Archive for September, 2009

And it rained, and rained, and rained…

September 24, 2009

It has been a pretty busy week around here. Take a look at this shot of Hwy 78 (Veterans Memorial), the road that I usually take to work in the mornings:

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Needless to say, we’ve been stuck in our neighborhood for a few days, now. Up until later this afternoon, all the major arteries to our area had been submerged under water. I am told the Interstates are all open as of tonight. Check out this shot of Six Flags:

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Not sure I’d wanna go on that ride after this, would you?

Anyway, Sunday night was a looong night. Sometime after midnight, it went from raining to pouring to severe storms, then it just stayed there FOR HOURS. I don’t know how to communicate to people who were not there about it. It was the most thunder and lightning I’ve ever seen and heard in my life.

You know when the heart of a storm finally gets above you, things get really loud, the thunder seems like it’s crashing directly down onto your roof, and the lightning seems like it’s threatening to come in your windows from every side? It usually only lasts for a minute or two then passes over you and heads on to the next destination. Well, this time it just never left. It parked right above Douglas County and stayed there for several hours. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed every ten seconds or so, right on top of one another, for several hours straight. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.

My girls were bouncing out of their beds all night long begging us to do something to enable them to get to sleep, but none of us could sleep. It was like someone kept shaking our house while someone else kept flicking the light switch on and off and on again ever few seconds from midnight to about 4am. It was pretty horrendous. The main downtown artery, the 75/85 Connector, flooded for about an hour:

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Drivers on all the surrounding Interstates got stranded for a time, too (see I-85 below, near Spaghetti Junction):

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We got a call early that morning notifying us that, not one, but several water mains broke in our county and it would be a while before our water would come back on (three days later we still can’t wash dishes or do laundry or take showers without getting in our cars and driving somewhere else to do it.) Determined not to let this get me down, I put on my rainy day running shoes and ran before sun up, like I always do. Only this time, as I neared the end of my route, I discovered that a gaping 10 foot wide drop off was there where the road should have been (I’ll have to post a picture of that later).

While the girls’ school got canceled (for the whole week, it turns out), I had to report to teach at my high school post for a really soggy day. Lots of people didn’t make it in that day, and it took me over an hour to get home. It usually takes 15 minutes, but I had to drive down six different routes before I could find a route that got me home. Others took more like three hours to get home, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

I also can’t complain about water damage or flooding, because our house got little more than a wet area on one carpet. My school was untouched, really. I can’t say the same for nearby Clarkdale Elementary:

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The school is totally submerged, in case you can’t tell. Kindergartners began exiting their classrooms when the water first started coming in the doors, and by the time the last few dozen were leaving, the teachers were hoisting the kids on their own shoulders because the water had already gotten above the children’s heads! That’s truly what you call a flash flood, and it was not a calm moment for those teachers and administrators. Four hundred elementary kids will now be displaced for the forseeable future. That’s gonna be a tough school year.

It feels like I’ve spent the better part of the last three days hauling water from one place to another so that we can do things like cooking, washing, bathing, drinking, and flushing. The toilets alone can be a real hassle at a time like this, I gotta say. Our power went out after a day or so, too, so we had to relocate to a friend’s house so we could cook, bathe, and do laundry. Thanks to Jerry, a brother in the neighborhood here, we had a place to set up for a little while until the power came back on, and things got a little easier from that point on.

So many people around us have lost homes and cars and schools that our community will be doing relief work for many months to come. In case you’re interested in helping, you can donate to the county school relief fund or contact the pastor of Ewing Road Baptist Church, who is coordinating much of the work for the affected area.

In the meantime, I’m thankful to live in a neighborhood just high enough above the creek levels that we didn’t look like Venice when it was all over. Just five minutes north of us, one neighborhood looks like this:

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Compared to this, we’re doing just fine. Going back to work tomorrow, and happy to have a place to work.

To Blog or Not to Blog

September 18, 2009

bloggingBlogging is a funny thing. It’s an online journal of sorts, but there’s a catch-22 when it comes to writing about things that really matter to people. The most interesting stuff to write about is precisely the stuff that you cannot write about. Not for public consumption, anyway. So you stick to things like theology, leisure, movie critiques or other general cultural commentary, yada, yada, yada.

