The Tree of Life

Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
-Revelation 2:7

What are you hungry for and what’s on the menu?  Some people seem to always be hungry.  In this verse, we are told that there is a special tree, that only some people get the right to eat from.

Throughout your life, you have probably tried foods that you never had before.  Sometimes, you might have said, “that’s really good”.  There are foods that taste exquisite.

There is a promise in the message to the first church, in Revelation, that they will get to eat from the tree of life, if they conquer.  A special food is available to those who conquer.

The word conquer is an odd word for us.  What does it mean?

It means victory or overcoming, which has to do with faithfulness.  And faithfulness is an action.  To be faithful and have victory or be overcoming and conquering, is to take action.
And the context here are people who have been working hard for God, but have abandoned or left their first love.  They have labored, endured, and been intolerant of evil people.  They have exposed the lies of false apostles.  They have specifically endured hardships for Jesus name and have not grown weary.

“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance,and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.”

But in all that, they made the mistake or got off track by moving away from the life of living in Love.  Jesus says that is what they and we started with and they and we too can move away from love, into all sorts of good works.  We can move away from that love and start living is self righteousness, sort of doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
Jesus was not and is not pleased with believers who do the right thing without love.  We learn here that we can not live the life and be pleasing to the Lord, detached from the simple life of love that started our journey in Christ.
The reward for being simply faithful to live in the love of God and be loving because we are loved, is to eat from the tree of life.  Before Adam and Eve fell, they were allowed to eat from the tree of life, in the garden of Eden.  They were forbidden from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
They ate from the second tree and became barred from eating from the first tree.  The phrase ‘tree of life’ is mentioned in Proverbs and perhaps Ezekiel, before we find it again in Revelation here and later, in the city of God, in Revelation 22.
You could make the case that the tree of life is eternal life through Christ.  The Bible looks backwards and forward to Christ, who stands outside of time, as ‘the Lamb who was slaughtered from the foundation of the world’ (Rev. 13:8).
The reward or promise and provision for those who stay in their first love or return to it when they stray, is to eat from the tree of life.  It is interesting that if the tree of life symbolizes Christ, what the promise is saying is that if you stay in the love of Christ, you get more of Christ.
The alternative would be that if you leave the love of Christ that got you started, and somehow get involved in religious obligation or legalism, doing the right thing for the wrong reason; Jesus will remove your lampstand.  This is the penalty or result when we do not repent.
What does this mean: “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent”?  Does it mean you lose your salvation?  I don’t know if it means that.  Figuratively, it might mean that you or you all, because it is a church, plural; will lose you light, your ability to shine real light or influence for Christ.
‘Lights out’, might mean no life or nobody is home.  It might mean asleep.  Maybe it is like Jesus is saying, “If you don’t repent, I am pulling the plug on your church”.  I don’t know.
It is interesting that when we leave the love, the love we had at first, we are already ‘pulling the plug’ or ceasing to be connected to God in Christ.  But perhaps, Jesus keeps blessing people, ministries, or churches for a while, who become disconnected from the love that they started with; and then at some point in time, he says that this has happened and we need to repent, or he will remove his blessing.
This reminds me of Jesus’ saying, “To those who have much, more will be given.  But to those who don’t have much, what they do have will be taken away.”  The secret is that we determine how much we get and he encourages us to get more.  The person who is passive or purposely does not seek to get more will lose the small amount they do have.
You could make the analogy to food or produce and farming.  You get more by harvesting and planting.  If you don’t get out there are pick the produce and plant more and do all the things farmers do, then your crops will shrink from small to none.
Same thing with your livestock.  If you don’t feed and tend to your animals, they will die of be lost.
If Christ is the tree of life, then the reward or blessing; the promise and provision from living loved, is more love.  Christ and his love is never boring and it is limitless.  The experience of his love and the love of the Father through him is deeper and wider than we can explore in our lifetimes.
When we come into the love of God through Christ, we have entered into eternal life.  If begins here and now, then continues into eternity.
The simple love leads to a life of deeper and wider love.  It does not get complicated, but is does go into depth, insight, and wisdom.  When we leave love for works or cerebral knowledge, the leaving the love part is a problem.
The tree of life that is promised to the Christians or the church that conquers, is victorious, or overcomes through faithfulness to living in the love that they started with; could be called ‘the deeper Christian life’.  That deeper life is more from God that we started with.  And God has a catalogue or warehouse of gifts and blessings that he wants to give us, that are in Christ.
The mistake we make is to somehow leave the love that we started with.  And it is funny that conquering, victory, or overcoming is had by simply staying in the love that got us started.  The tree of life is the Father’s love in Christ.  The fruit of that tree is the Father’s love that is shown through Christ.
That is the bread of life that we must eat daily.  This is also our greatest weapon that gives us victory and overcoming and conquering in our lives.  Living loved and knowing the love is the key to living and is what sets captives free.
Salvation, deliverance, and life comes from that love.  Wisdom, joy, and peace come from that love also.  To eat from the tree of life reminds us of every good thing that is from him.
Eating from that tree of life brings us into Philippians 4:8, of thinking about what is true, just, pure, lovely, and commendable; of moral excellence and praiseworthy things that are from the Lord.
If the tree of life is Christ and we have Christ within us, we can access it and partake of the fruit anywhere and at any time.  We neither have to wait to go to heaven nor hope for a special spiritual experience or visiting heaven.  We have Christ within us and can eat his fruit, as our daily bread.
His life is our life and that is the tree of life.  Don’t think that eating from the tree of life is an unusual gift, showcased is Jesus’ word to the Ephesian church of Revelation 2.  It is for all Christians (2 Cor. 1:20).

Back to this issue or word ‘conquer’.  The ones who conquer get to eat from the tree of life.  Don’t let that sound like a good work or zealousness that is ever outside of our first love or love we started with.

He conquered death and the enemy.  When we realized who Jesus was and when he initiated our salvation, or personal salvation experience, we got involved, through his love, God’s love through him; with him.  His conquering was to take action, out of love for us.

Our conquering is to take action, in being faithful to him.  We do this by loving him with the love that started when we were first touched by his love.

Good things can be done, outside of loving Christ.  The problem with this and the problem Jesus has with this for us, is that if we do things and live a certain way that might be good, but it is not from and out of his love, then it is not Christian.  We might identify as Christian and be church people, but we are really humanists or socialists or fill in the blank.

Jesus stern words are that if you want to do good and even hate evil, but it is not from the love that he loved you with that saved you, then he will remove your lampstand or shut off the lights in your church.

He is looking for a people who simply love.  Those who have been saved will love others in that love from the one who saved them.  And eating from the tree of life symbolizes partaking of the life of Christ and becoming deeper and wider in the love that started our lives in Christ.

The way in is the way on.  The love that started us is the love that we go on in.  We never leave the love that started our lives, but take it with us.

There is a tendency we have to let the love grow cold or be taken for granted.  We always need to circle back and revisit that love, rekindle it, renew it, be thankful again for it; and the person from whom it is from and through.  Relationship to Jesus must be nurtured and renewed, celebrated, and made sacred again and again.

Using Problems To Teach (Learning to Teach Like Jesus, pt.6)

Then Jesus left there and went into the area of Judea and across the Jordan River. Again, many people came to him, and Jesus taught them as he always did.

