Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Monday?

Easter Monday?


Anything is Possible

Easter is a time where anything is possible. It's the day believers celebrate Jesus' resurrection. If he can pull that off, he can do anything... right? Easter Sunday has come! But, what about Easter Monday?

Interpreting the Resurrection

Jesus said something rather curious just before he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. He said, “I am the resurrection.” But, what he meant always seems to be open to interpretation.

At Lazarus’ tomb: “I Am the resurrection and the life!”

At the cross: “I don’t look much like the resurrection right now!”

At the empty tomb: “See, I really am the resurrection!”

At various times in history: “Jesus WAS the resurrection!”

At the door of current circumstances: “???????”

Plugging Into the Resurrection

Paul found a group of folks who he commended for being full of faith, the Ephesians. Yet, he prayed for them (and for us), that they would come to better know the power of the resurrection:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…” (Eph 1:17-20 NIV).

24/7 Resurrection

Paul lets us know that for those who believe, there is also a Resurrection Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, etc.. So tomorrow, or whenever you read this, think about what Paul has to say about this and how he continues his thoughts on the matter a few verses later:

“… God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6-7 NIV).

Guess what? We're in those coming ages now. 

Eternally Yours

For when Jesus ascended into heaven, he didn’t take the power of his resurrection with him to pack away for safe-keeping — he left it here for us.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all” (Acts 4:33 NIV).

“…Through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord…. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Ro 1:4, 16 NIV).

From Death to Resurrection

It is worth noting that resurrection requires that some things die off. Paul spends a good amount of time talking about this in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. But before you cringe at the thought of having to lose something, check out Paul’s language. His resurrection Monday was filled with joy in knowing that what he left behind was nothing in comparison to what he had gained the day before. His experience taught him that the power of the resurrection makes dying more than worth while. 

A Week’s Worth of Resurrection

Resurrection Monday is worth it. That’s the message of the Gospel! We seek… we find… we move forward past Resurrection Sunday, taking with it the promise that we must shed some things along the way, but that the power of the resurrection has the miraculous power to make tomorrow even better.

The Christian Life is About Resurrection

Christians are famous for showing their faith two days a year, on Christmas and Easter Sunday. This fact isn’t always as much about a lack of consistency or commitment as it is a lack of experiencing Resurrection Monday through Saturday. We need to know that there is more, and if there is more, we can have it. It is not asking too much to receive what we’ve already been given.

Today is a Good Day to Die, and a Good Day to Come Alive!

For Christians, today is the day that we affirm Jesus’ status by recalling his profound invasion into human events and human history. Are you seeing a need for more of the resurrection? Seek and you will find! That’s a promise from Jesus! He, after all, is the Resurrection, and the Life we seek. Just start asking for more.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Watch Out for the Fleischmann’s



Yeast

Today, (if we are bread-makers) we throw a touch of Fleischmann’s, Red Star or some other brand of yeast into the dough so that it rises us and fluffs up bread the way we like it. Biblically speaking, however, yeast is mostly symbolic of sin which infiltrates and alters bread in a bad way. This is why Jesus warned his followers to be watchful for the yeast of the Pharisees. 

Pharisees
The greatest problem with the Pharisees was their inability and sometimes unwillingness to believe what Jesus was doing and who he said that he was. And while anyone who believes in Jesus today might feel they are immune to the effect of a little Fleischmann’s, Jesus did not seem to think so.


Bread of Life

Jesus was all about the bread! Think about it! He multiplied bread along with fish at least twice. He made it part of his very last meal before his death, and was known to eat it at least once after that… which is quite a feat. And of course, he let us know that he is the bread of life. That makes what he said about leaven even more important. It doesn’t take much yeast rolled into the dough for it to spread through, infiltrate, and interact with it. That’s just how yeast works. 

Jesus breaking bread
And so when Jesus declared himself the Bread of Life, he gave us context for where this leaven likes to grow. So while we might rightly recognize Jesus' identity, it is possible that we might choose to overlook the fullness of that identity through doubt, cynicism, and even pride… all things associated with the Pharisees. 

