Grab hold

Posted by Mike Heady on May 2, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , ,

Matthew 11:2-12:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

            Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

            As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.  Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written:

            ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

           who will prepare your way before you.’

 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” 

(Verse 12, the last sentence in the above quote, is a difficult sentence to translate and interpret and understand.  The different versions of the Bible give it different meanings.  I believe the New International Version of 1984 gives the best translation.)

John the Baptist was in prison on the order of King Herod.  He needed help understanding what Jesus was doing.  John had started his ministry saying that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (Matt 3:2) and someone greater than him was going to bring it.  He described it this way in Matthew 3:10-11: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  John believed Jesus was the Messiah who would bring judgment and renewal to Israel then lead the nation to military and political victory over Rome and establish peace and prosperity for the Jewish people.  He must have expected Jesus to take over and make everything right.  But when John called out Herod for his adultery the king locked him up.  He must have thought, “What’s going on?  Why isn’t Jesus swinging that ax?  Where’s the repentance?  Where’s the fire?  Where’s the power?”  He sent a couple of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah or will it be someone else?”

Jesus made sure everyone knew John was not a failure.  He was the messenger sent by God to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom.

And Jesus answered John’s question.  He told John’s disciples to tell him what they saw Jesus doing (v5): “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”  Then in verse 6 he basically says, “John, don’t fall away, don’t give up on me because I’m not doing this exactly the way you thought I would.”

Then, in verse 12, Jesus assured everyone that the Kingdom had arrived and was advancing.  It was a powerful force healing and freeing people in need.

You see what Jesus was not doing.  He was not condemning and executing judgment.  He challenged people about their sin but he offered mercy and forgiveness and he eventually took the judgment himself on the cross.  Jesus was not leading a political and military revolution.  He was never very interested in what governments and armies were doing.  In fact he said that nations will keep fighting until he comes back – so don’t be too concerned about that.   Jesus was not creating material abundance for anyone.  He did teach that God will take care of our needs but he was never interested in financial security and prosperity.  He taught that there will be poor people all the time who need to be cared for and rich people will always have a hard time getting into the Kingdom – so there are more important things than money.  Jesus was not providing emotional bliss in the midst of struggle or boredom. He promised joy to his followers but he never offered any experiences strictly for the purpose of making people feel better, even for his cousin (John the Baptist) who was in prison facing execution.

The Kingdom Jesus brought was not about judgment and national victory and material prosperity and dopamine reward, and it never will be.  Ever.  Anywhere.  It was about people being restored to life, receiving abundant life.  Jesus was powerfully advancing the Kingdom by pouring out the grace and truth that filled him (John 1:14).

Then he said, “Forceful men lay hold of it.”  Persons who are passionate will grab hold of the Kingdom.  The people had been waiting and watching for years. Now that the Kingdom had come it was time to stop waiting.  It was time to force themselves out of that pattern.  God was on the move.  The Kingdom was advancing.  It was time to break loose and grab hold with intentional, radical faith.

That’s the action necessary for us to go with Christ – grab hold of the Kingdom of God.  That’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote Philippians 3:12-14: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… [O]ne thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Stop holding back.   Stop messing around with other things.  Force yourself out of your spiritual lethargy and grab hold of the powerful Kingdom of God.

You need to understand something of the force of this Kingdom.  It is intense.  It’s an invasion against everything our self-centered nature holds precious.  It’s an attack on our selfishness and idolatry.  It’s an assault on our failure to love God and our unwillingness to trust him completely.  It’s a raid against how we waste our lives on petty projects and irrelevant activities.  When you grab hold of God’s Kingdom, be ready for his love to be so passionate that he will not be satisfied until he burns away everything that keeps your heart from being meshed with his and you become whole and holy.

Annie Dillard wrote this:  “On the whole, I do not find Christians…sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, 1982)

He is drawing us out.  He’s drawing us out to new life, abundant life, holy life.  He’s calling us out to new mission, God’s purposes, the Spirit’s work.  He’s drawing us out to grab hold of the Kingdom and join him in his way of life.  It’s intense.

There’s something else to understand.  When you grab hold of Christ’s Kingdom, you will not be in control of it.  The closest analogy to this that I’ve experienced was on the back of a bull.  He was a mix breed, black with white face.  I was a college ministerial student.  I was about 22 and weighed 130 pounds.  He was about 2 and weighed 1500 pounds.  I had a good hold on that bull rope but I did not have control of that bull.  He could buck as high as he wanted.  He could jump and twist any direction he wanted.  I had no say whatsoever.  All I could do was hold on.  And I did.  For 7 seconds.  Then I wasn’t holding on anymore.

