Dispensationalism: The Short Version

Ok, class. It’s time for a vocabulary quiz.

What was that word I used in the last post?

“Dispossessed?”

“Antidisestablishmentarianism?”

“Dipsy-doodle?”

Nope, none of the above.

It was “dispensationalism.”

Yeah, I know, it’s a mouthful.

But, what exactly is it? And, what does it have to do with that thing called the Rapture?

Besides being a thing that fundamentalists like to say in order to sound intelligent, it’s an idea that has it’s roots in the earliest writings of the Church.

In his seminal work, City of God, Augustine of Hippo viewed history as divided into various stages. In books 15 – 17 Augustine divides the history of the world by Biblical events. The time of Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel until Noah’s flood. From the flood up to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. He then follows Abraham until the time of Israel’s kings; the kings through until the time of Christ. For him these were distinct eras that revealed how God related to humanity.

Darby, too, viewed history through the lens of the Christian scriptures. His view, as reconstructed by C.I. Scofield after him, was a bit more detailed and religious sounding. His view looked a bit like this:

  1. Innocence, between creation and the Fall.
  2. Conscience, between the Fall and Noah’s flood.
  3. Human government, from the flood to the call of Abraham.
  4. Promise, from Abraham to Moses.
  5. Law, from Moses to the death of Christ.
  6. The Church, from the resurrection to the present.
  7. The Millennium.1

Such divisions are tools that some theologians use to describe how God relates to God’s universe so we may perhaps understand how God works. People like patterns. We see them in the wood grain of doors and in the clouds. Theologians see patterns in Holy Writ and try to describe them so that we might better understand God.

The problem with Darby and Scofield’s  view is that in order for it to work the Bible must be taken literally. Every historic event must have happened just as it was written. God must have created the earth ex nihilo, out of nothing. There must have been only two humans created by God, Adam and Eve. From them all the humans who have ever lived must have been descended. An actual Earth ending flood must have occurred in which only a handful of people survived aboard a big boat. And, that boat contained representatives of every species of animals from the whole earth!

The parts of the Bible that are considered ‘prophetic’ are also read literally. And, this misunderstanding is the foundation of dispensationalism. One writer noted, “The hermeneutic [interpretation] of ethnic and geographic literalism in prophecy is base on the assumption that prophecy is nothing but history ahead of time. Consequently, it ascribes to the prophetic portrayals the exactness of a photographic picture in advance.2

Ok, ok…I get it. This theological mumbo-jumbo is all well and good. But, what does it have to do with the so-called ‘rapture’?

It all ties in with Darby’s view of history. Another writer stated,

What separated Darby’s dispensationalism was his novel method of biblical interpretation, which consisted of a strict literalism…and the separation of the rapture (the “catching away” of the church) from Christ’s Second Coming. At the rapture, he said, Christ will come for his saints; and at the Second Coming, he will come with his saints.3

Ah, there it is! The Rapture! What Darby was saying was that at the end of the sixth dispensation, “The Church,” Jesus was going to return to Earth and ‘snatch’ all of the Christians who had ever lived up into the clouds to join Him. He then would take them to heaven. This would happen just before  the Great Tribulation and the 1,000 year reign of Christ. (All of this was mentioned in my previous post.)

Darby added a couple of things. Instead of the dispensation of the Church leading right into the 1,000 year reign of Christ, (the Millennium), he added the rapture and the tribulation.

But, why did he do that?

It goes back to his literal reading of the Bible. There are several passages that he used to develop this idea. And, in the next post we’ll begin to dig into those passages to see what the writers were actually trying to say.


1 McGrath, Alister E., Christian Theology:An Introduction, 4th ed., Blackwell, Oxford, 2007, p. 476.
2 LaRondelle, Hans K., The Israel of God in Prophecy, Berrien Springs, Mich., Andrews University Press, 1983, p. 141. Qtd. In Bloesch, Donald G., The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory, IVP Academic, 2004, p. 97-98.
3 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-nelson-darby.html. Accessed 01/27/2018.

The Rapture Invented

John Nelson Darby – The Father of Modern Dispensationalism

When I was a member of the Evangelical church I was taught that we, and we alone, were a direct descendants of the original 1st century church. You see, the other churches had in some way compromised the original teachings and doctrines through traditions and other accouterments to make people feel better and more comfortable. The original church was militant and counter-cultural. Not like those Romans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. So, we needed to recapture that original zeal and press forward. You know, Onward Christian Soldiers and all of that.

Part of our position was that we were learning the true, original doctrines that built that first Church. While the Roman Church had their ‘direct link’ through the papacy, we had ours through the Word of God! Ha! Our Word trumps your weird hat!

This belief included the so-called truth about what the writers of the Bible called the ‘end of days.’ And, of course we had the true understanding of what Paul and Jesus and Peter and the writer(s) of Daniel meant when they wrote about such things. Oh, and it goes without saying we completely understood what John the Seer meant when he penned his magnum opus, The Revelation.

