Posts Tagged ‘disciple’
Devotion that Keeps Me From Straying
“They are a people whose heart goes astray, and they do not regard my ways.” (Psalm 95:10)
As I begin this journey into the Lenten season, there are a few things I need to be aware of—a caution or two that I will add to those I mentioned from yesterday. When I read the line above from the psalm this morning, my immediate response was a bit judgmental and flavored with disdain. You know, something like, “How could those ungrateful people be so quickly led astray from God?” It didn’t take very long before the Spirit began to unravel some of my judgmental attitude and reflect it back to me. We can all become fragmented in our attention and led astray. Emilie Griffith speaks to this with her words here:
“For many of us the constant onslaught of errands and duties may pile up until it becomes a wall between us and God. We do not consciously turn away from God. Instead, we drift away, like ships without rudders, with no particular aim in mind. Therefore, one thing we can do in Lent is to make a deliberate return.” -Emilie Griffith; Small Surrenders
Little by little, the worries and distractions of life can turn our attentions away from devotion to God. We think we are still being attentive to Him by acknowledging Him with our lips, but the reality of our living and lifestyle do not reflect one who regards His ways. We think, like Peter did, with the mind of man… and this earned him a rebuke from Jesus, who called Peter “Satan.”
“Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture are guilty, not only of betraying God, but losing their own true selves. -W. Paul Jones
What is the remedy for this? I believe the first step is awareness; knowing that the possibility of distraction is real and can affect even the most resolute person of faith. Secondly, I think having a regimen or established discipline is helpful to keep us tethered or grounded in our devotion. Some of these disciplines can seemingly become rote acts of devotion, even appearing to be dry, lifeless, and fruitless. I suppose that can be a real concern, but in my life’s experience I have found even in the rote acts I am tied to the God I am devoted. This devotion stems from a desire to follow Him and know Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. Through faith, I believe He honors that devotion…even if it is sometimes shared in a rote act. That action, no matter how dry it might be, is still an act of devotion born of the desire to remain connected to the God who created me and it keeps me from becoming so distracted that I stray and fail to regard His ways.
“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before—do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul.” -Deut. 13:1-3
This is kind of scary; maybe it even seems a little tricky and unfair to us. The LORD says He will test us to see if we will stray. He will test our love and devotion. This provides me with all the incentive I need to stay on my toes and remain alert. It is precisely the reason that I need disciplines…rote or otherwise to keep me rooted, grounded, tethered, and anchored to the God of my faith.
A couple of other thoughts occurred to me while I was in Scripture today. While reading a text from John’s Gospel, these words stirred me: “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’” (John 1:38)
I found these words encouraging. As I follow Jesus into this season of repentance and reset, I hear him asking me; “What are you looking for?” I believe as we journey together, I will be able to identify what I am looking for…and I will be able to communicate that to him. Actually, I believe as I walk with Jesus, he will help me to realize what I’m looking for…and realize I have found it fully and completely in Him.
“God’s way can be grasped only in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus. For Jesus’ way is God’s way and God’s way is not for Jesus only but for everyone who is truly seeking God. Here we come up against the hard truth that the descending way of Jesus is also the way for us to find God. Jesus doesn’t hesitate for a moment to make that clear.” -Henri Nouwen
Finally, another word, this from the apostle Paul to the Titus, lifted my spirits as well. I know; experience has shown me, that I will get tired during these 40-days. I will go through a bout or few of depression and even may get a bit discouraged by my own weaknesses. I may begin to doubt that I will accomplish what God desires for me. These following words will serve me as a reminder to be encouraged during these low times:
12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13 NRSV)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.
O God, Maker of all mankind, give the rewards of joy, grant the gifts of graces, dissolve the chains of quarreling, and bind fast the agreements of peace. Almighty God, ever-lasting Father, your love was poured forth upon our world from the cross. As we have come to know the grace of our Lord’s resurrection, grant that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we may rise with him to new life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
Ash Wednesday: Entering the Desert–A Time to Reset
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, Ash Wednesday, an acknowledgement of our individual and collective brokenness—a time to realize and to confess how far we have veered from the radiant image of the God who created us.
