Saturday, January 22, 2022

Covid: The Modern Black Death?

Hang on.  I know this sounds like an inflammatory comparison, but bear with me.

The Black Death hit Europe with a sledgehammer. It arrived on a boat filled with dead and dying sailors, who had come back to Italy with cargo.  But when the mayor demanded the ship be sent back out, the rats had already disembarked.  The Plague, the Great Mortality, the Black Death had arrived.

Let's set the stage:  

"The Black Death (also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality or the Plague) was a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, causing the death of 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis spread by fleas, but it can also take a secondary form where it is spread person-to-person contact via aerosols causing septicaemic or pneumonic plagues...The plague created religious, social and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history." [emphasis mine]

I am intrigued by the "religious...upheavals."  As I have shared many times in my blog, I am terribly concerned about the state of the American church.  Prosperity gospel, a focus on big is blessed and rock star pastors have caused me to look askance about where we are going as the 21st century unfolds.

The death toll of the Black Death was unprecedented: 

"According to medieval historian Philip Daileader, it is likely that over four years, 45–50% of the European population died of plague. Norwegian historian Ole Benedictow suggests it could have been as much as 60% of the European population. In 1348, the disease spread so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not uncommon for as much as 50% of the population to die...Monks, nuns, and priests were especially hard-hit since they cared for victims of the Black Death." 

The people acting in accordance to Christ's request that we offer cold water to the thirsty and clothing to the naked were the heroes of their day.  

How did people respond to the overwhelming death rate and terror?

"Renewed religious fervour [sic] and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted 'various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims', lepers, and Romani,  blaming them for the crisis. Lepers, and others with skin diseases...were killed throughout Europe.

Because 14th-century healers and governments were at a loss to explain or stop the disease, Europeans turned to  astrological  forces, earthquakes, and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for outbreaks. Many believed the epidemic was a punishment by God for their sins, and could be relieved by winning God's forgiveness. 

There were many attacks against Jewish communities."

Blame and fear are a potent mix.  When chaos is reintroduced into society, we question and ask, "Why?"  The genius of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament was to ascribe meaning to their suffering and see it as a invitation to return to God, after their sinful wandering and disobedience to God's decrees.

In fact, I would argue that suffering is a hard but penetrating way to question how we are living--are we walking in accordance with God's revealed ways and not staying entrenched with man-made philosophies and beliefs?  Paul is emphatic when he says, 

"Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ." (Col. 2:8) 

Remember that he was writing to the believers at Colossae.  The  church can be infiltrated with ideas and beliefs that are not of Christ.  All ideas, spiritual and cultural, must be looked at with Christ and His revelation in mind.  

I wonder if, to those outsiders watching the Christian church,  will be Christians who insisted "I have faith, not fear" and then caught Covid and maybe even died.  These Christians used their faith as a kind of shield, a free pass away from any scientific approach to the pandemic and then when they caught it, they turned to the very medical establishment that they had derided and dismissed.  

How many family members will weep over their departed loved one, because that person would not get vaccinated, refused to wear a mask, and in general, acted as if Covid was nothing to be hung up about and then caught Covid, went to the ER and struggled to survive.  This person either returned home very broken by the ordeal or died, alone, in a hospital room.

The line that was drawn in the sand by people who thought this whole thing was a hoax or greatly exaggerated and then blamed Big Pharma, Greedy Doctors and Big Invasive Government might have been the same people who hunted down people in the Middle Ages, looking for (different) culprits while another pandemic raged.

I continue to be extremely saddened by those fellow believers who have entered heaven way before their time.  Will their "faith not fear" protest bring comfort to those who are left behind? 

The Black Death forever changed European society.  

How will Covid forever change our society?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

What is the True Gift of Christmas?

Here it is, the first day of the New Year.  Wow: What a wild ride 2021 has been.  What saddens me when the holiday season ends is the makeshift mangers on church lawns goes empty again.  All that remains is the rickety roof, and bit of straw, and another year must go by before we find the occupants having returned and the manger full.

