Saturday, September 24, 2011

New site

I have moved my blog over to a Wordpress site. This one will remain up as an archive but I'll only be posting at the Wordpress one from now on. http://www.tombakerguitar.wordpress.com

Only one thing

Luke 10:38-42 NASB

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up  to Him  and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

My thoughts -

For as much as I hate to admit it I've always been more of a Martha than a Mary. Sure, I'm a musician, an "artistic type" with long hair, sandals, and a beard. I like to think I'm a "live in the moment" kind of a guy, but not really. I can bury my head in my work and get bogged down in preparation and logistics with the best of them. The sad fact is if Jesus came back and showed up at my church on a Sunday morning I might miss Him because I was too busy getting "ready" for worship.

That's what Martha is doing here, in a sense. Jesus is their guest. Martha is busy with preparations for the guest. Mary is busy experiencing the guest. Mary is in the room. Mary is in the moment. Martha is preparing. Not that there's anything wrong with preparation but look at what Martha is missing out on! She's distracted because there are things to do to prepare for Jesus but Jesus is right there!

As a worship leader there are things that I have to do to prepare for worship. There are things to be planned and rehearsed. There are logistics. Worship services don't just happen by themselves. But when the service starts Jesus is right there! Preparation time is other. It is time to experience worship. It is time to be in the room. Too often I miss this. I am sure that I am not alone.

I don't know all the preparations that Mary and Martha needed to make in advance of Jesus's arrival. I don't know how much lead time they had. I don't know if Martha wasn't the kind of person who would fuss over the preparations no matter how well prepared she was. But I am certain in my own life that the earlier I prepare and the more disciplined I am in that preparation during the week the more "in the moment" I can be for worship.

There are times to prepare and there are times to experience the Risen Lord. Preparation isn't a bad thing. It is necessary. But we can't allow preparation to keep us from experiencing Jesus. Mary sat at Jesus's feet and listened, hanging on every word. Martha missed out on that because she had her head buried in preparation. Mary was in the room. Martha was in the next room fretting.

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who is my neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37 NASB

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

My thoughts -

"Wishing to justify himself..."

Those four words just jump out at me this morning. Here's a lawyer, I don't know his age but I always picture him as young, who asks Jesus a question. This is an important question. This may be the important question. What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?

There's all kinds of questions rolled up in this one. What does God desire? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? There is a fear of death, sure, but also a longing for life and for meaning and for purpose.

And Jesus answers with a question. What does the Law say. The lawyer responds that the Law says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus tells him that is correct. Do it and you'll live. Now, it can't be that easy, can it? I mean, Jesus didn't even really answer the question, did he? He let the guy who asked it do that. And such a simple answer, too. Love God. Love neighbor. Do this and you'll live. There's not a lot of debate here. There's not a lot of deep, complicated theology or philosophy. No real secrets or mysteries revealed. Just love God and love neighbor.

And then we get to those four words: "Wishing to justify himself..."

I don't know if he felt like he was wasting Jesus's time or if he felt stupid or what, but the lawyer obviously felt as though his question and the answer to it weren't good enough. Maybe he's insecure. Maybe he wants to be seen as smart. Maybe he was looking for a theological debate that didn't pan out. Whatever the reason it inspired him to ask a great question: Who is my neighbor?

So the secret to life both abundant and eternal is to love God and to love your neighbor. Two questions follow. Who is God? And who is the neighbor? The God question is debated regularly and has been for as long as there have been people. The lawyer didn't get into that here. This is a room full of people who probably all had pretty similar views on God. They worship the Lord. No sense hashing all that out. They knew God. But neighbor, there's a question.

Now maybe the lawyer is looking for a loophole. Maybe he's trying to find out who he is obligated to love and who he doesn't have to. Maybe he's just asking a deep.question. It's impossible for me to tell and quite frankly not all that important to me. What is important is Jesus's answer.

Jesus answers with what we now know as the parable of the good Samaritan. I won't rehash all of it here. You probably know the parable and if not it's in today's text above.

We have hospitals named Good Samaritan. This story is a big part of our culture. And I wonder sometimes if we don't overlook something important that Jesus is saying to the people he is speaking to here.

Jesus is speaking to Jewish religious leaders. In fact, this exchange starts with a man who looks to be wanting to debate the Law with Jesus. And this man, a Jewish expert in the Law, asks who his neighbor is the answer involves telling a story in which a priest and a Levite do not help a man who has been beaten and robbed but a Samaritan does.

The priest and the Levite would be like the men in this room. They are Jewish religious leaders. They are "good" religious people. The Samaritan is the outcast. The Samaritan worships the "wrong" God in the "wrong" way at the "wrong" places.

Now I'm starting to wonder about the questions that obviously follow from Jesus's earlier answer. The lawyer asked "who is my neighbor?" and not "who is God?" seemingly because all the people in that room had very similar views about God. But the answer Jesus provides for the neighbor question reveals something about those views on God.

The neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed was the man who did not believe and worship in the same way as the men in that room. How important is that? There's no way that this is just some coincidence. Jesus didn't just throw that in there incidentally while riffing on some story. Jesus is telling these men that what and how they believe is not nearly as important as how they love.

The outcast, the stranger, the reject, the one who is different and worships differently from these "good" religious people loves his neighbor in this parable. In Matthew 22 we have Jesus answer a question about the most important commandment. His answer to that ties love for neighbor together with love for God. (Matthew 22:39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'.")

Now none of this is to say that belief in and beliefs about God are not important. But love seems to Jesus to trump belief. Right beliefs mean nothing without love. And let's not forget that this all came from a question about inheriting eternal life. Jesus didn't say the key was to believe. He said it was to love. Then when pressed the hero of the story he told was a man who believed differently than the people he was telling the story to. I can't see this is a coincidence.

I'm not saying beliefs aren't important. But love is essential.

And we get this radical shift in how we think about God, neighbor, and love because a lawyer wished to justify himself.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Biking Fools

My youngest son has started biking with me in the mornings. My Mom lives at about the halfway point of my morning commute and she takes my kids to school in the morning so it has worked out pretty well that Caleb will get up a little early and then bike with me over to Ma's house. I'll drop him off there and then continue on my way to work. When I get done with work I'll bike over there to pick him up and then he and I will bike home.

This is an awesome way to spend time together doing something we both love doing. In fact, this morning we both got to experience the beauty of the sunrise from our bicycles. There are not words to describe what an awesome experience that is to share with your child.

Caleb has been working on his brother and sister to take it up as well but there's a cost of entry involved. To bike you've got to get up earlier and you've got to be on the ball about getting ready. If not you're going to be late. Neither of my older two are what you'd call morning people so they've taken to the idea with about as much enthusiasm as a cat would to a bath. Which is to say that they have not done it at all. Not even once.

But they do bike. My whole family does. It's something we all enjoy doing and can do together. I think it is important for families to have some shared interests. I would like to think that when they are adults they will look back on these family bicycle outings and remember them fondly. I know I will. I have a folder on my work computer of pictures I've taken on our bicycle excursions. They remind me of where we've been and offer promises of experiences to come. Here are a few of them:









Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rejoice!

Luke 10:1-3, 17-20 NASB

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. "Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."

My thoughts -

Jesus sent the seventy out. He gave them instructions to go minister to communities. And upon their return it was clear that they had an amazing experience.

