Friday, June 29, 2012

How Do We Do?

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Cor 1)

I fell asleep on my face in my prayers this morning.  It’s not the weird patterns of the carpet left on my forehead or the thought of someone finding me in this undignified state which bothers me.  It’s this: if this is how my day starts, how can I hope to accomplish the works of God?  Where does the believer, the saved, the saint get the energy to live a life set apart?  A holy life?  A life lived for God?
I make lots words.  I draw funny pictures.  They have a point and I spend a lot of time and effort on them and I want to see their impact.  I believe they are at least in part, my calling.  When I don’t see direct ripples from the pebbles I’m tossing I get discouraged.  When I’m reminded I’m not doing enough to pay the bills, I doubt my calling.  To make matters worse, the sinful side of me wants to be glorified for them.  Where does the power come from to keep going?  To trust?  To overcome myself?
I was deeply effected in church on Sunday.  The hymns, the music, the words, the power of fellowship with so many others… it was worship!  Moments like those, where God feels so close and life makes so much more sense, are precious and few.  Like time alone in nature.  Like time spent holding a sleeping baby.  Life has such a clear purpose and meaning then.  How does one keep going when so much of the rest of life is Scottish?  Cold, wet, gray and ruled by someone else.  Paul, who knew something of hardship and suffering, tells us…
The Cross. 
For all its doctrines, for all its teachings, for all the volumes of words in the myriads of books printed about it, ours is a simple faith:  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5)  Get knocked on the noggin and forget everything else but keep this deeply tucked away and engraved in the center of your life and you will be just fine.
Pray it in the morning.  Repeat it at night.  Say it over every meal.  Whisper it before every fight.  Write it on every check, dollar and bill.  Cry it in the valley, sing it on the hill.  I love the way a cross marks a spot.  It draws the eye.  It centers.  It focuses.  It says, “Here!  Look here!”  The Cross sits in the center of History.  Hardly noticed by the residents of a single city at the time, it is now and forever the single most important event ever.  We must not grow weary of it.  We must not take it for granted.  We must remember!  It is the source of our strength, the source of our joy, the source of our faith!  It is by what we judge and why we don’t.  It’s how we forgive and why we’re forgiven.  Even the strength we use to remember it comes from it.  Wheels within wheels.  The Spirit testifies continually about the blood of Jesus, the grace of Jesus.  The Spirit is in us!  for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2Tim 1)
So do whatever you must to keep this center!  18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” (Deut 11)
 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;

    bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Prov 3)
“14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 5)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Work it, Baby!

34 I will bless the Lord at all times;

    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;

    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,

    and let us exalt his name together!
I sought the Lord, and he answered me

    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,

    and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Ps 34)

It is my fear one could read the last few posts and think I preach a gospel of works.  All my emphasis on action and what we do could be misconstrued.  If Jesus’ had and has his words twisted and confused so easily by so many, I certainly will not be immune.  But let the fault not be one of not having worked hard enough to clear up this issue of works.  Come, there is work to do.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;

    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,

    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer

    and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?

    When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,

    and want like an armed man.” (Prov 6)

From the time God put Adam in the Garden he gave him something to do.  Something Adam must obey.  It is fairly obvious God is a God of action and those who follow him must likewise be on the move.  Rest is a gift given in cycles of seven.  Six parts work, one part rest.  Peace is found in our labor.  How can that be?  God is in our labor…
12 O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,

    for you have indeed done for us all our works.” (Is 26)
If there is one thing God has labored in me and through me to help us see it is this: God is love and love is perfect submission and communion to the other.  The expression, “I don’t know where I stop and you begin,” comes close.  The fact is: there is no stop!  We’re moving towards Him, He’s moving towards us, we are in Him, He is in us!  He is drawing us into His Oneness!  This is what all our action, all our labor, all our works are towards!
         Check it.  From the moment we rise we are doing.  We will be doing something always.  Life is movement.  Life is change.  Life is action.  The work of salvation, the job of redemption, the paying of the debt, It is Finished!  Yes!  Praise God!  Hallelujah!  Glory Be!  Everything necessary has been accomplished.  By Christ’s blood, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s work, we are saved!  We receive (passive action) this.  We believe (action) this.  We have faith (action with helper) in this.  We share (action) in his glory!  We ARE (state of being, reception of title, state of grace, first non-action) sons and daughters of God!

