Jesus saw their faith

And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 2:4‭-‬5 ESV

I love this passage of Scripture.

Did you notice this? “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'”

Does it seem a little incongruous? It seems that Jesus saw the faith of the friends and so rewarded the paralytic with forgiveness and healing. How did “their” faith benefit the paralytic? Is faith transferable?

I think their are a few answers. In one way, yes, it is (stick with me here). But before I get into that, I think it’s likely that “their” refers to all five of the guys, including the four vertical guys and the one horizontal guy.

But the sense in the passage is that the faith of the friends was marvelous to Jesus. They had lifted their buddy up to the top of the roof and broke through to get him in front of the Lord. Forget the property damage, I think it’s clear Jesus absolutely loved seeing faith in action.

In the gospels Jesus always honors faith. In this one sense, their faith was transferable to their friend: think about what it was that these four guys wanted? More than anything they wanted their friend to be physically healed. They wanted it so bad and they also believed so thoroughly that Jesus would provide that healing that they ripped open a roof and caused a spectacle. Jesus saw their faith, honored it, and went further even than they expected. He healed their friend spiritually first. Then physically.

Too often when I think of “faith” my mind’s eye pictures a person who is stationary, but who internally, devotionals believes in the Lord. But faith is something that is not stationary.  It moves, it breathes, it lugs a fellow up onto a roof and digs a hole to lower him down (and the implication is these four guys didn’t expect to have to lift him back up because that brother was going to walk out).

People shouldn’t have to have mind-reading capabilities to see our faith.

Jesus saw their faith.

Knowing and being known

But now thus says the Lord , he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:1‭-‬7 ESV

We are not accidents. We were created and formed. Because of this, we can know and be known by our Creator. And it is a very good kind of knowing; redeemed and called by name, a precious possession of the Creator.

Not called to a life of ease, but called to a life of intimacy, of knowing and being known as we walk through floods and flame with the One who promises never to leave or forsake.

The One who calls us precious and honored and loved. Us!

He promises to restore, to bring it all back, to make all things new and as they were meant to be at first, for his glory and for those who call his name and are called by his name.

Praise be to God.

“He wants Jesus to be the main character”

This is a good story of someone discovering what really matters: Why Jake Locker Walked Away From Football

An excerpt:

With a nudge from his mentor, Locker started to explore his relationship with Jesus. Hasselbeck could sense Locker’s angst over his hero status, and he told the rookie that trusting in Jesus could help him cope. Locker still drank at that point, but not as heavily as in college. Alcohol wasn’t his problem; it was a symptom of his problem, how he masked his problem.

Hasselbeck invited Locker—who had attended Catholic services growing up but who didn’t yet consider himself religious—to team chapel. Eventually the two men came to play a game that Hasselbeck called the Daily Bread, in which they competed to compliment at least one person each day. Later that first winter, after Locker appeared in five games, Titans players were packing up for the offseason when Hasselbeck invited Jake to fly to Orlando with him for a Pro Athletes Outreach conference—“just a weekend retreat looking at God’s design for your life,” Hasselbeck explains.

Locker had no preconceptions as he listened at one symposium to hip-hop artist Lecrae, but instantly the QB felt connected to this rapper who grew up surrounded by drugs and gang violence. After becoming successful, Lecrae explained, the pressure to “keep it real” overwhelmed him, until finally he chose to end the double life. He’d prioritize Jesus and his family above all else. The internal conflicts that Lecrae described seemed to mirror Locker’s inner turbulence.

Lauren had joined him on the trip, and she was pregnant with Colbie. Their life appeared to be perfect—millions in the bank, daughter on the way—but that’s not how Locker felt. “I was pretending with everybody,” he says, “because I wasn’t authentic with anybody.” (Says Lecrae of the notion that his Orlando talk in any way led to Locker’s retirement: “I hope his fans aren’t mad at me.”)

As the conference wound down, Jake and Lauren decided to be baptized, and with Hasselbeck standing in the water beside them, they dedicated their lives to Jesus. That moment, Locker says, is why “I can sit here today and say that I’m an extremely happy man.” It marked the first day of Locker’s new life—and the first time he asked himself, Do I want to play football anymore?

I have to include this as well, from earlier in the article:

He talks for most of the next two hours, answering every question. And yet when he departs that afternoon with a bro hug, he says he’s still not sure he wants to fully cooperate. I worry that he might have just bared his soul to an audience of one. If he’s to participate in any story, he says, he wants Jesus to be the main character.

Yes.

As he walked

… whoever says he abides in [Jesus] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. – 1 John 2:6 ESV

There are passages like this all over Scripture. Sometimes they seem to grow a bit dull with the friction of repeated reads, or maybe a better way to express it is we’ve become dull to their wonder, fear and sharpness.

We should walk in the same way in which he walked? I’m thinking through the implications.

He walked in courage. Courage is often the first thing I think of when i think of Jesus in his incarnation. Boy was he brave. He had physical courage, social courage, intellectual courage, spiritual courage. He was fearless. Perfect love does that.

