Why do people have spiritual experiences? I don’t know for sure (Short post. See you next time on geezeronthequad.). But I have three theories that overlap not only Scripture but hold water with the people I’ve encountered. The first one plays out below. Before we get into that, we make a big mistake if we think people encounter God in special ways because they’re Christians on steroids, Spirit filled megalifters, giants of the faith, “über” believers or part of some kind of elite sanctification squad. But that’s what we knee jerk to when we hear stuff. “That’s never happened to me. I’m a just a plain Christian.” Let me reach out from wherever you’re reading this and grab you on both sides of your head (Don’t worry. I’m not going to spit wash your face like your grandmother did before special occasions.) to say that “plain” is the only kind of Christian there is. Spiritual experiences absolutely neither guarantee that someone is a spiritual giant nor will they even remain faithful to God in the long run.
Think about Judas Iscariot for a minute. How much light did this guy have? He was with Jesus day and night. He heard Him teach. He saw miracle after miracle first hand. When Jesus sent the twelve out in pairs, Judas preached, performed healings and exorcisms by the temporary power of the Holy Spirit. He was in the boat when Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm. So how did it turn out for him? And saying that his betrayal was prophesied does not reduce Judas to a morally irresponsible prophecy driven robot. He fully sinned against the light he had – and we’re talking a lot of light. Experiences don’t automatically make somebody a great spiritual leader. More later on this. But know now that in North American Christianity and in other places where NAC exerts its cultural control over the church, a swaggering strutting leadership style removed from human accountability blasphemes the Holy Spirit in the church and makes Jesus stink in the nostrils of the world. Much hurt to others He does not deserve gets tagged onto the Holy Spirit.
One rule. The Bible is simply the Holy Spirit’s book, God’s diary. It’s not a sanctified L.L. Bean catalog of spiritual experience where we pick and choose what we’d like to experience. How the Bible came to be written and compiled (especially the Old Testament), it’s persecution and survival at the hands of its enemies and the incompetence of its friends stands as one honking demonstration of the power of God. Some things miraculous written there don’t need to happen again as what these things reveal simply don’t require anything added or repeated. In a discussion with some Christians, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine, commented, “The Red Sea just doesn’t part anymore!” It doesn’t need to, Michael. God’s been there, done that. No contemporary spiritual experience genuinely of God will add theologically or doctrinally to what the Holy Spirit has already said in Scripture. The cessationists are dead bang on target here but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is locked up in a book.
A first theory of why some people have spiritual experiences says that what God wants to communicate is so crucially important that He comes through in dramatic ways so that we won’t miss it. Think about all the miracles in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and everything leading up to and including the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-5) of Moses. The Creator of the cosmos would create a people, a nation, to uniquely reveal Himself to the world (not just that He exists but also what He is like.). Exactly who saw that coming? It wasn’t about a cool photo-op or goosebump breakout for Moses. And the bush only burned once for Moses; it never became a spiritual/emotional temple where he lived the rest of his days.
Think about Paul’s Macedonian vision (Acts 16:6-10). The guy had a plan and worked it. Sometimes a well crafted and thought out strategy is the will of God. When Paul hit town, he would go to the synagogue presenting himself as a student of the great Gamaliel. No synagogue in the Roman world would close its doors to someone with cred like that. But Paul bounced around Asia Minor (modern Turkey) getting neither an audience nor results in places like Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Piling up knots on his head from banging it on closed doors, Paul winds up in Troas where he has the vision (Acts 16:9) to enter Macedonia. Paul was fixated on taking the Gospel to places he knew hadn’t seen much of it; God wanted to penetrate a whole new continent with the life of Jesus Christ.
Ah, the Christmas story. The nativity in Matthew and Luke holds the highest concentration of angel appearances, both in number and magnitude. God, the Creator of the cosmos, would become a man. Well, first a baby…and born to a virgin. Oh, yeah. It so could happen. Or would there be some need to persuade key individuals with some oomph from God?