Laying hold of the Kingdom is something like that.  God will not be trying to get rid of you but you will not be in control.  If you grab hold of Christ’s Kingdom, you will go where God takes you.  You will change priorities and attitudes.  You will accomplish his will and work.  You will make a difference and be a blessing.  You will be filled with love and peace and joy and wisdom and purpose and direction.  Don’t take hold of the Kingdom thinking you’ll be running things.  You can’t handle that; you can’t hold on to that.  It’s his Kingdom.  Just grab hold and go with it.

Annie Dillard also wrote: “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” (Ibid)

Jesus says that your one necessity is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).  Stop waiting.  Stop messing around.  Don’t worry that it’s not what you want or thought it would be.  Just grab hold and don’t let go.

How do you do that?  I think it starts with praying differently.  Instead of “God, please give me what I want” pray, “Lord, your Kingdom come and your will be done.”

The whole Bible

Posted by Mike Heady on April 13, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,

In 18 Lines

GENESIS

God: I gotcha

Adam & Eve: OK, cool

Satan: He doesn’t mean it

Adam & Eve: Okay

Satan: Gotcha

Adam & Eve: Oh snap

God: I’ll getcha

 

REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

God: Hang on

Hebrews: We’re tryin’

 

NEW TESTAMENT

Jesus: I came to getcha

People: Kill ‘im

Pilate: Okay

Satan: He’s dead now

Jesus: Not now

Satan: Oh snap

Lots of people: Nope

Some people: Whoa, yeah

Father/Jesus/Spirit: I gotcha

 

Understand and trust

Posted by Mike Heady on March 20, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

I once was leading a group session as a counselor at an adolescent treatment facility. There were about a dozen kids in the group.  We were outside on a deck between two buildings.  There were two brothers in the group – 16, 17 years old.  One of them had been in the facility for several months, the other only a few days.  They got into some kind of argument and it escalated until it was disrupting the group.  I went over to them and told them to cut it out.  The newer one kept it going.  I stepped up to him, face to face, but not really in his face, and told him I needed him to settle down so we could continue the group.  He went into an aggressive stance – clenched fists, staring me down.  He was about my height but 20-30 pounds heavier, 20-30 pounds of solid muscle.  I started thinking, “He’s going to hit me, and it’s going to hurt.”

But, you see, he needed to know some things.  He needed to know that he was not running things; he was not in charge and he was not going to be in charge and that was okay.  He also needed to know that there was a better way to handle life than what he was exhibiting that day and what he had learned – fighting, stealing, assaulting, vandalizing, running away.  And he needed to know that I and the rest of the treatment program staff cared about him enough to respect him, to challenge him, and to help him.

To my great relief, he did not hit me.  He calmed down and after group apologized for his behavior, and I thanked him for his cooperation.  Several months later, when he was being moved to another facility, he hugged me, thanked me, and said he was scared.  He would not have made that admission that day in group.  I told him I understood how he felt but I knew he could make it because he had made changes and was headed in the right direction.

If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, you need to understand those same things about Christ’s relationship with you.  You are not in charge; you are not running life, yours or anyone else’s.  He is – not just will be – Lord.  When you have faith in Christ, you are embedded in his Kingdom living under his authority.  That doesn’t mean that he micromanages everything or that everything which happens is his will.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t have any freedom or responsibility.  But he is in charge and that is okay; in fact, it is very, very good.

And you need to understand that his way of living is better than your way of living.  He gives life that is abundant.  That doesn’t mean that he merely blesses you with good things and good feelings.  As you trust him and learn from him, you can accept and follow new desires, new dreams, new priorities, new behaviors that come from Christ.

And you need to understand that everything he wants for you and everything he does for you is because he loves you.  That doesn’t mean he merely pats you on the head and gives you an encouraging word.  He cares about you enough to challenge you when you need it.  He cares about you enough to carry you when you need it.  And he cares about you enough to enable you yourself to love others like he does.  His love is available to fill you and to overflow from you and energize all you do.

You can make it, headed in the right direction, by learning to trust Jesus Christ.

