Archives For Jesus

In my post last night I wrote:

At times I struggle because I have chosen to put my family ahead of my career.  At times I find myself wondering what might have been if I had made career advancement my goal.  Tonight I had no struggles, but instead gratitude.  Gratitude that I could share the adventure, share my heart, and share the love of God’s Son with my son.

Today I stopped to grab a bagel for lunch and read a few pages in “Renovation of the Heart.”  I hope I can communicate to you the connection between what I wrote last night and the words of Willard I read today.

Regarding ideas, Dallas Willard wrote:

Ideas are very general models of or assumptions about reality.  They are patterns of interpretation, historically developed and socially shared.  They sometimes are involved with beliefs, but are much more than belief and do not depend upon it.  They are ways of thinking about and interpreting things.  They are so pervasive and essential to how we think about and how we approach life that we often do not even know they are there or understand when and how they are at work.  Our idea system is a cultural artifact, growing up with us from earliest childhood out of the teachings, expectations, and observable behaviors of family and community.  .  .  .  it is extremely difficult for most people to recognize which ideas are governing their life and how those ideas are governing their life.

This is partly because one commonly identifies his or her own governing ideas with reality.  .  .  .  Another illustration of “idea grip” would be how most people think of success in life in terms of promotions and possessions.  One’s culture is seen most clearly in what one thinks of as “natural” and as requiring no explanation or even thought.

It is this particular “idea grip” that still has a grasp on me.  And I do think that what ideas are seen by most as “natural” define the true reality of our culture.  We currrently live in a cultural that places a heavy emphasis on job titles, promotions, responsibilities and the like.  We judge people by the job/career that they have and by the possessions they have accumulated – the house, car, boat, lake home, furnishings, artwork, etc.

Yet when I spend time pondering the teachings of Jesus, he places no importance in these ideas.  And instead I find that the ideas which he promulgates are seen as “unnatural” within our cultural setting.  And so today I realized that my subconscious is the midst of a battle of ideas.  A battle between the prevailing cultures definition of success, and Christ’s definition of success.  Which idea will win?  The one that I feed.  And that is why I am reading Renovation of the Heart.

Now, the simplicity of spiritual formation lies in its intention.  Its aim is to bring every element in our being, working from inside out, into harmony with the will of God and the kingdom of God.  This is the simple focus.  We must keep it constantly before us and not be distracted by other things, no matter how good they may appear.  (Willard)

On to the (spiritual) journey.

My son, who is seven, came down with some kind of “bug” this week and had to stay home from school the last two days.  On this occasion it made sense for me to be the one to take time off work to be with him and it turned into an unexpected adventure.

Earlier this year he and I started to read the Chronicles in Narnia together.  He leans heavily against my shoulder and hangs on every word.  Occasionally he will stop me and ask me to point out a word, which he then studies with rapt attention.  Or he will ask me what some creature is: say a Naiad, or a Dryad, or a Centaur.  At this point we will usually turn to the laptop to find a few exemplars and then move along.

Yesterday, when he was the sickest, we only read two chapters.  Today, he was on the mend and he was on a mission to devour the story together.  And so we read the final eight chapters of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”

Of course I love the opportunity to sit ever so close on the couch and share a good adventure together.  But even more, I enjoy the opportunity  it brings for me to build into his life.  To paint a picture of good and evil, right and wrong — and our place, our mission in the midst of it.  I seized the opportunity to show him the parallels between Narnia and our world, between Aslan and Jesus, between Edmund and each of us.  I even warned him that I might cry, as I often do, when Aslan gives his life for Edmund.  And I explained how I was like Edmund and Jesus was my Aslan.  I don’t think he really gets it yet, but he did keep looking to see if any tears wear running down my cheek.

After we finished the last chapter and I put him to bed I had a few moments to reflect.  At times I struggle because I have chosen to put my family ahead of my career.  At times I find myself wondering what might have been if I had made career advancement my goal.  Tonight I had no struggles, but instead gratitude.  Gratitude that I could share the adventure, share my heart, and share the love of God’s Son with my son.

