The Rest of the Story

This is a continuation of the previous post, Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney, written at the suggestion by a young friend (Björk) who encouraged me to capture the story of the beginning of my journey with Young Life. Interestingly, I was visiting Björk’s company offices earlier this week. I looked at the office building across the street – it’s where I was formally introduced to Young Life.

In the last posting I mentioned that a couple from my community had providentially stumbled onto Frontier Ranch, suggesting that I check out Young Life as a solution to a vision that was evolving to better care for the kids in our community – kids of various and/or no church backgrounds. This is the rest of the story…

Wanting to find out more about the ministry, I looked up “Young Life” in the Yellow Pages (yes, Yellow Pages) and placed a call with what turned out to be the regional office. They connected me with a Young Life office located closer to my community. Calling that office, I had a 5 minute conversation with the Area Director, Jim Green. He gave me an “elevator speech” of the mission of Young Life. It was only a five minute conversation because Jim was literally headed out the door to serve at a Young Life camp for a month. He said we should reconnect in a month to explore this further.

A month? Patience was a virtue that I lacked. Somehow I ended up with a book written in 1963 by philosopher Emile Cailliet about the Young Life Mission. I spent the month waiting by reading the book – twice. Everything I read drew me in. I couldn’t wait for Jim to return from his month at camp to find out more.

Upon his return, Jim suggested I come to his office (across the street from Björk’s present-day office) for a bag lunch together. He wanted to show me a couple movies (movies, not videos) about Young Life. I took a long lunch and drove 40 minutes to meet with him. He had a couple reel-to-reel movies tee’d up for me to watch. The first one was a general, very well done, informational movie about the mission of Young Life.

The second movie blew me away. It was called A Time for Living, an award-winning film featuring Young Life camps across the United States and Canada. I was hooked! I had never seen anything like it in my life. I went to Bible camp once as a kid but it was nothing like this!

I was 23 and wondered how I might get to attend a Young Life Camp.

Asking what next steps might be, Jim suggested I round up a handful of adults from our community for an informational meeting about Young Life and the possibility of starting the ministry. A week later 20 adults crowed into my living room to listen to Jim and his committee chair describe what Young Life could look like in a community like ours. We were all spellbound. Why had we never heard of such a thing?

At meeting’s end Jim told us that a group of kids and leaders were headed to Frontier Ranch in a couple weeks and I should try to round up a few kids and tag along. Long story short, two weeks later I was accompanying 10 high school kids on a trip that would turn out to be the “best week of their lives.” And it turned out to be the best week of my life, too. What I witnessed that week was transformative for me…

I witnessed unconditional acceptance. To my utter surprise, Frontier Ranch had a smoking pit. Since the ministry drew kids that were far from God, as one can imagine some might have been smokers. The kids were invited to camp to discover Jesus, not to expereince behavior modification. In a world where American Christendom was moving toward what Christian Smith described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, this was extremely good news to those expecting religious people to tell them what they should not be doing. As an early Christ-follower, I found it quite intriguing.

I witnessed high adventure. The movie A Time for Living showed high adventure and it wasn’t just a marketing ploy. The kids (and I) experienced things few of us had ever dreamed of doing. For example, one day we took buses up to St. Elmo, CO, a mining ghost town, then proceeded to climb 12,822′ Chrysolite Mountain. Not many have experienced hiking close to 3000′ above treeline!

I witnessed excellence. In 1950, Young Life had the opportunity to purchase a resort in British Columbia that was originally designed to attract Hollywood-types. As they considered the purchase Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, took the board of directors to visit Malibu Club. As I understand it, a board member asked what would need to be changed to turn it into a youth camp. Rayburn’s response was something like, this: “We want to bring kids to camp to meet the King of Kings. If this place is good enough for Hollywood folks, then wouldn’t it be good enough for the King’s kids the way it is?” I witnessed the attitude of excellence for the King’s kids that week at Frontier Ranch.

I witnessed leaders engaged with kids. My prior observation of adults involved in youth ministry was them primarily playing the role of crowd control. They often stood off to the side while the kids participated in the program. During “chapel,” they stood or sat around the perimeter, shushing kids as needed. That week I saw leaders fully engaged, participating, hanging out with, and sitting among the kids they brought to camp. Years later Guy Doud, 1987 national teacher of the year, referred to Young Life leaders as “Jesus with skin on.” At Frontier, I witnessed kids fully engaged with everything going on, including the talks about Jesus. Leaders engaged with kids and kids engaged with Jesus! Wow!