-Mark 10:1 (ERV)

These are reflections and notes on chapter six of Harrell Horne’s book on learning to teach like Jesus.  Life is filled with problems ranging from what to have for lunch, to questions about eternity.  When we face a problem, it makes us think.

Here are some problems that people had from the book of Mark, in chapters 9 and 10.  The problem is underlined.  I am using the ERV version today (Easy-To-Read version, 2006)

They asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?

Jesus answered, “They are right to say that Elijah must come first. Elijah makes all things the way they should be. But why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man will suffer much and that people will think he is worth nothing?  I tell you that Elijah has already come. And people did to him all the bad things they wanted to do. The Scriptures said this would happen to him.”

-Mark 9:11-13

Jesus teaches that they should look at who comes after this type of Elijah (John) and consider how the Son of Man will suffer and be considered worthless.  Asking these questions will lead us further down the path.

Jesus and his followers went to Capernaum. They went into a house, and Jesus said to them, “I heard you arguing on the way here today. What were you arguing about?” But the followers did not answer, because their argument on the road was about which one of them was the greatest.

Jesus sat down and called the twelve apostles to him. He said, “Whoever wants to be the most important must make others more important than themselves. They must serve everyone else.”

Then Jesus took a small child and stood the child in front of the followers. He held the child in his arms and said, “Whoever accepts children like these in my name is accepting me. And anyone who accepts me is also accepting the one who sent me.”

-Mark 10:33-37

Jesus takes the question or problem of who is greatest and teaches them about serving like he does.  He also made an object lesson out of a child, saying that service or being important is about accepting the smallest and weakest people, who can not do much for you.  He even goes further and says that when you do this, you are accepting him and his father.  This is an entirely upgraded upgraded teaching on importance or greatness, that causes the learner to re-think and perform the actions of importance or greatness differently than had been previously understood.

Then John said, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to force demons out of someone.  He is not one of us.  So we told him to stop, because he does not belong to our group.”

Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me.  Whoever is not against us is with us.

-Mark 9:38-40
Jesus taught tolerance.  We get intolerant of people who are different than us and sometimes even want to shut down so-called ministries that are very different than what we are comfortable with.  We have all sorts of lines, boundaries, walls, and tests that we use to say, “They aren’t right”, when they are using Jesus name to do good.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to make him say something wrong. They asked him, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?

Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you to do?”

The Pharisees said, “Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife by writing a certificate of divorce.”

Jesus said, “Moses wrote that command for you because you refused to accept God’s teaching.  But when God made the world, ‘he made people male and female.’  ‘That is why a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.  And the two people will become one.’ So they are no longer two, but one.  God has joined them together, so no one should separate them.”

-Mark 10:2-9
The backdrop of this question was not only to see if they could trip Jesus up, which was very rude and says something about the heart of the question askers.  But Jesus refuses to say “yes’, or “no”, and goes deeper; teaching them why God gave Moses a law like that: because of hard hearts, which is exactly what these Pharisees had.
To learn about marriage, from which some people want to divorce, Jesus takes us back to creation.  Male and female, who become one.  In creation, the woman is created out of the man, as sacred architecture.  This is the exegetical meaning of the Hebrew used in Genesis.
Jesus says, in a sense, that divorce is a terrible and destructive thing, because of how marriage glues a man and a woman together.  The Pharisees had made divorce an easy and lite thing, because they lost sight of what God made marriage to be.

Jesus started to leave, but a man ran to him and bowed down on his knees before him. The man asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get the life that never ends?

Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.  And you know his commands: ‘You must not murder anyone, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not lie, you must not cheat, you must respect your father and mother ….’”

The man said, “Teacher, I have obeyed all these commands since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at the man in a way that showed how much he cared for him. He said, “There is still one thing you need to do. Go and sell everything you have. Give the money to those who are poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

-Mark 10:17-21
Jesus answers or teaches this man about the problem that he does not know that he has.  His stuff had him.  At least that what many people I have heard teach on these verses have said and it seems like a good guess.  Jesus in a sense says that the key to eternal life is not doing the right thing, but giving up everything and following him.
In other words, many people live their lives doing the right thing, while not giving up everything and following Jesus.  When you do follow Jesus, you will end up at least attempting to do the right thing, although you might miss it, mess up, fail, or blow it often.  The key to life and eternal life is not doing the right thing, but following the right person.  A true followership is when we are willing to give up everything for that right person, Jesus.

Then James and John, sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want to ask you to do something for us.

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The sons answered, “Let us share the great honor you will have as king. Let one of us sit at your right side and the other at your left.

Jesus said, “You don’t understand what you are asking. Can you drink from the cup that I must drink from? Can you be baptized with the same baptism that I must go through?”

The sons answered, “Yes, we can!”

Jesus said to the sons, “It is true that you will drink from the cup that I drink from. And you will be baptized with the same baptism that I must go through. But it is not for me to say who will sit at my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he chooses.”

When the other ten followers heard this, they were angry with James and John. Jesus called all the followers together. He said, “The non-Jewish people have men they call rulers. You know that those rulers love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority over the people. But it should not be that way with you. Whoever wants to be your leader must be your servant. Whoever wants to be first must serve the rest of you like a slave. Follow my example: Even the Son of Man did not come for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people.”

-Mark 10:35-45
This might seem like a silly or embarrassing question.  This is like asking Jesus if I can be famous: a rock star, a great athlete, author, or political leader; perhaps even an ecclesiastical leader.  How does Jesus answer us if we were to ask him this?  But their question or request was re-framed, by Jesus, as a problem that he gave insight into and a solution for.

Notice that we don’t hear Jesus shaming them for asking.  Jesus deals with us where we are, even if we are below par.  This seems to have been a sincere question.  Bad-faith, insincere questions are different.

They were asking if they could be the top people, who received the top honor, right beneath or next to Jesus.  They were requesting the highest appointments to honored positions.
Jesus first of all says that the honored ones are perhaps going to be the ones who suffer the most for him.  Secondly, he says that his father is the one who assigns the seats.
Then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and teaches the disciples that leadership in his kingdom is not like it is in the world, where some people enjoy their power over others and like to make a show of it.
“You want to be a leader over people?”, Jesus asks.  “Then serve: be a servant; be like a slave”, is what Jesus said.  Follow his example of laying down your life for others, so they can be saved; is also what he said.

For each of these problems, underlined, Jesus gave a solution.  His solutions affected the conduct of his learners.  In other words, his teaching contained a new path, new way, or an upgrade.

Jesus takes a theoretical question and makes it practical.  Today, we might ask, “Is this the end of the world, or perhaps the beginning of the end?”  And God’s answer might be something like, “It may be, but are you loving, living by faith, and serving me?”
Jesus usually takes the question and goes deeper than a simple answer.  He makes it a heart issue and a faith issue.  And his answer or part of his answer often contains a question that makes us think and learn even more than we thought about previously.

In teaching, like Jesus taught; if we seek to emulate him, are we going to talk about problems?  Did Jesus bring up problems that people were having or did he answer problems that people brought to him, to deal with problems and teach about them?

Do you agree that Jesus felt that real thinking begins with problems?