Consider this! Saul was a Pharisee and it took a knock to the ground, temporary blindness, and miraculous healing to undo the effect of yeast within him and transform him into Paul. Once we determine that phariseeism is something that only someone else can “catch,” that we are somehow immune, it is likely that at least a speck of yeast has somehow found its way into our own belief system. If spiritual yeast were not that pervasive, Jesus would not have put out the all-points bulletin that we should beware (Mt 16:6, Lk 12:1, 1 Co 5:6).

Prove It!

Thomas and Jesus
What things about Jesus do each of us raise our heads and discount in someone else’s spiritual walk or in ours? Likely, that’s an area where something has risen and has begun to spread. Consider Thomas! After Jesus had appeared to the rest of the disciples in Thomas’ absence, Thomas declared that the only way that he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead is if he would be given substantial proof. This is reminiscent of the Pharisees who saw miracles performed in front of them, yet continually asked Jesus for specific signs to prove himself to them. Could it be that Thomas picked up a bit of that yeast along the way? It’s not hard to do.

Self-Check

Check mark
Am I more adamant in denying Jesus’ activity in the world today and in my own life than I am about recognizing Jesus' desire to intervene as he did in the New Testament? Do I discount God’s action in those I disagree with because I’m convinced that my views, positions, and standing are “more right?”


Solution!

Fortunately, Jesus is very accommodating and reaches beyond our unbelief and judgmentalism declaring, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing (Jn 20:27).” It’s our choice; yeast just makes it more difficult to make the right choices, but it's definitely not impossible. That change is what the Bible calls repentance and that simply means changing from our position to God’s position. 


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Who Moves God’s Hand?

Who Moves God’s Hand?



Resurrection Power Makes Sadducees Very Sad (and Tired)

In Acts, Chapter 4, Peter and John had just been arrested for healing the lame man at the temple. You know, that's the one where they had no silver or gold, but called on the name of Jesus and the man was healed. This made many happy, but it made the Sadducees very sad, you see (sorry, I couldn't resist). But because it was late in the day and their actions literally wore out the priests and the Sadducees, Peter and John were thrown into prison for the night. Why were these Jewish leaders so overcome, or as some translations render it, annoyed, disturbed, or distressed? Actually, these descriptions merely scratch the surface of the Greek word diaponeomai, which The Helps Word Studies defines as depleted by grief and pierced by fatigue. How could these folks be so tired?

See, these people in authority had been quite busy for a number of days beginning with the death of Jesus—the one who said that he would rise from the dead. These are the same Jews, appointed by and in league with Roman power who sought to squelch the power of the resurrection. Remember that the Sadducees vehemently disbelieved and denied the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8).

Upon Jesus’ death, they requested that his tomb be guarded to squelch any attempt that might give credence to resurrection claims. Then they had to deal with reports of not only his resurrection by paying the guards to lie saying that Jesus’ body had been stolen, but also reports of more resurrections (Matthew 27:51-53). Denying that which we disbelieve takes a lot of effort and the Priests and Sadducees had been facilitating damage control concerning their reign of disbelief for quite a while.


Needing a Second Wind

But, finally, even after the recent events of Pentecost, they must have believed that their battle would soon be coming to an end. That is, until two unschooled and common men began operating in the same resurrection power that Jesus had used, attributing that power to his name. When would this nightmare ever end? 

But despite their exhaustion, they took advantage of a good night’s sleep, having devised the perfect plan for the following day. They would use the same overwhelming authority that they had wielded up to this point and quickly squash and intimidate these two common men.

As an aside, you may have noticed that despite their common opposition to Jesus, there is no mention that the Pharisees joined the Sadducees in this mission to eradicate the demonstration of resurrection through Jesus’ name. Perhaps the Pharisees’ sympathy towards the resurrection of the dead caused them to part ways during the current kerfuffle.


It’s a Bit of a Stretch (of the hand)

But things did not brightened up for the Sadducees. Peter and John left the proceedings even more determined to preach and demonstrate the resurrection for they understood something that the Jewish leaders did not… God’s hand was now available to believers. Just as Jesus declared that Pilate’s authority was designated and not innate, the apostles understood that God had orchestrated the authorities to:

“… do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:28 ESV)

God had been using his powerful hand to lead the Sadducees where he wanted them to go, his hand even participating in the decision-making process to carry out his plan (Acts 4:28). The apostles understood this and they also understood that now, post-resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Holy Spirit, that God’s hand and his plan was proceeding forward, becoming available to believers. This realization caused the apostles to pray:

“'And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…. With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:29-31, 33 ESV)

Indeed! Why do the nations’ rage a losing battle—one destined to wear them out—now that the hand which once used them as puppets to fulfill God’s plan, is now turned against them… unless they repent?


