Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner…….

Yeshua, (Jesus) while He wore the clothes of humanity, hung out with the people who lived real, not the ones who spent their days in the synagogue. One would think since Yeshua was and is the Son of Man, God’s Son, that He would fit in most comfortably with the religious leaders of the day, but alas, He did not. So much so that He was called a drunkard by the religious elite because He hung out with those who drank wine, and all other manner of “sinners” who lived real.  He was called out quite often by the religious leaders; He had a difficult time, it seemed, following all the “rules” as put forth by the Pharisees. Yeshua was also criticized for not following the “Law”, and yet He made it fairly plain that He had come to fulfill the “Law”, not merely to be one more who kept the “Law” to the letter. That was already being done, why would God need to send His Son to do more of the same? Yeshua was the answer to the need for the “Law”, but only a few got that.

We really don’t realize or appreciate how far off course Yeshua truly traveled to be with those who would accept Him, and the reason He was in hot water with the synagogue leaders of the day. The culture of the day prohibited the “clean” from associating with the “unclean”. Peter, his disciple, was Jewish and was not considered “unclean” even though he was quite outspoken and brash, however, some of those Yeshua called were. Matthew, for example, was a tax collector. I dare say those still in the tax-collecting biz haven’t gained much status in the eyes of many people since then! Yeshua talked with women, children, lepers, and Samaritans, none of whom the religious leaders held in high regard. In other words, Yeshua hung with people like you and me, people who woke up everyday and knew each day was an opportunity to get it right, but also knew that wasn’t going to happen.

One of the customs of the day was that Jews did not break bread with those they considered ritually unclean. Like any label I am sure the religious leaders expanded the definition to include anyone who did not meet their exceedingly high standards, much like many in the church today. Man will never meet the expectations set forth by man. Consequently, many pious Jews refused to eat with those who did not meet their impossibly high standards for fellowship. Yeshua did otherwise, which is why He was criticized often and loudly.

Today, many Jews and some Gentiles prefer not to eat with those they do not trust; a variation on this ancient custom. Meals are an intimate occasion, sharing food and conversation reserved only for those in the circle of friendship, the circle of trust. In some ways I have adopted that mindset; not to exclude “sinners” as I am no better than anyone else, rather I prefer not to send mixed messages. I may have coffee or a drink with someone I do not trust, but I will not likely share a meal with that person. Since we are not all-knowing and are not privy to the heart motivations of others, it is wise to guard our hearts; a lesson learned in my journey through life.

Yeshua (Jesus), however, was privy to the heart motivations of others when He wore the robe of humanity. His mission was to touch as many lives as would receive Him. The scriptures refer to many an occasion when Yeshua supped with the outcast, the “sinner”, and a time or two when he ate with the religious elite. One such occasion is recorded in Luke 7:36-46. A Pharisee had invited Yeshua to come to his home for dinner. Also in attendance was a “sinful woman” who brings with her an alabaster box of expensive perfume. She knelt behind Yeshua, wept, wiped her tears from His feet with her hair, then anointed His feet with the perfume. Understanding the customs of the culture makes scripture come alive, for me at least, so the word picture begs the question, “Why was there a ritually unclean woman at the home of a Pharisee, as Pharisee’s do not associate with the sinful?” Back in the day society’s homeless and hungry were allowed to attend dinners in the homes of the elite in order to gather the crumbs from the floor. This woman, so the story goes, heard that Yeshua had been invited to dine with the Pharisee and came to listen to Yeshua. The Pharisee watched the woman weeping at the feet of Yeshua, drying her tears with her hair, and anointing His feet with the perfume. Because of the Pharisee’s  inflated view of his own importance, he missed the point of the scene before him and decided in his heart Yeshua had no idea who was performing this act of love, thus dismissing Yeshua as the “Messiah”.  Yeshua knew the heart motivation of his host, however, and offered a parable to the Pharisee,  A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed ten times as much as the other. When they were unable to pay him back, he canceled both their debts. Now which of them will love him more?” Shim‘on(the Pharisee) answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “Your judgment is right,” Yeshua said to him. Turning to the woman, Yeshua said, Do you see this woman? I came into your house — you didn’t give me water for my feet, but this woman has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair! You didn’t give me a kiss; but from the time I arrived, this woman has not stopped kissing my feet! You didn’t put oil on my head, but this woman poured perfume on my feet!” (Luke 7:41-46 The Complete Jewish Bible) Yeshua told the Pharisee that the woman’s “sins” were forgiven because of her act of love, trust, and acceptance of Him. The woman had not even asked, yet was forgiven nonetheless.

