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Chasing God, Serving Man
By Tommy Tenney Destiny Image Publishers
Copyright © 2001 Tommy Tenney
All right reserved.
Foxholes and Birds' Nests
From a Borrowed Womb to a Borrowed Tomb
Have you ever traveled to a distant destination only to discover that you forgot to make a hotel reservation? Every experienced traveler knows how it feels to arrive at a location only to learn the hotel has misplaced his advance reservation, leaving him with no accommodations for the night.
Jesus' first encounter as a human on earth began with a "No Vacancy" sign in Bethlehem, marking the beginning of His frustrating search for a welcome mat on earth. The truth is that He went from a borrowed womb to a borrowed tomb in search of a place to rest His head. The outrageous paradox of this picture is the fact that this was the Incognito Owner, the Divine Creator who was begging for enough hospitality to be born in the lowly realm of the created.
The manager of Hotel Bethlehem didn't know just who he had refused to host when he declined to make room for Joseph, Mary, and the holy babe. Perhaps he was following preset procedures or had little patience for disruptions of normal protocol. Is it possible he believed no advance reservation had been noted? (Never mind that the prophetshad called ahead with the message, "The Messiah is coming," and specifically said He would arrive in Bethlehem, the city of David, the "house of bread.") In any case, we know he told the expectant couple with the donkey, "Move on."
Isn't it odd that Jesus is still finding "No Vacancy" signs over so many "houses of bread" (churches) bearing His name today? They may be full of man but they are empty of God. They are filled to capacity with their established religious service procedures, meeting agendas, and pre-approved worship protocols.
These prestigious houses of worship proudly display their careful controls over what they view to be overwrought worshipers, religious extremism, and the dangers of unbridled passion. Whenever something or someone shows up at the door showing the signs of apparent spiritual pregnancy, they refuse to move man to make room for God. (There is nothing like passion showing up to make complacency feel threatened and out of place.) They promptly put up their "No Vacancy" signs and continue with church as usual while the visitation "moves on" in search of another place of habitation. A spiritual stable is preferred over the false fullness of man's motel.
The vagrancy of Divinity in the earth is painfully common to the Scriptures. Early in His ministry, Jesus warned a would-be disciple, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." I'm sad to say this passage still defines a chief obstacle blocking divine visitation.
"His Father's business" created an obvious tension that challenged the mostly earth-bound perceptions of Mary and Joseph:
So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously." And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Already the awkwardness of the anointing began to feel more at home in the temple atmosphere of worship, yet He went home with humanity: "Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them."
There Has Never Been a Head Like His Head!
Once Jesus left the home of His adolescence and launched His ministry in maturity, it became harder and harder to find a place of comfort. Why is this? Why was it easier for a fox to find a hole and for a bird to make a nest than for Jesus to find a place to lay His weary head? Because there has never been a head like His head!
Since the ministry requires me to spend so much time on the road, I often take along my wife and our daughters. On those occasions, my staff goes to great lengths to ensure that we reserve "connecting" hotel rooms. This allows my daughters to have their own room, while my wife and I have ours. We need to "play house" even while on the road.
After much very frustrating education, we learned that there is a distinct difference between "adjoining rooms" and "connecting rooms." Heaven help you if you or your hotel clerk doesn't understand that! We learned the hard way that even seasoned hotel personnel often do not understand the difference between "connecting" and "adjoining" rooms! (The definition seems simple enough: Adjoining rooms are next to one another but have no door between them, while connecting rooms share a common door that allows free movement between the rooms.)
While ministering in the New York City area, we found ourselves at the front desk of one of America's most respected hotel chains conducting a dialogue that was all too familiar:
"Pardon me, Ma'am, but the reservations clerk has made a mistake. We specifically requested connecting rooms, but that is not what you gave us."
"Well, we have you next to one another. Isn't that what you asked for?"
I felt the heat of frustration begin to rise, but I clenched my teeth and said, "Ma'am, you don't understand. I have young daughters with me tonight. I will not allow them to stay in a hotel room without my wife or I being there with them. That is unacceptable."
"Sir, we gave you adjoining rooms. That is all we can do."
"So what you' re saying is, I'm going to be in one room alone tonight, so that my wife and my children can be together on the other side of a dividing wall?"
