Thunder Boys

James and John were sons of Zebedee.

Fishermen by trade.

They were used to jockeying for position to get the prime fishing spots before their rivals did.

Their nickname, given by Jesus, seems to indicate they could get down right feisty if they felt threatened. “Boanerges”, he called them. “Sons of thunder”.

These “thunderboys” found some kind of favor with Jesus. He called them to be his disciples. Jesus didn’t just call anyone. He must have seen something special in them.

Not only did Jesus see something in them, they must have seen something special in him.

And it couldn’t have been easy for the thunderboys to leave the fishermen’s life. The smell of the salt water, the feel of the sea breeze at daybreak, the sound of the water as it lapped at the sides of their wooden boat. They wouldn’t give that up for just anyone. But the call of Jesus was irresistible.

So they followed.

It was Mark’s gospel (Mark 10: 35-45) that caught my attention most recently. It’s the occasion where James and John request the honor of being seated next to Jesus when he is glorified.

Just like fishermen to jockey for position ahead of the others.

Fact is, the other disciples got worked up over the situation and it seems like maybe they would kind of liked to have had the place of honor for themselves. James and John just beat them to it.

Being the leader he is, Jesus sees a teachable moment. He straightens them all out by pointing out how wrong-headed they all are about what it means to be intimate with Jesus. It has nothing to do with seating arrangements. He tells them that their perspective was becoming a lot like the rulers of the Gentiles. In the empire, the seating arrangement was a status symbol. If you are seated next to the emperor, you are big stuff.

Jesus gets this straightened out in a hurry. He says, if you want to be somebody in the Kingdom, it comes by being a servant, not by your row, section and seat number.

“You want to be close with me?”, Jesus asks. “Then be a servant.”

“You want to have a lot in common with me?”, he asks. “Then be a servant, because that’s who I’ve been with you all along.”

“Now if you want to live in the empire and live by empire rules, you just go ahead.”

“But if it’s a Kingdom place you are after, be a servant.”

And that day the “thunderboys” learned a lesson they would never forget.

John, as I understand it, lived a long time after. Legend has it that when he was an old man, he had long given up the ways of jockeying for position. He didn’t talk about how close we was to Jesus. He just referred to himself as the disciple who Jesus loved.

And that was enough. That was more than enough.

Lessons From the Oil Press

In a recent sermon I re-visited the Gethsemane narrative in Matthew’s gospel. (Matthew 26: 36-46) The transparent emotion displayed by Jesus in the presence of his disciples spoke even more powerfully than it had in my previous encounters of this familiar text.

Verse 38 conveys the honest and unpretentious stress that Jesus finds himself pressed into.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…” Jesus says. Luke, the physician includes the blood-mingled drops of sweat as proof of the extreme duress of the Messiah.

Jesus doesn’t try to be superman….he is who he claims to be…the son of man. He is terrified, he is stressed, he is under pressure. Here in Gethsemane (means oil press) Jesus is caught in the clinch of humanities’ most critical moment. Jesus doesn’t take it lightly. Just as surely as the oil of the olive is pressed out between pestle and stone bowl….Jesus is being pressed and pressured and poured out in the most extreme manner imaginable. Jesus realizes fully that his deity is shortly to be pressed out leaving him with the human, the fleshly, the man, forsaken by God the father. Sins of the whole of humanity on his back. A gulf fixed between He and His Father for the first time.

Contrast the genuineness of Gethsemane with the brash boasting of Peter in the few verses just previous. You know. The part where Jesus tells Peter he can’t stand up to the challenges he is about to meet. You know. The part where Peter boasts…”even if all fall away on account of you, I never will…” (v. 33) And you know. Where Jesus says, “…this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times…” (v. 34) Then Peter gets in deeper and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (v. 35) By they way, in case it has escaped you, check it out right after Peter speaks the text reads: “….and all the other disciples said the same..”

So what we have going on here is this: Peter and company are swearing up and down…no wait a minute, that’s later….they are insisting that they would die rather than deny. They hide behind a silly notion that true faith is manifested by bravado rather than being genuine.

Jesus then shows them that a real man can indeed let them see you sweat. He shows them that it’s OK to be stressed about being in the oil press. As worked up, as sorrowful, as stressed out as Jesus was…..and he let them see it all…..he submitted to God and did what he had to do.

So dear friends let’s discover this about pain, suffering, loss, trouble and trial. Let’s not be lecturing our fellow Christians that they are weak of faith when they get stressed out and troubled about pain and trials and suffering. No one said we have to stoic, emotionless and steely eyed in the midst of trial. Dependent on God, yes. Confident in God, yes. Peace in the presence of God, yes.

In the Gethsemane moment we didn’t need superman, we needed the son of man. He yielded to God. He accepted the cup. He drained it to its dregs.

Simple Church

Back in 2006 Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger collaborated on a book entitled Simple Church. They call for a re-examination of how we approach our work as Kingdom people and how we can benefit greatly by simplifying and streamlining our Kingdom actions.

I was encouraged in the first paragraph of chapter one to discover that they are not offering some new model of doing church. They don’t get caught up in the emergent discussion nor an analysis of postmodern culture and the societal phenomenon so popular in ministry books in the past several years.

Read the book yourself and you will find they reduce their ideas to four simple words. Clarity, Movement, Alignment and Focus. I appreciate their faithfulness in keeping the book simple and straightforward.

Chapter 5 concludes with a section which particularly resonated with me. The idea is developed with the point that there is a major difference between a travel agent and a tour guide. A story is shared of a particular incident where one of the authors is researching an upcoming white water rafting trip.

The metaphor continues…. “A travel agent will mail you brochures. A travel agent will suggest a few rafting outfitters and a river to enjoy.” “A travel agent spouts out intellectual information, hands you some brochures, and smiles. A travel agent tells you to enjoy the journey. “Nice to meet you. Enjoy the trip.”

A tour guide is different. Their response is “Nice to meet you. Get in. Let’s go.”

The illustration becomes more specific and we are introduced to a character named, “Tripp”.

What makes Tripp a great tour guide is not his information. Even some of the local travel agents have the information. Tripp is great because of his love for the journey and because he takes you with him…..He does not instruct from a distance. He is with you. He is on the bus with you from the outfitter to the river. He is in the raft with you. And, if things do not go as planned, he is in the river with you.

Tripp has been where he is taking you. He is able to instruct because he is familiar with the journey. He speaks from a place of personal authority, and you listen. He is not perfect. His boat may tip over with you in it. But he is credible.

Well that’s enough of ripping off large quotes from the book. You get the idea.

Rainer and Geiger are promoting is not a church model here. It is about being a disciple. It is about following Jesus and inviting others to join in on the journey.

In order for Christians to be effective in spiritual formation of others, we must be willing to be sojourners. We must transcend the role of just dispensing information. We must get in the raft. We must stay engaged with the adventure of Christian living.

It’s risky. It’s unpredictable. It’s challenging. But it’s the simple way to bring people to Jesus.