In one sense it’s a journal. You want to express what you’re feeling about all kinds of things. But many of the most intense experiences are so personal to both yourself and to other people that you just can’t broadcast the details on the world wide web. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not gonna do it.

On the other hand, if you’re writing stuff for other people to read then you ought to talk some about the things that really matter in life. You want to share your experience and your reflections on that experience so that other people can learn from it as well. The most intensely personal stuff you write in a notebook and keep somewhere safe in your own home. The rest you can put on a blog. The trick is finding that line. Where does something become “not for public consumption” and therefore too sensitive to publish for all to see? Best I can figure, it’s when something could hurt someone else, or defame them. That’s not kind. You wouldn’t want someone doing that to you. So I guess the bottom line becomes:

The Golden Rule of Blogging: Publish about others what you would have them publish about you.

I imagine this is a difficult rule to apply for the kids in the generation below my own. I don’t know what you’re supposed to call them: Generation Y, the Generation Next, Millennials, whatever. Regardless of what you call them, the characteristics are pretty consistent. Kids that I teach have very little sense of a dividing line between public and private life. To them, it all looks the same. If a celebrity or a public official gets into a fight with his or her spouse/significant other, they feel we are all entitled to hear about it in detail. If a president calls a bone-headed rap singer an idiot (or something more “colorful”) then we should all hear the recording, even if it was supposed to be off the record. Even professional journalists with major networks seem to feel such an interjection should be immediately tweeted to the whole world. It’s funny, I know. But think before you share, will ya?

So I’ll give some careful thought about what could prove hurtful to someone else and I will try to avoid sharing those things. On the other hand, if my own experiences could be informative for someone else in a constructive way, then I say it should be shared. It should be shared with care that no one is unfairly represented, and it should be shared with sensitivity to the reputations of others.

But the bottom line is that this little thing we call the internet has revolutionized the way we all think and act. It has permeated our culture, even globally, creating a new age no less revolutionary than the industrial revolution of the last few centuries. People turn it on in order to help them think about things. It has become a primary public marketplace of ideas. Therefore, I think people who follow Jesus, the Lord of all things, should work to make his presence and his mind known in that realm. Cyberspace should feel the influence of the children of the King. We should be on it, calling things what they are and offering life to those who read what we say.

And it doesn’t always have to be Bible lessons and such. Believe it or not, someone out there may be strangely encouraged by the fact that I got up and went to work this morning in order to teach a bunch of ungrateful, immature teenagers who after two months of classes still can’t remember my name! Somewhere in the daily stuff of my life is something which may touch someone else’s. It’s virtual community, and I have reservations about it. But for some it’s the best they can get.

I suppose as my hairs are turning gray I am learning to think less about how the world should be and deal instead with how the world actually is.

At present, my circumstances force me to do the same thing about church. At the moment, I am persuaded to dream a little less about how church should be and think some more about how to work with the church as it actually is. That’s a new mode for me. But it’s where I am at the moment.

So if you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve to hear that I am no longer meeting with the church that I’ve been a part of for nearly a decade now. I moved to Georgia to be a part of a community of people when I was 25 years old. I tried to move when I was 20, but my dream was deferred until then. Now I am 35 and I announced to my brothers and sisters in this church that the Lord seems to be clearly calling my family and I to move on and follow Him somewhere else. He hasn’t told us yet where that somewhere else is. But I am trying to trust that the next step will become apparent when it is upon us.

For now, my wife and I (along with our four girls) are embarking upon something neither of us ever thought we would be doing. We are church hunting. This new adventure is uncharted territory, even for my wife, who did way more church growing up than I did. Her folks are ministers themselves, so they’ve done church relocation multiple times. But they always get called to a new church and they just go. You don’t hunt around and check out Sunday Schools, preachers, choirs, children’s programs, etc. You just join and work with what’s there. Doing it the way we’re doing it is much more difficult. So many factors to consider! Ultimately we’re listening for the voice of the Lord to make some kind of noise at the right time. But so far it’s just a lot of looking and hard thinking. Not my favorite adventure I’ve ever been on, frankly. But it is what it is. There’s a profound statement.

Maybe next I’ll write some about what it’s like for a radical house church guy to go church hunting around multiple traditional church campuses around town.

Three Women, pt.3

September 15, 2009

This is the third and final section of the message I spoke in Lithia Springs not too long ago.  Once again, you can hear the final form of the message here.