Spiritual experiences shed light on contemporary events without adding to or contradicting theological/doctrinal content. Meet Agabus (Acts 11:28, 21:10), prophet in the church at Antioch. He foretells a famine coming to Jerusalem and surrounding Judea enabling outlying churches to respond with Paul and Barnabus collecting the emergency offering. Later, Agabus takes Paul’s belt and ties himself up, making a “street theater” prediction of Paul’s future. This kind of thing lies outside the pale of theological/doctrinal knowledge completed with the close of the New Testament and, if the Lord thinks necessary, can happen again. A world-renowned theologian (“Brilliant” would be a severe underestimation of this man’s gifts.) visited a Quaker group doing research for a book on intentional Christian communities. One of the group’s leaders, a noted mystic, took the man and some others out to a cornfield under the stars. As they stood in a circle around her, she said that an angel hovered over each person speaking of them to her. Speaking to me years later, he said that everything she spoke over him was fulfilled to a degree that neither of them could have known (more about this later).
The next post discusses another theory as to why people have spiritual experiences. T o borrow a phrase from The Firesign Theater (a hip comic group from the late sixties, early seventies), “I Think That We’re All Bozos On This Bus.” When God wants to get something important through to people, He finds Himself talking to cabbages. We’ll take a look at our own deadness.
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Okay, so this big conference named “Strange Fire” had John MacArthur firing salvos and broadsides against everything Pentecostal/Charismatic. Basically, John’s position, called “cessationist”, claims that any and all gifts of a miraculous nature (tongues, dreams, visions, etc.) expired with the completion of the books now making up the canon of the New Testament. This is largely based on one narrow interpretation of I Corinthians 13:10. When any point of theology hangs on one particular interpretation of one verse or one particular translation, we are on exceedingly thin ice. Any and all belief must submit to all of Scripture and still hold water regardless of the translation of the Bible we use.
MacArthur once held a place of respect among students now reserved for John Piper and others. John has been beating this drum for years and now beats it even more loudly with a new book. While many of his claims of excess and danger are valid, I fear they will go unheeded because, for one, John MacArthur is outside the camp of those who need to hear this. I can kick my dog but you can’t come in my house from outside and do it. Second, so much of John’s position runs on poor handling of Scripture and factual ignorance of not only the playing out of the 20th century history of the church but the history of spiritual awakening and revival that this book is actually an embarrassment and I’m saddened to say that of someone I respect so much. Third, the antagonistic spirit and tone of his argument hardly sends out engraved invitations to sit down and talk about this. Theologians, bloggers and pundits immediately got a pumpkin up their right nostril over this. I leave the theological settling of the issue (It won’t be settled; it’s been around for a long time.) to them.
A little about me. For all thirty-four years of full-time ministry, I’ve lived in the extreme outer meteorite bands of something called the Southern Baptist Convention. Not in deep Dixie but in places like Iowa and Michigan where you can freeze your grits. If SBC’ers have visions, we usually figure the salsa in the fridge is past the expiration date and we didn’t catch it. We’re generally not a “signs and wonders” crowd. But that’s not all I am. I cut my spiritual teeth in something back in the ’60′s and ’70′s called the “Jesus Movement”. It was the last large-scale spiritual awakening in this country that swept the campuses and counterculture reaping a harvest of leadership flourishing to this day.
I am not a cessationist; I saw and experienced things that burned into my mind and heart. I can read Jonathan Edwards and, apart from the cultural trappings of time, I can say,”Yep, I saw that.” Without those days, those beginnings which included a strong intertwining of Christian thinking with Christian experience, I seriously doubt I would be in the faith today. Not much on the panorama of the American faith today would have drawn me. Those days define me. The fire in the belly, lit in those days, still burns. As the belly is somewhat bigger, I believe the fire is too. But I am not a Pentecostal. Is the gift of tongues real? Yes, in some cases. Should everyone have the gift and is it the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit? No. Does God still heal? Yes, that’s why we lay hands on people and anoint them with oil if they request. Is it God’s will to heal everyone? Absolutely not. I do not intend to elaborate on these things; they are part of the wallpaper around what will go here. I also have huge respect for Scripture – all of it, used in context. The Holy Spirit wrote it so I want to handle it well. I also have a freckle in the shape of John Wesley eating a burrito…but enough about me.
