Confrontations, Choices, Convictions, Windows & Radar

Passage: Matthew 11:20-30

11:20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. 11:24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”

11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children. 11:26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”

Soul Search Essay
“…Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent.” In this quote’s pericope (a fancy word for a chunk of writing), Jesus has been calling cities to account by name, but for what? Jesus is confronting these Israelite cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) for not listening to him to the level needed to act on what was heard and seen. Certainly, the people Jesus is confronting heard him and saw him. The actions they took based on sight and sound were not the right ones though. They let salvation slip by them.  In his charge, Jesus challenges them that infamously evil Gentile cities (such as Sodom and Sidon) would have repented on hearing him and seeing the acts that he has done in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. He indicates that the Gentiles in the infamous cities would infact listen to the level needed to act, yet the Israelis in their own cities did not.

Is this a blame transaction as described in the last essay? Is Christ blaming Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida? Certainly, many people unfortunately (and inaccurately) assume or even see God as punitive and judgmental. These harsh beliefs suggest that God has the biggest blame market in existence. Is this true? I argue the answer is “No.” Jesus engaged in confrontation of disregard, of indifference, of inaction.

Yes, confrontation can be (and often is) used in a blame transaction. Human use of blame, however, does not define God or his actions.  Also, confrontation grounded in truth (whether by human or God) is not blame. It is a challenge to the confronted person to become, in that moment, an agent of choice. It gives the confronted the chance to act in those moments as an agent of choice by providing a new or previously disregarded information and perspective.

Confrontations done in truth by God are often acts imposed on a person (a agent potentially capable of change) or they are pronouncements of inescapable judgement (or both in sequence as here). The fact that the choice is imposed by such a powerful being as God makes it at least uncomfortable, if not also shameful, embarrassing, angering, frightening, etc. Discomfort or being deeply unsettled due to truth is not bad.  It is frightening. Confrontation is unpleasant, perhaps fear inducing. Confrontation’s discomfort and disturbance, however, is necessary in salvation choices and after salvation as well.

Jesus’ miracles and statements in these cities were disruptive, shocking, and for many induced discomfort. The discomfort is induced by the wrongness of their lives in comparison to Christ’s words and acts (which is where the shame comes in).

Yes, the miracles created joy for those who benefited, but that was not each miracle’s primary purpose. What Jesus did was for a larger purpose than happiness or comfort or even healing.  Jesus served his Father.  In that service, he injected life into these cities by walking, talking and acting with a radically different agenda focused on very different elements; Kingdom elements that demand consideration.

Verses 11:23-24 make it clear that the citizens of Capernum (at least, but implicitly Chorazin and Bethsaida as well) now face devastating judgement (no salvation) due to ignoring the opportunities Jesus’ miracles and statements provided. In essence, their failure to act was an act.  It was a choice.  Passivity in choose did not protect them.

Rejecting discomfort and disruption caused by Christ injected truth can lead to destruction; even if done passively.

For believers, the destruction is not total (not loss of salvation), but it is very painful to have pieces of our lives destroyed by our refusals, by our inactive acts. God imposed discipleship challenges hold out deeper Kingdom life to you post conversion. The life of discipleship is offered to us in many different ways and in many different venues.  Yes, it can come through blessings.  Can you accept, however, that God will challenge you through hardship? Can you accept that these challenges are absolutely not rejections?  Not abandonments?  Can you recognize that God expects a deep soul within you?

Rejection of these challenging opportunities bring death into your life.  The death may be small – minor damage in a relationship, loss, low level sinful conflict, continuation of a destructive pattern in your life, etc.  Repeated rejection, however, brings sustained sin and many horrors attend sustained sin.   In fact, many wounds that we receive come from the sin of others.  Jesus injecting his life in Capernaum could have decreased the rate of sin against others.  Sin is not purely personal.  It is communal.  Jesus’ challenge to change to cities and his condemnation was of cities.  He gave these 4 communities and opportunity to change their very fabric.  They had to act though.  They also had a window of time that Jesus invested in them.

Many options to change are time and/or situation limited.  Some opportunities end when the confrontation ends.  Why?  Does God end them?  As believers, we do not lose access to Jesus, the Father or the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes though, God lets a challenge to us expire.  Much more often – we end them.  How?

We deny that the confrontation applies to us.  We may do this immediately.  We may do it once the confronter is gone, or perhaps, we deny that we should even be confronted.  Regardless of our preferred avoidance method, too often we cease to consider the confrontation and its implications.

We disregard not only the substance of the challenge, we even avoid the meaning of the fact that we were challenged in the first place.   These recognitions  drop from our mind, from our radar, with little consideration.  We just shut the window the challenge created.

These cities had moments as persons (agents capable of change) when the God of the universe literally walked in front of them, stayed with them, spoke to them and performed miracles for them. True love walked in their midst!  Literally!  Yet, the individuals failed to act.  They did not repent.  Does accepting Christ as savior increase our responsiveness to Christ?  Yes.  We have the Holy Spirit.

