Fig Trees and Money Tables

I am often amazed how each time I read the Bible, I discover new things  that make me ask “what is that piece of the story all about?” Or “have those words always been there?” As I look at some different pieces of the Holy Week story, there are some things that I have overlooked because of all that is going on. I want to focus on a couple of them today.

After the fanfare of His arrival, Jesus and the disciples are staying at Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The next day, He and the disciples were going back into the city. The Bible tells us in Mark 11.12 that Jesus was hungry, so he approaches a fig tree which was covered with leaves. Now I am not a great fig tree mind, but the amplified bible suggests that leaves and fruit appear at the same time on a fig tree. But as He arrives at the tree, there are no figs to be found because it was “not in season”. Still, Jesus curses the tree saying, “no one ever again shall eat fruit from you.”(verse 14). My first thought is, why would Jesus be expecting figs if the tree was not in season. This is when I learned about the Breba Crop, that many fig trees produce more than 1 crop of fruit each year. One of those crops grows out of season and is marked by mature branches full of leaves. So a leafy tree with no fruit would be disappointing, and Jesus curses this one.  The next morning, (fast forward to vs 20), the same fig tree is withered away completely.

I also learned that a fig tree in the Old Testament was symbolic of the Nation of Israel (see Hosea 9.10, Jeremiah 8.13). The Israelites had a long history of turning from God and, after troubles arise, calling out to Him for deliverance.  I understand that story well because it mirrors my own faith walk more than I’d like to admit. Maybe that is the point. We are wired to look for the best for us. God calls us to put those desires to death. We miss His leading. The fig tree (nation of Israel) had turned from God again. They were missing Him. In fact, they opposed Him. They took the law that God had given Moses and they morphed it into something that they could control and use for their benefit. Like the fig tree in Bethany, the Israelites should have been producing the sweetest of fruit, but were not in fact producing any.

The meaning of this encounter with the fig tree is amplified by the next episode in the Holy Week account.  Jesus and the disciples go into Jerusalem. They enter the temple courts and Jesus literally turns things upside down.  This is a shocking episode because Jesus ministry was marked by forgiveness offered to sins of many “sinners” including adulterers and even hated tax collectors. The difference is that they were repentant. The merchants in the temple – the keepers of the law – were not. They were looking to take advantage of visitors and outsiders to line their own pockets. And with all the tourists in town, it would be a profitable time for them. They chose wealth over fruit and Jesus was calling them out for it.

Points to ponder

1 Being Fruitful

John 15 talks about what bears fruit and what does not. Jesus says that “any branch that does not bear fruit He cuts away” (vs 2). The way to bear fruit is to stay connected with God. He goes on to say that the way to show your connection to God is to love others (verse 17). Love serves, helps, sacrifices. It doesn’t judge or take advantage of others. How does God’s love mark our life? Does how we treat others show God-style love?

2 What is Different?

The church of today can also be guilty of missing Jesus. Do we put more attention to how things look then on meeting needs? Are we more interested in a polished presentation that will compare to other churches then we are about sharing the hope of Jesus to a hopeless world? Do we copy the Pharisees, condemning “sinners” while acting like we are not sinners ourselves?  Sometimes I wonder if our traditions and ideas have gone too far away from what God truly wants. Is He trying to get our attention and call us to change? Are we hearing Him?

3 Getting our Attention

Jesus left no doubt about his displeasure with how things were being done. He turned over the tables where people were selling sacrificial animals and drove out the money changers. He said “my house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers (Mark 11.17). The merchants were doing business as usual with their overpriced wares. Jesus arrived and showed that they were not honoring God with their actions. He grabbed their attention and called for changes. What would He do in our churches today? What tables would He knock over? What part of our church experience would He turn upside down?

As we consider these things, and the changes we feel compelled to make in our own lives and priorities, we know that our loving God went through the pain of Holy Week to offer forgiveness and call us to live for Him. So let’s ask God to make some changes in us.