While Lent is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are multiple illustrations and seasons where the call to repentance, both individual and corporate, went out to people. The actual practice of Lent has origins dating back as early as 200AD with mentions of corporate fasting by the church father St. Irenaeus. The Fast of Lent was later formalized between the years of 313 – 325 in the disciplinary canons of the Nicean Council. This call beckoned people to turn from their selfish desires and return to the path of righteousness, which is God. Lent is about turning…repentance, and transformation. I like that Lent can serve as a reset point for me. I also like that I am not alone, and this on several levels. As corporate observance, I know the Church universal (at least many, though not all) will be observing this season and I find support in the fact that I am not alone in this period of reset, turning, and transformation. I also find support in knowing that during this season of Lent, these 40-days, I enter into the desert wilderness of my soul following Jesus and the example he left us in the gospels when he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by Satan.
Lent is traditionally the season of focused, concentrated transformation of self, from old man to new. Lent is the time when new patterns of living are forged to last a year and when new attitudes of heart are developed… I have been made brand new in Christ, but there is lots of change to make. 40 days of transformation. Neil Robbie
I enter into the wilderness with Jesus…facing my weaknesses, to learn what He learned and to be taught by the same Spirit that taught Him. I like how Emilie Griffith points out that Lent is “a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders.” These small surrenders are the baby steps that lead to total surrender and whole-life transformation into the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. Henri Nouwen says these little surrenders are choices we make along our way. He writes; “The choice for your way has to be made every moment of our life.” I am learning there are no times or places where there are not choices… everyday is full of choices always before me to choose my way or the way of Jesus. Lord, I pray, help me always to choose you.
Take care you do not forget the LORD… (Deut. 6:12)
My Bible reading this morning reminded me of the dilemma faced by us all. It can be so easy to have our eyes and hearts distracted from the Way of our Lord. The world we live in is noisy and paced it seems at light speed. Survival takes effort and energy…hazards of all types exist around every corner and in every shadow. We get tired, sick, disheartened…distracted. We look for escape and begin to daydream about anything and everything except the present moment. Many people begin the path of self-medication, fulfilling those daydream fantasies, choosing alcohol, prescription drugs, and a myriad of other escape vehicles. All of this makes it easy to be distracted from the focus on our God even to the point that we forget the LORD.
I think this can be the case even for many of us who remain in groups that attend church services, even those of us who “do stuff” that Christians do like serving other people and reading our Bibles or other devotional material. We still “forget the LORD.” We can end up going through the motions, dried up, burnt out, worn to just a shell of a person from the hectic, noisy, distracted lives we lead. This is why Lent and participation in these 40-days is good for us. We are provided an earnest time of focus and dedication to our Lord… returning to the roots of our faith, if you will.
We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversion, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ. -Thomas Merton
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
And so, we enter the desert, to a time of fasting, repentance, and remembrance of our frailty. We answer the call of our Lord to be converted and be reconciled. We turn to Him with hopeful anticipation of the work He will wrought in us as we surrender ourselves to His molding and shaping. Make me, O Lord, like unto You. Have Your way in me…always today and forever. Amen
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [08DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)
The apostle Paul goes on to write about the resurrection of the dead and encourages the living believers that our hope in the resurrection includes being reunited with all believers who have died before us. Therefore, “we should not grieve like people who have no hope.”
For some reason, my spirit wrestles with these words. Paul is not telling his listeners not to grieve; he’s telling them (us) not to grieve like people with no hope. What does that mean? I think I understand, but the difference between what I perceive as hope-filled grieving and hopeless grieving might be somewhat blurry. I believe the point is to always have our eye on the end game, but our feet planted in the present. We have to be conscious and present to both worlds to be any good in either. This is what I tell myself I believe, for now.
The problem, as I see it, is that hope and faith are so nebulous, easily shaped and even malformed from person to person. Fortunately, we have been given a glimpse of our future and our hope. Christ himself dictates to John from the throne (Rev. 21:3-7) the glory of the new heaven and new earth when God will dwell with man for eternity and there will be no more tears or suffering. This is the most tangible version or our hope and it often gets lost in the tyranny of our days. The noises and exceedingly busy pace of life can easily distract our focus from our hope. When this happens, we’re easily misled and prone to react the same as people without hope. What is the solution? We should make the effort to un-busy our lives, intentionally moving in directions that will simplify our existence to the degree we will always be able to focus on our endgame, no matter how loud or frantic life may get.
Today I consider my waiting and recognize giving thanks that it has taught me to slow down and simplify. By simplifying my life in general, I have been able to focus on a future hope that Christ has promised me. I’m less distracted by the things that captivate people with no hope (money, power, possessions, and prestige), and more attracted to Christlike virtues and Jesus-described-kingdom living (The Sermon on the Mount; Matt. 5-7).