Trespassing, skinny-dipping, and being in Christ

Posted by Mike Heady on March 7, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,

One summer day when I was about 13, some of my friends and I got together to spend the day in the woods. It was land owned by the family of one of the boys.  I don’t remember the exact number but there were about 6 of us.  We explored, climbed trees, fished, and just generally did what boys did.  We got hungry and decided to fix our own lunch.  We caught a chicken, killed it and cooked it over an open fire.  Well, we half-cooked it; it was still almost raw next to the bone; it’s a wonder none of us got food poisoning.  After lunch we continued our activities.  Mid-afternoon, we came to a barbed wire fence.  We crossed it and fairly soon came to a stock tank.  For you non-Texans, that’s a pond.  We were hot and sweaty so decided to go swimming.

We knew we were trespassing. We began stripping off our clothes.  I was just about to get in the water when we heard a pickup coming our way.  Somebody yelled “Run!” and we did.  We scooped up our clothes and shot across rocks, sticks, and prickly pears.  I think I still have stickers in the soles of my feet.  We made it into the trees and bushes and hunkered down.

The pickup approached along a ridge above us and stopped. The driver yelled, for he knew where we were hiding: “Come on up, boys!  I just want to talk to you!”  We didn’t believe that.  We knew we were in trouble, so we stayed still and quiet.  After a short while he left, leaving us a warning: “Don’t come back here!”  We got dressed and went home.

Several years later, I was married. One summer weekend, my wife and I visited her parents.  We frequently went fishing when we were with them.  This time my father-in-law said he wanted to take us to a new place to fish.  A friend of his had invited him to come to try his luck on his ranch.  We loaded up and drove over.  We drove through the gate and stopped at the house.  My father-in-law’s friend took us down the dirt road to a stock tank.  We got out and started getting our fishing tackle ready.  As I looked around, suddenly the place seemed mysteriously familiar.  Then I realized – this was the land my buddies and I had trespassed on!  This was the tank we had started skinny-dipping in!  These were the woods we had hidden in!  This was the place we had to run from and never go back to!  I felt a little startled at this, but I knew I was not in trouble.  Didn’t have to run.  Didn’t have to hide.  Didn’t have to be ashamed.  I was with the owner and was freely welcome to enjoy my time there.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

 For the joy set before him he [Jesus] endured to cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right had of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

 …He [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)

 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)

 In him [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him [Christ] will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)

 In Christ, you don’t have to run, don’t have to hide, don’t have to be ashamed.

 

True coffee

Posted by Mike Heady on February 21, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

 

April 23, 2092

Judson was awakened by the deep voice of his phone: “Judson, your mother is calling.”

At first irritated, he responded, “Oh great!”

The phone spoke again, “Do you want me to take a message?”

Then Judson remembered what was happening – his grandfather, Papa, in the hospice facility. “No, I’ll talk to her.”

Papa was very ill, not expected to recover. Could this be that call?

No, it wasn’t. But the dying man was asking for Judson.  He told his mother he would get there as soon as he could.

After showering, dressing, and eating a breakfast of Quiknute and coffee, Judson left his apartment and went to the parking garage. He entered his vehicle and gave driving instructions: “Comfort Hospice, south parking.”  He relaxed in the seat and drank his coffee and waited to arrive at his destination.

Of course he thought about his grandfather. One hundred years old.  Judson and Papa had always been close.  Judson respected him – didn’t always understand him – but definitely respected him.  More, deeper than that – loved him.  And he had no doubt Papa loved Judson.

Arriving at the hospice, Judson went directly and quickly to the familiar room. His mother met him at the door and nudged him back into the hallway.

She said, “Judson, he’s got something on his mind. I don’t know what, but he wants to talk to you alone.  Maybe he’s getting ready to pass.”

Curious and dreading, Judson re-entered the room and went to his grandfather’s bedside. His eyes were closed but he was probably awake.  Judson lay his hand on the old man’s arm.

“Papa,” he said gently, “Papa, it’s me. You awake?”

Papa opened his eyes, formed a weak smile, and quietly spoke: “Glad to see ya, Judboy.” The nickname he had called his oldest grandson since he was an infant.

Judson smiled, “Hey, old boy, how you feeling?”

“Oh, not too bad. Won’t have to put up with this much longer, though.”

“Mom said you want to talk about something. I’m listening.”

“Judboy, I want you to get me some coffee.”

“Coffee? Okay.  Now?”

“Yeah,” the dying man answered.

“Be right back.”

Judson left the room and found the snack station. He wasn’t sure how much coffee to get so he chose the largest serving available and instructed the beverage kiosk to dispense the Grande Coffee.  The machine door opened and a gray colored 6-ounce cup appeared then was filled with the transparent tan liquid.  The kiosk spoke in a soothing high-pitched voice: “Enjoy your coffee, Judson. It meets all standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Cultural Approval Institute.”

