Thinking Out Loud

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

May 4, 2021

The Church: Before and After

by Ruth Wilkinson

This is something I’ve been thinking about. See what you think…

There’s been a lot of discussion about what ‘church’ will look like after Covid-19, having experienced so much time away from in-person weekly gatherings. Previously, Sunday morning services were the hook on which many other programs and activities hung. It was where we started getting to know new people, and finding our place in the faith community. It was the forum in which we crystalized our shared identity.

Right now (with a very few exceptions) local congregations are operating without that centerpiece. We’re doing everything we did before, but in new ways. We’re building new relationships without necessarily making in-person contact. Some ministries are doing quite well online or in lawn chairs (weather permitting) which is an indicator, I think, that many churches are more healthy and organic than we might have given them credit for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Will our music and other creative arts continue to grow into the rest of the week, and online? Will we have board members and elders who seldom if ever sit in a pew? Will programs and ministries continue to be financially supported by people who never meet a Sunday School teacher, but who pitch in at the soup kitchen? Will we need to adapt our policies and practices to allow for this evolution?
I guess we’ll see

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

There are many day to day issues and decisions that we face that are not directly prescribed or proscribed in Scripture. Situations in which we need to ask ourselves WWJD and do our best.

Ministry during this season of pandemic guidelines has presented us with a need to be flexible, and to understand and perhaps rediscover our priorities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people quote to me Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Do not stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do…” as a push back against government mandated or requested suspensions of Sunday gatherings. “See?” goes the argument, “we are commanded to gather! We aren’t going to disobey God just because the government tells us to.”

On one hand, I agree. If the government were commanding us to disobey God, I hope we would stand up against that. Christ has had His enemies throughout history and will continue to do so until the end, and the Church must declare her allegiance.

Except that’s not what the government is asking us to do today. In the Hebrews passage, the word variously translated “neglect” or “forsake” (enkataleipō) in the original language has a context of permanence. It speaks of abandoning or leaving behind. Not of temporarily finding other ways to connect with each other. Not of telling the worship team to stand down for a while. Not of expecting the preacher to do without an audience for a time. But (and this is a ‘worship leader’ speaking) Sunday mornings are not the Church. Those gatherings are good, healthy and powerful. I would argue that they aren’t who we are. They are not Christ’s kingdom.

I choose instead to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

The believers to whom these words were written were having to make difficult decisions around personal freedom, and relational influence. The idols in question for them were enculturated false gods. For us, liberty itself can be a false god. We insist on indulging in the pleasures it provides, while demanding that everyone recognize our right to do so, regardless of the effect it has on the people around us and their perception of the Body of Christ.

Even more strongly worded are passages in Amos 5. God expresses His distaste toward the gathered worship of Israel, ostensibly an act of obedience and honor. True, God has Himself instituted these “festivals” and inspired the writing of these “songs,” but when practiced without humility and in the face of a callous disregard to the vulnerable in their society, God refuses to receive that honor. And of course, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Given the principles at work in these scriptures, my choice is clear. To suspend my rights in solidarity with those around me, to do the hard work of finding other ways to connect with people in need, to “stay home.”

True, the government has, in this most recent lockdown, given houses of worship an almost exclusive exception. But just because I am offered privilege does not mean I have to accept it. I am a member of my community. I will live as such.

March 27, 2021

Outgunned by Talent and Tech

I was walking through the room we used for coffee and fellowship when I heard it. Lee (or perhaps Leigh) who was a 15-16 year old member of the youth group was sitting at the piano playing the theme song from The Simpsons.

I was the music director. Actually, that’s not true, I was the entire music department. No worship band. No vocal team. Just me. And if you came back the next week, it was me.

The Simpsons theme has an interesting melody and there are some adornments to it which go beyond basic chording. It requires a bit of keyboard competence, whereas my goal with the worship at the church was to keep it singable and engaging, and to use simple chords.

I realized that if this was a sample of his playing, Lee (or perhaps Leigh) was a better pianist than I. But the likelihood of getting him to do something on a Sunday morning was small, and the one time I did get him to do a postlude once. The congregation, instead of heading for the exit in spirited conversation, as they normally did, sat in absolute silence staring, while he turned a shade of red I didn’t know was humanly possible. I think he was traumatized, and he never did do anything else at that church.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing the same thing in another church. Very little talent to draw on, except for Martin, an oboe player. Looking back now, if I had not been juggling so many activities, it would have been nice to write him some actual ‘parts’ for some of the songs, but I was too rushed to consider that.

Again it was me. If you came back the next week it was me. For two-and-a-half years. A recipe for burnout if ever there was one.

Then I found about Dave. He was a classical guitarist. The music he was able to make on his guitar — any guitar really, including a cheap beat-up one that might be laying around — was incredible. It would have added so much to a Sunday morning. But he wasn’t interested in doing anything that would be considered “church music.” Sigh!

