Monday, August 26, 2013

it cannot be earned

Genesis 45
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

Psalm 133
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when  brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,        
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. 
Romans 11
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew...28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Matthew 15
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Not everything Jesus did so easily understandable to us. Some things are recorded about Him that often leave us puzzled. This incident is one of them. Jesus comes off as being rather rude and superior to this woman who has come to Him, and apparently because she herself was not Hebrew. Even though we are told that, in the end, Jesus acknowledges her faith and her daughter is healed, it still comes off as if Jesus is suffering from a bit of high-and-mightiness.

Understandably, people have tried to explain what happened here. I remember one author saying that Jesus was engaging in a bit of a humorous exchange with this woman, that He has a humorous gleam in his eye as He talks to this woman, and she catches on to it and replies to Him with a witty comeback, which pleases Him to no end so that He laughs and tells her that what she wants is going to happen.

At the risk of being a stick-in-the-mud, there doesn't seem to be anything like that in his passage as it is recorded in Matthew. The woman, for example, seems to have been in a state of mind that wasn't open to seeing wit. Her daughter is suffering, likely very badly, and her mother desperately wants her to be healed. Engaging in witty repoire seems very much like a modern add-on, what we might expect from a movie or tv show, but not something from real life.

As such, then, I think we must take what is recorded in this gospel passage seriously. Jesus really didn't respond to her pleas as we would like to think He would, or even should. He seems to ignore her at first, and when He finally does respond to her, his words seem to be insulting.

We must be wary of saying "this is like that" when that parallel is not scripturally pointed out; however, there do seem to be some parallels between the gospel passage and the Old

There is much more to the account of Joseph finally telling his brothers who he was. He did not do so the first time he saw them after many years, but instead he tests them, and does so in ways that are pretty harsh, accusing them of being spies, putting them in jail, arranging it to look as if they have stolen something valuable. It is only after all of that that he finally tells them who he really is, in the passage above.

In many ways, Joseph is a type of Christ. Like Christ, he was rejected by his brothers. Much as Christ took on the form of a servant, Joseph was made a slave. Both are unjustly punished for crimes they did not commit. And both are deliverers. Much like how Joseph sees that God is the one who caused all those things to happen to him so that he could be a provider for his family when this time of famine came, Jesus suffered death on the cross so they He could provide eternal life to all who repent and believe in Him.

And, just as Joseph didn't exactly go ballistic hysterical when he first saw his brothers after all those years and go into a screaming giggly fit, so Jesus did not always come off as being very welcoming to people to came to him. This incident with the Canaanite woman wasn't the only time He speaks rather roughly to people, not in ways that we might consider to be appropriate to the open-armed, welcoming picture of Him that we often have. The gospels record times when people came to Him saying that they would follow Him, but instead of giving them the right hand of welcome, He says some things that could be considered rather discouraging. When the rich young ruler comes to Him, Jesus tells Him to give away all he has and then follow HIm. John 6 records a time when a crowd of people followed Jesus for free food, and Jesus begins talking about them having to eat His flesh and drink His blood, which drives them away.

It may be a reasonable conclusion, then, that Jesus' response to the woman was based on her reaction to Him, that what Jesus said was a kind of reward to her for her witty response. I'm not sure that's quite right.

Let's me refer you to a parable Jesus told, about two men in the Temple praying. One, the Pharisee, prays in a way that essentially praises himself, while the other, a tax collector, can only ask God for mercy to him a sinner.

Jesus didn't commend the woman for her wit, or anything she did. He commended her for her faith. If her words meant anything, they could be seen as being much like the words of the tax collector, that she knew she wasn't of the covenant people, but she was wanting mercy for herself and her daughter.

If we come to God thinking we have anything to offer, if we think that He is impressed when we say that we will follow Him 100%, if we think that He is waiting for us to obey His laws, or to worship Him wholeheartedly, or pray 24-7, or do any of the works that we are told by some that we need to do in order for Him to start moving and blessing, then we are mistaken, we are like the Pharisee bragging about our works of righteousness thinking that makes us acceptable to God.

There is another time that Jesus commended the faith of another. It was a Roman soldier, who admitted up front that he was not worthy of having Jesus come under his roof.

This woman had no leverage, she didn't attempt to impress with her works, she merely asked for help. It is in that way that we should come to Jesus. God is gracious, we can see that even the disciples did not always have a good attitude, when for example they wondered about what rewards they would have for leaving everything behind, or when some wanted to be seated at Jesus' right and left hands in His Kingdom, and Jesus was patient and taught them how they should be--those who would be greatest should be the servant to all.

We are invited to make our requests to God, to come boldly to His throne to receive grace to help in our times of need. But that isn't because of any works we have done, it is because of what Christ has done. Do not be afraid to make requests to God, but don't think that He is waiting for you to earn anything from Him.

Monday, August 5, 2013

book review--This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley

muddled coffeehouse theology

I received a free copy of this book from the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books review program.

If you've ever attended an open mic night at a coffee house, you've likely had a good taste of what reading this book is like--bad poetry and songs filled with angst and navel-gazing but short on real substance, muddled thinking that would die of its own cognitive dissonance if it ever actually took the time to accept the law of noncontradiction. And, sadly, the book doesn't even come with a cup of coffee, to help ease the pain of having to make sense of it.

Mostly, the message of this book is, you're ok if you do a bunch of good works. Of course, those good works have to be of their pre-approved sorts. If you're involved in left-leaning environmental whacko stuff, like the guy the author mentions named Peter, or in expensively cheap street theater, like the other guy the author mentions named Shane, well, that's a-ok. If you've supported or defended the Defense Of Marriage Act, or if you're a "wild-eyed street preacher" who's telling people to repent of their sins, well, that's of questionable value and probably not very Christ-like, in this author's opinion.

True, an occasional sound-out is given to Christ dying to forgive our sins, but that's not the main issue. No, it's about you becoming a good little social justice activist, planting trees, saving whales, making sure no off-shore drilling is going to happen, doing more and more and more, being sure to follow all the polls to make sure that what you're doing is approved by society around you, so society around you will know that you're doing only what they consider to be loving and Christ-like. Oh, and a little bit of anti-capitalism and distain for "the American dream" won't hurt, either.

Even the Gospel gets redefined, from something that God has done for us to something we do, from something we believe to something we work at. In Chapter 11, he writes briefly about a time when their church planted some trees on a hillside. 'Tim pointed around the circle at the muddy knees, sweaty brows, and scratched arms. "This is the gospel," he said.'

No, it's not. The Gospel is Christ crucified, not you slightly disheveled. The Gospel is what God has done for us, not what we do.

In my opinion, this book is more like a gateway drug than anything else, like the early Emergent stuff that wasn't all that bad, but went off the rails big-time in recent years. It's not that big of a jump from McKinley to McLaren. In fact, if the Shane the author speaks so fondly of is the Shane whose last name is Claiborne, then forget about a jump, it's already taking you to McLaren's theological ZIP code.

In other words, this books isn't worth the money you'll spend on it. There's much better stuff out there.