The journey adventure continues.

IMG_4655It happened to me again last week.  A total stranger began pouring out their soul to me.  This time it was a man at the hospital.  He was clearly disturbed — wiping his eyes and putting his sunglasses on while waiting for the elevator to arrive at the fifth floor.  He was fidgeting, nervous, desperate to get out of the building.  So I struck up a conversation with him.  He told me he needed to talk to someone, but he didn’t know where he was going to go, or what he was going to do or who he was going to talk to.  And so I said – “talk to me.”  At first, he was taken aback, but then we talked.  And he scared me.  He scared me because he hurt so much and because there was a battle raging inside his soul — a battle between good and evil.

He told me about the woman he loved deeply who was lying in a hospital bed, sick.  Whose mental status rendered her incapable of making medical decisions.  And although the two of them had been living together for ten years, he was not able to be part of her decisional care.  His heart literally ached because he had pounded his chest in anger until it was bruised.  He wanted to be part of her care, he wanted to take her home, to love her, to provide for her — and he wasn’t being allowed to.

And then he began to talk about being a sinner.  The worst of all sinners, he told me as he began to list the sins that he clearly felt made him an awful person.  So I tried to enter into that with him.  I talked about grace and sin.  And I joined him at the front of that line of sinners.  And then he said he had to go.  He said he had an agenda, some things he needed to do.  But before he left, he gave me his phone number “in case I ever needed to talk.”

I was left to observe that the world is full of hurting people.  Desperate people.

What is one to do?  How does one bring light to darkness?  How does one bring hope to desperation? How does one bring healing to hurt?

How does one help people realize that they are “an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”? (Dallas Willard’s definition)  How do you help them understand what that means and how it changes their life?  And finally, how does one do it while standing in a hospital corridor in front of a gift shop filled with meaningless trinkets?

I did my best to be present in his pain as my mind raced, wondering — how was I to fully enter into this conversation?  How could I, in this God ordained, unexpected moment, bring the Light of the world and the presence of God’s kingdom into his reality?

I struggled, you see, because I was raised in a religious culture where the answer was always to say “the sinner’s prayer,” to “ask Jesus into your heart.”  And then magically, everything would be alright.  Except, of course, it wasn’t.

I have learned as I have grown older that this world is a broken place and that pain and suffering is continually present.  And I have learned that the gospel isn’t a prayer.

What is the gospel?  Literally, it is the “good news.”  Do you know what the good news is for Alan?  It is that the kingdom of God is available to him, even to him, who believes that he is the worst of all sinners.

And why is he blessed?  Because even in this, the worst of circumstances, the kingdom of God is available to him.

Isn’t that what Jesus really meant when he announced the coming of the kingdom?  Let’s suppose I decided to write a modern paraphrase of the Gospel of Matthew — couldn’t I write:  “blessed are you when your live in girlfriend is lying in a hospital bed in a non-decisional state — for yours is the kingdom of heaven?”

And what is the kingdom of heaven?  It is the presence of God with us in the here and now.  It is God entering the sphere of humanity to walk with us in our frailty, in our weakness.  It is relational.  It is God’s power available to us.  It is grace fueled.  It is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The kingdom of God is not some faraway place that we get to go to someday if we have followed the proper religious protocols!  The kingdom of God has already broken into our earthly reality and is available to everyone – everyone who will receive that kingdom.  Everyone who will take up the mantle of disciple and fully trust in the living God.  A trust that is characterized by a radical shift in our thoughts, actions and motives.  A shifting of dependence from ourselves to God.  This is not an intellectual ascent to a set of salvific propositions, or the utterance of a formulaic prayer, but a trusting embrace of a risen Savior.  It is embracing God with the entirety of our being:  our hopes, our dreams, our future, our ambition, with all that makes us uniquely us.

It should not come as a surprise that a radical shift from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency leads to an entirely different perspective on those concerns which dominate our daily lives.