There were people with so much talent, so why was I up there, week after week?

These days, I have decided not to try. I’m not so much intimidated by the Lees and the Daves as I am by the technology. Not the simple microphone and mixer stuff, I was after all, the audio technician for a national Christian television show once.

No, I mean the more recent access people have to studio software that allows you to sit in your basement and create multi-layered tracks, add special effects, get friends to do a solo on the bridge and send it to you in an email, and sync the whole thing to a video presentation.

We could only dream of things like that, or pay someone $80 an hour for studio time.

Talk about blogging in your underwear, people can make amazing things under similar conditions. (For the record however, I am wearing shorts and a pullover as I type this.)

Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the tech. A year of virtual choirs has only shown me how much I don’t know, and trying to read tenor and baritone vocal parts (in bass clef) have demonstrated the degree to which my sight reading has atrophied and my vocal range has diminished with respect to high notes or holding notes for a long 12-beat ending.

I tweeted a few days ago something to the effect that today, ‘he who controls the tech controls everything.’ Or she. I no longer feel that I can contribute anything meaningful with respect to instrumentation or vocal harmonies or song selection because I’m a hands-on person who likes to be part of the entire process, and these days, I have to take a back seat to those who are technically more proficient.

And of course, we’re living at a time where all the worship music anyone wants to sing is coming from either Hillsong or Bethel Worship (even the Elevation songs’ publishing is Bethel) and nobody is interested when I talk about a classic hymn, or a metrical Psalm or even a song I heard on YouTube by City Alight. I just don’t have the same passion for what’s being created currently.

If I were parenting a young child, or advising anyone with kids, I would encourage them to get the kid to obtain proficiency on one instrument, but also be spending 25% of their music education time learning all they can about the emerging technology, and how they can take the sounds they produce and build upon them to create things which have heretofore not existed, and get them online to reach people around the world they will never meet in person.

I do sincerely envy those who have mastered the tech. Covid-19 has created a tremendous learning opportunity for those in music ministry, and those skills will still apply long after the masks have been folded and placed in a drawer.

 

 

January 18, 2021

Is Your Church Board (Elder Board) Theologically Minded?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

After taking several weeks off, we’re back!

Last week Ruth and I were discussing the composition of church leadership boards. Some of you are familiar with the Brethren model whereby the elders of the church take turns doing the weekly teaching. It’s not a requirement for each and every elder, and some clearly have other gifts which they bring to the board of which teaching is not one of them, and those other gifts affirm their calling to serve at the highest level of lay-participation in local church leadership.

Some other types of churches have been toying with this model and inviting people in the broader congregation to identify and nurture their preaching gift.

Our discussion tied in with one of last week’s posts at Christianity 201 — the blog to which most of my attention is now devoted — and what’s called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church,” sometimes  just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. Michael Frost said that he believes that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

I would agree and further pursue this to add that I think that the people on church leadership boards should show evidence of, at the very least, a propensity toward one of these ministry gifts.

But this is often not the case.

Some people are chosen because they have done well in business. That can be helpful, given that one estimate is that 80% of local church board meetings are dealing with capital concerns (budgets, expenditures, etc.) and property issues (facilities, maintenance, etc.).

Some are chosen because they are highlight regarded in the community. I can certainly see what outgoing, gregarious, extroverted people would come to mind. Church nominating committees do indeed look at the outward appearance.

Some are selected because their family has a long-running history with the church. To not select one of these people would be considered almost scandalous.

I could go on, but you see that it’s not always spiritual considerations that drive the process.

You could argue that the Biblical model is to have two leadership levels; a nuts-and-bolts leadership team that can attend to the aforementioned facility and financial issues; and a spiritual issue that can look at programs, ministry teams, preaching topics, small groups, etc. That’s great, but the one guy we know from the nuts-and-bolts team, Stephen, was selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. He was “a man of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.” And he preached! Boy, did he ever preach, becoming the first Christian martyr for the force and trajectory of his message. (Don’t mention this to prospective board candidates!)

I don’t think every board member should preach. But in the average small-to-medium-sized church they should be seen at least once a year doing something in public ministry. A scripture reading. The announcements. Assisting with a baptism. Sharing a word of recent testimony of what God’s doing in their life.

More simply stated, there ought to be reason as to why each was chosen, and it ought to be a spiritual reason.

September 21, 2020

The Spirituality of Nations and Churches

Filed under: Christianity, leadership — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

At least 20 years ago, I heard someone ask rhetorically ask, “What is the most religious nation on earth?”

The answer given at the time was India. I’m not enough of an expert in world religion to dispute this, so I took it as given.