Maintaining the responsiveness is the challenge.  Do we listen to the Holy Spirit?  God’s quiet voice as Elijah learned is an important voice to hear.


Awareness & Expectations

Passage: James 5:3-4
5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

Soul Search Essay
The prior essays have been very hard. They challenged your assumptions about your work, your career, your goals and the things you trust. Many Christians fear deeply a couple of things – personal awareness and God’s expectations.

We fear awareness, because we know or at least sense at some deep level that we are seriously idolatrous. We know that while we have accepted Jesus as our savior, there are areas where we do not, do not trust him. Often, if we are successful, the numbness of success blocks our recognition of our personal idolatry. It pushes the awareness away. There is, however, often still some sense of the things we do not want to entrust to him; areas we do not feel safe with Jesus accessing. These are things, unfortunately, that we do not want to be aware of ourselves except on very, very rare occasions. We like the absence of awareness.

In fact, we aggressively avoid this awareness, because we know these things do not meet God’s expectations and are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. To allow ourselves to be conscious of them would be to know and admit our double mindedness, which would be very painful; perhaps even debilitatingly painful depending on the depth of our double mindedness. So, we carry on in life; avoiding a Christ career, avoiding God’s expectations and building elements into our lives that are beyond ironic. We act as if this is our life and our time. It is not.

“It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”. “…the last days….” Why does James focus on that? The last days are days when the opportunity to add to the Kingdom of God still exists. Hope is still possible. Love can still be extended to others. With the summation of the last days that opportunity will end. Those who have not joined the kingdom will be lost.

Now is the time to be actively engaged in a Christ career, because the opportunity to expand the kingdom is uniquely now. Now is the time to accept that Christianity is a participatory faith. Now is the time to accept that participation is daily, hourly and continuous. Now is the time to accept that life is not about you. It is about Jesus and you. It is about Jesus’ plan…not your agenda. Life is also about us plus you. Christianity is a community faith; not a lone wolf effort.  Can you see what I am describing?  Now is the time to change how you see…not just what you look at.

How do silver and gold, careers, status, power, prestige, etc. “…witness against you?” E witness is in the meaning we give them. They are meaningful in a destructive way. They became evil means within your life. Evil enters through the eye, because it is what you focus on that consumes you. Your career, work, money, or social status cannot save or free you. They cannot save those around you. They consume you and others through your focus, through how you choose to see, what you see and how you act on that sight. They consume. They do not give. They are solutions that are not answers. Why? Because they are very destructive solutions.

“…and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Whose ears have been reached? Yahweh’s. Does this matter in the age of grace? Yes, it does. This letter was written in the era of grace to people living in grace. This is not the Old Testament.

Even if the book of James were in the Old Testament, all, all of the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and loving others. These two paths of love must extend into every facet of life. Love must invade your business, must invade your society, must invade your family and more. It must radically alter the things within your sphere of influence. If you have succeeded in the worldly, anti-Christ systems of business and society, if you have done this without Jesus’ intimate participation, you do not see your workplace or relationships as a Christ-careered person would. Do you? Are you that rare exception in the church that senses and follows the Holy Spirit faithfully and consistently in the corridors of business? Praise be to Christ if you are! If not….

“It will consume your flesh like fire.” When you do come to understand the years of your idolatry, it will burn you like a fire. You will know that you have been a fool. You will know that this foolishness burned others through how you deprived them of time, attention, investment, and care. You will experience some of their pain. The foolishness burned you as well. Am I talking of purgatory in the age of grace? No. I am talking about awareness. I am talking about Christ-like eyes cast on your full life of actions, intentions and motivations with you unable to turn away. I am talking about unvarnished awareness.

I sat with a dying man when he chose a different way to see. It took his impending death to rip away the millions he had earned and for him to see the mockery that had been his life. It was hard to watch the pain in his eyes as he wrestled with what he had instilled in his children. He was horrified. He saw differently and finally knew that the evil tendrils sunk deep in his life had been what he passed on to his now adult children. He finally could see it in his life and theirs lives. He finally had the eyes of Christ and knew the grief of Christ. Yet, it was so late in his life and he was so mechanical of a Christian that he could not warn those children. He had the opportunity given by unvarnished awareness. His embarrassment and shame sadly overcame his love. He only told me; not his children. Do not follow this man. Do not.

Endure the pain of removing the tendrils now. End the accumulation of new evil. End, please, the passing on of evil. Become a Christ-careered person. Stop wasting love and grace. Invest in a career in Christ! There is no path forward to do this other than through the fire. Removal of evil is painful and embarrassing. Do it.

Christ came to knit us together into a radically different community. He came to enable us to be a radically different business person. He came to make life truly, truly meaningful. He came to bring true joy. Accept the meaningful life. Begin the removal of the idols. Participate with the Holy Spirit. Endure the pain and be transformed. Move toward true joy. Take something new into the corridors of business. Take love to those that share these corridors with you. Take the Kingdom into your business.