And I witnessed Jesus in a new way. I heard Jesus talked about in new and fresh ways. The speaker, Mal McSwain, talked about Jesus in a manner different than I had ever experience. He was a story-teller, helping us picture Jesus in a way that brought him to life. Jim Rayburn always said that if kids could meet the real Jesus, they would fall in love with him. And kids did.

Upon returning home from Frontier Ranch, I started a Campaigner group with the 10 kids that I accompanied to camp. In Young Life, “Campaigners” is the name of the small groups focused on helping kids grow in their [newfound] faith. Through Campaigners, leaders continue to walk with kids as they learn how to follow Jesus. That group of Campaigner kids, their friends, and I ended up starting Young Life in our community – introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith for over 20 years. And it all started with a broken down station wagon on the road to Buena Vista, CO.

(In the previous post, I suggested that my involvement with Young Life over the past five decades has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.” That’s the next post.)

Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney

Over time, several people have asked me about significant events that have shaped my journey and theology as a Christ-follower over the past 50ish years. Some of those events are scattered throughout this blog. One, however, is not – the story of how I got involved with Young Life back in the summer of 1973. As I have alluded previously, my involvement with Young Life over the past five decades has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.”

In a recent conversation with a friend, I shared the providential story that led to my involvement with Young Life. He encouraged me to write a blog post, sharing the story. Key to the story (and totally unbeknownst to him) was a gentleman named Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney. Let me tell you a bit about Goldbrick…

Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney (circa 1960s)

As the story goes, in May 1951 the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn, met Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney and his wife, Jerry, in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey while speaking at a camp. Goldbrick and his wife worked for a Philadelphia catering company. “Next thing you know,” Jerry said, “he’s asking us if we’d come work for him at a big kids’ camp out in Colorado. We said ‘no,’ so he said he was going to put us on his prayer list.”

“Andy and I looked at each other, both knowing what the other was thinking. ‘This guy is crazy. Put us on a prayer list?'”

The Delaneys didn’t know what it was like to be in Jim’s prayers! Within a month the they were working at Frontier Ranch in Colorado! In an early conversation between Rayburn and his new cook, Jim said, “Camp travels on its stomach. You can have the best program in the world, but if you don’t have good food, the program isn’t going to be any good.” Goldbrick looked at him and said, “Boss, it’ll be good.” And it was. And still is. Today Young Life camps are known for the quality of their meals.

Fast forward a couple decades. In my early twenties, I began attending a church plant in our community. A couple, Dave and Donna, invited me to consider helping start the youth group at the church. I said I would be interested, but it would have to be significantly different than my youth group experiences as a kid. I was bored to death by adult leaders who didn’t seem all that interested in getting to know us kids or discovering what interested us. They took a risk with me, giving me free reign to do what seemed right to me and God’s prompting. (I think of the early church leaders saying It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us… Acts 15:28).

So, Dave, Donna, and I got all the young people from our church together (6th-12th grade, all TWELVE of them!) to talk about kicking off our youth group. Though I had no idea how to do it, I told the kids I wanted us to create something that any kid in our community would feel safe attending and want to come back. The kids (as well as Dave and Donna) bought into the vision and we brainstormed what it could look like.

We kicked things off in February 1973. 40-50 kids came to everything we did – for a while. By the end of the semester we were back to the original twelve kids.

After the obligatory period of beating myself up for a failed experiment, I began to connect with some of the high school kids with whom I had built a relationship. I was interested in knowing why they quit coming. My goal wasn’t to get them to come back, but to discover what we might have been missing so we could make it better. Looking back, it was a form of Design Thinking before it became a thing.

Each of the kids I “interviewed” said basically the same thing. They liked coming to our stuff but it wasn’t their church and their parents wouldn’t let them attend. “But you don’t go to church,” I retorted. “No, but our parents don’t want us to go to your church,” was the common response. (People were much more parochial in the 70s.)

I went back to Dave and Donna with my findings. I told them we needed to start something non-denominational. They asked me if I had ever heard of Young Life. I said, “No,” asking them what it was. They had observed Young Life at a weekend ski camp at Frontier Ranch a few years prior. This is their story, a very providential encounter…

Dave and Donna were on a ski vacation, driving somewhere between Colorado Springs and Buena Vista, CO, on a Friday afternoon. They came upon a man with a broken-down station wagon. It was Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney. He was on his way to cook for a weekend ski camp at Frontier Ranch. He was running late and didn’t even have time to deal with his car. So Dave and Donna offered to take him to Frontier Ranch so he could get started on the weekend meals.