Before we get down on the Scribes, Pharisees, and skeptical people who asked Jesus questions; we can look at their questions or comments as problems that required thinking and learning.  These issues brought up were their ‘felt need’.

Did Jesus always answer the comments or critical questioning?  Do you see places where Jesus did not get into it?  Do you see other places where Jesus did answer something?

What were the problems that Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman brought to Jesus?

When Jesus Jesus addressed a problem, his teaching was a solution, with a faithful action attached.  He did not just teach and indoctrinate people with theories to be believed, but gave solutions that hold true by active faith participated in by the student.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about a list of problems.  Is Jesus showing us that addressing problems is the way to teach?

Jesus saw the needs of his learners and talked to them about them.  We also can speak to people about what they need.

Horne: “Jesus met the moral and religious needs of men, and inspired them to find satisfaction of all their needs in the abundant life.
   What difference would it make in our work if we met men on the ground of their problems and needs?


Learning to teach Like Jesus series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4
Part 5

Learning How To Teach From Jesus, part 5

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” Jesus told them.
-John 4:34

Chapter 5 of Harrell Howard Horne’s book, Jesus The Master Teacher, is entitled:


Harrell: A real teacher must have both strategy and tactics, that is, he must have both objectives and means for attaining them. Without strategy, tactics have no goal; without tactics, strategy has no means of attainment. What were the objectives of the Great Teacher? First, make a list of these for yourself, and then compare it with the one given below.

What were Jesus’ objectives as a teacher?  What were his aims?  Did some ideas come to mind, when we read Harrell’s words, above?

  • Teaching strategy
  • Teaching tactics
  • Teaching objectives

Here is Harrell’s list the 9 aims of Jesus:

  1. To do his Father’s will and work.
  2. To be accepted as Messiah.
  3. To win learners and to train them as witnesses of his.
  4. To substitute vital for formal religion.
  5. To fulfill the law in the new universal kingdom of social righteousness.
  6. To show by example and to teach by precept the way of life.
  7. To quicken the faith and hope of men.
  8. To break the bonds of race prejudice.
  9. To destroy the works of darkness.
These are Jesus’ aims in terms of his accomplishments.  
  • Which ones of these are practical for us?  
  • Is Jesus more concerned with our thinking or our actions, what we believe or what we do?
  • How do our secular goals for education today coincide or differ with Jesus’ educational style?
According to Harrell, the aims of modern education, circa 1920, that Jesus actually exemplified, are:
  1. To develop a sound body: He healed people and made them whole.
  2. To form a good character: He lived and taught the highest standards of moral character.
  3. To refine feeling: He pointed out the beauties of nature.
  4. To inform and equip the intellect: He taught ethical and spiritual truths and trained the intelligence of his disciples.
  5. To make a good citizen: He was a good citizen and taught obedience to civil authority.
  6. To cultivate productive skill: He was a carpenter and taught economic virtues.
  7. To relate life to its Source and Goal: He was the Son and spiritualized life.
Harrell wrote (1920), that:
Jesus practiced what modern educators preach, that complete education is sevenfold namely, physical, moral, esthetic, intellectual, social, vocational, and spiritual. In both practice and theory the Master Teacher long ago set up the standards which are also those of our modern pedagogy.

Questions to think about:

  • Would you say that one of the aims of Jesus was to establish religion as an ecclesiastical institution on the earth? 
  • Did Jesus intend to reform Judaism or to found Christianity? 
  •  Review his aims and ask in which he succeeded best. 
  •  To what extent should his aims be ours? 
The next chapter is on “His Use of Problems”.

Learning to teach Like Jesus series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

Learning How To Teach From Jesus, part 4

The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and noticed them following him, he asked them, “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come and you’ll see,” he replied. So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.

-John 1:34-39

Chapter 4 of Harrell’s book, The Teaching Techniques of Jesus (Jesus The Master Teacher), is:



It is essential in all effective teaching that points of contact be established between teacher and taught. By a “point of contact” in teaching we mean how minds come to meet, the common meeting places of mind with mind. Just as we “rub elbows” in the physical world, so minds have points of contact in the mental world. Usually these points of contact are matters of common or joint interest. The one who establishes the point of contact knows the other so well or so sympathetically that he catches him where he lives. To do this involves adaptability and tact on the part of the teacher. He must be thinking about his pupils or his auditors or the other fellow, as well as about what he himself has to say or do. It is very difficult for a self-conscious or an awkward person to make contacts. He is like a defective electric light bulb there may be physical contacts, but no flashes of light. Can you recall some one who is happy in establishing points of contact? How does he do it? 

That such mental meeting places are requisite at the opening of any exchange of ideas is obvious. Without them the auditor may or may not be a party to the transaction.  What is said may go “over his head” or make no real appeal to him at all. But once two people feel they have common interests, there is a basis for further transactions. Without the sense of contact established, two minds may pass as ships in the night without speaking. One of the commonest ways of getting together mentally is by a story, incident, or bit of humor. One of the best ways is to play together. What other ways can you think of?

Have you ever wondered why a preacher begins his message with a joke?  Point of contact.  Another one is to tell a story that leads into your teaching, that people might identify with or have their heart stirred by.
When we meet someone, in an elevator, in line, or in the produce section of the grocery store, we might also have a point of contact.  Most of us are on our way somewhere or in the midst of completing a task and we don’t want to be bothered, to a degree.  But, at the same time, almost everyone is desperate for affirmation, love and belonging.
In John 1:35-51, we see Jesus establishing contact with Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.  How did Jesus do it.  Read John 1:35-51 carefully and see what you think.
Here are 7 ways that Jesus made contact with these five guys, from Harrell:

  1. Jesus walked where his presence could be noted by the Baptist.
  2. He used his eyes. He “observed” Andrew and John coming after him, he “gazed” at Simon, he “saw” Nathanael approaching, and had previously “seen” him under that fig tree in meditation, like Buddha under the Bo tree.
  3. He opened up conversation, with the two, with Simon, with Philip, with Nathanael.
  4. He asked questions. “What do you want?” “You are Simon, the son of John?” “You believe because I told you I had seen you under that fig tree?”
  5. He invited companionship, “Come and see.” They stayed with Mm the rest of that day. “Follow me.”
  6. He utilized the power of the name. We all like to be recognized, and called by name. Further, In handling the name, he took a personal liberty in an acceptable way with a sense of humor. “You are Simon, the son of John? Your name is to be Cephas.”
  7. He understood character, and showed that he did. “Here is a genuine Israelite! There is no guile in him.” That astonished the doubting Nathanael. The open compliment was not lost on him. His pride was perhaps tickled as he recognized himself under the fine tribute. He began to capitulate. Somewhat bluntly, without address, he asked: “How do you know me?” The answer, showing that Jesus had noted him under that fig tree in pious meditation, appreciating Nathanael at his strongest points, led to immediate and unconditional surrender: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”
Something to note, that is interesting (pointed out by Harrell), is that it is possible that Jesus had to call Peter, Andrew, and John a second and third time.  Read and study Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:1-11.  See if they had multiple calls to discipleship.  Phil and Nate may have gone ‘all-in’ immediately, whereas some of the others committed themselves gradually.  Can you find Judas’ story?
Go back and look at the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42.  When Jesus asked her a favor, he was establishing a point of contact:  “Will you please give me a drink”.
In John 3:2, Nicodemus made contact with Jesus: “This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.”  Harrell states, “Evidently at some previous time the mind of Nicodemus had opened to Jesus. How do you imagine it may have come about?

