A Bible Study (BS) Meditation For A Cool September Evening

Did you ever read that story in the Bible about the lost boy who returns to his Father?  It’s a famous one.

Yeah, it’s a story Jesus tells – actually it’s the third in a set of three.  First he tells of a man who loses one of his lambs and leaves the rest (99 out of 100) to go search for the lost one.  When he finds the lamb, he hoists it up on his shoulders and carries it all the way back home where, upon arrival, he throws a party to celebrate.  Then he tells of a woman who lost a coin, how she searched and cleaned and searched until she finds it.  Then she too throws a party to celebrate once it is found.

Then thirdly, Jesus tells of the lost boy.  And in this story, the third in the set is meant to have the real punch.  It’s meant to have a rhetorical impact, and so the story gets a little more involved – a little deeper in detail and mood.

It turns out there is this Father who has a wayward son that takes off with the family fortune.  The kid very foolishly spends it all on wine, women, and fast livin’.  And it doesn’t take long before the kid runs out of money and finds the bill has come due.

What then?

Well, this lost boy slips into poverty.  He becomes a lowly bum.  His lifestyle and finances are totally bankrupt, and he finds himself aimless, lonely, poor, and lost.

He knows he does not deserve any kindness from his Father, but after assessing the situation, he thinks he has nothing to lose by returning home to beg mercy.  Expecting his Father to be stern with him, but hoping that even that sternness will be better than the hopeless, homelessness he now endures, the boy risks it and heads back to his Father’s house.

So, the boy heads back for home, back to face his stern Father and endure whatever wrath that may involve so that he can also find some second-rate mercy too.

And then what happens?

Well, of course, this is the third story, the part of the story where the rhetorical impact really unleashes its shockwave.  The first two stories told of a lost sheep found and a party, a lost coin found and a party, and now we have a lost boy coming home to his Father.  You might expect a party…?

Yeah, so the boy returns to his Father’s house and finds one of the servants tending the door while his Father is away.  The servant recognizes that the boy is his own brother!  This broken brother is one of the lost sons of the Father/Master, alright, but he also sees plainly that the boy has brought all this misfortune on himself with his wild lifestyle.  The brother/servant/door keeper certainly does want to help, but he has read the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, and he doesn’t want to ENABLE (look up that word in your concordance) the kid and do further harm to him.

It turns out that the boy arrives on a cold, rainy, September night, and the servant/brother keeping the door at the Father’s house tells the kid there will be no lodging for him in his Father’s house, but there is a 501c3 organization across town that claims they keep an open door.  Of course that is not actually the case either; rather they have a barn they open up during severe cold nights, and the boy can check with them and see if it’s open.  If it is, he will be welcome to stay there.

It turns out this open door is not in fact open, neither is the barn, AND the people running the 501c3 are actually gone on vacation to Tahiti sipping drinks with those cute little umbrellas on the beach.

The boy asks where his Father is so that he might speak directly to him – he is supposedly the Master of this house.  Right?  And the servant/brother tells the boy, “Oh yeah, you will probably catch him down at the fancy new coffee shop that sends all their profits from all the fancy lattes to the 501c3 guy so as to help without hurting.   There is a good chance he is there helping you right now by drinking a latte, but if not, he might be at a seminar the owners of the coffee shop and the executive guy from the 501c3 host at the local university where they talk about helping without doing harm and without ENABLING poor choices and bad behavior.”

This is the story Jesus tells.  It’s a famous one.  Most people are familiar with it already, but it MIGHT be new to you.

Yeah, you might oughta look into this story.  You can find it in Luke 15 in your Bible.  You might need to know a little Koine Greek so that you can really understand all of that part about the When Helping Hurts stuff, but Wow!  What an impact Jesus makes with the rhetorical effect in that third story!!!

Thank God for that 501c3!  If it wasn’t for their barn on the other side of the tracks, the Father’s house might have to take a wayward son in on a cold night.  That’s where you find Jesus when he gets to Bethlehem too – in the barn!  (Luke tells that part too.)