Alarm clock goes off, new day begins, son and daughter of God rise… What? Do? We? Do? 

See.  Not so easy, is it?  Imagine how the first Jewish converts felt.  Yesterday they had the Law.  Yesterday they knew exactly what was expected of them every minute of every day.  And when they failed, they knew exactly how many sheep, goats, cattle and birds were required to pay the debt.  Today, they wake up free…yippee!  Frolic like ya got no sense!  We’re free!  We’re free!  We’re.. free… to.. do what?  If they sin now, if they fail.. can they fail?  How can we fail if we don’t know what we’re to do?  How can we fail free grace?  How can we fail love?  Should we keep going to work?  Should we keep living with someone who is not free?  No wonder they sold everything and moved into communes together.  No wonder they thought Jesus was coming to get them any day.  Living here in this mess as free people doesn’t make much sense!  Why does God free us, save us, clean us, heal us and then… not take us home?

Because we still have something to do!  God created the earth and everything in it but he did not finish it…on purpose!  He invites us into His work to work alongside Him.  God comes and initiates His kingdom and he does not finish it on purpose!  He invites us to work towards its completion alongside him!  By His love, He makes us His people, then He invites us into love by submitting our wills to His and obeying His commands.  Love God with all your heart, mind and strength.  Love each other as He has loved us.  And how did He love us?  By total submission to the Father and becoming totally servile to us!  14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2)  Saint Jimmy is calling us out!   Works do not save, works are evidence we HAVE been saved!  Evidence the Spirit is in us!  Evidence we are seeking God’s face, radiating and reflecting His Light!  We seek someone to love because we love God who loves us and as Jesus told us, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matt 25)  In Luke 7 Jesus said the sinful woman loved much because she was forgiven much… or wait, did he say, she loves much so she is forgiven much?  It can be translated either way.  Is this on purpose?  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  God is frequently not one or the other; He’s simultaneously both as you would assume an omnipresent, omnipotent God would be.  If Jesus is sitting on the right hand of God in Heaven and the Spirit is in us and they are in perfect communion then we are already being drawn into this.  We won’t be able to stop it!  Why would we want to?

So the alarm clock goes off and son and daughter of God’s feet hit our fuzzy, bunny slippers.  We cock our heads and listen.  We place our hands on our chests.  Spirit?  Jesus?  You in there?   O, he’s in there, you may not feel Him flowing through you, Obi Wan, but He’s there.  Acknowledge it!  Own it!  I’m told feeling follows action.  So say to Him, ““Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” (1Sam 14)
33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Mark 3)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shine on you Crazy Diamonds

“16 “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18 Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”” (Luke 8)

Jesus, the smartest man who ever lived, though never at a loss for words when describing the kingdom of God, never comes out and says exactly what it is.  Exactly what it will be like.  He mixes and matches metaphors to fit the given situation.  Some of this may be so that, “‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”  But the larger reason is probably because it is so far beyond anything we’ve ever experienced, nothing he said would even come close to conjuring up the right picture in our heads.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Ezekiel, Zechariah and John the Revelator.  Like describing light to a man born blind, we just do not have the context to know what the kingdom is.

Jesus tells us though we yet lack the understanding of what it is, we can already begin to see what it does.  Little by little, like a slowly breaking dawn or a lamp that is turned up by degrees, we see more and more.  Hidden things are made manifest, secrets are brought to light.  This is not from us.  Our wisdom.  We did not make the light; the light is given to us. 
The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

    on them has light shone.” (Is 9)
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  (John 1)

As handy as it is to know what light is and what it does, it’s what we do with the light we’re given that is paramount!  Day has come and we must work while it is day.  Just like dawn is given to the whole world, God’s light which John tells us is the life in Jesus, is given to the whole world, it’s what we do with it, how the soil of our hearts receives it, which matters.  We have a part to play, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph 5) 

Who says the Bible is against science?  Here’s Paul, over a thousand years before Descartes, telling us how light works. In as much as it depends on us, we must respond, one way or the other.  Darkness retreats from the light, hides from the light, hides its deeds from the light.  The children of the light will reflect it and more!  And not just reflect, we take it in, like lanterns, the flame of God will burn in us and on us!  And here in Luke, Jesus promises as we take it in, more and more will be given to us!