We knew that they all wrote about events that were absolutely going to happen. There would be a period of time when people would fall away from the true faith. Check. That happened a long time ago. And, things were only getting worse.

Jesus was going to return to judge the world. This was clear from the Scripture. But, before that judgment, Jesus himself was going to gather all of the ‘true believers,’ (re. Everyone who believed just like we did). He was going to “snatch” us up into the clouds and take us to live with him forever in heaven. Wow! How exciting was that!

After the snatch and grab, there would be a 7 year period when a guy called the “anti-Christ” was going to set up shop. Lots of plagues and really bad stuff was going to happen to all of those poor folks who were left behind. At the end of the 7 years there was going to be a big war called Armageddon and Jesus would come back and destroy all of his enemies and establish a 1,000 year reign. During that time there would be blissful peace and a whole lot of Kumbaya.

Hey! Don’t be like that! It’s in the Book. Anyone with any sense can see it. As Larry Norman sang, “How could you have been so blind?”

In the Book?

Exactly what the original Church believed?

Really?

It’s time for a brief history lesson.

One source stated “Prior to 1830, no church taught it [the rapture] in their creed, catechism or statement of faith.”

Prior to 1830? What happened to all that stuff about the Original Church believing this? Didn’t they preach about the ‘snatching up’ of the faithful? Hmmm…

More importantly, what happened in 1830?

What changed then to inaugurate this whole rapture thing?

First, I think that it’s important to understand that this particular period of history was one in which there was rapid change in society. These changes were reflected in philosophy, theology, and pretty much every other area of life and culture. This was precipitated by the period known as the Enlightenment. While the actual period of the Enlightenment was in the late 17th through the 18th century, it’s effects were felt well into the 19th. The idea that humanity was on an upward trajectory toward some elusive perfection was one hallmark of this movement. The industrial revolution was in full swing during this period. Darwin published “On the Origin of the Species.” The idea that human reason was the most important resource in the universe was coming to fruition.

The old way of thinking about God and Providence was questioned. And, in many cases, found wanting.

Foundations were shaken. The entire Western worldview was being recast in the image of Humankind.

So, it’s not unreasonable that there were various reactions against this move against the divine. Nor is it surprising that during this time other neo-Christian organizations were born. Joseph Smith and the Mormons: 1830; Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science: 1879; Charles Taze Russel and the Watchtower: 1881.

There was also a less famous movement that began during this period. (At least less famous because it did not result in an entire new belief system.) A man named John Nelson Darby, 1800-1882, formed a group that became known as the Plymouth Brethren. Through this group Darby developed a theological model that he called “dispensationalism.” This idea gave birth to what we now call the “rapture.”

But, how this worked in Darby’s mind is the topic of my next post.

Stay tuned!!!

I Wish We’d All Been Ready

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine on Facebook mentioned that she had talked with someone about Jesus. During the conversation an old song was brought up. The song was “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” by Larry Norman. The song was released in 1969. It became a hit among Christian evangelicals who were becoming caught up in what might be called “rapturemania.” Films like “A Thief in the Night” produced by Donald W. Thompson and a book by Hal Lindsey entitled “The Late Great Planet Earth” became popular during this time.

I  was a freshman in High School when I read Lindsey’s book. At that time, I was what later became known as a ‘seeker.’ I was searching for my identity and finding the idea of Jesus and the Christian faith a viable option. Lindsey seemed to be able to unlock secrets in the Bible and link them to the condition of the world at that time. This “revelation” made the Bible something other than an ancient document written by a bunch of dead people. It made it alive and relevant. To a 15 year old kid Lindsey’s book was transforming.

The reason I mention this is because the imagery of Biblical language, like that found in the books of Daniel and Revelation touches people at a deep, emotional level. It’s not like the legal and history-like language that makes up much of the Scripture. This type of literature, called apocalyptic, is full of exciting images of beasts and fire. There is cosmic warfare and people who loom larger than life. All of this can touch people at a visceral level like no other genre of literature can. When someone like Lindsey comes along and links these images to current reality, people sit up and listen. We ask, “Can this really be true?” We then may answer ‘Yes.’ At that point we are drawn into something that is larger than we are. Something with Earth changing potential. And, it’s still a secret to everyone else. It’s a secret that we’re privy to. And, that adds to the allure of these things.

So, what exactly am I talking about?

I’m talking about how the concept of the ‘end times’ as explained by Norman, Lindsey, and others like Tim LaHaye and John Hagee have turned people’s hearts and minds to something that at best is an errant theology. And, at worst a heresy that has the potential of destroying people’s lives.

I hope to explain some of this in this post and subsequent ones by showing where these ideas came from, why it is misleading, and why it is so very toxic to people and to the Church.

First, let me share the lyrics to Norman’s song. This song is a snippet of what many in the Evangelical church believe as ‘rapture theology.’