 

Advertisements

CRUCIFORM II : The Itinerary of God

The Son of Man will suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…. The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of evil men and killed….  The Son of Man will be handed over and betrayed….

This is the teaching of Jesus, and it is a hard teaching for sure!

It is the itinerary of God, outlining his goals for his own mission, ministry, and most specific purpose.

It is also absolutely unacceptable!  Just ask St. Peter.

There is no way Jesus means what he says here!  He CAN”T mean it!!!  Surely not.  Not this.

Some of my critics think there is a lack of joy – of the fruit of the Spirit in general – in my blogging.  Some critics think all the confrontation, controversy, and arguing is somehow unfit for service to Jesus.  Most of my critics just avoid me and the blog as much as possible.  They close their ears and turn away.

If you look closely at this blog you will find that the vast majority of the concerns expressed here are boiled down to one point: OPEN THE DOOR.  That is not really complicated.

I address a number of smokescreens the church of Lubbock throws up to hide this simple concern behind, and that is where most of the complexity is on this blog.  But if the church were to simply open the door, bring in the poor, and provide shelter on cold winter nights, my blog would be out of business.  I would hope – HOPE – that we could celebrate Jesus among us once we are all sheltered inside with a party (like the Bible talks about in so many places), but I wasn’t confronting, arguing, and all that back when we simply took the poor in for the night (even without a party).  No.  All this confrontation stuff happened when church leadership very purposely kicked out the poor and kicked me out too for insisting this decision was wrong.

I hope my critics can see that IF we opened that door (and especially if we threw the party for Jesus as well), that it would make my joy complete!  I would not be endlessly arguing and confronting.  I wasn’t doing that back before my church purposely changed policies that began excluding the poor.

Yes, there are other issues.  SOME of them are even important, but most are not.  I really don’t care if Deacon Wilson’s wife wants the blue drapes but Bishop Johnson’s wife wants the burgundy instead.  I only care that they get along as they work it out.  Point being, I don’t have a dog in every fight that comes along.  But I have personally joined “the least of these” in the cold of night camping just outside that locked church-house door, and I have witnessed two of them die from our lack of care – death by freezing!  How cruel is that?  So, the color of the drapes might well upset a lot of folks, but that is not the kind of thing I am riled up about.

BUT, look again at the quotes from Jesus at the top of this post.

You see I have this mistaken idea that sensible, Jesus-loving, Christian leaders can, and will be, persuaded by respectful debate.  But it turns out, I am wrong about that.  (Yes, I went to meetings and traded emails, text massages, and phone calls with these leaders for a LONG time before it came to all this).  And when they weren’t moved by the love of Christ and simple reasoning, I confronted them with prophetic acts.  And they still make NO compromise (which is good, because there is no room for that here, really) and they do not repent.  But I keep operating like maybe, maybe eventually the right words at the right time will finally connect and make a positive change.

But, look again at the quotes from Jesus at the top of this post.

Jesus has no such expectations for his prophetic mission.

The fact is… somebody has to die.

You don’t want to hear that; I don’t want to hear that.  But Jesus is saying that.

Where is the joy in it?  Where is the fruit of the Spirit in it?  But isn’t it quite confrontational – prophetic???

The writer of the New Testament book we call Hebrews says that Jesus died for the joy SET BEFORE HIM.  The JOY is set before him, you see.  Look at that carefully.  The man of sorrow has the joy set before him.

What joy is worth that?

I want to know.

Do you?

Well, somebody has to die for us to get there.

I am sorry to say that two people freezing to death on the streets of Lubbock in the last three years isn’t enough dying.  But the son of man will be handed over to evil men.  And it isn’t the good arguing that is going to persuade them.  For that matter, there is no evidence I am privy to that Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, or any of their fellow leadership staff members ever were persuaded.  I think their nonsense just got swallowed up by the glory of Jesus and we all pretty much forgot them.

Meanwhile, it was God’s will and Jesus’ singular mission to die and turn that inside out for any who would follow him.