Judson chose the same for himself and carried the two room-temperature drinks to his grandfather’s room. He handed a cup to Papa.  The old man looked at the coffee and handed it back to Judson.

“No,” he wearily said, “I want coffee. This is scam coffee.  I want true coffee.”

Judson didn’t know what to think. He said, “Papa, this is coffee.  It’s the only coffee there is.”

“No, it’s not coffee,” said his grandfather, “And it’s not all there is. I know it’s what we’ve been drinking and it’s been called coffee, but it’s not coffee.  And it’s not all there is.  Judboy, I want true coffee.  Listen, go to your mom’s home.  In the basement, there’s an old suitcase.  It’s mine.  It’s blue and orange.  Find it, open it, bring me true coffee.  Please.”

The young man thought his grandfather must be experiencing dementia. He left the room and found his mother.  He told her what had transpired and asked, “Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?”

His mom thought a few moments and shook her head slowly and answered, “He does have an old suitcase in the basement. I don’t know.  You may as well go get it.”

So Judson went to his mom’s home, rode the elevator to the basement, and asked the inventory kiosk for a blue and orange suitcase. The kiosk gave him specific directions for the location of the case then asked, “Would you like me to retrieve it for you, Judson?”  He answered in the affirmative then the kiosk left and returned with the suitcase.  Judson took it upstairs and opened it.  He rummaged through old clothing until he found a massive strange-looking container – it must have held close to 16 ounces.  To Judson’s amazement, the word “coffee” was written on the outside of the container, with the date “January, 2044.”  Next to this container in the case was an even stranger looking object.  Heavy black lettering spelled out “Coffee Maker. Follow these directions.”  Judson was more than puzzled.

He took the “coffee” and “coffee maker” into the kitchen and began following the written directions. When he opened the “coffee” container he was overwhelmed by the astonishing fragrance.  He put water in the “maker” then the amount of “coffee grounds” as directed and plugged the power cord into a wall outlet.  He watched and listened to the “coffee maker” for several minutes.  Suddenly it made a sharp shrill momentary sound he had never heard before, then nothing.  Assuming the process was complete, Judson took a cup from his mom’s cabinet and poured.  He was blown away.  The “coffee” wasn’t a transparent tan liquid.  It was almost black.  And it was hot.  He knew it was too hot for him to drink so he waited a couple of minutes, with astonished anticipation.

Finally, Judson lifted the cup of ancient beverage to his lips and took a tiny sip. Blown away again!  Bold, rich, satisfying!  This can’t be coffee!  It’s what his grandfather called it – true coffee!

Judson quickly poured the rest of the true coffee into a beverage carrier. He got in his vehicle and instructed it to take him to Comfort Hospice, south parking.  He wanted to drink with his grandfather but couldn’t wait.  He poured another cup of true coffee and drank heartily.

But he was excited to take it to Papa. How long had it been since he drank true coffee?  And why so long?  Judson’s thoughts advanced.  What is that stuff that we have been calling coffee?  Why is it called coffee?  Papa’s right – it’s scam coffee.  But why?  Why are they lying about it?  Why are they scamming us?

Judson looked out the window of his vehicle at everything around. The check points.  The armed sentries.  The various units of students and workers being led to and from their assigned stations.  The Safekeeping drones flying overhead.  The digital street signs everywhere with constant scrolling messages: assurances of safety, invitations to government sponsored orgies and drug festivals, promises of prosperity, announcements of banishments, encouragements to flee your conscience, summons to no-limit entertainment.  Gleaming government offices, educational centers, and theaters.  Piles of rubble.  Burned out buildings.  Dead animals.  Crashed and broken vehicles.

Then Judson was struck by a thought that had never entered his mind. A question he wondered if he should dare ask even in his own mind.  He looked at the cup of true coffee in his hand and thought, “What else are they lying about?”

Weird church names

Posted by Mike Heady on February 2, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , , ,

Some church names are just weird. I guess they weren’t really thinking ahead when they chose what to call their church – or they drank too much communion wine.  I once saw a sign in east Texas for “Little Hope Baptist Church” – some but not much “hope for glory” (Colossians 1:27) apparently.  Here are some other weird church names.  These are real; they have to be cause they are on the internet.