The completion of the Bible did not stop occurrences we might describe as miraculous or supernatural. Both testaments bristle with them. And so does history. While I disagree with some of his conclusions, Jack Deere has combed extensively to show that people have encountered God in powerful ways all through history and that, in many cases, these accounts have been bleached out of the narratives. But the kicker that brings me to these next few blogs isn’t the Strange Fire conference, MacArthur’s book or nostalgia for some flash of lightning from my Christian roots. A sharp guy named Leslie Newbigin said, “Theologians today are frightened of the word ‘experience’. I do not think it is possible to survey the New Testament evidence…without recognising that the New Testament writers are free from this fear.”
People all around us are having spiritual encounters – a lot of them with God, some from psychological deception of emotions, bad teaching as well as other things, and some rooted in evil. I could go to the Kmart in your town and find people who have been miraculously healed, spoke in tongues, and seen visions if they would be honest. I would bet more than a chocolate chip scone that I could find them in MacArthur’s church. People having these things happen often don’t talk about them. They hide it like people with UFO kidnapping stories. But when they find someone they think they can trust, they come up and say, “Can I come in and talk to you?” Then they spill it and always say, “Do you think I’m crazy? Because this was real.” They’re not crazy; they haven’t ridden flying saucers going to the Zarkon galaxy where Elvis sings every night in a club owned by Jimmy Hoffa. They’re the most respected Christians we know. Others of them have drifted so far from Jesus Christ, they wouldn’t know Him if He danced in front of them wearing a hoop skirt. Some live locked up as spiritual cripples in perpetual adolescence, never growing either up or deep, addicted to the memory of something real in their past. But know one thing; these things happen. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained in either the airtight antiseptic containers of our theologies or held captive to the addictions of our emotions.
Here’s the breakdown of how things will go. Spiritual Experiences – Why People Have Them. Spiritual Experiences – Do They Necessarily Make People Deeper and Stronger Christians? Spiritual Experiences – Should I Seek Them? Spiritual Experiences – Should I Talk About Them? This may change shape as we go and probably will. Along with Scripture, I may share stories by way of example, with details appropriately screened. No stories involving evil. I do not have all the answers and draw on the wisdom that says that no one has the operator’s manual on how the Holy Spirit works in detail. The more someone howls into the wind about these things, the more likely that person will be exposed by the Spirit Himself as a fraud. But the Holy Spirit’s book, the Bible, records that God can reach through the veil into space and time when His purposes suit Him and these records have a lot to teach us.
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Meet Rodan. He flies and stuff in movies that really used to scare people. Now those movies comically entertain because they’re cheesier than a box labelled “Kraft”. Other things look like they should fly but don’t. And some do and we never notice – like sparrows. When was the last time we saw one? The answer is more likely to be “Who cares?” rather than “I don’t know”.
I opened the first post here with a bad old joke. What’s green and white and has 86,000 legs? Answer: I don’t know but it’s crawling up your back! (I said it was a bad joke.) Better answer: The student population of Michigan State University. Walking around there a couple weeks ago, I noticed again how easy it is to be just one pair of 86,000 legs, to be lonely on campus. And the answer to this is just as likely to be “Who cares?” Going home every weekend not only doesn’t really help us avoid loneliness but cheats us of the things that can make university years an enriching thing. The quest for finding someone to be a cork in the bottle neck of our emptiness brings some to stick their toe into the party, binge drinking and hook up scenes only to find their loneliness deepening.
Re-enter the sparrow. Jesus loved talking about them. In Luke 12:6, He said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Why would anyone buy sparrows in the first place? Simply, to eat. Sparrows were the meat of the poor in biblical times and today in some places. Since there’s obviously not much meat on one, you would need a pile of them to make a meal. The going rate was two for a penny. Five for two pennies? Buy four and get one free! Jesus knew that everybody loves a sale! But that means that one of those out of the five isn’t even worth a half cent.