As a “Thank You” to Dave and Donna, Goldbrick invited them to stay the weekend in the adult guest lodge. They got to participate in all the activities, enjoy the meals, and witness Club (like chapel, they said, but nothing like chapel). They couldn’t believe the camp facilities. They couldn’t believe the food. They couldn’t believe how obviously far from God many of the kids seemed. They couldn’t believe how engaged the leaders were with the kids.

And they couldn’t believe Club. They told me that 300 kids were fully engaged – singing up a storm, roaring with laughter at the goofy program humor. But what really struck Dave and Donna was the attentiveness of the 300 kids when the speaker took the stage to talk about Jesus and his deep interest in them. “You could hear a pin drop,” was Donna’s description.

I was hooked and wanted to know more. In the words of John Wesley, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” I needed to find out about this Young Life thing, which is yet another story. That will be the next blog post. So, stay tuned.

Dust

One of my go-to sources for a small group discussion starter is Garry Poole’s The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion. One of my educator friends put me onto the book shortly after its publication. A perusal of the table of contents reveals several types of questions ranging from Light and Easy to Personal Preferences & Viewpoints to Spiritually Speaking. If my memory serves me well, the book contains several questions related to whom we would like to spend time with, past or present, and why. In responding to the “why?” question, people usually indicate that they would like to learn from the person, asking lots of questions.

There is an old Jewish maxim that goes something like this: “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” The idea behind the saying is that a rabbi’s disciples were to follow him so closely that as they walked with him, their own feet would become caked with the dust from his sandals.

Sometimes we tend to forget that Jesus was seen primarily as a rabbi by his contemporaries. If you have spent time watching The Chosen, his role as a rabbi is quite evident. In the first century rabbinical system, students asked learned rabbis if they could become a disciple (learner), as we discussed in the post He Picked Me! A rabbi would then invite the students that he thought worthy of his investment to become his disciples. In first century terminology, a disciple was invited take on the yoke (teachings) of the rabbi. There were several expectations of the disciple when he took on the yoke of a rabbi…

The first expectation of the disciple was to be with the rabbi. In the first century that implied that the disciple would live in the proximity of the rabbi, possibly requiring him to physically relocate to his town. It also implied that being a disciple was a full-time endeavor. Jesus, as an itinerant rabbi, invited his disciples to literally become followers (cf Matt. 4:19, Mark 2:14, John 1:43). They left their day jobs to travel with him for three years. In a quick read through the Gospels one realizes that for them, following Jesus translated into a three-year road trip. They often journeyed into territories they never expected. Come be with me no matter where I go.

Secondly, the rabbi’s disciples expected to learn from him. Rabbis were the first century theological teachers/professors. Imagine getting to spend extended time with one of your favorite college professors. Imagine what you could glean from his/her knowledge. I spoke of one such experience in the post, Hesed and Emet – a transformative experience. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… (Matt. 11:29).

We know full-well that we become like the people with whom we spend time. We become like our parents. Spouses become like each other. Disciples became like their rabbi – it was expected, anticipated, and frankly couldn’t be averted. When Jesus invited people to follow him, he assumed they would be transformed, imitating and taking on his character. The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40).

And finally, rabbis expected their disciples to put their learning to practical use by joining them in their mission – likely to also become rabbis, teaching people to know and obey the 613 Jewish laws (or, at least, the laws the rabbi deemed most pertinent). Jesus invited his first disciples to follow him and become fishers of people (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17), not keepers of the Law. After his death and resurrection, Jesus clarified their mission: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20). Replicate the process. How were they to do this? Just like he did: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20:21).

Fast forward a couple thousand years. What does this mean for us? Actually, I think this tells us how simple (I didn’t say easy) following Jesus really is. We be with him (reading the Gospels regularly). We learn from him (he really was a great teacher, story-teller, and question-asker). The more time we spend with him and learn from him, we can’t help but become like him. This sets us up to naturally join him in his mission of helping others be with him, learn from him, become like him, and join him in his mission. And he modeled it all for us. I wonder if we haven’t made this all too complicated?

May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.