This is why we must be the fourth soil!  “But,” the soil cries, “did I make myself?  Can I plow myself?  Can I weed myself?  I am but dirt!  God made me what I am and I am helpless against Him!”  Au contraire mon frere!  12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8)  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1John 1)  The more light we are given, the more we see our sin, the more we are faithful to confess our visible sin, the more light he gives us, the more light he gives us, the more we see our sin…  a wheel of purification, rolling us towards paradise, rolling us towards Him!  Making us dizzy, yes, but also making us a pure and spotless bride!
But it is not just for ourselves!  Lest we forget, 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5)
We are given light to be light so that all may see the Light!  We serve the Light.  It is by the Light we view all things… 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt 6)  We will view all things through the lens, by the light of the one we serve.  The one we love!  If it is our selves, our happiness, our comfort, our security, then it will be darkness.  If however, the Light has come and set us free from our darkness and healed our eyes and we turn and love Christ then we love the Light.  And if by that light and through him we see and love the Father, then, my brothers and sisters, a new and glorious day has dawned! 
Shine on you crazy diamonds!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It May Be The Lord

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8)

Jesus tells a parable of a man sowing seed.  A story about the condition of ground in which seed grows best.  It occurs to me as we see this story told, it is a parable within a parable. 

The Son of God went out to tell a parable to a great crowd.  On some it fell on deaf ears.  Their hearts were hard and it only made them angry since the man would not speak plain and the devil came and took the words away.  Some latched onto it quickly, it tickled their fancy, but the meaning never sank in and they could not recall the story by the time they got home.  Some received the story eagerly, even understanding what it meant.  Mostly.  They could recite it for a while, even discuss what it might mean, but their own viewpoints and hot button issues colored their interpretation of it and so it did not change their lives.  Some grabbed hold of the story, turned it inside out, looked at it from every angle, loved it, loved the Son of God who told it to them.  They did not try to change it, but let it change them.  People noticed.

What kind of ground receives seed best?  What kind of ground is best for farming and producing a crop?  Broken ground.  Plowed, furrowed, all the rocks removed, soft, not growing anything else.

Ground doesn’t often, if ever, get in this condition by itself.  The farmer tears at it, drives sharp, hard, heavy steel through it, digging at it, turning it over, exposing the roots of weeds.  It’s a violent, dirty business. 

What kind of heart receives Jesus best?  What kind of heart is best for the Spirit to grow fruit?  A soft heart.  A humble heart.  One not confused with lies, already full with pride or hardened by fear, doubt and worry.  Like the rocks, like the weeds, these must be removed.  The heart must be turned over, broken, softened.  This is a violent, dirty business.  It’s done through trial and testing and discipline.  It’s exposed in prosperity and poverty, plowed in adversity and suffering.

But all these trials are preparing us for the Word!  So they are Grace!  They are Good.  They are gifts!  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1)  The parable cannot be received by the indifferent listener.  It cannot be understood by the closed mind.  It cannot be understood correctly by the narrow mind.  What kind of heart receives without judgment?  Without anger?  Without preconceived notions?

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19) 

Jesus is clear.  The Word will never take root in us if we do not allow ourselves to be molded by the Potter.  Plowed by the Planter.  Weeded by the Lover of our souls.  How much is our effort and how much is Grace?  I would suggest we lack the powers of perception to answer this.  The man treading water is working very hard and feels as if no one is helping.  He is alone in this.  Yet, he did not make his body, nor give it the ability to move.  He did not create the laws of buoyancy or Newtonian physics.  Everything keeping him afloat is from God… but it’s near impossible to realize this when treading water. 

Jesus’ parable makes it clear God is the farmer, we’re but dirt.  Dirt has no power to affect change upon itself.  Yet in the same story, Jesus uses action verbs in his warnings to the disciples.  hold it fast”, “18 Take care then how you hear,” finally summing it up with, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”  And there are no shortage of calls to action elsewhere: strive, turn, become, obey, open, enter, come, serve, labor.  From our vantage point then, it may always look like we’re doing all the work, but don’t give pride any purchase!  When we have the advantage of paradise-based points of view and heavenly hindsight, we will see clearly God was in all.  Picture the child with their plastic lawnmower out in front of dad with the real one.  When the child looks at the last row, he sees it mowed.  So he feels he is accomplishing something.  Dad however is just enjoying the scene and the time together.  Submission, the beginnings of love.  It’s not a divvying up of chores, we’ll do this and God does that.  It’s the wheel within the wheel.  We know not if we turn because we’re pushing forward, being pushed forward or the ground is moving underneath us.  We are in Him and He in us! 