But that is what is so miraculous about Christmas.  The manger was filled with not just animals, a mother giving birth and kings who sought the true King, but it is always filled with light.  

No one puts together a manger and leaves it dark.  Some kind of light is present; that is truly how God works.  His light led the children of Israel across the desert and  His light is there to lead us.

In other words, Jesus is there, waiting for us, no matter how far we wander away.  

The manger fills up each year with the hope of Christmas.

Yet, there is a divine irony here.

The tomb was filled with the broken body of Christ.  We don't go to a tomb set up on a lawn and expect to see a linen-wrapped body.

Nor do we set up a cross with a suffering Servant upon it.

The tomb doesn't fill up year after year, nor does the cross.

Both are empty for the Lord of the Universe, the King of kings and the very Son of God has a new residence: our hearts.  We only have to call upon His name and He comes and stays in our hearts, year after year.  And if we should wander away, He is only a prayer away.

Blessings on you in 2022. 

 

 

 

 


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas Didn't Change a Thing

I was listening to Greg Laurie yesterday, and he made an interesting observation.  He said that our perception of Christmas is rather clean and neat, especially in regards to the shepherds.  They were dirty and smelly and yet angels appeared to them.  

I began thinking about what changed the day Jesus was born.  I sadly concluded, nothing. Stay with me on this one. 

Rome still ruled with violence and swift retaliation for any threats against its autocratic rule.  Caesar Augustus continued to refer to himself as the "son of god."

Herod still ruled over the area where Jesus was born.  He would later seal his cruel and irreverent reign by killing innocent children in an attempt to eliminate any claimants to his throne.

The poor were still poor.

The rich were still rich.  

The Jewish people were still in their own land but with the glory days of King David far behind them and the pagan rule of a cruel people still on them.

In the quiet of a village night, a small newborn cried.  All around Him the world carried on, no different from the day before and no different in the days to come.

What exactly did the angels tell those shepherds? 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

                                                                            (Luke 2: 8-14)

Something did change here.  The shepherds had something to go look for: 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:15-20) 

Maybe that is what changed that first Christmas.  We had Someone  to go and look for and He would be there. 

There is a wonderful scene in the movie, Shadowlands, (about C.S. Lewis) where Joy's son comes to Lewis's house and he runs upstairs to find the wardrobe.  He flings the doors open, expecting to see the entrance to the world of the Lion and all the characters of that story.  He just sees clothing hanging there, silent and still.

Isn't that humanity?  We go looking in every "wardrobe" expecting to find what our imaginations have created, only to find, well, nothing but the ordinary, the mundane, the usual, the still broken.

Jesus' birth changed nothing in the world that day. But, and this is huge:  He gave us Himself to go and find. Those who sincerely seek Him are never disappointed.  

Even the lowliest of us can find Him.  Think of the shepherds.

Even the mightiest of us can find Him.  Think of the magi.

Even the most ordinary of us can find Him.  Think of May, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

That night, when that newborn cried, a Light pierced the darkness and said, Come find Me.  I am at the end of your searching, your longing. Everything around you will be the same, but when you find Me, that will change you, and a changed you will go out and bring the light this broken world so desperately needs.  

True, nothing in the world changed the night of Jesus' birth, but in that small gathering of  people in the Christmas story, everything changed.  Forever. 

Merry Christmas and be blessed in His name!











Sunday, December 5, 2021

The San Andreas Fault of the Church: Covid-19 (Part II)

I am looking at the metaphorical earthquake that hit the evangelical church in America.  It is called Covid-19.  It showed the weaknesses of the church and how we are still trying to sort out what happened and why.

This is my small effort to weigh in.  A friend of my daughter's made an interesting point about "scope of practice."  Every profession has one, he said, including pastors.  

