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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

Illustration by Brain Danaher

I’m not much into fishing. In fact, I’d say I’ve gone fishing exactly one time. This metaphor for drawing people to the Christ doesn’t exactly resonate. My view of fishing: get some equipment, pick/find a spot, bait the hook, throw it out and wait; get a nibble and yank like crazy. Lose fish. Start over.

Matthew 4:19-20
As He was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He noticed two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, throwing a dragnet into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, Come after Me [as disciples—letting Me be your Guide], follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men! [Amplified]

What’s the attraction for fishing? I see people fishing off our town dock all the time. Sometimes in small groups, sometimes alone, sometimes with a kid-relative. When I go on vacation, there are signs everywhere for bait (apparently different bait works with different fish – I got that much). And the first time I actually walked around the fishing department of a sports store, I was shocked. There were so many different lures and poles and gadgets. Did these actually make someone a better fisherman or just high tech?

But let’s go back to the message behind the metaphor. Jesus was talking to fishermen who used nets. It was more like a drop it in and haul ’em out kind of fishing. The expectation was that “human fish” would be hauled in by the hundreds and even thousands. I wonder if the fishermen-disciples started out expecting some additional equipment.

In the end, the fishing was done quite differently: travel, talk, share, teaching, listen, accept, and invite. The bait was love. Only one kind: unconditional.

Some people still think fishing for people requires a lot of extra stuff like buildings and hot worship music and lights and video and an “online presence.” Are people so different today? Or are we just in a hurry?

Peter was in a hurry. By the time he got to the day of Pentecost, he was bringing in believers by the net full. But in the end, despite the initial haul, the most effective method was still travel (go to where the fish are), talking (give and take conversation), sharing (give what you have and can), teaching (what you’ve learned long the way), listening (everyone has a story), accepting (practicing the art of non-judgment), inviting (live life together) and love (do, act, and touch in their best interests).

In God’s time, I am fishing every time I with someone, every time I engage with someone, every time I touch someone, every time I share space with another human being. My success as a fisher-woman is my commitment to handing out the bait.

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What is the take away for doing something 40 days? Whether it’s in fasting or in temptation, there’s something here about forty days that should be considered, should be pursued. It’s a whole lot of waiting: more than five weeks of consideration. I wonder what would happen if I waited (prayed, contemplated, meditated) forty days before I initiated a plan or a major decision?

Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12-13a; Luke 4:1-2a
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

There are other scriptural examples of 40 days: the flood (Genesis 7:17); Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9); Spies in the Promised Land (Numbers 13:25); Goliath’s challenges (I Samuel 17:16); Elijah’s flight and fast (I Kings 19:18); Jonah warns Nineveh (Jona 3:4); Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).

All of these 40 day increments are wrapped up with important events, usually before something major would happen.

So, let me put this in perspective (for myself, if nothing else). If I claimed this 40 day waiting period starting today, that would mean on Friday, September 14th, I could begin: I would know whether to go forward or not. If I seriously pursued my quest for those 40 days, I would know. It’s like a promise, I think.

Don’t misunderstand me. I get it that this period should be led of the Spirit and yet, I have a feeling. If I laid out my heart’s desire, my plan before God and then repeated my request each day, I believe I would have an answer. I would also have a bit of a struggle along the way. Based on the stories, a truly authentic 40 days is laden with challenges. Satan (or however you want to call that negative voice/power in our lives) tempted Jesus the whole time just like Goliath tempted the Israelites. Goliath mocked them and taunted them: Dare you! Double dare you to come out here and fight me (on his terms of course). Satan does the same thing. The forty day challenge puts the entire experience on God’s terms.

Apparently, 40 days are just long enough. They take the person just beyond that point we can do it on our own. Forty days include the extra mile.

What do I really want to know? What game-changing decision do I want to contemplate? What would be the best news ever?

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Icon: John the Baptist

To wash ceremonially in ancient Jewish times was to participate in a mikveh (or mikvah). For rituals, particularly washing from impurity, required “living” or flowing water such as a river or mikvot (the mikveh place) fed by a natural spring. It constituted the washing away of the old impurities and to mark the beginning of the new.

Matthew 3:1-2,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” . . .  “I baptize you with [or in] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist treated sin as the greatest impurity of all and called everyone who wanted a new start to celebrate a mikveh with him, right there in the desert, in the river Jordan. While priests, via the regulations in the Torah and other rabbinical writings, performed the mikveh for a variety of circumstances (after sexual relations for men, a menstrual cycle for women, after the birth of a child, upon declaring someone healed of a skin disease or leprosy, prior to Yom Kippur, and so forth), this may have been the first time that a mikveh was performed without a traditional priest.