God help us to read Your Word and learn to worship You in the manner You deserve. Forgive us for putting our desires first – our desire for recognition, importance, our desire to be the coolest church around, forgetting that we are all one church. Mark us instead by your love flowing through. Unite us in the mission You gave us – sharing the Gospel with a dying world and teaching them to follow You with all their heart.  Help our hearts to follow only You. Let our love for others and our service to You be evident so others see and praise You.(Matthew 5.16)

Parade for a Champion!

I’m a life-long sports fan. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen a few of my favorite teams win championships in their respective leagues. One thing I’ve never experienced is a championship parade. That is where the winning team returns victorious to their hometown and are cheered on by throngs of fans as they parade through the heart of their city on special vehicles (fire trucks, fancy convertibles, busses, even the famous Boston “Duck Boats”. Millions of fans come waving flags, taking pictures and rallying around their conquering champions to celebrate the victory.

A Parade of Champions in Boston.

This is Holy Week, remembering the final week of Jesus’ life on earth and the completion of His earthly plan to defeat death and offer grace and forgiveness to the world. It was a little like a Championship Parade. The difference is the people were cheering Jesus for what they expected He would do. They were in for a surprise.

The story can be found in Luke chapter 19.29 and following. Jesus sends two disciples to find a donkey colt and bring it back to Him. He gets on the colt and rides into Jerusalem with much fanfare as the crowd covers the ground with clothes and grab palm branches to cheer on their long awaited Messiah. Zechariah has prophesied that the Messiah would enter Zion (Jerusalem) on the colt of a donkey (Zach 9.9).  They may have known this prophecy well, but it was still a strange sight for their coming King to be on a donkey as a donkey is a symbol of peace and the people wanted a warrior to free them from Roman oppression. But they believed that Jesus was their King and would establish His kingdom then and there.
He did establish a Kingdom that week, but it didn’t match their expectation. They didn’t understand what He was really doing. They thought it would be joyful celebration of victory and freedom, but the cheers turned to calls for His execution, all in the same week.
And so begins Holy Week.  The week that would change history forever.
Here are some points to ponder from the Triumphal Entry.

1 – Surprising – 

Jesus arrived as the promised Messiah. However the people didn’t understand what His plan was. They wanted a warrior to defeat their earthly enemies and make their earthly life better, Jesus came to defeat their one true enemy – Satan, and offer the best eternal lifeto those who believe in Him.

2- Setting Our Expectations

Today, we want to believe that God will take away the hard things that this life brings. And while He may remove some things, and empower us supernaturally to deal with others, He definitely does not promise to keep us free from pain or heartache. He says the opposite many times (come to me you are weary (Matthew 11.28) in this world you will have trouble…(John 16.33); blessed are you when people despise you…(Luke 6.22) for example). He doesn’t really tell us that we won’t face more than we can handle because so often, the hard things that happen are more than we can deal with on our own. But we are not on our own. In Philippians 4.13 we read that we can do “all things through Christ who gives me strength” including facing hard things. His strength is what carries us.

3 – He Comes in Peace

Jesus came on a donkey colt – a symbol of peace. He was ready to battle His enemy, but and in doing so, He brought peace to humanity. He offered Himself so the penalty of death could be overcome and peaceful reconciliation could be made between a perfect God and His imperfect creation. He died and rose again so that “whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16)  He did this for you. Take Him up on His offer. There can be peace in the hardship.

God’s perfect plan to deal with the sins of mankind was lived out through Jesus. The climax of the plot was reached in the events of Holy Week.  I pray that as we look at a few of these moments, you will again be encouraged by all He did for you and me. Celebrate again the true meaning of Easter – the price of our sins was paid and an invitation given to see our life changed forever.

Light

Last time we looked at Jesus telling his followers that they were  “salt” In Matthew 5. Immediately after this, he uses another metaphor. “You are light” – a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, a lamp that is not covered up. (Matthew 5.14-15) He continues:  “In the same way let your light shine before men so they can see the good that you do and praise your father in heaven” (vs 16). He has given us a light to shine in the world around us so others recognize Him. Let’s look at some different lights and discuss how we can shine for Him.