So I went and looked it up.  Here's what Dr. Google said, " Scope of practice helps to identify procedures, actions and processes an individual is permitted to perform. An individual's scope of practice is also based on specific education, experiences and demonstrated competence." [bolded in the original]

It applies to healthcare workers of course, but the definition makes an interesting point.  We are all trained in our professions and have operational and theoretical knowledge about our subjects.  I am a teacher, but I am not qualified to run a school as a principal, for example.  I am not trained as a college and career counselor or as a guidance counselor.  I am not qualified to teach math, science, robotics, drafting, art, social work, nursing...You get the picture.

I have been years teaching certain subjects, and have a good grasp on them, including my education earning a Master's Degree.  Am I an expert?  By no means.

Ditto about my love for the Word.  I have been a Christian for a long time, but I have never been to seminary or had theological training.  It's been more like on the job training, if you will, as I have taught Bible studies, sat under many sermons, and done my own personal study.

Now, I have a small amount of knowledge in many of the above subjects, (some more than others) but I am not qualified to teach them.  I would have to invest a lot of time to gain competency in those subjects, and even more time to teach them to academic standards.

A pastor invests his time in studying the Word, learning its historical context, understanding the ancient languages.  There was a time when many people sought out pastors for psychological counseling, but after a man committed suicide after meeting with John MacArthur (1985) and legal action was brought against the Pastor by the man's parents, many pastors today may meet with a person one time, but are much more inclined to refer the person to a psychologist for help.

Why?

Because many pastors recognize that counseling a person with mental health issues is beyond their scope of practice.  They are not trained to deal effectively with such people.  How many pastors have failed to recognize a victim of domestic violence?  Sexual abuse? Suicidal tendencies?  

How many of them, well-intentioned to be sure, made a biochemical or situational problem out to be purely spiritual?  They are trained in the spiritual, but we are fully fallen beings who are a broken combination of physical, psychological and spiritual.

Then came Covid-19.

Suddenly pastors, with no medical or epidemiological training, were opening churches back up while Covid-19 raged; didn't demand mask-wearing; downplayed the vaccination process by not getting one themselves; not acknowledging the severity of the pandemic.  Even John MacArthur himself talked of "Big Pharma" in a YouTube video I watched as I was trying to understand why such an influential man was so opposed to basic CDC protocol.   

I saw pastors working outside their scope of practice.  

The results?

Covid-19 is still playing havoc with those who decided not to be vaccinated. Many people have needlessly died.

How many of them are/were following their pastors' lead?

Why did so many pastors decide they were qualified enough to make such enormous decisions about the health and welfare of their congregations?

A focus on essential oils, prayer, and a self-righteousness that Job's friends would have admired, permeated the church during the pandemic.  

As Andy Stanley pointed out, we turned inward, and fought each other.  How could a world that needs saving be attracted to people who, instead of uniting together and helping one another, fought against each other and acted as if their limited knowledge (social media is not education) was sufficient to make decisions about literally life and death in their congregations?

I stand ashamed of the American church.  

Jesus made an interesting observation about the church in the End Times:  

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Matt. 24: 36-39)

On other words:

Let's get back to life as usual, people. 

It's not so bad.  

We have faith, not fear.  

We know what's best. 

Our pastor doesn't wear a mask, so why should I?

I read it's all a big lie.  Overblown.  Maybe, even a hoax. 

"Really?" I must ask.

Our witness to the world may be irretrievably damaged. 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=scope+of+practice+definition

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The San Andreas Fault of the Church: Covid (Part I)

It's been a long while since I blogged.  I was hired full time at my job in a more demanding capacity.  I feel like I have been drinking from a fire hose, but I love teaching.  Thank you for your patience.  

If you live in California, you have heard of the San Andras Fault.  It is a subduction zone, where the Pacific Plate is going under the North American Plate.  I once traveled for a geology class to observe the manifestations of this fault in the surrounding areas along the fault.

One such place was San Andreas Lake, where the soil at its bottom has been ground to such a fine powder by the horizontal motion of the two plates that water cannot permeate it, and the lake remains.  

