Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Andy the Businessman

Part one of this story series.

(Research for this story was provided by "Cast Your Nets: Fishing at the Time of Jesus," by Elizabeth McNamer at http://www.americancatholic.org/newsletters/sfs/an0704.asp)

When I was 12, a teacher assigned a family tree project. We were to interview our grandparents about their memories and get any information they could recall about ancestors.

My paternal grandfather, who I called, "Pop," had immigrated from Newfoundland to New England in the 1920s. I knew he'd been in the British Navy in World War I. And I knew he loved the sea. But other than that, I had nothing.

I remember sitting at a breakfast room table, notebook paper at the ready, and calling Pop to find out about the family's past.

"What did your father do?" I asked Pop.

"He was a fisherman." Pop replied shortly in a raspy voice.

I wrote that down.

"And do you know what his father did, my great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman," Pop replied.

"OK. Well, this is going back a lot, but what about my great-great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman."

My dad, who was listening on another line, chuckled when he heard me sigh.

"Pop, was my great-great-great-great grandfather a fisherman?"

"Yes. He was a fisherman."

We went on like this a few more times until Pop finally said, "Well, I don't know that far back, but I'm pretty sure that everyone else was a fisherman."

Today, as I read the story about Andy's life before he met Jesus, I can't help but recall that long-ago conversation with Pop.

See, Andy's family was in the fishing business, too. Now you might have heard sermons at your church about the lowly lives of fishermen. More than once, I've heard pastors wax poetically about Jesus hanging out with the stinky smelly men of the sea and how great it was that He gave them His attention.

But that description, quite frankly, is condescendingly incorrect.

In fact, fishermen were integral to the economy in First Century Palestine. And the men who owned fishing operations were savvy and successful businessmen. Think of them as active Chamber of Commerce members or pillars of your local community.

Consider the skills that the average Galilean fisherman needed. They weren't just sitting around in a boat. They had to be skilled at marketing their product. Israel's population at the time was about 500,000, and fish was a staple food. Not only that, dried fish from the Sea of Galilee was a "gourmet" menu item for Roman aristocracy. And in Jerusalem, fish was in high demand during religious festivals and seasons. So this required the fishermen to travel a lot. 

And with travel during the era of the Roman Empire came along the need to know more than one language. The native tongue would have been Aramaic. But to converse with those who were buying the fish? You would've needed to know other languages like Hebrew, Greek ... and Latin, if they were selling to the Romans.

Are you getting the picture?

Andy was no dummy.

Fishing business owners also had to be skilled organizers in the running of their operations. They hired sailors and other fishermen to do labor (fish, mend nets, count fish). They were engaged in legal partnerships with each other. They had to maintain their equipment (nets and boats), deal with tax collectors and be skilled bargainers with their workers and buyers alike.

Andy and his brother Pete were in a partnership with two other guys, Jim and John, and their father, Zeb (a really wealthy fish business owner).

And it is against this highly successful backdrop of the business world that Jesus entered the picture and met Andy for the first time.

Tune in for part 2 of our tale ...

Monday, August 20, 2012

A New Story Series for my Buddy

A dear friend of more than 20 years has struggled with his own faith questions and agnosticism.

Recently, he shared, someone told him that he was a lot like the disciple Andrew.

Now this really bugged him.

The person told him that Andrew "was the guy who made things happen." But to my friend, this characterization smacked of someone who is always hanging back, letting other people shine in the sun and never really getting any acknowledgement for their hard work, except for an occasional nod or pat on the back for being a good organizer.

He asked me what I knew about Andrew. Without knowing what he'd already been told, I stupidly piped, "Oh, he was the disciple who worked behind the scenes that no one really noticed."

Insert foot in mouth.

Now in the mornings after my child leaves for school, I take some time for quiet. This morning I felt led not to pray ... but to just sit and read. So I opened my Bible haphazardly and who do you think was right on the page in front of me?

That's right.


I read the story and then decided to dig some more. And I read another story. And another. And another.

Suddenly, a picture came together about who Andrew really was, and it was not at all like the original description I'd given my friend.

So for the benefit of my friend ... and for any of you who may feel like you are an insignificant player in the grand scheme that God has for the world ... tomorrow we'll start a new blog series ....

.... about a guy named Andy.

Hope you'll check it out.

