Jesus encouraged us to abide in him (John 15:1-8). Rest is a dirty word among those who have inherited the Puritan work ethic. Yet, rest was incorporated into the design of the original creation. God took the seventh day and rested, not because he needed to, but because we need to. Some Christians insist on applying the letter of the law to either Saturday or Sunday today, but there is no such command in the Bible for the church. We are no longer under the schoolmaster and so apply the law in spirit. People in some professions must simply take another day of rest for the body. A day of rest is good for body and soul. Abiding in Jesus is not just once a week. Abiding in Jesus, provides a permanent rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30).
The word pastor is one of the least used words for a church leader in the New Testament, but a very meaningful one. Whereas other words carry meanings like envoy, servant, older person, teacher and overseer, the word pastor means a shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:10-18), and every human pastor is an assistant to him. As churches grow larger it becomes impossible for one pastor to provide individual care and so assistant pastors or small group leaders become the hands-on pastors of the flock. Whatever level of pastoral care can be given is vital because there is nothing more important to Jesus than his flock. All pastors know that they are inadequate and totally incapable of providing what Jesus would, yet we count it a privilege to love and be loved by the flock of Christ.
I grew up spending summers on my uncle’s sheep farm. Though I learned a lot about sheep, I did not learn much about shepherding. Later I became pastor of a rural church with many sheep farmers. Though I learned a lot more about sheep from them, I still did not learn much about shepherding until I met Robin. She was a shepherd. There is a difference. Sheep farmers have thousands of sheep, but Robin had a small flock and knew each one by name. Sheep often flee a sheep farmer, but when Robin took a small can of grain and shook it, they came to her and they knew her voice. That’s an advantage of small churches. Jesus is like Robin. He is the Good Shepherd and calls us into his flock to be cared for individually (John 10:10-18).
We live in a world where every boss is criticized, where every leader is disrespected and the super-wealthy are automatically suspected of greed. There is plenty of reason to criticize a fellow human being. After all, we all fall far short of any godly ideals. A temptation that we all face is having that jaded, skeptical attitude towards God. Yet, Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:10-18). What does that mean? It means that, even though we are tempted to blaspheme his name because we are worn out by the constant corruption of fellow human beings, Jesus really is not like that. Instead of abusing his name and using it as a curse word, he really deserves the exact opposite. Jesus truly deserves praise, honor, love and abundant thanks for the full life that he bestows upon his flock.
What would be our society’s greatest addiction? When we speak of addiction, we may think of alcohol or drugs, but those are not our world’s greatest addictions. Our economy relies upon creating addictions to products. Two of our greatest addictions are unhealthy foods and materialism. Advertising deceives us that material goods make an abundant life and politics deceives us that fixing America begins with a materialistic solution. We are constantly lied to that materialism and degenerate foods will create the abundant life. Yet, Jesus warned against greedy materialism because that is not life (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus came that we might have truly rich and satisfying lives (John 10:10-18). Attending church regularly is important, because Jesus gathers his sheep to give them a better life. Fixing America and each of us having a full life begins in his sheepfold.
When we read that Jesus came that we may have life to the full, the abundant life, we may read into the passage a purely materialistic abundance. We may assume that this passage means accumulating things, when it actually refers to an abundant life (John 10:10-18). An abundance of things can actually detract from an abundant life. Jesus said that we ought to be on our guard against greed because life does not consist of an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:13-21) but in being rich towards God. So, what is the abundant life? It is a life filled over and above our necessary dullness. It is a superior life, a life that is remarkable, one that is lived with greater honor. It is life devoted to the things of God, a life lived within the sheepfold of Jesus.
Official Catholic teaching is that it is the one true church. Official Orthodox teaching is somewhat alike. Official teaching of a number of denominations large and small is very similar. Yet, they cannot all be the one true church. Such exclusive thinking is not new. There were times that even Jesus’ disciples were caught up in such mentality. John 10:11-18 adds something interesting to this discussion. Jesus said that he had other sheep not of this fold or sheep pen. The “one true church” mentality on the human level stinks of politics and egotism. I like to call it “exclusive franchise” thinking. There certainly is one true church, but there is nothing in the Bible that specifically speaks of God having just one exclusive organization of human beings. It appears that God’s flock exists in more than one sheepfold.