The Hand that Dealt a Sadd Defeat

How is it that Peter and John were able to walk free with only a “stern warning” from the authorities? The priests, elders, scribes, and Sadducees could not deny what the power of the resurrection had accomplished as the man who was healed stood as overwhelming proof of resurrection power. 

You may not have stopped to consider that this lame man was over 40 years old, yet God healed him. It was not simply that he had been lame for a long period of time and that everyone was familiar with this fact, but everyone, especially the officials knew well that 40 is the number of trial and judgment. 

Just as the Israelites had spent a complete 40 years in the wilderness, and just as the flood rains extended a full 40 days and nights, these 40 years of incapacity meant to them that this man had undergone a complete 40 years of trial and at the end, had been judged by God as sinful, deserving his physical handicap. To these people, that was the end of the story! He had either been judged for his own sin, the sin of his family, or a combination of both, doomed incapable of undergoing redemption. 

And yet, the power and authority in the name of Jesus Christ had raised him up, superseding the curse of the law. Until now, the Sadducees had come to believe that by their designated and acquired authority, that they were the hand of God, or at least, that it was by their authority that that the hand of God would move, especially in rendering judgment and determining righteousness. But here, their power had been stripped away for they had nothing to say being unable to deny that, outside of their authority, God had performed this miraculous sign.

“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” (Acts 4:16 ESV)

Up until this time, they had been exhaustingly able, with varying degrees of success, to squelch and effectively deny the resurrection. Now, at least amongst themselves, they admitted defeat.


Keeping His Power Handy 

And so, instead of punishing Peter and John, they sent them away with a powerless warning to cease their actions. But the apostles pressed in all the more for they understood that the hand of God was inclined towards them, as it is to all believers. God’s hand was no longer moving to fulfill Jesus’s earthly ministry, sacrificial death and resurrection, but to perpetuate the power for believers which his actions procured for the Church. 

Paul understood and communicated this readiness of God’s hand to move through his people, praying for the Ephesians (and for us) that we would come to know and embrace the power within us—the same power which raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:16-23) That’s a prayer worth revisiting on a regular basis. 


Moving the Hand of God

He is the potter and we are the clay, and so he puts his power in these vessels of clay as he did Peter and John, to make it apparent that the power comes from God alone (2 Corinthians 4:7). While the power is sourced unmistakably from him, he invites us to draw upon that power, so that his glory might be manifest, or so says the call of the Great Commission.

Consider for a moment the interplay between humility and boldness which played out in the apostle’s prayer in Acts 4. Led by Peter, the apostle who so eloquently preached for us to humble ourselves that God might lift us up (1 Peter 5:6), their prayer of humility was a very specific prayer that God would embolden them with his power—in speech and in action.

Humility is not about lowering ourselves down to inactivity, but it is about letting God lift us up. Anything else is a false humility, or a false sense of authority and power in which we seek to glorify ourselves. Our only hope is to rely on his love, his grace, and his power that we, like those who went before us, serve the Gospel according to the power of his hand, within the confines of the power of his plan.

Monday, December 21, 2020

An Everlasting Invitation

An Everlasting Invitation



You're a Hero of the Faith

    Have you ever thought of yourself as a potential Peter or possibly a Paul? How about a Martin Luther or a Martin Luther King or any of the other heroes of faith who have emerged over the years? If not, then why not? 

    Does the idea of being like one of these folks seem too far reaching... too lofty? Then what about Stephen? He wasn't an apostle or a priest. He was just a waiter who somehow managed to turn his city upside down. People like him represent people like you in me when they find their true identity in Christ.

    None of these people were anomalies or special exceptions, but were simply those who humbly answered the call before them. While we will each have our unique expression of his light, we've all been called to humble ourselves and accept the same invitation and commission.