 

            Mountain of Swallowing Problems Interdenomination Prayer Ministry

            Run for Your Life International Chapel

            Church of God-Zillah

            Boring U.M. Church

            Waterproof Baptist Church

            Big Ugly Freewill Baptist Church

            The House of God Which Is the Church of the Living God the Pillar and Ground of the Truth Without Controversy, Inc. (Keith Dominion) (the pastor has to carry his business cards in a backpack)

I’m not making fun of these churches (okay, a little). I’m sure they had their reasons.

There are the more common and accepted church handles:

Methodist church

Baptist church

Catholic church

Presbyterian church

Charismatic church

Pentecostal church

Christian church

Bible church

Conservative church

Liberal church

Community church

Contemporary church

Cowboy church

Hipster church

Biker church

Non- or inter- denominational church

Protestant church

Orthodox church

Fellowship church

Etc, etc, etc church (just in case I missed yours)

 

I have nothing against these church names, as such, but how about Jesus Church? (And not just as a name; there are some congregations that have been dubbed just that, fine, I hope they are.)  Jesus Church – because he said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  Church that is all about Jesus.  Not about our doctrine or style or baptism mode or spiritual gifts or buildings or people.

Jesus Church. Believe him.  Surrender to him.  Follow him.  Trust him.  Worship him.  Become like him.  Serve him.  Hear him.  Love him.  Submit every thought, decision, plan, event, program, ministry, possession to him.

Jesus Church. Because he is the Son of God.  Because he is Truth.  Because he offered himself in death to save us.  Because he was resurrected to free us.  Because he is King.  Because he is Lord.  Because in him is life.  Because his name is above all names.

See, the world around us is in a mess. Racism.  Consumerism.  Terrorism.  Politicalism (new word).  Addiction.  Abuse.  Assault.  Abandonment.  Division.  Deceit.  Death.  Slavery.  Fear.  Lostness.  Sin (old word).  Etc, etc, etc.  And these won’t be made right, healed, redeemed by more Methodist, Baptist, Charismatic, Bible, Community, Cowboy, Liberal, Orthodox.  They will with more Jesus.

So, Jesus Church. Whatever name your church has, even if it’s Intercourse Methodist, make it Jesus Church.

 

But not:

 

Next up: weird church buildings 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epic fail

Posted by Mike Heady on January 23, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When I was in seminary I played on a church softball team.  In one game I was playing second base and the other team had a runner on first.  The batter hit the ball to shallow center field.  I went to second to take the throw for an easy force out.  Now this was a league of rural churches.  We didn’t always have the best fields and equipment.   In this game, second base wasn’t a bag; it was a piece of carpet – not big, thick shag carpet – thin, flat carpet.  I couldn’t feel it with my foot.  The runner was safe because I didn’t get my foot on the base.  My teammates responded – you would have thought I just lost the 7th game of the World Series!  Everybody stayed on my case the rest of the game, even though we won by about 18 – 2.  Epic fail!

I’ve failed a lot worse than that, of course.  We all have.  What does failure do to us?  It gives us a sense of being unacceptable, rejected, condemned.  We live with regret, if-only, and trying to do better or just giving up and pretending I’m okay.

The need to be accepted begins early.  It starts in the family – as a child you need desperately to know both parents accept you unconditionally.  It continues through life.  We put in a lot of work, spend a lot of money, and put on a lot of performances trying to make ourselves acceptable.

There’s a level in our personalities where acceptance makes it possible to accept ourselves and to handle all the other levels of acceptance and rejection.  That level is where we experience unconditional acceptance.   See it in action in John 8:2-11.

Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,  they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

No one really finds total acceptance until they experience what this woman did.  This is a real life drama with a surprising and powerful ending.  We’ll stand at the edge and watch the drama unfold.  Occasionally we’ll move in for a close-up view and we’ll step back to look at ourselves.

Early one morning during the Feast of Tabernacles when the city was overflowing with religious pilgrims, Jesus comes into Jerusalem and goes to the Temple.  Soon a crowd gathers around him and he begins to teach.  He’s interrupted when a committee makes its appearance: the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  These guys are genuine spiritual snobs.  They carry their noses so high they would catch on power lines.  They are holy and they know it.  They have God and people all figured out.  Have all the answers.  This is the official Sinner Stoning Committee, and they’re ready to fulfill their assignment.

Two of the biggest men drag in a young woman.  She may have been an unmarried teenager or a married adult.  They throw her to the ground in front of Jesus and everyone else.  The committee chairman calls the meeting to order and loudly announces: “This woman was caught in the act of adultery!”  He looks around the crowd like an arrogant prosecuting attorney with an air-tight case and fixes his stare on Jesus: “The Law says she must be stoned.  What do you say?”