The Pharisees and Herodians also sought a point of contact with Jesus:  “So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians.“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You don’t care what anyone thinks nor do you show partiality.” (Matt. 22:16)  How did they and why did they do this?
Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, in Luke 4 Was his point of contact successfully established? What was it? Read very carefully Luke 4:16-30. What caused them to reject him after speaking well of him and marveling at the gracious words that came from his lips? The trouble here seems not to have been with the point of contact, which was the prophecy of Isaiah and its fulfilment. 

It seems that the Nazarites were more wed to and more enamored with their beliefs about God than God himself.  I have often wondered how we could reject God when God comes to us.  We say we are God’s people, all about God, but reject God.  
Dilemma and paradox.
We can belong very strongly, feverishly; while not believing.  We want Jesus made in our image and to ‘fit in’ with our life.  But, he comes and tells us and shows us who he is and we always have to be learners.
Moving on to John 5.  Jesus makes contact with the man at the pool of Bethesda.  He simply says, “Do you want to be healed?”.  Same question he asked others, like the blind man on the road to Jericho.
When Jesus asks us a question, he is making a point of contact with us.  In prayer, we ask him questions.  But what are the questions he is asking you?  He wants to make a point of contact with you.
The multitudes followed Jesus and sat at his feet to hear and see him, because he had already established points of contact with them.  What were they?  What influenced the crowds to come to him?
In ‘the sermon on the mount’, how did Jesus connect with his hearers and why did those teachings give him an audience?
Why did Jesus use parables, figurative language and hyperbole?  Later, Harrell has a chapter on parables that we will explore.
Jesus made contact with people by sharing meals with them.  He taught us or modeled for us that when you eat with someone, you are sharing life with them, intimately.  Why would he and why would we want such contact with unspiritual or sinful people?
Look at the story of Zaccheus.  (Luke 19:1-10)  Why did he climb the tree?  What affect did Jesus have on him by sharing a meal with him?  In having all the meals with non-religious people, is Jesus teaching us to be exclusive or inclusive?
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, what point of contact was he seeking to make, by riding on a donkey?  See Matt. 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-44, and John 12:12-19.
Peter denied Jesus.  Jesus re-established contact with Peter (Luke 22:61), by looking at him.  That is a verse that fills me with awe.  Here is the whole passage:

Meanwhile Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, and Peter sat among them. When a servant saw him sitting in the light, and looked closely at him, she said, “This man was with him too.”

But he denied it: “Woman, I don’t know him.”

After a little while, someone else saw him and said, “You’re one of them too.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter said.

About an hour later, another kept insisting, “This man was certainly with him, since he’s also a Galilean.”

But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. So Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Has he seen you?
Harrell: The resurrection angel sent a special message to Peter. Mark 16:7. How did Jesus himself reopen contact with Peter? See John 21:15. 

It would be worth while to follow this study with a careful account of the spirit contacts Jesus made after the resurrection with Mary Magdalene in the garden, with Cleopas and Jobn on the way to Emmaus, with, the other disciples, and with Thomas. 

Sum up now the main modes of contact made by Jesus. How many have you? After all, just which ones are not open to us? All we require is the will and the skill. 

When we reach “Apperception” we shall find it a way of keeping up the mental contact already made. See Patterson Du Bois, “The Point of Contact in Teaching.”
Next time, chapter 5: “HIS AIMS”  What were the objectives of Jesus?
Learning to teach Like Jesus

Despising Jesus

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him.

-Isaiah 53:3
Do you feel like you are dismissed (‘dissed’), considered worthless, unworthy of attention?

The word despised in Isaiah, is the Hebrew word, baza, pronounced “baw-zaw”.

Baza means:

To despise, hold in contempt, to be despicable, to be vile, worthless, to cause to despise, to disesteem, contemptible, think to scorn, vile person.

You might ask, “Why would anyone feel this way, respond this way or act this way towards Jesus?”

Gentle, wise, kind, loving, healing, compassionate, honest, godly, and in fact; God.

Why would we despise Jesus?

Two words:
Self righteousness
People who hated Jesus were self-righteous, morally superior.  Self-righteous, morally superior people do not like the message of justification by faith.  That message says we are all bad, only God is good, we can do nothing to save ourselves, and we must wholly put our faith in God, by faith, to be saved, period.
No hamburger helper, nothing good in us that can get us saved or into the salvation box.
Self-righteous, morally superior people hate that.  They do not one bit want to lay down their works, their opinions and their power, and bow to God and be his children.
Jesus may not have looked good to them.  He may have had an accent.  He may have been ‘too country’.

He was despised because he was from Galilee (John 1:46) and his followers were despised because they were Galilean (Mark 14:70).

Jesus was also despised because he was poor (Matt. 17:27, 2 Cor. 8:9).  If we despise the poor, we are in danger of despising their savior (Matt. 5:3).

But that is not the core of why they found him to be deplorable, despicable, and a horror show to them.
They hated him and they still hate his message today, because they are self-righteous.
Self-righteousness says I can save myself, help God, or have God help me do it.  And I can judge others, because I am morally superior.
Jesus came as a suffering servant.  And this is part of why people rejected him.  Messiah was supposed to be something different, in their minds.

Jesus said to his followers, who were close to him, “Blessed is the one who does not take offense with me”.  Today, we get offended with everyone and with anything.  To not vent offense is a discipline and a blessing for those who control themselves.

Jesus comes in a package they were not expecting.  He comes to call sinners and not the righteous.  And the self-righteous are not righteous but are the greatest sinners!  Because they reject God’s grace and do not love God, but idolize themselves and inadvertently serve Satan, who leads the way in narcissism and rebellion against God.
People who get it and follow Jesus are sinners saved by grace through faith.  It’s all about the Savior and his faithfulness and grace.  The life of good works comes from that.  After: “Saved unto good works”.

They were offended that he was a carpenter’s son, who did not even go to seminary (Matt. 13:53-57).  Are you offended or do you despise people who you think are not qualified?

People were so put off by Jesus, that they said he must be demonized (John 10:20).  He was despicable to them.  We play this same “demonized” card against those we don’t like or messengers we are not comfortable with.  And in the world, this language is to say, “mentally unstable or ill”.

In their despising of him, they kept asking him, in a sense, “Who do you think you are, to say such things?” (John 8:53)

They were highly critical of him, in their contempt; noting that none of the elites followed him (John 7:48).  Elitism is not a good thing!

And they despised Jesus and were prejudiced against him, based on a fake story, unreal and untrue: a misunderstanding a misrepresentation of the facts, that he must have been born in Nazareth (John 7).  He was in fact, as we know today, born in Bethlehem, as prophesied in the OT.  But, not getting their facts right, they despised Jesus, because of where he was from: despising that place and him with it and it’s people, when in fact, he was originally from Bethlehem.

The leadership of the day was so corrupt, that they missed Jesus and despised him.  When they could not deny that he was truly casting out demons, setting people free, they said he was doing it by the power of Satan (Matt. 12:24).  That’s despising.