Bold Humility

    While, like us, these people often found themselves in dark, seemingly futile times, they rose up boldly in humility shining their light in the darkness. While this seems a contradiction, humility holds lowliness and boldness in tension together. 

    While humility begins with a sober view of our natural position, humility is also the springboard for God to work through us—our call to be his light in darkness (Mt 5:16). Humility is not merely about deference to His position, it also recognizes the power and promise of his redemptive work through the Gospel.

    When we act in bold humility, it becomes apparent that what we accomplish could only have been sourced from his all-surpassing power, and not from ourselves (2 Co 4:17). 

    This is the grace he gives to the humble (Pr 3:34, Ja 4:6, 1 Pe 5:5) which was exemplified through the prayer and actions of the disciples in Acts 4:24-31. Check it out!


False Humility

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (Ja 4:10 ESV).

    People often misperceive humility as merely the action of not calling attention to themselves. This partially correct, but incomplete view convinces us that it is safer, and even more holy to allow darkness to remain the status quo.

    If we humble ourselves without the intention and purpose of letting the Lord lift us up, we're not operating in true humility. Again, the disciples humbled themselves before the Lord, expecting that He would lift them up and that he would stretch forth his hand to heal through them, and He did (Acts 4:24-31).

    False humility subtly convinces us that putting ourselves in a position for the Lord to lift us up is being prideful and even arrogant. It does not understand the true meaning of grace.


Grace (charis)

5485 (x├íris) ... preeminently used of the Lord's favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people (because He is "always leaning toward them”). Copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.

    Grace is the extension of himself towards us. It is more than simply a heavenly "thumbs up," where God lets us know that he likes us. Grace means that God extends who he is for our benefit. It is the ongoing incarnation, Immanuel... God with us. It's what made Peter, Paul, Luther, and all those heroes of the faith spring into action.

    When we humble ourselves, it is the power of grace which lifts us up, which is why scholars sometimes translate the word grace (charis) as "gifts," as in “gifts of healing” (1 Co 12:28, 31). Paul, our New Testament authority on grace, encouraged us to desire these gifts, or graces—all in the context of love, that they would build up the Body of Christ so that we can all be at our best (1 Co 13:1-13; 14:1-40). 

    Humility is the lowering of ourselves so that we can be obedient to the call before us, just as Mary did when she responded to the angel saying, “… I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38 ESV). 


Invitation: Be All You Can Be — Shine!

    The U.S. recruiting effort found the right words when it urged young volunteers to “Be All You Can Be!” That is the call for us today, just as it was in Paul’s time. If you’ve had enough of the darkness around you, remind yourself of this promise in Isaiah:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Is 60:1-3 NIV)

    At its core, faith revolves around believing in God's character and nature and that he is true to his word. Faith expressed, is believing that his plan works for all believers—including you and me—not a select few. Each one of us has the potential and is invited to be all we can be because OUR light has come!

We Hold the Hope

    Christ in us is the hope of glory (Col 1:27) and so we are invited to ditch futility and false humility so that we might shine in the midst of the darkness around us. 

    Do you feel like you’re in darkness? Then exercise humility, putting your faith in his promise that those who seek will find (Mt 7:7). We must each abandon unbelief and believe that the fullness of the Gospel is not just for some special others, but is for all of us. We've all been invited to walk in the light, just as he is in the light (1 Jn 1:7). 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Holy, Holy, Holy! Join in the Heavenly Chorus!



Holy3

As a hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy has had long-lasting appeal. From the time that the words were first penned by Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber in the early 1800s and then melded with music composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1861, the song has found its way into the hymnbooks of about every denomination around the globe.

Archaic

Hymnbooks, however, are quickly becoming a thing of the past, just as songs with words like Wert and Shalt. Yet, this hymn continues to march on triumphantly in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its use of archaic language. These old-style words remind us of our history and at the same time, the timelessness of this song's message.

All Thy Works

Holy, Holy, Holy is a skillful blend of theology, poetry, sing-ability, and of course, reverence. On one hand, its tune is so simple that anyone can sing along, and even beginners can knock out the notes on a keyboard. Yet in striking contrast, its deep and intricate lyrics are so rich and full of meaning that they can stop you in your tracks.

