A Very Different Life (Day Four)

This is day four of a summer reading journey through the New Testament. You can begin today by getting the schedule here. Today’s reading is Matthew 10 through Matthew 12.

The first thought I had, today, was while reading Matthew 10, where Jesus calls the twelve disciples, naming them, and then giving them very intense instructions.

Matthew doesn’t give us much personal information on these twelve men. Most of what we know of them comes from other gospels. Matthew doesn’t seem to have much time for that, and instead focuses on their future mission, more so than their past identities.

But just a casual reading through Matthew 10 is almost frightening. Jesus tells them they will “raise the dead,” that they will go out “like sheep among wolves,” that they will be handed over to “local councils” where they will be beaten and flogged and arrested. They will be hated, and will endure multiple persecutions. Families will be divided because of their mission, and, ultimately, they will be accused of following the prince of demons.

Would you agree to this?

Which begs the next question: who would willingly agree to this?

Our simple little children’s song, which names the twelve apostles, is nice and sweet. Perhaps we should add a second verse that includes the horror of their calling.

Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much about these men, we do know that a few were fishermen. Consider the life they left.

Fishermen, in the Roman world, were part of a state-controlled enterprise. They paid large amounts of revenue back to the state, which would then pay revenue back to the Roman Empire. Every person in the chain of taxation received their due share. Ancient records indicate these rulers, from the Herods, to the Caesars, were incredibly wealthy, due, in great part, to the taxes paid by smaller industries in varying regions. Fishing was but one of those industries.

Yet there were probably guilds, or cooperatives, where groups of family fishing industries could withstand, together, the local taxes imposed. It is safe to assume that Peter, Andrew, James, and John were part of something like this.

Had they remained in their profession, their lives would have remained incredibly controlled, ordered, and predictable. They would have been bound by the seasons of the year, and dependent upon weather. They would have known which months would be best, and which months would be wet and rainy. They would have attended guild meetings, to battle price-fixing. They would have made agreements with local tax-collectors concerning their revenue. They would have either bought their own boats, or leased them from the government-controlled harbors. And they may have made enough money to hire a servant or two along the way.

In other words, they would have been businessmen for life. And without a great amount of social mobility, they would have never done anything different. Add to this the fact that, through the Jewish education, they were, for the most part, already overlooked for a rabbinical position. They weren’t intelligent enough, according to those schooling standards, to become a Jewish rabbi, and were sent back home, and back to the family business, by the time they were twelve-years-old.

So Jesus offers them something different. The substance of their lives is no longer about money and business, but about something far greater, and far more terrifying. They will travel, speak, be abused, neglected, hungry, arrested, beaten, and divisive. They were called to exchange comfort and predictability for a far greater mission. This is when they become fishers of men.

It is a very different life.

There is one more consideration, though. Matthew never tells us, at the end of Matthew 10, that they actually begin this mission. We assume they do, because we see these twelve disciples again in Matthew 12. Matthew leaves this calling open, and he does so on purpose.

He is telling every reader of his gospel that this is the mission for every one of Jesus’ followers. Not just these twelve.

Which means this is the same mission for both me and you.

__________

Thanks for reading. Click here for a list of all the blogs through these ninety days.

New

Heaven will be filled with new experiences.

Which also means that your first, fresh experience in heaven will only be your first, fresh experience in an eternity of fresh experiences.

Here’s how I know.

Tucked away in the obtuse book of Revelation is an interesting verse, in Revelation 5, when John sees the slain, yet standing, Lamb in the center of a throne room. Surrounding this standing/slain Lamb are four living creatures, which he describes in chapter 4. The twenty-four elders of the throne room are also there. It is a magnificent, terrifying scene, and you get the sense that John just can’t seem to look away.

His words invite us into a scene of worship, and at the end of this brief description, in a bridge to the song that is sung there in the room, you read verse 9 — a verse that has recently captured my imagination.

Here it is:

“And they sang a new song.”

This verse, though, perhaps, insignificant, is quite profound. It implies that there will be new songs in heaven.

Which means that there will not be a completeness to our eternal existence. Our experience in heaven will be filled with constant newness.

We will be in postures of worship that will be filled with consistent newness. And new songs mean new experiences.

There is no meagerness to this reconciliation. It will be fulfilling, satisfying, and overwhelming, and even surprising.

And that is the kind of heaven I anticipate.

Innovation

I’m sharing a quote from Steve Jobs. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

People think focus means saying ‘yes’ to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying ‘no’ to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.

Hand

My time in prayer this summer has been filled with silence.

At times, when I enter into my time with this conversation communion, I am simply overwhelmed. The praises I want to offer are not enough. The requests, I think, seem petty, when enveloped in the sovereignty of God. I cannot understand how anything I want is worthy to ask.

And those thoughts are reinforced by a passage such as this, from Ezekiel 3, as featured in The Message:

Then he told me, “Son of man, go to the family of Israel and speak my Message. Look, I’m not sending you to a people who speak a hard-to-learn language with words you can hardly pronounce. If I had sent you to such people, their ears would have perked up and they would have listened immediately.