"Can you believe what we did?" they asked. "That was awesome! We even cast out demons!"

They were riding high. And Jesus didn't exactly kill their buzz. But he reminded them of something I think we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Whatever awesome things that have happened. Whatever you see or do or hear. Whatever amazing ministry you are a part of. None of that compares to simply belonging to Christ.

We want to be moved. We want to be inspired. We want to have these "mountain top" experiences. But none of that compares to the "mundane" reality that we belong to Jesus. That our names are written in the Book of Life. That we have been redeemed. That we are loved.

The most moving worship service, the most life changing retreat, the most inspiring sermon, the best praise band in the world, the most intense missions opportunity, none of that compares to being redeemed by God through Christ. None of that compares to being saved.

I hear all the time from people that worship didn't "have it" or a retreat was "kind of boring" or some experience "just wasn't moving" and I have to wonder if sometimes we don't just sit back and hope the Holy Spirit will entertain us.

But Jesus told his followers not to rejoice in the amazing experiences they had. Jesus told them to rejoice that their names were written down in heaven. I think sometimes we forget what we are saved from and what we are saved to. I think sometimes we take the opportunity to worship and serve the Lord our God to whom we have, through no act or virtue of our own but through grace alone, been reconciled, for granted.

Rejoice in your salvation! Rejoice that you have been redeemed! Rejoice that you have been reconciled to God through Christ! Rejoice that you have been saved! Don't wait for the mountain top. Every day that you have been saved from your sins is the mountain top. Every day that you have been redeemed is the mountain top. Every day that you thank God that Christ intervened on your behalf is the mountain top.

If we're not rejoicing in our salvation then we're just doing it wrong. There's nothing wrong with amazing experiences. There's nothing wrong with being moved or inspired. But this is not what we should be rejoicing in. Not when we compare it to the miracle that is every day spent in a reconciled relationship with our Creator.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jesus didn't make it easy, did he?

Luke 9:57-62 NASB

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

My thoughts -

There are things I wish Jesus didn't say, there are things I really wish Jesus didn't say, and then there's this morning's passage. What I really need is a good theologian to explain that what I'm reading here isn't really what Jesus meant; that there are cultural issues or situational issues or some kind of contextual something that makes this passage a lot more palatable.

Barring some kind of a theological intervention this morning I'm stuck with this reality: Jesus did not make it easy to follow him.

That makes sense. When he called his disciples they left everything to follow him. Peter, James, and John left behind a thriving fishing business and the biggest catch of their lives, for instance. But they knew that what Jesus had to offer was better than anything in this world.

Jesus's ministry grew by leads and bounds early on. He had thousands come to hear him speak. They followed him everywhere. They wouldn't leave him alone. He was mobbed wherever he went. But those numbers dwindled until he had just a handful left at the end. He didn't reward the casual follower. His teaching was too demanding. He was too demanding.

But this passage here seems especially difficult to swallow. First, Jesus explains that following him is not a particularly comfortable lifestyle.

"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

As a Christian I can say that I don't like what Jesus is getting at. We want to be like Jesus, but in a comfortable way. I know I want to be more like Jesus but I'd like a nice home, a reliable car, a steady paycheck, and the possibility of retirement some day. Jesus isn't offering these things, though. Jesus is letting this prospective follower know that the going is tough, even for the Son of God. Life is hard and there are no promises here that it will get any easier.

Where's my "name it and claim it"? Where's my "health and wealth". Where's my "the Lord wants you to prosper"? Theologically I don't like that doctrine but as a practicing Christian (and I'm getting better at it - ba-da-ching) I think I could learn to live with a unique material blessing from God, you know?

But the fun doesn't stop there. Jesus goes on to tell some other prospective followers that they can neither bury their dead nor even say goodbye to their loved ones. Like I said earlier, I'd love for a good theologian to explain that these things don't mean what they seem to mean. Bible scholars, get on this one please. And let me know what you find pretty quickly. Because I'm the kind of guy who just might look back after putting my hand to the plow.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The wrong spirit

Luke 9:51-56 NASB

When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw  this,  they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."] And they went on to another village.

My thoughts -

Jesus was rejected. He was rejected for religious/political reasons. This was something of a culture war issue. Jesus was Jewish. He was travelling towards Jerusalem. The Samaritans wanted no part of helping him with this.

Did they not know who he was? Did they not know what he taught? Did they not realize that in Jesus they had a fierce advocate?

In this moment, unfortunately, Jesus was not a person to them. He was not the person Jesus nor was he the office of the Christ. He was the office of Jewish teacher travelling to Jerusalem. And the Samaritans wanted no part of that.

He was dehumanized. I'm sure that hurt. It hurt James and John. In fact, they were enraged. At first read their reaction might seem a little over the top. The Samaritans reject them so they ask to call fire down from heaven to burn them alive. That may be a bit of an overreaction.

But is that so different from how we would respond? James and John were out to "get" those who hurt them. They felt the sting of rejection, the embarrassment and shame of dehumanization, and they lashed right back. This is a natural reaction if a little more violent than what we'd feel comfortable admitting to.

But Jesus didn't have this same reaction. He was rejected and dehumanized the same as James and John. But Jesus didn't blow his top. Jesus didn't lash out in anger. Jesus didn't condemn them. Jesus didn't "get" them. Instead he rebuked his disciples.

"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

What do these words mean to us? What do these words mean for us? Jesus, after being rejected, says that he came to save and not to destroy. He says James and John don't get why he's here. Do we get it?

Jesus was rejected. Jesus was shunned. Jesus was ultimately killed. And he took it willingly. He didn't lash out. He didn't use his power as God Incarnate to get even with anyone. He didn't call down fire to burn his enemies, he did call for angels to rescue him from suffering, he didn't call for his followers to wield swords to prevent his capture and crucifixion.

Jesus didn't come to destroy. Jesus came to save. And yet it seems as though Jesus's followers have been destroying in his name for as long as there have been followers of Jesus. James and John were the first but by no means the last. The Prince of Peace has had wars fought in his name. Our Lord who was unjustly executed has had others kill in his name. Jesus, who came to save and not to destroy, has seen a fair amount of destruction carried out in his name.

James and John responded to rejection in a natural way. They just did what people do. James and John responded to their enemies in a natural way. They just did what people do. What sets, or should set Christians apart is that we serve a Saviour who demonstrated that we do not have to be slaves to our natural impulses and who empowers us to overcome our sinful nature.

Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. And he lived it. Jesus wad the Christ, our Saviour, the Son of God sent to reconcile God's enemies to Himself. When Jesus was wronged he didn't lash out in anger. When Jesus was struck he didn't strike back. When Jesus was rejected he didn't "show them". Jesus did not come to destroy no matter how much we deserved destruction.

Jesus came to save. To desire destruction, as James and John did, was to not understand this. They had the wrong spirit and Jesus rebuked them for it.

How is our spirit?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My church is better than yours

Luke 9:46-50 NASB

An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great."

John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."

My thoughts -

You know, my church is awesome. In fact, you really ought to come by and visit. Our band is amazing. Our preacher is phenomenal. We've got a great Youth ministry, too. We do so much awesome stuff. We're really the best church I've ever been to. Seriously, you have no idea. You have to go there to understand just how awesome we are.