The clerk stammered a little before blurting out, "But they're right next to one another!"
"No," I said, "I want them to connect." Unfortunately, by that time of the evening, the night clerk couldn't do anything about it (although I am sure that she wanted to).
I reluctantly entered my adjoining-but-not-connecting room and wearily leaned against the inside doorway. Then I fixed my eyes on the blank wall space where the "connecting door" would have (and should have) been. The longer I stared at that wall, the more I missed my wife and daughters on the "other side." Why am I doing this? I thought. The reason I brought my family along is so that I can be WITH them!
Then my mind started working. "Wal-Mart is right down the street," I said aloud to myself. "Now I could get a power saw and fix this problem real quick! For a few dollars spent purchasing a saw, I could just cut a hole through that dividing wall and put in a connecting door right there...." Calculating the charges the hotel would add to my bill brought me back to reality. The money spent purchasing a saw was miniscule in comparison.
Divinity Demolished the Wall That Divides
Despite my brooding disappointment at the time, I didn't cut open a doorway that night. But the heavenly Father used that situation to remind me that He often feels the same way! I was reminded that He was so offended by a dividing wall that He really did create His own door. Through the obedience of His Son! I could almost picture Him saying, "Why should I put up with this? The reason I created humanity is so that I could be WITH them!"
God always has hated "veils." The first time He had the legal right He ripped the veil, rendering it irreparable and propping it open Himself. Paul told the Ephesians, "For He Himself ... has broken down the middle wall of separation." One translation says, "He tore down the wall."
If God tore down a wall of separation, then that means there had to be a dividing wall that separated Him from His children in the first place.
Some may rightly point out that God Himself erected that protective wall, but God thought enough of the human race that He chose to "remodel" Heaven by creating a new and living "door of access" for all men through His Son. Jesus told His disciples:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.... If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
Do you know how much it cost God to "remodel" Heaven, to create that doorway? Sometimes, while sensing God's presence in worship, we proudly point out to Him what it cost us to be there. Remember that career, time, money, and pleasure are just tokens. Consider what it cost Him to visit with us in worship. Perhaps a revisiting of John 3:16 would put the cost of divine visitation in perspective:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
When the time came for God to tear down the middle wall between us, He didn't go to a hardware store or discount store and buy a "power saw." He tore down the wall legally by dividing or tearing the fleshly "veil" of His Son to create the divine doorway of access between Heaven and earth.
How Much Does God Hate
Things That Separate?
Considering the great cost of our salvation, how much do you think God hates things that separate Him from His children today?
Almost as soon as Jesus removed the dividing wall of sin and returned to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, we began to rebuild religious barriers once again! Paul publicly rebuked Peter and Barnabas for resurrecting the old dividing walls of race and religion to separate them from "unclean" Gentile Christians.
As the apostles began to fall in martyrdom and the years progressed, the Church moved away from the freedom Jesus purchased on the cross to embrace the bondage of man's religious agenda and establish man-made "mediators" once again.
Time and again, God intervened to bring correction to the Church by tearing down our self-constructed walls and restoring the things we lost through apathy and apostasy! (Almost as if He had to constantly re-invent the Church.) He brought reformation through Martin Luther and other great reformers; He restored the Scriptures to common men through William Tyndale; and He ignited prayer through the Moravians, revival through the Wesleys, and transformation through countless others who launched hundreds of spiritual renewals, revivals, and "awakenings."
Through it all, God confronted our tendency to drift away from passion for His presence toward the relative ease of the lukewarm "religious" life. The Lord has a difficult time "fitting" into the lukewarm churches that have become so common to our generation. No room ... no revival. We have learned how to make church comfortable for man, but where is the church that has learned how to make things comfortable for God?
The Problem Is That Jesus Was "Dual-Natured"
Unlike the traveling Tenneys, Jesus did not say, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" because He had children traveling with Him. He said it because of His unique nature. Jesus wasn't saying, "I don't have any friends." Nor was He saying, "I don't have enough money to get a hotel room." He was saying, "I have a hard time finding a place where I fit and where I'm comfortable." The problem is that Jesus was "dual-natured."
