Christianity 201

September 25, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking.  Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

August 1, 2013

Jesus Embraces Outsiders

mark_217i_have_not_come_to_call_the_righteous_but_sinners-384746

Our core text today is from Matthew 9 and also appears in Mark 2. 

First we go to Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity:

What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be invited in? What does it mean to be cast out?

Jesus had a funny way of redefining community. He chose to associate with the “unclean” to the consternation of the “clean”, he welcomed the unwelcome, he befriended the friendless, he identified with the alienated.  In the gospels we read:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

In other words, for Jesus in was out and out was in. You’re not an insider with God unless you’re for outsiders with God. Consider your own community or social network. How does it compare to this? Are you up for a challenge? I think Jesus still has some surprises for us.

On the same passage, Peter K. Greer writes:

One of the greatest obstacles to the Gospel is when we pretend we have it all together.

Hide our faults. Talk about our struggles in the past tense. Convince ourselves that if we can’t see our sins, they must not exist.

But this attitude is toxic – and sets us up for even greater failure.

Personally, I have found freedom in finally letting go of the lie that because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m supposed to have it all together.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, I share just a few of the times pride caused me to make poor leadership decisions, how I masked workaholic behavior with ministry language, and how I’ve simply made a mess of things.

I’m not sure why sharing such stories was a good idea. But I have been touched by the responses from friends who’ve read it. It’s as if taking off the man makeup and opening up with some of my faults has allowed even deeper friendships and conversations.

Musician Thad Cockrell said, Strengths divide, but faults unite.

Brokenness brings people together and is a prerequisite to understanding the Good News.

At its core, the Gospel is for broken people. It isn’t a message for the people who believe they have it all together. Jesus said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).

We can’t understand Grace unless we recognize we don’t have it all together.  So let’s stop pretending.  And then begin a journey of healing and restoration in complete dependence on our Savior.

Using different language and from another perspective, researcher Brene Brown comes to a similar conclusion in her powerful TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

If you want to join a community of beautifully broken people, check out People of the Second Chance: http://www.potsc.com/. Mike Foster founded this community to celebrate stories of those who don’t have it all together, who are broken, messed up, but come back with a renewed reliance on God’s grace.

When was the last time, in a trusted relationship, you found the freedom that comes when we stop pretending we have it all together?

Canada’s Gordon Rumford writes:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:15-17 (NIV)

Our verses today show a group of people highly critical of our Lord. Jesus was hanging out with “sinners”. The tax collectors the Jews hated so much were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman authorities. The critical people believed themselves to be devout, holy, and well above the level of the individuals Jesus associated with.

Sadly the self-righteous Jews did not recognize that Jesus had not come to spend His time with people who had a high opinion of themselves. Rather He had come for those who knew themselves to be sinners in God’s sight and who desired to change and be different. Jesus had a heart for people in pain—people who were struggling with life and its temptations. He desired to deliver or “cure” those who were “sick” with sin.

Jesus was not afraid of scandal as long as He could connect with those others scorned. Never exclude yourself from the circle of Jesus’ disciples (the church) because of your previous bad behavior. Your life may have been sadly distorted because of sin but Jesus is in the reconstruction business.

Jesus loves to move into a situation where a person has really hit bottom as far as morality is concerned. He is often pictured in Scripture coming alongside the most miserable failures in life and bringing them to a place of useful service to the Father and His people.

Even the repentant thief has been used for centuries as an example of one coming to Jesus in death and having themselves delivered from the results of sin. So that poor man’s few moments of life as a believer prior to death has had a wonderful effect on countless thousands who felt they were too far gone to be redeemed. His conversion story has given hope to many.

Whatever way you have sinned against the Lord—however awful your record is—never doubt Jesus can take you and make a trophy of grace out of you. He can make your life into something beautiful and full of praise to Him Who is the Friend of sinners.