“I Wish We’d All Been Ready” by Larry Norman
Life was filled with guns and war,
And everyone got trampled on the floor,
I wish we’d all been ready
Children died, the days grew cold,
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold,
I wish we’d all been ready,
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

A man and wife asleep in bed,
She hears a noise and turns her head, he’s gone,
I wish we’d all be ready,
Two men walking up a hill,
One disappears and one’s left standing still,
I wish we’d all been ready,
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Life was filled with guns and war,
And everyone got trampled on the floor,
I wish we’d all been ready,
Children died, the days grew cold,
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold,
I wish we’d all been ready,

There’s no time to change your mind,
How could you have been so blind,
The Father spoke, the demons dined,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.
Larry Norman, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”, 1969, Capitol Records, Prod. Hal Yoergler

The words are a poetic take on a portion of the Bible found in the Gospel According to St. Matthew. These images are part of Jesus’ discourse with his disciples about something Jesus had just said to them. They were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem after Jesus had pretty much dismissed the religious leaders as a bunch of self-seeking men who took advantage of people in order to look good themselves, (and improve their own image).

Jesus began by stating that the Temple was going to be completely destroyed. He said, “There will most certainly not be one stone upon another left here that will not be torn down.” Then the writer recorded a long litany of things and events that would happen before the Temple’s ultimate destruction.

These things and others will be the topic of future posts.

So, stay tuned!

Jesus Begins to Build a Team

This meditation is on Jesus’ calling of his 12 closest disciples. There are different, conflicting stories in the Gospels about this. Ignatius, like so many other theologians, attempted to shoehorn the stories together into one cogent version. This never works well. Mostly, because the four Gospels were written by different people, at different times, and for different purposes. We cannot simply assume that there is one correct way to describe the calling of the Twelve. The text wasn’t written to be a mashup. So I’m not going to treat it as such.

So, how can one meditate on a single story when the accounts vary so much? Again, I have to trust God the Holy Spirit to direct my imagination. These texts, like the others we’ve visited, have a lot of wiggle room for our imaginations to fill in the holes..

The texts I used are from John 1:35-50 & Matt. 9:9-10.

Because of the length of these stories, I’m going to divide them into a couple posts. I hope you hang in there with me! 

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means ‘Teacher’), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you sill see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was  to find his brother Simon and tell him, “we have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about  in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus answered, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (John 1:35-50) 

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,: he told him, and Matthew got up  and followed him. (Matt. 9:9-10) 

After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee. However, instead of going to his family’s home in Nazareth, he went to Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. One day as he was walking and praying, he found himself near the place where the upper Jordan River flows into the Sea. John, his cousin, was baptizing there. As Jesus passed, John said to some of his disciples, “Look! That’s the one I told you about! The one who I saw the dove come to! He is the Lamb of God!”
Two of John’s disciples left John and ran to catch up to Jesus.
“Rabbi!” one of them called. “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Jesus turned and said, “Come on! I’ll show you.”

They walked together until they came to where Jesus was staying. The three men sat on cushions around a low table. Food and drink were brought to them. As they ate the bread and cheese and drank the wine they talked and laughed. Jesus asked them to tell him about themselves.

The first, a man named Andrew, said, “We are fishermen. But, when we can we help John. A lot of people come to him. Too many for him to care for by himself. So, we help keep people organized and moving. Plus, his words. They are different than the words of our synagogue leaders’. They seem to carry power, or even a life of their own. There is strength and truth behind what he says. So, when he pointed you out as being even greater than he, we came to see for ourselves what he meant.”

Jesus just nodded and smiled while Andrew spoke.

After a while, Andrew said that he knew someone who he had to introduce to Jesus. He left and went to find his brother, Simon. He found him near the boats they used for fishing. Simon was a few years older than Andrew. Of the two brothers, Simon was the serious one. He focused on his work and performed it well. So, when he saw Andrew, he shook his head. As far as Simon was concerned this ‘business’ with the Baptizer was a distraction. Andrew should be here working, mending nets, getting ready to go out to earn their living.
“Simon!” Andrew called. “Simon! Come see! We have found the Messiah!”
Simon just rolled his eyes and shook his head again. “Right, another distraction,” he thought.
Andrew took Simon’s arm and began to pull him along.
“Come on, Simon! I’m not kidding! Even the Baptizer said so. We have found the Anointed One!”
“Ok! I’ll come! But, you will need to come back after we meet your ‘Messiah’ and help with the nets. These holes won’t mend themselves!”

The brothers made their way back to Jesus. Simon was still not happy and his face showed it.
When they arrived Jesus looked up and laughed for Simon had a face of stone.
“Don’t look so serious!” he said. “I know! You, Simon son of John, will be called Cephas, the rock!”
All of the men laughed with Jesus.