I have heard all of these statements and many more before. I have also believed these statements about my church. I have an excellent church home. I think Trinity Hill is a wonderful church and I am proud to be a member there. But I don't think you "have" to go there. Although if you are a really good guitarist, singer, bassist, keyboard player, a sax player who can play by ear, or a really good drummer than obviously I wish you would.

But I wonder about the line of thinking that a lot of us have about our churches. It is good to have a good church home and a good church family. But sometimes I wonder if we get a little too big headed about what we do.

The disciples here had that problem. First they argue amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest. Then they explained to Jesus about how they tried to stop a man from casting out demons in Jesus's name because he wasn't one of them.

Being in the presence of Jesus every day, as good as that was, must have gone to their heads. They puffed themselves up and fought inside and outside their group over power and authority.

"Who is the greatest?"

"This guy's not one of us so we told him to knock it off."

This way of thinking, this elitism, is anything but Christ-like, but it showed up in those who were closest to Christ. It shows up in our churches, too. We start to do some things well and it goes to our heads. All of the ministry we do in Jesus's name becomes about us. We brand ourselves. We protect our brand. We build up our buildings and congregations but not the Kingdom of God. We build our own kingdoms. And each one of them is the best. You just have to go there. You have no idea. You don't know what it's really like to worship until you've worshipped with us.

Jesus, of course, shut this line of thinking down among his disciples. He told them that to be the least is to be great. To accept a child, who was really regarded as less than fully human, was to accept him. In fact, you had to be like a child. He told them not to get big headed but to humble themselves. He told them not to interfere with what others were doing in his name. If others want to minister in Jesus's name what's it to them? Those that do that aren't against you, they're for you. We're all on the same team here.

It is my prayer that Jesus, who so emphatically shot down this elitist, entitled, selfish, egotistical spirit in his followers will do so again. Today and every day. We need it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How long shall I put up with you?

Luke 9:37-45 NASB

On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, "Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only  boy,  and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming  at the mouth;  and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him  as it leaves.  "I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not." And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here." While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him  to the ground  and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.

My thoughts -

Jesus's rebuke of his disciples here has always struck me as being disproportionately harsh. In Mark's gospel, at least, it is tempered with a teaching moment. The disciples ask why they couldn't drive the demon out and Jesus explains that it can only be done with prayer.

Here Jesus's words of condemnation ("You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?") are followed not by a teaching moment but instead by a warning. Jesus is not going to be with them forever. He is going to be betrayed and handed over.

We've gone in just a few short verses from a mountain top experience with Peter, James, and John to a failure by the disciples. They've been in the presence of Moses and Elijah. They've heard the voice of God from the cloud. They have learned who Jesus really is and what that means. And they have utterly and completely failed without him.

It can be easy, when thinking of Jesus as the Son of God, to forget that he was fully human. Maybe not so much forget as gloss over. But I wonder, was Jesus starting to feel the pressure here? He's got a deadline. He's leaving. He will be betrayed and handed over and killed. He knows his time is short. And his ministry is going to be in the hands of these disciples. And it sure looks like from this passage that they're not ready. They can't do this without him.

Jesus has physically walked with them. They have lived in his presence. We get the Spirit, and that is no small thing, but what would it have been like to have God walk beside you in person? Would there be a better way to learn how to minister to the needs of God's children. How better to learn to lead God's sheep than directly from the Shepperd?

That physical presence is leaving, and the disciples don't realize what that means. So Jesus rebukes them.

"How long shall I be with you and put up with you?"

"Let these words sink in."

"The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men."

Jesus is telling them that he's not going to be around forever, not like this anyway. Jesus is leaving. And they're not ready to carry on this ministry without him. His words may seem harsh, but I get a sense of almost desperation here. They don't get it and they have to. This handful of men are going to carry on this little movement that will become Christianity as we know it today. And they're not ready. And they don't get it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Listen to Him!

Luke 9:28-36 NASB

Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing  became  white  and  gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and  began  to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son,  My  Chosen One; listen to Him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.

My thoughts -

In the previous passage Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?" and Peter answered, "The Christ of God."

We looked yesterday at how Jesus then took the idea of what it might mean to be the Christ and turned that on its head. Jesus, as the Christ, came to serve. Power, or at least the human idea of power, became inverted. The Lord serves. The Messiah suffers. God, the source of life itself, dies.

Maybe that went over Peter's head. I know I don't get it and we've had an extra 2000 years to study this. But as soon as we turn around Peter (with James and John) has gone from "You are the Christ" to "one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah".

Jesus didn't rebuke them here. This time that wouldn't be necessary. The First Person of the Trinity stepped in. A voice from a cloud declared "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"

I love what comes next.

They kept silent.

Peter and James and John had an awesome experience. They went up the mountain with Jesus and they saw things that they'd never seen, that no one had ever seen. They got excited. Who wouldn't?

But in that moment of excitement, in that moment of awe and wonder, they forgot what they had just learned about Jesus. They forgot that Jesus wasn't/isn't some really smart teacher or even a prophet. Jesus wasn't/isn't a really devout man or a great guide or a self help guru who's got everything figured out. Jesus wasn't/isn't someone who, as great as it would seem to Peter and James and John at that time, was on par with Moses and Elijah. This is no prophet, not even the greatest of prophets. Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus is not a way. Jesus is not a great teacher who can show us God's ways. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is God Incarnate. And the voice from the cloud had the best advice anyone has ever received.

"Listen to Him!"

So what does He say? There's the hard part. He doesn't say things we want to hear. He doesn't use power the way we would want Him to. We want a Lord that's on our side and is fierce and will help us win and then Jesus says things like:

Love your enemies.

Turn the other cheek.

Die to your self.

Take up your cross and follow me.

Sell all you have and give to the poor.

The meek shall inherit the Earth.

This is not the message one might expect. This is not what we'd like to hear. We wouldn't mind something affirming, something strengthening, something encouraging. We wouldn't mind something that lets us know that Jesus is on our side and that everything's going to be okay and that we're going to prevail because we're good and right and holy.

But are we on Jesus's side? That's what matters. Are we listening to Jesus? Are we allowing Jesus to rule our lives? Are we living lives that reflect our Lord who, rather than fighting his enemies, went to the cross to save them? Are we living lives that reflect a Saviour who commanded a rich man to sell everything he had and give all his money to the poor because it stood in the way of his living in a reconciled relationship with God? Are we living lives that reflect the Son of God who did not regard equality with God to be something to hold onto but instead humbled himself, became weak like us, and lived and died to reconcile Himself to us, His own enemies?

Are we listening to Him?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jesus as self help guru

Luke 9:18-27 NASB

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others  say  Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." But He warned them and instructed  them  not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day."

And He was saying to  them  all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."

My thoughts -

We love a good, uplifting, affirming message. We love to feel good and to be encouraged. We love the idea that if we live in God's will that things will work out for us, that we'll have everything we desire. We love the idea that we can, with God's help, live better lives right now.

Live you best life now. Act fast. Operators are standing by. If you pray hard enough for it you will receive. Do good and blessings will be poured out for you.

There are things I wish Jesus didn't say. There are ways I wish the universe didn't work. Jesus here gets Peter to tell him who he is. And then Jesus tells Peter what that means.

Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Christ. We call him the King of Kings. We call him the Ruler of All. We call him Lord. And yet what that meant was that Jesus was getting ready to suffer and die. He who was first became last. He who was the ruler became the servant. Jesus flipped the script on power, giving his up completely, up to and including his very life.