For many the lesson is about salvation, and I would agree, but I also believe it teaches us that our actions speak louder than our words. The “Salvation” message is not about reciting the magic words that gain us forgiveness and entrance into heaven; the message is about our heart motivation. The story is about the heart motivations of two people; one who had an inflated sense of importance and self, judging others as he saw fit, and the other who was well aware of her flaws and shortcomings. To whom did Yeshua offer forgiveness? Not to the one who believed himself deserving, rather forgiveness was given to the one who did not see herself fit to ask. Where do you fit into the dinner party? Are you the one who sees fit to judge others, or the one who is fully aware of their imperfection…..?

The $64,000 Question…….

Why do we suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is so good why doesn’t He intervene? Before we go any further let me clarify I don’t have an answer to that question. That question has been asked for centuries and will continue to be asked as long as the world draws breath.

All we really have is speculation on this subject because no one truly has an answer, and God, it seems, will remain silent on the issue. The question, however, has validity; we want an answer, we need to justify the suffering all around us, the suffering of the loved ones in our lives.

Crediting the “devil” or Satan with the cause of tragedy and suffering used to make sense, however, it is now my opinion that passing off the root of evil to the antithesis of God is also handing off responsibility for man’s ills and evils. I don’t discount the influence of “evil” in our world, but to assign blame to Satan for every tragedy that befalls man is akin to absolving humanity of our responsibility and choices conveniently naming the “devil” our scapegoat.

From a Jewish perspective there is differing thought. Man is inherently evil because of a decision that was made in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of Good and Evil, so in essence, man’s choice brought evil into the otherwise perfect world, and our course was set. Another thought is that if we had an explanation we would cease to be empathetic, thus negating a reason to come alongside and provide comfort to fellow humanity. A third is that our actions result in “karma” and therefore we deserve whatever we get. And a fourth, I discovered while researching, was that suffering compels us to make a decision to live in the past and adopt a heart attitude of bitterness, or propels us forward to change our world in whatever way we can; in other words a result of our suffering. At the end of the day the answer to the question may be a combination of the above explanations.

I have asked and been asked that question many times in my life and my go-to answer is not unlike some of the above. In some ways karma makes sense; karma being “what goes around comes around”. Certainly, Adam and Eve set something in motion with their one act of willful disobedience, and I also believe that, in part, we suffer so that we can be empathetic when others suffer. Tragedy and suffering bringing us to the crossroads of deciding between bitterness and propelling us toward making change in the world is interesting, as well. I like that. Bitterness only serves to hurt us, our relationship with others, and ultimately with God.

The explanation I hadn’t considered and that really intrigued me was that if we had an explanation for all tragedy and suffering we would cease to be empathetic. Huh. To look at that scenario let’s consider childbirth. We know that childbirth involves pain. (I’m a nurse, went to childbirth classes when I was pregnant, and read all the material on birthing where the “pain of childbirth” was referred to as “contractions” and not “pain” because it is a natural process, blah, blah, blah, but let’s face it; childbirth is painful!!) When a woman is in the throes of birthing we, as bystanders, do not grieve, are not sorrowful, crying out to God, “why”; we are happy, rejoicing, because a new human is about to makes it’s debut. We are aware of the necessity of a time of “suffering” on the woman’s part before the awaited event. We may empathize as one understanding contractions and the process, or we may be the partner wanting to alleviate some of the “pain”, but we know it’s short-lived, in the grand scheme of things, and the “pain” will all but be forgotten once the cherub is on-scene.

But, for a moment, translate that “knowing” scenario to a truly tragic event. If we knew all the in’s and out’s of a tragic situation for another in our lives, would we be as empathetic? I venture that we would not. If the tragedy was the result of wrong on the part of the sufferer, or we were privy to a positive outcome, etc. it is likely we would not offer much support, especially knowing the tragedy was deserved, or there was to be a positive resolution.