Do you know someone who needs to hear this devotional today? If your life has been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit go and tell some other sinner that Jesus is the Friend of sinners and has a message of hope and transformation for them. Needy people are waiting to hear the Good News. Go and speak the redeeming word to them today.

At The Bare Soul Daily Devotional, Rick Roeber writes:

Matthew 9:13 – “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Has the Lord ever told us to “go and learn?” While this may sound harsh, it is God’s remedy for those with a stubborn heart. Religiosity can often make us legalistic and unbending. Yet, Jesus tells this sort to head back to spiritual kindergarten and learn the basics of His message – compassion and mercy that are powered by love.

Do we feel like we have given up much for God and that others should do the same? Possibly our sacrifice is not the same as the next fellow’s. Perhaps God has for them a different cross to bear that looks nothing like ours. Our position is to be positionless regarding their position and their walk with God. We should not judge a man unless we are also willing to grant them mercy in our judgment. Our appraisals should always be based in righteous, humble thinking (John 7:24). This is our safeguard against haughtiness, beloved.

Image: LiveLuvCreate

July 15, 2013

The Best System of Government

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Bill is one of the five authors at The Thinklings blog. This appeared recently under the title On Politics.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Matthew 21:23-27

A month or two ago in my daily reading I happened upon this passage. It is a passage I have read many times before. I tend to underline and at times write in my Bible as I read, and so I wrote something in the margin that I’ve never written in the margin of my Bible before.

A single word: “Politics”

Political thinking is one of the most consistent traits of Jesus’ detractors, far more so than theological thinking, which is ironic, since they thought of themselves as such astute theologians. It’s illustrative to look at the passage above as a representation of all political thought.

Notice the fear: “But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Notice the complete disregard for, you know, the actual truth: And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say . . .”

Writing that single word in the margin was an epiphany for me. I began to think of the many instances of political calculus in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. The Jewish leaders in their dealings with Jesus. Pilate in his dealings with the Jewish leaders and the crowds. Herod in his dealings with John the Baptist and his guests at the banquet. Herod Agrippa and Festus before Paul. Nicodemus, coming to Jesus at night for fear of what his associates might think. This helped sharpen for me my understanding of one of the chief, if not the chief attributes of political thinking: fear.

I’ve been around awhile, and I remember well the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the church in America began flexing her political muscle. There was real hope then that we were going to change our country and our culture for the better through electing the right people. But we did not see the fatal flaw in our thinking: everyone we elected was, by definition and necessity, a politician.

Being a politician isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am thankful for the people who put up with all the argle-bargle and jiggery-pokery of political life to fill necessary leadership positions. But shame on me for ever trusting in elected officials to actually change the culture. In reading about the chief priests and elders of the people above, do you sense any of the courage needed to drive a culture in a good direction?

Politicians, with only very rare exceptions, do not drive cultural change. They are followers of the culture. They, by definition, “fear the people”, because the people, not the truth, keep them in power.

What drives culture is changed hearts. And hearts are only changed by the good work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration through Christ, or through the gentle and deadly drift away from God as we experience and conform ourselves to a world system of power, pleasure, riches, entertainment, angst, and apathy that is ultimately driven by the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

Yet I feel the pull of politics. The game is afoot and it’s easy to become immersed in all the tribalism and division our political culture engenders, wherein people who would otherwise be politely disagreeing over minor issues behave like mortal enemies.

Jesus offers the better way of the Kingdom. I’m gratified that more and more of my Christian brothers and sisters seem to be laying aside the false hope that we’ll be OK if we just get this next election right.

Now I’m not saying that we should check out. I believe Christians need to be involved in politics to the extent that they can do so within the boundaries of the fruit of the Spirit. We should vote. We should even engage in political opposition where appropriate. We may be called at times to lay down our freedom or even our lives to bring urgent change to our land. But we should not hope in our political masters to lead us to the promised land. Jesus has already made that way open.

In a nation with a disintegrating culture, the best we will get from our politicians is a sort of delaying action, and I’m not discounting the value of that. But ultimately, our politicians are going to follow the culture where it leads.

