evil eye

Okay, let’s get something out of the way. Sometimes the Bible is just weird. There I said it. And I am still typing so I didn’t get struck by lightning. But really. Sometimes when we try to take concepts or illustrations from the Bible and put them in today’s context…it’s just, well weird. I ran across one of those instances just this last week as I was preparing for youth group with our students. The passage is a familiar text to most of us. It is commonly referred to as The Parable of the Workers in The Vineyard and it is found in Matthew 20. But in verse 15 it get’s a little weird. The owner of the vineyard is speaking to the workers hired first and he says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”. At first glance this isn’t that weird (and I just realized I have used the word weird a lot…I need a thesaurus). But there is a phrase in the Greek that stands out a bit if we go back to the original text and it is ophthalmos ponēros. Which the translators in the NIV labeled envious, but a more literal translation would be ‘evil eye’.

I don’t know what this sparks in your mind, but I almost picture a pirate or something with his evil eye staring down at me, ‘arrrr’. But that doesn’t really help us here. We have to look a bit more about what Jesus was saying in regards to the owner of the vineyard and the early workers. He is actually asking them if they are looking to do harm to the later workers because of his paying them the same wage. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as strange at first. Why in the world would Jesus accuse these workers as wishing harm upon the other workers? But then I think about human nature.

We all have those people who we are a bit envious of, frustrated by, hate to be around, etc. etc. Maybe it’s someone who seemingly has been blessed more than you. Maybe it’s that person who has made a life of taking advantage of the system. Maybe it’s the person who just rubs you the wrong way because of the life they lead. But here’s the true rub of it…Jesus died for all of those people. And he extends Grace (unmerited favor) to not only us but to EVERYONE. I think sometimes we forget that. Sometimes in our desire for retribution or equality (really this version of fair is only about us coming out on top) we really want some people to get their just due. I think if some of us were honest we might even wish Hell upon some of these people…talk about an evil eye. But if God doesn’t want Hell for any of these people, shouldn’t we be the same way? Shouldn’t we be so consumed by Grace that we become instruments of God’s imbalanced economy? I know for me this is insanely convicting and I hope you and I can start to see people a little bit differently…regardless of when they start working in the vineyard.


root deep

I submit for the jury that tooth/mouth pain has to be one of the worst pains a human can experience. Maybe I am just being a baby about it, but owwww! What did people do before modern dentistry and endodontics?

This past week I found out that I had a horrible infection just below one of my molars. That infection was pressing upon my tooth and basically reducing me to a babbling three-year old. At first I thought the tooth ache could be sinus related as it started prior to the weekend and my wife and daughter had just been sick. But as it grew more severe over the weekend (and my whining increased) my wife insisted that I go and see our favorite local dentist. After seeing me and my x-ray for all of five minutes I was sent to a local endodontist, who proceeded to drill into said tooth in order to correct the previous root canal and treat the infection. All that to say…Ouch! Who knew such debilitating pain could be derived from one tooth infection? I can’t imagine going through this prior to the modern era of Novocaine and Tylenol-3. That root, or rather that root infection was enough to take me out of commission completely (not that it necessarily takes much, but you get the point).

In his letter to young Timothy (I think Timothy is one of those people we think about in the Bible as being perpetually young), Paul makes mention of “root theory”, as I will call it. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10 he writes, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” And most of us have heard that adage before, “the love of money is the root of all evil”, but Paul says it slightly different. The desire for wealth is the root of all kinds of evil. Still seems pretty expansive though.

After experiencing that all encompassing effects of root damage I think I have started to understand what Paul is speaking about here. Granted, Paul probably had very little dental knowledge, but he had to understand a little bit of botany to make the reference. My tooth was completely rendered ineffective and useless because of it’s root issue (to this moment it is still pretty useless). Most plants, if the root is shot, whither and die pretty quickly. Likewise if our lives become consumed with the growth and acquisition of wealth we become virtually ineffective. I have seen some amazing Christians become consumed by their desire for more and fall away from an amazing calling on their life, Jesus even said in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

So I guess we need to examine our root desires. Are they infected? Are our root desires reflective of Christ or are they driven at something else? I can tell you from recent experience that infected roots don’t stay hidden forever and eventually they may even ruin us.


gates of hell

I imagine the title of this one probably caught your eye. Most of the time when someone throws out the word “Hell” in the church it creates some sort of a stir, although not always for the right reasons. But, title aside, I was running around Flint this morning and I couldn’t help but think about Hell, violence, poverty and the church. Let me try to bring you along on my thought journey (my mind goes everywhere when I run, so this may not work).

