Archive for July, 2010

In the bible, God uses the image of a shepherd when explaining His care for His people. One of the most popular passages—and most comforting—is Psalm 23 where King David describes the picture He has of God.

Psalm 23:1-4 NIV – 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

In reality, few people share this experience with David enough to have a working understanding of the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. Most of us enjoy these images about shepherding secondhand, and most likely, that will not change much over the next few years. But, David was one person who knew the shepherding experience firsthand. In fact, God says He “took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep [and] he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. (NIV)” In David’s youth, one of the most outstanding jobs he had was the one that trained him to be the king of a great nation—shepherding. If we were to ask for a resume of David’s qualifications, tending sheep would be the first experience of employment we’d get from him. When the Lord looked for references to call, He looked to the sheep for answers.

It was this task, of shepherding the family’s flock, that proved to be David’s most shaping and forming experience. We’re told in the bible that David learned while working in those hills of Palestine, how to defend, how to war, how to lead and, most of all, how to care for the sheep of the heritage pasture. In tending the lambs David learned to confront loins and bears. If you needed a warrior, the green hills of Palestine qualified this great combatant. Just read what David tells Saul in light of his qualifications for fighting Goliath:

1 Samuel 17:34-36 NIV – 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear…’

While the sheep were lamp chops in the mouth of the predators, David yanked them out, struck the attacker, and killed the vicious animals. We know from reading the bible these training tactics of warfare were very useful in vanquishing Goliath in the valley of Elah.

Let’s get back to my main passage. I know that most of the time when we hear Psalm 23 it’s quoted at a funeral to encourage loved ones. “Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” It gives comfort to the sorrowing, strength to those hurting, and encouragement to the downcast. However, it’s also very possible that this incident in the “valley of Elah” was the valley of the shadow of death that David had in mind. Think of it, as he stood there against the giant Goliath, we read David stood tall as a man with no fear in the face of death—“I will fear no evil” he muses. The thoughts, “You are with me; your rod and staff comfort me” must have been his very assurance. Who’s to say that when David chose his staff, sling and a few stones over Saul’s fancy armor, that his thoughts were not that the staff he carried was the very staff of God? Doesn’t it make sense that God’s staff and rod would be his comfort and assurance in the valley of Elah as He went against the giant in the valley of the shadow of death?

What David had learned, as a shepherd in the hills of Palestine, were the right qualifications God was looking for in someone to shepherd His people! All David was doing was mimicking the realities he learned of who God is in action. The Lord is my shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures, and He does restore my soul and guides me to the place where “I fear no evil.” In other words, David knew and experienced that God was his life’s caretaker!

So often the little things in life we hold as so insignificant are really the training grounds for God’s great labor. The simple little lessons on the green hills Palestine, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” are the makings and lesson for a true child of the King—to make us kings! Despise not the day of small things.

J. Robert Hanson


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Mark 7:21-23 NAS

21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Once again the day’s religious leaders confront the Lord. This time they are questioning why He allows certain behaviors of His disciples. Evidently, they were confused (if you can call it that) as to why the traditions of the elders were not regulated closer by Him. Specifically they asked, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”

My purpose in writing is not to go into the intricacies and innuendos of what the tradition of the elders meant verses the commandments of God, I want to focus on what motivated these men and learn not to fall into the same troubling attitudes. The fact these religious leaders took umbrage to some of His disciples’ lack of care in washing is telling in its own right. It wasn’t an obsessive, compulsive disorder about cleanness they had; it was a prideful, superior disease of self-righteousness. To off-handedly demand Jesus teach respect and reverence toward a tradition they had grasped so carefully was a sheer display of pride. To condemn so immediately individuals who they perceived as having a lack of concern for defilement was a complete act of prejudice! The pride and prejudice that owned these religious leaders had to originate from somewhere. The verses I began with are the words the Savior uses as he explains to his disciples specifically what was producing these attitudes.

I named this little section “Of Pride and Prejudice”—which, as many of you know, is the name of Jane Austin’s book and a movie from the book. Frankly, I’ve never read the book and I’ve only seen in bits and pieces the movie when it’s watched around the house. So I went online to try and figure out why Jane Austin’s book is called “Pride and Prejudice.” I thought the bible had many different interpretations. There are no bounds to the many different opinions on why this book is named Pride and Prejudice. A novice, like myself, can in no way grip the significance of the title. The closest thing I could determine was the book’s name is based on the first impressions that Elizabeth and Darcy had of each other when they first met. Evidently, they had it settled in their minds what each was like and had to work through their own pride and prejudice to fall in love. I hope I’ve got it right!