This is one reason why I don’t believe democracy is the best system of government. I think it may be the best system when it comes to organizing fallen humans, but ultimately the best system of government, in my view and more importantly the Bible’s view, is an absolute monarchy.

But only when the Monarch is absolutely perfect.

June 21, 2013

The Woman in the Back Row

I’ve often told people that the real ministry in the church isn’t done by the people you see on the platform or the people who are members of the church board. It’s often a woman in the back row — whose name most people don’t know — who is faithfully praying and quietly meeting other women for coffee during the week that is making a huge kingdom difference. But we tend to see the people in the pool who like to make a splash every time they jump in! The woman in today’s article wasn’t literally on the back row, but in her quietness she revealed the depth of her love for God.

Just six days ago we posted an item from the blog We Are Soma. Yes we do have a six-month rule for re-blogging, but they have a variety of authors at this site, and I want to encourage you to visit. This article is by Steve Hart and appeared under the title Fierce Love: Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

As a church family, we’ve studied the Gospel of Luke this Spring. We’ve seen again and again the Fierce Love of Jesus as he goes toe to toe with the religious leaders of his day. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from those conversations by putting ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and cheering Jesus on as he goes after “those guys.” The reality, however, is that the scribes, teachers of the law, and the pharisees would fit well in our churches, small groups, and ministries. They love and study the bible. They are zealous in their devotion to God. They tithe regularly, serve faithfully, and pray beautifully. And Jesus says it is all a sham:

“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus points to a poor widow putting 2 copper coins into the treasury. She is destitute, the poorest of the poor, a societal drain, a religious outsider, but she becomes the model of self-forgetful, humble, genuine gospel faith:

 ”Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Here is a woman who gets grace. She isn’t looking for the praise of men or the praise of God, for certainly no one would be impressed with her gift! She doesn’t even seem to notice herself – and that is the beauty of what she is doing. She’s self-forgetful, and she’s giving everything – the greek word is “bios”, her very life! Jesus holds up this poverty-stricken, seemingly God-forsaken woman as the example of gospel faith.

Taking these two stories together, we see that the fierce love of Jesus invites us to be utterly realistic about our twisted motivations and to be bluntly honest about how much of our obedience is little more than play-acting, trying to prove to God, others, and ourselves that we aren’t as bad as we know we really are. Jesus calls us to an honest confession that promotes a radical, self-despairing humility so that we might forget ourselves, and give all we have as a response to his gracious acceptance.

And as we receive, again and again, the gracious, one-way, unconditional, unmerited, un-earnable love of God in Jesus, we are increasingly freed from our sin and our self-righteousness. We give up on ourselves and efforts to “get better,” and we throw ourselves fully onto the finished work of Jesus in our place. Consider these words from Martin Lloyd Jones:

“We can put it this way: the man who has faith [in Jesus Christ] is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He has ceased to say, “Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but [now] I have done this and that.” He stops saying that. If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, “Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.”

The gospel free us to give up on our abilities and merits, and to look to Jesus alone for our righteousness, worth, and significance. And as we do that, all sorts of surprising fruit begin to grow up in our lives – evidences of genuine love, service, and self-sacrifice.

Our cities don’t need more churches of people working hard to be good and save themselves, either through dialing in their doctrine, being more committed to missional living, or refining their programs. Our cities need people who’ve been humbled by the fierce love of Jesus, people who’ve given up on themselves completely, found a beautiful new righteousness credited to their account, and so, like the destitute widow, give their whole lives in joyful self-forgetfulness!

April 25, 2013

The Ministry of Receiving Hospitality

welcomeYears ago I worked with a woman who, if asked, would say that as Christ-followers we should be the ones to offer hospitality, not the ones to receive it. She wanted to always be the host, not the guest. I recognized this instantly because a couple of decades earlier, I learned the hard way that I had a problem accepting hospitality. So I argued strongly that there is nothing wrong with being in need; it can provide a context for us to get to know people we might not otherwise connect with.