Jesus was excited. His eyes were bright and he had a broad smile on his face.
“Brothers! Listen to what I have to say. God is doing a new thing in Israel. He is preparing to build God’s own kingdom. Right here! Right now! You’ve heard about the Day of Jubilee in the synagogue. Well, this is it! And, we get to be a part of it!”
“We’ll gather the children of Israel together under God’s banner,” he continued. “The Lord will again raise His mighty hand in acts of power! Just like when God led our people out of Egypt and into the land of Promise. We, too, will lead people out of the slavery and bondage of sin and death into a new land of Promise. Truly, truly I tell you, it will be a land where God reigns over all!”

The men who were with Jesus soaked up every word of Jesus. There was a new fire in their eyes. Like young men everywhere, they longed for adventure. And, Jesus was offering that.  Peter, however, sat quietly with that serious look on his face. Being older than the rest, his reaction was tempered by age, experience, and a sense of responsibility that the others didn’t have.

However, even Peter was convinced by the words of Jesus and chose to follow him. Fishing for people…cool!

Please consider subscribing to this blog. You will receive notifications of new posts in your e-mail. Also, please share with your friends!

The Wilderness

This meditation is derived from the story of Jesus when he went into the wilderness after John baptized him.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,: he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord you God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matt. 4:1-11)

Jesus followed the dove. It led him away from towns and people. The way was difficult. There was no road. Not even an animal trail was visible. After a few hours, even the dove flew off.

Jesus realized that he was utterly alone.

Eventually, he found a small cave. Inside he was protected by the oppressive onslaught of the sun’s heat. He also found a small spring near the back of the cave. He drank a little and lay down. In this world, night and day must be inverted. Jesus slept during the heat of the day. At night, when it was cool, he would go outside to seek God.
In the silence of the wilderness the days blended so there was no beginning, no end. Just day after day after day. Jesus wondered how he could have gone from the feeling of joy and elation he experienced at the river when he heard that voice from heaven to this total emptiness. The sky was like bronze that his prayers simply bounced off of.

During the waking nights he tried to understand what was happening. He watched the moon wax, wane, then wax again. He began to despair.
“Maybe I should just go home,” he thought.
“Tomorrow,” he heard himself say.

The next day he prepared to leave. “If I keep the morning sun on my right I will eventually find a town.
As he left the cave he saw a man approach. He was an old man, ancient looking. He had a long robe with blue and gray stripes. His hair and beard were long and white. Deep wrinkles were etched into his face. His left hand, spotted skin drawn taught over bone and veins, held tightly to a wooden staff.
When he drew closer he introduced himself simply as “an old wanderer.”
“Who might you be?” the old man asked Jesus.
“I am called Jesus, the son of Joseph. I have also been called the Son of God,” Jesus replied, remembering that voice at the river.
“You look hungry!” the man laughed.
Jesus noticed the whiteness of the man’s teeth as he laughed.
“If you are the Son of God, why not make these rocks into bread so that we can eat?”
That suggestion brought the story of the ancient Israelites to Jesus’ mind. God had provided bread, manna, for them to eat. Why hadn’t God provided for him? Why had they been fed and he left hungry and uncared for?
After a few moments, Jesus replied, “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The old man smiled. He realized that his words had caused an inkling of doubt to arise in Jesus’ mind. A small chink that he could take advantage of.
“Good answer!” the man said. “Come! Walk with me!”
As they started the man lifted his staff and stamped it on the ground.
Suddenly, they were on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The old man took Jesus’ arm and led him to the edge of the Temple complex overlooking the Kidron Valley.
“What do you see?” the old man asked.
Jesus looked out over the countryside. “I see the valley and the Mount of Olives. There is smoke from Bethany. I see a road winding down the hill into Jerusalem filled with people coming and going.”
“Ah, yes! People!” the man exclaimed. “Lots of people down there. And, look! More people up here!”
“Cast yourself down!” he continued. “For, it is written, ‘He will send His angels to lift you up so you won’t even stub your toe!”
“And, the people! All of them will see and believe that you are truly sent from God!”
Jesus considered the old man’s words.
“Yes, it would certainly be sensational,” he thought. “But, it would also turn everyone’s eyes to me.”
Jesus didn’t completely understand God’s purpose for him. But, he did believe that at least part of that purpose was to point the way to God.
No, making a spectacle of himself was not the way.
“It’s also written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test!”
The old man simply smiled and stamped his staff again.

Jesus found himself back in the wilderness…alone.

The sun was setting as Jesus sat down to consider what had happened that day. Why had he even considered the words of that old man?
“I’m tired and hungry, that’s why,” he said aloud to himself.

The night came and the moon began its ascent into the sky. Jesus looked out across the barren landscape.
Suddenly, he saw a light in the distance. As he watched, the light came nearer, growing larger as it approached.
It had the shape of a person. But, there were no features. No eyes; no nose; no mouth. Fear gripped Jesus as the shape came to him and put his hand on Jesus’ arm. Immediately, they were on top of a high mountain. The being waved an arm out and suddenly Jesus saw great civilizations before him. There were cities full of many different kinds of people. Large buildings and pyramids. There appeared before him great stores of gold, silver, and precious stones of every size and hue.
The light creature did not speak, but Jesus perceived its thoughts.
“This is all mine! I will give it all to you if…”
“If what?” Jesus wondered.
“If you will do one. small. thing. for me. Knee, here, before me, and worship me.”
Anger arose within Jesus.
IT IS WRITTEN,” Jesus spat out the words, “You SHALL worship GOD, and God ALONE! Go away from me, Tempter!”
Jesus found himself back in the wilderness. There was no sign of the creature.
There were, though, others there. A fire had been built and food was being prepared.