Jesus said to his disciples:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them .  .  .  .  “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin .  .  .  .  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’.  .  .  .  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.

And what is the result of joining Jesus in living out the kingdom life in the here and now?  Jesus put it rather directly to his disciples when he said:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.   You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

As I look back I’m still not sure what I should have told Alan or what I did tell him.  I do know that I tried to enter into his pain.  I tried to assure him that God loved him and that God created him with worth, value, eternal purpose and meaning.  That God had things in store for him to do.  That he should go back up to that 5th floor and sit in the chapel and listen quietly and let God speak to him.  I tried to tell him that God wanted to walk with him in this crisis, to hold his hand just like he held Deb’s. And that together, they (he and God) would make it if he did that.  I don’t know if that’s enough.  I don’t even know if that’s right anymore.  Bud I do know God cares.  I know He cares about a desperate man in a desperate world facing a desperate situation.  And so I pray for Alan.  That somehow God will intervene in his life.  That God will fight that battle — that spiritual battle that is raging within him.  And in that spiritual battle between the Truth and a lie, I pray that he finds the Truth.

I had the opportunity to pick up “The Critical Journey” and read a bit more today.  This book is intended to describe the different stages we move through on our spiritual journey.  It also describes places we get “stuck” and how to move from being stuck in one stage to beginning the next stage.  The authors refer to being stuck in a stage as being “caged.”  Today I read this regarding being “caged” at stage 2.

It is very seductive at this stage to believe that what is right for us in the faith is what is right for everyone else as well.  We often believe that the religious or moral rules by which we live as a faithful disciple should be followed by everyone else.  There is a tendency to become legalistic and moralistic, rigid in our understanding of what is right and what is wrong.  Punishment of offenders can become an obsession of those caged at stage 2.  .  .

 

.  .  .  No one caged in this lack of acceptance sees their own rigidity.  It is impossible for them to see it, since they are so sure they are right.  Consequently, a group arrogance develops which is actually counterproductive to their cause but which they seldom notice.  .  .  .

 

.  .  . The major difference between people caged at stage 1 and those caged at stage 2 is this:  at stage 1 we think we are wrong and weak;  other are right and strong.  At stage 2 we think we are right and strong;  others are wrong and weak. (p. 62)

 

Have you personally experienced this stage?  Have you moved past it?  Would you know it if you were in it?  Or do you reject this whole concept as a “bunch of bologna”? (in that case you might just be caged in the stage!)  I have experienced stage 2.  I wasn’t obsessed with “punishing offenders,” but I was darn sure that I was “right and strong” and didn’t have a high tolerance for those who believed differently.  But then life happened.  I got kicked around and I learned that things are not really so cut and dried.  I learned that each of us is on his or her own journey.  That God is working differently in each of our lives and that we are unique individuals for whom he has specific plans.  Therefore it follows that the path of spiritual growth and understanding will be different for each of us.  That each of us will come to understand God’s grace in our own lives through our own circumstances.  And hence each of us will have a unique understanding of grace, forgiveness, hope, love and relationship with God and others.  All of this has led me to become far more charitable and far less dogmatic.  I have jettisoned numerous “religious or moral rules” and as I continue to do so, each step along the journey feels lighter, freer, easier.  Or as Jesus once said:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30 New Century Version)

Listen to the words of Jesus!  We can all use a lighter load as we travel along life’s journey.

Read At Your Own Risk

Pilgrim in Progress —  September 18, 2012 — 1 Comment

Editorial note: This post has been modified.  It was originally written using a bit of literary embellishment to drive home the point more forcefully and with greater impact.  However, my literary genre raised some concerns, so I have made some changes.  I have attempted to convey much of the message, but I think the post loses a bit of its rhetorical punch.  I have also removed a paragraph that could have been construed as a personal attack on others.  It was not my intent to attack any individual, rather my concern has to do with mindset and values. 