Who is your pastor? That person is not the Good Shepherd, but a hired hand. That is the terminology used in John 10:11-18. All pastors read those words and say to themselves, “I hope that is not me.” Yet it is all pastors except the one, Jesus Christ. We must face the fact that we are being described here. Even Jesus’ disciples ran away during difficult times. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can any of us stay and fight. Pastors often compare themselves by how big their congregations, how long they have served, how many books they have written or other egotistical comparisons. From this passage success as a pastor is not measured by such silly standards but by standing firm when the wolf attacks. A great pastor is one willing to die for their congregation.
Imagine someone who loved us more than anyone, yet we turned our backs on him. Not only that, but we bad-mouthed that person, ruined his reputation and used his name as a swear word. Yet, despite all that, he died to save us. Even after he did so, we continued to abuse his name. That is what the law teaches us (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), that all human efforts fail. The gospel teaches us that God still sent his Son to do what we cannot. That is why Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). He knows that his sheep are weak and cannot follow the rules. Those who use the law to puff themselves up do not yet understood the law. The purpose of the law is to humble us and prepare us for the gospel.
Imagine that we had a best friend who loved us more than any other. Suppose that best friend sacrificed everything for our welfare including dying to save our lives. Would we want to bad-mouth that person? Would we like it if others started bad-mouthing that person’s reputation? Would we feel uncomfortable if others used his name as a swear word? As a part of his covenant with ancient Israel, God asked them not to abuse his name (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). The shepherds of this world (politicians, industry leaders and yes, even church leaders) can not care for us in the same way as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). Jesus loves us as no human being possibly can. How do we treat the name of the Good Shepherd? Ought not his name be revered more than any other?
Your name is a mark of identification. It labels who you are. The mention of your name carries the honor and reputation you may have in the community, good or bad. How would you like it if your name became a swear word. When something bad or surprising happened, would you like it if people cursed your name? Would you like your name being used for abuse, swearing and generally considered to be a worthless or dirty word? In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 one of the Ten Commandments asks us not to use God’s name in vain. That means that we respect his name and not use it for evil, lying and similar vain and useless purposes. How should we treat the name of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18), the one who lay down his life for us?
Whether made from molten metal or carved from wood, an idol is a death thing (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Even the idols of our minds are fabrications in our hearts. We are people who cannot live beyond the grave on our own. The great difference between and idol and Jesus is that Jesus is alive. An idol is dead. Jesus rose from the grave. An idol is useless to save. Jesus lives to save. In Luke 24:36-49 he addressed his disciples after his resurrection and promised a power that no idol can provide. It is a power that all of us can have. It is not a power that is from within us or that we can create. It is a power from completely outside of our human ability. It is a power from on high, from heaven alone.
Idols are variously described as vile, disgusting, detestable, vain, worthless and useless in the Bible. When we worship a fashion, a gadget or a drug, we are worshiping a dead thing, an idol (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Anciently, idols were cast, or sculpted by human hands and worshiped as if they could help. Idols can be set up in the heart (Ezekiel 14:7-8). In 1 Samuel 15:23 arrogance and stubbornness are tied into idolatry. It describes idolatry of the ego. When we are arrogant and stubborn we are worshiping ourselves. An idol is something that cannot help at all when disaster strikes (Jeremiah 11:12). An idol cannot release us from failure, which is what remission of sins means (Luke 24:36-49). Ultimately, only God can save us from our human problems. Everything else is a worthless idol.
The idol of the prosperity gospel is a heretical counterfeit (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). It denies our calling to suffer. That does not mean that God does not give health or wealth. However, this false gospel perpetuates the idea that true believers ought not suffer, or that poverty and sickness are results of our personal sins, when the exact opposite is often true. This bogus gospel which claims to be spirit filled, is in reality idolatrous and materialistic. Part of the Christian life is willingness to suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17), to follow his steps in sacrificing our lives for others (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus did not sin, yet suffered for us, rising again on the third day and promising power for us from on high (Luke 24:36-49). Simply reading what Jesus taught helps avoid this deception.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai alone with God, Israel built an idol (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), a golden calf (Exodus 32). The people grew impatient with Moses’ absence. They wanted leadership that they could see. Aaron weakly bowed to the people’s wishes, built an idol and threw a party. The people ran wild and thousands died. Jesus too had informed his disciples of what must take place at the cross (Luke 24:36-49) but they still scattered. Rather than patience with God’s plan, they had built up an idol in their minds of immediate salvation from Roman oppression. We too are impatient with God. When we don’t see immediate results from God or church leadership, we too take matters into our own hands. We create the golden calf of impatience. Let us wait in patience for God to provide.