Did that mean Jesus stopped confrontations, controversies, and arguments?  Far from it.  Those things increased all the more until he died.  Those things played a role, a vital role.  But they were never his goal or his point either.  And they never persuaded the “religious leaders of his day” (as we are apt to call them), nor will they persuade the religious leaders of our day.

But maybe, maybe we will take up a cross and follow.

in a word: CRUCIFORM.

A Poor Man’s Miracle

I have a “praise report” (as some of us term it during regular prayer requests).  Yet this praise report is a deep cover case.  I dare not reveal even the secret agent pseudonym for this one.  And actually, it is all so very fragile.  Kinda like Moses’ mamma floating baby Moe in a basket into the Nile River among the crocodiles – he’s alive right now!  And that seems miraculous, alright, but it could all go South very, very easily!  Still, we dare to hope!

It’s like that.

Perhaps my very perceptive, very close readers here (do I have any of those?) will recognize that many months ago I posted about one of our agents in need, and even without asking – without any solicitation whatsoever – money came pouring in to the Fat Beggars office.  Every penny went to the need described (not one penny to “administrative costs” or fraud).  And upon receipt of that funding, the special agent was able to purchase a camper trailer to live in!  Yay!!!

However, there is still monthly rent.

Well, between intermittent work and other arrangements cobbled together with prayer and sticky tape, this agent has managed to keep this home-owning style homelessness afloat.  But those special arrangements started unraveling and the end came in sight… creeping ever closer.  Disaster looming.

This agent reached out to me again.

I was already watching and praying.  Praying fervently.  Very concerned.

But I have no money to give.

None.

When this agent reached out, I lamented that I used to be able to secure help at church, but since my church read the book When Helping Hurts a few years ago, all that help dried up.  I was so ashamed of my church as we spoke.  I mean, I am talking to a homeless person who has managed to cobble together a life OFF THE STREETS!  But it is still a very precarious situation!  But my church is more anxious about helping too much or helping in some wrong way to be bothered with this case!

But I told this deep cover agent about my prayers and my continued concern.

And yesterday I got a text.

“Good News!” it said.

The land lady, it seems, does not actually NEED the rent.  This is not a commercial enterprise where the camper is located, and so the meager rent is not a livelihood thing.  BUT, it turns out, the secret agent is a valued neighbor to the land lady!

Wow!

And so all that is require, really, is to pay the electric bill!

Who could have seen that coming???

We will call it a poor man’s miracle.

 

We Sure Talk The Talk!

Yeah, so I went to church today, the same church my recent post below warned you not to attend with me – at least not if you are homeless.  And I am stunned (yet again) at the talk we talk.  I mean our preaching is good – real good.  We even sang that song Reckless Love again.

Check out this lyric:

Reckless Love (Spontaneous)
Bethel Music

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it
And I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away

Songwriters: Caleb Culver,Cory Asbury,Ran Jackson
© BETHEL MUSIC PUBLISHING

How’s that for a praise-worthy description of the love God shows us?  Pretty good, don’t you think?

And so here I join the assembly where I am a regular member to sing these words AFTER leadership there tells me that we will not welcome the homeless from the streets and provide them care when it is cold, AND that my idea of how to help them actually does more harm than good.

So… How am I supposed to cope with this inconsistency?  The only thing I can figure is that this song keeps making the first-person, singular pronoun the blessed recipient of God’s reckless love, but it does not extend to the third-person, plural – THEM.  At least not if the THEM refers to the street homeless of Lubbock.  Yeah, we are incredibly selfish about this love of God stuff!

Are we really that shallow?  How can we sing this song with such passion, yet so firmly conclude that if we open the door to the poor (or even give a bum $5), then we are doing them harm?  God’s reckless love is good for ME and mine, but when it comes to the homeless, I better not show any of God’s reckless love!  I better not do the things Jesus actually said to do!  That would do more harm than good!

Wow!

It’s all too stupid to really be real.  But that’s us… where I go to church.