Today I reset my hope on these things: I wish to live more like the kingdom citizens Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount. When my hope starts to tarnish and lose shape, it is always good to have a point to model and reset from.
Grant us a wholesome life, revive our zeal and love, O Father Almighty, through Jesus Christ the Lord, who reigns with you for all time with the Holy Spirit.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rest my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Correct our eyesight, we pray you Lord, with the gift of faith that as we see you in the baby of Bethlehem so may we see and hear you in those who speak your word, and so may we serve you by serving those in whose distress you are disguised. As at Christmas you came among us to love the unlovable, so teach us to love with the love by which we are loved by you. Amen. Let it be.
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Jesus for President? Probably not…
Political Post Warning…
I’m feeling frisky, so I thought I’d share some musings on this day, our presidential election, in our United States of America. Since I am unashamedly a follower of Messiah Jesus, I thought I’d post a few thoughts from a Christian perspective.
I’ve seen quite a few thoughts around the web that invoke the idea of “vote for Jesus” or “Jesus for president” and other similar inferences like making the most “informed Christian” vote (that is assuming your or my vote would be most closely aligned with who Jesus would vote for. And this assumes He would vote at all—but that is another conversation).
First, let me say that I voted and I believe in the process, even as flawed as it might be; I’m glad I get to vote on the leadership in this nation.
Now, onto the idea of Jesus for president…
Really? I wonder how long Jesus would last if he were really voted in. Let’s hypothetically assume the United States is a Christian nation, and let’s take it one step further and assume that every United States citizen professes themselves aligned with Christianity as their faith affiliation.
First, it is my opinion that Jesus would not be voted in at all if the things he taught and the things he did were reported through the media as are most other presidential candidates.
If good communication skills are a prerequisite and being able to clearly dictate a position are necessary to win over voters, I don’t think Jesus would have scored very high even though we call him a great orator. He said that he chose to deliberately speak in parables so some people would hear him clearly and others would not (see Luke 8).
According to the gospels, Jesus doesn’t seem to be very keen on capitalism, free market systems, amassing fortunes, or retirement plans. In fact, he once told a story about a man who had raised a bumper crop of wheat. The man figured he’d done well and could retire on his efforts and earnings only to be called a “fool” and have his life taken by God that very night (Luke 12:13-21). Additionally, the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospels seem to favor Socialism over the Free Market system that fuels most of the American Dream.
Many people like to believe that Jesus is “fair” and universal in his approach toward helping humanity, but the gospels teach differently about this perception as well. Jesus was often in the midst of great crowds, but we’re only told of two accounts where he fed the masses. I’m reasonably sure there were more than three people that he was aware of who died in the places he traveled, but we’re only told of three that he raised from the dead. In the early pages of Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus healed all that were brought to him in one day, yet on the morning of the next day, he left people who wanted and needed healing with their disease and sickness telling his disciples he had to go to the next city… “this is not the reason I have come” (Mark 1:29-39). Then there was the scene at the pool of Bethseda; where John recounts there were “many invalids there,” yet Jesus chose to heal only one… (John 5:1-13) and this does not even take into account that Jesus broke the law of the land to heal this man by healing him on the Sabbath.
Certainly my words sound somewhat facetious; it is a literary tool to help us consider our own motives and political positions, but in reality Jesus was a radical that not too many people would be happy with as a president. What if he came to you and demanded you sell all your possessions to give to the poor? What if he advised you the only way you could be part of his country/kingdom was to give up all your status and become a servant to all? What if he announced the only way you could keep your life was to sacrifice it for someone who despised you? I think most people would say; “Jesus, you’re out of your flipping mind…” kinda the same way people thought when he told them his body and blood were real food and drink (John 6:22-59).
He tells us if someone asks for our tunic, give it to them and your shirt too. He says if someone asks you to carry their load a mile, carry it two. If someone cracks you on the jaw, turn your cheek and offer it to them so your bruising will be symmetrical. People say Jesus never wants anyone to be a doormat for others, but this is exactly what he made of himself….and still does today. He is the gate and the doormat to the kingdom of God and He invites us to follow Him.