If Jesus Christ were purely God, then any legitimate temple of worship would do. If He were just a man, any four-star hotel would do. The problem is that He was both God and man. He had to find a refuge that was both a place of worship for divinity and a place of hospitality for humanity. He needed a resting place that would make Him feel at home as Deity, while also caring for His human needs. No dividing wall!
It is one thing to host Him purely as God, or to serve Him purely as a man. It is another thing, however, to host Him as both God and man at the same time!
We think we know what to do for Divinity. Some of us stand and raise our hands in praise and worship while others fall to their knees in repentance and adoration before Him. We know from the Scriptures that you entertain God by worshiping Him. If He were just a man, it would be even easier to show hospitality to Him by meeting the needs with which we are all too familiar. It is the Messianic combination of the two that makes it so difficult for us.
Any study of the Gospel accounts makes it clear that Jesus very often revisited certain places. We understand why He visited Jerusalem so often. It is mentioned by name 821 times in the Bible, and Jesus called it the "city of the great King." We assume that Capernaum is on the list because Jesus did many miracles there and regularly stayed at a house in that city.
What Transformed Mary and Martha's
House Into a Home?
What about Bethany? Why does it seem like Jesus stayed in Bethany every time He went to Jerusalem? What was so special about that place? I believe Jesus was comfortable at Mary and Martha's house because both His humanity and His divinity were cared for. I think that house became a home to Jesus because Mary entertained His divinity and Martha hosted His humanity.
This small village is situated on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. We know from the Scriptures that Bethany was "a sabbath day's journey" away from Jerusalem, or a distance of about one mile.
This is significant because the Pharisees had a rule that you could walk only so many steps on the sabbath. Anyone who took even one step more had transgressed the Law. (This is the literal origin of the phrase, "Sunday afternoon stroll.")
Jerusalem was a walled city, and the gates of the city were closed at nightfall every day. Jesus didn't mind conducting Kingdom business in Jerusalem, but for some reason, He preferred to leave Jerusalem and stay in Bethany. The village was just within legal "commuting distance" for Jewish travelers anxious to follow the tenets of the Law.
There Was Something Unique
About That House
Whenever Jesus came to Bethany, He always seemed to gravitate toward Mary and Martha's house. Was it because Martha had the biggest house? We don't know how big her house was; we simply know that she owned one and that there was something about it that made Jesus feel welcome and at home there. There was something unique about that house.
Whatever it was, it caused the same One who said, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," to say by His actions, "I can lay My head down here. My deity and My humanity are at home in this place. I feel welcome and respected here; I feel hosted."
There is an art to hospitality. One Italian restaurant chain I frequent seems to possess a unique understanding of hospitality. When you walk up to the door of these restaurants, you are greeted by a staff member who personally opens the door for you.
Now a "pure business manager" would signal disapproval and say, "You could make better use of that employee who is holding that door open by having him clean tables or wait on customers." I think it is fortunate that a broader thinker prevailed at this restaurant. Someone has learned how to tap the potential available through the art of hospitality. The value and enjoyment of dinner at any restaurant rises when someone goes "the extra mile" to create the right environment of hospitality to make customers feel comfortable.
He Needed to Receive Hospitality in Two Realms
There was something about the environment at Mary and Martha's house that made Jesus feel especially comfortable there. I'm convinced that the secret to His comfort begins with His dual nature. He was all God, and He was all man. That means He needed to receive hospitality in two realms.
The dual nature of Jesus shows up constantly in the Gospels. One of the clearest examples involves a small fishing boat, a large body of water, and a raging storm:
And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
This description makes most fishermen in my home state of Louisiana immediately think of Lake Pontchartrain, a large lake north of the city of New Orleans. Sports enthusiasts and professional fishermen in other regions such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio can immediately picture the nightmare of being caught in a small craft when one of those incredible winter storms suddenly descends on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, or Lake Erie.
Even professional fishermen admit that it can get pretty scary riding out a storm in a small boat. Peter, James, and John fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee in boats that weren't large by our standards, but they were large enough to carry Jesus and the 12 disciples.
It appears that at least 7 of the 12 disciples were professional fishermenmen who had fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee all their lives. Jesus was asleep in the bottom of the boat when a storm came up that was so bad that even those seasoned fishermen were convinced they were about to drown!