But then the sermon found evermore powerful ways of reiterating the very love the song speaks of.  Our preacher all but came out and said we should open our door to the homeless.  All but!  I mean he went to pains to describe the pains God/Jesus go to in showing their love for us, but he didn’t stop with us.  He went on to describe all kinds of otherwise undesirable people in undesirable circumstances of gross, immorality, drug or alcohol addiction, who are poor and unwanted in a dozen different ways AND how God loves them (us too) absolutely unconditionally, sacrificially, and unreservedly.

He even went on to question what outsiders think of our church!  What kind of people do we seem to be to those broken, undesirable people out there who pass by us?  Do they see us as judgmental?  Do they fear our rejection?  Do they think they would not be accepted by us???

He didn’t stop there.  He warned us that there is another part to this series of sermons yet to come in which he expects to make our church feel very “uncomfortable”.  He said he knows this because his preparations for this series have caused him great discomfort as well.

So… here I am singing like this, listening to a sermon like this, in a church that insists we cannot/should not/will not open our doors to the homeless when they are freezing to death.  A church whose leadership is neck deep in the When-Helping-Hurts ideal of definitely not being reckless or overly helpful.  A church whose leadership has specifically told me personally that my idea of ministry (the very idea we just sang and preached about) does more harm than good.

I think I am going crazy.

But I gotta hand it to us.  We sure can talk the talk.

A Parable Appeal To Your Judgment

So this Christian family goes to the Premier Homeless Church and joins in the outreach work of ministering to the homeless.  They volunteer to chaperone homeless street people when the church opens the door to let them sleep inside on cold winter nights.  But then church leadership suddenly stops this practice claiming that keeping these people inside from the cold actually harms them.

But this Christian family also plays host to half a dozen foster children.  Foster kids are homeless too, so it makes sense that in all the homeless outreach this family does, they would open their own home to these vulnerable souls as well.

So anyway, this Christian family wants to do the right thing, and finding church leadership throwing homeless adults out of the facility to the cold of night and locking the door to keep them out, this Christian family does this to the foster children too.  All, of course, claiming that keeping them inside actually harms them.

I am sure any judge in this county, this state, or even the Supreme Court of the United States would totally understand this logic once it is all made clear on appeal.  Right?  Surely this family is doing the right thing.  Don’t you think?

Perhaps you should have a trendy debate on this at the trendy coffee house that supports this practice with the money they make off your latte.  I hear they host seminars at churches and universities where they shape the minds of young people entering the ministry professionally.  A coffee shop selling you books is making an appeal to your judgment too.

Don’t Come To Church With Me; You Aren’t Welcome There

That’s right.  You read it correctly.

I am thinking of the homeless particularly.  If you are rich, white, and smell good, I am sure you will be welcome, but if you are homeless, then you are not.

Yes, I actually checked on this.  I asked if we could host homeless people in our church and was told NO.  In fact absolutely not.

And, I was told that by insisting on this, that my idea of helping the poor actually does more harm that good.

I was told this by leadership people at my church!

So, don’t come to church with me!  Please… go to church, but not where I go.  We couldn’t possibly jack up church more profoundly unless we raped altar boys and held Grand Inquisitions.

No.  Find a church, alright, but find one that welcomes “the least of these” and thus welcomes Jesus.

Reimagine Charity With Jesus: How Jesus Instructs Almsgiving To Achieve Effective, Lasting Change

Yes!  Join Jesus Christ for his seminar coming to Lubbock, Texas this Fall on Effective Charity and instruction in how not to cause harm when helping the poor and less fortunate.  Come prepared for a round table discussion, and be ready to learn how Jesus feeds 5000 a fish for a day!  How he heals 10 lepers yet only 1 returns to thank him.  Find out how he tells a rich man to sell everything he owns, give it to the poor, consider his riches in heaven, and then come follow!  Hear Jesus tell his disciples to “Give to all who ask”.

Act now and we will throw in Mother Mary’s prayer as an extra added bonus just for reading your Gospel and notice she says that God fills the poor with good things and sends the rich away empty handed!