The free bird, the one not worth half a cent, is the one God sees. “…not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matt. 10:29) Some students are sparrows. Seen, maybe, but unseen as someone worth knowing and loving. Who cares? The shadow of college suicides points to sparrows who never get a good answer to that question. Sparrows are pretty cool actually. In proportion of size, humans haven’t built much to exceed their speed in flight and maneuverability. And their coloring, while subdued, is beautiful.
God must not only know but like what He put into sparrows; He made millions! You’d think He’d lose one once in a while. At least one might drift off His radar. Jesus says no. Even the sparrow, either the bird or the student who doesn’t feel they’re worth a half a cent, comes under His intense care and notice. LanciaSmith says this so much better than I can. So enjoy and share it if you know someone who feels they’re not worth a half cent to God or anyone else.
In recent days a lot of spewing and foaming has gone on around a conference named Strange Fire. The convener, John MacArthur, said some pretty strong things about the Pentecostal/Charismatic part of the Body of Christ. I’ll let others slug that one out. The next few posts here at geezeronthequad.com will take a serious look at spiritual experiences. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take His cues from preachers or theologians as to what He can do, when He can do it and for whom. People have these experiences of encountering the living God and either don’t know how to interpret them or are afraid to talk about it because they have no one who understands. The next post will lay out the score, key and time signatures of our tango for the next few posts. I will come with humility. The Old Testament (Numbers 22:21-39) tells the story of a man named Balaam and his talking donkey. The donkey only spoke when it had something from God to say. The donkey’s descendants not only think everything they say is from God, they get themselves ordained. The fastest way to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit is to strut like we know all about His ways and pontificate to others our “truths”. The fruits of the Spirit and all his work wither under the caustic acid rain of our pride. I will come softly since I will be handling delicate things in the deep places of people’s lives. Maybe yours.
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Friedrich Nietzsche. Remember that name. He’s a philosopher which means that almost no one will know much about him. Friedrich sported one of the coolest mustaches in the history of philosophy; the man grew a national forest on his upper lip. He also was a pain to be around – ego on steroids. On one occasion at dinner, an argument erupted and soon Nietzsche stood up bellowing and ranting. Waving his arms wildly, he abruptly left the table and stalked out of the room slamming a door behind him. After a brief silence, someone said, “At least he’s gone.” The host replied with a little grin, “No, he’s not. That’s a closet.” The great philosopher had to reopen the door with everyone knowing he was a doofus…and a fake.
Now Nietzsche can help us. All we have to do is drop his name in the middle of a conversation and, since nobody else will know much about him, we’ll impress a lot of people. For example, just say,” You know, Friedrich Nietzsche said the best way to get on top of a cold is to put a teaspoon of guacamole up each nostril and eat a live bat.” Nietzsche did not say this. It would probably take our mind off our cold for a while (I am not a medical professional of any kind. Children, do not try this at home.) but that’s beside the point. Put Nietzsche’s name in front of anything and many will say, “Whooooaaa!” But…we will be fakes.
I recently spoke at one major campus ministry currently looking at the theme “Faking It.” I asked them, “Are we really our Facebook profile?” I’m not, at least not completely. My cousin wanted me to change my picture saying I looked like Grizzly Adams. I’m sixty-two and I have a Teddy Bear named Spurgeon; I’m fine with that. I put up Spurgeon’s picture. Seeing the picture change, another cousin remarked, “We went from old guy to full body hair. Improvement?” But the rest of my profile is dead on. If we don’t have a Teddy Bear, we can put down all the cool bands, edgy films, noir websites and obscure quotes (The sparrow who oinks in one’s face can be trusted more than the pie of the cow.) to impress people. Or we can say “Nietzsche” a lot. In marketing, we can this branding. The old school word for it is lying about ourselves, even to ourselves.