Flashlight – Psalm 119.105, declares that the Word of God is like a “lamp for our feet and a light for our path”. There is a lot of darkness in the world and the only light is Jesus who shines in the darkness (John 1.4,5&9). That brings to mind the flashlight. When you go camping, one of the most important items to bring with you, I suggest, is a flashlight. Navigating your surroundings at night is challenging without one. If you need to take a path through the words, light will help keep you from running into stumps, rocks, roots or poison ivy. So how can we be flashlights. We can study God’s word. The verse mentioned above tells us its God’s word that lights our path and guides our feet to where we should be. So as we learn and live out the truth of God’s word in our life, He can use us to light the way for others that may have wandered off His path. In Psalm 119.11, we are reminded that hiding God’s “word in our heart” will help keep us from “sinning against Him”. So not only studying it, and memorizing it, but making it the guide for our life.

And a flashlight is useless as it comes, it needs an internal power source. The same applies to us. We need the internal power source of relationship with Jesus to make the light shine. So draw near to Him, study His word and shine for others to see.

Lighthouse – I grew up about an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. It was common for the scenic coastline to be dotted with lighthouses. More than a pretty addition to the coastline, they are strategically placed, and have 2 major purposes – to warn of dangers and to guide to safety.  Likewise, God is very strategic. He has placed us where we are and invite us to shine His light boldly. We can share of the dangers that exist in the world around us and invite those that are facing those dangers to know the God of refuge that can help them. We must offer both awareness of danger and paths to safety. Warning of dangers and then saying  “so good luck” as they continue on is not helpful. They need to know the refuge and protection that God offers. Let’s remember how we found refuge in the midst of danger and how Great our God is. Let’s be inviting and urgent.

And another thing about lighthouses -they are always on, and they may not know who they help. Our job is to shine God’s light in our world boldly and consistently. We may never know who we help or how we help them. But God can and does use his people in amazing and unexpected ways.

Nightlight – I have 2 older brothers. When I was 8 years old, I got my own bedroom. I was very excited – my own space to decorate, set up and mess up as I saw fit! But one thing I wasn’t counting on. When night time came, I realized that it was scary to be alone. My room was quite dark! So I decided to sleep with my door open. You see we had a Fred Flintstone nightlight in the hallway that gave off a warm, comforting glow. Even with that faint light, I was able to drift off to sleep feeling a certain level of comfort. And on nights when my room seemed extra scary, good ol’ Fred faithfully lit the hall so I could go to my parents room and tell them about what was scaring me.

How can we be a nightlight? We can be that warm, calming presence in the life of people who are afraid of what life is bringing their way. It is a privilege to be called to comfort those in distress. While it is almost always challenging, Our God is the great comforter and He can use us to share His perfect comfort with others.

Spotlight – A few years ago, a friend of mine worked for a local minor league hockey team. Before an afternoon game one day, he invited me to operate one of the spotlights during player introductions. My job was simple. Shine the this massive bright light around the crowd until player introductions started. Then the arena lights would all go down and my job was to move the beam of the spotlight to the ice surface and track the player as he skated to his place. All attention was focused on the player that was introduced. Then repeat with the next player. Similarly, if you have been to a concert or a stage play, lighting is an important part of the experience. In each of these cases, a spotlight is used to draw the attention of the audience to a specific place.  We can play this role as lights in this world as well. We can shine our light so others see and focus their attention on Jesus, the lover of their soul who desires so much for them to know Him and accept Him as their Savior.

He calls us to be His light in the world. Like a city on a hill, there is nowhere to hide. So let’s boldly shine His light for all to see. Let’s help people find the path that leads to Him,  where they find refuge and security that only He can provide, and let’s always point others to Him. Go light the world for Jesus!

Salt

As I have mentioned in this series of Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus, much of what Jesus said when He taught was revolutionary. He opened eyes, dropped jaws, stirred up questions and confusion because what He said went against common thought. However, if we truly look into those words, we find profound truth in what He said.