Yes!  This is giving alms THE JESUS WAY!

And God knows, when you see a bum on the side of the road, you want to care.  Don’t mess it up.  Show you care like Jesus!  You don’t want to harm people or put rice farmers out of business do you???

Open The Eyes Of Our Heart, Lord; We Want To See You

O Dear God, our Father,

On this drenching wet last day of Summer – first day of Fall, I ask You to be with every beggar, bum, and prophet on the streets of Lubbock who is not welcome in either Your House or mine tonight.  I ask You to be with them.  Give them Your hope, Your joy, Your peace, and Your comfort in full measure, and don’t delay, but come quickly in your power to save!

Yet to the extent that they suffer (as we know they do), I especially ask You to help them bear Your image in the world and be a ministry to the rest of us.  They don’t know how, and what little they do know, they resist.  And I understand that, because so do I.

But if we SEE YOU in them for who You really are, the impact that makes is immeasurable, invaluable, incomparable.

So, Lord God, I ask You to express Yourself through “the least of these brothers” (and sisters) – So that… at the sight of You in them, may the mountains bow low, the valleys stand at attention, and the crooked places straighten out like Isaiah told of in the days of old.  So that… at the sight of You in them, may the whole economy turn upside down!  Just shake it out on the ground and start it all over again, like You did using those beggars of old at the Gates of Samaria.  So that… at the sight of You in them, may Your Kingdom come and Your Will be done in Lubbock like it is in heaven!

It is for this purpose I devote these homeless friends to You:

Thomas, Mark, Jerry, Jason, Heather, Dennis, Ricardo, Ishmael, George, Belinda, Leo, Pedro, Sylvia, Charles, Autumn, Aaron, and Aaron, Andy, Dustin, and Justina, Jeremy, Damien, John, Gina, Jessica (and her friends from Denver), Alabama, Red, Bob from Denver, Erika, Rudy, Mike, Faith, Catman, Daniel, Daniel, Jennifer, Samuel and Jenny, Steve-O, Patty, James, May, Lee, Suzi, Matt, Mary, Tex, Ryan, Roadkill, Scarlett, Harry, Henry, Hank, Kate, Kathy, William Lee and Lucio, Johnny, Daniel Zapata Raul, Qurran, and that whole crew,  Trip, Melissa, Allison, Cassandra, Stephen, Sarah, Craig, Antwon and that whole crew, David, Tasha, Christina, Brenda, Ryan, Turk, Tony, Renee and Nikki and all of them, Jim & Happy, Michael, Etta, Daniel, Pete, Crystal, Dustin, Mike, Lee, Joe & Melissa, Mamma Jo, Cliff, Mamma DJ, Anna, Anica, GL, Veronica, Wendy, Kitty, Terry, Charlie Brown, Stephanie, Freddy & Latika (and their kids) and anyone else I can’t remember!

O Dear God, this is just a list of names – a token list of names.  But every name is a person I have met struggling to make it on the streets of Lubbock.  A few of them have died; some are in jail. A few have moved on to other towns, and a few have managed to get themselves off the streets.  Some I have not seen in years.

They are the “least of these” on the streets of Lubbock.  You know where they all are, where they lay their heads this cool, rainy season.  You care for them even more than me.  I can’t remember every person I ever met; You know every hair on every head!  I ask You to bless each one and make them to bear Your image and thus bless the rest of us too.

I too seek the place of shame, pain, and despair in my community so that I can bear the image of God there.  Like the others, I largely don’t know how.  What little I do know, I resist because it will hurt; it will cost too much; it will take too long; it will humiliate me – and a hundred other reasons!  Or maybe no reason at all…  After all I can be so fickle… so easily distracted.  And confessing this, I am driven to that garden to join Jesus in His most terrible prayer when He said, “Not My will be done, but Yours”.  And it scares me to talk to God like that, because I know how You answered Him.

But You are the one with the words of life.  Where else would I go?  And Your word tells me He endured the cross for the joy set before Him.  And I wanna know… WHAT JOY IS WORTH THAT?  And would you set it before me too?