Bowing to the idol of exclusivity is a form of self-worship (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). This happens when patriotism becomes jingoism or denominational loyalty becomes bigotry. It is easy to idolize our opinions and exclude those who believe differently. Jesus welcomed thousands and fed them, ate with prostitutes and other sinners. Even after all his disciples had abandoned him, when he arose from the dead, he rejoined them blessing them with peace (Luke 24:36-49). The idol of exclusivity blinds us to the reality of Jesus and his inclusiveness. On both sides of modern debates over gender, sexual orientation and social justice we can easily exclude those who Jesus would not. Inclusion does not mean that we have to agree on everything, but that we welcome even those with whom we disagree on some things to mutual fellowship in Jesus.
Idolatry is worshiping an image of anything in heaven above or here below (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). An image is something made by human hands. In spirit it means that in today’s world we have hundreds of idols which we worship. The list could include such things as cars, homes, skyscrapers, boats, airplanes, electronic gadgets, racial or gender superiority, real estate, property, science, education, medicine, constitutions, legal systems, nationalism, celebrities, drugs, brand names, political parties, capitalism, government, free enterprise, unionism, the economy, consumer goods, status, titles, position, money, gold, oil, stocks, bonds, central banks, materialism, leisure, religious traditions, religious doctrines and so on. Is there anything wrong with these things? Just as there was nothing wrong with a bronze snake on a pole, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these modern man-made images. The idolatry is in worshiping these things.
Some people think that any picture or statue is an idol (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) and so refuse to allow statues of biblical heroes or pictures of Jesus in their churches. Is that the case? What does the commandment against idolatry really mean? It does say not to make an image of anything in heaven, on earth or in the water. However, it also says not to bow down to them. Can we look elsewhere for an answer? Yes we can. We may notice that the mercy seat was covered by two statues of cherubs, images of things in heaven. We may also notice that the tent covering the tabernacle contained pomegranates embroidered into its fine tapestry. Those are images of things on earth. The difference is that those statues and pictures were not worshiped. Nobody bowed down to them.
In Mark 5:21-42 we read of a healing of two ladies by a two step process, the act of healing itself could be seen as a first step. Both ladies had been ostracized by quarantine laws. Reinstatement to normal life was an important second step after healing. Today, many people believe that the American dream is no longer normal life, but sick or maybe even dead. Any suggestion that our dreams are not dead, but merely asleep may invite the same kind of ridicule that Jesus received in the story. The American dream is the same as the Chinese, European, Canadian and Mexican dream, to live an abundant life. We look in all the wrong places to revive that dream. The great secret of the universe is: that dream of life is available in the healing touch of Jesus.
Do we see the light of Christ or do we only see a Jesus made powerless by human skepticism? The story in Mark 5:21-42 reveals Jair or Jairus as the father of a dying girl. Jair means “Yahweh enlightens” or “he gives light.” Some theologians dismiss his name as a pseudonym given by the author for editorial reasons, ignoring another possibility. Could Jairus’ name have been God-inspired at birth just for this purpose? Either way, a devout man’s daughter was brought back to life not by pure religion or human intellect, but by Jesus. Jair may have been devout and practiced the selfless life that both Jewish and Christian religions demand. However, even pure religion can be practiced by those who have not yet seen the light. Jair recognized that only the light of Jesus could heal his daughter.