 

I may regret this post.  I have wrestled with whether to write my thoughts and feelings since about 9 a.m. this morning.  Once I put this “out there,” it is “out there” forever.  That always causes me pause when I write.  Yet, when I undertook this blog project a couple of months ago, it was with a specific intent.  The intent to work through “out loud” what it means to be a man and a follower of Christ.  To ask the questions about how we as men should live in community with others and with each other.  To ask what our roles and responsibilities are before God and others.  If that is the case, then doesn’t it follow that I have a responsibility to some level of transparency and honesty regarding my own life?

I was officially severed from my company early this year.  When the event occurred, I was shocked, but initially I was positive about the occurrence.  While a layoff is sure to bring some challenges, it also brings opportunity.  A chance for a new start, a chance to explore new vistas and opportunities.  To pursue those gifts that one has that may have gone largely unused in the former capacity.  I took that optimistic route.  I began to pursue areas that I knew I was gifted in, but had not been formally employed in.  And I got smacked down by a rotten economy.  Transferable skills mean nothing in an economy where 15% of people are unemployed.  Yes, I know the “official” number is lower, but it conveniently does not account for those who have lost hope and checked out.

To ensure that our financial needs were met without an undue raiding of our rainy day fund, my dear wife changed her status from part time to full time.  She became the sole bread winner and I collected the government (unemployment) check – and became the house husband.  Still I remained optimistic.  God has always taken care of us, even though it hasn’t always been easy.  But as my wife’s “full time” status morphed to 60 hour weeks plus the commute, we faced new challenges.  Funny thing is, a mom wants to see her kids, keep a nice home, cook nice meals, get some exercise, maybe enjoy a hobby or two.  And when you are gone from 5 am to 5 pm (or later) that just isn’t possible.  I do my best to pickup the load around the house, but let’s be real – I’m way out of my depth here!  And even if I can complete many of the household tasks, I can do nothing to replace the time that my wife has had to sacrifice because of my job loss.  Time with our kids, time for other relationships, time with God, time for her own personal health.

I think if you really love your wife, a time comes when you have to say “screw the new vistas, screw the new opportunities” and you do what needs to be done.  Isn’t that perhaps a bit of what “for better of for worse” really means?  Our society tells us to love ourselves, to put ourselves first, blah, blah, blah.  Jesus tells us to put others first.  My wife put me first, now it is time for me to return the blessing.

So I have jumped back into the career pool I was swimming in before.  And I really thought I had a position coming.  I was one of the last two, I fit the job perfectly.  But I kept getting strung out.  I’m pretty sure now I was being played by the manager.  That he was stringing me along as backup while he worked out the details with the other candidate.  And then he dumped me.  Frankly, I’m kinda pissed about it.  That is not how people should treat one another.

I’ve got 12 years in sales.  I’m used to hearing “no.”  I am used to rejection.  But I’m getting really sick of the rejection that comes with unemployment.  And I’m getting sick of what each rejection does to the ones that I love.  And to be quite honest, I’m getting really sick of waiting on God.

Have you noticed that many times, if there is stress, frustration or difficulties in one area of life, another area will compensate — a life giving well of sorts?  Unfortunately, what I would have hoped would be a life giving well at this point in time feels like a dry well.  Am I too optimistic when I think that a body of believers – a church – should be a life giving well?  Maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m too old fashioned in that I don’t “toot my own horn.”  Or employ marketing techniques at church to  “drive my own brand.”  Perhaps I’m silly to believe that my mission as a Christ follower can be simply summed up as the following:  to be faithful to God, to love him and to love others.

The totality of the events I have endured over the course of this year have led me to begin thinking that nobody really cares about anyone else.  Not in the church and not outside the church.  Nobody anywhere cares about anybody but themselves.  The “me first” culture has won the day.  That’s how we choose our church, our small group at church, our circle of friends, where we work and who we associate with.  It’s not about what we can give, what we can share, how we can help others to love God and love others.  No.  It’s about what we can get, what benefit we can gain, what status we can advance.