I saw how a fence that once sat straight across the fault now stood at a zigzag, thanks to the 1906 earthquake where one side moved further north, taking some fence posts with it.  

In the desert north of Los Angeles, I visited some formations called "hogbacks," and they are aptly named.  They are pink colored rocks that have been pushed up by the force of the earth slowly moving, and then erosion has rounded them and they look like pigs stuck in the earth.

Geology lesson?  No.  But if you didn't know about the San Andreas, you'd have no reference point for all the weird geological features prominent in California.  The 1906 quake in San Francisco (and in Santa Rosa, north of S.F.) would seem like an aberration, a fluke, a one-time event.

Wrong.  The fault remains and it locks up in places. When the fault finally slips, the release of energy is huge, and big quakes (and perhaps even The Big One predicted by geologists) hit California.

I used to live there and the question after every quake was, "Is this a prelude to The Big One?"  I lived through the Sylmar quake (1971) where 50 or so people died when a hospital collapsed on itself and the Loma Prieta quake, (1989) that hit the Bay Area without mercy.  Both quakes were not preludes to The Big One. What were terrifying moments were then filed under, "Living in California."  

But the fault remains.  Active yes, in a quiet way, until that day when the San Andreas fault slips, and the earth moves.  

There has been a fault running through the evangelical church for a long time. It started with a simple question, "How do we get people into church?"  

In the 1970's, evangelism was huge--Billy Graham's Crusades, Evangelism Explosion, the "I Found It" campaign, and many others. I remember being part of that exciting time, because Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth had predicted Jesus' imminent return. So, our church rolled up its sleeves and sought to evangelize.  

The 200th anniversary of our country also rolled around in 1976. Our church went all out, and we did a very patriotic salute to America in addition to doing a cantata dedicated to Jesus' return.

The 70's passed.  Jesus did not return. Every church I attended talked about evangelism, but I never again attended a church that organized such campaigns or showed such fervor.

Then I witnessed some new phases where "How do we get people into church?" took on new directions.  One was an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and the gifts--tongues--dominated the services. If people were awestruck by His work and His presence, as evinced by signs and wonders, then people would be attracted to church. 

We found the chaos and the heavily biased sermons about tongues and how spiritual you will be if you speak in an unknown language (no interpretation was done) that we didn't return to that church.

Then came the Recovery Movement, with its emphasis on reaching  abuse victims and trying to help them overcome their broken backgrounds.  I attended seminars and went to 12 Step groups which had reclaimed Christ as the "Higher Power."

It made sense.  If you want to really reach people, you must meet them at the point of their truest need. 

Then we experienced was the mega-church. It was in southern California, and the first time I ever saw a cell phone was in the hands of the pastor, who stepped out of his Mercedes.  You had to audition for the worship team, and the leader was really talented. I later found out that this church was the result of a split, and half of the church had followed the pastor. Later, the pastor embezzled money to fund his affair. 

Overall, the tactics to encourage people to attend church--programs, gifts, large gatherings in large buildings--seemed to not work, for we are now facing a society that seems to be moving further and further away from Christianity, the church, and I fear, Jesus.

The fault in evangelical Christianity was locked, with pastors and churches trying everything they could to get people into the building and stay in the building, week after week: big worship teams,   multimedia, branding, vision statements, mugs, banners, coffee bars, bumper stickers, t-shirts, all with a spiffy logo, social media, big programs with big budgets. 

Then came new church plants.  Churches style themselves as one church with many locations that are now called campuses. Big name pastors, who speak, write books, conduct seminars and have huge followings seem to be the church model of today.

Then the fault slipped and the quake that hit was called not The Big One but Covid-19.

Covid-19 hit the churches and all their weaknesses were apparent.  Just as an earthquake will test the structural integrity of a building to its utmost, Covid-19 tested the structural integrity of this reworking of the church to reach the unsaved.  

The church collapsed in the minds of many, for it had replaced its foundation of making Jesus central, to creating a place where people could laugh, be happy and walk out feeling good about themselves.  

