“See, I stand knocking at the door. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will go into his house, and dine with him, and he with me.” Jesus, Revelation 3:20
I love doors. About five or six or seven years ago, I saw a show on HGTV where Genevieve Gorder used an old door to make–what I think is–a really fun unique desk. This weekend my hubby and I decided to finally make this door desk happen, so we ventured out to Restore–a Habitat for Humanity store full of donated light fixtures, tiles, file cabinets, carpets, plumbing pieces, and DOORS! Hundreds of doors. My eyes first locked on a ratty but beautiful old screen door. I stared at it for a while remembering screen doors at my grandma’s house and her constant reminders to shut the screen door and quit letting the flies in.”
I moved on. So many doors, so little time. Doors to nowhere waiting to become doors to somewhere.
After helping hubby with his upper-body strength by kindly asking him to pull out about 432 doors for my perusal, I finally found “the door.” This week I will strip it and paint it a lovely golden-yellow, lay a piece of unbreakable glass across the top, and support it with black iron hairpin legs (blame Pinterest). Then I’ll set my laptop on its surface and gaze through the door waiting to see what “somewhere” develops.
Jesus liked the door metaphor, too. John used it in Revelation to describe how much Jesus wants to be invited into our lives. And if we open this metaphorical door to him, he promises to come in and stay. Something about the creator God waiting on his creation to recognize his voice and let him enter the”door” to their hearts and minds is precious and intimate.
There are too many barred and locked doors. Too many folks securely locking any possibility of Jesus out of their lives. It takes courage to open the door to Jesus. He is quite radical and will want to get you involved in radical pursuits that are counter-cultural. He’s going to want you to step outside of your door and enter the adventure. And even when the adventure is scary and uncertain (and aren’t all adventures scary and uncertain?), Jesus will walk with us the whole time. And death? Death is just another door to another adventure. Jesus will walk with us through that one, too.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Dedicated to my lovely aunt, Annette, who died June 13.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing…never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
A quick recap on my Red Letter Experiment: After reading Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne’s book, Red Letter Revolution, I felt like I had two choices: 1) to act like the book was an interesting discourse on possibilities and certainly worthy of discussion, or 2) to dive into Jesus’ words headfirst without even dabbing a test toe in first. I chose number two, but most of the time I’m living number one. Call me human and distracted. I think my “Preview” blog from yesterday (June 27, 2013) clarified the situation a bit.
But no excuses. I’ve been dabbing test toes in several different books of the Bible and tossing around ideas for an in-depth Bible study for the summer. Maybe Isaiah again? What about Romans (I jumped away from that one really fast!)? I even started a study on 1st Corinthians after completing one on 2nd Peter and Jude. (Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago has incredible teaching series on podcasts available free of charge! I learned so much. Amazing teachers! Go to: http://media.willowcreek.org/classes/bible-and-theology/god-speaks-we-listen-the-process-of-serious-bible-study-part-1/#content )
Still uncertain about 1 Corinthians, I listened to Dr. Grant Osborne teach a six-part series on how to go deeper in my private Bible study time. Wowsers. Terrific teaching. Overwhelming amount of information. But one of Dr. Osborne’s simplest bits of guidance was the alliterative “Read–Reflect–React.” I could–and can–do that. So, good-bye 1st Corinthians (for a bit) and back to the red letters of Jesus in Matthew. I’m on my second Rhodia notebook just over the book of Matthew. I’m up to Matthew 18 now. So what does Matthew 18:1-4 tell me about how to live?
Dr. Osborne would tell me to look at the context–both historical and cultural. When you open your Bible up to Matthew 18, you are going to find yourself staring at a double-wide red spread. Yep. Matthew 18 is almost entirely Jesus talking and teaching. This is the fourth discourse of five discourses in Matthew. Jesus spent chapter 17 getting transfigured by God and visiting with Moses and Elijah while Peter, John, and James stared slack-jawed. Then Jesus healed a boy possessed by demons that his disciples hadn’t been able to heal. This led to another discussion on mustard seeds. Of course, Jesus kept making subtle and not-so-subtle references to his imminent death and resurrection. Oh, obtuse disciples! I doubt I would have been much different.Jesus closes out the chapter with a discussion on temple taxes and a fish with a drachma in its mouth. Cool way to end a chapter. A fish story.