How bad does a storm have to be for Peter, the bold and self-confident professional fisherman, to say, "I think we're going to die, boys!" How could Jesus be sound asleep in the middle of such a crisis?
Jesus' Slumber in the Storm
Proves His Humanity
Some would argue that it proves His divinity, reasoning, "He was God; therefore, He could sleep at any point." On the contrary, I think it is proof of His humanity! This incident provides rock-solid proof that the humanity of Jesus could become "bone tired."
On some weekends, I have spoken three times on Saturday and three times on Sunday in up to four different churches or conferences. By the end of the last service late Sunday night, I think I could have slept like a baby if someone would have been kind enough to just lean me up in a corner.
I think Jesus was so tired that He was just passed out in a deep sleep. You have to be pretty tired for a gang of worried sailors to tap you on the shoulder and say, "If You don't wake up, then You're going to drown and not know it!"
When Peter and the others frantically awoke Jesus' exhausted humanity, His divinity stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves. This is a perfect snapshot of the dual nature of Jesus Christ.
His Humanity Desired Fruit;
His Divinity Rebuked Fruitlessness
In another place, the humanity of Jesus desired food, so He looked for fruit among the green leaves of a fig tree. When His humanity failed to find fruit despite the leafy display typical of healthy and fruit-bearing fig trees, then the divinity of Jesus rebuked the tree and withered it to the root.
The Gospel of Mark implies that the Lord's hunger was out of sync with the usual fruit-bearing season, but the problem really concerned the fig tree's "signal" that it was ready to deliver its fruit early. In any case, it seems that Jesus wanted to drive home a point about "fruitlessness" to His disciples.
Because I am human, food (or the lack of it) is a serious problem for me, especially with my difficult ministry schedule. It is often hard to find any decent food to eat at the late hours I am able to break away for a meal. We finally began to ask our hosts to put us in a "full-service hotel" to help solve our unique problem.
That is when I discovered that some people have a different definition of "full-service hotel" than I do. Most of the places they want to put us are actually fine hotels. They provide clean rooms and a continental breakfast, which is all I would need if I didn't have to contend with such an odd schedule.
The problem is that sometimes I don't get to eat all day because I've flown from morning to night to reach the meeting location. I often shower and rush to the meeting site as soon as I get in, speak that evening, and pray and encourage spiritually hungry people half the night. Finally, I stagger into my hotel room at 11:30 p.m. or later and realize I haven't eaten anything for 12 or more hours. Things can be difficult for me if the hotel doesn't have room service, or if room service ends at 10:00 p.m. because the cooks have gone home.
Many hotels that are not "full-service" don't have a restaurant on the premises. I usually have no car because my hosts graciously offer to pick me up and drop me off at my very nice room. Many times I've had to ask the driver, "Could we swing by a convenience store or grocery store?" Then I take a lonely stroll through the store aisles at 11:30 at night, wondering, What can I take to the room to eat?
Excerpted from Chasing God, Serving Man by Tommy Tenney Copyright © 2001 by Tommy Tenney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
|Cast of Characters||viii|
|Chapter 1||Foxholes and Birds' Nests: From a Borrowed Womb to a Borrowed Tomb||1|
|Chapter 2||Bethany or Bethlehem?: Spiritual Segregation Is Wrong!||17|
|Chapter 3||Why Aren't You Like Me?: Will Mary and Martha Ever Get Along?||27|
|Chapter 4||Leave Me Alone...: Let Mary Be Mary; Let Martha Be Martha||41|
|Chapter 5||Too Heavy to Fly: What Does It Mean to Be "Cumbered About"?||53|
|Chapter 6||Bi-Polar Spirituality: Am I Mary or Am I Martha?||67|
|Chapter 7||Your Shoes Don't Fit Me!: Seasons Outside the Comfort Zone||79|
|Chapter 8||The Priority of His Presence: When Do We Serve? When Do We Worship?||91|
|Chapter 9||Can You Ride a Bicycle?: The Art of Navigation by Constant Compensation||107|
|Chapter 10||The Church Is Usually a Little "Unbalanced": God's People Can Go From "Glory" to "Goofy"||125|
|Chapter 11||Proximity Effect: The Side Benefits of Living Near a "Bethany"||143|
|Chapter 12||Building a Bethany: Where Passion and Compassion Intersect||153|