Then they asked, “What is the least religious nation on earth?”

The answer given was Sweden.

Then the person continued, posing the question, where does (or did) Canada fit into this imagery?

The answer given was that in terms of this analogy, “We are nation of Indians, governed by Swedes.”

In other words, at the time — and I would dispute this today — the impression was that in the heart of Canadian people was a hunger to maintain a committed and meaningful spiritual life; a sentiment that was not echoed by those same peoples’ representatives in government.

The phrase “a nation of Indians governed by Swedes;” has haunted me ever since. (For those who tuned in late, we’re talking about people from India, not North American aboriginals; and the statement is a metaphor only.)

Yesterday, I asked myself if that’s not true of churches.

I would say yes. Often there can be a disconnect between the hearts of the people in the chairs each week — the members, adherents, parishioners, congregation; call them what you will — and the people being paid a salary to provide for the spiritual direction of the church, as well as the volunteer leadership tasked with overseeing everything, whether we call them deacons or elders or wardens, or directors.

One particular church came to mind.

The church prospers I believe because the people have a love for each other and a love for God that is better reflected in their personal interactions throughout the week, and in some respects, their small group involvement. In other words, not “because of” but “in spite of” the church leadership.

The leaders meanwhile are preoccupied with projects and goals and visions and programs that often may be described as shallow and superficial. Wood, hay and stubble. With the occasional mix of a tempest in a teapot.

I know this because I’ve been, at times, shallow and superficial. It takes one to know one.

The disconnect is huge however, and once one becomes aware of it, it’s hard to continue to be as supportive of that church as perhaps one once was.


Flag images: Wikipedia, though in fairness to Wikipedia, I need to say I cheated with the dimensions of the Canadian one, which in reality is much wider horizontally (stated redundantly for emphasis).

 

July 17, 2020

Cliff Jumping and Exotic Food

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

While working at one of the two summer camps I served at in my 20s, a few weeks in to one season I felt that the ten of us who comprised the senior staff were somewhat detached from the cabin life experienced by the counselors. Several of these cabins had extra seats in the dining room and I suggested we pick a cabin for the week and join in them for lunch — at breakfast key leaders were planning as they ate, and at supper we were debriefing — and maybe drop in to their devotional time once or twice or join them on a cabin activity.

I quickly learned that you don’t introduce structures like this when the summer is already in progress, but of the ten of us, three people bought in to some degree. The counselors were always happy to have an extra adult at the table, and the kids could ask questions about the camp.

The cabin activity I chose for one cabin involved taking the kids on two boats to an island where we would park the boats on the west side and then jump into the lake off a 45-foot cliff on the other side. I was a decent enough swimmer that this didn’t concern me in the least.

This is more or less what it looked like, though we didn’t allow the kids to dive. If you ever find yourself doing this, make sure you take a good step or jump forward to avoid the rock outcrop you can’t always see under the water.

Until I went to the ledge of the cliff and looked down.

I’ve known people much younger than myself who were jumping 65-feet off a bridge into a river, but for some reason I was gripped by fear with this shorter plunge mostly because I had simply never done anything like this before.

It was then it occurred to me that if these kids were going to have any respect for the camp leadership — and especially respect us as we shared Jesus with them — I needed to push back the fear and take a running leap.

I ended up jumping in at least four more times that day. I will confess it is exhilarating, but I also need to state for the record that this whole ‘leaping’ genre is something that still fills me with great fear. Anything on a screen where someone dives out of an airplane causes me to close my eyes until the story is over, or change the channel. I think the cliff jumping precipitated a few bad dreams in the years which immediately followed.

But I stand by my decision to do it. The kids weren’t going to have faith in a camp leadership made up of wusses. (Hoping that word still means the same thing as it did.) And for the remaining days of that week, those kids and I had enjoyed a shared experience…

…Fast forward a few decades and my mind goes to people I’ve met who are in a similar leadership position. They’re standing on the edge of the cliff, so to speak, and people are watching them to see if they’re willing to jump or are afraid.

The cliff they’re perched on may have to do with any one of a number of everyday activities, and if there are enough of these, their life become characterized by things they are afraid to try, places they are afraid to go, food they are afraid to taste.

And again, I find myself asking the question I asked decades earlier: How can people respect our Christian testimony and ministry if our lives are marked by such apprehension over so many things? But don’t stop reading here, because maybe it’s not 100% about him, but also about me…

…As I thought about writing this at various points over the past few years — I did a search this morning to see if the phrase “cliff jumping” was contained here — something dawned on me which had never occurred to me previously: This type of fear nag at me because it can partially reflect my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll try the activity (though physical ones not so much as the years advance), I’ll enter the place in the city that is foreign to my comfort zone, I’ll eat the Middle Eastern or central Asian food, I’ll fly to the vacation destination.