Dear God, give me Your Spirit so that I can really live for You now and be raised to life in the Age to Come and join those beggars, bums, and prophets then and there whom You express Yourself through on the streets of Lubbock tonight.

And finally, O Lord, I pray that Your church open her eyes to see You, open her heart to love You, and open her doors to let You in to party with You when You knock.

Amen.

The Naked God (A Closer Look At Shalom)

Imagine this: Adam and Eve not eating the forbidden fruit.  What would our life be like then?

Have you ever tried to imagine it?

Before sin and death, the creation was “Good”.  In fact God holds Judgement Day seven times on the first week before he creates Sabbath (Gen. 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).  At each Judgment he returns the verdict: “It was good”, and the seventh time he says it is “Very Good” .  Through the Bible, we know a few things about that “good” world he made and about the people he made to live in it.  So let’s take our cues from Genesis for a start, and then from Jesus after.

Adam and Eve are made in God’s very image, male and female, he makes them (Gen. 1:26-27).  And they are naked.  Their male/female parts connect in holy, sexual nakedness!  This is the image of God – FULL FRONTAL!!!  No vision of him walking away as seen from the safety of the cleft of a rock (Exod. 33:17-23).  No, this is Genesis, and we get to really see God here.

So, yes.  Naked.  We need to get this straight.  In the beginning, they are naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25) – which makes sense because when you look at them, you see God!  They are his image bearers which among other things he pronounces ” Very Good”! (Gen. 1:31).  So why would they be ashamed?

In fact, God gives them rule and dominion over all the other creatures, which makes sense when you figure they bear his image.  Thus they are like spiritual mirrors reflecting the image of God back to God and out on all the creation too.  As long as both God and creation can look at them and see God, every creature knows its place in the shalom God makes.  It might make you uncomfortable from where you stand, but this is God’s shalom, and this is how he makes it.

But why naked?

This surely is a mystery.  The very first Apocalypse… God reveals himself as naked, vulnerable, and trusting beyond measure.  It actually seems rather counterintuitive in today’s world!

If I were a great master builder, and I built a vast home to live in, a home filled with marvelous and wondrous things and mysteries too great to contemplate and riches and glory beyond compare, I would NOT want to entrust it all to a novice.  I would want a very wise person (or group of wise people) to manage this masterpiece that I built.  And I would also look for security measures, thus I might deploy a staff of soldiers.  Point being: I would want someone (or a group of people) who were wise and strong, not naïve, vulnerable, and naked.

In fact, though nakedness sounds interesting to our sexual curiosity, which implies it is highly prized even today (Oh… come on!  Be honest.  Or else explain the massive rise of the porn industry!), I would note that nakedness – and especially sexual intercourse – is a vulnerable state in which to be.  Heaven forbid you ever suffer a home-invasion burglary, but if the invaders strike in the midst of love-making, then they exploit you at your most vulnerable moment!

Did I say God’s Apocalypse seems counterintuitive?

Well, that’s not all.

God sets out basically one rule.  Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17).  (Talk about counterintuitive… He gives Israel Ten Commandments later after Adam and Eve prove they cannot handle even one!  And not only that, but I very purposely set out to teach my kids right from wrong!  So why does God seem against this???)  This certainly is a strange and counterintuitive command to place on the one creature you put in charge of all the marvels, wonders, and mysteries of creation.  After all, this creature lacks worldly wisdom and strength, and instead has an abundance of naked, vulnerable, trust!

Yes, it is counterintuitive by today’s standards, but the more wisdom and strength you have, the less naked, vulnerable trust you have.  And let’s note carefully, nakedness, vulnerability, and trust are the nuts-n-bolts of LOVE.

So what if Adam and Eve had chosen to LOVE God when faced with this temptation?  They would not have sinned.  And if they had not sinned, we (presumably) would not live in a “Fallen World” where we deal with fear, shame, pain, hate, and indifference.  There would be no death, but instead shalom.