Until then,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

When I was 16, I memorized the book of Matthew.

I know.

I wasn't just a nerdy kid. I was a nerdy kid with a Bible.

I did this extracurricular activity called, "Bible Bowl." It was like a quiz game, except all questions were centered on the exact wording of verses throughout the book of Matthew. Our little team, called the "Syracuse Stompers," was so good that we placed second in a "championship" involving three finalist teams drawing from the Northeast United States.

Just so that you have the full picture of what was involved ... when I say I memorized Matthew, that means not only did I know the verses. I also could answer any question, phrased in any way. And sometimes, I knew the answer to a question before half of the question had left the moderator's lips.

For example, "In Matthew 5:5, what will ..."


"Yes, Syracuse, player 2, what is the answer?"

 "They will inherit the earth."

Now look it up if you want to know what I was answering.

I was a maniac.

I was making straight As at school and when I wasn't studying, I was reciting those verses, backwards and forwards. Literally. Backwards and forwards.

Now the reason I tell you this little story is to clue you in  ... that when I tell you that I know the book of Matthew ... I know the book of Matthew.

But ironically, it wasn't until this little stunt that Christians across the United States pulled at Chick-fil-A that the words of Matthew chapter 23 really meant something to me.

At the time when I was first memorizing this book of the Bible, I was really stumped by Matthew 23. I knew Jesus was mad. I knew He told off the Pharisees. I knew He thought they were a bunch of stuffed shirts who thought they were better than everybody else.

But until this week, I didn't get -- really didn't get -- the full throttle of His message.

I could quote that chapter here, but you can just look it up at this link if you're interested:


Now. Rewind.

Where did we leave off in our story?

(See part 2 if you haven't read it yet.)

Matt (that is, Matthew), just threw a party for Jesus. Jesus told the Pharisees that He hadn't come for the righteous but for the sinners. And then Matt took off after Jesus and became His disciple and then wrote the book of Matthew.

But let's dissect this.

When you understand how and why Matt was such a scourge on society, you gain a brand new appreciation for Matthew 23.

Look at some of these colorful descriptions that Jesus gives the Pharisees:

"Blind guides!"

"Blind fools!"

"You hypocrites!"

"You are like whitewashed tombs!"

"You snakes!"

"You brood of vipers!"

You know, when you consider the kind of treatment Matt suffered at the hands of righteous people, is it any wonder that he quoted Jesus's harsh judgment against them?

It never hit me until this week how these words of Jesus must have seemed like a balm to Matt's soul. In essence, Jesus stood in the gap between the lost and the righteous. He held up His hand and said, "No more. No more will you stand in the way of people learning about God's love, just because you think they're not good enough. I'm telling you that you're out of line, and those who you would condemn will have a place in the Kingdom, while you'll be on the outside."


Read that chapter again.

Now what does this have to do with the Christians who showed their support for the comments against gay people by patronizing Chick-fil-A?


See, when you line up as a force and collectively point your finger of judgment against one group of people, you become a Pharisee. You become a self-appointed judge. You become a wall between that person and the message that Christ loves them, died for them and wants to be in their life. Who is going to listen to you when you try to share the good news that He's there for them? Not one of them. Not one of them will listen or care. Not one of them will give your message any credence. Not one of them will ever want to darken the door of your church or shake your hand in the pew.

Not one.

I wouldn't.

Some of you might say to me, "Heidi, are you saying that you support a gay lifestyle? Aren't we told to go and sin no more? Aren't we told that we are not to sin 'that grace may abound?'"

How are these people going to even learn about grace when you've collectively condemned them? How are they going to want to hear about it?

See, here's the thing:

I have to worry about my own soul. I have to worry that I do not sin "that grace may abound."

That means my Achilles heel has to be dealt with: My temper. It's not pretty. It's my cross. It's what I have to crucify daily. And I don't always succeed.

Should I be allowed to patronize Chick-fil-A, given that I lose my temper?

OK, how about this?

What about the men who went to Chick-fil-A, to collectively voice their disapproval against gay people -- who are also married and flirt with me in private messages on Twitter?

Yeah. They do that. And don't make me name you, because I WILL.


What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who cheated on their student exams?

What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who have an addiction ... alcohol, drugs, porn?

What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who cheat on their spouses? Or abuse their spouses?