Can we see this as Caleb did?  ““You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. …10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Josh 14)

Or as Jonathan?  Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”  (1Sam 14)

Notice, neither of them knew, they suspected, but only the outcome would tell the tale.  Can we this day, pray for this childlike faith then get up, go to the shed, grab our plastic rakes and hoes and go till some ground?  It may be that the Lord will work for us.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Let's get dirty

“4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8)

I’m gonna skip right over verses 1-3.  It’s not that I don’t see anything there, all scripture is God breathed.  I’m sure there’s plenty for us to consider in a short description of how Jesus traveled and with whom he traveled.  (Did the “sinner” from chapter 7 tag along?  What must it have been like when this troop of at least twenty people showed up in town?  How did the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager meet Jesus?)  It’s just, given my present season of unemployment, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m saying women should be supporting me. 

What is infinitely more useful to us here is WHY Jesus was traveling.  Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”  Luke, I’m finding, is delightfully structured.  From here to verse twenty-one, he follows one theme-the Word of God.

Jesus is sowing his seed.  Freedom for the captives!  A light to those living in darkness!  Come without money, buy bread from Him.  Humble yourselves and fall on God’s mercy and He is faithful to forgive, seventy-times seven!  All who come are welcome!  The outcasts are now Sons and Daughters!  The year of the Lord’s favor has begun!  Good News!  No more religion!  No more, what-you-have-to-do!  Now it’s what-God-has-done!

But Jesus is no fool, he’s no sparkle-eyed naïf, so sure his message is going to unilaterally change the world overnight.  He knows how his seed will be received.  Some hearts are too hard.  Too set in their ways.  Too settled into their systems.  Too packed and full to receive something so … unsettling.  Seeds sprout, they push things aside, they demand nutrients, water, resources the ground had other designs for.  It is not just the hostile atheist whose ground is too hard, anyone can be too full for Jesus.  There the seed will lay on the surface, un-embraced, unloved by the soil, where any unclean bird (demon) can come and snatch it away.

Some hearts will receive it joyfully… at first.  It’s novel!  It’s new!  It’s exciting!  We’re gonna change the world!  I’m loved!  Then the seed starts demanding those nutrients to live.  The root reaches down and touches something hard.  Some desire.  Some coping mechanism.  Some habit.  Some lust.  Some pain.  Some addiction.  Some one.  Some thing, which cannot exist with the Word and the heart has a choice to make.  Grab onto this seed, this newcomer, this disturbing revelation or hold onto the known.  Sure, it’s abusive, it’s killing me, it’s wrong, it can’t last but it’s mine.  The pain, the cold comfort I know is better than the possibly painful cure I don’t.  Unfed, unloved, the seed withers and dies.

Some hearts accept the seed just fine… as long as it’s willing to grow in the garden with the other seeds.  They are generous hearts.  All plants, all philosophies have merit.  Come Jesus, you’ll fit right in over here in the corner next to my ambitions and my other concerns.  Watch out for those thorns!  Haha, aren’t they cute when they draw blood?  The Word is in competition here.  There’s only so much water and nutrient to go around.  There’s too much shade and not enough Son.  No one weeds this garden of weeds.  The fruit growing here is not good for eating.  It blesses no one.  The Word is even very little benefit to the soil itself.  Easily forgotten amidst the competing foliage.  Tragedy, trial and suffering come and this heart is as lost as the unbeliever when the true tragedy is the Truth, Comfort, Peace and Love it craves is right there, hidden among the thorns.

Then there’s the heart Jesus is looking for.  Soft, broken, torn up by the plows of life, soaked by the rain, flooded by the river every time it overflows its banks, all of the rocks it leaned on, held onto, was sure of; all of the plants it hoped in, dreamed of, nurtured ripped out and removed.  Forgotten.  Fallow.  Empty.  Hungry! 