Many of the people who walked out of the churches were Christians and they haven't return.  Unlike 9/11, where people flocked to church to find peace in a time of turmoil, the church now seems to be attractive to some, but rather repellent to others. 

Why?  

I will explore that in my next blog.

Happy Thanksgiving to you !



Thursday, October 21, 2021

Are We the Angry Brother? (Jesus and Community)

Jesus and community... a subject near and dear to my heart as we face such division in America today.  

Jesus gives us a familiar but powerful parable about how He has come for the one:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:1-7)

After this parable, Jesus goes on to tell about a woman who lost a coin:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

Repentance of the lost one was celebrated by the finder--a reminder to Jesus' audience that “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)  Jesus' mission was to offer a deep relationship with His Father to those who longed for mercy.  He moved passed the ruling elites and all of their impediments--excessive rules and a focus on justice, with little or no mercy--and went out to find the lost ones.  The sick ones.  The estranged ones.

I love how the return of the one is celebrated in community--the shepherd doesn't return to his flock with the lost sheep, who he had left in "open country," but he "goes home."  There, with the sheep lovingly carried on his shoulders, he shares his joy with his "friends and neighbors."

The same with the woman:  She gathers her "friends and neighbors together" and celebrates with them her finding of the valuable coin.

The community--the Body of Christ--is a place for celebration.  We gather to honor God and praise Him for the work He is doing in His people.  Just last week in church, a woman came forward to share with all of us how God had touched her.  Her joy was contagious.  She could have kept the good news to herself; just as the shepherd and woman with the coin could have remained silent, thanking God and returning to their lives. But all three (the shepherd, the woman and my church sister) wanted the community to know of the goodness of God. 

Jesus tells of His mission in this last parable, crafting it, however, in more somber tones.  We, as an audience, can smile at a shepherd and a woman with a coin, but a struggling family hits much closer to home.

Then and now.   

The last parable is a sadder one, and shows how division in our spiritual family can be painful and stunt the joy of others.  It's so familiar.  Jesus told it last, and perhaps this parable resonated best with His audience:

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

"When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

"The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

"But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

"‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)

Jesus tells a rather different celebration story here.  Friends and neighbors are not invited in--does the father have any?  Had he been socially ostracized because of his fallen son?  Were there whispers when he went into town about that son of his? A son who fraternized with prostitutes and ate pig food?  Or was the community unaware of how profoundly the son had fallen--all they knew is that he took his inheritance and left his father.  Either way, the pain in the father's heart was unimaginable.  He was, in effect, in a tiny community:  He is surrounded by his servants (two, three?) and his other son.  

The celebration commences with the return of the repentant son and a feast.  But the story says nothing of the neighbors joining the father and his servants.  

Why was the father so alone in his celebrating?  His other son won't even join in the celebration.  His angry words put a damper on the whole proceedings, for he has judged his father and brother.  The father has to plead with him and explain why (how sad) they all are celebrating.  The parable ends on a somber note: a repentant son, a happy father, a celebration, an angry brother and a father's plea to justify a celebration.

No community here.  Just a family in grief and joy, laughter and anger, return and emotional exile.

The community of believers right now in America strike me more as being in the third parable.  Though God is working in individuals and we can rejoice, there are many angry brothers and sisters out there (who can justify their anger, to be sure) who may need to learn from this angry brother in the parable:  We need to humble ourselves before God, and allow Him to celebrate the lost in His way, while we embrace His lost and forgive them.  

Let James have the last Word:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:7-12)

And all the people said, "Amen."
















Sunday, October 3, 2021

Moving Mountains? What Kind?

I find that a lot of people these days point to a verse in the Bible that is seminal to their theology of God always wanting to heal--for their presupposition is that God wants us healthy, wealthy and wise.  I am sure you are very familiar with it:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:22-5)

Pretty straightforward, huh?  If I have cancer, or I am praying for someone who does, and I believe that God wants the person healed, we pray for that "mountain"--the cancer--to be cast away.  Let's look at Matthew's take on this teaching:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20-1)

Same basic principle:  Believe enough, and it will happen.