The Law – yeah, right.  What they’re really after is to catch Jesus doing something they can use to accuse and condemn him.  To do it, they’re willing to step on this woman and grind her into the dirt.

But let’s be honest.  The Committee is right.  The woman has been caught in the act; she’s guilty and legally deserves death by stoning.  She knows it.  She’s not denying her guilt.  She’s not blaming someone else for her actions.  She’s not making excuses or claiming she’s misunderstood.  She’s been caught.  Epic fail.

So, there the Committee stands, killing stones in their hands and satisfied smirks on their faces.  Each one is thinking “We’ve got him now.”  If Jesus says, “Yes, stone her,” the people he’s teaching will lose confidence in his message of love and forgiveness.  If he says, “No, don’t stone her,” he’ll be seriously violating the Law of Moses and condoning adultery, so they’ll arrest him.

But Jesus doesn’t say anything just yet.  Instead, mysteriously he bends down and writes something in the dirt with his finger.  I don’t know why he did that or what he wrote.  Maybe he’s getting his anger under control.  Maybe he’s taking some time to work this out.  He’s dealing with 3 kinds of people: the teachable crowd, the self-righteous Sinner Stoning Committee, and, most crucially, the woman, embarrassed and trembling in fear.ea

He writes in the dust a few moments then stands. 

He looks into the eyes and soul of each Committee member and makes one short statement: “The one who has no sin can throw first.”  He stoops again and writes some more in the dirt.  This is all he has to say.

The Committee is dumbfounded.  They drop their rocks and their jaws.  Not even they, as righteous as they think they are, have the audacity to claim to be sinless.  The members look to the chairman: “what now, boss?”  Beginning with the oldest, they tuck their tails and run home to mama.  You can hear chuckles ripple through the crowd.

But the woman is still there.  Still right out there in front of everybody – everybody knows!  And she’s slowly suffocating in her shame.  Even though the Committee is gone, she’s still guilty, still unacceptable.   Nothing has really changed about her.  Her epic fail hasn’t been undone.

Then Jesus straightens up and faces her.  He acts surprised: “Where’d they go?  Doesn’t anyone condemn you?  Didn’t anyone throw a stone?”  She answers, “No one.”  There’s no one left to condemn her.  No one to reject her.  No one to stone her.  No one has the right.  Well, wait, there is one.  The one who is without sin.  Jesus.  He can condemn her.  He can reject her.  He can stone her.  And Jesus picks up one of the rocks and throws it – away.  Maybe he didn’t do that, but I have no doubt that Jesus put his arm around her shoulder when he said, “I don’t condemn you either.”  He doesn’t condone her adultery at all.  He tells her, “Leave your life of sin.”  She has failed.  But he doesn’t condemn.  He doesn’t punish.  He doesn’t kick her while she’s down.  He gives her mercy.  He gives her unconditional acceptance and a chance to start over.

I’ve been where that woman was.  I’ve felt the scorn, as painful as rocks, from the self-righteous when I made mistakes.  Jesus never joined them.  I’ve been where that woman was: epic fail.  Guilty, ashamed.  Jesus never stoned me.  Never condemned me.  Never threw me out.  Never gave up on me.  Always accepts me and picks me up to start over.

What this is all about is grace from Jesus the King.  Here in the shadow of the Temple, the center and power of the Law-controlled way of life, Jesus shows that the power of the new life he’s bringing is grace.  His Kingdom is powered by grace.  People who fail are not treated with a sweet, marshmallowy softness, to be sure.  But they are not rejected and condemned because of their failure.  No one has to desperately try to make themselves good enough and acceptable.  No one has to make sure they never do something wrong.  No one has to live in shame and fear.  With Jesus as King, nobody gets stoned.

What’s happening with this woman caught in the act?  What’s happening when Jesus says to her, “I don’t condemn you; leave your life of sin”?  Jesus is changing her with grace.

People don’t leave their lives of sin when they’re condemned; they keep on sinning.  People don’t change when they’re stoned; they die.  People don’t start living differently when someone points out how wrong they are and demands they do better; they find something to cover up their guilt.  People change when they have unconditional acceptance from Christ.

One day when I worked in a residential treatment center, one of our girls was throwing a tantrum in school.  She was in a rage.  She kicked a garbage can over and pushed books and papers onto the floor.  She overturned a folding table.  She screamed and cussed the staff.  Finally she squatted and stared at the floor, still seething with anger.  I walked over and stood to her side.  I said her name and held my hand to her, palm down.  Many seconds passed then she reached up.  She didn’t take my hand, just brushed her fingers over mine.  She relaxed and stood up and asked if she could take a walk with one of the staff.  But before she did, she cleaned up the room she had trashed.