Today we introduce a writer who I suspect will be featured here somewhat regularly.  Chris Lenshyn blogs at Anabapistly and regularly includes in his own blog material from some of my favorite writers and speakers.  I encourage you to look around his site as ou click on this article which appeared originally as Peace to This House: A Theology of Guest.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.  Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.Luke 10:5-7

Much is said about Christians offering hospitality. The call is very strong for Christians to be wonderful hosts to all people, no matter skin color, gender, age, socio-economic background, etc…

The reality of a post Christian world is such that the vast majority of people do not know the message of Jesus.  The Jesus story is not common place.  People walk by churches not knowing what the cross symbolizes.  This amplifies the need for hospitality to be foundational in Christian practice.

If Christians dare to venture into the post Christendom landscape, they WILL very well find themselves depending on the hospitality of those who do not have any connection to the Christian faith.

The early church depended on hospitality of others. When Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10, they become dependent on the hospitality of people in the towns which they visited.

The missional practitioner within a Post Christian context needs to know how to accept hospitality from others.  The missional practitioner needs to hold and embody a deep understanding of guest.

The implications are far reaching. A theology of guest means we respect ‘the other.’  It means we find comfort in the homes of other people.  It means we pay attention to, and partner with organizations that may not be Christian.  It means we bring ‘peace to’ the house in which we find ourselves.  We enter into the place of ‘the other’ embodying a message, representing a tribe of Jesus followers, a tribe of peace.  A theology of guest assumes that people, even non-Christians (sarcastic “GHASP”) have something to offer.

A post Christendom missionary will find him or herself depending on, and needing to accept gracefully, hospitality from ‘the other.’

Where do you find yourself accepting hospitality from others?  What differences do you find between hospitality from non-Christians (I hate that term, any other suggestions?) and Christians?


Today’s bonus item:

A 2-minute audio clip from Pete Wilson on people who leave his church or arrive at Cross Point from somewhere else because they say they’re “not getting fed.”

March 18, 2013

Remaining Faithful in His Absence

Luke 19:11-27 (NIV)

The Parable of the Ten Minas

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

For today’s study you will have to click through to the original source, because although it’s in point-form,  it is quite lengthy to include here.  I wanted to run this as an example of what a good expository (i.e. verse-by-verse) Bible study or preaching outline looks like.  The study is formatted so you just need to hover your mouse over the scripture references to see the verse in question.  Gene Brooks is the pastor of Union M. Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Personal note before we begin: There is a whole other story going on — concerning a King and the people of a far country —  in verses 12, 14, 15a, and 27 that bookends the story we are more familiar with and is often overlooked. Gene addresses this briefly, but it’s something some of you might want to dig into for future.

Here is the link to continue reading.  Take the time to study both the form and the substance of this. I’ll be checking to see how many of you are clicking through, okay?

January 10, 2013

Jesus’ Last Words

ESV Matt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

In the western world much is made of being present when someone issues their last words. We want to know what the final words were from politicians, authors, great military men and preachers.

The first time my father was hospitalized with a heart attack, he pulled me close to his hospital bed and said, “I want you to know, I have always been very proud of you.”  You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. My father worked in the world of finance, dealing with budgets, financial forecasting and investments. I have only once in my life — a very brief time working with InterVarsity — had anything resembling a regular, normal salary. I’ve always felt like that by the standard he would measure achievement, there wouldn’t be much to be proud of.

But he said he was, and although it was twelve years later when he finally passed away, I have always regarded that sentence as his ‘official’ last words to me; his blessing.

Famous Last Words

So what were Jesus’ last words to his disciples?  Ask most people, and they will say, “The Great Commission;” the command to, as The Message bible puts  it, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

But another phrase follows that,

(ESV)20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It’s a promise of his ongoing presence and comfort.  You have no idea how much you and I need to hear that. We live in a world where it is so easy to lapse into the mindset that, as a song once said, “God is watching us, from a distance.” But the scriptures teach that God is very close, very present, very much at hand.