But we all have anxiety issues over all manner of things. With some people they’re buried deep and with others they appear on the surface; yet each of us has things which produce a mental or even physiological reaction when seen, named or proposed.

…I can’t help notice the preponderance of books about fear and anxiety in the Christian market over the past ten years or so. With Max Lucado — the top selling Christian author — it’s the major of theme of at least four of his works.

Christians are not exempt or immune from anxiety, and we need those reminders to trust, cling, rely on our Lord. Further to that, we also need to realize that seeing the fears others experience might exist front of mind because they are reflecting are own nervous apprehension over other, completely unrelated things.

We don’t necessarily identify with the particular object of the other person’s anxiety, but we certainly identify with the emotion.

July 7, 2020

The Illustrated Sermon on the Mount

Review: What if Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore – by Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers, 2020)

I first became aware of Skye Jethani through his old blog Skyebox and the Phil Vischer Podcast. I was immediately impressed by his demeanor which I can only describe as forthright. He spoke with authority and wasn’t afraid to speak to problems in what he called, ‘The Evangelical Industrial Complex.’ To learn that we shared the same denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, was just an added bonus.

Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of his books here. Skye isn’t a household name in the Chuck Swindoll sense, and his writing requires firing up dormant brain cells to appreciate his message. For example, in The Divine Commodity he uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif to discuss what it means to be a Christian in a consumer culture. In With, a book I called ‘the preposition proposition,’ he looks at what it means to try to live life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God when in fact it’s supposed to be — no spoilers here — another preposition entirely.

With Futureville he uses the New York World’s Fair of 1939 as a motif to discuss the effect of negative visions of the church. In Immeasurable he offered a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; a topic which is his long-suit when it comes to public speaking appearances. I’m pleased to own a copy of all four books and have done my best to review them here.

But it’s the book With that’s significant today, because in it, we saw a foreshadowing of what we get in his newest book, What if Jesus Was Serious? which is a series of restaurant-napkin sketches, or if you prefer doodles.

I’ve written several times in several places about the trend toward visual media. An increasing number of people are visual learners and several books have emerged over the last few years which infographics to communicate material that would have heretofore been relegated to the Biblical reference genre. Also, let’s face it, we’ve seen a drop in the attention span of many readers, and a picture can be worth anywhere between 900 and 1100 words, right?

This time, it’s The Sermon on the Mount that Skye Jethani has in his sights. It’s radical teaching from Jesus, so one can be forgiven for asking Jesus the question, ‘Are you being serious?’ Or maybe more simply, ‘Really?’

He breaks Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 into 72 bite-size pieces and each receives a two-page spread with an appropriate doodle. If you’ve ever sketched something on the back of some scrap paper to get a point across you’ll appreciate the approach. There’s also quotations from a diverse group of writers across the Christian spectrum.

Who is the audience for this?

A few weeks ago I recommended the book to a woman to give to a very mature 11-year old who is checking out Christianity. I don’t know that he is the intended audience. I also referred to it as a possible graduation gift. That gets a bit closer, but still not the target reader.

Rather, Skye brings with him to this project many of his views on church and Christian institutional leadership. If you know him at all, you see that reflected clearly. I can see giving this book to a pastor — who possibly has a whole shelf of Sermon on the Mount-related titles by now — as an alternative way of looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. Equally, I can see giving it to a recent convert who wants to better understand the teachings of Jesus. The book is layered if you know what I mean.

In addition to binge-reading it, it can also be read devotionally. Skye writes a daily subscription devotional called With God Daily, which was no doubt the genesis of this project.

But in the spirit of visual learning, here’s a sample. This link takes you to nine of the project’s 72 chapters and may represent an earlier version and not the final text. You’ll appreciate both the simplicity of the presentation and the bite or edge that’s contained in his writing. You can also learn more at the publisher’s website.


Thanks to Martin at Parasource Canada (Moody’s Canadian distributor) for an opportunity to add Skye’s latest to my bookshelf. This one’s a keeper.

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



May 6, 2020

Twelve Disciples Sorted by Categories

Two nights ago I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

This is content from Christianity 201, where much of my attention has been over the past six or seven weeks. After reaching its 10th anniversary, as I did with Thinking Out Loud, I released myself from the conviction I needed to post daily, but then the world changed and I felt people might need this more than ever. Plus I need to keep doing it right now. This one appeared yesterday.

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 …he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like stereotypes or putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting to look back and discover that most of those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing, even though others did. (Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us – Luke 1:1) If the others wrote — and we know they did produce some written content — their works didn’t make it into the canon.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of people like Matthew and Simon would pave the way for the Apostle Paul, and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that people are capable of leaving a former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very old C201 post.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael aka Bartholomew, the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life at C201 a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

 

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