“All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.” 

Our Song Shall Rise

It’s no wonder that this hymn has had such universal appeal for anyone who sings it can find themselves somewhere in the landscape. We're either on the outside in some level of darkness, attempting to look in at the heavenly vision, or we've already entered in, at least to some extent, straining to get an even closer look. 

Sinful and Saints

Words like Sinful are not popular words today, even in the Church. Holy, Holy, Holy, however employs it well, presenting the disparity between our natural position without God and our own state of holiness while resting in Him. 

While no-one in creation is by nature holy, redemption is all about him making us holy, sanctified, and saints, for all these words in the Greek are from the same word, hagios and all mean Holy (Ro 1:7, 1 Eph 2:19, Rev 14:12, etc.).

Evermore Shall Be

Holy, Holy, Holy strives to raise our consciousness of God’s omnipresence and his timeless nature. Consider, for instance, how Heber stitched together biblical references of the angelic chorus found in two verses written nearly 800 years apart from each other that he might present one eternal heavenly anthem (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). 

Glorious

Above all, Holy, Holy, Holy successfully tackles and presents the concept of the multifaceted glory of God. His glory is, on one hand, that which reveals his nature and emanates from his presence. He is... glorious! But, his glory is also that which is ascribed to him—our recognition of his works and his nature (Psalm 29:2). His glory is found in the fact that he is holy, or... set apart.

X3

Holy, Holy, Holy is a hymn that purposefully repeats various words and themes. Scripture tells us that every fact should be established by two or three affirmations or witnesses (Mt 18:20, Acts 10:16, 2 Co 13:1, 1 Jo 5:8, etc.). This repetition is used to attest to the fact that he is truly holy but at the same time, also serves as a mirror to his triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

The Angels’ Song

In heaven, the angels never stop singing Holy, Holy, Holy! When Isaiah arrived on the scene to witness their song, he found that in comparison, the daily chatter between himself and his fellow believers did not quite measure up (Isaiah 6). This realization created a dilemma for Isaiah until the angels brought forth a solution.

Joining in the Song

Once Isaiah had been struck by a realization of his unworthiness, an angel brought him a remedy in the form of a coal taken from the fire of God's glory. Once the fiery coal touched his lips, he was transformed into a joyful and willing volunteer. Likewise, Holy, Holy, Holy draws it hearer's in that they too might join in the song of heaven.

The Heavenly Anthem

Holy, Holy, Holy has grown over the years to hold universal appeal. Still, how much more could be accomplished if we purposed to sing it each time we felt the darkness attempting to hide his works and to hide his desire to light up the darkness? What might God do if, like Paul and Silas, we sang this hymn whenever the darkness seemed to overcome us?

We might even see ourselves as more than just individuals or even members of a local congregation, but instead as powerful participants in a great heavenly choir.

Singing Along!

Many renditions of the hymn are available on Youtube, unlike this traditional version, most do not include all four verses. So, follow the link and sing along.


Holy, Holy, Holy


Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! 
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
 Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
 God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!


Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
 Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea, Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
 Who wert and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
 Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
 Perfect in power, love, and purity.


Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
 All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
 God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Absent-minded Vineyard Owner and the Upside Down Logic of the Eleventh Hour

The Absent-minded Vineyard Owner and the Upside Down Logic of the Eleventh Hour

Matthew 20:1-16


The owner of the vineyard is weird! It’s like he doesn’t understand how a clock works and doesn’t even know how to plan out the workday. Who ever let this guy be boss? Why would he show up at 5:00 p.m. (the eleventh hour) on a workday that ends at 6:00 p.m. and go on a last-minute hiring spree? This guy defies reason. And, we’re reasonable people and so we just don’t get it.

We used to have a visiting minister who would come to our church about once a year. He would often begin his sermon by directing us to put our hands on our foreheads and then he would say, “Now, everyone touch your problem!” It was always good for a chuckle, but think about it; it is natural for us to reason our way through life, and ultimately, reason our way out of it, and that is a problem. Sometimes, the thought of going against our reason can feel like a fight for life, or a last-ditch effort to hold on to what we think we have.