Thus it seems we can biblically imagine Adam and Eve would still be here alive among us today, and we would be their children, all naked, vulnerable, and trusting God and one another completely and without reservation.  Just think of it!

Wow!

Perfect love with no lust even with all that nakedness???

Yes.  That is what we find in shalom.

There are many other facets of this to consider as well – implications we would not be out of line to consider.

Recall that God, in that “Good” creation, is fully visible in the male/femaleness of the lovemaking this married couple enjoys, and that to the extent that God is seen in this reflective creature, the rest of creation responds in subservience.  I can only imagine that when Adam and Eve cultivate the Garden of Eden where God places them, they must share passionate, apocalyptic love and the flowers bloom!  It certainly doesn’t involve weeds, thistles, and sweat of the brow.

Yes, we can speculate almost endlessly on the implications and possibilities.  I expect that when Jesus says “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27), we will do well not to get all reductionist. Nevertheless, we will strive to structure our image of a world in which Adam and Eve do not sin.  And one of the strongest cues I find for this exploration is St. Paul’s description of Jesus as “The Last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45).  Thus it would seem that whatever Adam had going for him, Jesus does too – only more so.  After all, Jesus did not sin!

Someone will say, “But Jesus wasn’t naked”.

You would be mistaken about that.

At the moment Jesus is raised up on a Roman cross with a crown on his head and a sign proclaiming him as king… he is completely naked as they shame him!  (Oh, that little loin cloth you see on Catholic crucifixes???  Yeah… the church put that there in a vain attempt to dignify this “Last Adam”, but I assure you, the Roman centurions did not!).  Yes, Jesus is just as naked at his coronation as the first Adam is at his, but even more vulnerable and trusting than the first Adam ever dreamed.  Thus Jesus, at Golgotha, supremely bears the image of God unparalleled in all of creation and rules it like God always desired in utterly naked, vulnerable trust.

I hope I have clearly demonstrated and established Jesus as thoroughly congruent with Adam (Don’t deny his humanity!) so that we can now continue our exploration into our biblical imagination – imagining life if Adam and Eve had not sinned.  Of course we would not have Jesus and the cross as part of that story IF in fact they had not, but since he is “The Last Adam”, he can help us to see what we missed all the same.

The first and foremost thing we see in Jesus is the Spirit’s anointing (Mark 1:10-11) which then raises him from the dead (Rom. 8:11) .  This is the same Spirit God blows into the first Adam’s nostrils when he forms him from dust (Gen. 2:7).  Subsequently, it is the same Spirit that blows like a mighty wind into the assembly of Jesus’ disciples after his ascension (Acts 2:2,4) and brings that body to life too!

But I particularly want to notice that the Gospels quote Isaiah the prophet when he says that at the sight of the coming God every valley will stand up at attention, every mountain will bow low, every crooked place will straighten out, and every rough place will smooth out in preparation for the image of God (Isa. 40:4-5), and the Gospels then apply this to Jesus.  It means that before sin and death come into the world, the first Adam experiences the subservience of the rest of creation like this!  We see Jesus walk on the water as well, and thus can reasonably conclude that the first Adam, bearing the image of God walks on water as well!  Disease flees his touch!  Water turns to wine!  The deaf hear; the blind see; and it is said that Jesus is able to enter a room without use of the door!  If the first Adam doesn’t do some of these things, it’s not because he can’t, but because it doesn’t come up at that time.  (Where is disease before “The Fall”?)

Such is the world ruled by LOVE – when the image bearer is true to his maker.  This is how it used to be.  I can only imagine that in the Age to Come these things are all mere child’s play.  The wolf lies down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion, and a little child will lead them!  (You might have read this stuff somewhere!!!)

So… Why do I bring all this up on a blog like this?

(Glad you asked.)

Well, for one thing, I surely hope you use your Christian imagination for what it was made to do.  But for another, because it has become vogue in resent years for people in outreach ministry to the poor and homeless to tell us to “seek shalom”.  And I really think that as far as that is stated as such, it is a good idea.  And if Adam and Eve had not sinned and brought curses and death into the world, we would live in shalom – shalom that would be characterized with the observations we have made here.