While Luke doesn’t reiterate the exact words, he mentions this blessing.

(NIV) Luke 24:50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

This was Jesus’ benediction to us.

Matthew Henry writes:

Two solemn farewells we find our Lord Jesus giving to his church, and his parting word at both of them is very encouraging; one was here, when he closed up his personal converse with them, and then his parting word was, “Lo, I am with you always; I leave you, and yet still I am with you;” the other was, when he closed up the canon of the scripture by the pen of his beloved disciple, and then his parting word was, “Surely, I come quickly. I leave you for awhile, but I will be with you again shortly,” Rev. 22:20. By this it appears that he did not part in anger, but in love, and that it is his will we should keep up both our communion with him and our expectation of him.

Many of you will find this verse echoing in your minds as you’ve thought about this:

Hebrews 13:5b God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.” (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is recollecting several passages including Deut 31:6, Deu 31:8, Joshua 1:5  and 1Kings 8:57  Again, Peterson renders this:  God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,”

You have no idea how much the world needs to hear this. Maybe that’s why it’s paired with the command to go out into the world…

PW

December 21, 2012

It’s The End of the World as We Know It

blank calendarAccording to some people, nobody will be reading this.

This is the day the Mayan calendar runs out, or, to be more precise, completes its present cycle and resets. But some people prefer to believe it simply marks the end of the world.

Personally, I don’t believe this end of the world scenario simply because there are prophetic markers that have yet to transpire. However, I want to qualify that by saying that I do believe in the possibility of prophetic markers being stacked up like dominoes, with an apparent chain reaction of events happening in quick succession, much like the 60s board game Mousetrap, or to use a more contemporary example a Rube Goldberg machine.

In The Church, much has been made of this verse in Matthew:

24:36 (NLT) “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

and its parallel in Mark

13:32 (NASB) But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

but I am always quick to remind people that not knowing the day and the hour, does not mean we cannot know the times and the seasons.

Luke 21:8 (NCV) Jesus said, “Be careful so you are not fooled. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the One’ and, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t follow them. When you hear about wars and riots, don’t be afraid, because these things must happen first, but the end will come later.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nations will fight against other nations, and kingdoms against other kingdoms. 11 In various places there will be great earthquakes, sicknesses, and a lack of food. Fearful events and great signs will come from heaven…

…25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On earth, nations will be afraid and confused because of the roar and fury of the sea. 26 People will be so afraid they will faint, wondering what is happening to the world, because the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then people will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to happen, look up and hold your heads high, because the time when God will free you is near!”

Now I hear you saying, “Wait a minute! This passage is referencing the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was fulfilled in AD 70.”

skipping stonesThat’s true, Jesus says,

32 “I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living.”

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the the Luke text here would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

…For most of you, by the time you read this, we will be safely on the other side of the Mayan controversy.  But we’re also on the other side of the shocking news event of one week ago today, a reminder that while the entire world may not end today, your world might. Life is short.

We need to live each day in the expectancy and immanence of Christ’s return.

 

December 13, 2012

The Yoke’s On You

Back in June we introduced the blog ministry of Scott Daniels at The Rest That Works. Today’s post appeared there a few weeks ago under the title, Yoking around with Jesus

 You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

   
       Not to say that we’re a bunch of cattle, but the yoke thing is growing on me (a typical Jesus paradox).

        I knew the yoke was often used in the Bible to talk about servitude and oppression, but before researching for the rest that works, I wasn’t very familiar with it as a positive image other than when Jesus used it in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Turns out, the image is common in rabbinic teaching, both from Jesus’ day and ever since. One popular teaching is: “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah (The Judaic Law), they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). According to this teaching, it’s one or the other—the ways of God or of the world, the yoke of fear or the yoke of Divine Love. As Bob Dylan says, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody.