THE THIRD WOMAN:  THE CHURCH

Well, I need to finish up by moving on to the third woman, and that’s the Church.  The question I want to hack away at tonight is “What is the purpose of the Church?  Why did God create the Church? What were we put on earth FOR?”  I think the best way to answer that question is to go back to the Garden of Eden to ask “What was Eve put on the earth for?”  We already know the answer to that:  She was put on the Earth to be Adam’s helper.  To help Adam complete the task for which he was created.  And that is the reason the Church was made.  The Church was created to be a part of the work of Christ.  And remember that work doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It doesn’t have to be a word tainted by the fall.  I think the concept of work really needs to be redeemed.

Jesus said, “Just as the Father sent me so now I am sending you.”  Jesus was sent.  He was the first apostle.  He was sent to accomplish the will of his Father.  And he said “I do nothing of my own.  I just do what I see the Father doing.”  Once again, an active relationship with his Father.  Knowing his Father well meant doing the same things his Father did.  And for the Church, I think it’s the same thing.

We often say that the Church is here “for the Lord,” and “the Church is here to know the Lord.”  That’s why we’re put here.  What I’m trying to say tonight is that knowing the Lord involves doing the same things that he does.  It is an active relationship.  Just as Eve wasn’t put on the earth only for companionship—she was here to be his helpmeet, his helper—so the Church was put on the earth to help complete the work of Jesus on the Earth.  She was put here to do the same kinds of things that he does.

But speaking of ourselves, I think we get caught up in a romantic notion of what it means to be the bride of Christ.  When we think of a bride, we think of the wedding day itself.  We think of the build up and the anticipation of the actual ceremony, and of the beauty and radiance of the bride herself.  But there’s something about being one spirit with the Lord (just as Eve was one flesh with Adam) which goes beyond the wedding itself.  The wedding day itself is really just a preparation for the rest of the life that will be shared between the man and the woman.  If they were only coming together for a day, it wouldn’t be that exciting of a celebration.  The meaningfulness of the day itself, and the ceremony, is that you’re celebrating that two people are coming together for life.  It’s the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences, shared purposes, shared tasks.

Incidentally, I feel like I knew my wife pretty well when I got married.  But I also knew that the day we got married would not bring the full extent of how well we would know my each other.  I think I could have told you back then that 13 years later I would know my wife better than I knew her on the first day.  And she can say the same thing about me (for better or for worse!).  She has gotten to know me over time and I have gotten to know her over time, because it takes time to get to know somebody.  It takes living a life together, doing things together, having common aims and purposes like raising children together, or following the Lord and moving to the church together.  All of these are things which brought us to know one another better.  You can’t separate knowing someone well from doing things with that person, and for that person.

We talk a lot about knowing the Lord, and we talk about loving the Lord.  But loving someone isn’t just a feeling you get.  It’s expressed in doing things for them.  That’s why Jesus said “if you love me you will do what I ask.”  Mary loved Jesus.  And because she loved him, anything he asked her to do she would do.  If he had said he was thirsty and asked Mary for a cup of water, I’m sure she would have gotten up and got him a cup of water.  She certainly wouldn’t have said, “But Lord, how can I get up and get a cup of water when the most important thing is to sit here at your feet?”  She would have done anything he asked her to do.  That’s what loving someone is all about.  Sitting at his feet, listening to his word, was ultimately for the purpose of hearing whatever he wanted to say, and sometimes what he has to say is that something needs to be done.  Knowing someone means knowing what they want.   And loving someone means taking care of the things that they want and need.  I cannot say that I know my wife without knowing what she wants.  And I cannot say that I love my wife without actually caring for her needs and doing the things that she needs me to do.

We can say that we know the Lord and that we love the Lord but the best way for that to show is for us to:   1. Know what it is that he wants, and 2. Do the things that he wants.  We have an active relationship with the Lord.  So when we ask what the church is here for, someone answers that “we’re here for the Lord.”  That’s great!  But what does that mean?  What does the Lord want?  If we’re here for him, then what does that look like? What does that mean we do?
Jesus put it really succinctly when he said “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit, and this will glorify our Father in heaven.”  There’s that fruit again.  Do you remember how I said that was going to show up again?  His intention was that his people would bear fruit, and that fruit would bring honor to him.  And we know what that fruit looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, these are all evidences of his presence in us.  He wants to see those evidences brought out.  He is honored and glorified when that happens.