A little human context. Think about where you work. I teach at a high school. Between classes, we teachers stand in the hall in order to prevent buffoonery, overt displays of fully-clothed sex, possible drug deals, fights and literary brawls (an English hall, after all), but mostly we just share chocolate, gum and the latest frustration regarding the administration or parents or crazy teenagers. If one of us is feeling bummed, the others will try to encourage and do a little rah-rah routine. But sometimes we digress into the dark and twisty world of comparison. “Well, I do this and she only does this (da da dum)!” “Can you believe he or she or it got Best Common Core Curriculum Practicer? Really?” “I know, you are so much better at that than he/she/it is!”
It’s ugly. it happens. It was happening with the disciples in Matthew 18. Matthew (maybe because he was a former tax collector and felt like he had received inordinate amounts of mercy) doesn’t recount the apparent somewhat heated conversation between the disciples, but Mark and Luke lay it out pretty clearly. “Who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Thank God I am not Jesus. Wow. Weird statement if you think about it a minute. I would have rapped their bare toes with my walking stick and told them “Too bad, so sad–you will be on latrine duty for the first part of eternity for that question.” I might have done a spinning ninja kick and challenged them to a walking stick fight for positions in the kingdom. Sigh. Jesus might have sighed. Might. Maybe. And who could blame him? He’s been walking and teaching and healing with these guys for quite awhile now. They should know better. And he knows his time is running out. He’s got to get these guys ready for spreading the gospel to the whole world. He knows they are going to be murdered because of their faith, so he’s got to make them understand who He is, where he’s going, and what His kingdom looks like. He’s only got 10 more chapters. Not long.
Read. Matthew 18: 1-4.
Jesus could have answered their question about who would be the greatest in a very direct way. He might have said: “Anyone who thinks they are all that and a bag of chips–anyone who thinks he or she has me all figured out and understands the mystery of the Trinity–anyone who walks around acting all holy and righteous and telling everyone else how to be as holy and righteous as they are–anyone who ignores the insignificant, powerless people in favor of those with prestige–any of those types of people haven’t got a chance in hell of entering the kingdom.”
Whoa! Step back there Jesus! Getting a little too direct. A little too real. Couch it in a parable, please. It’s much more palatable. Jesus already knew that. He knew that the Kingdom of Heaven could only be understood through parable. So, bring in the child. Maybe the child is dirty. Barefoot. Torn robe. Bad breath. Skinny. Lice-ridden hair. Insignificant. Powerless. And then Jesus lays the truth on them–and he warns them first! “I tell you the truth (see!), unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Look at Matthew’s diction choices. Yes, they were originally in Greek, but if you do a parallel word study, you’ll find consistencies. I like how the Phillips New Testament uses “repent (change, turn about).” Other translations use a variation on the same idea: turn, return, turn around, change, convert (my least favorite). I prefer “repent” to “convert” because there is a sense of “turning” with repent. To “re-” anything, means to do it over. To return to a childlike state is possible because we were all there once. Jesus tells us we must go back to that place sans intellectual questioning, cynicism, distrust, and disbelief. We must turn.
More Reflecting: I like visuals. I can pretend I’m on a woodsy path and up ahead are money trees, prestigious homes, awards of all sorts ready for hanging on walls, sycophants like flattering prostitutes line my pathway. Facebook and Twitter feeds reel from the sky claiming religion as the root of all evil. And mirrors. In front of me and beside me, I see only me. Me likey me. I like the flattery. I like the awards. Money trees would be cool.
It’s tempting. it’s reality. We live in it. I just took a little hyperbolic poetic license.