Here’s one guy’s old Facebook profile. “…circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” (Phil. 3:5,6 NASV) Saul was credentialed and carefully networked. Inside, he seethed hated (breathing out threats and slaughter…) against the Christians, not because they were wrong but because they had everything that he’d ever hoped for from God and it was free in Jesus Christ. The recipe for being fake any time includes things like insecurity. I can’t risk you seeing who I really am so until I can trust you more, I’ll show you someone else. Remember the freshmen orientation thing the summer before we started where we came to campus to do those tests and psychological profiles? Mine was 200 strangers thrown together for three days all trying to show how together and hip we were in the midst of 199 other turnip heads. Great advice abounded. “Say f*** a lot.” The rest wasn’t as good as that.
Immaturity goes into the pot as well. This should evaporate as we grow up and through it. But it can hang on long enough to harden into a lifestyle. Esteem issues where people for all kinds of reasons (many involving pain from their past) have no sense of personal worth or value may be the biggest push to hide who we are by putting on someone else. As long as we don’t grow a center outside the gravitational pull of our own self-centeredness, we’ll be “quoting Nietzsche” in some destructive ways the rest of our lives.
Jesus Christ gave Paul a new center about as fast as anybody can get one. Then the info on His Facebook profile changed. “…whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. what is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” (Phil 3:7,8) Paul’s new center meant that he was loved by the Mind and Heart of the One Who created the cosmos. He was forgiven for every wound inflicted in the hearts of God and other people. Paul was transformed, “repurposed” like junk off the curb into the person only Jesus Christ could make him.
I remember when it happened to me. When I first decided to embrace Jesus, I wasn’t sure it was real. The next morning after my decision, I came downstairs in my dorm and passed a guy coming up a the stairs named Gary. I didn’t like or respect Gary in any way; Gary was a thief and more than one guy had pounded him catching him in their room. As we passed on the stairs, I looked at him and said, “Hi, Gary, how’re you doin’?” I hit the bottom of the stairs, stopped in my tracks and thought, “Where did that come from?” Gary still standing halfway up the stairs was in as much shock as I was. Later, staring out a classroom window, I saw Gary crossing campus. I sat there and tried to hate the guy…and started to cry. For reasons I couldn’t explain, I saw him differently – as someone empty and unloved desperately filling his life with all kinds of garbage. I started crying harder; if we’d had hoodies, I’d have put one on backwards and pulled the hood over my face. SOMEONE was now inside me who wasn’t me. I really like the person Jesus has been building inside my skin for the last forty years or so. The more I’m him, the more I sense Jesus and the Spirit moving in me.
This means that authenticity and transparency aren’t goals but by-products. They grow in the process of being who Jesus is making us. A certain pressured “hipness” among us today leverages people to open up even if they’re hesitant to do so to show they’re cool and together enough to do it. A number of places in the Bible respect people’s privacy in things nobody’s business. And being authentic is no excuse for “over-the-top” rudeness with no restraint or filter.
The fakeness dries up because we’re not feeding it; we have no need to. But it can still ambush us. One Sunday many moons ago, our senator in Iowa swung through town on the campaign trail. He walked into our church unannounced along with his pilot. The senator was a sincere Christian and all he wanted was to worship on Sunday. I introduced myself and before I even knew what was coming out of my mouth, I said, “Afterward, you might want to hang around and talk to people.” I had politicized a situation where he just wanted to worship. A cloud passed over his face. I really failed that guy. I acted like a political shill. Although it was twenty years ago, it still hurts to type it out. All I missed was a good Nietzsche quote to throw on him. Being fake can still pop out of us.
But as Nietzsche said, “My genius is in my nostrils.”He did say this.
As Paul said, “…if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has passed away. Behold, the new has come.” (II Cor 5:17) He really did say this. And it’s true.
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Nietzsche says “Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.”
Coming back from a couple of weeks tromping around in the woods, I find that most of academia has begun the fall term without me. That means the pundits and other experts, the bloghounds and everyone else has already spilled their advice to new college students. However, in case we’ve been preoccupied trying to find space to stash a semester’s worth of ramen noodles, some people like Matthew Lee Anderson, Tim Darymple, Richard Dahlstrom and Guy Chmieleski are all worth a minute or two of our time. They’ve all been on campus and still live to tell about it speaking in moderately coherent English. They know the pitfalls, the pluses, where the bodies are buried and where to find a good brown spicy mustard at three in the morning. People who know stuff like this are simply indispensable at this stage of life.