John’s message was clear: prepare the way (prepare yourselves) for the coming Messiah. Release the old and make room for the new.

The water submersion was a ritual meant to mark a moment in time. And yet, John promised another moment, a time that would be marked by something more permanent than water: the Holy Spirit and Fire.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’s resurrection, the gift was given (and promised) to all believers — the in-dwelling of God [Acts 2]. This in-dwelling changed everything and everyone. We tend to minimize this deeply motivating presence today.

There is so much “Jesus Junk” (Tchotchkes) and pat phrases like “Jesus loves you brother.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just that Jesus loves you; it’s that Jesus is you [Philippians 1:21]. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. And once Jesus has been invited to occupy us, then the process of true sanctification begins, fusing me and the Christ. And with sanctification, unnecessary elements must, like chaff, be cast away and in some cases, burned away through experience, pain, persistence of motion, and repetition. We are all intended to “get it.”

The occupy movement from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., has nothing on the potential power and change that comes from the occupation of a human being by the Holy Spirit. This is the most authentic change of all.

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There are a few stories in scripture about being told to get up and go. Abraham comes to mind [Genesis 12] when God told him to leave Harran and go (who knew where) and Abraham wandered to several places looking for the right one (and even, for a time, into Egypt). When God first spoke to Abraham and Joseph, the “away” was more important than the destination.

Matthew 2:13-14
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt . . .

God doesn’t always give us the big picture when we’re asked to leave one situation or place for another. In fact, I think the truly Godly adventures come with a pretty good dose of the unknown (may even a flat-out Star Trek mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before). Anytime we leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, there is trepidation and fear. If there wasn’t, then we’re probably not being straight-up about the departure. We’re thinking, I can always go back. Like so many twenty-somethings who are boomeranging back home after college while looking for work, they figure “home” is a good Plan B. But you see, Joseph didn’t have a back up plan. He was totally dependent on that voice inside his head that said “go” and had to hope he’d hear it again when (and if) a time came to return.

Me? I’m always second-guessing my destination. My not-so-private joke is that I prefer “planned spontaneity.” I don’t even like using a GPS because it’s a turn-by-turn description and too hard for me to “see” ahead. Give me a good old paper map any day. (And this is from a tech junkie!)

So, here’s the thing. If God wants me to head to Egypt (symbolically), chances are I’m going to ask for a Fodor’s. Maybe, if I had a really strong guide or someone who’s been there before, I would be more willing to go.

This is where the Body of Christ could really come into the picture. You see, each one has been to one of these Egypts along our way. Right? Even me. Like everyone, I’ve had times and places I didn’t really want to go, but I had to go and despite my proclivities, I didn’t always have a map: I learned through experience. Boy, did I learn. (I’m pretty sure those “Egypt” trips would have been better had I gone willingly; had I gone with trust in the one sending me there.)

That’s the key: I can say or do all kinds of things to avoid Egypt and yet, I end up there anyway–the long way; like the Israelites who had to put in those extra 40 years in the desert because they were unwilling to trust God for the land of milk and honey. They thought they knew better.

I believe I have a certain obligation to go back and tell/show the other ones about the way. I know there are folks still hanging back? Granted, I blazed a pretty loopy trail, but I also got some insights and short-cuts in hindsight.

As I begin this new, and last quarter, of my life, I believe I am being asked to take on a new role.

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Isn’t it peculiar how many people are adamant about the dangers of astrology and “magic,” but wholeheartedly repeat and support the classic story of the “three magi” who supposedly visited the baby Jesus by way of King Herod and left in their wake, three famous gifts for the child: gold, incense, and myrrh? Their “astrological” roots have been overlooked in favor of calling them “wise men.” But is wisdom treated any better?

Matthew 2:7-8,
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

There are so many symbols in ancient storytelling. Some interpretations have carried down through the ages while many more have been adjusted along the way through natural evolutions in the telling. After all, many ancient tales and wisdom narratives were a verbal art form. Even the New Testament was put into writing years after the death of Jesus and although they were based on eyewitness accounts, how many witnesses can agree on anything)? The letters of Paul and other apostolic letters were written and then carried from place to place, and no doubt, ruined along the way and copied from memory or pieced back together. Accurately? Maybe and maybe not.These are just a few of the questions and discoveries of Bible scholars of today.

Now before anyone panics: relax. I’m not setting forth an anti-bible or a particular bias against “scriptura sola” (which means by scripture alone). If anything, my faith is unshaken as I uncover the variations and discoveries  about the Bible: the presence of the Holy Spirit within me is untouched by modern science nor is it enhanced by Biblical narrow-mindedness.