I think it sounds nice and spiritually self-righteous to say “Jesus for President!” I don’t think it is very heartfelt or realistic, unless of course it is some other Jesus that we are talking about that isn’t the Jesus mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
Oh, and don’t think for a minute, that I’m not talking about myself here too. I’m as guilty as the next person who wants their proverbial “cake and to eat it too.” I want to follow the Jesus in the Scriptures, and I call myself trying, but I also see the enormous chasm between his teachings and my reality. If Jesus were on the ballot, I’m not sure I would be prepared to vote for him…especially after reading his campaign promises in the gospels.
Jesus for president? Let me think on that awhile.
I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye for a few weeks now. It is something I have taken to calling “walking lock-step with Jesus.” I don’t know that the vision itself is the subject of this post, but it has stirred quite a few other thoughts about the Christian journey. I should probably describe what I mean when I use the word “lockstep.”
I served in the U.S. Navy, and while the Navy might not be known for its parade pageantry, I can remember spending a considerable amount of time marching in formation during my boot camp days. There were something like 80-90 men in our company and we spent hours and hours learning to march in step with one another and in formation as a group of one…a unit…a single organism. The swinging of our arms, the turning of our heads, the length of stride, our turns, our stops, and our starts were all synchronized with the persons next to us. When the unit was in lockstep, it was a beautiful thing to behold—even more beautiful was seeing a dozen or more of these companies marching lockstep with one another—the precision was astounding and a work of art for the eye and ear to behold.
What does this have to do with Jesus? I think a lot. As I said, the way we trained was matching the stride and movement of the person next to us. We did have a leader calling out the cadence and direction to the company, but we were specifically matching our “march” with the person on our right in most cases. How this relates to Jesus might seem obvious about now, but in the event that it does not… in my illustration, Jesus is my “right-hand-guide.” He is the One I key on: matching my stride, swinging my arms, and following even the turn of my head all with Him. I do what Jesus does. This might also be a more comprehensive metaphor for the Church, but I think you get the picture.
Marching lockstep with Jesus is a beautiful thing, but what happens when the rhythm gets broken? Well, for starters, precision is thrown out the door. When one guide loses step with the person on their right, the march of the entire company usually follows. The slightest timing shift can undo the lockstep of the entire company…and this is where some of my peripheral thoughts have been wandering. Once this cascade of “losing step” takes place, it is hard to get back into lockstep. The march is a mass of confusion with everything seemingly losing synch, arms swinging, heads turning…steps, strides…everything. It’s difficult to know where to trust or “key” your movements from as you “lose sight” of your marching partner, not because he is no longer there, but you’ve shifted your attention to the “individual” marchers all around you. Everyone looks the same…but different…you no longer know who or what to trust.
Losing step with Jesus can be as unnerving or even more unnerving than the scenario I describe. As we move through the course of our lives, stuff happens and we can momentarily shift our attention away from Jesus and lose our step with him. This slight shift can throw us completely out of alignment, sometimes to the point that we cannot see him, hear him, or even look like we are doing anything remotely like he is doing. Times like these cause us to panic and doubt our reality—we try to force our way back into syncopation (a weak beat)…half-stepping to get back into synchronization and lockstep—frustration abounds with every misstep and failure.
Occasionally, rarely, the company would find its groove and get back into lockstep, but more often what would take place was the sure-fire fix. A command would come out from the company commander, “Com—pany HALT!” The entire company would stop, every man would collect themselves with a deep breath and get their eyes fixed on their marching partner (guide). The company commander would then issue the order, “Com—pany, For-Ward MARCH!” and the unit would be in lockstep again.
Walking lockstep with Jesus might not be as described in my illustration, but I think there are things we can learn. I can recognize even more similarities than what I’ve shared here. I think the most valuable lesson I take away is that missteps might occur and if/when they do, I shouldn’t panic. The best course of action is to stop, take a deep breath, regroup, recenter, reorient, and re-fix my eyes on Jesus and begin again. This is how I get my lockstep back on.
God Works in You, A Man Born Blind…
I’ve been thinking about my morning Bible reading for most of the day, a hodge podge of Scripture that is seemingly unrelated, but seems eerily connected in some divine “now what” sorta way. The Gospel reading came from John the ninth chapter where the healing of the “Man Born Blind” is recounted. The entire episode is rather bizarre in that most of Jesus’ accusers are neither happy for the blind man who can now see, nor are they incredulous that he has been healed at all. Instead of happy and incredulous, they are fuming and flipping mad at Jesus for healing the man…and on the Sabbath Day no less. What was Jesus thinking?
