"One man at a time; no man left behind!"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


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Monday, December 16, 2013

"One Brother and Another"


a reflection on Matthew 21:28-32

They say a man's only as good as his word.  It's a trustworthy saying and it's all about trust.  It seems Jesus got into a little tangle with the Pharisees and chief priests of the Temple regarding the authority by which he taught.  So, he told them a story...
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” asked Jesus.  “The first,” they answered.   Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."
Have you seen the TV commercials lately having to do with connection to "and" and "or" or is it... 'and' OR 'or'...?  You know... having the choice between "sweet AND sour chicken" vs. "sweet OR sour"... or the choice about "nuts AND bolts" vs. "nuts OR bolts" in putting up the swimming pool ... or the coach who uses the megaphone to be LOUD but his gibberish phrases makes for his not being very CLEAR... "loud AND clear" vs. "loud OR clear"!  Very clever… and yet this is the time of the year…  where so many sing... are you ready...

… he’s making a list and checking it twice…Going to find out who's 

___(naughty) _____  or ____(nice)___________

But, Jesus comes singing a different song… at least according to Matthew!  It seems one son is naughty after being nice and the other brother is nice before being naughty...

So, let me suggest something -- both sons are wrong!  

When we actually look back to the 1st Century, we frame this parable via a sense of honor -- a son who publicly says "no" to his father is shaming his father even if he does what his father asks and the other son shames his father by saying 'yes' and not following through.  Do you know anyone like this?  Have you looked in the mirror lately?

When the parable hearer is asked to choose between the two sons, a dilemma arises. Both sons have insulted the father, one by saying no, the other by saying yes but doing nothing. But one comes to the family's aid by going into the vineyard and upholding family solidarity, while the other maintains the family's good name by appearing on the surface to be a good son. Would the father choose to be publicly honored and privately shamed, or publicly shamed and privately honored? In the first century A.D. that is not much of a choice. The real question is... "which one he would be more angry?" But in being forced to choose, he must choose between the apparent and the real, between one who appears to be inside the family and one who appears to be outside. 

Bottom line, my brothers, this parable is about doing the will of God (v. 31). The question, "What is God's will for my life?" is one that Christians often ask. However, answering that question with "obeying God and working in the fields" too easily leads to a works righteousness, which we try to avoid.  And we take a language lesson from the Greek here...

For me, the key to this parable is the word metamelomai (pronounce it like it looks!). Although the NRSV translates it "to change one's mind," (vv. 29, 32) that is not the most literal understanding of this word. Usually the idea of "changing one's mind" or "repenting" is conveyed by the Greek word metanoeo (Again, pronounce it like it looks!).

The prefix meta = "change" begins both words.  The verb noeo is related to activities of the mind (nous)  The verb melo has the sense "to care for," so we might translate metamelomai as "changing what one cares about" or "to change what one is most concerned about."  And that is something worth considering here... as we approach Christmas and a new year... 

Pastor Ed Markquardt once wrote… 
“Repentance” means “changing your mind which leads to a change in behavior.” Jesus also stated this theme at the very beginning of the his earthly work, “Repent and believe the gospel.” Jesus first said, “Repent.” He said secondly, “Believe the gospel.” Nowadays, many Christians focus only on one half of Jesus’ teaching: “Believe the gospel.” They/we often ignore the first part of Jesus’ teaching. “Repent.”

The vineyard, the world, is always in a mess.  There are always earthquakes in the Turkeys and Taiwans of the world.  There are always wars in the Mideast and rumors of war in the Koreas of the world.  There are always divorces and families falling apart.  There are always poor families living down the street, with not enough money and emotional resources to make it. 

And what is the predictable reaction of the church to this pain and devastation in the world around us, far and near?  Too often, we merely hold our worship services in the middle of the vineyard.  We have our Bible studies and small group studies in the middle of our brokenness and follow it up with a pot-luck supper and forget to invite the stranger or to risk going out of the parking lot and do something good for someone who will never have the capacity to pay us back.   That's why Martin Luther reminded everyone we are both 'saint AND sinner!'