As a sufferer, we have the opportunity to grow from and through any experience, or we can choose to stagnate in bitterness. Stagnation breeds disease; no good will result. Suffering can bring us into deeper relationship with God, to know Him in a different way. On the other side of the suffering we will have gained some amount of wisdom that we can pass on to others in the midst of their sorrow. Although it seems idyllic to live a life without any suffering, a life filled with wine and roses, a life like that is detrimental to a relationship with God. An idyllic life would not drive us to our knees, or to open up a Bible, to seek advice or comfort from one we believe to know God better than we do; we would merely live each day among the rainbows and unicorns, and I wager, quite self-centered and superficial. Without reason to venture into the deeper waters of understanding we would be content to live on the seashore, our toes sinking into the sand only a couple of inches.

I do not believe that some of the stories in the Bible actually happened; which is not to say the Bible is, in any way, fable. Rather, many of the stories are word pictures to teach us deeper truth. We need a reference point in order to learn. The vivid word pictures of the Bible provide us with tools to understand spiritual lessons. Yeshua (Jesus) often used analogies of the familiar to open the world of the spiritual to all who would listen. Daniel in the lion’s den or in the furnace with his buddies are examples that are likely more analogy than fact. What is the lesson? Perhaps that we are not alone in circumstances that threaten, are dangerous, or overwhelm; that God comes alongside and suffers with us, provides comfort and counsel. There is a song I hear most every morning on my way to work, and one of the phrases in the song is “He stands in the fire beside me”, meaning Jesus. (Chris Tomlin “Jesus”) I love that phrase, it gives me comfort and confidence that no matter what life tosses my way I am not alone. No matter the explanation for suffering, at least for those of us who choose to walk the journey with God, we have the assurance that He is a firm foundation in all circumstances of the lives we live wrapped in humanity. We all suffer, some more often than others. Whichever explanation for suffering resonates in your spirit, know that God will be standing in the fire with you…..

And Along Came Peter…..

Simon Peter, Peter the Apostle, Cephas; the beloved, albeit “messy” disciple of Yeshua (Jesus). What do we know about him? He was one of the first disciples called, and he readily accepted the call. Yeshua changed Peter’s name to Cephas early on in their relationship, the name meaning “Rock” and upon the “Rock”, Yeshua would establish “Christianity”. Peter is representative of many of us. He had a profitable fishing business, a blue-collar-kind-of-guy, according to historical accounts, but his personality was brash, impulsive, strong-willed, and enthusiastic. Of the disciples, Peter is the one I identify with most because he was, well, messy.  

I have mentioned on more than one occasion that I have a tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread, as the saying goes. Peter did that a lot, and yet he was one of Yeshua’s favorites. For all of his faults and foibles, Peter lived real. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be in the same category as Peter; I certainly don’t think Yeshua favors me over others, but I do try to live real!

Each of the disciples, just like each one of us, brought with them unique personalities, and each had a unique relationship with Yeshua. Some we are more familiar with than others, but Yeshua had called each one into his ragtag band of followers because of their unique qualities that contributed to the whole. His disciples were from all walks of life; kind of like all of us, wouldn’t you say?

When I lived the “church” life I found it very difficult to fit in, though I really did try hard to be like everyone else in the congregation. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t fit in; I wasn’t like the other people that I tried to hang out with, attend church with, fellowship with, etc. Outwardly, I changed the way I looked and dressed, and talked, incorporating the “Christian-ese” that rolled off the tongues of others so easily, but it didn’t make me like the others. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being critical of them, I really did not understand what was wrong with me. I wore myself out trying to fit in and finally realized that was not going to happen. In my mind I was the one who was defective.

Life happens and I got mad at God, threw Him out with the bathwater and walked away; not because of being unable to fit in, just a whole bunch of other stuff. God had different plans for me than I had for myself however, and I decided in my magnanimous glory to give the Creator of the Universe another chance. How very righteous of me!

Since I had already traveled the traditional road, I decided to take a different route, and I started to look at those who hung with Yeshua. What I discovered is that He surrounded Himself with people like Peter, not with Pharisees and other synagogue leaders. Yeshua hung with prostitutes, tax collectors, women involved in adultery, lepers, and anyone else not part of the synagogue elite. That put a bit of a different spin on things, in my mind at least.