Last night during youth group our text that we covered came out of Matthew 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- Matthew 16:16-20. This text is unique because of Jesus’ geographical location when he spoke these words. He was in Caesarea Phillipi which was one of the Roman centers of culture and actually a locus for the worship of Pan. Attached to this worship was a cave, referred to as the Gates of Hell/Hades, where much of the Imperial based Pagan worship took place. So essentially Jesus was saying that Peter’s confession of his Lordship (the son of the Living God) was such an affront to the surrounding culture that even the gates of Hell couldn’t stand against it.

That’s the thing about gates…they aren’t an offensive strategy. Very rarely do you hear of someone being injured or beaten with a gate. They are actually a defensive strategy. So our confession of Christ/our alternative way of living is actually an offensive against the gates of Hell. Against the dominant culture. When is the last time you thought of Christianity as being rightly offensive instead of weirdly defensive?

Which gets me back to my morning run. My run this morning followed the blue line that is the Crim course through and around downtown Flint. Flint is a city known primarily for it’s violence and poverty (at least by much of the country). You might say these are the things that define the dominant Flint culture (i.e.i. the Flint logo with a handgun for the letter L). But you can see the effects of this culture and my question to us is, “How is the church attacking the gates of Hell in Flint?” Where is the church being effective in combating the violence and poverty in Flint? These aren’t issues where we rely on political rhetoric or voting polls to do the work of the Kingdom for us, but these are the trenches we need to get in and espouse the values of the kingdom (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control). One of my favorite quotes in understanding what an offensive church looks like goes like this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are we driving out darkness? Are we driving out hate? Or are the gates of Hell standing strong against us?


connectivity

So this week I had the privilege of getting to perform a tune-up on our 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan. I say privilege due to the fact that I am amazed that my wife ever lets me tinker with anything under the hood of either of our cars. But hers had been idling roughly and even almost died on her, so I think she was desperate. Early into this operation I could tell that it was going to be a doozy. But I followed all the instructions I received off of YouTube and seemed to get through it okay. Even though I was so nervous about the wire connections to the spark plugs. What if I didn’t get them in the right order? What if the connections are too loose? Will the car blow up? Will my wife consequently kill me? But I am happy to say that all is well in Dodge Caravan land…she’s purring like a kitten (the car that is).

But that got me thinking about connections. Just last week with our students we were talking about how we, as a church, could transform Flint and the culture around us. And we brainstormed program and service ideas and then one of my leaders pointed out a very simple and yet profound truth. In the midst of all of our scheming and planning it is essential that we stay connected to God. We have to be in the Bible, we have to be praying…otherwise all of our efforts are either a) useless or b) ineffective and we will eventually run out of steam. One of my favorite passages of scripture puts it this way, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 There is something key to our efforts and our connectivity to God.

Back to the car for a bit. The spark plugs I put in are brand spanking new and so are the wires. They are the perfect implements for powering that lovely 3.3L 6 cylinder engine (albeit an old engine). But if they aren’t connected or even just partially connected, they will fail miserably and all of a sudden I may have to rely on Flintstones power to get said Dodge Caravan from point A to point B. And I think it’s the same way with our Kingdom efforts. If we aren’t connected to the vine, if we aren’t intimately connected to God we will just be spinning our wheels. So may you renew your connection; even strengthen your connectivity in order to effectively bring the Kingdom of God to those around you.

 

 


hinder

Vacation Bible School…when I type these words I am sure a multitude of things enter into your brain. Whether it is flashbacks to watered down kool-aid and elbow macaroni crafts or more recent days where you find yourselves rushing to get the kids dressed into semi-appropriate, yet stain and water resistant clothes; these words usually mean something to us. Vacation Bible School for some of us may have even been the place where we first heard or really began to understand about what it means for Jesus to love us and for us to be able to follow after Him. Between crafts, games, stories, songs, offering contests (Side note: do you guys remember where it used to be a weight contest? And a roll of pennies used to be magical? Just me? Oh, ok) and the like, we somehow experienced something amazingly different that week. And I think I am just now beginning to put my finger on the pulse of what it might be.

You see in the gospels there is this story about Jesus (go figure) and some children. The writers speak about people bringing their young children to Jesus for Him to bless them and the disciples start to rebuke the parents. But Jesus response is simple and yet amazing, “He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:14-15 That phrase, “do not hinder” is probably what stands out the most to me. Jesus wants the disciples to drop all of their preconceived notions, agendas, issues, etc. and just let the kids see Him and subsequently Him the children. He goes on to say that God’s Kingdom, His Kingdom, could only be received like a child.