If that weren't enough Jesus follows that up by demanding that his followers do the same. "Take up your cross and follow me" is a brutal statement. It is a violent statement. Take up the instrument of your own violent death; take up you electric chair; take up your lethal injection; take up your firing squad; take up your hangman's noose.

These are not comforting images. This does not square with the idea we have of blessings. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. This is not a comforting thought. Maybe the idea that if you lose your life for Jesus you gain "real" life is but I think we ignore what it really means to lose your life. Everything that you are. All that you self identify is. Your will, your motivations, your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions, they're all gone. Everything that you are is no more. This is losing your life. This is losing your very self.

To die to self is not easy. To die to self is not comfortable. To die to self is something for which there may be no tangible reward in this life, at least not in the way that we think of rewards.

Jesus is no get rich quick schemer. Jesus is no live your best life now guru. Jesus is no health and wealth charlatan. If the question is "How can I be blessed?", "How can I be affirmed?" or "How can I live my best life now?" then Jesus may not be the answer. Jesus is no self help guru.

If the question is "How can I be saved from the wretch that I am?" or "How can I overcome my sin?" or "How can I die to my self so I can truly live in God's will?" then Jesus is the only answer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You give them something to eat!

Luke 9:10-17 NASB

When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He  began  speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.

Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place." But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." They did so, and had them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke  them,  and kept giving  them  to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets  full.

My thoughts -

I love Jesus's command to his disciples here.

"You give them something to eat!"

Word got out. The people had heard about Jesus, and they wanted more. Jesus tried to hole up in a quiet, out of the way place but they got wind of where he was going and went there, too.

Now we've got a problem. It's getting late and the crowd is in what the disciples call "a desolate place". They're in the middle of nowhere. Send the crowd away so they can go somewhere else to get something to eat and maybe find a place to stay.

So Jesus gives them that command that I love so much. "You give them something to eat!"

I can imagine the incredulous looks on their faces. I can imagine them thinking, give them what to eat, exactly, Jesus?

They tally up what they have. Two fish. Five loaves. They tally up the people. Five thousand. This math is just not working. That's nowhere near enough to feed that many people. Heck, if the disciples eat anywhere near the way I do it may not even feed all of them!

Sometimes we face challenges that seem impossible. Heck, they don't seem impossible, they are impossible. But Jesus's command is clear. You give them something to eat. You do it. Feed my people. Care for my sheep.

We have a lot more resources at our disposal than two fish and five loaves. We have food coming out the wazoo. We produce more food in this country than we can eat. We have food spoiling on supermarket shelves and we also have food deserts in rural and urban areas where people don't have access to good food or the resources to acquire it. We have some families eating in shifts. And what they eat is just empty calories; junk food. It doesn't take much to see that we need to do a better job here. Hunger is a solvable problem if we can see past the daunting logistics distribution.

Jesus blessed the fish and the bread, broke them, fed five thousand people with them and even had leftovers. Can Jesus not bless us too?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years ago

10 years ago today we were preparing for my dad to go in for surgery. Josh was a baby and Shannon was pregnant with Maggie and due any day. We were over at mom and dad's and I was asleep when Martha came in asking if we'd heard about the plane crash.

That's what it was at the time. A crash. No one understood what was going on. I don't recall if dad was already in the hospital or if we were taking him. The morning was a blur, as most are as a young parent. We were about to have our second child in less than two years. I was 22 years old and overwhelmed. We had no idea what we were doing.

Anyway, at the hospital with dad it became clear what was going on. The second tower had been hit. Also, as I recall, the elevator was either not working or we were idiots because we took the stairs, my very pregnant wife and I, to visit him.

Between the stress of the terrorist attacks and the physical stress of walking the stairs Shannon went into false labor. Of course, we didn't realize it was false labor at the time. Heck, the contractions we even regular. We were sure we were having the baby. And we were already at the hospital.

Dad, recovering, was aware enough to know what was happening and mentioned that if we had the baby she would have the same birthday as my cousin Katie. My dad knows everyone's birthday. I don't know if he knew what was happening just yet to realize what other day this birthday would be forever linked with.

Of course the baby did not come. As these things go once we got a room the contractions had died down. Shannon wad not dilated enough to have anyone with any experience with this sort of thing to believe that a baby would be coming any time soon. In fact, the baby didn't even come that month. Shannon was induced on October first. She had always wanted a September baby. She didn't get it.

It's hard to believe it's been 10 years. It's hard to believe how divisive the country has become over that span. I can recall, as a liberal Democrat, rallying behind OUR President in the weeks, months, and years after. It is hard to imagine that happening now with political opposites burying their differences to celebrate unity in the midst of a crisis.

Life moves on. Things change. But I will never forget that day. Life and death fused together. We had the anxiety of my father being in the hospital with the world seemingly literally collapsing around us while also having the hope and promise of ushering another beautiful child into this chaotic world.

Never forget.

Take nothing for your journey

Luke 9:1-6 NASB

And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. And He said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. "Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. "And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." Departing, they  began  going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

My thoughts -

I was thinking the other day about all of the stuff that we think we need. I got the opportunity to play for a youth group that did not have anyone else available to lead worship that day. My wife was meeting with the youth pastor that morning about something else, he mentioned that music had fallen through for youth that evening, and she volunteered me to do it.

I was already at the office and youth was going to be that evening shortly after I got done with work. There was no real time to plan. There was no time to exchange much information with the youth pastor other than my willingness to lead worship with the youth that evening. It became clear to him that we wouldn't be able to have the Power Point slides or any multimedia elements for worship ready for what I was going to be leading. Heck, I didn't even know what I was going to be leading! And there would be no band and no singers breaking off into tightly arranged four part harmonies, either. All of the conventions we normally fall back on would not be available.

By the way, it turns out that it is still possible to lead worship like it's a campfire service. We just had my acoustic guitar and me singing. I sang their parts to the youth. They sang them back to me. We worshipped and prayed together. It was an awesome experience.

I was wondering yesterday, while shopping, what it would be like to both have everything that I own be able to fit into one backpack and (most importantly) to be okay with that. We are tied to our stuff and we're always looking for more. Life feels unfulfilling? This neat gadget is the thing that is missing from your life. Buy it now! That didn't work? I'm sure the next one will.

I love how Jesus sent his disciples out here. How many of us would be willing to go out like that; with nothing? We say all the time that the Lord will provide but I know at least that I trust the Lord in this matter only as far as my paycheck will let me.

Can we live with less? Can we trust God more? Can we be sent out into the world without all the trappings that we have come to depend on in this life and instead trust God to provide what we really need to do God's will?

I know I'm not there yet. And yet, every time I find myself with the need to live more simply I am amazed what it turns out I can live without.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Control

I've been thinking a lot lately about life and about death. I certainly don't want to die young. But I also don't want to outlive my friends, family, and usefulness. It is possible to just carry on too long and I want no part of that.

It seems odd, at 32, to worry about aging. Maybe that's natural. My dad said 30 was his toughest birthday. Even tougher than 50. At 30, he said, he went from young to old. Every birthday since he's just gone from old to older. That's a much shorter step.

Though, if 30 is old then may we all be old for a long, long time. But this anxiety about aging is really bothering me. I don't understand it. I guess it's normal.

