The Key to Everything – Paying Respect to Dr. Kenneth Bailey

A year and a half ago I met with one of my three modern literary mentors, Ken Bailey. (The other two would be N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard). I’d always wanted to meet Ken, and finally, through some serious stalking, I made an appointment with him and ended up in his living room in central Pennsylvania.  Dr. Bailey died on May 23, 2016.

Ken was a modern-day hero to many of us who want to discern and follow the ways of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a true, biblical scholar and lived for 40 years in the Middle East studying the context and culture of Jesus and writing, in my opinion, the wisest and most helpful material on the parables of anyone.

I had a list of a dozen questions about everything from Middle Eastern politics, to the church’s response to Muslims, to Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian question. He would think carefully, sometimes put his head between his hands, sigh deeply, and answer cautiously – like a true scholar full of good information but not wanting to spit it out too quickly. I loved the process. We sat for over two hours doing this – back and forth. The student and the teacher. It felt like a dream.

Then I asked one last question. I think I surprised him with this one. I simply said “Dr. Bailey, what do you think is the key to everything? Success? Purpose? Everything? What’s the key?”

Shockingly, he said “Oh that’s easy, it’s to experience God’s love.”

What? He’d been so careful to answer all my other questions and yet this one, the biggest of all, the answer burst out of him, almost without a thought. As if he knew. He went on….

“You see, to experience God’s love, and note that I said ‘experience’ his love, means to be secure. When you’re secure you make wise decisions. If you have not experienced, his love, then you’re insecure. And when you’re insecure, you make bad decisions. That’s the key to everything.”

Oh my. And of course, he’s right. It is the key to everything. This eminent Jesus-Scholar just spoke the most profound words I’ve heard in a long time. And of course, that’s what Jesus does – he shows us God’s love. He demonstrates God’s love. He is God’s love manifest.

If we want to know what God is like (and God is love), we look at Jesus. When we experience Jesus, we experience God’s love. Jesus is the exact representation of God. Jesus demonstrated his love for us by coming to earth and humbly living among us. By teaching and showing us a better way to live. By dying for us. By rising again and constantly interceding for us.  And ultimately, by spending the rest of his life with us. Amazing love.

Ken Bailey was one of the main reasons I started Simply Jesus with my friends Jay and Bart. It was his life. His books. His example of a life well-lived. I invited him, no, begged him, each year to come and be with us – but he was too frail to travel. I even asked if he’d “Skype in” but he didn’t really get what that meant. He was content. He was focused on his last book about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He lived and died well.

But our annual Simply Jesus gatherings are an ode to him. A living memoir to a man full of grace and truth – like Jesus.

Will you join us in the spirit of Dr. Kenneth Bailey this summer at a ranch near Vail, Colorado to worship and learn from the Humble King – Jesus?