But Jesus said unless I turn, I will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So I turn back. I see the the woodsy path. I see the hills and the mountains and mud holes. I see butterflies and mosquitoes. And I see fireflies. Little Holy Spirit insects. Only a child could view them that way. Only a child could see a mud hole as a great place for splashing a Barbie and having her wrestle a plastic alligator. A child doesn’t have to be convinced that Jesus loves him or her. A child looks and sees love–not counterfeit love for children are wary of counterfeit love–but authentic love. A child will follow authentic love. And a child will catch glimpses of the promised kingdom. The community of Christ. A child will see it breaking through the cynical world and shining with pieces of metallic hope.
Whew. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. In Matthew 18:1-4, Jesus very clearly and visually with an example we all can relate to–offers himself to us. He offers us a different path. A different way of seeing. What will you do with this Jesus? I’m going to sit down with him awhile. He won’t rush away. We’re going to talk a bit and he’s going to tell me all about his kingdom–his community–his promise.
I haven’t worked on this blog for awhile. I haven’t been looking at the red letters of Jesus and trying to see how I’m supposed to be living. I pick up my Bible and my journal and I listen to great teaching and I study and wait for God to inspire me to write. Nothing.
I read books on writing. I get periodic phone calls from a self-publishing group reminding me that when I finish my books, I should pay them a couple thousand bucks to see my work in print (so thoughtful of them). I feel this pressure to write and grow and develop, but I’m just so tired. Overwhelmed. Empty. There is nothing new or spontaneous happening in my creative brain cell. I used to think I had a veritable cornucopia of creative brain cells, but not any longer. I’m pretty sure I’m hanging on to my last one. And it’s a wimpy one.
I’m a school teacher (in case you didn’t read the “About Me” tab information). I teach English to high school kids. This past year I used up five years worth of accumulated sick days. I feel like I let down my students.
I headed into summer determined to lick several things within the first two weeks of June:
Lose another 20 pounds!
Start riding my bike religiously again! (my favorite form of exercise ever)
Switch from Humira to Enbrel and start seeing my psoriatic arthritis improve.
Get really healthy, fit and energetic so I can make it through the teaching year without missing a day (and so I can wear some cute skirts with boots this year–Vanity, thy name is Cindy).
Write 2 books: one for first year teachers and one called Volkswagen Theology, which I started as a blog.
Can’t lose weight because the drugs I’m taking are messing with my metabolism.
Started riding my bike and loving it….when–DA DA DUM! I started feeling numbness in my left arm.
Saw doctor. Numbness in left arm due to cervical disk pressure due to degenerative disks due to psoriatic arthritis (with rheumatoid pain patterns) and osteoarthritis. No more biking. WHAT??? What about the 20+ more pounds of fat and excess everything on my body? No weights. Walk (in 100 degree weather–I scoff and sob).
Started pain pills for arthritis.
Numbness in hands becomes a full-blown conflagration of fiery nerve pain up and down my left arm and into my upper spine. Weeping in bed with pain and fear.
I am now 3 weeks into June. No books finished. No writing. No weight loss. No bike. Just pain. Losing chunks of eyebrows. Pale. Constant pain and no sleeping. A visit to the Urgent Care Center.
Doctor seen on emergency basis. Schedules MRI. Gives me two shots in neck and shoulder blade. No help.
Another night of searing pain so intense I expect to see blisters on my skin. Steve and I cancel our Jackson Hole vacation for July.
And that’s the lowdown. MRI will hopefully show what is blocking the nerves, and then we can sandblast the sucker out and be completely recovered by the first of August. (HA!)
Meantime, I exist. I can’t drive due to medicine. I can’t ride my bike (though hubby has sort of consented to getting me a cruiser bike that allows me set upright). Money. That’s all it takes.
And God is staying very quiet. Whispery even. It’s like He doesn’t want to disturb me. WAKE UP GOD AND DISTURB ME!! I’M SINKING HERE!
When all else fails, go back to what works. Red Letters.
I’ve been examining Matthew 18 and will have some things to write about tomorrow. But not today. Today I re-posted my past Red Letter writings. Today I’m resting and learning to trust again. Today I’m eating an apricot and dreaming of a miniature poodle. Today is a day to remain hopeful.
