Friday, April 25, 2008

Blind Devotion? (Luke 14:26)

A few weeks ago, someone asked about how to interpret Luke 14:26, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Is this blind devotion? If so, isn't blind devotion dangerous - kind of Hitlerish?

The devotion that Jesus called for is radical, but not blind. Note the next few verses: "For which of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish it, all who see it will begin to mock him." Jesus then tells a similar parable about a king preparing for war (Luke 14: 28-32).

Jesus' point is this: we must enter the kingdom open-eyed, recognizing what it may cost. This is much like the parables of the pearl and the buried treasure in Matthew 13:44-46. It is only rational to sell everything one has to buy a property that has a fortune buried in it. In the same way, it makes sense to be willing to pay anything to gain the kingdom.

What about paying the cost of hating your family? In the parallel passage in Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus says "The one who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." In Matthew's context, it is clear that Jesus is warning about the division that can come in a home when one person becomes a disciple of Jesus and others do not. In many cases, new believers can feel rejected, or even be expelled from their families. In such cases, Jesus says, one must decide which relationship to keep. In Luke 14 and Matthew 10, Jesus is saying that if you have to choose, choose him. Ideally, we don't have to choose - our non-believing family members tolerate our faith, or come to also trust in Jesus. But if they force us to make a choice - choose Jesus, every time.

Both passages remind us that the same is true of life itself. In most cases, the non-believing world allows us to keep living if we become Christians. But if it forces a choice upon us of living without Jesus or dying with Jesus - choose Jesus, every time. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

The picture: Luke 14:26, from The Brick Testament.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Josiah Sermon - correction

I know a few of you were planning on hearing me preach this weekend. There is a correction to my preaching times. I will preach at 7:45 am at our Waikele site, and then at 10:00 am at our Mililani site. You can get directions to both sites at our church website.

Note: The podcast is now available at the above website.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Big Blogger is Watching You

You may not be aware of it, but you are slightly less anonymous on the Internet than you may have thought. I have an interesting program (Google Analytics) that tells me a little about people who visit my website. It doesn't give anything personal like names and addresses, but it does tell what city you live in, how long you visit the web page, what search engine brought you to my page, and the last five embarrassing things you have thought about. (OK, maybe not the last one. But it's probably coming in version 2.0).

Here's some interesting things that I have learned about visitors to this blog since I started on March 3:
  • 145 people have visited. Thanks for stopping by!
  • People have visited from Spain (Hola, guys!), Singapore (Jia ba liao buay!), Canada (hello, eh?), Japan (Konichi wa!), Finland (Hyvää päivää!), Turkey (Iyi gunler!), England (hello!), and Rivendell (Mae govannen!).
  • But most visitors are from the USA, and mainly from Hawaii, California, and Michigan, where I have family, friends, and students.
  • Some people have visited from Kentucky. I didn't know you had the Internet there! :)
  • My most popular post was Andrew and the Jelly Bean Crisis.
  • Lots of people have come over via the link from my friend Rich's blog.
  • One person found this site by googling "pronounce Eutychus." If you're still wondering, Americans usually pronounce it "you-ti-kuss." (interesting aside: my spell-checker already recognizes "googling")
  • Two pastors were looking for sermon material on the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. I hope your sermons went well! Let me know.
  • Someone googled for a "photo healing centurion's servant." I hate to disappoint you, but they didn't have any cameras then.
  • Another person googled for "duccio raising of lazarus." A man / woman after my own heart!
  • Someone else googled "eutychus stained glass." I don't know of one. Let me know if you find one, so I can add it to my graphics collection.
  • Eleven people googled on topics related to the resurrection, and especially what Jesus taught on after the resurrection. I'll plan on writing more on that topic soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Kingdom for the Birds II

In an earlier post, I wrote about Jesus' parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32). The kingdom, Jesus said, was like a tiny mustard seed, hidden in the ground, that would grow into the largest garden plant. Jesus described the birds nesting in its branches to connect his parable with a similar parable about a kingdom from Ezekiel 17.

Matthew 13 has seven parables. Four of the them teach that the kingdom of God is hidden yet valuable; three explain why only some respond positively to the message of the kingdom; all of them invite us to seek the kingdom.

Why did Jesus teach this set of parables? Just before, the Pharisees make a formal decision about Jesus: "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons" (Matthew 12:24). In the remainder of Matthew 12, Jesus denounces their claim and the hearts that would produce such twisted logic. In Matthew 13, Jesus' parables explain why the Pharisees and others rejected the kingdom (bad soil, weeds, trash fish) and why Jesus' kingdom didn't look like much yet (mustard seed, yeast, pearl, treasure).

There is comfort and challenge yet in these parables. Comfort, because the kingdom still looks small and weak today, and many reject it. We kingdom citizens and kingdom soldiers know our weakness (when we are honest) and we mourn at the failures around us and in us. Challenge, because the parables call us to recognize the value of the kingdom and seek it with all our hearts.

