New is a Good Word

14King Herod heard, because Jesus was becoming famous. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that’s why these powers are working in him.” 15But others were saying, “It’s Elijah!” and others were saying, “A prophet like one of the prophets.” 16But Herod said, “The one I beheaded, John, it’s him, raised from the dead.” — Mark 6:14-16 (HN)

When we see something new, we try to fit it into a familiar pattern.  It’s a normal human reaction.  In fact, it’s one of the ways in which we learn language.  You see one tree, and you learn it’s a tree.  Over time, you see many trees, and you get an idea of the boundaries of the category tree. Some time later you might be traveling and see a tree fern.  It would have many of the characteristics of a tree, but if you study deeper, you would find that it’s not really a tree at all, that it’s relatives in the plant family are somewhat more distant.

We carry that natural tendency into spiritual things.  Whenever we see something happen, we want to put it into a category of things that we’ve seen before, that we understand.  Why?  It’s comforting!  People discuss labels a lot, and many are quite uncomfortable with them.  Is someone conservative, moderate, liberal?  Are they charismatic, pentecostal, or cessationist?  We talk about the dangers of labels, and yet we continue to label people.

It’s an ingrained habit.  You’ve been doing it since before you can remember.  It makes sense of the world.  It allows you to deal with things that individually might be overwhelming.

The people of Galilee were putting Jesus into a comforting category.  Did you notice Herod’s response?  He had every reason to hope that John the Baptist had not risen from the dead.  He had killed John.  But it’s still easier for him to accept that John has come back from the dead than to look at the possibility that this is something new and different, something for which you just don’t have a good category.

The people also want something comfortable and manageable.  Oh, he’s Elijah come back.  That’s pretty exciting, isn’t it?  But they were missing the possibility of something new.  Others thought Jesus must be a prophet, like one of the other prophets.  That’s still a comfortable category.

But while all these people were doing the natural thing and fitting Jesus into a known category, they were missing the new thing that had come up.  Their familiar categories that had made the world safe and manageable were keeping them from seeing what was really going on.

I’m not going to suggest you quit fitting things into categories. That’s a basic function of thinking.  But I am going to suggest being alert for new things, both physical and spiritual.

When a friend comes to you excited about a new experience, don’t just say, “I’ve seen lots of things like that before.” Consider the possibility that there’s really something new.  You’ll encourage your friend, and you may just open yourself to a new experience.

When something new happens in your church, don’t be too quick to fit it into the existing categories.  Let it be what it is.  Look twice or three times to see what God is doing in that specific instance.

Don’t be afraid of the new.  Test, yes.  But don’t just test to see if it’s familiar and reject it if it isn’t.  Test to see if it’s God moving, and try to recognize something new.

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