Jesus Teaching Yoke Is EasySo it’s very interesting that Jesus used the image to talk about rest — it’s such a contrast, even with much of Judaism. He was standing within Jewish tradition but saying that his work leads to relief from both the ways of the world and a burdensome experience of religious Law—and that’s exactly what I have experienced by aligning with him through the rest that works. Aligning with his “yoke” frees me to flow with Divine Love. It has the opposite effect of what one expects from the image (servitude and labor).

Jesus was saying many things in using the yoke image: First, he was saying, “Do what it takes to come into alignment with me and Divine Love. It will take some effort, but doing so will free you internally. You’ll learn to keep the conditional ways of the world where they belong—in the world. This will free you to work in a whole new way.” Second, he was saying that as we learn to settle into God’s love with him and work from there, we’ll finally experience a sense of relief inside that the ways of the world or dogmatic religion cannot give—peace that passes human understanding. There is a precious gift involved. There is a pearl of great price.

By definition, condition-based ways of doing things simply do not work to give what we really want—the inner peace and meaning found in being loved and loving unconditionally with God. When we align with and settle into unconditional love, we are freed to move freely and lightly in the world without being burdened inside with whether or not we “make the cut” or “are good enough.” We also become better able to free others from those conditions—- that’s love.

Almost everything in the world is conditional. That’s how things work in the world. It’s how society is organized. It’s how things are governed. Meet the conditions, and you’re in. Fail, and you’re out. Challenge them, and you’re threatened until you get back in line—back into the yoke of fear that governs most things in our world. It’s the cycle of how things work. We’re always moving in and out of the fears of that cycle, and until we come home to God’s unconditional love, those fears govern us inside. They govern our minds. They rule us. That’s just no fun. It’s a continual burden that wears our souls down.

It takes work to move into alignment with Divine Love, but it’s always worth it deep down inside. It feels so much better to feel an unconditionally loving spirit moving in us instead of fear, evaluations, accusations or threats. When those movements of spirit are dominant, we end up not liking or even respecting ourselves. We may be successful in the eyes of the world, but not our souls. We cannot be at peace inside when that is the case. We’re like the push-me-pull-you of Dr. Doolittle fame.

But there’s more at stake than just inner peace. We have so much more to offer others when we live in alignment with God’s love. The most loving thing we can do for others at any given time is to check our internal alignment and be moving with Divine Love. It’s for us, but not just for us. It’s for our world, starting with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors—whoever we are with. For this is how the kingdom comes, heart to heart, one heart at a time.

Jesus’ invitation to enter the rest that works is a sweeping one. It’s a big deal. Coming into alignment with him and working with him in his “yoke” delivers us from fears and veiled threats, inside and out. But it does more than that. The discipline involved takes us beyond pie-in-the-sky hippie thinking. It’s not just about rest, but also what works. In this sense, it is hard work—checking our internal alignment as we go takes a lot of spiritual discipline. But the rewards of moving with Divine Love so exceed the rewards of any other way of living, there’s no question it’s worth it. Divine Love means so much to us that there’s no comparison with anything else. When we’re in the zone—feeling Divine, Creative Energy flowing in and out—we laugh at ourselves for ever valuing anything more.

Jesus’ way and truth really does set us free from the burdens that wear us down in the most spiritually serious ways. We need to work in the world, and want to, because there’s work well worth doing with our Creator who is creating out of Divine Love. We want to create good things, we want to keep our families safe, we want to do what’s right, but not because of threats, not because someone will get us if we don’t. We want to do what Love beckons us to do with God because it’s our innermost desire, for ourselves and for others. When we’re working in that zone, we know that we’re fulfilling out purpose on the planet. It feels right deep down inside, even if there is hard work involved. It’s work worth doing. In fact, it’s worth everything and our souls know it.

And that’s no yoke.