The elites and the elitism that rejected Jesus, kicked his followers out of the Synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42), excommunicating them.  That is despising.

Today, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is despised and rejected for similar reasons, as it was in the first century.  Jesus saves completely by grace: the unwashed, uncouth, vulgar, uneducated and ‘deplorable’ person.  That is offensive to some learned, elite and religious people.

The simplicity of salvation by grace through faith vexes and perplexes humanity that wants to be proud of its achievements and wield power.

See the naked peasant hanging dead, after hours of torture.  Whom God later raised from the dead  And who calls upon us to follow him, as king.  And there is nothing we can bring but ourselves.  We must give up everything to be his followers, including our prejudices, wealth and positions of power.

That is massively offensive to many and they despise that message.  They end up as enemies of the cross, despising Jesus work in the world, of saving sinners through grace and by faith.  Our lives end up being a work of calling people to follow us in our religion after the Bible, by our own interpretation, that opposes the cross (Philippians 3:18).

Being offended is a favorite indoor sport.  We become offended with Jesus when we decide what he should do or what he did was wrong.  We despise him.  But, blessed are we if we are not offended with him (Matt. 11:6).

Let’s look at a number of ways that Jesus was despised and consider how we  might despise him or his work in his followers today.

Jesus was despised because he ate meals with ‘sinners’.  You could make the case that this is what got him killed, because it was so offensive to the religious leaders.

Jesus continually ate and drank, shared meals, with the social outcasts.  How much do we do what Jesus did and how much do we despise those Christians today who actually spend table fellowship time with people we deem to be sinful?

The temptation of Jesus by Satan was a sort of invitation to Christ to take the easy way: make bread, leap off religious towers and worship Satan to leverage influence.  In a nutshell, avoid suffering, avoid the cross.

Jesus did not take up Satan’s offer or follow his suggestions.  Instead of the easy way, Jesus goes the hard way, that turns out to be the redemptive way.

Satan’s words were echoed later by the masses of people, who taunted Jesus when he was dieing on the cross:  “If you are the Son of God, come down from there”.  Suffering is despised.

The cross, Jesus on the cross, is foolishness to those who reject him and despise him.  The cross and the gospel of Christ says that you need the cross, you need Christ, whether you are rich or poor, educated or ignorant, moral or immoral.  We despise the cross because it lays humanity flat: everyone equally needs the cross and salvation by Christ.

Christians who preach the gospel, that comes from Jesus and goes through his cross, will be loved and hated.  We will make some people glad and some people mad.  That is what the real Jesus does.

When no one ever gets mad at you for your message, we have to question whether you have been sharing the good news.  Jesus lives in the paradox of being love, wisdom, mercy and grace; while making some people furious.  That is the life he will live through you, if you are a Christian.

Today, we also despise weakness and suffering.  We live in the paradox of our loving all-powerful God and suffering.

The ultimate suffering was God himself suffering on the cross to atone for the sins of all humanity.

The cross, Jesus on the cross, is offensive and something to be dissed, dismissed and despised.  The reason it is so offensive is that Jesus on the cross says that there is no good in you and me outside of him.  We are mortally infected and death sentenced by our sins: utterly corrupt.

And the greatest sin is self-righteousness wherein I either make my own religion, where I am the center and I redeem myself; or I think I am worshipping the God of the Bible, yet I am saving myself or meriting my saving through my goodness.

Today, there is a moral superiority movement, that is human centered and based on human wisdom.  The way, the only and one way of  the cross is despised and dismissed or seen as a human belief that works for some.

They despised Jesus for who he was, what he did, and for the company he kept.  Because he did not follow the ‘traditions of the elders’, they despised him.

He was the author and the source of the very word of God.  Yet, tradition was preferred and assiduously adhered to, rather than following the God of the word (Mark 7, Matt. 17 and 23).

Today, we can either despise Jesus or embrace Jesus.  To embrace Jesus fully, we have to embrace the cross, a life of suffering, a life lived in and under radical grace, and a life of love.

When we leave out the cross, his cross and ours; we are despising him.

When we avoid suffering, try to skip it, cast it out, believe against it, and live a pain-free, pain-avoiding life; we are despising him and not walking with him, miserably going it alone or living in victorious denial.  The authentic Christian life is a life where we share in the sufferings of Christ.

When we add anything to God’s grace, for our salvation, we are despising Jesus.  Nothing I do merits favor or makes me better.

The story of God, his story, is the love story.  God loves people.  They despised Jesus because he really loved people.  He sat with people, was always willing to be interrupted by people, always had time for people.

The cross life, suffering embraced in fellowship with Christ, radical, nothing more and nothing less grace; and a life of lived in love, being loved and loving people.  That is the life that does not despise him, but highly values and honors him always; as king.


Robert Newton, Messiah
Charles Spurgeon, The Offense of The Cross
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew
Patrick Henry Reardon, The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ
Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals: Weaving Together the Human and the Divine
David Baron, The Servant of Jehovah: The Sufferings of the Messiah and The Glory That Should Follow

I Saw The Lord

For David says of him: I saw the Lord ever before me; because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

I always let the Lord guide me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.
-Acts 2:25
-Psalm 16:8
-Isaiah 6:1
-Revelation 1:17-18

Have you seen the Lord?  Do you live in the reality of seeing him?  Does he see you?

Seeing the Lord changes your life.  It changes how you see everything and everyone else.

Have you seen him?

When I have seen him, it changes how I see others.  Seeing him transforms me.

Seeing the Lord is not something abstract or something for later.

Seeing the Lord is not something that only a limited number of people in the Bible got to experience.

Seeing the Lord is something you and I get to do.  Have you seen him?

Do you see the Lord?  Do you know that he sees you?

Can you hear what he is saying to you?  Do you know what he thinks about things, about other people?

Have you been cultivating your relationship with him, seeing him?

When you saw him did it change you?

Do you know his love?

Does seeing him affect how you see others?

Do you have his heart, because you have seen him?

Do you really know that he sees you?

Born Free

For freedom, Christ set us free.  Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.
-Galatians 5:1

Christians are born free.  We are freed to be free.  To be a Christian means to be set free.

We are set free from the bondage to sin and to religion.  When someone becomes a Christian they are set free to be free, in Christ.

Becoming a Christian is not just about believing the Bible, but about believing in Christ.  Being a Christian is being a person in Christ.

The freedom that Christians are born into, is freedom of conscience.  Christianity is inside-out.  Christ in you.

When we participate in the process of someone coming to Christ, to be be born from above, we are all about leading them to him and not to us.  It is wonderful if we are so immersed in Christ that people see Christ in us.  But our goal is never to make disciples after ourselves or our brand, but of Christ himself and let him take this person where he wills.

The freedom that Christ sets us free to is freedom of conscience.  Jesus works within each one of his followers, enabling them and guiding them to do what is right.

Disciplemaking is not about converting people to our opinions, but making them disciples of Jesus.  There is no program, but Christ.

So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.
-John 8:36

The Son of God has set us free.  What that means is that I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but the life I now live is by the faithfulness of the Son of God (Gal. 2:20).  The freedom of having been set free is only in the work of the Son of God.