So if we want to say that we are here for the Lord, then we must understand what it is that he’s here for, what he’s after.  He’s after a people that will bear fruit, which is how we bear his image—it’s the same thing.  These fruit of the Spirit are just aspects of who he is.  We’re just bearing his image when we bear his fruit.  Do you also remember that he told us he wanted us to multiply and fill the earth?  Well, multiplication is certainly something the church did in the first century.  The church had a tendency of taking the life that was in them and sharing it with other people in such a way that they, too, would come to have that life inside of them.  It’s a natural function of fruit to nourish others.

Now I know that all of this may be striking you as a lot of self effort somehow.   Maybe it seems legalistic to you to hear that God wants to see things come out of us.  But we shouldn’t be overly reactive to this idea.   I know why we would lean that way.  It’s because the rest of the Christian world out there is obsessed with performance.  So we run the other direction.  We downplay performance, and we downplay results, and we downplay progress in the Christian life because we know the incompetencies and the incapabilities of our own flesh.  But we don’t need to run too far the other way, jumping out of one ditch and into the other.  The Lord really does want to make a difference, make a change in the life of the church.  In the end, there should be some things present in the church that you don’t see in the rest of the world. . When that happens, he is given the glory that the church was put here for.  He is glorified when we bear fruit, and when we multiply.

So I have a couple of observations that I want to make about that.  This is where I get really personal, and really direct.  I don’t think that we as a church have always been good about understanding the goal of what we’re about.  That there is meant to be the fruit of the other realm coming out of ourselves.  On the contrary, I think that we have always worked to be a place where nobody is ever held up to any kind of measuring stick.  We don’t want anyone to feel under the law.  We know the incapabilities of our own flesh.  And so we end up shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, I’ll just never be able to do anything.”  But that’s not really what the Lord is after, is it?  I think that we have cultivated a habit here of saying, “Don’t worry, you’re not any worse off than anyone else…we’re all failures in the Lord and we’re okay with that.  Let’s learn to be okay with who we are.  But years later we never really get beyond that to saying, “Doesn’t the Lord want to move us forward in his grace?”

The Lord doesn’t want to leave us the way we are.  That’s not grace.  That’s not love.  Love wants to see sick people get better.  Love means wanting to see dysfunctional relationships become functional relationships, healthy relationships.  Dysfunctional people become healthy, functioning, balanced, well-adjusted people.  That is part of the evidence of the fruit of his Spirit in us.  His Spirit in us is meant to make a difference, and he does!  But I think we downplay that too much.  I think that we are so afraid of getting back under the law, and feeling bad about ourselves, that we recoil away from any kind of talk of actively following the Lord.  We don’t want to go back under the law again.  We’re like an abused child that recoils away from an outstretched hand.

But there is a goal to which we have been called.  Paul talks about pressing on to lay hold of something that was the reason for his calling.  That implies some kind of a progress.  There is direction; there is trajectory; there is purpose.  There is progress toward a goal, and I think that this is the way we should approach the church and our own lives individually.  There is something that the Lord is after in this group of people.  And it does not involve somehow going in circles.  There is meant to be some kind of progressing toward what he is after.  And it involves bearing fruit of the other realm.  Which, by the way, means putting tangible, physical expression to a life that originates in the other realm.  There are things that are not from this world but they enter into this world.  Call it a kind of incarnation.  God is always about incarnating himself.  That’s a whole other message that we could get into sometime.  But for now, I’ll just briefly state that we often talk about fellowshipping with God outside of time and space, and we talk about God living outside of time and space.  But we cannot forget that he chose to become visible because there was something he wanted to do in this world.  And there is still something he wants to do in us.  He wants to continue becoming visible to the earth.  And that means that he’s not staying outside of time and space.  He wants to get inside of time and space.  So if we are going to know him, then we are not only going to know him outside of time and space; we are going to somehow know him inside of time and space, as well.  But like I said, that’s a whole other message that we could discuss.

But that’s what it means to bear the fruit of the other realm:  putting physical expression to something that is from the spiritual or non physical realm.  He wants us to bear fruit, and he wants us to multiply.  To be completely honest with you, I don’t think I know much about what that looks like in our context.  I’m more convinced of what I don’t know than of what I do.  But I know this:  It means growing.  And I don’t mean that a house church like ours should have a hundred people in it.  But I am beginning to believe that churches should produce other churches, just like families naturally produce other families.  I really don’t know all the ways that this happens; I just know that it’s part of what we’re about.  At some level I imagine that involves both bringing in new people to know the Lord, so that they, too, can bear this fruit.