Some thoughts before I write: What do you think Jesus means when he refers to the “kingdom of heaven”? How can adults change/convert/turn back to a child? What is Jesus warning us about regarding causing a child to stumble and sin? How do we do that? What does it look like?
Leave some thoughts if you have a hankering to…I’d love to hear from you.
Ordinary Schmordinary! Living LIfe in the “Lemon Light”
A Diva is Born
When I was 16, the music director at my church asked me to fill in for a sick soloist. At 16 I was not the confidant chica I am today (scoff scoff), so the idea of singing with a microphone in front of the whole church terrified me! BUT something happened when the soundtrack started playing; the music took over and I owned that song. I sang it from then on–a case of under-understudy snagging the big part.
For four more years, I rocked the roost. I got to sing at big events for thousands and tiny events in tiny churches across my state. I started to strut a bit. Flipped my strawberry-blonde hair in its Farah Fawcett shag with confidence. Collected males across the state, breaking their hearts with abandon. Ok. I exaggerate. A few males. Ok. Three and one was a stalker. So that makes a legitimate two. But I did get cocky. A local recording studio offered me commercials (didn’t happen) and I won a state pageant. There I was–glittering, singing, standing ovations–all for Jesus. Jesus was so proud. Maybe not so much.
From the Limelight to the Lemonlight
University of Oklahoma. Switched from nursing (a mistake) to music education with an eye for becoming the next Contemporary Christian Singing Sensation. And down she went.
Opera? Singing in German which meant lots of spitting? Italian? How was I supposed to “feel” the music, if I didn’t understand what I was singing? What about rhythm and blues? Scatting? (Though very white, I thought of myself as a black Olivia Newton-John!) I remember auditioning for the OU choirs (we were all required to as music majors). A passel of other undergraduates were singing scales, carrying sheet music for Italian arias and I had my hymn book marked at “The Old Rugged Cross.” Eesh. Ouch. A smile and a nod later, I walked out leaving my perky dreams and confidence on the floor of the recital room. My hair sagged in disappointment. I switched out of music to education after only two semesters. Three majors by the time I finished my sophomore year. Oi.
I went from the limelight to the lemonlight in a matter of minutes. I felt like a nothing chica. Not even a chica. A girl. An ordinary education major. Plain. Unexceptional. Worthless. Ok…I was a tad over-sensitive. OK–WAY HYPER-SENSITIVE! Like Anne of Green Gables, I could go from exhilaration to the depths of despair all within 10 minutes. I still can. It’s how I’m made. If you’re a sensitive person, you know what I mean. You cry at the news or at an unkind remark and your friends and loved ones don’t know what to do with you so they say, “You’re too sensitive…get over it.” That always works (note sarcastic tone).
I meandered off topic. I am prone to wander…
Going from extraordinary to ordinary was a tough lesson. I never set out to be ordinary. I don’t think many people do.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Oh, I just want to be ordinary. Nothing special.”
Don’t hear that conversation very often. Now middle-aged, lightly rounded, a tad saggy, baggy–I can recount numerous “ego bruises.” I receive them regularly. Just when I think I’m exceptional at something–wham–right in the kisser.
Raging Against the Ordinary
I’ll admit it. I want to be exceptional. I want to be lauded as the best at something. Or at least one of the best. Or at least better than average? Here’s an example: I’ve been teaching for 19 years (took two years off as a graphic designer) and I’ve been nominated for Teacher of the Year at four different schools. Out of the 19 years, I’ve been nominated 14 times, including this year. I have never won. Didn’t even make the final cut this year. And yes, the teacher that won is superb and brilliant and deserves the win, but my ego got a tad bruised.
Not a big deal though. I’ve learned to accept these ego bruises fairly quickly with God’s help. He reminds me that He has always used ordinary people. After all, Jesus’ disciples were ordinary folks. He didn’t go out to find the best and brightest and hunkiest in the synagogues–he collected fishermen. He added a tax collector along the way.