These two themes run together in this passage. They cloud things up and prevent people from seeing the truth of what Jesus was like. Sadly we see these attitudes not just in the Pharisees, but at times they are also found in the 12 closest men, men committed and following the Lord. These two attitudes have to come from someplace. Again, my hero verses:

NAS – 21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

There they are! Pride and prejudice comes from the depth of men’s hearts. These are not the overt acts of animosity but nuanced behaviors of hate. They look righteous and holy, but really are pretentious and pompous. The men displaying these attitudes should know better. Instead they are bent on making their ways right and imposing the same attitudes upon others. No wonder they were such cynics. Sounds fairly contemporary does it not?

The only means to eradicate these attitudes is by changing the heart. That is exactly what Jesus is in the business of doing. We see Him confronting, without compromise, these two attitudes. He uses a parable to display His point. “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” The person of faith hears these words and agrees. There is an understanding of the inward work of Christ in the heart and then affirmation is easily made.

However, please remember He is speaking to Jews, and they had been taught their whole lives that things outside the body defile the things inward. That is exactly what religion teaches! It’s what you do outwardly that is significant and hopefully it helps the inward. Again, the disciples themselves struggled with the meaning of this concept; they were good Jews like others, they were taught the same things. And so they asked Him for clarification. After a short rebuke Jesus instructs them, the greater problem is what comes out of the heart—that is the source of defilement. He says, “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Look at the heart as a storeroom. It’s within that storeroom evil defiling things are developed then produced. The Lord lists 13 issues, one right after the other, which comes from the storeroom of the heart. Do you want to be free from defilement? There is a way to see this freedom happen.

Now, it’s time for some of my confessions! When I was growing up I did a terrible job keeping my room clean. To remedy the problem my father would grab the biggest trashcan he owned and set it right in the middle of my bedroom. He then started throwing things out, lots of things—randomly. I hated those days. Good toys went to toy heaven and never were seen again. It was all because I defiled my room by not putting toys away.

Our answer: open up the storeroom of our hearts to the Heavenly Father. Let Him come in and throw the trash out! Let Him do His cleaning work. He’ll give you a clean room/heart for good things. Here’s one verse that points to this reality:

Luke 6:45 NIV – The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

The heart is a storeroom that needs to be cleaned up! Don’t be proud, let Him bring the trashcan in and do His cleaning work. He gets rid of the traditions circumventing His Word. Once He deals with our pride so He can clean up the prejudice. Jesus can clear out our Pride and Prejudice if we’ll let Him. Surrender the storeroom of the heart and let Him cleanup as He likes!

J. Robert Hanson

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Mark 6:35-36 NAS

35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

Sounds like a reasonable request me! Let’s think about the situation for a moment. To feed at least 5,000 people for one meal would require, at minimum, a few days of planning, organization and preparation. Coming up with a menu that would negate spoilage, arranging carts to carry food into an uninhabited area would take a considerable amount of effort to organize. Lining up vendors to produce, package and distribute provisions to this large a group would involve several experienced planners. Not to mention the financial burden of resources to secure the whole operation.

Then there is the fact they were in a desolate area away from the convenience of a city population with the capacity to handle such an event. This was not a 5-star hotel location with kitchens and sizable on-call staff to help make the event enjoyable and go without a hitch. There were no chefs and waiters to make sure reasonable portions were distributed and served equitably.

Now, think of the anxiety of 12 men watching their mentor, seemingly oblivious to the perilous nature of the whole situation, continue meeting needs, speaking to the crowd and healing the sick. They must have grabbed for the equivalent of our modern day Tums. It was very reasonable for them to ask Him for a moment of time to consider the practical nature of this whole episode.

The spontaneity of the enterprise added to the weight of the burden of care. Watching the sun disappear in the west, aware time was slipping away, realizing the needy were not vacating the area anytime soon, the more pragmatic individuals were moved to say something. Filled with irrefutable logic and facts some said to the Savior, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

What a reasonable, irresistible and indisputable request. “Send them away” was the only rational thing to do! The whole situation was greater than these 13 men could bare or handle with no advanced planning. Compassion and logic dictates, though as difficult as it was to say, for the sake of health and well being the day’s work must end and send everyone away.

Imagine the shock at the Master’s reply, “You give them to eat!” Their irrefutable logic had just been trampled upon by the most unrealistic of requests. Deploying one last attempt at reason the disciples responded, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?¹” Their reply almost sounds as if they took umbrage to the Lord’s challenge. It has a scent of being both testy and condescending. Had they forgotten the miracles they personally performed earlier in His name. Had they become so familiar with Him they could react with such a tone of insolence? Had they failed to recall His capabilities of calming the stormy seas?

How gracious the Savior was to include them in the following miracle. “And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them…” He didn’t circumvent their unbelief. He didn’t shelve them on this miracle and go at it alone. He worked with them to reestablish what had gone missing—their faith, despite their impertinence toward him. Thankfully, they still were able to participate in the miracle “You give them to eat!”

J. Robert Hanson

[1] NIV

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Luke 7:11-17 NIV – 11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the LORD saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

What a tragic life this poor widow woman had encountered. Bereft of her husband and deprived of her only son it appeared she had little prospect for hope of a satisfying future. What would she do and where would her future journeys take her? Who would have thought this procession of death would begin an impossible encounter of life!