And so God, in the parable for any day we read it, in his disgust for our unwillingness to do the needed work in the vineyard says, “I will go and find somebody else who will do the work in this world of mine.”  In other words, this parable is an invitation for us not to be like the Pharisees. It is a challenge to go into God’s messed up world and do the necessary work.  It's the realizing that Jesus would rather have us be more like the prostitutes and the tax collectors... more like the whores and the crooks... because despite their unworthiness to part of the Kingdom of God via the rules of the Pharisees and chief priests in the temple... they said, 'yes' to Jesus and chose what was most important...

Now, some have asked me... "well, why didn't Jesus add a third brother?  Why didn't he include a brother who honored his father by saying 'yes' and presented himself as a man of integrity by actually doing what he said he would do?  What about that guy? Wouldn't the story have a different turn if there was a 3rd brother?"

Well, of course... Jesus told the parable... "A man had two sons..." ...two disrespectful sons... sons like us... sons like me... sons like my dad... sons like my dad's grandsons... disrespectful and selfish... sons like you... sons like your sons and grandsons... and ALL of us are guilty... not one OR the other... but both... AND that is why this story has so much power for us... as we are driven to the moment of grace  where we turn to the only son who was faithful in all things... Jesus ... son AND savior... Jesus ... brother AND friend... Jesus... teacher AND guide... Jesus.. Lord AND God.. now AND forever!

May the joy of this time of the year and the 12 days of Christmas do a good work in each of you!

One man at a time; no man left behind,


Friday, September 20, 2013


" I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."           - St. Paul to the Philippians

There’s a new TV show out this fall.  The title is “Trophy Wife.”  What? It may seem odd to comment on something one has never seen; but when it comes to trophies and when it comes to wives, I've had more than one of each!  So, this new show’s name caught my ears, eyes and heart… and sort of hits home to many men in our culture.  Please… don’t shoot the messenger; this wasn't my idea!

The story line is this…  

The reformed party girl Kate is hoping that’s true when she becomes Pete’s third wife. She fell into his arms (literally) at a karaoke bar and a year later, Kate’s got an insta-family complete with three stepchildren and two ex-wives.”

Wow, who would not want to watch a show like that?  It takes a village, they say.  Too close to home?   Perhaps.  There is some statistical data (not to be read as prophecy) that up to 60 % of the ‘boomers’ will have been married three times in their lifetime… once for sex, once for kids and once for companionship.  That club is growing.  I shared that scenario with my mother a number of years ago and her response was quick… “Well, that’s just dumb.  If your father and I had all three of those things, others can, too.  Thanks, mom. Dummies, beware.  So, I’m a little biased here for lots of reasons.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Trophies are good.   A wife is, too.  A trophy often reflects victory and hard work.  Champion stuff.  The Bible says, “A good wife is gift from God” (Proverbs 19:14).  It doesn’t say that about husbands.  Good wife?  Mine has made me a better man, using Jack’s line to Helen in “As Good As It Gets.” But, maybe the rub here isn’t how we get them, rather my reason for holding this up is about the language we use to describe a woman is being called into question here.  Your wife?  A trophy?  It’s more than that.

Whether we want to own up to it or not, men in the 21st century still live with rules written and unwritten, spoken and assumed about how women are treated, respected and referred to.  I could write that sentence this way, too--- how women are mis-treated, dis-respected and referenced. “Trophy wife” is just the tip of iceberg.  What about “great catch” or “arm candy” or “hottie” or “real-time Barbie” or “he married up”!  Lately, males have digressed.  Men, now, want to “tap that” or “get me some” and then create annals of ‘conquests’ to share at the bar, the golf course or the poker table.  But, guys, listen… don’t think that you hold all the power when it comes to conquests.  Some of the equality victories in the last 40 years include some women holding similar perspectives.  But, men have to take the lead here.