When we our lives are broken, we are often reluctant to go to church. Some people don’t attend because they have either experienced judgmentalism or are so ashamed that they avoid people altogether. Some of us don’t like people, perhaps because people say hurtful things and life has wounded us so deeply that we avoid the possibility of more pain. Perhaps the reason is that we are so ashamed of our lives and afraid that others will judge us. Perhaps that is why the woman with the hemorrhage approached Jesus secretly (Mark 5:21-42). Her covert approach did not bring condemnation from Jesus. Rather, he commended her for her faith in coming. Let us not be concerned whether or not we are wearing the right clothes, don’t feel like smiling, or that God might judge us. Jesus is glad that we came.
Many think that law is the answer. Sometimes rules don’t work and make matters worse. In Mark 5:21-42 we find a woman who broke a rule, by faith. She was sick and hemorrhaging for a dozen years. The Old Testament law demanded that she was to live in quarantine until examined and officially approved for reentry into community life. Yet, in faith she thought outside the box. Her thoughts were not on rules, but on desperate faith. She reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak. The Old Testament taught to touch nothing unclean. Yet in faith, this woman disregarded her quarantine and touched Jesus. When asked, the woman confessed to Jesus the whole truth. What was Jesus’ reaction, one of legalistic, letter-of-the-law judgmentalism or one of compassion? Because love is the highest of all laws, sometimes faith breaks the rules.
As with all democracies since ancient Athens, America has two sick parties. The one is diseased and hemorrhaging government. Human administrations have mostly failed. Despite rare moments when healthy, godly rule existed, for most of history human governments have been unhealthy. The other sick party has been the wealthy, sick with greed and excess. As an ancient model of democracy, Athens struggled with equality. They found that democracy tends to degenerate into oligarchy, rule by the wealthy. Government of the people tends to degenerate into unjust government by the wealthy for the wealthy and we are no exception. Our national leaders in government and business are unhealthy, two parties sick with a covetous lust for power and mammon oppressing a third party, everyone else. Just like the two parties in Mark 5:21-42 our national leaders can find healing in Jesus.
America is like the dying girl and the sick woman in Mark 5:21-42. We have been bleeding for a dozen years or more. We have been under the care of doctors on the left and on the right. We have spent all that we have and instead of getting better we have only gotten worse. Some people have told us that America is dead. Why bother with Jesus! Like the young, twelve year old girl, America is in some ways young. Europe and China are old civilizations. We are a young child, but our dream of freedom is as ancient as the Exodus. Though the message has been weak and mixed with false gospels, we have heard about Jesus. Will we secretly grab a hold of his cloak or openly invite Jesus into our homes to heal our land?
When crime escalates and dishonest business practices are widespread, we turn to the god of legalism (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Can more laws save us? There are so many laws nowadays that recent news reports claim that we all break the law at some point. Our laws have made us a nation of criminals. Ancient Israel had the most perfect law ever devised, without corruption, given by God. However, it became a god that was worshiped more than the God who gave it. It became ineffective and burdensome because it was applied in the letter and not the spirit. It also failed because the people failed. Just as our laws make us all criminals, so too did the Old Testament law make us all sinners. There is a solution to law, but for that we must go to the Gospels.
What would a nation look like where status was not worshiped as a god (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5)? Would people be less valued for their celebrity, clothes, jewelry, cars, yachts, private jets and mansions that they own than the character that clothes them? Would the cars we drive be less important than the integrity that drives us? Would ordinary people be celebrated because they live honest and upright lives? Would fame and fortune be less important than morality and personal sacrifice? Would the genuine love of a family be more important than the hollow cheers of an adoring crowd? Would respect and decency be more important than flashy jewelry and exposed flesh? There is a place where fame and fortune are totally irrelevant. It is a place where righteousness and faith are highly honored. That place is everywhere where God reigns.
What would a nation look like that does not worship Mammon (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5)? If we used money as a tool instead of worshiping it as a god, how would lives look? Would banks eliminate bloodthirsty fees? Would CEO’s take modest salaries instead of gross excess? Would the pricing of goods and services be fair from the farm to the table? Would politicians focus on doing what’s right instead of money? Would predatory and deceptive pricing be gone? Would employee pay improve because employers are no longer greedy for big money? Would a work week be less stressful, because our needs are satisfied without working overtime or two jobs? Would lawyers and doctors and drug companies charge affordable fees instead of plundering our purses? Would people’s needs come before money? There is such a regime, the kingdom of God.