What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who gossip and spread falsehoods about other people?

What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who are jealous and covet what their friends have?

Should I continue?

What about those who went to Chick-fil-A who are just so self-righteous that they think their sins are less than others, so they get a pass to be in the Christian Club?

You throw a stone, I'll hit you with your own boulder.

None of y'all are perfect.

There is only One who was perfect, and He's the only One who has the excuse to throw stones.

Now here is the good news:

Christ died for all men.

All men.


That includes the gay community. He didn't come to earth and say, "Hey, I'm going to be tortured and crucified, but my sacrifice IS ONLY FOR THE HETEROSEXUAL COMMUNITY."

Did He say that?

Show me in the Bible where Jesus said that.

If you can't see your own hypocrisy in this, then we're done here.

But I pray and hope that you'll take a look at Matt. I pray and hope that you'll remember that Matt, just like people in the gay community, was a social outcast in his day. And I pray and hope that you'll remember that Christ's love and grace was extended to Matt, NO MATTER WHAT.

But especially, I pray and hope that all of you will come to your senses and for once in your petty, selfish, hypocritical lives will see your own sins before you judge the sins of others -- and that you will show some grace and love to people who Jesus died for, too.

And now I'll pray for myself, because this little blogging exercise has put me in the judgment seat against you.

And that's not my place to judge you. If I do, I'm no better than you were when you went to Chick-fil-A.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Surprise Guest at the Big Bash

Part two in this story series ....

Tax collecting in the Roman Empire took place at city gates, public roads or bridges.

Matt collected his taxes on "The Great Road," which would have stretched between Damascus and seaports of Phoenicia.

And this is where his story begins, because it was while Matt was cooling his heels at his post, extorting money from his countrymen and otherwise creating havoc for rich and poor alike in the name of Rome ... that Someone dropped by and changed his life forever.


Jesus had just finished His own little adventure when He ran into Matt. He'd been going rounds with His enemy rivals, the Pharisees, the religious rulers of Israel who were revered among the Jewish people.

And why? Well, He'd just healed a paralyzed guy and had told this man that his sins were forgiven. The Pharisees didn't like that, because that was equivalent to blasphemy in their eyes. But no one was talking about that. Everyone was talking about how the guy had stood up, tucked his mat under his arm and skipped out praising God.

So in the immediate aftermath of this miracle, Jesus was walking along that "Great Road," and He came across Matt.

Now if you remember from our story yesterday, Matt wasn't the most popular person. As a tax collector, he was no longer welcome at home. He couldn't even give his dirty money at the Temple. And no one with respectable family values could accept his money, even if he'd offered it as a gift.

So Matt hung out with people who would accept him ... you know .... the hookers, the thieves, the drunks, the other tax collectors ....

You know. Society's dregs.


So here comes Jesus, the one everyone was praising as the possible Messiah. And Jesus walks up to Matt's little tax collecting post, and plain as day says to him, "Follow me."

You know what Matt did?

He left his life as a tax collector and came right after Jesus.

Not only that ... he threw a big party that night. He invited all of his friends. And guess who was the guest of honor?

You got it.


And this wasn't just a small little group of good buddies. The Gospel writer Luke tells us that Matt "held a great banquet" and "a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them."


Now let's rewind back to earlier in our story ... the Pharisees meanwhile, were still pretty steamed at Jesus for not only healing that paralyzed guy and showing them up, but also for taking the added blasphemous step of forgiving that guy's sins.

And they hear about this little soiree.

They waste no time in giving Jesus a piece of their minds, too.

See ... if you had dinner with someone at that time in Israel, you were basically saying that you held their company in high esteem.

This wasn't just like grabbing a quick sandwich at Chick-fil-A.

No ... this was akin to inviting someone over to your house for Thanksgiving dinner with your most respected family members at the table.

So the Pharisees pulled Jesus's disciples aside and confronted them. "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" they demanded.

And this is why I love Jesus so much, because Jesus didn't even flinch or try to pretend that it was a big mistake.

Jesus quipped, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."


Did you get that?

He didn't come for the "righteous."

In other words, He basically told the Pharisees to shove off. His peeps were right there with Him at that party.

And as for Matt?

Well, you know him as Matthew, the writer of the first Gospel in  your Bible, and one of Jesus's 12 disciples.