For the first time since leaving the river, Jesus felt the presence of God.


The folks who divide up the Bible by the various stories call this one something like “Jesus is Tested in the Wilderness” or “Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness.” In fact, the antagonist in the story was named ‘the Tempter.’
As I reflected on this I realized that for something to be a real test, or temptation, there would necessarily be the possibility of failure. Theologians throughout the ages have tried to paint Jesus as a super human who could withstand all of the fiery darts of Hell. Even the way the story was written seems to lean that way. For every attempt to tempt Jesus had a matter-of-fact kind of response. It was like he was saying, “Hey, that’s it! Hit me with your best shot.” This image of Jesus doesn’t fit well with the temptation narratives in the Gospels. So, as I meditated I considered how Jesus, the son of Joseph, might really have acted. Like I’ve said throughout, I am searching for a person with whom I can relate. A bigger than life Jesus is not that.
In the story I saw Jesus weakened by hunger and loneliness. He was susceptible to the tests that came his way. Including one I added, giving up and going home. The Tempter also saw Jesus’ weakness. He put tasks before him that were relevant to Jesus’ condition. And, Jesus struggled. He questioned and doubted himself.
But, in the end, he passed the test.
In my prayer after this meditation I asked about how temptations and tests might come my way. After all, even Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” The reply I received was of course testing and temptation would find me. I rue this because my track record has been dismal when it comes to tests. But, like I wrote earlier, if there’s no chance of failure, there is no true test. On the other hand, with testing comes the real possibility of success. We are not tested in order to trip us up, to accuse us when we don’t do well. Tests come so that we can see our progress and confirm our calling. Untested faith is no faith. Jesus found that out by walking through them and emerging on the other side victorious.

If you like what you read here, please consider subscribing to the blog. You will receive an e-mail alerting you whenever I post something new. Also, consider sharing with your friends!

 

Wednesday Morning Musing

I just finished reading “The Ocean at the End of  the Lane” by Neil Gaiman.

Near the end he wrote the following:

”I said, “You don’t have to take me home. I could stay with you. I could wait until Lettie comes back from the ocean. I could work on your farm, and carry stuff, and learn to drive a tractor.”

She said, “No,” but she said it kindly. “You get on with your own life, Lettie gave it to you. You just have to grow up and try and be worth it.”

A flash of resentment. It’s hard enough being alive, trying to survive in the world and find your place in it, to do the things you need to do to get by, with out wondering if the thing you just did, whatever it was, was worth someone having..if not died, then having given up her life. It wasn’t fair.”

When I read those words I felt the bitter sting of my own resentment. Not toward any other person. But, resentment toward myself. For, I too, know of someone who performed a similar sacrifice on my behalf. A sacrifice that I am ashamed to say that I have not ‘grown up and been worth it.’

I’ve allowed myself to be turned from the path I was given to trod.

“Be sensible.”
“Don’t be selfish.”
“Remember, you now have a family to support.”
“Go ahead and do that. But, remember, it’s ONLY a hobby. It can never be a real vocation.”
“Sit still and do this task.”
“You wrote this? Is there something wrong with you?”
“Get a hair cut!”
“Follow these rules and you’ll find true peace and happiness.”

“Jesus didn’t die so that you could do whatever you want!”

Didn’t he? What then was the purpose? So that I could live forever in some so-called paradise where I would still need to follow those rules? A place somewhere ‘out there’ where I would still need to conform to someone else’s idea of who I am?

No.

I don’t believe he did.

Someone wrote that Jesus once said, “ I came that life they may have, and abundantly they may have (it).” (Sometimes when translated word for word, Greek sounds kinda like Yoda talking!) If that’s true, what then constitutes that ‘abundant’ life?

 

Some say that giving in to the expectations that others have placed on us is that way. It’s a challenge that all caring humans must accept and engage in. Follow the rules; meet their expectations and the reward will be worth it.

Will it?

Others may respond with, “We must follow those rules so that an ordered society can flourish. It’s not about YOU! It’s about the greater good!”

Uh huh, yeah, I get it. My dreams, that part of me that should grow up to show that the sacrifice was worth it, should be suborned for the sake of others. So that by my sacrifice others will have this same obligation placed on their shoulders. Then they can do the same and the obligation for the greater good can spread exponentially throughout the world. Is THAT what you mean?

IS THAT THE ABUNDANT LIFE?

If it is, I am truly not interested.

