Category Archives: Faith
Sometimes my wife and I imagine starting a church. (Were it not for the absence of God’s “thumbs up” we’d probably have started one already.) As we were dreaming yesterday, we wondered what the “Advertising Agency” of the church might look like. I know that many churches have this or something like it. They’ll put ads in newspapers, radio, and websites. But I always find those ads lacking. They don’t go the full distance in explaining the good and bad of being a Christian. I’ve been studying Luke and recently looked at Luke 21:12-19.
But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
My fear is that my church might only include the last line in that paragraph. And I too, am quick to point out the joy and love that I feel by knowing God and his Son but I am usually much slower to describe the path it took to get there.
Note the last line contains the word “gain.” In Greek it also operates as “purchase.” Our endurance means we purchase our lives. We could never afford our life and it is given to us with joy but it is no free gift.
Jesus asks many questions in the gospels and answers very few of them. Similarly, he tells many parables but explains just as few. There is a part in the beginning of Luke in which his disciples come up at the end of his story and ask as to its meaning. He then proceeds to explain it after commending them for asking a question. I’ve written a blog post about this before titled “The Secret of the Kingdom of God”.
Now, much later in Luke, people are asking questions again but it’s different. Once Jesus teaches in the temple of Jerusalem, the Elders, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees come to him with questions. After the Sadducees have their turn and Jesus has replied, the Scribes respond at the end:
“Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
So to all who ask of him, Jesus answers. But his answers instill a much different feeling in those who ask him questions, than those who question him.
In consecutive sections of Luke, one about a blind man on the road to Jericho, the next about a man named Zacchaeus, there are several themes. None stands out to me more than the repeated use of the word “Son”. The blind man cries out twice to Jesus using the name “Son of David”. The title implies Jesus is King. If the Romans knew the meaning, the blind man or Jesus would be executed for treason. (In fact, this will be the Roman judgment that condemns Jesus to death.) Soon after, Jesus states that Zacchaeus is a “Son of Abraham”. That title refers to more than Zacchaeus’ culture as a Jew but also to his obedience to the law. Finally, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”.
I dwelt a while on this section wondering at the significance of these terms. Often, in Luke, references to Jesus as “Son of David” indicate that Jesus is a King, greater than David. In the following part with the titles “Son of Abraham” and “Son of Man”, I wondered if they could be explaining something similar. When Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”, he does so by stating:
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
God’s promise to Abraham was that he would establish a nation of people as numerous as the stars. In this way, Abraham is seen as the great patriarch of the Jewish faith. Here though, inductively, Jesus refers to himself as a greater patriarch over not only the Jewish people but over all who are lost.
(This scripture comes from Luke 18:35-19:10.)
I’ve always been bugged by teachers (of the Gospel, “preachers”) who say that salvation is a free gift. I don’t understand what they mean. Now, in Luke, I see that it is practically a lie.
Compare the stories of the rich, young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). According to the scripture, salvation comes to only one of these rich men. Specifically, it is the one whose actions go beyond the law. Though the rich, young ruler kept the commandments, he could not sell his possessions and follow Jesus. In contrast, Zacchaeus declares that he will not only restore all that he has defrauded, fourfold (which is obedient to the law in Exodus 22:1 and 2 Samuel 12:6) but also give half of all his goods to the poor. Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, the sinner, obeys the law and the prophets.
I don’t believe I can earn salvation. It is a gift; but one with consequences. The fruit of the spirit is largely devoid of earthly wealth. And in my experience, the Holy Spirit prunes much that I would have thought necessary.
In a moment of prayer before stepping into work, I was struck by how technology shapes us. Technology, which we create, shapes us. In a process that has been accelerating exponentially, we shape ourselves. I’m worried thinking that the source of this transformative thing, technology, is us.
Because it was not so in the beginning. In Eden, God provided. Period. The ways and acts of man were shaped by God’s creation, not by man’s creation. Soon after, the mirror was shattered and God cursed man so that we toil and labor. But fast-forward and Jesus reminds us of a caring and provisional God:
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
And what am I doing about this? I’m creating the next generation of technology.