Ok, here are a few facts and personal observations:

1) Herod (the Great) was actually assigned his role to be King of Judea by the Romans. In many ways, he was a puppet king. And although he built many great buildings during his 34 year reign,  he was considered to be a madman and killed many of his own immediate family. Clearly, he suffered from paranoia. This is later confirmed by his order to murder the boy-children of Bethlehem. (On a side note, I have learned that this genocide of male children is not confined to ancient history, but has been repeated throughout history. One notable example is the story of 20,000 boys and young men displaced in the second Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005 and beautifully depicted through the documentary, the Lost Boys of Sudan.)

2) The Magi (and really, nowhere does it really say three except through the reference of three gifts), or magicians or astrologers or wise men or astronomers or whatever, made a journey based on their interpretations of the heavens and the prophecies carried through the ages and across nations. They studied, they read, they heard, they watched and then they acted. They made a HUGE journey based on their discoveries. They expended a great deal of time and money to get to where they were going. I’m guessing they figured everyone knew about it already, that is, those who lived near the event. But they didn’t. Herod was caught off guard and so were the “people of Jerusalem” (verse 3). The biggest juncture in Jewish history had happened and they missed it? How could that be? The Messiah was born and nobody knew about it except for a bunch of foreigners?

3) The star was exactly what? Really, a star? Based on our modern day knowledge, a star is a gigantic sun that is really, really far away. It doesn’t just “rise” and hover over a location. I mean, Earth is round (not flat as they imagined it to be back then). You can’t chase a star in the heavens any more than you can chase a rainbow. So, what was it? The shape and its placement in relation to other stars? Perhaps it was a super nova or a comet or some conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter? We’ll never know really. But they saw something. And as a result of what they saw, they packed their bags (which was probably a very large caravan) and took a very long journey (some scholars say up to two years).

So, what do I end  up with? A mad king, three (or more) eccentric soothsayers and a celestial mystery.

What’s my take away? Today, we have quarks, the Higgs Bosun particle, Virgin Galactic (space travel by tourists), and 1,740,330 identified species of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, plants, and others. These things are no less amazing. Our world is full of natural wonders as well as unknowns. How would a primitive describe any one of the things that modern man has discovered or invented?

Will we be any better at recognizing the second coming of the Messiah? Or will we be like the people of Jerusalem? Or will we work really hard to explain away the wonder? Would an appearance in the sky be too much like the latest Sci-Fi movie? Would we miss the point. . . again?

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I have been contemplating this word for the last few days. I have not been able to move forward. I am challenged. I am calmed. I am in awe of the very idea of Immanuel. Not just then, but now. Right now.

Matthew 1:23
Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us. [Amplified]

The Hebrew translation looks like this: עִמָּ֫נוּאֵ֫ל
The Greek like this: Ἐμμανουήλ

It’s a description, not a first name. It’s a state of being. It’s a promise. It’s a reality, whether a person believes it or not. It’s like gravity: exists.

God is with us. God with us. God–Us. God.

Immanuel sung by Steve Green and accompanied by Michael Card.

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Joseph was pretty clear on what to do about the “Mary problem.” Basically a nice guy (apparently), he would divorce her quietly and she could deal with the fall-out on her own. After all, it really wasn’t his mess. But God had another plan. So, how does God get through to us after we have already made up our minds?

Matthew 1:19
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

I would like to say that I have a list of experiences where I wanted to go one way and God wanted me to go the other way and I had a convenient dream (that I remembered) and then realized, “Oh, God is speaking,” so I changed my mind. There’s a laugh.

I am stubborn and bull headed. Once I decide (and I mean really decide) to do something, it’s like pushing a boulder up a hill to get me to change. In some cases, that persistence has been a good thing. The adoption of our daughter was a two-hear slog and only our dogged faith got us through. We had plenty of people try to change our minds. After all, everything was going wrong. So, in this case, we believed God was actually in the midst of it all.

But, I know, there are many more pigheaded decisions I have made that kept the angels busy trying to break through my iron resistance. Or maybe it wasn’t even those stubborn things but the impulsive ones that caused the most complications and mistakes. I’d get something in my mind: sell the old house and get a new (debt, debt, debt); buy a new car; send the boys to private school; go on a long vacations; accept another pet (and another and another and another); or simply say something hurtful. . . because it seemed right in the moment.

Looking back, I’m sure there was a lot of wing flapping and microphone testing (“Can you hear me now?”).

So, what is the point? My decisions (or mind gripped ideas) should be given time and space to hear from God. The Holy Spirit is wondrously creative and can help work out a lot of dicey situations.

At least I didn’t purchase one of those time shares in Timbuktu.

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