma and others in the past who have faithfully stood to help lead our congregation in worship. Rusty plans and coordinates taking children to our chosen summer children’s camp. His first group consisted of a couple of boys. Today he takes enough that it requires others to help sponsor. Over those years a variety of folks have taken time from work to spend time with these children in the heat and often high humidity. Rusty helps in a number of areas. You may find him working with the worship team for our Youth Gathering. He makes up part of the Staff Handyman Team. Not an official group but we do think you lead by example rather than by fiat.

Brad, once a part of our youth group, has now led our Youth for more than ten years. Carrying on the Lunch Spot tradition, his current group includes Holly, Stacie, Stacie, Stacy, Christy, Lainie, Carrie, LaRae and likely others. I say likely as I am not always present for this event so I need to leave room for those I may miss. Every year a team of sponsors help with Summit Youth Camp and various activities. Sunday Bible Study will find Laura and Alex, Mary, Shelley and Debi welcoming, encouraging and teaching. Wednesdays includes a Youth Worship team, sound persons and video assistants. Many of our tech needs fall to Brad to research and even install. Most recently he has helped us work toward a sensory room for those with special needs. We have had a number of upgrade and repair needs. Brad has taken those tasks on with confidence.

Evette has been our Secretary for more than eleven years. The number of things she does from receiving calls and people to scheduling and administration could not be done without her. In fact, to begin to list everything would mean leaving out something.

Irma has been our Custodian some fifteen years, at least. She knows just how messy we are! Often she will take time to help on Wednesdays when we have received a large delivery of food for our Food Pantry.

You may notice that I have tried to list not just those who serve one Staff at Snow Hill, but those that actually make the Staff at Snow Hill appear to have more together than we do. Most would not be interested in being the subject of a blog post much less a social media shout out. But, it can’t go without saying.

Make no mistake. There are plenty of others. Sunday School Teachers, Deacons, Nursery Volunteers, Children’s Church Teams and more. They too would prefer to quietly serve without drawing attention. But, it cannot go without saying . . .

We appreciate you more than you will know and certainly more than we say. So, rather than Pastor Appreciation Month, let me say this is . . .

The Pastor Appreciates You Month.

Featured Image

When God Pledged Allegiance?

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, we often mistake our need for people to follow us or do things our way as confirmation that you are on our side. Like the disciples, we often think we have a monopoly. Today we will, as we do each week, remind ourselves that the measure of faithfulness is not in who follows us, but that you pledged your allegiance to us. For your love and faithfulness, your allegiance to us, we give thanks. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.

Mark 9:38-50

Fewer things are more exciting than when a church gathers to witness Christian baptism. Earlier we were not just onlookers as Anna, Michael, Tyler, Paxton, and Grace entered the baptistery publicly declaring Jesus is Lord. Their actions conveyed their hearts to embrace what God has done in Jesus Christ. Nothing they did today ensured or secured them in Christ. Instead, they received what Jesus Christ has already done for them in his life, death and resurrection.

At their age, the burden is on us. Our charge is to live with them and in front of them modeling what it looks like to respond to God’s pledge of allegiance to us.

Already Jesus has used children to scandalize adults. Last week, Nathan preached from the previous passage. The adults following Jesus found it hard to overcome their old thinking. Rather than follow Jesus, they became more obsessed with who would replace Jesus after he died. To remind the disciples his soon coming death would work life in them he aimed to help them reject their established way of thinking. Here is how he did it. In verse 36 we read,

He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me.

Placing a child in the position of priority was a way to undermine the pattern that says authority runs downward – from top to bottom. Choosing a person that was not yet considered a value to the social order was Jesus way of telling those in the kingdom must desert their allegiance to other forms of thinking.

Our established habits and patterns die hard. The pursuit of power and position is always our temptation. Whether you are a Christian University President or the Alpha personality in your social in-group, there is still a temptation to choose the fruit that will make you or me more than what we are. For when we give in to the temptation, we do not become more than we are, we become less. Jesus will say as much.

John, one of the Sons of Thunder, whose mother wanted her two sons, to sit on the right hand and left hand of Jesus, approaches Jesus in much the same way Joshua came to Moses. Let’s look for the parallels. It would be Joshua that would succeed Moses as leader of Israel. We read the story,

A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his spirit on them!”