Today, we will focus on what Jesus called the people He was teaching. In Matthew 5.13, Jesus says “You are salt.” This will be the first of a two-part series.

Why would Jesus call the people salt? In an effort to figure this out, lets look at the uses of salt. Here are four I came up with.

Flavoring Food – The most common use for salt in my life is for flavoring food. While salt does have a taste of its own, it does more than that. It enhances existing flavors. I read some articles about how this works, but the best that I can boil it down to is that salt brings out the best elements of the food it is sprinkled on. I believe that this is a great goal for us to have as Christians as well. How great would it be to bring out the best in the people that we are around? How do we bring out the best in people? By helping them meet God and understand that He has the best plan for their lives. He has created them according to His perfect plan. He can use us to help them discover that plan and live the best life possible – one that follows and serves Him.

Melting Ice – I’m originally from Eastern Canada, and I have also lived in Ukraine and Minnesota. With that history, I have experienced snow, ice, freezing rain, wind chill, black ice and many other things that make winter challenging. Each winter, after a large snowstorm or freezing rain, large trucks drive around spreading salt on the icy roads. Also businesses and homeowners spread salt on their sidewalks and walkways to keep others from falling on the ice. Why salt? Is it to make the sidewalks and roads taste better? Of course not! We know salt also melts ice. God uses us in this way too. Not to melt ice, but to melt hearts that have turned cold towards Him. God spreads us around this cold, cruel world where people are spinning their wheels, or skidding out of control. God uses us to help them gain traction and find their way to the life He has designed for them. How? We go where they are. Ice-melting salt is useless if it doesn’t go where people are falling or crashing. Sometimes we can be guilty of shutting out the rest of the world and living in a Christian bubble. God loves the lost so much that He gave his followers the mission to go and help them know Him. Let’s connect with real people and share the truth of our Savior with them. Let’s let the hope of Jesus steady their footing.

Healing Wounds – Have you ever had a canker sore? I get them from time to time and they cause grief that can last for days. I am proactive to get rid of them as quickly as possible and the best remedy I know? Salt water. Get water, add salt, swish it around in my mouth for as long as I can stand and then spit it out and, a few hours later, do it again. After a day or so of this treatment, I can see the improvement. Salt helps us heal.

It reminds me of the expression “rubbing salt in the wound”. The healing process is often painful and we all battle hurt and pain in our life. The difference is that we, as Christians, have hope in Jesus. So how can we be salt that heals wounds? By loving them as Christ calls us to do. We allow God to show Himself and His love through us, maybe even through our stories of hurt and pain. And like with a canker sore, one rinse is not enough. I need to do it a few times. When we are helping someone’s soul wounds heal it likely will take time and it may be uncomfortable, even challenging, as we build relationship and spend time with them. So be aware of the hurt around you and ask God how you can step into someone’s hurt and show the hope He offers.

Preservative – A few years ago, as I read the story of the fishermen catching a boatload of fish in Matthew 4, I realized that in Jesus time refrigeration was not a thing. So to preserve things like fish and meat people would use salt. Salt takes the water out of the food so that bacteria cannot grow. In short, salt keeps things from rotting. How can we be salt like this? By sharing the truth of who God is consistently with others. Psalm 119.11 says if we hide God’s word in our hearts it will help us from sinning against Him.  How can we be a salt that preserves? We can share God’s word with others. This comes from knowing it and studying it for ourselves. Isaiah 55.11 tells us that God’s word doesn’t come back empty. When we share God’s truth with others, God works through His word to connect with their hearts.

2 Chronicles chapter 23 shares the story of Joash, who became king at age 7. The Bible tells us that Joash did what pleased God until the priest Jehoida died. Then Joash turned from God quickly. When the influence of a godly priest was gone, the results were tragic. Joash made his own choices, but the influence of the Priest made a difference.  Who are you influencing? How can you help them grow in their own relationship with God and know Him for themselves?