The picture: Parable of the Sower, from Das Plenarium oder Ewangely Buoch, 1516. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Josiah Sermon

This coming weekend, April 12-13, I will be preaching at my home church, Hope Chapel West Oahu, at 6:00 pm Saturday, and 9:00 and 11:00 am Sunday. Sumo Sato, our associate pastor, will be preaching at the other services. The series is "Against All Odds" and I will be preaching on the life of King Josiah from 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. All of our sermons are available for listening or download on the church website.

Blind Devotion and Faith (Luke 14:26)

Anonymous posted this provocative question:
There was a story in the news this week about the presidential candidates attending a prayer group. In it, they mention this verse: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)

This kind of commitment was compared to the blind devotion given to Hitler. Blind devotion and faith aren't the same thing, are they? What did Jesus mean by this verse? And (real life question...) what happens when loving God & loving our families seem to come in conflict? Who is supposed to "understand" why they can't have my full devotion or attention? Thanks so much for the blog, Gary!
Looks like there are at least three questions to tackle here: 1) What did Jesus mean in Luke 14:26? 2) What is the difference between blind (dangerous) devotion and faith? 3) What do we do when loyalties to God and family conflict?

Now is where you come in. Post your thoughts on any or all of the questions.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Kingdom for the Birds? (Matthew 13:31-32)

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all (garden) seeds, but when it is grown, it is larger than all the herb plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

Why the birds? Some see the birds as symbolic of Satan, since the birds are "the evil one" in Jesus' first parable (Matt 13:19). However, symbols don't mean the same thing every time they occur. In this case, Jesus is drawing on an Old Testament image to enrich his parable. The picture of a great tree that provides a haven for birds is used three times in the OT (Ezek 17:23, 31:6; Dan 4:12). In each case, the tree is a mighty kingdom and the birds depict the majesty and blessings of that kingdom.

At first look, Jesus could be alluding to any one of these three OT passages. His wording does not perfectly match any of the three passages, which is quite normal when the NT refers to the OT. A closer look shows us that Jesus is probably echoing Ezekiel 17, which contains a provocative parable about the fall of the royal family of Israel in 586 BC. The family is a vine, which is uprooted and withers because of its unfaithfulness to its gardener. But one day, God will take a tiny twig, plant it in Jerusalem, and it will become a great cedar, "and birds of every kind will nest... in the shade of its branches."

Many Jews at the time of Jesus believed that Ezekiel 17:23 described the rule of the messianic king, ruling over a restored Jewish kingdom. The translators of the LXX (the Greek Old Testament) called the cedar "he" to make it clear that the cedar is a person (in Greek, cedar is a feminine word); and the Ezekiel Targum (an Aramaic translation, possibly from the late first century) explained that the cedar was a king from the line of David, and the birds were the "humble who dwell in the shade of his kingdom."

So Jesus ends his parable with an allusion to Ezekiel's older parable. Ezekiel's tiny twig would become a mighty cedar. Jesus' mustard seed would become a great tree. The dusty rabbi from Nazareth and his nondescript band of disciples would become a mighty kingdom, providing blessings to all who recognize the majesty of the king and his kingdom.

The picture: Jesus Teaches His Disciples, in Das Plenarium oder Ewangely Buoch, printed 1516. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I would love to answer your questions in a blog post. Ask any questions about the Bible or theology, but especially about the New Testament (gospels, life of Jesus, apologetics, textual criticism, use of the Old Testament in the New). Post your questions in the comments below, and I will try to tackle them soon in a post.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Romans 1 Radio Show

I was a guest on Keli'i Akina's radio show, YFC for Parents, as I mentioned last week. The first week aired this evening, and both shows are now available here.

Believe... life (John 4:46-54)

In my last post, I talked about Jesus' healing of the nobleman's son (John 4:46-54). One theme is the growth of belief - the crowd has inadequate belief, the nobleman believes before the healing, and the nobleman believes (more) after the healing, along with his household. Another theme is life: the repetition of the phrase "your son lives" is John's hint to us about what matters in the story.

These two themes remind us of the message of John's gospel: believing in Jesus leads to life. John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you may have life..." (John 20:31, see also 10:10).

This is an easy one for mature Christians to overlook. We reason that we have already believed in Jesus and so already have life. John's message, we think, is for those who do not yet believe. But I agree with most John scholars that John was written for believers. If our first belief brought us life, then our growing belief brings us growing life. Martha clearly believes in Jesus (John 11:21), but Jesus asks her to believe more (John 11:26); after Martha believes more (John 11:27), Jesus asks her to believe still more (John 11:40).

Jesus' word to the nobleman, Jesus' word to Martha, Jesus' word to us: believe and have life... believe more, and have more life. It's a simple challenge to take up, one that we can try tomorrow: learn something more about Jesus, believe it, experience more of the abundant life. On the days that we believe the most, we live the most. The times that we feel the most shrivelled are the times when we are least contemplating and trusting Jesus.

(Side note on Greek: in this scene, the boy is called a paidarion (child, with the implication "little" or "dear"), a huios (son), and a pais (child or boy). That reminds us that different words often mean the same thing, and that an author may use synonyms just for style or for very slight nuance. If there is any significance to John's variation, it's only that it is appropriate for the father to use the word paidarion as a term of endearment).

The picture: The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1310-11. One of my favorite medieval artists.