Grace changes people.  Christ’s grace takes people with epic fails, unconditionally accepts them, and starts them on a new way of living.

 

 

Reading the Bible for all it’s worth

Posted by Mike Heady on January 19, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , , ,

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus said: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

It makes a difference whether a person is paying attention to God speaking.  It’s the difference between success and failure.  While the Bible is not all that God says to us (Jesus himself is the ultimate Word and the Holy Spirit communicates to our spirits), it is the core, the essence, the primary message to us.  I think most Christians adhere to the belief that reading and studying the Bible is really important.

It is dangerously easy to presume what God has in mind when reading the Bible.  We naturally tend to pick up on a Scripture verse or two and go with it, believing it sums up pretty much everything God is doing.  That leads us to a distorted understanding of his message every time.  With this method of hearing the Word we can become very fearful and condemning or we can become overly confident and indulgent.  We can believe God is out to get us or that he likes everything we do.  We can miss what God is actually saying.

The number 1 procedure that causes you to miss the meaning is focusing on those one or two verses without seeing them in context.  I think the way our Bibles are constructed with chapters and verses contributes to this.  They weren’t in the original writings. Chapter and verse divisions are helpful, of course, but you need to ignore them when you are reading/studying. They can make it look like there is a series of unrelated statements and/or events.  It’s very easy, then, to pick out sayings and think they mean something that they don’t.  I’ll give a couple of examples.

First, the passage I quoted to begin – Jesus telling how important it is to hear and do his words.  What is Jesus referring to with the picture of rain and floods and winds hitting the two houses?  I have usually heard it taught and I’ve taught it myself that he is giving us advice for when we have various troubles – disease, accidents, death, financial ruin, persecution, etc. – the storms of life.  But Jesus was not teaching about any of those things in the Sermon he was concluding (except his point that those who are persecuted will be blessed).  The primary point of his sermon is what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God. He said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).  He goes on to give several examples.  Then he said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).  So the story of the two houses means you need to hear, believe, and act on his words in the sermon to enter the kingdom.

Example 2 comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verse 13 (actually only the last phrase in the verse): forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…”  This statement gets used a lot at the beginning of a new year, so it’s been on my radar recently.  Some use it to inspire us to leave the old year behind and move forward in the new with confidence and freedom.  It’s also used by some to encourage us to let go of past struggles, burdens, and failures so we can make the most of life, including God’s best for us, of course.  But Paul wasn’t writing about any of that.  The context of this little phrase is the entire chapter 3.  You can read it and see he never mentions a new-year kind of mentality or a decision to lay aside personal baggage.  In fact, what he’s talking about forgetting were his great accomplishments as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (verses 4-6).  Just the opposite of failures or disappointments. He was a wildly successful Pharisee.  That meant personal prestige, self-satisfaction, power and even profit on top of a confidence that he was right with God.  That’s what he was forgetting.  In fact he said he was looking at all his greatness as just “dung.”  His reason was not so he would feel confident and get the most out of life but so he could “gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (verses 8-11).

See how easy it is to miss the actual meaning of God’s Word?

The Bible is not just a series of inspirational sayings.

We need to read the Bible for all it’s worth.  We need to hear all of the message.  Something that has helped me with this issue is reading longer chunks of Scripture, especially in the four Gospels, and basically ignoring the chapter and verse divisions and looking for themes and connections through the texts.  It is surprising how much more there is to hear when you stop thinking the Gospels are made up of a series of biographical events.  The Spirit has given us more than an interesting (or not) “life of Christ.”  It is much deeper and more profound than that.  I encourage you to try this.  Read/study with your mind open and searching for connections and meanings that run through large sections.

 

Here’s an experiment I’d like you to try.  I’ll give you a passage of Scripture to read.  The last verse has been taken to have a certain meaning.  Read the entire passage as a whole, including that last verse.  When you read it, see what that last verse really means in contrast to what you may have heard it means.  You can leave comments by clicking above.  The passage is Matthew 18:15-20.

A poem for Christmas

Posted by Mike Heady on December 21, 2016 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , ,

The Journey Of The Magi

by T.S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’ And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

 

(Journey of the Magi, James Tissot, 1894)

 

From the manger to the cross

Posted by Mike Heady on December 13, 2016 with No Commentsas , , , , ,

A shepherd tells his story

What a night! What a night that was! I saw things that night that I never imagined I’d ever see!