Yes, I get it that we have responsibilities. We need to eat and pay the bills. We need to nurture and protect those whose lives are intertwined with our own. I’m not debating that at all. And, I do think that there is meaning and fulfillment in meeting those responsibilities.

But, what about nurturing and protecting that person who lives within me? That person for whom the sacrifice was made? Does that person get relegated to row ZZ in the upper deck? That’s what we’re taught. Isn’t it?

And, all the while I shrink. My spirit atrophies. I become a shriveled shell shackled and shamed into being someone I was never meant to be.

All of this tells me that, no, I haven’t been able to “be worth it.” Everything has been done with an eye to making someone else happy. That has led to some pretty harsh lapses. It seems that when we don’t care for ourselves, something inside eventually rebels and life can go to hell in a particle accelerator at nearly the speed of light. Then that shell becomes more than shriveled and shackled. It becomes shattered.

So, what now?
Where does someone turn for redemption?
For fulfillment?
For a glimpse of the ‘abundant life?’

I know that it may sound trite. But, I think that the only place to turn is to that person who offered that original sacrifice. I think that to touch the heart and mind of that person is key to unlocking the prison in which the true “me” lives. Or, the true “you.”

For me, it’s past time to break out and move forward. Sunday a Bishop of our Anglican church spoke. He shared several stories about people who asked God what they should do with their lives. They listened. They moved forward. They didn’t become rich and famous. Some would say they weren’t even all that successful. But, they lived their calling. They grew up and showed that the sacrifice made for them was truly worth it.

I hope that I can follow them. I hope when it’s all said and done the One Who sacrificed can look at me and say, “Yeah, it was worth it.”

If you know someone who might like these posts, please Share! Also, take a second to subscribe to this blog so that you receive notifications in your e-mail when new ones are posted. Thank You!

 

The Baptism of Jesus or Jesus Gets Dunked

This meditation is base on the following text:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus and two of his brothers were working in the carpenter shop. They were busy forming wood implements for the people who tended the gardens around Nazareth. As he worked, Jesus’ mind was somewhere else. A thought kept nagging him. “There is more than this.” Whatever ‘this’ was. Jesus had noticed his interest in the family business had been faltering for quite some time. It wasn’t that carpentry wasn’t fulfilling. It was. But, that thought would not go away, “there is more.”

Eventually, Jesus decided it was time to act. He knew that his cousin, John, had become some sort of holy man. People went to hear him speak and to be baptized. This wasn’t all that unusual in Israel. There were many so-called holy men who claiming some kind of anointing. But, John seemed to be the real deal.

Jesus packed a few things and told his mother and brothers that he was going to see John. His brothers were not happy.

“Who’s gonna run the shop?” James asked. “We’re pretty busy, you know. We could use your help!”

“This is something that I must do,” Jesus replied. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. Until I get back, you’re in charge of the shop. Take care of mother.”

James could tell by the look in Jesus’ eyes that this was not an argument that he would win. He simply waved him off and turned away.

I met Jesus on the road outside of Nazareth.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Jesus answered, “To see the Baptizer.”
“Why do you want to go that far to see someone standing in the river?” I asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” was all he said.

His response caught me off guard. Why would someone want to travel this distance without knowing why?

Jesus continued, “I’ve always had a desire to know the God of my people better. While I am a member of the community and study Torah, I’ve had this one thought that nags me.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“There is more,” was all he said.

As we walked we talked about other things. I found that he did not hate the Romans like practically everyone else.

“The Romans are not the problem here. Yes, they are oppressive and cruel. But, they are more of a nuisance, kind of like these flies that buzz around our heads. No, the real problem lies within us. There is another place, another ‘kingdom, if you will, where our heart desires to live.  How to find that place is the real issue.”

We arrived where John was baptizing. There were a lot of people milling about waiting their turn to feel the cool water of the Jordan River cleanse them. Jesus turned aside and found a large rock to sit on.

“Look at them,” he said. “Chasing a hope; a dream.”
“They work and slave to put food on their tables. They go to synagogue and listen to some career Rabbi read from the scrolls. He tells them that God has chosen them as God’s ‘special’ people. God has great plans for their lives. And, they believe it. Then, they go back to their mundane lives.”
“Then, someone like John comes along. They all run out to receive some kind of ‘special’ anointing.”
“They say, ‘If only he will lay his hands us and wash us! If only he will pray for us! If only…’”
“Promises are made to them. ‘Just do what we tell you and you will be truly blesses! Don’t forget the offering container on your way out!’”
“Poor, blind fools!” He said.
I detected sadness in his voice.

We walked down to the river. Jesus mingled with the people there. He was comfortable with them. And, they seemed so with him.

He was asking why they had come. There were many answers given. But, the one thread that seemed to run through all of the answers was that they all desired “more.”
‘More’ God.
‘More’ money.
‘More’ blessing.
‘More’ more.
And, they all thought that this time they would actually get it.
Jesus leaned over to me and said, “And, tomorrow when they wake up they’ll still be looking for ‘more.’”