In the late 1990s, after the return of Steve Jobs, Apple launched its famous Think Different ad campaign, using photos of famous, creative people who had gone against the grain and were pioneers in their respective places of influence. And while thinking different seems like an understandable concept, it is much easier to perceive than to participate in and to execute. It’s not easy to think like the vineyard owner.

Remember how he asked the final crowd of hires the question, “What are you doing here standing around doing nothing?” If he’s the one who showed up throughout the day and has been the one doing the hiring, wouldn’t he know why he didn’t hire them? Wasn’t it his doing that, “nobody hired us?” So he not only has issues working with a watch, but he also seems a little bit absent-minded, doesn’t he?

Well, parables are tricky to reason out. They seem to mean one, or even a number of things, but can have an altogether different purpose than we might have reasoned. But let’s take it for granted that the vineyard owner is just a bit out there and we “let him” hire us. After all, it beats standing around, doesn’t it? In fact, we are far too humble to think that we’re being hired for any other reason than that the owner needs a warm set of bodies to fill his production line. So we go through the workday, defining faith as the process of “figuring out” the boss’s plan, instead of realizing that there is a different way to think—not something we produce but one which comes as a by-product of our employment.

Based upon the fact that we weren’t hired at the onset of the day, we must not be very good workers. And, We don’t want to think that we’re in the market place because of greed. We’re not opportunistic like that. We’re just humble old nobodies trying to make our way in the world.  And yet, the climax of this story is all about getting paid and the vineyard owner's odd sense of equity.

Let’s screw on our thinking caps (like they weren’t already there, constricting our spiritual senses) and ponder the situation. The master implemented a multi-phase hiring spree, spread out throughout the day. Then he, despite our own lack of concern for payment, makes a point of making good on the day’s wages. Remember, those of us hired at the end are not like the suckers who sat out in the heat all day and got jealous because we showed up at the end, not even expecting to be paid, but wanting to serve out of the goodness of our hearts. In fact, that’s how we would have answered his question during the interview process. We would have said that we were just standing around, hoping we could be of some help.

But back to the early hires. They expected a work for hire arrangement where pay was equal to the effort and time expended. You know, they reasoned that this is how it works in the vineyard and after all, working in the vineyard should all make perfect sense, shouldn’t it? But, it doesn’t…to us. And, that’s the hardest part of working in the vineyard. Come on everybody, put your hands on your head and, “Touch your problem!”

We dismiss the intangibles in this parable for things our minds can grasp. If we identify with the early workers, we might feel uneasy that the master pointed out that we don’t measure his goodness and generosity outside of what we reason to be equitable. And if we identify with the last hires who feel like charity cases, we believe that we were the last ones picked because qualified workers are not available. Then to add insult to injury, this weird vineyard owner payed us a wage we didn’t deserve—especially since we know we were hiding in the back of the line so he wouldn’t see us at hiring times. 

But what if this entire parable doesn’t major on any of these things? What if he wants us to shut off these reasonings and meditate on the weird ways he does things? He picks those he wants, when he wants. As long as we maintain our positions in the vineyard, he pays according to his goodness and not towards what our actions deserve—good or bad.

His ways are not our ways and so when his ways invade our space, they are foreign to our minds. By our own reasoning, we are uncomfortable with his ways. That might be the ultimate message of this parable…uncomfortability! When he shows up, we don’t have a grid for his business plan. The vineyard owner’s actions defied both the early workers' and the late workers' sensibilities. Can we come to terms with the fact that when God moves, our brains and our own way of understanding his business get in the way?

I also wonder if another of the major messages within this parable is not the idea that being in the vineyard and doing the work is the most important thing. It’s a crazy place to work. The boss’s actions are incomprehensible, but…he always pays! Being on the inside, while producing occasional and variable means of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings is far preferable to those who never get hired. Think about this! Simply acknowledging that “nobody hired us” was the only qualification needed to obtain a position. That makes no sense, whatsoever! Reasoning then, is highly overrated and keeps us from admitting that we have not yet been hired or promoted. 