I've always thought that I want a normal life. Now I'm not sure what normal means. I don't want to die too young. There are shootings and car wrecks and plane crashes and cancers that have taken friends and family far too young.

I had this conversation with my cousin Michael last night in my dreams. He died at 22 a couple of years ago. He told me not too worry about it. Of course that wasn't really him, it was me talking to me as him.

The problem, of course, is control. I want to have control over my life. I want to be in charge of what happens to me. I want to be steering this ship. But I'm not. Control is an illusion.

Sure, there are things I can control. I can eat well and exercise. I can make good financial decisions. I could go back to school and finish my degree. But there are earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, a crashing global economy, a pitiful job market, and random acts of violence. There are accidents, there are bus wrecks, car wrecks, plane crashes, bicycle crashes. There are electrocutions, there are drownings. The list of things beyond my control is overwhelming.

I could fight to gain control. But the only real way to do that is to control my demise by creating it. I have no desire to do that. So I need to accept what is beyond my control and give it up.

I believe in God. But does that mean that I can say that God is on control? Does God cause everything, for good or ill, to happen? Is God steering this ship in the same way that I desire? If that is the case then God sure does some pretty unthinkable things with His control. I think if God causes every disaster, every disease, every act of violence, then maybe we should rethink the idea that God is loving and good.

So if it's not God (I'd rather God be loving and good than be directly manipulating every event in the universe) is it fate? Is it chance? Is everything random? Is anyone in control?

These are questions for which I have no answer. Sometimes I wonder if seeking an answer is just some attempt to wrestle for control. But I know this. I am not in charge. I do not have control. And I never will.

So what do I do? I have to accept this lack of control. We can say that I have to give up control to God but I don't know that God wants it. Rather than directly control every outcome I think God just pushes us, gently, quietly, patiently towards loving each other, towards compassion, towards empathy.

I need to listen to the still, small voice that coaxes me to love. And I need to let go of fear, anxiety, and the illusion of control. What will be will be. I can't stop it. I can't change it. I don't know if it's written in the stars or ordained by God or what, but I do know that I am not in charge here.

I have no influence on the nature of God or the universe. I have no influence on the logistics of life and death, eternity, heaven or hell or any other thing real or imagined. I can not make life be what I want it to be. I can't place my order and then request an exchange or refund if I don't get what I want. I can accept things, and then work with God to bring what we imagine is the Kingdom of God to this place.

I can love. I can hope. I can persevere. I can have faith, even if I don't completely understand the nature of that in which I place my faith. But I can not control. That is beyond me. I've got to give that one up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Desperate

Luke 8:40-56 NASB

And as Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. And there came a man named Jairus and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus' feet, and  began  to implore Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. But as He went, the crowds were pressing against Him.

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, "Who is the one who touched Me?" And while they were all denying it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You." But Jesus said, "Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me." When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace."

While He was still speaking, someone *came from  the house of  the synagogue official, saying, "Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore." But when Jesus heard  this,  He answered him, "Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well."

When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl's father and mother. Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, "Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep." And they  began  laughing at Him, knowing that she had died. He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Child, arise!" And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for  something  to be given her to eat. Her parents were amazed; but He instructed them to tell no one what had happened.

My thoughts -

We've got two miracles for the price of one here. Jesus is greeted by a crowd upon returning from Gerasenes. Among their number are at least two people who know that they desperately need him. One is vocal about that need. The other silent.

Jairus sought Jesus out through the crowd and fell at his feet, begging for the healing of his daughter. This is a desperate man. As a father of a daughter about this girl's age I can relate. If she were dying I would be beside myself. Like Jairus I am not too proud to beg. He was desperate for Jesus. He fell at his feet and he begged for mercy.

The other person in the crowd did not give voice to her desperation. She was a woman who was bleeding and had been for many years. She was an outcast because of her gender and condition. She was always "unclean". Maybe she thought she wasn't worthy of going before Jesus. Maybe she just didn't want anyone to notice her. But she knew she needed Jesus. She was desperate just to get close to him. She figured if she could just get close enough to touch his robe she could be healed of her affliction. And she was.

Jesus felt what happened. He called the woman out, at which point she fell before him trembling. Did she expect to be punished? Did she expect to be humiliated? All of the years of living as an outcast, "unclean", and unsuitable to be around must have taken their toll. Jesus did not chastise her, though. With a comforting voice he called her "daughter" and praised her faith, which had healed her.

Of course while this woman's situation was improving Jairus daughter's got worse. While they were traveling to see her the girl passed away. This is communicated to Jairus with some of the coldest words I have ever read:

"Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore."

How do you respond to this? Do we trouble Jesus? Are we a bother to God? Is our desperate need inconvenient? I don't think so. Neither, it would seem, did Jesus. He responds to this callousness with comforting words:

"Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well."

My reaction to this would be a little different than Jairus's.

"Do not be afraid any longer"? The worst has already happened. The girl is dead. What is left to fear?

"She will be made well"? She has died. How can you be made well from that? This is the point that you give up all hope. There's nothing more that can be done. Dead is dead. There's no cure for dead.

"Only believe"? Believe in what? That we can overcome death? It's not possible.

Jairus believed. I don't know how. I don't know why. Remember, this is before Jesus's resurrection. There's no real reason I am aware of to believe that there could possibly be any hope for the girl. And yet, absent reason, Jairus believed.

He had a desperate faith. He knew he needed Jesus. He knew there was no other way. And he trusted, hoped, and believed in Jesus here without any reason.

They get to the house and Jesus says the girls isn't dead. This strikes the people who watched her die as amusing so they laugh at him. And then Jesus commands her to get up.

And she does.

My guess is they stopped laughing right about then.

Although amazed Jesus tells them not to tell anyone, in a return to form and in stark contrast to his command to the man formerly known a Legion.

Both Jairus and the woman who touched Jesus's robe were desperate for him. Both had faith that ran counter to reason. The woman believed she could be healed simply by getting close enough. Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter even from death. This is faith that doesn't make sense born out of desperation. This is the sort of thing that makes people who don't know this desperation to pity those that do. It's crazy. It's unfortunate. It's lamentable.

It is also rewarded.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Legion

Luke 8:26-39 NASB

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me." For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and  yet  he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.

Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and  the demons  implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. And the demons came out of the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and  out  in the country.

The people  went out to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well. And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to leave them, for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned. But the man from whom the demons had gone out was begging Him that he might accompany Him; but He sent him away, saying, "Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

My thoughts -

Usually when I read this I get a little outraged at the people's response to this healing. Jesus has taken a man from their community who was severely afflicted and has healed him. He has taken a demon possessed man and restored him. He has taken a situation that was broken beyond any hope for repair and has fixed it. In doing so it cost this community some of their livestock. Outraged at this and terrified they ask Jesus to leave.

And yes, all of that is in there. Maybe the people were upset about the pigs. This is, of course, no small loss in an agrarian economy. That shouldn't be as big a concern as the miracle that was this man's restoration, but still. I can understand the reaction. It is lamentable but natural. People do this sort of thing all the time.

But also, they were afraid. Afraid of what? My thinking originally was that they were afraid this Jesus fellow would cost them even more. But maybe it's not that. Maybe, as sad as this situation was, they got used to it. This poor, broken, possessed man was all they knew of him. That's what he had become. His possession was the new normal. Unfortunate, sure. But normal. This is what they were used to. Jesus shook that all up. He changed things. He upset the normal order of things. Change can be a dangerous thing and Jesus's very presence brought about some pretty drastic change in a hurry.