I guess I’m raging against the machine of pop christianity.  Against the market driven, consumer culture christianity of modern America.  But I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of trying to point people towards Christ, when they don’t really care.  I’m tired of trying to motivate Christlike thinking amongst those who are inoculated against it by the religious culture itself.  I’m tired of a christianity that cares more about personal success and self esteem than it does about others.  I’m tired of a christianity that cares more about the next world than the one in which we live.  I’m tired.

And as tired, frustrated, disappointed, disheartened and disillusioned as I am, I just can’t close this out on such a hopeless and negative note.  Maybe, just maybe, by the grace of God, I can find a few men who do care. Who can help me care too.  And together we can begin the process of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”  Isn’t that really why Christ came?  Not to take us away to heaven some day and sit on a cloud, not for some type of religious escapism accomplished through a secret rapture, but to inaugurate his kingdom here on earth.  “To proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The dangerous journey continues.  God help me.

 

 

I pulled my old desk top computer out of mothballs over the Labor Day weekend.  The primary purpose was to give the kids access to Legos.com.  However, I also discovered a plethora of old pictures as well as papers I had written during seminary.  Even in that computer they were filed under “archive” since they had come from yet a previous computer!  Do you remember when a 386 chip was a big deal?  Yeah, back then.

Anyway, I opened one of the papers I had written that consider the compassion of Christ for the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden.  It is too long to post in its entirety here, but I thought I might put up an excerpt from near the end of that paper.  If some of the formatting appear a bit funky, that is because it was originally written on WordPerfect and was subsequently converted by Word.

 

.  .  .  .  No where is the theme of freedom for the captive and oppressed displayed more vividly than in Mark 5:1-20 and in Matthew and Luke’s parallel accounts.  None of the three evangelists give a reason for Jesus’ journey to the other side of the Lake of Galilee.  They record only the water crossing, the encounter with the demoniac and resulting departure.  One wonders if Jesus’ sole purpose in this journey was to set this captive free.  Whatever his reason, Jesus and his disciples arrived in the region of Gerasenes, a predominantly Gentile area.[i]

As Jesus disembarked from the boat, a demon possessed man came running out to meet him.  The demoniac was considered a menace to society and his attacks were so fierce that Matthew writes that “no one was able to pass by.”[ii]  This man lived among the tombs and according to Jewish tradition, this was a mark of madness.[iii]  Garland writes that “the man’s home is the unclean place of the dead, and he himself is home to unclean (evil) spirits.”[iv]  One cannot be sure of the demoniac’s motive in falling before Jesus to worship.   It is possible that genuine worship was intended, or it may have been a demonic ploy to manipulate Jesus.[v]

A battle ensued between Jesus and the demons that inhabited the man.  The demons initially attempted to either control or manipulate Jesus.  When their strategy failed, they asked permission to enter a herd of pigs.  During the first century it was commonly believed that demons detested the disembodied state.  Since they perceived that Jesus was about to evict them from the man, they sought another body to inhabit.[vi]  Mark and Luke both record that in response to their request, Jesus “gave them leave.”  Jesus did not specifically send the demons into the pigs, rather he allowed them to leave the man and enter the pigs.

At first glance it appears that the demons got off easy.  After terrorizing the man and his community, Jesus allowed them to continue practicing their despicable behavior in a herd of pigs.  The demons, however, true to their destructive nature, stampede the pigs over a cliff to their death.  To a Jewish audience, this is a very humorous story.  The unclean spirits and the unclean animals have all been eliminated in one fell swoop.[vii]  For the people of this region, however, it was not a laughing matter because it represented a substantial loss of income.

The swine herders ran to the city telling everyone they saw what had occurred.   The villagers curiosity drove them to the lake side where they found the man clothed, sane, and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  The townspeople, astonished at what had happened begged Jesus to leave.  Perhaps they were afraid of the power that Jesus had demonstrated.  Although the demoniac was dangerous, the people were more comfortable with his destructive power than they were with Jesus’ power to heal.  While Jesus was more concerned about one man than a whole herd of pigs, the townspeople may not have shared his conviction.  Someone wandering about the countryside casting demons into pigs would be deadly to their profits.  Whatever their motives were, they dismissed the one who came to give freedom and salvation.[viii]

The Gospel accounts paint a heartbreaking picture of a tormented, naked man, living among the dead, bruising himself with stones, screaming in agony to no one in particular.  All attempts to restrain him had proved futile and he had been rejected by society.   No one was willing to extend help or compassion to this hopeless man.  Alone, rejected, despised and insane, the demoniac was relegated to a life of  hopelessness.