“But it won’t work that way with the family of Israel. They won’t listen to you because they won’t listen to me. They are, as I said, a hard case, hardened in their sin. But I’ll make you as hard in your way as they are in theirs. I’ll make your face as hard as rock, harder than granite. Don’t let them intimidate you. Don’t be afraid of them, even though they’re a bunch of rebels.”

We ponder the role of choice in our lives, and the role of free will, but I am unsure if Ezekiel was really given a choice. In Ezekiel 1:3, the Word says that “the hand of the Lord was upon him,” and taking him to people who, ultimately, will not listen to him at all.

God’s hand is powerful. It is controlling. It makes Ezekiel reexamine success, defined not as prosperity in a comfortable city, but, rather, to speak to people who will not listen, and not believe him, and who will despise him.

The hand of God also rested upon Isaiah, in Isaiah 8, and came with a warning. Isaiah was not to be like the people to whom he was called to preach.

That phrase is familiar. In Jeremiah 15, he laments, and weeps, because of his isolation, and his loneliness, because of the hand of God.

“Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
It’s for your sake that I am suffering.
When I discovered your words, I devoured them.
They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
I never joined the people in their merry feasts.
I sat alone because your hand was on me.
I was filled with indignation at their sins.
Why then does my suffering continue?
Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
like a spring that has gone dry.”

Jeremiah’s isolation, his extreme discomfort and frustration and loneliness were because of God.

Both of these men ate the Word of God, and found it to be sweet, good, satisfying, and of complete sustenance. Even so, both lamented of circumstances, in spite of the Word in their lives.

They were lonely, broken, uncertain. But they were also unyielding, in spite of fierce circumstances, threatening circumstances.

There is this dual identity to the hand of God. It provides strength and endurance, but also leads one into situations that are oppressive and just plain hard.

It is similar to what is found in Ecclesiastes 7:14, about God’s sovereignty and provision.

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

The hand of God seems to give us a sense that though circumstances are, at times, very bad, they are merely proof that this life is not the final destination of anyone. Perhaps God is teaching us, through a gamut of circumstances and emotions, that this life ultimately fails in offering perfect peace. It seems that was what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah learned.

It was God’s hand made Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days, one day for every year of the rebellion and sin of Israel.

And so I ask, can you lay on your side for a year and a month?

Would you want to?

Jeremiah was beaten by a religious leader.

Beaten.

Could you minister in an area that would subject you to physical pain?

Would you want to?

For fifty years, Jeremiah found himself in awful circumstances, imprisoned in the middle of Jerusalem, in a well, in a basement, without reprieve. Ezekiel, though given the opportunity to see the divine, was still a part of a group of exiles, of those removed from their homes, and along the way, Ezekiel even watched his wife die only to be given very little time to grieve.

A comfortable ministry should never be defined as means and homes and good schools. A comfortable ministry, as defined by these two men, and countless others in the Word, is messy, heartbreaking, and deadly, yet done with a deep knowledge that God’s Word is too sweet, too rewarding, too soulful, even when those dark moments are constant.

Of all the theologians and scholars the world has produced, all of the words and doctrines and books ever written, to me, one song, one simple radio song, has found its way to my ears and has summed the entire idea of God’s call in my life. It plays often, and produces tears in my eyes at every hearing. Maybe it will show you the same … that the hand of God is a teaching hand, a guiding hand, a hurtful hand, that is showing you, and me, a hunger this world cannot satisfy.

Storms

Eastern Arkansas is still wondering of the effects of the massive amounts of rainfall. With neighborhoods in my community flooded, and the Mississippi River growing every day, the strain of concern is great. Here is what I know, and continue to learn, about storms:

1. They will come. Since the fall of humanity, just after the creation of humanity, the world broke into pieces. The paradise that was offered was rejected by the first couple, when their faith in their own Creator gave way to the very ability to choose given to them by that very same Creator. Storms, then, are now inevitable. We do not live in Eden. Our world is not paradise. There is no such place as paradise. It is a safe assumption to say that Eden did not have terrible storms, but if Eden did have those storms, then God was an ultimate, and very obvious, protection. Storms will come.

2. They will end. There is, though, no way to predict their ending. They leave consequences in their wake, but they do pass. Lives can be rebuilt. They end because God did not allow for their continued destruction. The one saving grace of a sovereign God in a world which rejected His paradise is that He promised to never allow anything in this fallen world to rob Him of His power to create, or destroy.

3. Wear good shoes. Storms may make you walk, travel, or wait, but in the event that any of those happen, good shoes are necessary. Your journey may not take you away from your original destination, but it may make you walk to get back home. Good shoes, and the idea that you may need to walk, are always good.

4. Vent. Storms are frustrating, even when they are not devastating. If there is no way for you to relieve your frustrations, then those you love will bear the brunt of those. Breathe. Read. Watch. Help. Write. However you find to vent, do so. If that ability is denied to you because of a storm, recede to your second option. You cannot allow the effect of a storm to destroy who you are. Keep your core strong, and safe, and know that storms come, they pass, and they may make you walk.

5. Trim to the Essentials. There are a few things you know you could never live without. Those are the most important things. Storms have ways of pushing those things to the top of your life, to the front of your vision. If storms cannot make you understand what is most important, then few things ever will. In this way, then, storms are a blessing. They make you trim to the essentials, and remind you of what you would never, ever, want to lose.