He walked in wisdom. Jesus was brilliant in his dealings with friends and especially with those at enmity with him. He astonished people. He drove those who wanted to take him down mad with his answers to their loaded questions. Their ordnance blew up in their faces.

He walked in passion. Jesus doesn’t come across in the gospels as needlessly emotional. But he wept over Jerusalem and grieved over his followers’ lack of faith and cried at the tomb of a good friend and sweat blood in the garden. He felt the extremes of human emotion: joy, gladness, anger, sorrow, peace, agitation. All while being in full control.

He walked in gentleness, especially toward those who the rest of the world walked over. Both Rome and the Jewish religious leaders were a hobnailed sandal smashing a human face, forever. Jesus touched and healed and blessed the ones that were underneath this crushing weight of earthly power. He placed himself under all that weight and took the worst they could give him.

He walked in authenticity. Look at the commands of Jesus. Try to find one that he himself didn’t follow and fulfill. Jesus is the definition of walking the talk. That is incredibly rare.

He walked in faith. The faith of Jesus was in full operation at all times. He relied on the Father for everything and trusted the Father for everything and courageously did the works the Father put before him, in faith.

He walked in hope. He went through more brutal temptation and more brutal physical and spiritual suffering than we could ever face or withstand, for hope in the joy that was set before him.

We walked in love. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He was the expression of the Father’s love, of the one who is love itself. He loved us to and through the whips and the humiliation and the nails. He loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and he loved his neighbor (us) as he loved himself. He chose the greatest path, the path of self-giving and self-emptying, of redeeming the irredeemable out of the muck of our homemade pit. Love.

He raised us from the dead and gave us new hearts and a new Spirit and made his home with us.

So that we might walk as he walked.

As many as they were before

“I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before.
Zechariah 10:8 ESV

It has occurred to me
That the first garden and the last garden
Were always the plan

And the glory of the last garden
From its bejeweled walls
To the majesty of its tiniest leaf vein
Is brighter, deeper, more profound and poignant
Than it would have been
Without the serpent

Not because he was anything
But he believed he was making something
Something big
Yet in the end what had been intended
For very good
Turns out to be inevitable
And very good
And like the serpent never was

And even – and he’ll hate this –
Better
As if he’d never slithered

Because of the middle garden
And the blood-like sweat
And a cup drained
By one who did not slay the garden invaders
But submitted to their serpent whips
And venomed nails
And sweated out blood like thick rain

So to gather
All of his
Without one of them lost

Again

Without one of them lost

A snake-bitten people looked up at the exalted one
Crowned in thorned fangs
and were healed

And in the end
The serpent
Got nothing at all

Shaken

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord . Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.'” Haggai 2:4‭c-‬9 ESV

The covenant out of Egypt was a covenant of people-hood and adoption. Out of the plagued and shaken old kingdom to a Kingdom of priests, yet wandering, wandering, wandering from the furnace to a milk and honey-flow garden.

Don’t be afraid, God’s Spirit hasn’t departed. He has shaken and is shaking the heavens, the earth, the lands, the seas, the nations. All will fall before an unshakable Kingdom whose Sovereign rode into the town of the Temple, veiled power in humility, seated on a donkey. He shook the temple, small and close, in cleansing, righteous rage.

The Lord owns the treasures of the earth, and the cattle on a thousand hills. His Temple will be filled with glory as those he treasures come forth from every nation, drawn by the Advent, the Incarnation, the Atonement delivered on the day the earth shook, the Veil tore and the Blood flowed. Drawn by the Resurrection that fulcrumed the center of all history as a tomb door shook open, exploding the seals as hell shook apart

Out of the shaken ground, in an upper room tongue-lashed in bright flame, the true unshaken Temple stood as the wind shook the shutters and the tongues reeled back the Babel curse, the un-scattering together of a shaken-apart people.

The Temple.

Now in divine diaspora dispersed among billions of Spirit tabernacles world-wide, walking the earth in community unshaken by distance, in veiled glory, from glory to glory, as we await the final shaking when our beautiful King returns, and the shaking is fulfilled, and garden peace reigns once again.

The best way

And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
Acts 10:39‭-‬42 ESV

This is part of the talk Peter gave to the household and friends of Cornelius on the day that is often referred to as the “Gentile Pentecost”. I’m drawn to his statement that God made Jesus “to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

There is a lot in that sentence, but in particular Peter answers a question many have asked over the millennia. You may have asked it yourself. Here’s the question:

“God, why don’t you just show yourself?”

Why didn’t he appear to all the people? Wouldn’t that be easier? Jesus could have just flashed across the sky and the whole world would see and know. Why didn’t God do that? Why doesn’t God do that?

I can’t comprehensively answer that question. But I think Peter gives the main answer here: because God didn’t want to.

Jesus didn’t appear to all the people, as we might desire. Instead, he appeared “to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses.”

The whole point was to have us carry the message, imperfect and bungling though we might be. This is how God has chosen to do it, virally spreading the good news of Jesus to the world through people who, first, were the friends and followers who ate and drank with him, then through those they told, down through the centuries and untold spiritual generations to us.

It’s the best way. Because it’s God’s way.