Jesus was ordinary, too. He didn’t glow with a heavenly aura. He didn’t travel with a heavily- armed entourage (though Peter did get a little excited with his sword). He wasn’t the Messiah/Deliverer the Jews were waiting for. Shoot, Jesus let Caesar be Caesar. He didn’t encourage folks to take up weapons and wipe out the Romans. He worked as a carpenter in Galilee until John baptized him and he went out to the wilderness and came back to redeem the whole world.
The second temptation was an ego temptation. Standing on top of the temple in Jerusalem, the tempter suggested that Jesus throw himself off the temple and let the angels break his fall. Wow. That would have got some Pharisees in the temple excited. They’d all rush out and see Jesus and the angels, and they’d know he was the chosen Messiah…and things would have turned out quite differently (as Satan knew very well).
Satan: Prove it. Be the Messiah. Be the Son of God. Stop this humble nonsense. Show your studly God-self.
Jesus: Don’t you dare test the Lord your God. (notice the “your”–God is God over Satan, as well)
I love my ordinary life. I love teaching my extraordinary students. I love my teacher friends. I love love love my family (especially my new-to-the-planet grandson). I love my little 1950s ranch house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m ordinary. Nothing exceptional at all…except for Jesus in me. It took me almost 50 years of following Him to figure things out, but shoot, I have an eternity left.
As I was plodding and plowing through the spoken words of Jesus in Matthew, I came to the Wilderness. You remember–the 40 days and 40 nights wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the evil one? As a graduate of Sunbeams, Girls in Action, and years of Sunday School and Training Union, I am very familiar with the story. It seemed like a myth. Jesus’ rite of passage.
Reading it again and again through my adult years, it still remained mythical. . .almost. I listened to sermons on it, all reminding me that in order to fight the devil, I must use God’s sword–His Word. I got that. I understood. But the person of Jesus stayed hazy and distant. A god/man able to defeat the evil one because he conveniently already knew the outcome? Isn’t that always problematic? The duality of Christ? Fully human and fully divine. One member of the Trinity. My puny brain can’t wrap itself around that truth. But I accept it as truth. I trust it as truth. And this time when I read Matthew 4 and the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, I saw the human Jesus rejecting the alluring words of Satan and choosing holiness and single-minded devotion to his Father (and our Father).
No Horns or Sulfur-yStink
It’s funny–well, maybe not funny–but typically human of us to reduce Satan to an ugly, demonic, perverse-looking creeper. Whoa, I would run so fast if I was approached by this creature. Lucifer (i.e. Satan or “the tempter”) was an angel of light. He was beautiful in Heaven and I believe he is still beautiful. A Dorian Gray beauty. Alluring, sensual, gorgeous and completely evil. No longer an angel of light, but a demon of darkness who rejected “the Light.”
I’m not a theologian, but I am a teacher of literature and I can say that literarilly, John Milton got it right in Paradise Lost–Satan was (and is) beautiful. He’d have to be if people were going to listen to him and believe him and trust him. It is human nature to run from ugliness, thus the Dorian Gray allusion. Satan stays beautiful outwardly, but his inward nature is twisted, distorted, deformed and evil. Do not be deceived; he doesn’t like people.
Onward to Our Hero
Now we’re ready to look at the temptations. Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. It’s important to note that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Spirit-led isolation and not an escape from the world. No running away for isolation. Jesus followed the urging of the Spirit to go into the wild desert of Judea. He spent 40 days and nights there. Fasting. Communicating with His Father. I wonder what those conversations were like? I try to imagine and come up short. God the Father talking with God the Son. What I do know is that Jesus came out of the desert and immediately began his three-year ministry. But…before He left the desert, he had to face what we face everyday–temptation to reject holiness and give in to need and desire.
Three of the gospels cover the temptation of Christ. John doesn’t. Mark barely does. Matthew is the most detailed, followed by Luke. I did some studying and discovered the obvious. All four gospels addressed different audiences, thus their purposes were different. It’s not a contradiction. It’s reality. If you have to relate important information to varied audiences, you have to tailor your writing to engage the needs of your audience. It’s not something an English major discovered; it’s something God–the creator of the universe–already knew. Duh.