So let’s contextualize this a bit. During Vacation Bible School adults, teens, and all make-up of volunteers drop everything for a week. For a week they revel in Bible stories, kiddie songs, crafts (and I for one am not a crafty person), games, motions, laughing, singing, dancing, etc. And all of this is done why? To show Jesus to kids…or rather to bring kids to Jesus. And the part that always blows me away is that the kids do see Jesus. They know that behind all of the programming is the heart of God being lived out in these volunteers and they receive the love, attention, compassion, and care graciously because that is how the Kingdom of God is received. It really is magical, some might even say Divine.

Now think with me…what if VBS wasn’t just a week, but a platform, a paradigm for the way in which we conduct ourselves with the world around us? We drop our ideas, preconceived notions, agendas, programs, booklets, classes, etc. and we just showed people the way to Jesus. Maybe that is an oversimplification or maybe that is really what Jesus means when he says, “do not hinder”. I for one never want to be in the camp of people where my agendas, schedules, etc. get in the way of someone encountering Jesus and realizing how much He loves them. I just want to keep showing people the way to Him; I hope you do too.


busy spirit

I love summer. You have warm weather, longer days, and sun! Summer is one of those times of the year where people are supposed to unwind, vacation, stick their toes in the sand and in general relax. But I have been examining my own life and the lives of those around me and nothing seems further from the truth. People are bustling from one place to the next; creating memories, crafting experiences, waiting in lines, traveling in cars, filling schedules and ultimately being more busy than they were before the summer. And honestly I don’t blame anyone. For just a few months (at least in Michigan) we get beautiful weather and sun, so why not make the most of it? But I find myself in an almost frantic pace and standing ultimately in need of repentance.

Let me explain. In Psalm 51:10 we find the following, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The writer talks about how God’s action in our repentant confession is not only to clean us, but to steady us. To help our spirit to be fixed. And honestly this is something I find myself struggling with in the midst of all this busyness. I feel like my spirit, my soul, that deepest part of me is getting pulled in so many different directions at times that I just feel hollow….maybe that’s just me.

But I can’t help but think that this might be a shared state. As I peruse social media sites and see all the stuff we are occupying our space/spirit with I wonder if there is not a need for God to renew our spirits to be a bit more fixed, a bit more steady. And maybe this isn’t accomplished through travel, vacation, or more events and activities, but maybe it is through insane honesty before the Divine. In the latter part of this same Psalm the writer declares that God will not “despise a broken Spirit and a contrite heart”. In other words God honors our brokenness, our admission of frailty before him. And I think that sometimes the busyness, the noise of life is just another way we try to convince ourselves that we can be whole apart from God.

But I’m tired. I’ve been too busy. I’m broken and so I repent and long for my Spirit to be made steady again by God’s renewal. I pray that you find the space to experience that same renewal and maybe become a little less busy.


separation

A week or so ago I was part of a Senior High camp…not out of the ordinary for a youth pastor I realize. But with this particular camp I had the privilege of hosting early morning (8:00 AM for Senior High Students) coffee talks. These talks revolved around theological issues and we would sit and discuss these for an hour or so. The craziest part about all of this…the students actually showed up. We would average between 30 – 60 students every morning. They would come in bleary eyed and sometimes bed-headed to discuss things like Theodicy, Trinitarian theology and even Atonement theory. It was on the last discussion day that the issue of sin came to the forefront. What is sin? Granted there were all sorts of text book definitions and Sunday School answers thrown out and I even added my own mix to the pile, “Anything that separates us from God”. And one of my counter parts (who shall remain nameless…) threw out the questions, “What about anything that separates us from our neighbor?” Hmmmm….(Now you are privy to my inner monologue) what about that?

And thus began a mini exploration that led me to a passage I shared recently with my students. It goes a bit like this: Jesus is hanging out teaching, per the usual, and a teacher of the law comes up to question Him. He asks Jesus a very pointed question as to which commandment is the greatest. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 Now it can possibly be derived that if the entire law and prophets hang on these two commandments then any violation of these two commandments is a violation of all the law and the prophets. That being said, if we are commanded to love God and our neighbor above all other commandments then anything that breaks that love, creates that separation would therefore be sin…

This one is by very nature tough. It’s easy (well maybe not easy) to understand sin as a violation against God. We understand the need for atonement and forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to sin and God. But what about when it comes to our neighbor? And Biblically we are not allowed to think of our neighbor solely as the person on our immediate street, but effectively (see The Parable of The Good Samaritan) our neighbor must be seen defined by those we consider our enemies…the others. Now what do we do with this command? What do we do with this separation? How do we embody the Kingdom of God with lives counter to sin when it comes to our neighbors? Honestly I wish there were a clean cut answer. The scary (and yet infinitely opportunistic) part is that there isn’t. And crazy enough we are given this life to figure that out. So what are you doing to bridge the separation…or better yet, what are you allowing God to do through you to bridge the separation?

It’s funny what can come out of early morning talks around coffee with teenagers.


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