Tag Archives: Least

No Exemptions

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:37 (NIV)

Yesterday I was doing some study and reviewing notes for an upcoming series of messages that will be given among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The focus of the messages is on the mystery and meaning of the Trinity, in which believers recognize God is one in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One is three and three is one. It is not either-or, but both-and. It is sometimes said this way:

God the Father: God for us.
Jesus: God with us.
Holy Spirit: God in us.

I love the Greek word for Trinity: perichoresis. “Peri” is circle (as in, perimeter) and “choresis” is dance (as in choreography). It is a circle dance.

As I was contemplating these things, it struck me how often I have observed the institutional church (and I include myself in this) mentally ascribing to the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. we say we believe it), but ignore the very simple and practical conclusions I must come to if I really believe in the Trinity.

For example, in today’s chapter #TheTwelve were arguing about who was greatest among them. Nothing surprising here. As boys we play “King of the Mountain” on the piles of snow made by the plows, and as men we play a constant game of “Who’s Top Dog” in business, politics, sports, and social standing. I can’t point the finger at Peter and the boys without three fingers pointing back at me.

Jesus turns the very natural male instinct for competition on its head as He tells His closest followers that whoever wants to be “greatest” must become the “least” and the “servant of all.” He pulls a little child up into His arms and says, “If you welcome this child, you welcome me and the one who sent me.”

Follow the logic with me. If I believe that Holy Spirit (God in us) indwells believers, then if I welcome that child I welcome God’s Spirit in that child. Because One is indistinguishable with Three, I am therefore also welcoming Jesus and “the One who sent” Jesus. In treating that person with loving kindness I am treating God in that person with loving kindness. At the same time, if I treat that child or person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation I am treating God in that person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation.

At this point, my old-self wants to make a point-of-order that this “if you welcome them you welcome me/us” paradigm only applies to those in whom God’s Spirit is indwelling. But I am still left without excuse if 1) I believe that “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) and if I ascribe to the teachings of Jesus who tells me 2) to love my enemies and bless those who persecute me and 3) He came to love and redeem that person whom I treat with contempt.

As I follow the circle dance all the way around I keep ending up back at the same conclusion: there are no exemptions to the law of love.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but think of individuals for whom I would really like to have an exemption. I also can’t escape the fact that the most sensitive, self-centric, hair-trigger or rage for me is when I feel dishonored by another person. In those moments I’m not choosing to “serve the least” but staking my own personal claim as “Top Dog” worthy of honor.

It is Maundy (Latin for “Sorrowful”) Thursday as I write this. The day followers of Jesus remember His Last Supper and the agony with which He faced the suffering and crucifixion of the coming day. In those Thursday evening hours He prayed to the Father and expressed His despair at the prospect of humbly laying down His life for others. Still, He chose to press forward. The way of the cross. The law of love.

No exemptions.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

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Overwhelmed, and Short on Confidence

[Gideon] responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:15 (NRSV)

History is, by and large, filled with stories of privileged people. Kings, rulers, nobles, and generals were typically people born into the right families. They had the means to the best educations, were connected to the right people, and leveraged the opportunities at their disposal to become “great.”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to appreciate one of the meta-themes of God’s Message which is summarized in His words to the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Throughout the Great Story, God time and time again goes to the youngest, the least, and the weakest to use for His purposes. Today’s story of the calling of Gideon is a great example. You can feel the shame that exists at the core of Gideon’s soul. He is a nothing, a nobody, a person with no privilege, no means, and no connections. That is, until he received a visit from a very peculiar guest.

On this Monday morning, with a pile on my desk and a task list long enough to rival a child’s wish list to St. Nick, I can identify with Gideon’s attitude of being largely overwhelmed and a little short on confidence. Yet today’s chapter reminds me, once again, that God delights in calling unlikely individuals to particular tasks, and then graciously providing what is needed for the task to which one is called.

The Bookend Monarchs

David and Saul
David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” 1 Samuel 9:21 (NLT)

For hundreds of years, the nation of Israel had existed as clans and tribes living under a loose system of government. The priesthood of Aaron’s descendants and the priestly tribe of Levi held the tribes together through the law of Moses and the sacrificial system God established during their escape from Egypt. National leaders emerged as God raised them up in times of need (e.g. Gideon, Samson, and Deborah) and the “judges” God raised became national leaders for their lifetime. There was, however, no system in place to elect a new leader once the old leader died. National leadership defaulted back to the priests or to a high priest (like Eli, who was the priest leading when we began reading 1 Samuel). Local leadership appears to have been handled by tribe and clan patriarchs who appealed to judges as the arbitrator of disputes.