Although the demoniac’s screams of agony  were directed to no one in particular, Jesus heard his cry.  It was Jesus who took the initiative and sought out the one who was despised, rejected and tormented.  The demoniac was not searching for healing and initially he resisted Jesus’ compassion.  Yet, for his sake,  Jesus had traveled across a lake to a country of unclean people.  Jesus had come to heal an unclean man who lived in an environment of impurity and was filled with unclean spirits.  There is no one that is too unclean, too hopeless or too far away for Jesus’ compassion, grace and healing.  His oppression and bondage were smashed by the healing power of Jesus.  The former demoniac experienced the freedom that salvation and restoration brings.

What do the various pericopes that have been evaluated reveal about the ministry of Jesus?  Clearly Jesus rejects tradition, cultural norms and man-made laws in the interest of compassion for the oppressed.  Jesus inaugurates a new lifestyle that supersedes some Old Testament Levitical Law to bring good news to the outcasts of society.  Jesus has leveled the ground and extended equality to all people, whether Jew or gentile, man or woman, clean or unclean.  It is not those who keep the law meticulously with a strict adherence to tradition that Jesus is seeking, but those who place their faith solely in him.  .  .  .



[i].          Morris, Matthew, 208.

[ii].         Ibid., 209.

[iii].        Nilland, Luke, 407.

[iv].        Garland, Mark, 202.

[v].         Ibid., 203-204.

[vi].        Ibid., 204.

[vii].       Ibid., 205.

[viii].      Ibid., 206.

David E. Garland,  Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub., 1996)

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974)

John Nilland, Luke, vol. 35a, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Book Pub., 1993)

I remember when I first discovered The Message, a Bible translation from Eugene Peterson.  The stories lept off of the pages.  It was vibrant and alive and I devoured the text with new found joy.

The great majority of people who read the Bible today have no idea how much is lost in translation from the original language to the English text (or added, for that matter).  So, how can one rectify this problem?  You could take classes in Greek and Hebrew, then supplement that with additional classes in exegesis, and finally spend a prodigious amount of hours engrossed in the original languages.  Or you could just pick up a copy of The Message and enjoy the work that Peterson has done!

 

Why was The Message written? The best answer to that question comes from Eugene Peterson himself: “”While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”” (from BibleGateway)

 

After that glowing review I must note that I have not read The Message in a very long while.  Moreover, the fact that I read it today was an accident — an inadvertent switching of versions in my Bible app.

And I just happened to be reading in Matthew 5.  Have you ever been confused by the Beatitudes?  Have you wondered, “but what does that really mean?”  You see the words, but struggle with translating those concepts into ideas that can impact your present reality?

Let’s look at that passage in Peterson’s translation (I am underlining and bolding some of the parts that I just love).

 

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Don’t you just love that?  Hearing Jesus speak this way fires me up!  It makes me want to be one of the committed, climbing that mountain with Jesus, drinking in every word.  It makes me want to partake in the best meal ever.  It makes me want to go public, to bring out the God-colors and the God – flavors of this world.  And it makes me want to be part of the dangerous journey of following Christ, because the danger always turns into blessing when we are committed to him.

How about you?  How did these words hit home for you?

On to the Journey!  On to The Best Meal You’ll Ever Eat!

 

In general, I have found that people fall into two broad categories.  Those who have goals, and those who don’t.  No one really wants to admit they don’t have goals, so those who don’t wont admit to it.  They would rather point to “flexibility” or “keeping their options open.”  Those who make goals may be tempted to believe that everyone else should have the same goals as them.  Or they may become enslaved to the goal and unaware of either their need to adjust to circumstances or to the differing needs of those around them.  I think both sides of this debate are tempted to look down on the other in a negative manner.