So, we’ve established that the devil is beautiful, alluring and sensual–Jesus went to the desert because the Holy Spirit told Him to–Jesus left the desert after 40 days and immediately began his ministry. There. The stage is semi-set.
The temptations come after the 40 days are almost complete. Jesus is in a weakened physical state. I can’t wrap my mind around how hungry he must have been. Starving. I’m a terrible “faster.” I’ll start a fast and I’ll have great intentions. Hunger pains remind me that God is sufficient and I don’t need food–I need God. Concentrate, Cindy. Or as my mentor, Winnie the Pooh, says: “Think, think, think.” I get through a day and cave. Then I try again. And cave. Too much food around and too little self-discipline. Not a lot of food in the wilderness for Jesus. Apparently there were some wild animals (Mark did note that in his gospel). Jesus could have had some wild Judean rabbit or some such edible wild thing. But he didn’t. And of course the “tempter” addresses Jesus’ physical hunger first.
“Hey Jesus. Bet you are really hungry. IF you are really the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, prove it. Turn these stones to bread. Satisfy your hunger. Satisfy your physical need. No one will see. Shoot, you deserve it. You’ve been fasting a long time. What difference will it make if you just do a little of your Jesus miracle stuff and show your God-self to me. Shhhh…I won’t tell.“
Big question: would it have made any difference if Jesus had nibbled a little stone bread and proved himself to the perversely beautiful and convincing tempter? Let that roll around in your brain a bit.
Jesus doesn’t cave. He quotes scripture to Satan (who he knew quite well since Jesus is part of the Trinity and was and has been and ever will be present with God). Satan was not a stranger (and nor was he Jesus’ brother). He had been an angel. Only an angel. Not a god and not a son of God. He was a servant of God. He didn’t like it. He got tossed out. Back to the Truth: Jesus was fully aware of what Satan was doing, AND Satan was fully aware of who Jesus was. He didn’t need Jesus to prove his divinity. There was another purpose here. He was playing on Jesus’ human need. No surprises. Jesus–fully human and fully divine–doesn’t cave. I would.
Think about what you need physically. Food. Shelter. Job. Love. Security. Health. Family. As humans, when we are weakened by a lack of any of these things, we become vulnerable. On a diet? Vulnerable to bread? Cheetoes? Chocolate? Gummy bears? I’ve been on a low-carb diet (health reasons) for a month. I could eat an entire loaf of fresh bread right now.
How about shelter? Living small? Wanting large? Avoid HGTV or all of a sudden your completely sufficient home seems really lame. What? No jetted tub or walk-in closet? ( Oh, we are a spoiled nation!)
Lack of love? Wow. This one creates all sorts of problems. I can speak for women–we fall hard for the wrong person when we are looking for a man to satisfy our love deficiency. We become loser magnets. Someone comes along and assuages our need to be told we are beautiful or sexy or adorable or perfect and WHAM. Down we go. Didn’t I say the tempter was beautiful and alluring and sensual?
The point is this: when we have a hole in our place of physical need, we become vulnerable. Vulnerability leads us to question God’s sufficiency. We get scared. We doubt God even cares or hears or is really God (the one who spoke the universe into being). Weak weak weak. What Jesus told Satan when he was confronted in his weakened and vulnerable condition? God is sufficient. Go away.
How I Hang On to Jesus by a Tiny Rope
My vulnerability? Oh dear. Too many. But right now it’s my health. I have a disease that is affecting my quality of life. It is so easy to start feeling helpless and hopeless until I get my eyes off of “me” and on Jesus. It sounds like a cliché or a t-shirt or a coffee mug from Cafe Press, but it’s not. And it’s not easy. It isn’t a feeling. It requires a deliberate effort from me. Mental discipline.