So back to Peter; I understood him better than the others. He didn’t have a filter, said what tripped across his brain cells without benefit of thinking his comments all the way through, the one who got out of the boat when clearly he was surrounded by water. Peter reacted instead of acted; acting being the wiser choice, but wise didn’t seem to be his forte, and yet he was the one Yeshua chose to call the “Rock”. Yeshua loved and trusted Peter in spite of all of his faults and foibles. Maybe there was hope for me after all.

And that is the lesson for many of us. Yeshua, clothed in the flesh of humanity, purposefully chose the Peters of the day to hang with and trust with His message of love. Christianity would have us believe that Yeshua hung with the less-than-churchy because we are the sinners, those who need a Savior, but the reality is that Yeshua knew the ones tangled up with following all the rules and setting themselves above everyone else were not going to accept Him.

Truth be told I have had deeper, more intense conversations about God in taverns, or with people who frequent taverns and not churches, than I have ever had in church. There are few pretenses surrounding the non-church crowd when talking about God. You, me, we, are accepted! We are loved, and we are trusted with God’s message of love to all people, not just those who try to be or appear to be righteous and acceptable. Are you a “Peter”? Yeshua purposefully chose Peter, and He has chosen you too…….

Welcome 2017…..

It’s been one year since the birth of Unchurched. A whole year. In that time there have been challenges, celebrations, heartaches, times of uncertainty, joy, concern, and learning, lots of learning. Mostly, I have learned about myself. I discovered I write more to myself than to anyone who happens to read these blogs. I have purposed to be far more open to whomever God sends my way, to be an active listener, to look beyond the surface, to not fear change. My goal is full time ministry, whether that will happen or not, I couldn’t say at this point.

What I want most in ministry is to help others to realize how much God loves them, really loves them. Words are not adequate; we all must experience Him, and journey with Him until our life here on earth transitions to the next. I don’t feel competent in any way to deliver that message, and yet God doesn’t require us to be competent at anything; He only requires us to be willing. God doesn’t call the perfect mainly because there aren’t any – not one in the whole universe.

People find God in different ways and in different places. The Bible says He is omnipresent, meaning everywhere at the same time, so we don’t have to be in church to experience Him. We can be sitting on the beach with the ocean waves crashing around us, hiking up a mountain, stargazing on a clear summer evening, or singing along to a favorite song. Whatever that “thing” is that resonates within and turns our thoughts to God, calms our fears, comforts us like being snuggled into a warm blanket; that is where we will find God.

And God doesn’t need for us to “work” to gain His favor and acceptance. Too often that is what it sounds like from the pulpit, perhaps unintentionally so. “I will be acceptable to God when I do enough, tithe enough, have cleaned up my language, and rid my life of ‘sin’, perceived or otherwise”. What I have found is those who subscribe to that kind of “Christianity” have an illusion of Christianity; when life happens the illusion comes crashing down around their ears. They are left with, “why is this happening to me God, haven’t I done enough, given enough, lived perfectly enough for You?” And then anger with God sets in.

Relationship with God is not an “I will scratch your back, you scratch mine” arrangement. God is the Creator; we are the created. He created us to be in relationship with Him, and He gave us a choice to be in relationship or not. He makes the rules, if you will, for relationship, sets the tone – not the other way around.

The Bible is God’s relationship with humanity from beginning to eternity. In human terms, the beginning of the Bible is the birth of man’s relationship with God. Throughout the Bible God interacts with man in ways similar to the way we do with our children as they are growing and maturing. And yet, humans are a dim reflection of God as a parent because we are burdened by imperfection.

Children rebel, rail against the “rules” of the house, throw tantrums and challenge their parents at every turn in an effort to establish their autonomy. And so it is in our relationship with God. Still, He loves us with a fierce, unconditional love. In essence our story is that of the Prodigal Son; the beloved son who left to establish his autonomy, to pursue drugs, sex, rock n’ roll returns, not because of his love for his father, but because he had nowhere else to go and he was hungry. His father welcomed him home anyway without lecturing, without beating him over the head with his misdeeds. He welcomed his son with open arms and threw a party in his honor.

That is the journey each of us is invited to take with a God who loves with a fierce, unconditional love, and the message I want to deliver; when we are done pursuing our version of drugs, sex, rock n’ roll, and return home because we are hungry and have nowhere else to go, our Father will be there to welcome us home with outstretched arms, no questions asked…..