95 Years, 262 Days

That’s how long my mom, Gloria Hinkle, lived on this earth before passing into Eternity on June 9, 2021. I was privileged to give the Meditation at her Memorial Service. This is what I shared with friends and family…


What does one say when privileged to speak at his 95-year-old mom’s memorial service?  Frankly, it’s something I’ve pondered over the past several years, knowing such an opportunity might present itself.  Every time I would think about it, I honestly came up blank.  Knowing that our creative juices get going under deadline, I posed a question to my mom.  Shortly after she turned 95, I asked her what her target completion date was.  Mom just grinned and said emphatically, “well, not 100!”  Turns out that her target completion date was 95 years, 262 days.

There was one theme that kept running through the minds of my siblings, spouses, and me as we shared with friends and extended family the events of the last week of mom’s life.  It was present again last night at the visitation.  That theme was an overwhelming sense of blessing.

More than wondering what I might say at my mom’s memorial service, I wondered what the last days of her long-lived life might look like.  It was an absolute blessing that mom’s mind was sharp to the very end.  It was an absolute blessing that she did not suffer or linger in a vegetative state.  She died peacefully, a week after a minor stroke – truly a blessing.

Last Friday, a week ago yesterday, mom was able to leave the hospital to return to Guardian Angels Care Center, which has been her home for the past four years.  When she left Mercy, there was a sense that, with some therapy, she might be able to live for quite some time and be able to communicate adequately.  But mom’s target completion date wasn’t 100.

Looking back, we suspect she used all of her remaining energy to get back home to the Care Center, to be among those who had cared for her these past years, to be with those who were an absolute blessing to her.  To any Guardian Angels representatives among us today, please know what a blessing you have been to her and to us, her family – especially during a pandemic.

The concept of blessing is foundational to our faith and is dispersed throughout the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  Many Psalms include phrases like, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”  We are quite familiar with the benediction that begins with, “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”  In his Sermon on the Mount, in the part we know as The Beatitudes, Jesus described those who are blessed in God’s economy – the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, etc.  In that same Sermon he also told his followers to bless those who curse them.

Several years ago I was contemplating the fact that in the Old Testament, blessings seemed to be a two-way affair – God blessing humanity and people blessing God.  As I started to look at occurrences of the word “bless” in the Old Testament, I discovered that God was the original “blesser”…

  • After the creation, God blessed Adam and Eve
  • After the creation, God also blessed the Sabbath
  • After the flood, God blessed Noah in a similar fashion as he blessed Adam and Eve
  • Noah, then in turn, responded with, “Blessed be the Lord,” the first example of humanity blessing God

On the surface, it kinda sounds like a mutual admiration society – God and humans blessing each other.  I figured there must be more to it than mutual admiration.  Being a dabbler in Hebrew (the operative word is “dabbler”), I decided to see what I could uncover about this word bless. This is what I discovered – the basic Hebrew word for bless is barak. Barak is the word for “knee” and implies kneeling.

This makes some sense. Throughout history, one approached royalty on bended knee – out of reverence, out of respect, out of humility. In Philippians 2, we read “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee. So we bless God with great reverence, literally and figuratively, on bended knee.

So, blessing God makes sense but what of God blessing us? What does that look like?  What immediately comes to my mind is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. During his last Passover meal with his disciples (which we know as the Last Supper) we read…

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples’ feet.”

Picture this! Jesus knew full well who he was as God incarnate – that all power and authority had been given to him.  This Jesus showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples’ feet, presumably on his knees. Picture it!  The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings on his knees, serving his own creation!  What a picture of blessing!  And what a picture of servitude!

Jesus was simply fulfilling and living out God’s vocational call of  Abraham a few thousand years before.  God told Abraham he would bless him and his descendants so they, in turn, could be a blessing to the rest of the world.  The task of the Israelites in God’s kingdom project was to simply bless those around them as they were blessed by God.  Pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and pretty clear.  They were blessed to be a blessing

When he washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus modeled for his followers what he wanted them to be about – blessing others by serving them.  Makes me think of the two great commandments – Love God, love (or bless?) others. How can we love others?  By blessing them, by serving them.

Looking back, I think that our mom understood the “blessed to be a blessing” concept more than we may have realized.  Over the years, she quietly served those around her – often from her kitchen.  On dairy farms in the mid-20th century, the role of the housewife was to serve the workers of the farm, which involved more than just meals.  Clean clothes miraculously showed up in our drawers. As did patched jeans.  Mom’s quiet servitude was a blessing to all of us.

