Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Growing up I remember reading parables in the New Testament and always being a little confused. They seemed awkward and confusing and quite frankly, I never could figure out how to study them. Sometimes I felt like throwing my hands up in the air and screaming "I don't get it!" Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation today when it comes to a joke. You are hanging out with a group of people and someone says, "Hey, has any one heard any good jokes lately?" This is followed by an over anxious person who jumps at the chance to share the latest "funny" he has encountered. The joke is told, everyone is laughing and your left thinking "Which part was the punch-line?" Unfortunately a good joke loses its luster when you try to share humor with someone who just stares at you bewildered saying, "I don't get it." Anyone who has tried to explain a joke to the guy who doesn't "get it" inevitably concludes with, "Now it isn't funny anymore." While the joke is now understood, the immediate response of laughter cannot be recreated. The same is sorta true with parables. They are meant to connect with a person in such a way that they generate an immediate response. While a joke is meant to generate laughter from the hearer, a parable was meant to generate a change in attitude or lifestyle because of immediate conviction in the hearer. Jokes are funny because they contain elements in them that we consider points of reference. Take for instance one of my favorite jokes..."A Mushroom walks up to a pretty lady on the street and says 'Can I buy you cup of coffee?' The lady goes crazy, hitting him with her purse and telling him how gross he is. The Mushroom responds and says 'Whoa, I don't understand, I'm a fungi (fun-guy)'." The point of reference is that we all know the nerves of asking someone out on a date and we all know that a mushroom is a fungus. Laughter comes from the mushroom using his "fungi" nature to justify to the lady that he is a "fun-guy" for a date. This is the same tool that Jesus used as he taught. He took points of reference that everyone in his audience shared to teach deep spiritual truth to their hearts. Jesus was not looking for giggles but instead a radical change in lifestyle from the hearer. We struggle to understand parables because we don't fully understand the points of reference they had back then. When Jesus tells a parable, the hearer would anticipate the "punch-line" of the parable much like we anticipate it for a joke. For us to understand the parables punch-line though we have to study parables in context of the culture they were delivered in. This means we have to study parables and not just read them. Good Bible study always requires us to do the work necessary to understand the context the verses are written in. Another good way to understand parables and experience the "response" Jesus intended is to try to recreate parables using points of reference from today. Take the "Good Samaritan" parable for example. Imagine for a second that a family of four is broken down on the side of the road. They are obviously a poor family based on the condition of the car they drive and the clothes they are wearing. The local Southern Baptist pastor comes riding down the road and they try to flag him down for help. Unfortunately the pastor is on his way to church to prepare a sermon and feels he does not have time to stop. Next comes the president of the local Kiwanis club. Surely he will stop to help the family but he too is late for the weekly club meeting and does not have time. At this point the family is not sure what to do for help. But suddenly a car pulls over and stops. Immediately the family recognizes this man. He is the outspoken atheist in the community. The man is very kind and offers to pay to have the car towed into town. He also invites the stranded family back to his house for dinner and gives them a place to stay until their car is fixed the next day. As you read that story it ought to hit a nerve inside. Of all people, you are telling me the ATHEIST stops to help. That is an outrage. And yet how often do the lost show love better than those who call themselves Christians. This was Jesus' point in his parable. The religious of that day were blinded by their own religion. They were outraged that a "degenerate" Samaritan would do good much like we would be pricked in our hearts by an atheist performing our duties. Now you get the parable. Seek to understand the rest in the same way.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I shared this last night at Main Event but it bares repeating again. I've had special people in my life who I've been separated from for long periods of time and I've genuinely missed them. My friends Rob and John come to mind. At various times in my life I have lived really close to them, enjoyed strong Christian fellowship and love while doing ministry with them. To be separated from them produces a desire to be around them again. Now any time that I get to visit Snowbird I get excited about being around my friend Rob again. There is anticipation about re-living the "Liberty days" together, talking sports and just hanging out again. The funny thing though is that Rob isn't perfect. He doesn't always value my needs above his own. He doesn't always love me selflessly. He is imperfect and yet I have a real desire to be around him again when we are separated. Now can you even imagine what the disciples must have felt when Jesus ascended into heaven? Their longing for Christ must have been a 1000x more intense than anything I've ever known. Here was a friend who was absolutely perfect. A friend who always loved them, always served them, always valued them above himself...and they are now separated from Him. Here is a man who is not just a man, but God of the Universe, the Creator, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the one who they have enjoyed a real relationship with...the same type of relationship that is available to me. I imagine they must have "hurt" to be separated from that type of friendship. I want to long for His return and anticipate fellowship with Him just like the disciples did. I miss my friends sometimes. I want to miss Him more.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I found myself this weekend in an unusual situation...I experienced extreme conviction over a hypothetical situation in my mind. Let me explain. This weekend was our annual Back to School Lake Retreat with the youth group. Unfortunately we experienced a lot of technical difficulties with the boat we had brought for tubing. During the afternoon John Wallace and I took the boat up to the marina to see if they could fix the problem. To our dismay the owner told us the motor on our boat was an older model that the mechanic shop does not work on. But to our surprise the boat mechanic stopped working on the boat he had in his shop and came out to help us with ours. He tinkered with it for a good 30 minutes, trying his best to fix our motor. Even when he was unable to he went to great lengths to offer suggestions to us about what we could do, gave us phone numbers of places we could call to get more help and even steered us clear from going to some "shady mechanics" in town. He did all this while he could have been working on a paying customer's motor. Instead he took time out of his schedule to help us out. My conviction came when I honestly couldn't say I would be doing the same thing if I was him. Here's a guy who more than likely was not saved, and yet was acting very "Christian" by helping someone in need. Unfortunately I fear that in my flesh I would have blown me and John off and simply said "I'm sorry but we don't work on older motors like that here." I'm very thankful for the boat guy's willingness to help us with our motor. I'm even more thankful though for the lesson the boat guy reminded me of that day...to focus on the needs of others before my own.