What a piercing question! “Are you jealous on my account?” Yes, it may be a lesson to Joshua, now older than when he started out as Moses’ assistant. Could be that Moses wanted to let Joshua know he felt no threat, he was the leader. Or, maybe Moses asked such a question to get to Joshua’s motive for the appeal. Joshua may well have been asking Moses to protect Joshua’s position. He was not so concerned with what was beings prophesied but that somehow Eldad and Medad might take his place.

“Forbid them,” stop them, was his appeal. 

Now John is in the role of Joshua. It is not Moses that he appeals to, it is Jesus. Where Moses responded with a penetrating question that would expose Joshua’s motives, Jesus used much the same expression but flipped it, “Don’t stop them.” He did not tell the disciples to stop them. Instead, he set a precedent for how we respond to others in the kingdom – “don’t stop them.”

When we feel the threat of our position, we may reveal what is important to us. Our actions become an at all cost attempt to preserve our way, to make sure we have our spot at the top, or at least a seat at the all-important tables of power. Hear me carefully. When we adopt a storyline that says the only way we may preserve our way of life is to influence the powerful, we have deserted the way of Jesus. And when our actions and attention becomes so focused on what happens in the Nation’s Capitol, we place a stumbling block for these little ones. We scandalize them by offering something different than living in the allegiance God pledged to us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus warns against scandalizing these little ones. When we present to them that something is more important than welcoming those on the bottom side of power, we scandalize them. We tempt them to reject Jesus’ way. We tell them that what we have told them to resist is more important than following Jesus. We tell them that the well-established habits and patterns of human beings seeking to protect their way and gain power are the better way. Jesus puts the warning this way,

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

The Christian Standard Bible, the translation I use, translates the Greek word as causes. Fifteen times in the New Testament the word is used. Often it is translated stumbling block. It is the word where we get our word scandal. It is pronounced scandalon in the Greek. If we insert it into our translation, it will read,

But whoever scandalizes one of these little ones.

Whoever.

Scandalizes.

Whoever.

Places a stumbling block.

Whoever.

Causes.

Right there in John’s appeal to Jesus we see it. 

We tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.

We may be tempted to think that John was working to protect Jesus and the disciples. But, if we call back to the Joshua story, his statement reveals his motive, in the same way, Moses question to Joshua revealed his. Us. Jesus had told the disciples,

The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later. But they did not understand, and they were afraid to ask.

Hearing that Jesus would be betrayed and killed meant the need for someone to take his place. Imprinted on the disciples’ minds, at this point, is how do we protect us when Jesus is gone. We need someone to be our top-down authority figure. Who will it be? When they saw someone else doing a work of power in the name of Jesus, they feared that they would not be viewed as the authority for the movement. They were not interested in protecting Jesus; they were defending themselves.

For at least forty years we have been told that individual leaders do what they do to protect the Christian way of life. When the President of a Christian University suggests that Christians need a street fighter, he is not interested in protecting us – he is interested in maintaining his disciples’ power and position. We must stop being fooled that there is another way in the kingdom top-down Jesus’ way. When we assert that there is another, that Jesus way is just not tough enough, we have done two things. First, we have not understood what it means to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus. Second, and more scandalous, is that somehow that what God has pledged to us in Jesus Christ is insufficient.

This, this is what scandalizes both little ones, young ones, and those who have looked up to find their mentors abandoning the way of Jesus for another.

Key in on Jesus’ response to John, and the disciples,

For whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ – truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.

Did you catch it? Jesus associates the work of power that the disciples seek to stop as giving a cup of what to drink. That is, it is life giving. Stopping those who offer life in Jesus name runs counter to Jesus.

Whoever is not against us is for us.

A friend relayed a great insight. An old sermon offered two important insights,

First, who is not against us indicates generosity toward others. We accept their profession.

Second, who is not with me calls for us to be honest and test ourselves.

Put another way, our generosity toward others doing works of power in Jesus name, giving a cup of water, puts Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in front of us, Judge not, lest you be judged by the same measure.

And, our willingness to be honest about our own profession of faith indicates our commitment to examine ourselves.

Jesus then moves to issue the warning we noted earlier. 