Outside of what Jesus did on the cross, I do not have freedom.  With centering my life in the cross of Christ and bearing my own cross, I will be selfish and become enslaved again to sin, religion or both.

Some people say, “I just can’t do that”, or, “It’s too hard”, and live a life of selfish complaining and victimhood, paradoxically, living as slaves in freedom.

Christianity is lived inside out.  When you look for something on the outside of you to feel better, you are not living in freedom, but are looking for a medication.

Jesus gives you life from your inside.

Freedom in Christ is what Christian salvation is.  Galatians 5:1 is a concise statement of what Paul has written in Chapters 1-4.

The gospel is grace, not ‘Jesus plus’.

This is what Richard Longenecker wrote about Galatians, in his closing explanation of chapter 5:1-12:

“Most often Galatians is viewed as the great document of justification by faith.  What Christians all too often fail to realize is that in reality it is a document the sets out a Christ-centered lifestyle— one that stands both in opposition to nomism and libertinism.  Sadly though, applauding justification by faith, Christians frequently renounce their freedom in Christ by espousing either nomism or libertinism and sometimes (like the Galatians) both.  So Paul’s letter to the Galatians, though directly relevant to the Galatian situation, speaks also to our situation today.”  (R. Longenecker, Galatians, p. 245, 1990)

Are You Going To Carry That Weight?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

-Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Are you burned out on religion?  That is the exquisite way that Eugene Peterson translated Matthew 11:28.  Religion means working, getting tired from working and telling others to get to work.  Jesus view and style is that what we do comes out of and through rest.  Resting is not about unplugging from work, but plugging into the one who loves you.
We are ‘saved unto good works’, but we don’t work to be saved.  The work we do was God’s idea and it flows out of our relationship, in Christ:

“Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”
-Ephesians 2:8-10 (MSG)

There is an old song called , “He is our peace”.  Besides the title, I always remember the key line, “Cast all your cares on Him, for he cares for you.”  That comes from 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter quotes or echoes Psalm 55:22, that says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (HCSB)
It is also notable that believers do stumble and fall, but God has our hand and helps us get back up.  The falling is like tripping, misstepping or losing or way or our ballance.  Some translations say, “Though he may stumble, he will not fall”, while others have, “Though he fall, he is not overwhelmed” (Ps. 37:24, NIV, HCSB).
We all have dreams, from God and challenges, God allows.  We want to and rightly so need to take responsibility for how we unpack and navigate these, as stewards.  But we don’t carry the whole weight of it.

With the vision and with the obstacles, comes gifts of grace, gifts from God.  It is not just about seeing and then doing the vision or encountering and overcoming the obstacles.  It is about unpacking the treasure that God endowed you with to participate in and be a developer of that vision.  And as each obstacle comes into play, you will discover gifts or grace from God to counter the obstacles. 

We partner with God because we are a covenant people.  We are not people who are under a contract, where each side is bound to do this or that.  In our covenant with God, we give ourselves to God and God gives himself to us.

More from Ephesians 2, from The Message:

“But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.” (Eph. 2:11-13)

Inside the covenant, there is no selfishness.  Each party gives for the mutual benefit.  We are new covenant people.
God has made a covenant to save us through Christ.  And we get to give ourselves to God and live in the covenant, in Christ.  God does all the heavy lifting and we get to participate as junior partners or king’s kids.

The new covenant (Matt. 26:26-9, Mark 14:23-4, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:23-6, Heb 7:20-2, 8:6-13, 9:11-17, 12:22-13-21) supersedes the old one and Christians are now a part of Zion, which has always been believers out of all the nations (Psalm 87).

When we stress or worry, struggle and strive; we might be carrying the weight that is God’s to carry.  We live in the paradox of receiving promises and permission from God, in love; but we don’t have the power or the wherewithal to make it happen.

Please forgive me, for cherry picking verses (versitous), but here are some verses:

  • His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30).
  • His grace is sufficient for you: strength is made perfect in weakness (1 Cor. 12:9).
  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
  • I will be with you (Judges 6:16).
Are you going to carry that weight?  Time to get low and get the yoke of Christ on.  Time to cast your cares on Him.
God does give us responsibility.  We are stewards of what he gives us.  And we need to be good at stewardship, because that is faith and faithfulness, which God wants from us and it is only natural to be faithful to the person who is faithful to us and to whom we put our faith in.
This question of, “Are you going to carry that weight”, cuts two ways.  We need to not strive or worry and take on what is not ours to carry.  And we need to take responsibility to pick up and carry what is ours.
We also must bear the responsibility for our own development.  Jesus is still asking crippled people if they would like to be made well.  He is still handing out talents and watching to see what we do with them.
So, as I consider the weight, I think about his yoke that is easy and his burden that is light and the resting in him from which my life is supposed to flow, by his design.  And I also think about the responsibility of stewarding what he gives me.
The weight I want to carry is the weight of the yoke of Christ, that is easy, compared to other yokes, and light.  I want to live from rest.  I want to rest in Christ and let him live through me.

My Grace Is Sufficient For You

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.

-2 Cor. 12:9
I was asking for the pain to go away.  I wanted the agony I was feeling to be removed.  Instead, this verse was ministered to me.
What this verse said to me was the opposite answer to my request to have the pain go away.  God was saying that he had grace for me, in the midst of the pain I was experiencing.  He also says in this verse that power, his power in my life, is perfected in my weakness.
In my pain, God did not go along with my line of thinking which was ‘make the pain go away’ (please).  Instead, God introduced a whole different thought to my situation.  His answer to my request for pain relief was, “My grace is more than enough and my power flows in you when you are weak”.
Since this word was not what I had in mind or expected, I had to begin to assimilate it.  I felt a bit baffled and reasoned that the Lord was saying that he wanted to give me grace in my pain.  My next thought was, “Okay”, and then, “I wonder how this works”.

The place where this revelation happened for me was at my school, where three years previous, I had picked up their brochure and on it was this curious quote, by Augustine, that read:

In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.

Sure enough, what they advertised; that I really did not get at first, ended up being my experience.  I was caught by surprise, like a deer in the headlights and a bit blinded to my preconceived ideas of how God should work.  That is how I was dazzled.

I was also baffled.  “My grace is sufficient”, what does that mean?
Grace is unmerited favor or God’s empowering presence.  Grace is good, so there must be something good it this.
Sufficient is not a word that I use.  It means ‘enough’, ‘all you need’, ‘adequate’, ‘plenty’ or ‘more than enough’.  The implication is that God is saying, “Rather than escaping this, my grace is more than enough and all that you need”.
God says, “My grace is always more than enough, all that you need”.
I know that I am always in need of grace and am in trouble if I do not rely upon grace.  But today, I am in a third acute time in life when I particularly need this verse ministered to me.  This verse is the answer to my prayer to God today, that says, “This is impossible!”

Today it seems impossible to have or find a church or a group of people who are also envisioned with the desire for church that I have.  I did not say it is impossible, but that it seems or feels impossible.

This is more like a horse that won’t drink the water.  For me, this is also like how when I first went back to college, to begin pursuing graduate studies in counseling, I was about twenty-six years old and I was beginning to long for and dream about my future wife.  “Could she be walking here on this campus right now?”, I thought.  And the answer was actually, yes she was.  But we were not to meet for about fourteen years.