Jesus's very presence in our lives brings about some pretty significant changes. These should be evident. They should be almost alarming. There is great power for change here. It can be unsettling. But it is far better to live unchained, free from our normal, comfortable, oppressive sin. The man who called himself Legion was far better off with the change that Jesus brought about, after all.

A couple of other things jump out here. I had read before that the demons asked Jesus to have mercy on them. I had read before that Jesus had granted their request to go into the pigs. But, while this is an integral part of this story it never really hit me. Jesus had mercy on demons. Maybe I'm reading this all wrong but I just can't see that exchange any other way. Did Jesus care more about what happened to these demons than he did the local economy? Did he care more about the demons than the pigs? What should we make of this? I have no idea.

One last thing here. You read all throughout the gospels where Jesus heals people and then tells them to keep it a secret. It's a big deal. He doesn't want word to get out. Don't tell anyone. Yet the man now formerly known as Legion wants to leave home and follow Jesus and Jesus tells him to stay and to "describe what great things God has done for you."

That's a pretty good command, isn't it? Far better, I think, than "don't tell anyone". Jesus brought about change in this man's life. And then Jesus commanded this man to tell everyone what God has done for him. The difference I suppose is that the man was a gentile living with other gentiles. Now we have an evangelism strategy here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We are perishing!

Luke 8:22-25 NASB

Now on one of  those  days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they  began  to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?"

My thoughts -

I must be insecure. I want to harp on that, after he had rebuked the wind and waves, Jesus rebuked his disciples.

"Where is your faith?" Jesus asked them.

I want to point out that they were with Jesus. Didn't they know who he was/is? Didn't they get it? Shouldn't they have known by then that Jesus was the Son of God? How could they have been so afraid?

Those silly disciples, I want to tease. There they go, freaking out again. They spent so much time with Jesus and still didn't really get it. They had so much access to Jesus and yet didn't really have faith.

But would my response have been any different? If I were there the only difference between my response and the disciples' would have been that I might have freaked out more. Does that mean that I have no faith?

And again, though Jesus chastises them, did the disciples not have faith? When the boat was rocking and the wind and waves were tearing it apart and it seemed as though they had no hope to survive, who did they turn to?

I could harp on some perceived failure of theirs. I could say they lacked faith to be still in the face of crisis and just know that all would be okay, but who has that kind of faith? Certainly not me.

So I instead find comfort. The disciples knew where to go for help. They knew who to ask. The world was ending. Things were out of control. They had no hope for survival. So they called on Jesus.

"Jesus, wake up and save us!" they called.

"Master, Master, we are perishing!"

And Jesus saved them.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Job security

We have a guy in our office building who does all of the maintenance. He's awesome. He does really good work. And he's an artist.

 I'm not just saying that. He does woodworking art outside of work. He's brought some pieces in to show some of us in the building. I don't know a lot about art but they seem gorgeous to me. He really puts a lot of himself into them.

 But he does the same thing at work. He redesigned the lobby recently. He hung beautiful wood panels everywhere. He put them in the elevator, too. They really give the place a less industrial, more "homey" feel.

As I came in today he was pulling a panel down from the elevator and replacing it. A new office is opening in the building and someone, while moving their stuff in, destroyed a panel. Our maintenance guy makes each one himself by hand. I expressed to him that it was a shame that someone destroyed one. I wondered (though not aloud) if he would be upset that the product of such obvious care and labor of his was destroyed.

 He said it was not a shame it was destroyed. He said it was "job security".

 I like that. I wish I had his perspective.

I wish Jesus didn't say that

Luke 8:16-18 NASB

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. "So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

My thoughts -

Go ahead and put this the "I wish Jesus didn't say that" file.

"Whoever has, to him more shall be given"?

"Whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away"?

I don't like the sound of that.

So what is Jesus saying here? This passage immediately follows his explanation of the parable of the sower. The particular lines I find discomforting come after two warnings. The first, whatever you do will eventually be known. There aren't any secrets. Everything comes into the light.

The second, be careful how you listen. What does that mean? The language here in the NASB is "take care how you listen". What about other translations? In the NIV it's "consider carefully how you listen". In the King James it is "take heed therefore how ye hear".

Of course if we're looking at how we listen or hear in proximity to the parable of the sower then I start wondering again about being good or rocky soil. Are we fertile ground to receive the Word of God?

Do the worries and distractions of this life prevent us from receiving the Word? Is our faith weak enough that when trouble comes, though we have received the Word, we can not rely on God and turn away? Are we too proud to subvert our own will and do God's will? Do we receive the Word with no intention of changing? Do we have hardened hearts?

This warning strikes me because at times all of these things are true of me. I am worried. I am distracted. I am proud. I can be some pretty rocky ground if I decide to be. I can harden my heart and nothing can bend it. I can be granite if I'm in the mood to be.

Maybe that's why this bothers me so much:

"(W)hoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

What is it Jesus is referring to when he says "even what he thinks he has"? If I think I have a nice comfortable relationship with my buddy Jesus and it turns out that Jesus was less interested in being my buddy than being my Lord, do I lose that relationship that I think I have? How terrifying a thought is that? If we make God in our own image and it turns out that God isn't like that at all do we lose our image of God? Do we lose our idols? Do we lose our religion? Could that be what Jesus is saying?

I don't know. I wish I had direct access to Jesus. I wish I could ask and get a direct answer. But God doesn't work that way. God came near once in Jesus. Jesus died and was resurrected and ascended into Heaven sending the Spirit to us. But the Spirit seems to prefer mystery, wonder, and a still, small voice. Sometimes I would prefer clarity and a megaphone. But the ones screaming in the megaphone don't speak for God. They just want their own voice to be heard.

The best I can do is to honestly pray,

Jesus, help me to humbly listen to you. Help me to be still and fertile ground for your Spirit's still, small voice. Help me to understand and to do your will and not my own.

Amen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mysterious ways

Luke 8:1-15 NASB

Soon afterwards, He  began  going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and  also  some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

His disciples  began  questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.

"Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. "Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.

"Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. "But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

My thoughts -

I pay a lot of lip service to gender equality. That's all I can do, really. But if I don't notice the women who supported Jesus when I read this chapter I'm just full of hot air. Their contributions were great enough to get specifically mentioned here; Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna. Also "many others" who supported Jesus's ministry "out of their private means".

How do I know next to nothing about these women? What can be known and where can I read about them? Was their support strictly financial? We know all about the twelve and yet their individual names are rarely mentioned.

We get Peter mentioned a lot because of his interactions with Jesus. I love Peter. He wore his heart on his sleeve and wasn't afraid to ask the stupid questions. I'm a proud stupid question asker. Peter just needed to know more all the time and wasn't ashamed.

We read a lot about the Sons of Zebedee. Maybe I notice them more than others having grown up as one half of a whole (the Baker twins). And of course we all know Judas and Thomas's names, but not for good reasons. Judas betrayed and Thomas doubted.

But by and large the twelve are nameless as individuals. They exist as a group. They are the disciples. If you gave me a pop quiz I doubt I could name all twelve. Sure, I could probably memorize them. But they are rarely mentioned in the Bible or in our culture individually by name.

And here these three women are listed by name. They contributions must have been important. I want to know more.