Finally, Jesus walked down to John. John looked up at Jesus and smiled. “You should be the One who baptizes me!” he said.
“No, cousin” said Jesus. “This is your time I am here to be washed with all of these others.”
John nodded and laid Jesus back under the water.

As soon as Jesus came up, a white dove lighted on his right shoulder. He took it in his left hand. He suddenly realized why he had come here.

We heard a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son. I am very pleased with you.”

Jesus put his hand on John’s shoulder and smiled. Walking up out of the river, Jesus kissed the dove and released it.

He turned to me and said, “It’s time that I left you. The next part of this journey is for me alone.”

Jesus looked up and found the dove flying above. He pulled his cloak up to cover his head and followed the dove toward the wilderness.


In the first several meditations the stories followed Jesus’ life as a child. Most of the action is done to him, rather than by him. The last meditation on Jesus at the Temple began to transition from infancy to manhood. In this current meditation, and in the several that follow, Jesus is doing things. He is thinking and acting. However, the texts we have don’t give us a complete picture. They are snippets. This was how ancient hero stories were written. There may be an infancy story just to get the person born. After that, the writers touched on some main points to make their argument for why the person was heroic. Then, they climax with the one event that truly reveals the hero. That’s a pretty simple way to explain what we have in the Gospels. But, it’s not inaccurate.

One thing about these kinds of stories, or ‘lives’ as they’re called, is that they leave a lot out. There are scant details to help us really discover what the hero is thinking. This ambiguity allows us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. In this meditation I begin by considering the fact that Jesus was not fully aware of who he was nor of his life purpose. He is on a pilgrimage, not unlike many of us. We are searchers for many things. I believe that Jesus was, too.

Jesus is at the place in his life where he seems to finally get a glimpse of his calling. At this point he is revealed as the Son of God. He is the One in whom God is well-pleased. From this point Jesus begins to live into that identity.

And, from this point we’ll begin to know him more. I hope.

If you know anyone who may be interested in what I write here, please share with them! Also, take a moment to subscribe to this blog so you will get notified of any new posts.

Please use the comments to share your own thoughts and questions.

Jesus: Preparing for Manhood

This is part 2 of the meditation on Young Jesus. The first part contained the passage from the Gospel According to Luke that this meditation is based on. You can see that post here.

Jesus ran to his father.

“Father!” he exclaimed, “Supper is ready!”

Joseph put his tool down and wiped his hands on a nearby rag. He walked up the stairs and into the house. He washed his hands and took his seat at the table.

“Thank you, Lord, for these provisions for us, your people. Amen.”

As Joseph sat on his cushion eating his bread, he looked around the table. There was Mary, his wife. “My how she has grown into a wonderful woman!” he thought. A smile came to his face. He saw his sons James, Joses, and Judas sitting on his left. On his right was Jesus, the eldest. Joseph thought about their life together as a family. Jesus had been born, what, 12 years ago now. “I remember him helping his Mother with chores. Setting the table and cleaning up after meals.” When James came along, Jesus, although still a babe himself, tried to help care for him. He has always had a heart to help others.

Through the years Jesus had indeed shown himself helpful. He studied hard at the synagogue. He helped his friends with the lessons. That is, when they weren’t wrestling and playing in the street! As the eldest, he was expected to follow in his fathers footsteps. So, he spent his days learning woodcraft at Joseph’s side. He learned how to cut and fashion wood into plows, tables, and chairs as well as wood structures and buildings. In fact, Rome was planning to renovate and fortify a town about 4 miles north of Nazareth. Sepphoris! There would be good work for Joseph and Sons.

Jesus grew up with a keen sense of empathy. He did not compete with his brothers for the affections of Mom and Dad. He was a quick learner. But, instead of saying, “Look at me! I’m so smart!” he would always strive to help others to learn. This was especially true during this, his 12th year. He and the other 12 year old boys in the area were preparing to become “Sons of the Commandment,” or B’nai Mizvah. They would officially come of age. All of the responsibilities for them that their parents had held during childhood would come to rest on them.

It was spring again. Time to go up to Jerusalem for Pesach. The festival when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gathered to celebrate the night that the destroying angel had ‘passed over’ the homes of the Hebrews when they were slaves in Egypt. That night when their firstborn lived and those of Egypt were taken. It was the festival that marked the day Pharaoh, king of all Egypt, was humbled before the One True God. He had been forced to free God’s people.

So, Joseph and the family joined with other families in a caravan. Family, friends and neighbors all giddy with excitement got ready to set out on this yearly adventure. They all walked, rode, and sang their way south to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they set up camp outside of the city near the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims from all over Palestine, from all over the world, were gathered. Friendships were renewed. They sang the words of Miriam’s song and danced. Ah, the festival had arrived!

While the adults prepared the camp, the boys ran off to play among the olive trees. They chased each other and climbed the trees. Some of them took off their shirts and wrestled. Kids will be kids!