The part of the story that really stroked my brain and got me to thinking comes at the end of the chapter.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41)
Two very serious points in these words of Jesus: (1) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (2) “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” These are some serious self examination questions if there ever were any. The questions I think begging to be asked are what am I doing with the wonderful, marvelous grace God has given to me? What is it that I or we claim to know? The Pharisees claimed to know Moses and the Law. I think they also knew the writings of the prophets and the prophetic poems and songs of the Psalms. The foreshadow of the Christ was in all of these, and that they did not know Jesus… well, that was the seal of their guilt. How much more revelation do we have in our age? How much more information do we have at the touch of a finger or the birth of a thought even… but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Another passage in the hodge-podge soup of the day comes from the letter to the Philippians 2:12-13 NLT.
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Scripture passages like this cause us grief and trouble. As Protestants in particular, we don’t like the words “work” and “salvation” to be joined in the same page…much less the same sentence. We prefer the magic of grace where we get saved without lifting a finger. In the interest of fairness, we cannot earn our salvation, but that doesn’t mean for one instant that work is not involved. Over and over through Scripture we are invited into partnership with God. We are instructed to do certain things and to abstain from certain things; we are given models to follow—an athlete, a farmer, a soldier—all of which the lifestyles and character involve disciplined and hard work. Yet, so often, we want for God to wave His arm over us and make our unhealthy habits disappear without us making any sacrifice whatsoever.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we are “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries” (1 Cor. 4:1). Wow, stewards of God’s mysteries he says. I wonder if we take this role seriously. I wonder what am I doing to exemplify the work of God in my life in proportion to what I know. No, I know I am working to show the results of my salvation. I am.
Out of deep reverence and fear, I know God is at work in me and I know that it is He who gives me the power and the desire—His Holy Spirit at work in me—to do what pleases Him. I can see, and I want to be and remain being guiltless before my God. Therefore, I will continue to press on, seeking to understand and put into practice all I learn about loving the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.
I am a steward of God’s mysteries. I will work, live, and continue to mature in all of His ways for the simple reason that I was once that Blind Man and it was me He healed…and like that blind man… I worship the God-man who made me see (John 9:35-38).
Earlier this week Laurie and I were reading Scripture together and one of our readings came from Psalm 78:1-39. There were several verses that kick-started some thoughts that follow.
“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the word of my mouth.” (Psalm 78:1)
“Set your hope on God; do not forget his mighty works.” (Psalm 78:7)
As followers of Christ, we cannot afford to have “spirits that are not faithful to God” or “hearts that are not steadfast.” The psalmist writes about the spiritual attitudes of the Hebrew people…it seems we may not have learned or changed much during the past few thousand years.
“They sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food that they craved…” (Psalm 78:17-18)
“…They had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.” (Psalm 78:22)
“He gave them what they craved… While the food was still in their mouths, he killed the strongest of them.” (Psalm 78:29-31)
In the Bible, the desert often serves as the place of testing and trial. The account mentioned in the Psalms is both literal and metaphorical in its application; it is literal with the historical account of the Hebrew people and it is metaphorical in how it applies to us. It seems this chronicle could have been written about almost any generation of people, ours included. The saying goes; “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” I don’t think my experience is unique; the human nature has an unrelenting tendency to want what it wants and damned be anything that gets in the way of that…
and that includes God much of the time.
Arthur Boers writes the following:
“When we put our own particular priorities at the center of everything, it becomes harder and harder to acknowledge God or any factor that might be beyond our control and prediction… We think of idolatry as bizarre practices involving fire and sacrifices, gaudy statues, and frenzied dancing, but the concept is still relevant because it involves, among other things, attributing too much importance to the wrong priorities. Idolatry can mean thinking something is more valuable or powerful or fearful than it truly is.” -Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus; pp.88-89
“Their heart was not steadfast toward him… their spirit was not faithful to God.” (Psalm 78:8)
How can our hearts be steadfast for God when they are more steadfast for us and our personal interests? I get this; it was my problem for much of the first four decades of my life. I wanted to have the blessing and promises of God in and upon my life, but I wanted them according to my terms and my timing. All this, of course, dictated by a heart that was steadfast for itself. Yeah. How about that?