That blessing, that quiet servitude, spilled over to those around her – to her neighbors, to her church, to her community (I believe mom was a charter member of the CAER board, the Elk River, MN, food shelf).  And it spilled into Guardian Angels Care Center four years ago.  We know she was a blessing to many there because the staff told us as much.  One small example of mom blessing the staff at the Care Center:  She weekly served the activities staff, setting up for Thursday Bingo.  (It was important for us to plan our visits with her as to not conflict with her weekly job.)

Blessed to be a blessing.  What a amazing concept! God ordained the idea with Abraham.  Jesus fulfilled it and passed it onto his followers.  As a follower, Gloria Hinkle quietly lived it out.  What might our world look like of we all took to heart our God-given vocation to simply be a blessing to those around us?  God, help us do exactly that!  Amen.

Surprise!

I like surprises. I suspect we all do. Actually, truth be told, I like surprises that aren’t too surprising. I suspect I’m not alone in that, either. One surprise I remember occurred about 25-30 years ago, when I discovered that I had been spelling surprise incorrectly the first half of my life. The spell-check in WordPerfect pointed that out to me. To my horror, I had been spelling it suprise, neglecting the first “r.” That means many letters, memos, and presentations contained my creative spelling of surprise. To this day, I cannot get my fingers to type surprise correctly, so I’ve had to set up an auto-correct option in the various apps on my computer.

When our children were young, we would read to them from the book, Theirs is the Kingdom. It was a wonderfully written story of Jesus and the early church. It is not a children’s bible, per se, especially related to the life of Jesus. It is more a aggregate narrative of all the gospel writings. The title of one of the sections of the book particularly captured my attention: The Surprise of the Kingdom. I remember thinking the title was apropos of God’s character displayed through the centuries and especially through Jesus. Everything Jesus did and said was a complete surprise to all witnesses. Thus the statement, “Get used to different?

A surprising story in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, can be found in Joshua 5:13-15. The context of the story was Joshua’s preparation of the Israelites to enter the land God had promised them centuries before. It wasn’t to be an easy task because others had occupied the land and weren’t about to give it up without a fight. The fortified city of Jericho was a major obstacle to their entrance. As the story begins:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

The first thing that catches our attention is that fact that Joshua engaged in a conversation with a guy who had his sword drawn. Earlier God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, but I don’t recall that God told him to be strong and reckless. The surprise, however, was the guy’s response to Joshua’s question, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Neither? That answer certainly must have surprised Joshua! I suspect he was anticipating one of only two possible responses – our side or their side. For either of those two anticipated responses, I suspect Joshua knew how to react. But “Neither?” Not what Joshua anticipated. God’s messenger surprised Joshua with a response that was completely outside the scope of possibilities, likely shattering Joshua’s expectations and even his self-confidence. God does that ALL the time! Any reading of the scriptures reveals such, thus “The Surprise of the Kingdom.” God continually surprises us with outcome different than we anticipate.

I am reminded of a statement by David Hubbard (Fuller Seminary) in the introduction of his book, The Communicators Commentary: Proverbs:

“Another limit of Proverbs is even more important:  the mystery of Yahweh’s sovereignty... Our fear of the Lord ought to place major restrictions on our self-confidence.  We cannot use Proverbs like subway tokens to open the turnstile every time.  They are guidelines, not mechanical formulas.  They are procedures to follow, not promises we claim.  We heed them the best we can, try to gain the wisdom that experience can teach, and then leave large amounts of room for God to surprise us with outcomes different from what our plans prescribe.”  (My emphasis)

Joshua, when confronted with an outcome outside the scope of his thinking, responded rather appropriately. Recognizing God’s sovereignty, he hit the dirt:

Then Joshua fell face-down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

As we discover how to follow Jesus, may we learn from him, gain wisdom along the way from our experiences with him, and then leave large amounts of room for God to surprise us with outcomes different from what our plans prescribe. After all, he is sovereign!

Parables

I started the previous post with a story about Paula Deen’s restaurant. My wife, Barb, wondered what that story had to do with the rest of the posting. I said, “Not much, except for the word ‘heartburn’.” It was the only story that came to mind to lead off the post. I’ve learned from great communicators to start a talk or writing with a (hopefully) good story that draws people in. Are communicators manipulative? I don’t think so. I suspect they speak to our hearts. We always like a good story, whether in a book, movie, or sermon. Good stories draw us in and engage us.