Now what does this have to do with Chick-fil-A and the gay community? And what can we also learn from Matt's decision to follow Jesus?

Tune in for the conclusion of the story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The People That Chick-fil-A Would Have Shunned Today

Part one in this story series ...

They're mentioned 22 times in the Gospels.


Or, for our purposes, tax collectors.

But these weren't your run-of-the-mill IRS bureaucrats.


These people were considered the worst of the worst by their fellow Jewish brothers. They collected taxes for Rome, you see. Their methods could be described, at best, as unscrupulous.

And they were despised, so much that they couldn't even give an offering in the sacred Temple. Heck, if you'd lived in Roman-era Palestine, you would have hated them, too.

Here's how tax collecting in the Roman Empire worked:

First, you had "publicani," wealthy Roman knights who bought for a fixed sum the taxes and customs of particular provinces. Under them were "chiefs of publicans." They supervised districts within the Roman provinces. Reporting to them ... were the publicans. The publicans gathered customs on exports and imports and taxes. Usually, the publicans' collect locations were city gates, public roads or bridges.

But tax collectors were the Benedict Arnolds of their day -- traitors of the highest order.

They extorted their countrymen, pocketing above and beyond what Rome had called them to collect. Most Jews thought it unlawful to pay tribute to the pagan Roman Gentiles, but it was much worse that they were being plundered by those who should have been standing with them, side by side, in opposition to their conquerors.

A publican was to be treated with the highest degree of contempt. They were vile. They degraded themselves. They disgraced their families. They were lumped in with the same category of "sinner" as prostitutes, thieves and murderers.

And they were sanctioned heavily in this culture. They weren't allowed to give alms in the place of worship. People couldn't even use money given to them as gifts by publicans. And publicans weren't allowed to be witnesses in legal proceedings.

They were absolutely abhorrent.

In short, if they'd tried to have lunch at Chick-fil-A today, they would have been told that they didn't meet the definition of "family values." They would have been shown the door immediately.

And these were the people who invited Jesus to a party one night.

Tune in tomorrow to see if He showed up.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Day Christians Stopped Being Christlike

I know I said I was going to put this blog on the shelf.

But this week, something happened that made me so irate, so sickened, so embarrassed to be lumped into the same category of the phrase, "evangelical Christian," that I felt this post was necessary.

Usually posts here are designed to dovetail into the blog's theme title: "Christian Safehouse." I decided a long time ago not to bash my fellow Christians and make this a place where people could vent their issues without harassment.

Then I got to thinking about it and realized there were a lot of times in the Bible where Jesus told off religious people.

Notice that I make the distinction, "religious people," versus, "believers." Because if you're not a Pharisee at heart, this blog post isn't for you.

No. This blog post is for everyone who thinks that they showed Christ's love by eating at Chick-fil-A this week.

An interaction with a fellow "Christian" on Twitter last night made me sit up and decide that I won't be silent about this. I let a lot of comments pass by me without commentary, but this is where I draw the line.

I was asked, "What do you teach your child at home?" because of my stance against the Chick-fil-A establishment.

I'll tell you what I teach him. I teach him that Jesus came to die for all men.

All. Men.


I teach him against bigotry. He knows all about the Civil Rights Movement, and he'll learn about what it means to embrace people regardless of their sexual orientation when he's old enough to hear about it.

I teach him that there was a group of people called the Pharisees, and that they were responsible for putting Jesus on a cross. You know why they were responsible?

Because Jesus told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Remember that story?

Did any of them throw a stone at that woman after He said that?

No, they went off and plotted His death. They didn't like being called out. It made them mad enough to kill Him.

See, here's the thing. You don't have to agree with the gay community. You don't.

But you do have orders from Someone who died for you that you're supposed to love everyone.

When you're more concerned about going on the war path because a community hurts your feelings, are you turning the other cheek?

When you're more concerned about lining up at a restaurant than you are with feeding the poor or clothing the hungry, are you showing mercy?

When you're more concerned about protecting your rights as Christians than you are about the people who are lost and just need a little compassion and understanding, are you practicing forgiveness?

Those questions are rhetorical.

Don't tell me that your lunch at Chick-fil-A was Christ-sanctioned.

If you fully believe that, you have no business reading this blog. Because this blog is a Christian Safehouse. 

It's reserved for Christians.