So it would be really odd, in that world, to find a person in need to begin with since all these naked, vulnerable, trusting people who would populate it would thus be bearing the image of God and experiencing the total and complete subservience of all of creation everywhere they go.  But if they did, I would expect these image bearing people would be utterly self sacrificial like Jesus (and thus like God) and bear the burden on behalf of this needy one as part of that image bearing vocation, and in so doing would find the shalom.

So it would be deeply mistaken to think these naked, vulnerable, trusting image bearers would be too quick to tell a bum to “get a job”.

Don’t you think?

Counterintuitive, huh???

Yeah.  The Naked God is like that.

 

Your Best Friend Stinks To High Heaven

His name was William, I think.  He had a brace on one leg that caused him to swing it out to the side as he walked, not bending at the knee.  Maybe he was just poor, from a poor family, I don’t know, but in the first grade, he was the kid who smelled.

I grew up moving a lot.  In fact I attended four different first grades.  I attended no less than seven elementary schools and two high schools as a kid.  There were so many that I have trouble remembering a lot of my friends, but I was in a unique position to learn that every class in every town has one or two kids who smell.  Usually it has something to do with being poor.

It’s funny to me now to think that William is the only kid whose name I recall from that first grade class so very long ago.  And I don’t recall people making fun of him, though I bet they did, but just that he stood out as “different” because of the leg brace (a little like Forrest, Forrest Gump) and his poor hygienic smell.  I found it easy to avoid him mostly.  At least that’s how I remember him.

By Jr. High, my dad was the preacher at our church in a small West Texas town, preaching, of course, and reaching out to lost sheep to bring them into the fold.  Evangelism in small West Texas towns doesn’t involve approaching strangers, generally.  However, at one point my mother loaded us kids up to go to church, but detoured along the way to stop and pick up a family living in a dilapidated house at the edge of town.  The smell of body odor overwhelmed the car quickly.

As surely you can imagine, the effort to include this family in the life of the church quickly focused on the delicate task of helping this family smell better and wear more presentable clothes.

My dad tells a similar story about his mother picking up a family to take to church when he was a kid.  That family was so poor, they burned tires to keep warm, which added to the smell that overwhelmed his family car on the way to church.

I surely don’t need to cite Scripture passages to you about how Jesus cares for the humble and lowly while challenging the rich.  Surely I no longer need to point out to you that he identifies himself personally with “the least of these” in a passage where he outlines the kind of treatment we give, the care we take, with such people determines Judgement for the Age to Come.

Do I?

I will ask you to consider whether you have friends that stink.

It’s not the only indicator you should consider, but it is a good one.

How many friends do you have who stink?  Do you bring one to worship with you?  When was the last time you sat with one when you got there?  Or did you avoid her???

Oh… you didn’t find such a person in the whole assembly???

Why not?

It’s a delicate thing to approach someone who stinks.  Isn’t it?

Yeah.  If you want to repel someone who stinks, just tell them they stink.  The shame will move them away from you – usually.  Yeah, it turns out your pride stinks to the humble!

But if you are willing to endure the cost of love and discipleship, you can make a dear friend of such a person.  It’s the kind of thing Jesus does.  It’s the kind of person Jesus is.

Wanna be friends with Jesus?  (Why would you get out of bed on a Sunday morning if you didn’t???)

Look at your Scriptures carefully.  Jesus attends a few high society galas alright (insert your church here), and gets into some sort of conflict there more often than not.  But he parties with the poor all the time.

Wanna find Jesus?  Your best friend?  Come Judgment Day???

He had a brace on his leg that made him walk funny.  He smelled bad, and his name was William… I think.  Hard to remember the first grade now, but on second thought, I think his name was Jesus.  I sure hope he remembers my name.  I sure hope he thought I was his friend.  I sure hope he doesn’t come to the Judgement to testify saying I was ashamed of him then and that now that he has come in Glory he is ashamed of me.

God help me!