At this point in the story, the people of Israel have demanded a new system of government. They want a monarch, a king, like all of the neighboring nations. But, how do you just start a monarchy? I find it fascinating that God told Samuel to anoint Saul ruler of Israel. In a few chapters God will tell Samuel to anoint David. So, while the people are asking for a king, God is still the one raising up the leader, just as He did with the judges.

In raising up first Saul, then David, God provides Israel with a national object lesson. In Saul, God will provide for the nation a self-centered crazy maker who will exemplify all that a nation does NOT want or need in a leader. Then, in David, God will raise up a flawed man whose heart follows after God. Two flawed human beings (what else can you find on the earth?) with stark differences of heart. God will reject Saul and make David’s line the royal line through which Jesus, the Messiah, will be born. The people may have demanded a monarch, but through Samuel God is raising the monarch of His choosing.

I also find it interesting this morning that in the bookend rulers, Saul and David, God raises up men from the smallest of tribes, and from the least of the tribal clans. In David, God goes one step further to choose the youngest of many brothers. Over and over and over again God raises up individuals from the smallest towns, the dregs of society, the youngest, the socially handicapped and the least networked to accomplish His purposes.

If God specializes in using the least of society, then He can and will use both you and me.

In God’s Economy, Less is More & the Least is the Greatest

Pope Francis Day OneBut Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19 (NLT)

One of the things I find fascinating about reading through God’s Message again and again is the discovery of themes and patterns throughout. The fact that we are reading through a compilation of disparate books, writings and letters that cover hundreds and thousands of years it is amazing to find themes emerge.

“…but his younger brother will become greater.”

In the ancient days of Jacob, the culture and the laws greatly favored the first born son. Yet even in Genesis we find a pattern of the younger son being blessed in God’s economy:

  • Joseph was blessed over his older brothers
  • Jacob was blessed over Esau
  • Isaac was blessed over Ishmael
  • Abel’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s

Time and time again, God uses the weaker, lesser, less powerful and prestigious for His divine purposes:

  • Peter, a headstrong fisherman became the “rock” on which Jesus’ church was founded
  • Jesus chose simple, uneducated men from the sticks to be his disciples
  • God’s messenger, John the Baptist, lived like a hermit in the wilderness
  • God’s own Son was born to a poor girl from a backwater town inside a stable
  • Solomon, Israel’s greatest king was a younger son of David’s
  • David was the youngest of his father’s sons, but called “a man after God’s heart” and God chose the boy David over the strapping, handsome choice of the people: Saul.

I could go on. The point is this: God continually chooses the foolish people of this world to confound the wise; He uses the powerless to shame the powerful. Not one of us should think for a second that God could not or would not desire to use us to further His kingdom’s work on Earth.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Roman Catholic mass along with a fascination of its history. I, with the rest of the world, was enthralled to watch as the College of Cardinals chose their new leader this week. When I began to read and hear about the life story of Pope Francis I, I thought to myself that he sounded like a choice Jesus himself would have made. It was confirmed when I read the on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Pope Francis Day One: In his first hours as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope paid his own hotel bill, took a bus, and called for renewal in the church.

Chapter-a-Day Micah 5

Insignificant. But you, Bethlehem, David's country, the runt of the litter—From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel. Micah 5:2 (MSG)

Being an Iowan requires a certain amount of humility. Go to either coast and tell someone you're from Iowa and you'll see their eyes glaze over as they struggle to remember their 5th grade geography. They have no idea where Iowa is, or what it's like.

There are no great landmarks in Iowa to attract people. There are no professional sports teams. We have no national parks. The only President from Iowa was Herbert Hoover (the Great Depression hit on his watch – so we generally choose not to get to puffed up about that). The most noteworthy things about Iowa are fodder for obscure trivia questions on Jeopardy.

Nevertheless, I love being an Iowan. And, I like that God tends to make great things out of humble beginnings. He likes to transform the youngest, smallest, and least significant into His chosen instruments. Bethlehem, the "Iowa" of Israel, becomes a birthplace of special distinction. God sends His Son to save the world, and has him born in a little nowhere town like Bethlehem.

Feeling small? Struggling to feel significant in a large world? No worries. God has a special place in His heart for the youngest, smallest, weakest, and least significant.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and obo bobolina