So as we consider Jesus’ challenge to be salt, lets notice others around us. Let’s open eyes to the hurt and obstacles they face. Let’s ask God to help us heal hurts, melt cold hearts, fill hearts with the truth of God’s word and see God’s best plan for their life unfold when the choose to follow Him.

Fed

My two most recent “tangible truths from a radical Jesus” posts have been about 2 different storms that the disciples were in, and Jesus demonstrating miraculous power in each situation.  In the first story, the disciples were more terrified after Jesus calmed the storm than during the storm itself. In the second one, when He walked to them on the water, after all was settled, the Biblical account tells us that they worshipped Him. So what happened in the meantime to change their response to Him.

The answer is a lot of things. The disciples had spent time traveling the region. In the accounts from Luke 9 and Mark 6. The disciples are returning from their time, ready to report to Jesus all that they had seen and experienced. It promises to be a sweet time for them.

But the people knew about Jesus and His disciples. The people flocked to Him. He has compassion on them and begins teaching. The teaching continues late into the afternoon. Some of the disciples, who know the area pretty well, approach Jesus and suggest that He wrap things up so they can go to the farms and villages to get some food.

Then Jesus again catches them off guard with a seemingly crazy statement: You feed them! (Mark 6.37). The disciples scoff at this suggestion – It will cost too much (John 6.7) Phillip answered.

What do you have? Jesus asked. Andrew shares that there is a boy that brought a small lunch with him – 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They don’t think that won’t go very far (vs 9).

Jesus gives them instructions to have everyone group up and sit down. He thanks God for the food and begins to pass it out. And ALL ARE SATISFIED! (vs 11).

After all have eaten their fill, the leftovers are collected and there are 12 baskets full. He sends them ahead in their boats and goes to spend some time in prayer. It is here that the storm arises and He walks to them on the water.

This is a familiar story – the only miracle of Jesus other than His resurrection that appears in all 4 gospel accounts. And it is a story that I know well from my childhood in church. But when I read the story as an adult, there were a couple of things that really caught my attention. These are the points that I want to share with you now.

1- How quickly we turn from faith to doubt – The disciples has just had this incredible time of going around the region healing sick people, casting out demons and sharing the Kingdom of God with others. (Mark 6. 7-13). They had experienced His work through them. They were ready to report their stories to Him when the crowd came and changed the course of the afternoon. And yet there, surrounded by people that needed food, they no longer leaned on the authority God had given them, they stopped looking for miraculous and started looking at practical. How quickly we do the same. We have a great experience where God shows himself in seemingly impossible ways and a moment later, we are reminding God of all the things that cannot be done or that His plan doesn’t seem practical. Oh how I long for a faith that sees the possibility instead of the impossibility. God help me see Your way first!

2- Jesus’ math lesson – I love Jesus’ math lesson in this story. 12 baskets of leftovers and 12 disciples collecting those leftovers. Each one is given a chance to process their doubt and God’s miraculous provision. He again proves Himself to them – complete authority and miraculous abilities. As they kneel to pick up each leftover scrap, I imagine them contemplating Jesus’ power to meet the needs of the masses. With their experiences traveling the region, this miraculous meal for the crowds and the impending storm where He walks to them on water, they are starting to put the puzzle pieces together. It makes sense, in the moment where Jesus again deals with the storm and with the disciples, that they turn to worship. I pray that in my own shoddy, short-sighted concept of who Jesus is, that I will also turn to worship Him even when I don’t understand how He is working.

3- Learning from the boy –  John 6 shares that it was a young boy who brought the lunch that was shared among the 5,000 men (not counting women and children). I really appreciate this lesson too. The lunch he brought did not look like very much. The disciples doubted that it would be useful. But Jesus turns it into something miraculous. What can we learn from the boy? We can strive to be like him. We can say “Here is what I have – it may not look like much but it is yours! Take it and use it however you wish”.  Jesus wants us to echo those thoughts with our own life and all the things that He has given us. All of our resources, our talents and gifts. He desires to use each of them in miraculous ways, for His purposes if we will allow Him to. Like this boy, let’s hold nothing back and offer God all that we have. He CAN use us in miraculous ways!