On my journey through the bible, I’ve now passed the plagues that came upon Egypt. A striking aspect in the drama is Pharaoh. He acts with total disregard for his nation in pursuing the Hebrews. It says 15 times that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In half these verses it’s clear that the LORD himself hardened the heart of Pharaoh.
With so many repetitions, it got me thinking. It’s thematic, really. And I realize this is not the first time I’ve seen the phrase “hardened heart.” In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus himself asks whether his disciple’s hearts are hardened. Jesus has twice multiplied loaves and fishes for a multitude of people but his disciples ask while traveling with him in a boat: We’re out of bread, where are we going to get some? Jesus responds saying: Don’t you get it? Is your heart hardened?
So hardened hearts apply to a great range of people: from great kings to notorious gangs of disciples. But what does it mean? Does it mean you don’t get it? Does it mean it’s plaguing your country and you’re ignoring it? For me, I think Gary Haugen described it in the first page of “Just Courage” saying:
Writing in 1859, Mill was trying to explain the process by which words lose their meaning, and he casually offered that the best example of this phenomenon was Christians. Christians, he observed, seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.
What became more disturbing was his list of things that Christians, like me, actually say — like, blessed are the poor and humble; it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc. — and examining, one by one, how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As Mill concluded, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening of words so amiable and bland.”
For Lent, I have chosen to give up pessimism. As I journaled yesterday morning, God reminded me of the resurrection, the climax, so to speak, of this 40 day journey. Suddenly, I found optimism. My God lives. Death could not keep down Jesus. He has risen from the tomb. The tomb is empty. So this Lent I’ll choose to remember the resurrection each day and see if it will soften my heart.
Around the start of the new year, I finished my manuscript study of Luke. As I reflect on the journey, I am amazed by God. God moves and speaks and lives. I highly recommend a manuscript study to all who seek to know the kingdom of God. I am now again apart of a Mark manuscript study with several other couples.
But personally God has encouraged me to read through the entire bible. Though I know the overall plot, I’ve not spent significant time outside the gospels. So now I’ll see what comes of reading the bible as a novel. No intensive study, no concordances, just reading and listening.
As of now, I am nearly half way through Genesis. It’s really a rather wild book. What stands out the most to me is how imperfect God seems. Now I know that sounds heretical but maybe my definition of perfect is what’s flawed.
In my mind, perfect is flawless, effortless, all-knowing, un-erring, and un-obtainable. But in just the first half of Genesis I’ve seen a God that creates one good thing after another only to realize that adam’s loneliness is “not good.” And a God who works so hard for six days that he sets the seventh aside as this “other” day so he can rest. Then after his creation’s initial rebellion, he first asks, “Where are you?” He repeats this question when speaking to Cain saying, “Where is your brother?” Fast-forward beyond the initial creation and suddenly God’s regretting he made man entirely. He chooses to cover the earth with water and start over. Then again later he seems nervous as man builds a tower that might reach to the heavens.
Don’t mistake me, I think God is perfect. But I’d rather define perfect in terms of God than God in terms of perfect. So what I mean to say is perfect is God. What we humans underestimate is how God-like we in fact are. And this is no mistake on God’s part. He made us to be his children.
I’ve just finished a testimony on my experience of Christian Community during my years in IVBCF. I’d love if you read it here: http://www.grantjenks.com/wiki/talks:christian_community
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 think this is a modern-day parable:
Two soldiers go to war. One comes back and adjusts well, leaving it all behind. The other comes home with post-traumatic stress syndrome and cannot get the faces of the dead out of his mind. Which of them is crazy?
(Taken from p. 214 of “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.)
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.