And the seed falls.  The seed is embraced!  The seed is fed.  Sheltered.  Loved!  Unchallenged, it grows without competition.  Everything the soil has belongs to the seed and everything the seed has belongs to the soil until there is so much fruit, the heart overflows! 

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Violent Love

“36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7)

Ta-Dah!  The violent taking the Kingdom by force!  Was this woman invited?  A woman?  A sinner?  To a pharisee’s home?  Are you kidding?  She is unclean!  She is impure.  No doubt our Pharisee, later named Simon, is thinking he is going to have to fumigate the whole place once this Jesus takes his rabble elsewhere!  He most likely only suffers her presence for the sake of his guest.  An odd concession since he has made no effort, beyond feeding him, to welcome Jesus into his home as yet.  Again we’re reminded of Jesus’ warning in Luke 13, 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”  You can have Jesus in your home and still not have him in your heart! 

But the woman.  We were talking about the woman.  Look at her.  I’m sure everyone in the room that day was.  Even those affecting to ignore her.  She is only named as a sinner.  What is her sin?  We don’t know.  Simon knew.  Apparently her reputation preceded her.  Small town.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well, she feels the judging eyes all the time.  There is no anonymity.  There is no relief.  There is no forgiveness.  The best she can do is hide herself from them so as not to feel.  Maybe she drinks to numb the pain.  Maybe she indulges in sex to feel loved, even for a moment.  All the while, adding to her guilt in their eyes.  Adding to her shame.  We don’t know but we probably know many like her.  We might even know exactly what she feels ourselves.

Our modern culture knows.  We understand feelings of shame and guilt… and we have worked hard to abolish both.  No one, we have decreed, should feel judged by anyone.  How can this be accomplished?  By making everything anyone wants to do, perfectly acceptable.  Remove the moral standard or at least, lower it until it is meaningless and all can hold their heads up in pride.  You are the soul arbiter of right and wrong for you.  No one can or should or has the right to judge you.  It sounds lovely.  It sounds like Utopia.  So much so it has even crept its way into the church.  There is a strong resistance to God as Judge now.  Universalism is taking root.  There’s only one problem with it.

It’s a lie.

It’s like saying you can fly because you deny the law of gravity.  Like saying you are a cat because you believe you are a cat.  You can toss off clothes and bathe yourself with your tongue.  You can annoy your friends by speaking exclusively in meows and purrs.  You can even poop in a litter box but you are still just a person pretending to be a cat.  And we are now a culture pretending to be guiltless. 

And we know it.  There is a standard.  It exists apart from us and would be there even if there were no humans to think of it.  There could be no such thing as moral indignation without it.  And yet, when something heinous happens, we all feel it.  Instantly.  It’s not taught.  It’s not learned.  It’s innate.  We know instinctively what is fair and what isn’t.  We know there are things that are inherently “right” like sharing and hugs and M&M’s and we know there are things that are inherently “wrong” like hatecrime and kicking puppies and political ads.  Heck, we have words like “heinous” just because it’s there!  It’s the reason why those who believe most strongly that there shouldn’t be a universal moral code to judge by get so angry when one says there is!  The only thing you’re allowed to judge someone for is judging! 

The Jews in Jesus’ day had no problem with such questions however.  They had the Law of God and they believed it.  Some, like our buddy Simon, actually had the opposite problem.  In their pride, they not only thought they could do God one better by fencing the Law in even further, some thought they could actually keep it!  Some actually believed they could achieve the holiness of God!

Some however knew better.  The woman in Luke 7 is such a one.  She is not ill.  She is not lame or blind or deaf or demon possessed that we know of.  She does not come on behalf of a child or husband or sibling or parent who is.  She comes for healing yes.  But not for her body.  She comes to be healed in her soul. 

The purpose of the Law was to show us holiness.  True holiness.  This should have left us in tears!  For if even Moses could not look on the face of God then what hope did we have?  We only inhabit these bodies for under a hundred years.  What is that to eternity?  If dying removes the veil between God and us then we are undone and the best we could hope for is to be buried in the earth and hidden from His sight!  Simon the Pharisee doesn’t get this.  The disciples with Jesus usually don’t get this though Peter came close on his boat one day.  Here in Luke 7 we’ve seen a Gentile Centurion who did and we’ve seen the compassion of Jesus to the widow. 