Another question I've always had is why Jesus taught in parables. His answer to his disciples was, "so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." Well call me one of "they" because that doesn't make sense to me.

Is there a deeper truth that can only be understood in stories? Or was there a political reason to obscure some meanings? You'd think this explanation wouldn't have been too hard for Jesus to give the crowd, yet he reserved it for those closest to him.

Every time I try to understand why God works in mysterious ways I fail. I want more clarity from the Divine. I want more revelation. But God doesn't exist to please me. I don't get my way. I get just enough to be desperate for more.

This parable has always disturbed me. I like a good, streamlined chain of events. I don't like variables. I don't like a lot of options. Give me "a sower went out, sowed seed, and it produced crops". That's easy. It's comforting. It works. And we're all saved that way.

But that's not what Jesus said. There's this rocky soil. And sometimes the seed doesn't produce strong roots. And the sun withers the crops. And the thorns choke them out. And then, rarely it would seem, some seed falls on good soil and produces crops. Now that soil is good enough to produce a high yield but still, this disturbs me. Do you know how rare good soil is?

So why am I so bugged? Am I afraid that I'm not good soil? Does my heart break for others who hear the gospel preached and are unmoved? Maybe both?

How easy is it to fall into worry or distraction about the things of this life! I worry all the time. What good does it do? Not much. But what if I lose my job? What of we can't pay all the bills this month? How are we going to make ends meet? How could I possibly go back to school? How can we afford to get the medical care we need? What are we going to feed the kids? There are so many things to worry about in this economy and this job market. And I do worry.

But when things go well I don't worry. Instead I get distracted by shiny junk. What kind of new guitar should I get? What kind of TV or computer? Should I get an Android phone? What restaurant should we eat at? Where should we go for vacation? What kind of new car would have enough room for our family while being cooler than a minivan. How can I dress to look a little younger and cooler?

It's not that the worries are not legitimate. It's not that the distractions are all bad things. But they take my focus away from things that are eternal and on to concerns for the temporary. I am less focused on the Kingdom of God and more focused on the kingdom of Tom.

And so I fear. I am afraid that when Jesus talks about the things that keep the seed from producing he's talking about me.

Am I bearing fruit?

Can anyone be saved?

Does God really love us?

How can we be sure?

These questions I ask myself constantly and sometimes the reassurance I so desperately crave isn't there. God is working in mysterious ways again. God is speaking in cryptic messages again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who does this guy think he is?

Luke 7:36-50 NASB

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined  at the table.   And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining  at the table  in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,  and standing behind  Him  at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." 

And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." 

"A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" 

Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." 

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.  "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.  "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." 

Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." 

Those who were reclining  at the table  with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this  man  who even forgives sins?" 

And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

My thoughts -

Who does this guy think he is?

The "good" religious people asked that a lot about Jesus. He spent a lot of time with the "wrong" crowd. He didn't hold conventional views. He shirked tradition. He attracted a lot of attention from "questionable" people like the woman in this story. And he seemed to have delusions of grandeur.

How many healings would it take for them to see Jesus for who he was/is? How many times would he have needed to raise the dead for them to get it?

That's the thing. Jesus didn't just talk the talk. He performed signs and miracles at every turn. But you can't convince people who already know everything of anything. The "good" religious people knew what "good" religious people look like. Jesus wasn't one of them. How could he be the Saviour? How could he be the Son of God?

The woman approached Jesus with humility and passionate, desperate affection. She knew what Jesus had done for her. She knew she was a sinner. Jesus came to reconcile us sinners to God. There is nothing better than that in the entire Universe.

But the "good" religious people aren't sinners, right? They're the good guys. A shining example for all those sinners to look up to. They've got it down. And if you work hard enough at it you can be just like them. Well, maybe not just like them. They are pretty darn good. But you can certainly try to be more like them.

So the "good" religious people skip the hospitality. A sinner has to do it for them. I guess they were too busy being "good". And, of course, this woman is a little weird. What, with washing Jesus's feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. That's certainly not proper. It's odd. It's unseemly. It's inappropriate. It's something to look down on.

Of course, we "good" religious people are nothing if not good at looking down on others. But that's no way to approach Jesus. This woman approached Jesus with humility and desperate, passionate gratitude. The "good" religious people approached Jesus to straighten him out.

The Kingdom of God is no place for people who have all the answers. The Kingdom of God is no place for religious rules wielded oppressively. There's only one way in.

Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me

Luke 7:18-30 NASB

The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.  Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"  When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’" 

At that very time He cured many  people  of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many  who were  blind.  And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the  blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the  poor have the gospel preached to them. 

"Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
 
When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?  "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!  "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 

"This is the one about whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send My messenger  ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’
 
"I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." 

When all the people and the tax collectors heard  this,  they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 

But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

My thoughts -

Jesus makes who he is clear to John's followers here. He does so by quoting scripture and pointing to signs and miracles he has performed. He points out that the  blind can see, the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised up. Oh yeah. There's one more thing. The poor have the gospel preached to them.

I am not a pastor or a preacher. I am not a scholar or a teacher. I am not a particularly well educated man. That verse is just jumping off the page and slapping me in the face. Maybe a historian could put it in better context and it wouldn't stare at me so loudly this morning.

The poor have the gospel preached to them.

That's the last of the signs Jesus points to. Is that more miraculous than a healing? Is that more incredible than a cleansing? Is that more important than overcoming death? Sure, Jesus did those other things, but he preached the gospel to the poor.

Is that what made Jesus different?

Also, what did Jesus mean when he followed that statement up with "blessed is he who does not take offense at Me"?

The "good" religious people of his day certainly took offense. He spent most of his time with sinners. He hung out with the "wrong" kind of people. His followers weren't well educated. They were kind of a rough crew, fishermen and tax collectors and whatnot. What kind of a teacher, what kind of a "good" religious leader teaches "those people".

And as for the rules, he had a hard time sticking to them. He kept healing on the Sabbath. He kept doing things that "good" religious people know better than to do. He was kind of offensive.

But was preaching to the poor offensive. Did the "good" religious people object to that, too?

In Lexington about a year or so ago there was an affluent neighborhood that objected to a church moving in. They didn't like that the church had a history of programs that cared for the needs of poor people. They didn't like the kind of people who were drawn to that church. They didn't want them in their neighborhood.

So they protested. They put out signs in front of their houses. They complained to the newspaper. They complained to the TV stations. They complained to the city. They complained and complained and complained until the church decided it wasn't worth it and moved into another space instead.

I wonder how many of the people who complained go to church somewhere. The numbers say it's somewhere between a quarter and a third of them. Some of them are "good" religious people. Is their Jesus not as offensive?

Jesus gave John's followers the assurance that they needed to take back to John. Jesus was/is who John was waiting for. Then Jesus turns to his crowd and tells them about John.

John was a weird guy. He lived in the wilderness. He didn't wear "conventional" clothes. He didn't eat a "conventional" diet. He was intense. He preached repentance. That can be a tough message to hear. We like to be affirmed. We don't like to hear that we need to turn from our sin. We don't like that we need to prepare ourselves if we're going to be reconciled to God. That sounds hard. That sounds like work. We don't want to have to work for it.

But John was preparing them for Jesus, who was sent by God to reconcile us, God's enemies, we who have deliberately turned our backs on God, to Himself.