I have spent too much of my life on the “flexible” side of the coin.  Living in the moment is fun.  When you are young, keeping your options open is stimulating, interesting.  But you “wake up” after a few years and find out that you haven’t really gotten anywhere, because you weren’t really heading anywhere.  I finally “woke up” in my thirties and started heading somewhere, but I found that I was a bit late to the party and had a lot of catching up to do!

I have come to appreciate the value of goals — or as a friend of mine prefers to call them  – objectives ( I think he wants to retain some “flexibility” in his life).  By nature, some of us are a bit more on the “flexible” side and we have to work harder at defining our objectives.  On the other hand, we flexible types are a lot better at “change management.”  When things don’t go according to plan — which of course, they won’t, we adjust more quickly and with far less angst.

Jesus tells a couple of interesting stories to illustrate the importance of thinking carefully about being his disciple.  In Luke 14 he says: 

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  .  .  “

Pretty simple, really.  Let’s say your goal is to build a tower.  If you embark on the project with no real plan, just the idea of a tower and you are just going to go with the flow — you will likely fail and look like an idiot.  In reality, it is more the idea of a tower that you were in love with, not the actual completion of the tower project itself.  To accomplish a goal, quite often there is a necessary cascade of little goals that must be attained along the way that ultimately lead to the completion of the larger goal.  If we don’t have a clear goal and a process that we will accomplish that goal by, we will almost assuredly fail.

So, for those who like to be flexible, to avoid constraints, to be free and unfettered, consider that you may need to embrace the difficult discipline of goal setting and follow through on it.  And for those who live every moment of each day by a structured plan generated to attain their goals – consider that you may need to lighten up a bit.  Learn to be a bit more flexible.  Don’t take your eye off the goal, but enjoy the journey with those around you.

Which are you?  Goal driven?  Or flexible?  What do you think are the strengths/weaknesses of each?  Let me know in the comments!

You really need to read the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 to get the full flavor of this quote, but appreciate this excerpt.

Luke 16: 9-12

 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

 How do you handle the money that has been entrusted to you?  How do you use it and who benefits from your financial stewardship?  Are you honest in your dealings?  Generous towards others?  Selfish?  Do you handle your finances in such a way that others would trust you to handle their money for them?   

I was reading through Luke chapters 8-9 this morning.  Mentoring is on my mind, so naturally I noticed the following.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.  .  .  . 

When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother.  .  .  . 

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out.  .  .  .When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves.  .  .  . 

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray

Some thoughts: 
— Jesus had a crowd of disciples, but from that larger group he focused much of his efforts on 12.  But even in that group of 12, he focused much of his effort on three.
— Jesus empowered and then sent his disciples out on a difficult and dangerous journey.  After the journey was completed he took them away to a private place and debriefed the mission.
— Although Jesus interacted with large crowds on occasion, he was not enamored with them.  He was much more interested in focusing his time and energy into a few people who could and would make a major difference in the days to come.   He was not afraid to challenge those he was mentoring, to make things a bit uncomfortable and to “push them out of the next.”  And he gathered them up afterwards to to guide, strengthen and encourage them.
— Being a mentor must have been frustrating on occasion for Jesus.  How many times did his disciples miss the point!  They so didn’t get it.
— Being mentored by Jesus often meant going on dangerous journeys.  He is the dangerous mentor!

Who is in our sphere that God is calling us to mentor?  Our children or nephews and nieces are a great place to start.  What about someone at church or at work or in the neighborhood?  What obstacles prevent you from initiating strategic relationships like Jesus did?  Be honest with yourself!  My reasons are pretty lame.  Are yours?  Are you willing to love others like Jesus did?  To invest the time, energy and sacrifice?  To take risks and expose them to risks?  To follow the dangerous mentor on a dangerous journey?