Three Women, pt.2

September 6, 2009

Below you will find part two of the transcript from the message I brought in Lithia Springs a few weeks ago. The transcript doesn’t match the spoken message (found here) word for word, but it’s close. Part three will come in the next post.

THE SECOND WOMAN: MARY OF BETHANY

Let’s leave Adam and Eve for a minute and move on to our next woman. But before I can tell you what I want to tell you about her, I have to talk first about Jesus. When Jesus called people into a relationship with him, he had a consistent way of calling people into that relationship. What did he say to them? He said “Come and follow me.” We have come to use that phrase figuratively to mean all kinds of things. We say things like “I’ve been following so-and-so’s career for a long time,” or “I’ve been following the Braves for a long time.” We use the word in a figurative sense when we say we follow Jesus. But when Jesus originally called people to follow him, He really was telling them to follow him. It was actually a call to get up and walk around wherever he went. It was a very literal following him. He was a man who did not sit still. He kept moving, so to be in a relationship with Him required that you get up and follow Him and go around with Him. It was a very active relationship. Knowing Jesus in the first century meant actively following him around wherever he went, going where he was going, and doing whatever he was doing. In fact, after knowing him for a pretty short time, many of them were sent out by Jesus, 72 of them in fact, to do what he had been doing. All of that was a part of following him. It was an active relationship. Just like Adam’s relationship with God was a very active relationship. So it was with the followers of Jesus.

Come to think of it, Jesus would always say that his relationship with His Father was an active relationship. He told us that his Father was working even up until that day. He said that for that same reason he was always working, because he lived by just doing what he saw his Father doing. For him, knowing his Father involved doing the same things that his Father did. I would point out that this is true of any relationship. If you would know someone well, you will have to do some of the things that they do. You do things with them. You don’t get to know someone by just sitting with them, or just looking at them. You get to know them by talking with them, listening to them, spending time with them and doing things with them, by having some of the same interests that they have. That’s how a relationship works. Jesus’ relationship with his Father was no different. And Jesus’ relationship with his followers was no different. So he called them to follow him.

Now there was a precedent, an established role in Jewish society in Jesus’ day which fit this very well. It was that of a Rabbi and his disciples. The New Testament calls Jesus’ followers just that: disciples. Disciples are people who follow a rabbi around. So it should catch our notice that they called Jesus “Rabbi,” teacher. In the first century, a Rabbi wasn’t a person who sat in a room and lectured for hours on end dispensing knowledge and information. A Rabbi was up on his feet, moving around all the time. And his followers, his disciples, were people who would follow him around, doing the same things he did. When their time with him was finished, they were meant to become like their teacher. They would do the same things he did and understand things the same way he understood them.

Whenever a Rabbi did sit down, they would sit at his feet. They would gather around him and sit near him so they could hear anything he had to say. That’s what it meant to sit at a Rabbi’s feet. It was part of a larger relationship that involved following him around wherever he went, learning to do whatever he did, and learning to listen to what he said and understand what he was talking about. If you wanted to tell someone that you were a follower, a disciple, of a person, you would say that you were sitting at his feet. When Paul was introduced to the Roman world (and the Christian world), they explained that he was well known because he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel. That meant he was one of Gamaliel’s disciples, one of his followers. For years, he was taught by Gamaliel, followed him around. That made Paul a distinguished person because Gamaliel was a famous Rabbi. That’s what it meant to sit at the feet of someone. It meant declaring that you were that person’s follower.

Jesus had many disciples. You know there were more than just twelve. Many people were referred to as his disciples. At one point there were 72, and later there were up to 120. And besides his faithful followers, there were scores of people who were around him at any given point. One time he had to provide food for as many as 5,000 people because that’s how many were pressing in to see him and hear him. But I’m sure you know there were really more than 5,000. That was just the men being counted. There were also women and children present, but they had a funny way of not counting women or children back then. For example, have you ever noticed that the birth of women is never recorded in the Bible? The birth of the boys is chronicled for us, but not the girls. That’s just ancient Jewish culture for you. Even the New Testament refers to women like they were a separate group from Jesus’ disciples. It would refer to the disciples and also the women who traveled with them. That’s a pretty fascinating detail.