Here, our sinful woman puts the two together.  She sees her sin.  She sees God’s Holiness.  She knows the great gulf between them.  She senses it as a black abyss separating her from all she’s wasted her life to find. 

And she sees Jesus.

She sees his mercy, his compassion, his worthiness.  By her act of anointing him with ointment, she calls him Christ, the ‘anointed one.’  Not just a messiah, but The Messiah!  The one who can save her from the chasm, from the dreadful separation!  The one who can forgive sins!  She does not wait.  She does not hide.  She does not preserve her dignity.  She barges in where she is not welcome!  She serves him in the most menial way possible, humbling herself to the dust in front of everyone!  Wasting not even her tears!  This is not religion.  This is not pride or denial.  This is not rite or ritual.  This is not waiting for God’s grace on your terms.  This is violent faith!  This is vehement love!  This is the only proper response to Jesus!  This is the Way.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Violence is the Answer

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11)

After a year and ten days in the darkness of the ark, Noah opened the door and blinked and squinted at a brand new world.  Everything now was different.  Everything!  A year ago, they had entered into the ark as just another family of peasants in a world full of people laughing at them.  Today, they exited that same ark as kings of all they surveyed.  The flood was an obvious pivot point in history.

The greatest pivot point in all history however would have to be explained to the folk living in it or it could easily be missed!  When Jesus came everything changed forever!  “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21)  Everything the Law and Prophets pointed to was being fulfilled, the system God has set in place for men to approach Him was being fulfilled and now the Kingdom of Heaven had come!  The last prophet, the greatest prophet according to Jesus, had come and instead of pointing down the hazy road of history to come and saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1) he pointed across the Jordan and hollered, “There he is!  The Lamb who takes away the sins of the World!”  Talk about your awkward moments!  How silent it must have been in the crowd that day?

And yet, here we are, at the most, only two years later and Jesus has to remind the crowds of it.  ““What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,

    who will prepare your way before you.’” (Luke 7)
Jesus has to frame it for them.  Some went to see the spectacle.  Some to hear something novel.  (Keep in mind, there were no televisions and Jews frowned on the Greek theater.  Before there was reality shows, there was reality.)  Some to ensure this new fellow wasn’t a heretic and threat to their power.  Some to ensure this new fellow wasn’t another rabble-rouser and a threat to bring Rome down on their heads.  Jesus however tells them what John was…

He was the End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End!

And what proof does Jesus offer for his claim?  Look, he says, at what has happened since.  16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.” (Luke 16)  The “violence” that the Kingdom suffers is the good kind!  The “violent” are the thieves, publicans, harlots, poor, ragged and ill, the demon possessed, Gentiles and yes, a couple of fishermen, the outcasts of society who had not accepted what the “pious” said about them.  They had instead crowded to Jesus.  They forced their way into see him.  Sometimes tearing holes in roofs, sometimes forcing their way through crowds on hands and knees just to touch his clothes.  Sometimes barging into a house where he was a having dinner with his disciples to plead with him.  They climbed trees.  They dragged him to their homes.  They dumped perfume on his head and cried on his feet.  They followed him night and day.  This is not the picture of passivity.  Yes.  They are weak.  Yes.  They know their need and that need is what drives them to desperate acts!  And those desperate acts when directed to Jesus’ mercy are childlike acts of faith so richly rewarded!  For they become greater than John the Baptist and great in the Kingdom of Heaven!  ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”” (Mark 9)  Many were receiving Jesus.  33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7)

Our faith is not a passive thing.  It is not a wait-and-see thing.  It is not a sudden shower of grace falling on us while we were doing something else!  It is a violent child-like, hop-on-Pop thing!  Children have no interest in niceties.  They are not concerned with their image or public opinion or manners.  They run and jump and yell over what excites them.  They run and jump and yell to who excites them!  Who loves them!  23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” (Luke 13)  It is not enough to hear the teaching and like some of the words.  It is not enough to “like” Jesus’ page on Facebook.  Our faith is not going to church on Sundays!  Our faith is not a part of who we are.  We are a part of it!  We are a part of Him!  Strive to enter!  Receive Him.  Accept Him.  Abide in Him.  Never stop pressing in!  Never stop desiring Him.  Never stop serving Him.  Then see if the flood around you changing the whole world isn’t one of Grace!