I have been working my way through the Gospel of Mark as of late. I recently arrived at chapter four and The Parable of the Sower, as the heading in my Bible indicates. It was the first parable that Mark chose to include in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The realization that this was the first parable in Mark caused me to pause and think about parables a bit. It’s my understanding that nearly one-third of the teachings of Jesus’ recorded in the Gospels are in the form of parables or parabolic statements – upwards of 60. So some pondering might be of value…

It seems that parables were Jesus’ preferred way of teaching, especially in public venues. Jesus was a good story-teller. Actually, Jesus was a great story-teller. We might be well aware of many of his stories – The Sower, Good Samaritan, Mustard Seed, Hidden Treasure and Pearl, to name a few. Primarily, Jesus’ parables, his stories, point to God – his character and the nature of his kingdom. Parables help bring clarification to the reader or hearer.

I don’t know about you, but as I have read the parables over the years, they have not been especially clarifying regarding the nature of God and his kingdom. In fact they have often left me scratching my head in confusion. In addition, Jesus regularly concluded parables/teachings with a statement like, Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear – further adding to the confusion. I have ears but am not always understanding!

I know I am not alone in this – I suspect you might be in the same camp. As apparently were his disciples – even the Twelve, his inner circle. They indicated as such. In the Parable of the Sower they pressed Jesus to help them understand. Further confusing the issue, Jesus seemed to indicate that understanding was primarily reserved for the insiders.

Assisting me in my journey through the Gospel of Mark is Jim Edward’s commentary. Edwards agrees that Jesus’ parables, though reflective of real life, are not simple or easy to understand. I have always wondered how the first century hearers dealt with the open-endedness of Jesus’ parables. I suspect they went away saying something like, “Huh. That was new. I’ve never heard that before or, at least, not that way.” They probably went away pondering and discussing with their friends the meaning of the story – which I suspect was Jesus’ intent. He was helping them develop ears to hear!

Parables are often considered allegories, but Edwards suggests otherwise:

An allegory can be understood from the “outside,” but parables can be understood only from within, by allowing oneself to be taken into the story and hearing who God is and what humans may become.

Please take a moment and re-read the quote from Edwards. This may be why Jesus intimated that parables might be more understandable to the insiders – to those who were beginning to “get it.”* And who, in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, were beginning to get it (the operative word being beginning)? Those who had spent the most time with Jesus!

There we have it! As we spend more time with Jesus, the parables will begin to become more clear and make more sense to us. How do we spend more time with Jesus? Continuously reading the Gospels and pondering what we read – alone (with the help of the Holy Spirit) and with others (again, with the help of the Holy Spirit). As time goes on, we develop ears to hear. We might find ourselves saying, “Huh. That was new. I’ve never heard that before or, at least, not that way” – in other words, Aha! Moments.

* Over the years, I have pondered and discussed with others how to define “get it.” My best shot do far: If we “get it,” no definition is necessary. If we don’t “get it,” no definition will suffice.

Aha! Moments

A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent some time in Nashville. Looking for a place to grab dinner one night, we decided to try Paula Deen’s Family Restaurant – Southern-style cooking. If you aren’t familiar with Paula Deen’s recipes, people joke that she uses a stick of butter in everything. Wonderful, rich food that resulted in, unfortunately, heartburn!


During our time in Nashville, I was reflecting on Easter, circling back to one of my all-time favorite stories related to that first Easter. It’s often referred to as the Road to Emmaus story. If you have never read this story or haven’t read it recently, you ought to.  It can be found in Luke 24:13-35.  It’s a most fascinating story and well worth pondering.

It’s the story of two of Jesus’ followers (not part of the Twelve) as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus on “that very day” – the day Jesus was resurrected, Anastasis.  As they walked the seven-mile trip, they had all kinds of time to talk through the events of the previous three days. As they walked, Jesus, whom they didn’t recognize (“their eyes kept from recognizing him”) came alongside them (it seemed like he just appeared) and asked a great question: “So, what were you guys talking about?”  As I write this, I have an episode of The Chosen playing in the background. I can picture Jesus asking the question with a twinkle in his eye…

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who certainly was a prophet, mighty in what he said and did before God and all the people.  Our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  And besides all this, some of the women among us amazed us – they went to the tomb early this morning and found no body!  They claimed they saw angels or a vision of angels who said he was alive.  Others went to the tomb and they were right – there was no body.  And we don’t know what to think of all this.”  (My paraphrase and I added the last line because you know that’s likely what they were talking about as they walked!)

Then one of them, Cleopas, asked Jesus if he was the only person that hadn’t heard what went on in Jerusalem over the previous several days.  Jesus then asked the mother of all questions: “What things?”  Again, with a twinkle in his eye? 