I don’t think I stand alone and I don’t think I stand in small company either. I have found that almost anyone can be steadfast in their love and obedience to God in a season of good and plenty, but bring on a season of “desert wilderness” and watch the lips and feet start to drag. It seems the wilderness seasons of our lives are our proving grounds…not to God, but to ourselves. The desert proves our weakness, by either breaking us from what we are or by building us to what we are supposed to become. In either event, we will hold on to our own hearts or we will learn to release our hearts entirely to God.
The wilderness reveals our idolatry and the things we truly value…and in whom we place our trust. Do we trust God or will we reveal that it is ourselves whom we really trust after all? This is what the desert wilderness proves. Can we wait until God brings water from a stone or will we dig our own well? Will we be content to eat the food of angels or will we demand the things that we crave? The lives we presently live are not much different from the examples shared with us from Scripture; there are precious few people who have learned to truly wait upon the Lord and place all their trust in Him. So many times, I have heard people expressing their frustrations and anger at God because “things didn’t turn out like they expected.” I wonder where these thoughts come from. I cannot speak to the thoughts or heart of others, but when I used to feel this way, it was because of my own self-idolatry. Then I learned about the path of Jesus, who said; “Whoever does not deny himself, carry the cross, and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). And, “Very truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me” (John 12:24-25).
These are hard words. These are desert wilderness words that will prove how steadfast our hearts are for Jesus. Our reality boils down to this; how much do we embrace the single greatest command of God given to us? When asked, Jesus said the most important thing for any human being was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-30). We give the most minimal of lip service to this most important command, dancing around it most of the time, hoping that it isn’t something we really have to talk about. Many people whom I’ve spoken with about this commandment seem to think it is impossible to love God to the degree in which he commands us. I find this interesting, because failure to believe the veracity of this commandment of God is failure to believe and trust the God who issues the command. What does that tell us about our faith? I think what it says is this; “The command to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength is impossible as long as I love me with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.” This is our struggle. It is the original struggle from as early as the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. They doubted God’s goodness. They trusted their own devices and thinking over the instructions of God. They cut the trail we have continued to follow… as the psalmist writes; “They sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food that they craved…” (Psalm 78:17-18) “…They had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.” (Psalm 78:22) “He gave them what they craved… (Psalm 78:29). “Their heart was not steadfast toward him… their spirit was not faithful to God.” (Psalm 78:8).
Isn’t it time we broke the cycle? I want my heart to be ever steadfast for my God, a faithful and obedient lover of Jesus.
Short Term Memory… or Stay Close to the Grill
I forget stuff. I still know the things I forget, but I need reminded every so often that the things I have forgotten are moved back to my frontal lobes and immediate memory. I don’t know enough about the brain to say it really works that way, but it makes sense to my way of understanding. Oh, anyway, I forget stuff—stuff that I still know—I just need reminded that I know the stuff I’ve forgotten.
Take for instance, teaching from the Bible. Many Christians are very knowledgeable about the Bible and practice its teachings faithfully, especially while life is running smoothly. We have a fairly good memory of God’s teaching to us while life is unharried and we’re often quick to offer “faith nuggets” to those in need when they suffer short-term memory loss due to the pressures of life. I personally identify with these examples. Sometimes I succumb to an annoying season of life and begin to spin into doldrums where I’m smitten with frustration and disappointment. I’m cruising along in my dark shuffle when I will hear or read something that reminds me of the promise of God’s word and I am immediately lifted out of the shuffling dark to the dancing light. And I say; “I knew that.” And I wonder why I forgot it in the first place.
I remember times when I’ve gone to a county fair or town carnival. There’s always tons of stuff going on with rides, midway games, and all types of neat things to eat. It’s almost some sort of sensory overload when you walk onsite of one of these events… lights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Walking around ground level at these fairs, it’s hard to distinguish where sounds and smells come from and you get lost in one to another. I would be walking along and catch a whiff of popcorn or cotton candy… grilled sausage or charbroiled burger. All of the sudden I’m overtaken with desire wanting the thing I smell so vividly; I’m captured, consumed with want and hunger—until I walk around the corner and a new sight and sound overtakes me. I forget about the burger because a “carnival barker” invites me to test my strength or challenge my fears. Life can be like that too. I get pressured with stuff and distracted by the moment and forget the things I “know” and I need to be reminded. Like the carnival.
If I want that great smelling burger, I can’t be walking around being distracted by the other noises and smells. I need to stay close to the grill. I believe remembering God’s promises might be similar. Life’s distractions are many and every day. If I don’t want to be pulled from God’s truths, I need to stay close to His grill… I mean word.