The point of that story is that sometimes the answer or the fulfillment of your dream is right there, close by.  But you or they are not ready.  And God, walking with both of you, is getting you ready for your future.

The lesson is that we are all in the process of getting ready, being developed, for our future roles, assignments and affiliation communities.  All people in churches are not people who have ‘always known each other’, buy God brings different people together.  Even though the former is active today, God is also doing the latter.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”

The first time that I heard this verse in my life, and it was not a direct quote, but it was definitely the lesson that God was teaching me, was earlier in my young adult life, when I was in trouble, stuck, trapped and exposed.  I audaciously asked God to rescue me and I even tried to make a deal, saying I would be good if he would rescue me.  And the answer was, “No, but you will serve me”.

The exact quote was something like, “I am not going to rescue you and you are going to serve me.”  The voice of God that I heard was the Lord, my Lord, who was speaking to me sternly.  I had been through a journey in my Christian life where I had made Jesus my savior, but not my Lord.  That journey shifted that night, and he began to bring me into the revelation that Jesus is Lord and King.

That night was like lightning came into my darkness, but then I spent the next year assimilating the change in my life, leaving my home, going for long walks and just being with God.

The second time that I learned the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient, was when I was witnessing my parents going through divorce.  Everything was going good in my life except for this painful thing.  I learned that the grace to walk through the pain, is transmitted by Jesus.  
Today, the way forward again seems impossible.  People say, “That’s impossible!”, but Jesus says, “There are some things people can not do, but God can do anything.”  
My thing that seems impossible, is my vision for the church.  
My vision for church gatherings can be distilled down to: A Jesus Christ centered family reunion where everyone plays a part or has a voice. 
And sometimes it seems like pretty much everyone in my life, laughs and says, “Ain’t gonna happen”, or “That does not exist”.  I also hear, “That’s not church”, and “We’ve never done it that way before”.
To take Jesus style and substance of church life and bring it into our culture is a challenge and passion of mine that I dream about and think about and talk about.  And I believe that a lot of people who have stopped attending church services, for a variety of reasons are also looking for this.
But many of these people are hurt, disillusioned, burned out and feel betrayed and disoriented.  And these ‘negatives’ become their language and they begin living from negativity in regards to Christianity.  They turn off their old friends of family who still attend church services and do not share their fed-up experience.
And when these exiles meet up with other exiles, they are vulnerable to gathering around negativity rather than the positive message and person of Jesus Christ.  A bunch of people who have felt rejected and run off, but have not processed this through Jesus’ grace are like porcupines that you don’t want to hug or get behind.

Ouch, I just got barbed again.

If the conversation is just about the negative, then either people will be turned off with you and not want to talk, or you will attract other negative people and end up having a gripe festival as your gathering.  And it is human nature to not see your own stuff, so you will eventually not want to be around such negative people, not realizing you are one of them.
How can we gather with the de-churched, un-churched and done with (the old way of) church people?  The answer I believe is to make Jesus Christ the center of our gathering.  Through recognition and cultivation we will gather around him, and not our hurts and ‘tales of woe and intrigue’.
We don’t deny our pain or erase our history.  But we put Jesus first, who says that all things are possible and to stop looking at how we can not do it and to look to God who can do all things.
Even if it looks impossible and if people say it can’t be done or that will never work, I believe that we can find out, figure out, and have faith to come into an experience of church life that is in Jesus style, that is patterned out of his life and what he taught and how he functioned.  Even though the church carries his name, I believe that his essence and form, heart and life has become lost, like a lost art.
But it can be found, because he is alive and he is still building his church.  He lets us build his church our way and he inhabits it to a degree.  But that does not mean he built it or he endorses it; but that he is gracious and loves people who love him, even when they are more religious and less authentic than what is his plan.
Jesus was continually correcting his first disciples, while loving and caring for them.  And our being corrected or disciplined is part of being loved and belonging.  And another point is that God has a very wide latitude with his people and with his servants who are visible.  We criticize where God sees people who he loves who love him.
Doing church in a new way:

  • Centered on Jesus Christ through recognition and cultivation. 
  • That is like a family reunion. 
  • Where everyone participates or plays a role.

Seems impossible; but by God’s grace is possible, if we will be weak and let his power flow.  The Passion Translation puts it this way: “My power finds its full expression through your weakness”, and the CEV says, “My power is strongest when you are weak”.

I think what this is saying is that instead of seeking to be stronger, in our own strength; that we need to embrace our weakness.  You think this is impossible?  Let yourself be weak, so that God’s strength can bloom out.
For myself, what I need to do is move forward and live, engaging life and the people in my life and even new people outside the present borders or boundary lines of my life, and share my self with them, in weakness.

Community comes from communion which means sharing.  The ‘one anothers’ draw a picture of church life centered around Jesus personhood.  Much of what we call ‘church’ is not the communion of the saints, described in the NT.

There is a way and I believe it is the God prescribed way, to not give up on your dreams or who you are and what you want to be all about and to embrace weakness.  That means gentleness, kindness, humility and love.  This is Jesus style.
Imagine if the thorn that Paul calls ‘the messenger of Satan’, for you or me, are a person who harasses you in some way that is so bad that they are diabolical and psychopathic.  It would be natural to ask God for help, to deliver you from or remove that person out of your life.  But God says ‘no’, and that his grace (for that) is all you need and his power finds its full expression in your weakness.
In other words, the challenge, whatever it or who it is, will not be removed.  Instead, the direction for you is to rely on God’s grace and embrace your weakness.  That is God’s direction to me, as best I understand it.
There have been two ways that I have applied or practiced this in recent times.  One, is to be silent before God for times, holding out my impossible situation; doing the opposite of complaining to people or to God in prayer, and letting grace work.  The second is to engage the impossible situation, person or idea in weakness and let grace work.  
I learned the former a few years ago.  And it really works.  I am now going to learn that latter.
In the past, I would argue, debate, harangue or try to cajole.  But today I am learning to be a weak one, relying on his grace to fill out, fill in and create life where things seem impossible.

This song is a prayer:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong

Finding The One

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

-Acts 11:25-6 (NIV)
Back when I was single, I was concerned about finding ‘the one’ that I would marry.  I have also been concerned about finding ‘the one’ job and ‘the one’ place to live.  Right now, I have been researching cars, looking for ‘the one’ car.
I remember when I bought a cassette tape, almost 30 years ago, about finding a spouse.  The Bible has a lot of practical advice, but not really the idea of finding ‘the one’.  In a sense, who you select becomes ‘the one’ and the two of you become one.

The Bible does not point us to personality tests or compatibility questionnaires.  It basically says, “walk with the Lord”, and “marry a believer”.

What about the other ‘the one’s’ in our lives: the one job, the one house and the one car to choose?

Are we guided by God and is there a plan?  Yes.  But there is a dance, where we make mistakes and encounter opposition and God re-guides us.

Apostle Paul is an example of a man that God had a plan for.  And that man did good and did bad.  Sometimes God guided and he did not follow.  Many times, he was opposed and kept walking with God and rediscovering the plan.