But I can’t resist throwing in a little something of my own. Let me introduce Henry Venn, a pastor in England who, in 1777, sent his son, John, off as a new student at Cambridge University. His advice? “Rise early. Shun idleness. Read the Bible with prayer. Take care that your bed be thoroughly dry and lay for the first night in your waistcoat, breeches and stockings. Don’t let spiritual immaturity make you arrogant or excessive. Be chaste, sober and humble. Keep a diary. Study standing up. And every other morning attend your mouth and clean it well with snuff, which I find of great service to my teeth.” Doesn’t that just say it all? Could I possibly add anything to that?
Whenever I’m out-of-town, I can’t resist picking up the local Sunday paper. Splashed across the front page of the Nashville Tennessean, what to my wondering eyes should appear but this, this and this. Sex slavery, the exploitation of men, women and children for sexual purposes, stands as not only a major evil by itself but has been embraced by the current student generation as their cause. As I write, a major thrust begins in New York City called Price of Life. It aims to engage over 10,000 college students in the city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, see over 1,000 of them embrace Jesus Christ personally and raise over $150,000 to be used combat the worldwide sex slave industry. We should pray and participate wherever we can. Which brings me to your campus. We don’t have to go anywhere outside our school to find women falling prey to sexual assault even though they may not be snatched into sex slavery. Almost one-quarter of all women attending college are sexually assaulted but only a little of over ten percent actually report. Just on these percentages, a lot more goes on than what the schools know about. And women who do report encounter threats, ridicule, blame, cover ups and patronizing, lukewarm response by authorities. One of the Geezer’s early posts every year involves sexual assault on women. Why? BECAUSE IT KEEPS ON HAPPENING!
Sometimes jumping on a cause is like a high school pep rally. We jump up and down for a while but in a couple of weeks we’re back to plodding through our own stuff with our head and heart down. One group I spoke to ran through announcements and flagged a speaker somewhere focusing on social justice. One of the student leaders pumped a fist and shouted, “Social justice. Woo hoo!” Sometimes the cause can be a mantra where many talk but few do. I don’t care if it’s sex slavery or advancing literacy for wombats, you just have to take this Jesus stuff out on the street and get some dirt and dents on it. What about the sexual safety of women on our campus? Do we know what to do if a friend tells us they’ve been raped? You’ll find some help here and some more help and a good idea here. You guys are so smart that you can do nothing but improve on the idea in this old post. With all the other great and creative things you’re doing to let people know you’re on campus, what about standing up against the sexual exploitation and abuse of people on our campus, in our dorm and, maybe, one of our roommates? Jesus didn’t come to play it safe but plunged into human suffering up to the wazoo. His people at their best have always done the same. And after we’ve done that, we can always fall back on the traditional “snuff and floss” pack giveaway. If anybody does that, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how it went.
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They're back...and they're hungry...only one thing will satisfy them...they want you. From campus to campus, the names sound like "Bronco Bash" or "Main Stage". It's the time right before classes start when all the clubs and organizations have a big blowout looking for fresh meat... uh, new members. Some are professional (Young Taxidermists), some political (Republican Druids for Peace and Pretty Good Karma), some artsy (Descendants of the Monkey Gods Performance Arts Troup), some social (Info Snatchers in Corduroy), some athletic ( A Capella Ping Pong) and some unexplainable (Zen Yahtzee, Fig Newton Line Dancers and, last but not least, Zombie Quilting Guild - I want one of their shirts.).
The danger of sending students and campus ministry leaders overseas during the summer lies in the foodies among them running amok. One popped up on my Facebook news feed waving her latest culinary find. Here it is. Lay’s Potato Chips bet we couldn’t eat just one. One might be a stretch. South Africans love the sauce, I’m told, and monkeys aren’t harmed or even made organ donors in making it. I’m curious enough to try it but not enough to extinguish caution.
That’s what Jesus did in sending seventy out in front as He threaded His way south toward Jerusalem for the last time – sent them out into spiritually new territory with some cautions and instructions that would jerk them out beyond the walls of whatever faith they had.