I have to surround myself with God. For me, that means putting down the novel, turning off the television AND putting work aside. I use work as a justification for not spending more than a few minutes in the Bible. I excuse myself by listening to sermons from my favorite podcasters on my way to work or grocery store (only places I go anymore). And I go down. Emotionally and physically. I doubt God’s sufficiency and become vulnerable to temptation by the one who is great at exploiting weakness.
Psoriatic arthritis is my disease but it won’t kill me. It just knocks me around a bit (or the medicine to combat it knocks me around a bit). But it also reminds me that life is fragile and so many people are suffering from things that are infinitely more painful and terminal. I read a few posts from 24-7 prayer or Imago Dei or “She is Safe” and immediately the “I” starts to fade. I’m drawn to contemplation and prayer and my Bible and journal.
Priorities shift around and I see life through my God lens. When I’m looking through that lens, I can’t see the huge “me” and instead see God’s love, grace, mercy and sufficiency. Much better way to see.
I see God’s glory and a glimmer of Heaven when I’m outside
in nature away from humanity’s busyness.
I’ve been reading Red Letter Revolutionby Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. If you aren’t familiar with these men, get familiar. To admit this book (and I’m not even finished with it yet) has set me back on my heels a bit and forced me to re-examine my life after following Jesus for 47 years, is shocking to me. Yet what they are presenting makes sense to me: Read and examine and meditate on what Jesus did and said, and do it. He meant it. For those naysayers, STOP. Neither author discounts the rest of the Bible as irrelevant. It is the inspired word of God. All of scripture is good for teaching and ruminating on and discovering who God was, is and continues to be throughout history and into eternity. He was and is and ever will be.
Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan. His words are spoken to man directly from a member of the Holy Trinity. Wow. Ok. That’s hard to even wrap your brain around. I don’t meditate on that enough because after 47 years of church and Sunday School and Bible study and Falls Creek and Beth Moore conferences and divorce and disappointment and disillusionment, I seem to find more comfort in the letters of Paul than in the actual words of Jesus. That’s screwed up.
So I’m trying something. An experiment. I’m going to start in Matthew (though there is much discussion about which of the Gospels was written first–no one has been inspired to move it), and look at those red-letter words. Not devoid of context, but still pulled out and examined as part of his words to me. How I’m supposed to be like him. That’s what this whole Christian thing is anyway–becoming–transforming–evolving into a person like Jesus. (Naysayers–I’m not discounting the Holy Spirit’s equally powerful presence to move through the words of Jesus and speak to my heart–It’s the only way that the words will come to life for me and move me to action.)
This morning after laundry, cleaning bathroom, taking a shower, bathing a chicken in herbs and placing it in the crock pot, I decided to sit down and let God take priority for a while. Shoot, I can give Him a few minutes of my day. You would think this would be easy–but it’s not. I have 104 Scarlet Letter novels to look through and grade for annotations. I have 104 notebooks full of essays that need to be graded. I have to prepare to teach Thoreau and the Transcendentalists by Monday and try to make students understand why people were so drawn to this non-religious belief system…I panic a little when I think of all that I need to do. Momentary panic attack—ok. Back to red letters. The first red letters appear in Matthew 3:15.
“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’”
Jesus is responding to his cousin, John, who questions whether he should be the one to baptize the Messiah. Jesus replies. “Let’s do this.” And John does.
Ok. Simple sentence. Actually it is a compound sentence with prepositional and infinitive phrases tacked on. So, being an English teacher, I immediately started with the first clause. “Let it be so now.”
Note the authority with which Jesus replies. No hesitation. No, “Now John, it’s ok. Promise. You are the man for this job.”
“NOW” The immediacy of this word. I think about the Old Testament. The thousands of years God looked for men and women who would be sensitive to Him and love Him–no Holy Spirit at work. Just God and men and women who said “yes.” The prophets. The kings. The judges. The prostitutes. The ordinary people who God pulled out of their ordinary lives to show the earth dwellers that He was the great I Am. Some believed and served God and He used them in mighty ways. Some people preferred empty man-made gods (an oxymoron) that priests controlled, to an all-consuming uncontrollable God who demanded they turn to Him and away from wickedness. So God would use someone like Joshua to show those folks just how unmanageable and omniscient and powerful He was. Somebody (usually lots of people) ended up dead. Others were convinced.