Kingdom dreams

I read Matthew 6 yesterday. It’s cliche to say it, but sometimes you can read something you’ve read a bunch of times and suddenly see it differently; see a deeper theme you never pieced together before.

I saw the pattern, maybe for the first time. Jesus talks repeatedly about the motives we have for nearly everything “spiritual” we do (giving, praying, fasting) and what those motives should be. There’s that curious section around verse 22 referring to the good, healthy eye flooding us with light versus the bad eye flooding us with darkness. There’s the majestic ending full of encouragement and admonition against anxiety.

It is all one theme: be single minded and set our eyes on the Kingdom of God. Seek that and the rest is just details. We give, we pray, we fast for the Kingdom of God, not for attention. When we pray we pray for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, for God’s will done here as it is in heaven.  It’s not a long prayer because that’s a tight, straightforward outcome.

See the Kingdom clearly, have a “good eye”, and be flooded with light.

Invest in the Kingdom. Store your treasures there. Have faith, God will take care of you.

It’s so simple. It really is; simple yet so hard. It battles against those treasures on earth that scatter our vision: praise from others, caressing and feeding our worries, chasing the gold at the end of the rainbow. Earthly financial security. Work, work, work. The American Dream.

Jesus is calling us to the Kingdom Dream.

May I dream Kingdom dreams.

Always running

We’re flying down 290, it’s a beautiful morning, and I’m burdened with the knick knacks and spider bites of life.

I’m in a tough spot at work with a project that is significantly overdue.

I stayed up till nearly midnight last night deploying another project that is also significantly overdue.

Why can’t I catch up?

I think this feeling is common to humanity. Seems we’re always running somewhere: either chasing after something we can’t quite catch or being chased by something that’s gaining ground on us.

I had a moment a little over a year ago. It was an important moment. It happened, as a matter of fact, at high velocity 30,000 feet over the Atlantic.  I was headed to Eastern Europe for non-work activities; what I had left behind was a project that was struggling and a sharp encounter with my boss that had put me in the pit of anxiety.

I’d spent a day shifting gears, leaving the pile at work behind to fester while I prepared for some new challenges in the upcoming week and started the comfortable but still tiring grind of a modern intercontinental journey.

It was late. I was sitting in my seat and the anxiety was as heavy as the darkness around me. Then, in a moment, the burden was gone. Gone. This has only happened to me one or two other times in my life. It was almost as if a Voice had said “Bill, it’s going to be alright, and all of it will be alright.” It was the peace that passes understanding.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:39 ESV

It was kind of like that. And everything did turn out alright and better than alright.

I’m running against the wind right now. So I say to my soul, remember. Remember.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Psalms 46:10‭-‬11 ESV

Bigger fish to fry

I’ve been thinking recently about past controversies in the theological circles I run in. The worship wars, the Calvinist vs Arminian debates, “emerging” vs “emergent” (remember that one?), and so on.

Many of these are still going on, and others are being cooked up all the time. If you’re incensed because someone used the phrase “reckless love” in a worship song, for example, you’re still in these battles.

I’ve been in them too. Case in point, over the past fifteen years or so I inched closer to Calvinism though I never fully embraced it. For various reasons I’m now crab-walking away from that brink as fast as I can, but that’s a post for another time (and, no, my pigeonholing friends, I’m not an “arminian” either).

Things have changed. The few topics I raised above, and many others, are important and deserve to be worked out fearfully and respectfully. But they seem, to me at least, to be mainly side shows these days.

Bigger questions are looming now. For example, what is the future of the evangelical church in America? Have we learned from our unholy alliances or are we going to double down? Will the church become a leading force for good and needed change? Will we continue to automatically dismiss certain concepts, such as “justice”, as being aligned with theological liberalism? Will it continue to be impossible to blame ourselves for anything because we are GOOD PEOPLE?

A few days after the resurrection Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing. It’s unclear why; they may have been hungry, they might have needed some money, or maybe it’s because that’s what they always used to do. When in doubt, catch a trout.

You know the story. They didn’t catch a thing until the Lord showed up on the shore and told them to cast their nets on the other side. Then the catch came.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” John 21:9‭-‬10 ESV

They had gone back to what they always did. Jesus showed up to, among other things, remind them that there were now bigger fish to fry. The old pursuits weren’t the main thing anymore.

I think we’re in a moment like this, and have been for a long while. In John 21 Jesus connects love for him with love for the sheep that he has entrusted to us. This echoes the greatest commandment, doesn’t it? Love God and love your neighbors.

“Feed my sheep” surely does mean to feed the people in our care (our neighbors) with the truth. But what’s needed is the whole truth, not just those truths and semi-truths that are comforting and convenient (such as “We’re GOOD PEOPLE”).

“Feed my sheep” is not an other-worldly command. It often means literal feeding. It means valuing and advocating for justice,  turning the other cheek, giving of ourselves, going the extra mile, giving up our treasures.

I wonder if, while we claim to be rich and whole, we’re sick and broken and poor.

We’ve wasted a lot of time on small distractions. There are bigger fish to fry.