More power to you in escaping the yoke of fear and settling into the unforced rhythms of Divine Love with Jesus. He will work with you if you’ll let him. He’s saved me in ways I can’t even begin to explain—especially from myself. Just ask him for help and guidance and pay attention. Look to align with Divine Love and look for leads, inside and out. He’ll work with you from there.

November 28, 2012

Christ, Be Our Light

Today we begin with a video of a song that may be better known to our Catholic readers, Christ Be Our Light

There is another rendition of this song at this link. In both cases I don’t know, and it isn’t posted, who the artists and songwriter(s) are.


Matthew 5: 14-16

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Christ has given us the sacred responsibility to let our light – the Light of Christ within us – shine to others. We do that by striving to be like Him. When we serve others, we are serving our Father in heaven, and we glorify Him. It is our responsibility to help others, lift others when they are down, teach others, share goodness and the light we have within us with others.

We also have the responsibility to be humble enough to receive, because that is how we help others share their light.

~ Susan at The Reliant Self blog


The more holes we have in the tapestry of our life, the more Jesus can shine through.

~ Quoted at Awe Ministries


Philippians 2:14-18

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

So what does working out our own salvation mean in practice? Well, first of all it means doing all things without grumbling or complaining. That should bring about a major change in our lives! And one that marks us out as different from other people. Just take a moment to think about  how much of everyday life and conversation is based around complaining and grumbling. Now we do need to remember that Paul is not laying down a law, but a principle. It does not mean that we never object to anything, but it does mean we have a very different attitude. 

The goal of our life is to be blameless and innocent, children of God. We are to stand out as different in the world. Jesus stood out not just because of the miracles He did, but for the very different life and attitude He had. We are to shine out as lights in this world. Isaiah 60 talks about us shining as lights in the midst of the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, but He also said that we are to be the light of the world. 

By living like this we hold out the word of life to the world. This is what Paul desires. Even if he himself was to die, if those he was an apostle to lived Christ like lives in the world he would be happy.


Inspired by John 9:1-41

Amid the crowds celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles a blind man sits in his usual corner of the marketplace his arm outstretched and his ears, hoping for the sound of pity, the clink of coins in his beggar’s bowl. He accepts his fate—born blind, he knows nothing different; he doesn’t even cry out but simply waits for the beggar’s pittance.

He senses a shadow invading his corner. The noisy crowd is oddly silent. The blind man hears someone spit on the ground and he recoils against the wall. A rough hand touches his face and smears mud on his closed eyes. Then he hears the gentle command: “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam!” The blind man drops his beggar’s bowl and allows himself to be led to the waters of the pool. He washes his face and opens his eyes.

Light pierces his blindness and he sees. Light pierces his spirit and the darkness, gloom and despair are shattered. He is filled with the LIGHT of day. And, as if one miracle isn’t enough, the one who lived in darkness is reborn into the LIGHT of God.

The sighted-man tells and retells the story of his gift of unasked for sight — his miracle. He speaks to those whose hearts are open to believe. He defends himself before those who desire only to remain in darkness of disbelief.

Once we see in the light of Christ, we can open our eyes and heart to God. During this week may I prayerfully consider a time when my eyes were opened to see differently? Where do I see the God’s light in the world today?

”To those who believe no explanation is necessary,
to those who refuse to believe no explanation suffices.”
Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel

~ Sr. Antoinette Marie Moon, SND


November 25, 2012

The Importance of Preaching

Being Sunday, many of you experienced preaching at some point in the last 24 hours. Here is a blog post — currently the only blog post — at the blog Inspired Preaching which is mostly a video collection of today’s popular Bible teachers from a variety of doctrinal perspectives. The title is What is Preaching; be sure to click through and then explore the rest of the website.

 

Without question, preaching is the most powerful form of communication on the earth. 

Why? Because it is a supernatural activity prescribed by God himself.

“God said,” and there was. Mankind, made in God’s image and likeness, possesses the same power to speak life into darkness and create tangibility from the unseen world.