Are we willing to work for this guy? He’s different! Maybe though, it's the eleventh hour—the time to start thinking different. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Inside The Actor’s Studio

 Inside The Actor’s Studio




“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”~ George Burns

 

In a funny way, that kind of describes faith, venturing confidently into the unknown without really knowing what we're doing. But, when we act in faith, we're not faking it, we're trusting in the one who knows what's going on. Getting from here to there, however, can be humorous. Take a look at my acting process and see if any of it looks familiar to you.

How I Write Myself Into The Story

I find it amusing how I write myself into the Scriptures. When I read the Gospels for example, I never seem to take on the role of a Pharisee, rejecting Jesus as the Messiah; nor do I ever find myself walking away from his hard sayings. I always seem to play the role of a true believer, the one smart enough to figure out what’s going on.

In this play, I come out looking pretty good.

That’s Acting!

But in real life, I sometimes act differently, even over-acting in false humility—playing my role in silent faith as not to appear as one who grasps for glory. I also sometimes hide behind a character who cleverly hides his uncomfortability in the presence of those who seem “more spiritual.”

Perhaps I have just been stuck in a role never written for me and I haven’t known how to properly get into character. Can you relate?

It’s on the Page, But Is It on the Stage?

Let’s face it, no matter where we are in the process, our expression of faith can look better on paper than it does in reality. I have both deceptively acted as if I have it all together, and in false humility, pretended as if my role is less important than that of others. I must, as they say, learn to commit to the role put before me. It’s in the script, but I need to live it out dynamically on stage. We all must believe that this is not only possible, but understand that this is the commission we’ve been given. 

Roles of A Lifetime

Look at the drama going on around us! The world is ready for a modern revival of the Book of Acts. After all, its an action-adventure vehicle which has proven itself the perfect counter-cultural play. The poster would again read, "They turned the world upside down!" Yes, we’ll be playing against type, no longer stuck in our self-imposed silent movie, or in our own horribly produced and performed, B movie. 

This is our big shot! We have the opportunity to perform the perfect production for the perfect audience. Can we honestly act any other way?

Stealing the Scene

We must ignore the critics who believe that by taking the stage, we'll do nothing but overshadow the star of the show. I doubt if actors performing with Robert De Niro, or Meryl Streep think to themselves, "Gee, I hope I don't show them up." Jesus is so secure in his position that he groomed his proteges to follow his lead in acting out the Gospel—even commanding them to do the same for us. 

As we embrace this honest motivation to take on the role before us, our boldness can come across as threatening to those who have not yet, or never will, take that risk. This is how the critic was born. Regretfully, I sometimes find myself playing that role.

A Supporting Role

If I do my best work as a supporting cast member and give my strongest performance, I will only bring more credibility to the protagonist—the star of the show.

Another trait of a good cast member is the ability to recognize and trust in the director’s skill and ability. He's more than able to compensate if we flub a line, or miss a cue. Although we are the supporting cast, we are also very well supported.

Taking an Honest Risk

As I began this actor’s studio, I recounted that how, on paper, I have cast myself in all the right roles, saving myself from any dangerous plot twists and surprise endings. I was the hero in every scene—while Peter denied Jesus three times, I didn't do it once, nor calling down fire from heaven, or ask to sit at Jesus' right hand. I always sat in the safe place, never wrong and never in a place of uncertainty. But that's not how it works.

The best actors in the business will tell you that they still get nervous before a performance. That's because they know that the unknown before them can reap great benefits. They call it risk, Jesus calls it faith. So that begs the question, when he returns to the stage, will he find us taking those risks?

End Scene

A curtain call never takes place on an empty stage. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth? Only if there are cast members filling their roles, willing to act in faith.

The fact is, while this saga is closer than ever to coming to an end, we don't have any real idea when the final scene will be played. We must act as if the show must go on. That's our motivation and that's how we get into character. 

The Experience

The show isn't just about the end, it's about the journey. Sometimes we get too caught up in replicating concrete pillars and leather sandals and we forget that its the performance that matters. A revival of the Book of Acts is not about robes and chariots, but about swords! 

When Peter preached his sermon at Pentecost, it says that the people were cut to the heart. That's the performance we should capture. Each of us have been cast in the role of a lifetime and its not something that we can fake, as George Burns jokingly suggests. 

This is, however, a role that should stretch as if we're participating in a master acting class, and...we kind of are!