Jesus sent out seventy (some say seventy-two). Lapsing into Pittsburghese, “Who were yinz guys?” Who indeed. Where did they come from? How were they connected to Jesus to where He would select them for this? What ever happened to them? Jesus didn’t, and wouldn’t, say, “Hey, none of you guys know Me but who wants to volunteer and do something really cool?” I don’t know who they were but I do know this; God has people we don’t know about and they’re a lot closer than we think. Harold Carter, a Baptist pastor in Baltimore, said, “I’m a Baptist, a saved Baptist, a Holy Ghost filled Baptist and I’ll be one till I die. But I’m not a foolish Baptist…cause I know God got some people what ain’t Baptist!” Jesus got some people what ain’t the twelve. During our summer or on our campus where we feel like a minority, God has people around us we may not know about right now. The Bible bristles with them like Anna and Simeon on the backside of the Christmas story or the mentions in Paul of Christians all the way up into Caesar’s household. Pray for eyes to see the invisible, the hidden people of God who surround, and often support us unawares.
And what about Jesus drew these seventy (or seventy-two)? These people didn’t know about the cross or the resurrection (as far as we know). Pentecost hadn’t come. The New Testament had not been written. And yet something of the love, truth, power, holiness and beauty of Jesus captivated and drew them. No matter how lonely the summer may have been. No matter how small and outgunned we may feel on campus. Never doubt the power and draw of the Gospel of Jesus. He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” (John 12:32) He sucks ‘em right in. Look at Pentecost with 120 people in that room. Again, who were they? Start with the disciples, Jesus’ family and a few women and we’re left with around a hundred more gathered together when it’s flat-out dangerous to be lining up with Jesus. A Yale historian said that if all Christian groups could be wiped off campus overnight, it wouldn’t be long before they reappeared like mushrooms springing out of the ground. With campus groups being pressured over inclusiveness issues, remember that Jesus Christ can never be thrown out of anywhere or silenced. He speaks and the seventy wait to spring out of the ground.
He throws three more quick ones at them. First, going out like sheep among wolves. Jesus didn’t say this to the twelve disciples when He sent them out but He says it now. He’s heading for the Jerusalem and things are starting to get hot and hostile; someone’s going to get crucified. Knowing Him will start to cost them friends and add enemies. In Band of Brothers, the 101st Airborne rushes to secure a crossroads at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in WW 2. Anyone going there will be surrounded and cut off. Capt. Dick Winters takes a page from Jesus here. We’re followers of Jesus in a world not ruled by grace; there will always be more wolves than sheep, more lions than Christians. On campus, we will probably always be surrounded. So? That’s just the wallpaper of where we live.
No spare clothes, shoes, spending cash or motel reservations. Following Jesus means detaching from old securities and/or comforts that may once have been the fabric of life but now must be left behind. Yesterday’s faith will not carry us through tomorrow. The next step in the Kingdom of God always feels insecure, like we’re cast onto our weaknesses at every new step. And stay with whomever takes you in, with men of peace, and eat whatever they put before you. (You knew another monkey gland sauce blast was coming.) And in eating, we may meet our nasty selves. Heading south, some of those men of peace might be Samaritans. Stay there? Jesus can’t mean that. Not Samaritans! Jews hate them (Haters always think they have a good reason.) Eating wasn’t just gulp and run; it took hours, hours where we interact. And what if the food wasn’t kosher. Even if Samaritans tried, what do a bunch of blaspheming heretics like them know about cooking kosher? Cooking!? That means some Samaritan woman will have her hands on my supper? I’d eat worms first. Jesus will show us that some people we can’t stand love Him more than we do. Sometimes the people we rule out of the Kingdom in our pride make it snap, crackle and pop.
Summer’s almost gone. I hope it’s been good. Soon we’ll be heading back to campus. Somewhere along the line, we’ll exchange the wolves at home for the wolves on campus. Wolves on campus often use bigger words than the ones at home but they’re still just wolves. And since Jesus still is Jesus, many of them may well love and serve Him alongside us before this new year is over.
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