In their culture, women just didn’t have the same social roles as men. Now these women traveled around with the rest of Jesus’ disciples, and they went wherever the disciples went. They were always there, helping to tend to the practical needs of all these people, because somebody had to cook the food and take care of the material needs of the group while they traveled. They probably cleaned house, washed clothes, prepared food, all that kind of stuff. To the first century Jewish followers of Jesus, that was just the role of women. Maybe that sounds foreign at first, because we’ve always thought of the early church as treating men and women very equally, but I don’t think that was always the case. In fact, I suspect that the early believers were really slow figuring out certain things.

Take the issue of the Law of Moses, for example. The earliest disciples seemed to think that the gospel was only going to be for the Jews. They had a major crisis about whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised in order to get in, to become followers of Jesus. Of course we know that they later decided that was not going to be the case but they had to really debate it for a while. They seemed to be originally under the impression that the only way to be a Christian was to also be a good Jew. In fact, the earliest apostles only went to Jews.

Years later God told Peter to go to a gentile named Cornelius to share the gospel with him, but Peter was reluctant to do it because he thought the gospel was only for the Jews. The only way he could imagine a Gentile being a part of this is if he became a good Jew first. You may also remember that God had to take Peter by the hand and give him a vision of a sheet coming down out of heaven with all kinds of clean and unclean animals on it. He told him to kill and eat but Peter said he couldn’t. The Lord replied “Don’t call unclean what I have called clean.” So even years later Peter had to be taught by the Lord that the gospel was not just for the Jews. Even more amazing than this is that, years after the incident with Cornelius, we find Peter going to a Gentile town called Antioch and refusing to sit with Gentiles. For Paul that was a complete denial of the gospel. My point in all this is that the early believers were slow learners about certain things. I think the equality of women as followers of Jesus was one of those things that came too slowly for many segments of the church.

Incidentally, there was one other group of people who the twelve were slow to accept: the children. The children were always coming to Jesus, and the men were always pushing them away because they didn’t want them getting in Jesus’ way. But Jesus said “don’t make these kids go away.” They’re a part of these things, too. But maybe that’s something to talk about another time. Let’s return to the women.
Reading the gospels, you find the disciples, the followers of Jesus, and “the women.” Well, good ol’ Luke, who’s always the first to tell these kinds of things, tells a story in Luke 10 about how Jesus came to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. And I want to paint a picture for you first, before I finish this story. You understand that wherever Jesus went he was always surrounded by crowds of people. The only way he could get any time alone was when he intentionally sent the crowds away. On at least a couple of occasions he found himself stuck with finding a way to feed thousands of people. There were throngs of people following him around, hoping to see the next miracle.

I think a good comparison for today would be if you imagine a celebrity passing through town, like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. They wouldn’t be on the street long before hordes of people would be around them, snapping photos and asking for autographs. They probably need handlers or bodyguards to ensure that they have the space they need. Well, it was kind of like that for Jesus. Wherever he went, crowds of people would end up following him. And when he would stop to teach in a house, you couldn’t fit everyone inside the house.

More than likely, that’s what it was like when he went to Bethany. When he entered the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, there were at least 12 men who followed him around everywhere. Beyond that, there were up to 72 people, or maybe even as many as 120 who were almost always with him. And then beyond that, there were crowds of people who would turn out to see him heal or hear him speak. So when he entered a house, he typically packed it out. So when we turn to this story, we shouldn’t picture a house that is empty except for Mary, Martha, and Jesus. We should be picturing a house that’s full of shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-to-knee people squeezed together on the floor, standing around the edges against the walls, hanging through widows and standing in doorways, and even more standing outside the house, straining to hear what Jesus is saying inside. At any given destination, there were dozens, scores of people sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him talking.

We all know what Martha was doing at this time. She was busy with preparations for all of the people who just crashed her house. Suddenly this new picture makes so much more sense doesn’t it? We learn to poke fun at Martha for freaking out about things to do for Jesus. It always seemed pitiful how worked up she was getting over one single visitor, didn’t it? Even if it was Jesus! But she wasn’t just serving Jesus, was she? She was serving everybody! Maybe a hundred or more people! Think of how much food it would take!