Walk with me 3000 years back in time.  “It’s good to be the king!”  David was the King of Judea.  What more could a guy want picked over his older brothers and what not?  He looked out his courtyard window and what did he see?  A young woman, the wife of Uriah the Hittite named Bathsheba, was getting cleaned up and David saw more than he should have.  Poor Bathsheba, King David thought.  Here I am and here you are and here your husband is off to battle.  Let me help you be a woman.  So, David has her come to his bedroom.  How does a young woman, married or not, refuse the King?  So, she goes.  Power turned inside out!  David has his way.  And oh by the way… he would have been arrested for this in 2013… and because God created us to have the ability to have children, Bathsheba’s encounter with her King also created a season of being ‘with child.’  Dumb King David. He should have listened to my mother.

So, like most guys think… David tried to make 2 wrongs into 1 right.  I have a plan, he thought.  Guys often get in trouble when they plan alone.  Poor Uriah.  He’s out fighting and needs a break.  David calls him back to Jerusalem.  Feeds him.  Gives him drink. Lots of drink.  Then Uriah is sent home with a wink and a nod and given the opportunity to ‘catch up” with his wife.  But, Uriah is the stand-up guy King David was not and instead of going into his own home to be with his wife, he thinks of his band of brothers in battle who can’t be with their wives and in solidarity with their abstinence, he lays down at his doorstep and sleeps.  Plan failed.  King David finds out.

Plan C now goes into effect.  Uriah is sent back this time to the front of the battle and killed.  All hail, King David!  And it’s not until Nathan the prophet calls the King out does he realize the consequences over his lack of values.  Lust, adultery, murder and pride are a nasty recipe for shame and disappointment.  If women are viewed as property, then men will always treat them that way.  Their sons and grandsons will follow suit.  Women deserve better.

But guys, it’s not just about the women.  It’s also about us.  What does it mean when one guy tells another guy, “hey, man, you married up!”  Is this a certain kind of ego slam by suggesting the guy in question isn’t good enough to be married to this particular woman?  Or what about the friend who says to his old home-town school pal, “Wow, who would have ever thought you’d bring home the prom queen?”  So, all these years this guy’s friends thought he wouldn’t amount to much and their predictions of this guy’s mediocrity vanish when he out duels the brothers in choice of spouses.  Guys deserve better, too.

The fact is, trophies tarnish and rust.  I have some.  They break.  They get lost and put in boxes.  Wives should never be treated like that. Women are created imago dei   and are not property.  How, do you think we got the line in the wedding service, “who gives this woman to be married to this man?”  Well, duh?  The guy who owns the property gives it away and then there’s always the ‘dowry!’  Pastors shouldn’t ask that question. But, yet, wives reflect their families.  Sometimes they lie, cheat and steal.  Sometimes they end up being the very opposite of what the guy wanted.  Vice versa for all the above, just for the record… and in the end no one is innocent here; but I’m writing to the men in our church here, ok?  So, just at Jesus told Peter to ‘self-define’ (John CH 21), men, their sons and grandsons will need to tend to a certain self-assessment or personal inventory to keep this all in check.

Again, I haven’t seen the show and I actually suggested in last Sunday’s message, “Guys, there’s a new show out this Fall I won’t be seeing…” and as long as men of faith allow others in the culture to create and maintain our vocabulary and values, then we will always be on the defensive here.  And guys, your daughters and granddaughters deserve better, too.

Is this easy?  No.  Will this take work?  Yes.  Can we do this alone?  Not really, but each man will have to tend to his own row in the garden.  I’d rather not make comments about a ‘trophy wife’… I focus my time on a ‘trophy life’… one that is for the long-haul… one that is defined by a Jesus’ life being the trophy and goal I seek… that my call to faithfulness and the task of bringing others along with me is the purpose for my being… and God’s grace alone will see me through this… That’s all King David had and that’s all I’ve got, too.  Our mistakes do not define us.  Our response to those events, do. So, pray with me that Peter and Kate make a go of this new marriage and the show doesn’t get cancelled due to an unanticipated divorce.  After, all every couple who marries always has ‘divorce’ as the last check mark of their ‘to do’ list, right? And yet, God is faithful and keeps forging out in all of us, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, a life of love and fidelity… to God, the world and ourselves.

One man at a time; no man left behind,


PS.  Here’s a video clip from  ... that will help... God's grace is all over the net!