Back to the “NOW.“ Jesus had been walking and working and interacting with family and friends for 30 years at this point. He then tells John, NOW. Baptize me now. Let the road to my death and resurrection begin. I have three years to challenge the world’s disbelief and show them who I am and who my Father is, because to quote Jesus, “I and my Father are one.” There is an urgency to the word “now.” An immediacy.
Time for the 2nd clause.
“It is proper.” I periodically like to have my students perform diction studies. They take words out several slashes in order to see the full connotation of the word rather than just its denotative meaning. So I looked at “proper.” I even looked up the biblical Greek word for it. If I do a diction study on it I start with proper and then I slash it out, I get this: Proper/appropriate/ suited for/ exactly fitting/ right and approved. Thus the 2nd clause becomes more than just “proper”—the new sentence might read like this: “it is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved [by God the Father] for you to baptize me, John.”
The infinitive: “to fulfill all righteousness.” I’m starting with the infinitive: to fulfill. I think of completion. Something needs to be done to complete a task, an order, a job, a ministry. To accomplish. To carry through to completion.
Now “all”–inclusive. No exceptions. Nothing else needed.
Righteousness: When referring to the righteousness of God, we have to connect it to His justice. And since God is God (and we are not), His justice is always right. Always according to His nature. It is not man’s justice or man” right-living.” It is God’s holy justice. According to Bob Deffinbaugh (“The Righteousness of God”), God’s righteousness is “a natural expression of His holiness.” Through God’s righteousness I am made acceptable to my creator. His righteousness was displayed in the person of Jesus. Jesus makes us acceptable to our righteous God. We can’t make ourselves righteous anymore than we can make ourselves holy or pure or sanctified. Jesus had to do it for us, because we humans have a tendency to get a little proud and boastful when we think we are “all that and a bag of chips.” When we love and embrace Jesus as Savior, we are seen by God. In a sense, Christ’s righteousness filters our sin. We are made “right” before God.
Ok. I’m going to try to put this 2nd clause together: “It is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved by God the Father–in order to complete or accomplish ALL (nothing lacking and nothing else needed) of God’s holy justice.”
I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. The first time Jesus’ words are recorded in red letters in the book of Matthew, He defines His entire purpose. It’s like he is saying, “So, let’s get this redemption thing going.” Thousands of years of God’s planning and working through the lives of flawed and fallible beings come to this moment in history: Jesus beginning what would become a mere three-year ministry–a ministry of salvation for the entire world. Three years. Change the whole world. And it continues.
Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/RedLetterRevolution
I’m addicted–a bit–to HGTV. I love the shows where contestants are challenged to “repurpose” a flea market/yard sale find. Every time I watch an episode, I glance around my house and start making lists. I have a “molebook” devoted to repurposing. Right now I’m staring at an antique trunk that my mother refurbished for me and lined with satin and velvet as a place to store baby clothes and other special items. I’m envisioning a bold, shiny peacock-blue…
But this blog isn’t about furniture–although I’ll probably refer to my Pinterest obsession occasionally–it’s about Jesus. It’s about the journey I’m on that is similar to so many other journeys people experience when they decide to follow “The Way.”
I picture “The Way” as a signpost on the edge of a really woodsy trail. I can’t see ahead, I can only trust that the trail will get me where I’m supposed to go. And like every quest/journey/search novel ever written–there are dragons. There are steep, impossible mountains. There are chasms I can’t jump over. There are mirrors along the way reflecting my heart and mind–reminders that Jesus is continuing to repurpose this yard sale find–this broken, middle-aged grandmother, mother, wife, teacher, friend.
The journey is the story. Whether I’m traveling in my VW bug named Lola or riding my bike around the neighborhood, the journey becomes a metaphor. The metaphor becomes the story. Parables. I write parables.