Jesus followed with another question: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses [Genesis through Deuteronomy] and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

I wonder what he told them?  He might have reminded them that when God created the universe and all the things in it he said, “It is good.”  And after he created the first humans, he said, “It is VERY good.”

Then Adam and Eve ate the apple.

I suspect Jesus reminded them of God’s call on Abraham – that he and his descendants would become human agents to help Him restore creation, after the apple incident, to its right condition.  God’s words to Abraham: “I will bless you so that you can be a blessing to ALL the peoples of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3).  The inauguration of God’s creation rescue mission.

And surely Jesus must have helped them understand, through the scriptures, that the one to redeem Israel, the Christ, would in fact be a suffering servant not a conquering hero.  And the redemption was not to re-establish Israel as a sovereign nation again, but to jump-start their original mission of being blessed to be a blessing for all peoples.

Whatever Jesus told them, they wanted more.  So they invited him to stay with them.  During supper, Jesus blessed and broke bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him.  And Jesus vanished.

They said to each other “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” An “aha!” moment!!

We wish for those heartwarming moments when we sense Jesus’ presence that result in “aha!” moments, when something previously fuzzy comes into focus. Experience tells me that such encounters tend to happen when we least expect. For me, they seem to take place when I am in conversations with others as we figure out together how to follow Jesus well.

It was “while they were talking and discussing together” that Jesus showed up for Cleopas and his friend – an encouragement for us as we learn to follow Jesus. An encouragement to not forsake gathering with other pilgrims when “we don’t know what to think of all this,” whatever this happens to be. Who knows, Jesus just might show up and provide us with a sacred “aha!” moment.


Anastasis

Anastasis (not to be confused with Anastasia) is the Greek word for resurrection.  We just celebrated the Anastasis of Jesus.  We call it Easter (which is not a biblical term, by the way).

We understand Easter to be the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. However, I fear that the significance of the event gets lost as we focus on Good Friday and what Jesus did for us on the cross. Outside of the Easter season, we don’t talk much about the resurrection, but rather focus primarily on the Cross. Why the Cross? I’m guessing because of its implications related to our eternal destiny, that is, heaven. It’s the perspective that I had communicated for years.  And I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one with that perspective… 

The reality of the ubiquitousness of such a perspective was evidenced several years ago when I asked a group of young people (college-age) what Easter was about.  The consensus: Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.  “And?” was my follow-up questions, assuming the answer would be, “And then he was resurrected.” Instead, the automatic and almost unison response was, “And now we get to go to heaven.” 

Looking back, this perspective of Easter was the lens through which I viewed Jesus, read scripture, did ministry, etc., for a big chunk of my life.  In more recent years (understand that “more recent” for me is the past 15-20 years!), I began to see things differently, through a new lens – the lens of Jesus’ resurrection, the anastasis.  It was a huge shift for me!

How huge?  It changed everything! The lens through which we see life affects how we see God, ourselves, and the world around us.  Some refer to this as our worldview.  How important is our worldview?   Think of how life must have changed for Copernicus once the thought occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, the universe didn’t revolve around the earth.

If we are honest, when our view of Easter-time is more focused on the Cross than the Resurrection, the universe sort of revolves around us.  (As I type this, I realize that I can’t possibly have a worldview if I’m the focus, can I?)  Actually, it doesn’t sort of revolve around us, it mostly revolves around us.  Thus the response, “And now we get to go to heaven.”

When Jesus was resurrected, he didn’t tell his followers, “And now you get to go to heaven.”  He communicated to them that as King, his subjects (followers) had a job to do:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (sounds like a King!).  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (sounds like he is giving them a job to do!).”  Matthew 28:18-20

Before Jesus’ resurrection, his followers’ “worldview” was about themselves, personally and nationally.  The resurrected savior and King changed all that for them!  And for me!

Like Copernicus, once the thought occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the universe didn’t revolve around my getting to heaven, my worldview changed, never to be the same again, for which I am eternally grateful!

Holy Saturday

Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:47)

For this day, Holy Saturday, Walter Wangerin suggested this message to Mary Magdalen as though it was from God. I want to share it with you all…

Even in your despair, observe the rituals. It is the Sabbath; then let it be the Sabbath after all. Pray your prayers. However hollow and unsatisfying they may feel, God can fill them. God is God, who made the world from nothing—and God as God can still astonish you. He can make of your mouthings a prayer—and of your groanings a hymn. Observe the ritual. Prepare your spices. Return on Sunday, even to this scene of your sorrow, expecting nothing but a corpse, planning nothing but to sigh once more and to pay respects.