But whoever scandalizes those little ones who believe – causes them to desert the faith, to abandon their own pledge of allegiance, reject Jesus’ way – it is better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

You do get that the focus of the concern is not what someone who does not believe does to influence these little ones. It is not a warning to those who are not Christian, who offer a different way in the world. It is a warning for those of us in the faith – Christians.

And here we discover that should we be tempted by the work of our hands, what we see with our eyes and where our foot carries us, it would be better if we cut them off or gouge them out and enter the kingdom than be thrown into Gehenna.

So we return to these little ones who today have publicly pledged their allegiance to Jesus in the practice of Christian baptism. When this practice became a sign for Christians, it was a profoundly political statement. Those giving themselves to Jesus Christ were declaring that whatever else I have been immersed in – whatever way of thinking, whatever religious commitments, whatever social patterns, whatever structures of authority – I am now immersed/immersing myself with Christ.

The public act said no to Ceasar, not to the ways of power, no to choosing up sides, not to thinking power and position are to be sought at all costs. A baptized community gathers each week to say, No!

Sadly, today, recent surveys indicate that people choose their churches based on the political leaning of a given congregation. Are not Red enough. Are you Blue enough? Baptized Christians have decided that what matters is that God pledge allegiance to us in Jesus Christ and our response has been to make our pledge in return. Baptism is that public pledge that says no matter the time, the era or the Country, what we have given ourselves to is higher.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that no matter when we live, like Abraham we live as strangers in another land looking for a home whose architect and builder is God. We have found that home in Christ.

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

Disruptor(s) Needed: A Conversation with The Alan Noble

Business disruptors. Sports disruptors. How about Church disruptors?  The story is told of a pastor who, while preaching, noticed his son chewing gum. He is said to have stopped the sermon and instructed his son, “Paul, go spit out your gum!”

It Will Take More Than Gum

More than 50 years later, gum is the least likely disruption in a Sunday worship gathering. You have not lived until someone stands up and begins shouting at the preacher. It does not matter that the person was barely coherent. The experience is decentering.

Accelerated change in the cultural surroundings left, and leaves, churches with few options. Often it felt, and feels, a losing battle to other choices available to church-goers and potential attendees. Many have already identified the condition as a loss of privileged status. Christendom, as some refer to it, described the period when, for example, schools would not plan extra-curricular events on Wednesday evenings in deference to local church schedules.

Today, winning churches succeed, or so it seems when they market themselves as a positive lifestyle option. Christianity is not a lifestyle option no matter the marketing prowess. If Christianity has become one lifestyle option among many, how would a formerly radical message be renewed? 

Who Will I Send?

Not just a few theologies offer a critical analysis of Christianity as lifestyle option – Liberation Theologies, Womanist Theologies, Radical Theologies, and Radical Orthodoxy, to name a few. Dismissed by some as merely perspectivist theologies, voices from within these theological movements have identified the secularizing influences often missed by dominant culture theologies.

Who might help identify the trajectory that led us to the place where the Church, churches, seem as susceptible to secularizing forces it has so vocally battled? If you answer someone like Charles Taylor, then be prepared for pushback. Not many would wade through an 800-page tome like Taylor’s A Secular Age. More importantly, how would one appropriate the insights Taylor provides that result in descriptive phrases like buffered self, immanent frame and expressive individualism? Particulary how might the Church, churches, and pastors/leaders identify the ways discipleship to Jesus is affected by these trends?

The Definite Article

Enter Alan Noble, @TheAlanNoble. In his new book, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, Alan answers the aforementioned questions for the Church, churches, and contemporary forms of Christianity. Pastors, this is a most helpful resource. It is not a cliff notes version of Taylor’s work, though you will find it an excellent introduction to Taylor’s assessment of the secularization hypothesis and its failing.

More than that, Disruptive Witness calls attention to the Church, and churches, as the needed disruptive witness for a world turned inward. Voices of hope are needed in a world represented by persons reduced to individuals that express themselves in hopes their chosen identity becomes the transcendent for which they long having been told truth resides within. Disruptive Witness calls the Church, and churches, to forego assuming themselves closed off to what Darrell Guder described as the Continuing Conversion of the Church.

Take a listen. Share the podcast. Buy the book. 

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.