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Need's a fine thing that all people need.

13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7)

This is not the first person to be raised from the dead.  Elijah and Elisha both raised children back up for their mothers… or more accurately, prayed and asked God to raise them back to life (Notice Jesus doesn’t pray or call out to anyone, he simply says, “I say to you…”).  This is not even the first time we read of Jesus raising anyone.  Jairus’ daughter was awakened just a few chapters ago.  Jesus doesn’t make a big deal about the resurrection of this young man like he does when it’s time to raise Lazarus.  There’s no production, no asking relatives whether or not they believe in Him, no waiting for the proper moment when no one could dispute whether or not ol’ Lazzy was really dead or just taking a really long nap… without breathing.  Jesus is just taking a walk, sees the procession and takes pity on a poor widow.  It’s as random an incident as can happen in a world completely under the Father’s dominion.  So I submit to you that this incident is not about resurrection…

It’s about compassion.

Oh sure, it demonstrates God’s power.  And yes, it is pre-runner of all tears being washed away through the restoration of all things lost.  But the final resurrection when Jesus brings us all to himself, the wedding supper of the Lamb, the big Shindig in the sky is a drawing of the sheep before their shepherd.  We rise and immediately take our place before the Throne.  We rise to worship Him!  Not to take back up our earthly positions and duties.  30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matt 22)  Instead, here Jesus gives the boy back to his mother.  He returns him to his earthly service, his mortal concerns, his old life.  He is not resurrected to something new.  He may very well have a newfound respect and outlook on his life, but it’s still the same life: same B.O., same mom, same job in the same small Podunk town.  He will still need to answer the same questions we all have to answer the minute our feet hit the floor next to our beds each morning.  He will still have the same need to figure out what to do with the life he’s been given…twice.  How should he spend his days?  What is worth doing?  What isn’t?  What should he be about?  What is his life for?

And that’s what this story is about.

If Jesus is the Son of God, if Jesus really is a perfect, sinless man, then it stands to reason his life would be the model of a perfect, sinless life.  A life well lived.  Life as it is meant to be lived.  And when we boil it down to its essence, Jesus’ life can be summed up in one word.


We are sons and daughters of God.  Not of the same stuff as Him, not begotten but made, adopted into His Holy Family, Father, Son and Spirit.  The perfect wheel of love.  However, we, being given the ability to choose holiness or evil, chose evil, forever alienating ourselves, stepping out of the wheel and separating ourselves from our Holy Family. 

Or we would have, if our older brother, Jesus, had not had compassion on us from the very start and even before.  He was willing to give up his place in the family to draw us back in, to make a way.  To BE the WAY!  To take all of the sin and filth and rebellion pulling us down to death upon His self and give us His righteousness, His obedience, His purity so we could again enter into the perfect wheel.  Somehow clothed in His begotteness.  His God stuff!

Jesus’ life, even before He came to Earth, is all about compassion!  He took all he had, every minute of every day and gave it away to all those who had the greatest need.  The blind received sight, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the captive was freed and the dead were raised!  And greatest of all, our sins were forgiven!

This is how we are to live.  Loving God with all our heart, soul and strength.  Loving each other as Christ loved us.  Giving all the Father gives us away to those who have need.  Aid to the poor, healing to the sick, companionship to the lonely, forgiveness to those in debt to us.  18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 18)  If we do this, if we truly try to give ourselves away like this, we will come up against an abrupt stone wall of truth…

We are not Jesus.

Jesus is our model in the story but the fact is, we are the widow.  We have as much need as the needy we will try to help.  But fear not, she has shown us the way as well!  Cry out!  Cry out to God and He will hear; He will have compassion on us!  Do not cry alone!  19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt 18)  The widow was not alone; she had a considerable crowd of her friends and neighbors with her.  The disciples were not alone, they had each other and they had a crowd following Jesus as well.  The crowds were mixed.  There was likely no common language; Aramaic, Hebrew and Koine Greek were probably all being babbled about.  There was no common affinity.  There was no common home.  They had but one thing in common.  One thing to draw them together.  One thing taking them down the road this day…

Their Need!

There is where God met them.  This is where God meets us!  18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”” (John 14)