On the day of the festival they all walked across the valley and up to the temple mount. The head of each household went to buy their family’s portion of the lamb that had been sacrificed and prepared in remembrance of that night so many centuries ago. Joseph and his family took their portion back to the camp to celebrate. Jesus’ youngest brother began the ceremony and asked, “How is this night different from all other nights?” The story of God’s act to free Israel from slavery would then be told. This was the heart of Judaism as it continued to beat day after day, year after year, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm….

Joseph and the others remained in Jerusalem the following day so they could celebrate the Sabbath. The day after the Sabbath they began to pack up to head back to Nazareth. The caravan began the long journey home.

That evening they stopped and prepared the evening meal. When all was ready, Mary called for the family. Joseph and the youngest boys returned. But, where was Jesus?

“Jesus!” Mary called.

No response.

Joseph and James got up to look for him. “He’s probably with some of his friends where he can’t hear us,” Joseph said.

They looked all over for Jesus. No one had seen him since early morning.

Finally, they realized that Jesus had been left behind.

“He’ll be OK,” Joseph reassured Mary. “He’s nearly a man. He can take care of himself until we get back.” (At least Joseph hoped so.)

The next morning Joseph and Mary left the three youngest with a relative and started back to Jerusalem. When they arrived they searched the area where they had camped. No Jesus. They went into the city and searched through the market and at the houses of people they knew. Still, no sign of the boy.

Finally, they decided to go to the temple to inquire of God for their son. When they arrived, they found Jesus sitting with the elders and teachers. He was questioning them and answering their questions. The elders were astonished that this young boy had such wisdom and insight. Mary went to him and said, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that your father and I have been worried sick about you? We have been searching all over Jerusalem for you!”

Jesus looked at her and said, “Why were you looking all over Jerusalem? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?”

The teachers and elders looked approvingly at the boy. Mary, on the other hand, was not so approving. She took him by the hand and they left the temple and returned to Nazareth.


We forget that Jesus was a kid from a back-water town in Roman Palestine called Nazareth. It’s all too easy to deify him. We see the paintings and statuary with the Babe Jesus blessing people. There is an account in one the the so-called Gnostic Gospels where Jesus transforms clay animals into real ones.

This story, however, shows Jesus acting like a typical 12 year old boy fitted perfectly into his time.

Jewish custom taught that at age 13 a boy came of age. He was now responsible for himself in the eyes of the community. He became a ‘bar Mizvah,’ a son of the Commandment. To prepare for this a child would spend his 12th year learning the Scriptures and the Law. In my story that training happened in the local synagogue. The writer of Luke doesn’t mention that. But, he does write that Jesus was found at the Temple with the teachers and elders. He was preparing for his passage from childhood to manhood.

At the end of the passage that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.”

Jesus continued to mature and grow in wisdom and stature among his people. Soon it would be time for him to leave and find his own way. But, that’s a story for another time.

If you know someone who may be interested in these posts, please share! Also, take a moment to subscribe. Notifications of new posts will be sent to your e-mail!

As always, please use the comments to share your thoughts.

Watch Out for Truffle-Bots!

Let me tell you about Truffle-bots.

They are small and brown. They kind of look like small chunks of dirt. You can tell them from real dirt and truffles by the tiny blue light that shines on their underside. They have no scent, except maybe a slight ozone-ish, electronic smell.

They are usually found in wooded areas.

They are covered by thousands of tiny flagella that work in a way that allows the Truffle-bot to bury itself just below the surface of the ground. There, they remain until their batteries need a charge. Then the flagella switch on to bring them back into the sunlight where miniature solar panels produce energy that satiates the hungry power cell.

If someone should happen to walk near a buried Truffle-bot, it will eject a strong filament that wraps around the unsuspecting victim’s ankles. This causes the victim to fall face-down onto the leaf-strewn carpet of the forest.

(If you had really good hearing, you would be able to perceive a small, electronic laugh from just below the surface.)

Sometimes, the woods are cleared and something new, something not natural, something made with human hands is built. Like soccer pitches.

But, just under the surface of the ground, the Truffle-bots remain hidden.

I know this for a fact.

I’ve watched soccer matches where a player will be going full-sprint, and suddenly, flat on his face on the turf.

We all would laugh and yell, “Sniper”!

But, if you listen very carefully…

Wednesday Musings

This morning during my quiet time with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises I was reflecting on Jesus before Pilate. Jesus had just been brought back after having been whipped and mocked by Roman soldiers.

Pilate seemed to have a desire to release Jesus. He exclaimed, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” (Jn 19:4).

The Leaders would have nothing of that.

“Crucify him, crucify him!” they yelled.

“Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate asked.

As I considered this, an image formed in my mind.

I saw Pilate with Jesus, beaten almost beyond recognition, standing next to him. There was a bust of trump behind him. It had a laurel wreathe on its head.

I saw the crowd, Al Mohler, Franklin Graham, Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, and others standing there yelling, “We have no king but Caesar.”


It’s sad that American Evangelicalism can elicit such an image. Sad, but true.