He walked with God through disappointment, broken hearted failure and just being wrung out.  But he became for us perhaps the number one theologian about Jesus and God’s plan of salvation.  His life’s message might boil down to ‘a man in Christ’.  That’s a pretty good epitaph.

What about the the one, perfect job?  Did you know that a high percentage of people hate their jobs?  Even many pastors say that they would do something else if they could, but they don’t see anything else they could do.
The scripture from Acts 11 is about Barnabas finding Paul and taking him to Antioch.  Paul was ‘the one’ who was going to be a prolific Apostle and was going to write a bunch of letters that would be inspired by God and make it into the canon of scripture.
Of course Paul was an amazing person and his life had massive impact.  But behind Paul and beside Paul, was this special man named Barnabas.  That was actually his nickname.  His real name is the very good name, Joseph.
Barnabas was such an encouraging person that he got the nickname ‘son of encouragement’ which is what Barnabas means.  He was Paul’s friend, mentor, liaison, voucher and reference.
Paul had about three years of a rocky, wild ride in his ministry, before being ‘benched’ by going back to Tarsus for nine years.  At the end of those nine years, Barnabas went to recall Paul and bring him to Antioch.  After about a year, Paul went on his first ministry trip, with Barnabas.
Barnabas was a gifted disciple, but he never exhibited a ‘me first’ or ‘I am the one’ attitude.  He was simply at the service of Jesus and allowed himself to be empowered and assigned ministry jobs including teacher, prophet and apostle.  He neither bossed Paul nor introduced him as ‘the new boss’.
 Paul made mistakes and was in sharp conflict with a couple of his apostolic associates later.  That did not disqualify Paul or make him ‘not the one’ to write New Testament letters.
Most of us have to choose a car, a job and a location to live.  A majority of people choose a spouse.  I know many people who have been married twice and a few who are like C.S. Lewis and past mid-life and are still unmarried.  
You can be fat and happy or unmarried and content.  You can be thin and unhappy or married and  discontented.  A word for the younger people: money, success, power or popularity do not make you happy.  Believe it or not, having a lot of any one of these actually makes you less happy.
Only God can give you happiness.  Remember the word, “Blessed are the poor”?  That does not mean you must have no money to be happy in God.  It does mean that money does not bring happiness.
You actually are positioned better to enter the kingdom if you are not wealthy.  Money is not the root of all evil.  The love of money is the root of all evil.
When I was graduating high school and had to choose a car, I did not know much.  Maybe I got lucky or maybe I got blessed and maybe my dad, knew something, and guided me.  I selected a Toyota.
It was outrageously reliable compared to all the cars I had seen in my family.  I had that car for about ten years.  I sold it with a quarter of a million miles on it for five hundred dollars.
Then, I tried to find the car that would be ‘the one’.  I thought I was wise in not choosing a German sports car, but ended up choosing a more sporty Japanese car.  I ended up having two of these, back to back, that both needed new engines ($$$) after only 50k to 75k miles of ownership.
After those, I actually considered a third try, but then opted for something more reliable, while still being somewhat sporty.  And that anonymous car is now over 200k and that is why I am looking for ‘the one’ again.
My two sports cars were so much fun to drive and I miss that, but I don’t miss the cost.  Life is a balance of enjoyable thrills within your budget.  I have an advice book where the author says you should own a convertible at least once in your life and I can think of three older men I look up to who have owned and ridden Harley Davidsons motorcycles.  Did you ever see the picture on the Chuck Swindoll book, where he is on a motorcycle, with his wife?
I did find the one person to marry and to have a family with.  And I am confident about the car thing.  I know that if I am careful, I can own a car for a year and then resell it with no trouble.  The job, career, calling, ministry, vocation thing is more complicated.
In a sense, I am doing my dream job.  When I was a kid, I had my own audio equipment: tape decks, microphones, radio transmitters and receivers.

And I also had a movie camera and learned to shoot and edit film.  I made a music film to a Toto song in high school and another film to a Tears For Fears song in college.  I also made a short film about the end of the world.

From the end of high school through all my college years, I had many opportunities that knocked to work in making commercials, television or film.  But I had no vocational mentor or coach.  I just had a couple of conservative, electrical engineering career path guys, who supported me in whatever I was going to choose.
And what or who I chose is what or who chose me and that is God.  Out of my life that was in chaos, confusion, fear and a longing for meaning mixed with broken hearted unhappiness came a hunger for God.
In my strategic time of the end of high school through the end of college, with all the dreaming and deciding on what to do, as I made the transition into adulthood; God intervened in my life and drew me to himself.
There are many other details I can’t go into now, on how I came to live where I live and work where I work and about the church I joined for about 14 years, and what I learned and inherited and what was developed in me that I posses today.
And after getting settled into my life with God and having a place to call home and a job, I did want to find the one to marry and a better job or a job that was a ministry job where I could do something more kingdom oriented.
I actually tried out two other careers or jobs and did them at the semi-pro level.  That happened before I got married.  I could not push the river.  I did not find her and even though the chorus said, “just pick one”, I felt like I had not found the person that I had been looking for and that God was going to send me.
God actually gave me a word, a prophecy; a promise verse that was about Janine.  That verse kind of says that all women are not equal in how they live or choose to live their lives and God will give that woman to the man who receives her from him.  I also had an additional prophecy, promise or word about my future that I wrote about, called ‘two-ten in the afternoon‘.
The clue or lesson I have learned in my search for ‘the one’ is my life is God.  The search for ‘the one’ comes out of and goes through and back to how God is ‘the one’.  God, worshipping God and serving God is ‘the one thing’.  God has always and will always be the one for me.  
I have discovered that God has a destiny, calling and inheritance for me that is developing and coming.  I chose that scripture about Paul and Barnabas because God calls and recalls and uses encouraging people in his calling and recalling.

What was Paul thinking and feeling when he went back to Tarsus for those nine years?

I think that whatever happened to Paul in those nine years was very important and had to do with his internal spiritual formation.  I believe he shared his faith and evangelized.  I don’t know if he taught people or had disciples.
Being a Barnabas and finding the Paul’s is an awesome ministry and so important.
The last thing I will say is that all of life is an in-between time and we are often in transition.  You can ruin the time you are in now by sentimentally looking back or discontentedly looking forward.  Remember that, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”.
Not recognizing transition is when ‘good’ becomes the enemy of ‘best’.  The old order gets in the way of the new order.  It is the wineskin that Jesus talked about.  God has new things, new assignments, opportunities, relationships and responsibilities to give us that require new structure.  The new structure has God’s design for that new assignment, in you and for you to serve him.
God has our best for us and we have to let go of the good, to receive it.  Paul had those three rocky years and then went to the sidelines for nine and then was called back up.  God never forgot him and Barnabas got to be God’s representative to get Paul back into what was going to happen.
Imagine the ridiculousness of if Paul never left Tarsus and just stayed there.  He instead was open to change and reforming his call.  That is a good example to follow.

Are we guided by God and God has a plan.  But there is a dance, where we make mistakes and encounter opposition.  Then God re-guides us, renews us and recalls us.  We will have opposition, but we keep walking with God and rediscovering the plan.

The path to the one is in and through The One.  That is the overarching, chief plan of radical union with Christ.

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