The "wrong" sort of people acknowledged this. They had been baptised by John. They received the baptism of repentance. The sinners, the tax collectors, the outcasts, the rejects, the lost the lonely and the broken, they all received John's baptism.

Luke specifically mentions tax collectors a few times in this passage. You wouldn't have been looked down on more in this culture than if you were a tax collector. They were liars, cheaters, and thieves who sold their own people out to the state for a tidy prophet. They were despised.

But they repented. They turned. They're right here with Jesus having received the baptism of John. Who didn't?

The "good" religious people. They rejected John. They rejected Jesus. They were too good to turn. They weren't like "those people". They were better than that.

And they missed out on the most important thing in the Universe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

He felt compassion for her

Luke 7:11-16 NASB

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd.  Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.  When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep."  And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!"  The dead man sat up and began to speak. And  Jesus  gave him back to his mother.  Fear gripped them all, and they  began  glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!"

My thoughts -

I love verse 13:

"When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, 'Do not weep.'"

This woman has lost everything. She is a widow. She had one son. And she is burying him. We serve a God who sees this loss and has compassion.

In a patriarchal society this woman's worth was found in her men. And they are gone. There is the human cost. She is grieving. But there is a financial cost for her being alone as well. She has no means for support. Jesus sees this horrible situation and he has compassion.

Jesus doesn't just have kind words. He doesn't just comfort the woman. He restores her son to her. He fixes the situation. His compassion is not found just in his words but in his actions.

For whom did Jesus raise this woman's son from the dead? Surely it wasn't for the man. I don't understand all of the logistics involved in life, death, resurrection, and eternity. But I know that this dead man was experiencing what we all will. And Jesus interrupted that to restore him to his mother. Because Jesus felt compassion for her.

Death wasn't the tragedy here. We don't weep for the dead. Life alone was the tragedy. To live without your lived ones is the tragedy. To be without support is the tragedy. To face every day with no hope, no help, and no love. She had lost everything. That was the tragedy. So Jesus felt compassion for her and restored her son to her.

Jesus could not prevent this tragedy. God does not keep horrible things from happening. This is a fact of life. We can say that He can. We can say that He should. But we can't honestly say that He does. Bad things happen every day.

But we serve a God that has compassion. God may not prevent the bad things from happening. God may not prevent tragedies. But God restores. God redeems. God works through the awful things that happen and has compassion as heals us. God takes our messes and God fixes them.

I don't know why God works in this way. I wish I did. I wish I had all the answers. But I love that when God came near, when God dwelled among us in Jesus, he had compassion for this widow. He wept at his friend's tomb. He mourned for his city and his people. He had compassion.

Jesus raised this man from the dead. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He healed countless people. He rebuked demons. He rebuked religious authorities that persecuted others. He performed miracles and produced signs and wonders. But the most amazing thing was compassion.

God loves us so much. I can't answer the existential questions. I don't know why we're here. I don't know why the world is the way that it is. I don't know why bad things happen. I don't know why God is distant. I don't know what happens when we die. I don't understand the logistics of eternity.

But I know that God loves us. Horrible things happen. A woman loses everything she has in the world. God didn't prevent it. I don't know if God even could. But Jesus had compassion. And Jesus restored her. Jesus redeemed this horrible situation.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just give me your word...

Luke 7:1-10 NASB

When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.
 
And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.  When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.  When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him;  for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue." 

Now Jesus  started  on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof;  for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but  just  say the word, and my servant will be healed.  "For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it." 

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."  When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

My thoughts -

I want God close to me. I don't like distance. I don't like doubt. I don't like insecurity.

But that doesn't seem to be the way God works. At least not for me. Not for many of us, really. God is in Heaven. We are on Earth. There is distance. And every once in a while we have an experience in which we feel the presence of God so close we almost feel like we're going to suffocate and explode with joy and peace all at the same time.

My faith resides in the moments I can't feel God near. There is almost always distance. There is almost always uncertainty. God's presence just doesn't feel "there" and "close" as often as I'd like. This is not an obstacle to be eluded but a fact of life to be lived with.

I love this story for that reason. This man had faith in Jesus to heal his servant. He had such faith that he didn't need Jesus's physical presence. He didn't need Jesus to be there. He didn't need to touch Jesus's cloak or to have Jesus spit in mud and rub it on him or to do any kind of ritual. He didn't need Jesus to lay hands and pray over him.

This man had faith. He didn't need Jesus's presence. Jesus's word was enough.

"Just say the word and my servant will be healed."

I find this to be remarkable. Jesus did, too, exclaiming that he had not seen such faith in all of Israel.

I don't have the presence of God in my life all the time. That's not true. I don't feel the presence of God in my life all the time. Heck, not even most of the time. God, in Christ, came near once. The Spirit reveals God to us but I don't always have enough revealed to me for my liking. It seems like I get just enough to get me by until each next day. My daily Spiritual bread, as it were.

But for this man the presence of Jesus was not as important as Jesus's word. That is the kind of faith I desire. That is the kind of faith I think we all need.

God, your Word is good enough for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sorry, Lord. Maybe next time...

Luke 6:46-49 NASB

"Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?  "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.  "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

My thoughts -

This was hard for me to read this morning, especially in light of some of the difficult teachings the precede it here.

Although I didn't post it part of my reading this morning included what I call the "Plankeye" verse. I'm sure you know the one. Luke 6:42:

""Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye."

This is a tough teaching. This is the sort of thing that we want Jesus to be telling others. I know I do, at least. You know, the people who disagree with me. They can be so judgemental and mean. They need to hear this. But not me. I'm good.

And of course that's nonsense. I find what is wrong with others much easier and much, much more comfortably than I do my own faults.

But this is not the only tough teaching we've looked at lately. Jesus was/is nothing if not willing to challenge his followers. We've read over the last few days that we need to love our enemies, be good to people who are bad to us, bless those who curse us, lend without expecting anything in return, that we are blessed when we are persecuted, that the poor are blessed, and that the rich, comfortable, and powerful have received their reward in this life and not the next to the point that Jesus says "woe" to them.

These are tough things. They challenge us. They turn our worldview absent Jesus upside down. They are hard to hear. They are hard to follow. Jesus is asking us to love like God loves. To love our enemies. To expect nothing in return. To devalue the tangible things in this life and to only value the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom we don't have access to here and now. And then Jesus says this and it just rubs it in.

"Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?"

Is it because we don't think he's serious? Jesus doesn't really mean these things, right? They're some kind of academic ideal. Everyone should be like this. Of course it isn't really attainable and grace covers your shortcomings so don't sweat it if you can't pull it off. Seriously. We're cool.

Is Jesus not showing us a better way to live, a better way to be? Are we who claim salvation in Christ willing to trust him only with eternity and not with this present life? Are we just stubborn, stuck in our ways? Do we like control? Is it just too hard?

I can't answer these questions for you. I can barely answer them for me. Mostly I can look at this passage sheepishly, like a child being scolded who has no good explanation for his behavior. It was more work than I was willing to put in. Anger is addicting. I enjoy getting worked up. I enjoy a good tirade. I like holding grudges. It is a lot easier to hate your enemies than to love them. It is a lot easier to continue to do what I have always done than to seriously follow Jesus and do what he says.

That's all I've got. Sorry, Lord. My way was just easier. Maybe next time.

Have mercy on me, a sinner.