I find these definitions to be eerily similar:
mammon – n. 1. Greed personified. 2. Deified avarice.
corporation – n. 1. A legal entity that exists for the financial benefit of its stockholders.
Now, I wouldn’t lose sleep if it weren’t for this:
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke, after the parable of the “shrewd manager”.)
I’m afraid that by spending so much time at work, I’m really serving my Corporation more than I am God. It’s a disturbing thought. While tempted to quit my job because of this, the parable before it about the shrewd manager leads me to believe that the money I earn from mammon can be used to secure a place in the eternal dwellings. This is what Jesus refers to soon after by saying:
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
By using my mammon to make an eternal difference, I force my way into the kingdom of God.
Sometimes I get the feeling that we use technology because we are
2. Fear death
First, we are interested in technology and enjoy that it earns us money but our love of money pushes us until we no longer enjoy the technology we use. And second, we think that by using technology we save time until we spend more time creating the tools to save us time than saving any time in the first place.
The trick, sadly, is on us.
1. As much as we love money, we can’t take it with us.
2. For everyone: time passes at a rate of 1 second per second.
So, find joy and keep it.
I think this is a most puzzling piece of scripture:
Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:34-35, ESV)
I spent a couple of hours over a couple of days focused on these lines. I had little understanding of it until I realized a contrast. The preceding chunk in Luke is all about self-denial. It concludes saying:
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33, ESV)
Now, salt, I think, is best known for its preservative quality. More than making things taste good, two thousand years ago, it was an imperative for people who needed to preserve meat. In fact, it was a necessity for all those who lived in a desert and needed to preserve themselves.
In that preceding line, indented above, the word renounce also means something like forsake. I imagine if I forsook everything, I would perish rather quickly. But Jesus talks about a preservative as if renouncing everything was the only way to preserve ourselves.
And what if we should lose our preservative quality? That is, we should choose to be disciples but not renounce everything? Well then I think we are salt which loses its saltiness and we are of no use for either the soil or the dung heap.
Ever since my fiancée started teasing me that none of my blog posts mentioned her, I’ve wanted to write one about her. My fiancée’s name is Shannon and she is the greatest woman in the world. I have no doubt that many men and women will disagree but I say, “Ha! If you only knew her the way I did.” To me she’s that special one, that most special-est one. And no, you can never know her the way that I do. (Except, perhaps, if you are God.) The bond we share is exclusive and that makes it all the more special. I’m sorry. It has to be that way. Now, a little bit about Shannon:
Shannon smiles. Shannon laughs. Shannon thinks. Shannon works. Shannon prays.
Shannon’s warm. Shannon’s playful. Shannon’s smart. Shannon’s resilient. Shannon’s faithful.
Shannon comforts me. Shannon teases me. Shannon arouses me. Shannon fights me. Shannon gets me.
Shannon is made for me and I long for her.
I think often about languages. Most of the languages I think about are formal ones. (I work on these as a member of the compiler team at Microsoft.) Back in High School, I spent a couple of years trying to learn Spanish. At first, everything we learned was in terms of English. We used an English-to-Spanish dictionary to construct our sentences. I realized at one point that this practice would never make me fluent. To achieve fluency, I would have to think in Spanish. I would have to think of Spanish concepts in terms of other Spanish concepts. I never reached this goal.
I think Jesus’ parables work like the language of the kingdom of God. At first, we have difficulty understanding them. We translate the parables into something which makes more sense to us. But this can only go so far and even the best of analogies eventually break down. It’s hard to base difficult choices on analogies. In my own experience, I find myself starting to speak the language of parables. I, like Jesus often did, find it easiest to explain a parable in terms of a concept explained by another parable.
I know this is dangerous as it can easily separate me from others. People will say, “That Grant makes no sense. He speaks in riddles or something.” But that’s how Jesus did it. He spoke in parables.
(The reader that is frustrated with Jesus’ parables might want to start in Mark 4:1-20. Here, in verse 13, Jesus asks, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” He then goes on to explain the parable.)