She was merely fulfilling the role of a woman that she was given. Now she may have been that way naturally—she may have been an oldest child. She may have naturally been the one to make sure the dishes were washed, food had been prepared, feet had been washed, all those kinds of practical things. But then again, there’s nothing that says Mary wasn’t normally responsible, too. What we do know is that on this particular day, Mary chose to make a statement. She made a gesture, and you know what it was. She went and sat down at his feet with all of his other followers. That made a major statement, and Martha didn’t agree with her statement. The way Martha saw it, there was work to be done, mouths to feed, and Mary’s place was in the kitchen (so to speak…there probably wasn’t a kitchen the way we would imagine it, but you get the point). She was dropping the ball here.

But Mary had a different role to fulfill. She was numbering herself among Jesus’ disciples. She wasn’t content to be in a category called “the women.” She was saying that she was both a woman and also a follower of Jesus’. Not just a maid, or a waitress, but a disciple. That was a very liberated thing to do, wasn’t it? And Jesus took the time to draw attention to what she had done. Martha came in, told Jesus to tell Mary to help her, and Jesus said, “You know what? Mary has figured something out, and I’m not going to take that away from her.”

I have to stop and tell you that I first heard this story a looong time ago, as a new Christian. And the way I heard this story was very different from what I just told you. I had always pictured Mary and Jesus sitting together in a quiet, empty room, just sitting and spending time with each other, talking intimately with one another, or maybe with Mary just sitting and gazing at him as he spoke. Very passive. Very contemplative. Very still and intimate. Meanwhile Martha’s running herself ragged trying to get things perfect for Jesus. Which of course looks even sillier when you imagine an empty house and just Martha and Mary entertaining their single guest. Just how high maintenance did Martha really think Jesus was, anyway? Well, that’s just the point. He wasn’t alone, he had probably packed the house and there was a noisy crowd of people squeezing in to listen to Jesus, with Mary situated right smack dab in the middle of it all. Just who did she think she was, anyway? And why didn’t she know her place? There were so many mouths to feed and she was getting distracted by the delusion that she could do whatever the men were doing in there.

I don’t think Jesus was criticizing Martha’s determination to meet everyone’s needs. He was just drawing attention to something new, something Mary had discovered. She had figured out that, for this particular Rabbi, being a woman didn’t mean she was any less of a disciple. She had equal access. From now on she wasn’t going to accept a lower status because of her gender. And Jesus only reinforced it!

Whether the rest of those men understood what was happening or not, Luke made sure that story got included, right after telling us how obsolete our national and ethnic distinctions are, too (story of the Good Samaritan). Neither did Luke pass up the opportunity to tell us that it was a couple of women who first witnessed the resurrected Christ, and that it was those two women who were the first apostles to the apostles! They were charged with the responsibility of breaking the news to the men, who were hiding somewhere afraid for their lives.

Now I’m ready to make my main point here. Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet was not a display of contemplation, or passivity. It wasn’t about sitting in silence or being still. It wasn’t about resting versus work, either. It ultimately wasn’t about ceasing to do certain things. On the contrary, it was a startlingly active role to choose. Sitting at his feet demonstrated that she was to be his active follower, just like the men filling that room. She was way ahead of her time. And once again, we’ve got an active relationship with a person who is quite active himself. This One will only be known by being willing to move around quite a bit, keeping you on your toes.

Three Women, pt.1

September 1, 2009

A few weeks ago I brought a message to the saints who meet in my neighborhood, and I’d like to post it in three parts. If you want to listen to the message, you can download it here.

What follows is part one of a transcript of the message as I first rehearsed it. It’s pretty close to the message that eventually resulted.  I’ll post the next two parts over the next couple of days.

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Today I’m going to talk about 3 women. The first is Eve. The second is … a surprise. The third is the Church.

THE FIRST WOMAN: EVE

First we’ll look at Eve. Why was Eve created?

Before we can answer that question we have to ask why was Adam created? There tends to be a standard answer to that question, and it goes along with the plan of salvation. It goes something like this: Adam was created for fellowship with God. That’s certainly true to some degree. Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. So it’s true in a way. Adam was created for fellowship with God. But that’s not all that Adam was created for. The cool of the day only lasted so long. The rest of the day God had something for Adam to do.