Her home, the town of Nain, was located just south of Nazareth in the area of Galilee. Alfred Edersheim1 claims the city had at least six roads leading in making it a semi-active and affluent town. According to archeologists there are rock-hewn tombs to the west of Nain, on the road toward Nazareth, and Edersheim writes the unfenced burying-ground was about a ten minutes walk from the town. We read that Nain was large, prosperous, and significant enough to support a town gate for protection.

It was at this entrance we find the colliding of death and life. Verse 11 reads a large crowd was following Jesus into this community. The very next verse indicates on the way out was a funeral procession; it too had formed a significant amount people who were mourning the loss of the widow’s son. As the two groups approached the town gate, no doubt, the sobering reality of death would prevail in the right-of-way causing the grief of this widow to become most apparent to both groups.

Did the Savoir know the specifics of this procession? Was He told the expired young man was the only son of a widow? The Lord Jesus, though familiar with human suffering, was no fan of human anguish. Somehow, whether divine or natural, He had become acutely aware of the widow’s plight and was moved of heart to do something for her. Would the words, “Don’t cry” have been enough to stop the women from her mourning and tears? I rather doubt it. And then we are told He reaches up to touch the bier and commands, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Without touching the dead in accordance with Mosaic Law, the Prince of Life confronts death and resuscitates the widow’s son to the glory of God. Just as suddenly as the son sat up a very different atmosphere from both crowds become one and united in a sense of awe—“God has come to help his people.”

Too many individuals have met the kind of human suffering of this woman. Others have been pressed with different types affliction, maybe not as severer, but none-the-less, painful. Bereft of hope, with little or nothing of satisfaction to look forward to, life becomes a dark night of the soul. Maybe it arrived by foolish choices, or perhaps the suffering was thrust upon them like Job of old, without any self-infliction. Either way the Savior’s heart is moved in compassion toward the truly contrite. The issue is not whether you deserve help, the answer is “are you contrite in your need for relief.” God will never despise the humble with whom suffering has taught great lessons. And, it’s with those hopeful words, “Don’t cry” and “I say to you, get up” that the distressed are relieved to find satisfaction once again. Remember these words no matter how difficult the trial, “God has come to help His people.”

J. Robert Hanson

1 http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book320.htm

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And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

The first recorded words uttered by Jesus in the scriptures! These are two questions that are both fascinatingly insightful and simple. The context of these rhetorical inquiries is of a son who was inadvertently left behind by his parents who were returning home from a journey. Apparently this was not like some day trip to the beach, it involved a caravan (implying many people) and several days of travel. And on this journey they noticed they left without Jesus.

For three days Joseph and Mary were without Him. They searched; no doubt, anxiously looking everywhere until they finally discover Jesus in the temple. There can only be inferences as to how and who took care of him for the time. What can be confidently confirmed was His interest in spiritual matters and His astonishing understanding of the Old Testament. And why not, He was the Word become flesh dwelling among the men.

The story of this incident intrigued Luke so much that he considered it important enough to include in his gospel. In fact, Luke gives the only record of this incident and it stands as the unique reference to the words of Christ at a young age. The verse is intriguing as it describes the mental growth and development of the Savior. Amazingly, that at such a young age, twelve years, He is perceptive and very much spiritually aware of His identity and calling.

What twelve-year old understands and communicates their purpose in life, with intent, as the Savior did here! In fact, His two questions are revealing about just how forgetful Joseph and Mary had become in their stewardship as guardians. Had they pressed out of thought the unique presence of the angels who spoke personally to them of His birth? Or, had they failed to remember the visit of the kings and shepherds coming with gifts to accent the significance of that day in Bethlehem? It’s a good question He asks, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

As a father I’ve experienced this age group four times with hands on experience. And each child, at twelve, was filled with undeveloped direction and a juvenile sense of understanding as to their own identity. This takes time and careful tending to see happen. None of my children, at the same age, had the capacity to know who they were and understand what they were born for at twelve years old—nor should they have! We are talking about the Eternal Son of God who highly developed in self-awareness and rapidly understood His mission and calling. What adolescent understands so completely their connection to spiritual things and appreciates so toughly the Father’s business, or “the [things] of My Father¹”?

Youthful Spiritual Awareness can happen and this passage gives us that hope. What we can do, as parents, is pray, talk about and relate uncompromisingly spiritual insights to our children. We can present a holy spiritual culture and Godly attitude as they grow up in our homes. Maybe we will not experience the speed and veracity the Savior demonstrated as He became aware of both His purpose and mission, but we can present an environment conducive to enhancing spiritual growth and awareness of God the Father’s plan for our sons and daughters! Teaching children can be fun!

J. Robert Hanson

1 http://www2.mf.no/bibelprog/vines?word=%AFt0000392

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