Right?

But, a text without a context is a pretext.  

Let's look at the contexts that the gospel writers recorded these verses.  In Mark, the chapter begins with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  He then teaches in the Temple, leaves returns the next day.  A fig tree, pretending to offer fruit, is cursed by Jesus for its rich metaphorical example of fake fruit--piety on the outside and prideful reactions to others on the inside.   This so characterizes the leaders Jesus will be confronting in the upcoming week. 

Jesus returns and clears the Temple, defiled with its emphasis on commerce, and using the Court of the Gentiles as a mall, instead of a place where God-fearers (Gentiles sensitive to the things of God) can come and commune with Israel's God.  

The disciples and Jesus return to Bethany and on the way, Peter sees the withered fig, and remembers Jesus' words from the day earlier.  Jesus then says that faith, operating in forgiveness and love, will move the mountains that the disciples will face in the near future:  Evil men, parading piously and using the Torah as a foundation for a pride-filled organization that will kill the long-awaited Messiah and persecute His followers.

Hmm.  These verses are not set where someone needs healing--they are set where the disciples will be facing the mountainous edifice that is Temple system, and its secular counterpart, the Roman Empire.  

The verses in Matthew do contain a healing.  First, the three disciples, Peter, James and John, go up onto a mountain and see Jesus as He was before He came down as a man--He is transfigured into His Deity-self before their very eyes.  Jesus returns with them from the mountain, only to find some chaos in His absence.  A man brought his demon-possessed son to the remaining disciples, and they were not able to drive the demon out.  Once Jesus returns, He chides His men for their lack of belief.  Later they inquire of Jesus as to why they were unable to drive the demon out; He then says the above verses.

The "mountain" here was evil on fearful display in this young boy--having seizures, and him falling into either fire or water.   

A common theme emerges: the seemingly implacable presence of evil.   I don't think the mountain was the child's healing from a disease--though Jesus healed many of disease--it was the evil that had taken over the boy and was threatening his very life.  

So, too was the evil the disciples faced when the Jewish leadership partnered with godless Rome to kill Jesus.

In reading a book on the geography that surrounded Jesus as He taught, the authors made an interesting observation about a mountain having been moved by an immoral leader, Herod:

Josephus describes Herodium as follows:

This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.

Archaeologists believe that the palace was designed by architects and built by slaves and paid workers (contractors). Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not daunted by geography—his palace was built on the edge of the desert and was situated atop an artificial hill. [emphasis mine] (1)

Could it be Jesus was referring to a faith that may be small but is untainted by the world because it is born from above by the Holy Spirit, and that such a faith is eternally valuable?  Could it be such a new faith, born of God and by God, is more powerful and is in utter opposition to the worldliness and hypocrisy of leaders like Herod, the Pharisees and Rome, who seemed so tolerate of the religions of the people that they conquered, until faith actually meant something as the new church's faith would?

Was that mountain, in Jesus' teachings, synonymous with evil?  So, if our faith is strong and is utter grounded in who Jesus is, we can overcome evil...is that what He is saying?

I don't see that verse being applicable to every obstacle we face: sometimes the obstacles are the natural consequences of our poor choices.

But I do see, when His people really unite and run a mission to the very gates of hell, that love, His love in us, is a powerful weapon against evil.

Using the Word incorrectly divides us, and I see these verses being mishandled by those who do not seem to see the surrounding context in which these verses were used.  

Now is a time where the American church's theology is being tested in fire of affliction.  

Sadly, decades of misusing the Word has created a tremendous amount of dross.  

But God is faithful.  Are we?

One last thing to consider:  The mountain upon which Herod built his palace is right near the Dead Sea.  Perhaps Jesus chose that mountain and that sea to fully illustrate His work in the world through us?



(1)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodium



                                  


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