Genesis is clear that God put Adam on the Earth to do something. He was given a task to accomplish. Adam wasn’t merely put on the Earth for fellowship. He was meant to bear the image of God on the Earth, in a sense representing God on the Earth. He was to rule over creation, exercising God’s dominion over his creatures. So he was put on the Earth to accomplish a task. I think you can still say that God created Adam for a relational purpose. He was made in order to be in a relationship with God. But that doesn’t rule out his having a task to accomplish for God. You could say the task he was given was part of the relationship with God.

He had work to do. One of the things we must realize is that this work came before the fall. Adam didn’t get work as a consequence of the fall. It wasn’t a punishment to have to work. He was given work to do before there ever was a fall. Now it’s always been important to us to step outside of the fall, to go back to before there was a fall and a need for redemption to ask what it was that God was doing. That’s how we determine what the Eternal Purpose is. We look at what God created Man for before there ever was a fall. And what we discover when we look is that Man was created to do a work, and that work predates the fall.

We tend to not like work because for us work is always bound up with the fall. All of our work seems doomed. We work hard to create order out of chaos and it just falls back into chaos before long. So we always associate work with fallenness. But there was such a thing as work before there was a fall. I think work was originally intended to be a rewarding experience. It gives purpose to a day. At the end of a day you’ve accomplished something. Maybe you’ve even created something that wasn’t there before. That’s very much like God, isn’t it? Jesus said his Father is always working. That means that anyone made in His image will be at work, too. So there must be something redeeming about work, something enjoyable. It involves exerting yourself, but with a reward at the end. Some of the best things in life are things that require some effort on the front end but in the end they’re rewarding. That’s what work was meant to be, minus the fall and minus the curse.

That’s a pretty exciting idea to me. And it’s a new idea to me, that work in and of itself is not bad, even though I have learned to dread it. But in the beginning God intended for work to be something enjoyable, satisfying. So to some degree I think it’s possible to anticipate that now in our daily lives. If we could find meaningfulness and purpose in work, well honestly that’s still a new thought to me. I think it applies somehow to what we do in life, as well as in the church. There’s more thinking through to be done about that. But for now I’ll restate the main point, that Adam wasn’t merely created to know the Lord. He was created to accomplish a purpose.

Now I think we’re ready to answer the question “Why was Eve created?” Eve was created in order to be his helper. She wasn’t merely created to keep him company. She was created to be his help meet, to be his partner in the task that he was given. Remember that God said “it is not good that man should be alone.” Now I do think that companionship is in there somewhere. I think it is a component of why Eve was created. It couldn’t have been that rewarding for Adam to hang out with the animals. Don’t get me wrong, they can be affectionate. There can be some reward there. But it’s not the same as the companionship we get from one another. So companionship is part of it. But it’s not the only reason she was created. She wasn’t just created for fellowship with Adam. She was created in order to share in the task that Adam had been given. He was instructed to be fruitful and multiply, and to exercise God’s dominion over the earth. There was a job to do. Eve was created to be his helper in that work.

We know what happened next. Adam misunderstood, or failed to believe what God had said, and as a result, he went about doing his job the wrong way. He took from the wrong tree, not because he didn’t have a task to do, he just misunderstood the way he was supposed to go about it. I think there’s a parallel in what happened with Abraham. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. But rather than understanding grace, and understanding that God would perform a miracle, he misunderstood the method. So he went about the wrong way getting what God was after. He was after the right end; he was just using the wrong means. I think that’s what happened with Adam as well. He was after the right end…being like God was exactly what God was after. But Adam was going about it the wrong way. He misunderstood the nature of his task. But there was a task to be accomplished and Eve was created to help Adam accomplish it.

Another thing we need to note before we leave Genesis is that God spoke to Adam and Even and told them something that explained what their purpose and function on the Earth was to be. He said be fruitful and multiply. I’ll be mentioning fruit again a little later–and maybe multiplication, too. For now, I should point out that when God said it’s not good that Man be alone, I don’t think he had in mind only the creation of Eve. I think he had in mind an entire race of people, a huge family that would come from Adam and from Eve. They couldn’t really accomplish their task, just the two of them, could they? They would have to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth, in order to do what God had called them to do. If they remained just the two of them, and never grew in number, they’d never be able to do what it was they were created to do. So multiplication and being fruitful were very central to what God put Adam and Even on the earth to do. They were put on the earth in order to, among other things, produce families that could assist them in doing what they were called to do.