I’m a shepherd. Always have been. Always will be. Shepherding is in my blood. I’ve seen a lot of things out there in the wilderness, in the pastures. Mostly good things. One of the best things is when one of my ewes give birth. What a sight to see a little bitty lamb come fresh into the world.

But I’d never seen anything like that night. It started out like any other night. My father and I brought our flock to the field and so did the other shepherds. We built a fire and fixed our supper. After we ate, we were sitting on the side of a hill looking down at the town – Bethlehem. That place was full of people. Every man ever born in Bethlehem had to come and register in the Roman census. So it was a busy, crowded place that night. I wanted to go down and just look around – see all those strangers and hear some of their stories and, well who knows what I might’ve seen. But my father wouldn’t let me go. He said there was nothing down there that I needed to see.

And then it happened. All of a sudden, up in the sky – an angel! A real, live angel! Big as three men! And shining as bright as the sun – nearly blinded us! We were scared, real scared – scared as a lamb being chased by a wolf.

And then that angel spoke to us. His voice was powerful, forceful, but at the same time, real gentle. I can’t talk like him, but he said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got good news for you. It’s going to make you happy, real happy. Earlier today, down there in David’s town, Bethlehem, a Savior has been born. He’s the Messiah. He’s the Lord. Here’s how you can find him: he’s a newborn baby wrapped in cloth and he’s lying in a manger.”

The angel had no more than gotten the words out of his mouth when the whole sky was filled with angels. All of them were praising God for sending the Savior to bring peace on earth. After awhile, they left. Just disappeared.

We looked at each other. Then my father said, “Son, I think there is something down there you need to see. Let’s go.”

We went down to Bethlehem. It took awhile but we finally found them. They were in a barn. And there that baby was – like a little bitty lamb come fresh into the world. But it seemed awful strange. The Savior of the world lying in a manger! The Messiah in a trough! The Lord using a feed box for a bed! It was strange to see that, but there he was, just like the angel had told us.

We got so excited. When we left, we told everybody we met what had happened. We went back to the pastures – singing and dancing and laughing. We were so happy – God had sent our Savior. We were going to be saved!

After several weeks, we went back to Bethlehem to see them again. But they were gone. We found out that they were from Nazareth and must have gone back there. Nazareth – way up north. I wondered if I’d ever see that baby again.

Many years went by – I’d say 25 or 30. I began hearing about a man who was traveling around up north and teaching and preaching and healing people. People said that he was different than any of our regular religion teachers. Some people were saying that he was the Messiah. His name was Jesus. He was from Nazareth. The more I heard about him, the more I believed he must have been the baby we had seen in Bethlehem.

He was traveling all over the country, so I waited for him to come to Bethlehem. A couple of times I heard he was in Jerusalem, which is just a few miles away. Once I went up there, but he had already left. He never did come to Bethlehem.

Two or three years went by, and it seemed nobody talked about anything but Jesus. Finally, I heard he was in Jerusalem again. I decided that I was going to go see him this time. There was a lot of expectation and tension among the people. It felt like something big was about to happen. If Jesus was that Savior the angel told us about, maybe he was about ready to make his move. I was determined to be there and see it if he did.

I got to Jerusalem on Thursday during Passover Week. People said Jesus had been teaching in the Temple every other day that week, but he didn’t show up that day. Just my luck. So, I decided to stay on through Passover and the Sabbath. Maybe Jesus would come back.

Friday morning, I heard that Jesus had been arrested and put on trial and convicted. They said he had been taken outside the city. I went to see him. So many years before when I went to Bethlehem to see the baby, I felt excited. As I made my way through the streets of Jerusalem, I felt scared. Real scared. There was a big crowd – some people were laughing and making jokes, some were weeping. I pushed through the crowd to see him. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was the baby, the baby I had seen lying in a manger. That was strange. This was shocking – the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord – nailed to a cross.

But see, that’s how he saved us. He died as a sacrifice – like a lamb freshly killed in the Temple. And then he rose from the dead. Beat everything that was against us – the ultimate predator and the law and our own rebellion. Gave us life.

I’m a shepherd. Always have been. Always will be. But I’m a different kind of shepherd now. Different on the inside. Freed up. Forgiven. Made right with God. And now I’m a shepherd for people: teaching, preaching, helping them to know and follow Jesus. Now I see things I never would have imagined. All because the Savior came and went from the manger to the cross.