One story is done indeed, my Magdalene. You’re right. You’ve entered the dark night of the soul.

But another story—one you cannot conceive of (it’s God who conceives it!)—starts at sunrise. And the empty time between, while sadly you prepare the spices, is in fact preparing you! Soon you will change. Soon you will become that holy conundrum which must baffle and antagonize the world: a saint. Saint Mary Magdalene. “As dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things”—that host of contradictions, the beauty of Spirit, the puzzle of all who know him not, the character of the saints!

Come again on Sunday, Mary, and see how it is that God makes saints. Come, follow.

Wangerin Jr., Walter (1992). Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark. (p. 152). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Crucify Him!

It was the early 1970s. I had just begun to seriously follow Jesus. I was toggling over from a simple cognitive belief in Jesus to actually desiring to figure out what it meant to be a follower.

Late one evening, sitting in my living room, I was reading the Gospel of Mark in my new-found JB Phillips New Testament translation. As I read, I found myself immersed in the story – watching and following Jesus’ movements from the periphery. Why was I following Jesus? I couldn’t NOT. There was something about this man.

Reaching Mark 14-15 (the Passion narrative), which I was so familiar with that I didn’t know the story at all, I witnessed Jesus’ capture. I stood outside the High Priest’s house where Jesus was being questioned by the religious leaders. Watching as a bystander, I saw Peter interact with a young woman. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could see that he was getting agitated – agitated to the point of cursing at her.

It was dawn. The eastern sky was starting to take on a bluish hue and the roosters were crowing in the distance. A crowd began to gather, asking and wondering what was happening. Suddenly they brought Jesus out of the house and the crowd started to move, so I followed. We ended up in the Praetorium, the common courtyard connected to the palace of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. I was in the back of the crowd, straining to see and hear what was going on.

Pilate seemed confused. What had this man done? Why had the religious leaders brought Jesus to him? He apparently offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas, who was in jail because he had led a failed insurrection against the Roman government. People around me started to chant Barabbas’ name, they wanted him released. Made sense – he had the guts to act on his nationalistic beliefs. Pilate then hushed the crowed. “What shall I do with Jesus, the so-called king of the Jews?” I could hear some people in the front yell “crucify him.” Then it became a chant. “Crucify him! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar!” The chant filled the Praetorium courtyard. People around me were chanting, staring at me with a sort of patriotic contempt. Not having the courage to stand my ground, I yelled “Crucify him!”

Suddenly I was aware of my surroundings – my living room with my Phillips New Testament in my hands. I was fully aware that had I been there that day, I would have yelled “Crucify him” because I didn’t have the backbone to stand against the crowd. I suddenly felt like Peter must have felt. And I too, wept bitterly. And for a long time, till I fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning with sadness and a fair amount of self-abasement. I remember the feeling lasted several days. As I kept reading, the crucifixion took on a whole different meaning for me than ever before. I had called for his death. I was part of an insurrection against God’s own son. I would have yelled “crucify him!” I had followed the crowd, inflamed by people with an agenda that didn’t serve God’s purposes – people that had no personal care for or interest in the crowd. That realization increased the sadness and abasement.

A few days later I read the account of Peter’s denial in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22:54-62), again from the Phillips translation. After Peter’s predicted third denial, the narrative says:

The Lord turned his head and looked straight at Peter…

Prior to my “Crucify him” experience, I think I was a bit judgemental of Peter’s denial. Serious, Peter? Jesus even warned you, yet you still denied him. From that perspective I assumed Jesus’ “look” might have communicated, “This is what I warned you would happen.” Not now. My perspective had changed! I envisioned Jesus’ eyes full of compassion as if to say, “It hurts, Peter, doesn’t it?” Feeling the same compassion, I was able to leave the sadness and self-abasement behind and follow Him anew, for which I will be forever grateful!

A prayer from Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion:

Oh Jesus: you gazed into the hundred hearts amassed before you, thick with fear and fury. Was mine among them? Yes. Mine was among them. I have desired your death in order to preserve my life, my way of life, my fulfillment, and my own control. But you, like me, desired your death too! By a mercy I cannot comprehend, you accepted my evil intent even to save my own life! Well, I am therefore my own no more, but yours – no more an enemy, a friend to you forever. Lord Jesus, how I love you! Amen.