And so it is with the power of preaching, a gift on select men and women by God’s divine choosing; to ignite the hearts and minds of people; to save, liberate and propel believers into their God-given destiny.

Since the days of Noah, faithful men have preached the uncompromising gospel with power and conviction to whoever will listen.

Jesus of Nazareth – God in the flesh – launched his ministry from a pulpit and the Book of Isaiah…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised… Luke 4:18

From that point, Jesus ruled his world with his Word, turning society upside down in the process…

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John… Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. Matthew 11:12-13 & Luke 15:16

Some received the Word. Some didn’t. But only by the Word were they saved and set free.

After Christ’s ascension, the apostle Peter preached the first church into existence. And as Peter preached to the Jews, Paul unleashed on the Gentiles, establishing Christ-centered local churches through the gospel of peace. Said Paul…

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Romans 10:14-16

Strong’s translates preaching as the Greek word, Eaggelizō, which is to…

  • Proclaim good news
  • Announce glad tiding of the coming kingdom of God and of the salvation to be obtained in it through Christ. And of what relates to this salvation, and to instruct concerning the things that pertain to Christian salvation.

And so it is today, that there has never been a more important time to spread the gospel (in its preached form) to the ends of the earth, and to whoever will hear it, for the saving of souls and to build the church Christ died for.

Through this website, Inspired Preaching is dedicated to that purpose.

Do you know Christ? Watch this 2-minute message right now.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

November 12, 2012

Jesus Could Have Kept On Multiplying Bread and Fish, But…

Today’s reading is from a blog titled The Cross Alone is Our Theology (love that) the daily devotional blog of Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California. This appeared on his blog a few days ago.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.”

It was every politicians dream come true. The groundswell of support was rising. People were abuzz with admiration for Him. The benefits He provided suggested a bright future. If only he were king. He would distribute prosperity to all. They were ripe for the picking.

Sound familiar? Some things never change. Later, John’s gospel reports the incident of the feeding of several thousand people. They came back the next day for more of what they saw as a free lunch program. Jesus was not impressed. “You are only here”, he said, “because you ate your fill.” There is no deeper biblical insight into human nature.

At one point during His earthly ministry the people actually wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. They saw in Him the one who would really deliver the goods. Jesus, sensing the threat to His mission, eluded them.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus consistently refused the adulation of the crowd? After all, wasn’t that what He was after? All he had to do was keep giving away the goodies and they would follow Him anywhere.

 If Jesus had given in to the appetites of the herd everything would have been lost. But Jesus knew what is in us. That’s what John observed. Jesus knew that we will seek to make anyone king who promises to keep the free lunch programs going. For what is in us, Jesus knew, is the insatiable appetite of the self – sin. And the sinful self will happily, willingly enslave itself to the highest bidder.

So Jesus rejected the chronically restless masses and the invitation to fulfill their utopian dreams. Instead He went to the Cross.That is why He alone is worthy of our love and faith. For knowing the sin that is in us, knowing our deepest need, our sickness unto death – He did not pander to our grievances and grudges like some scheming power seeker. He did not give us want we want. He gave us what we need. He gave His life for us.

So to all those who think the latest version of the messiah will bring heaven on earth and the flowering of peace and justice, here is the hard truth; the dreams of the politician will not save you. They may, in fact, impose a nightmare of utopian tyranny. And when they die all we are left with is the burdensome residue of their plans and schemes. The ancient psalmist recognized this truth ages ago when he wrote,

 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”

The authentic work of peace and justice that Jesus and His Father accomplished happened on a bloody Cross two thousand years ago. That peace comes even now through a living faith in the Crucified One; and the justice of God is fulfilled when sinners are reconciled to God, declared righteous, forgiven and free, by grace through faith, in a life of trust that begins now but will only be perfected in the life to come. 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

~Mark Anderson

HT: Steve Martin’s blog

November 10, 2012

Not All Growth is Healthy Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Randy Morgan blogs at Your Best Life Later. I enjoy reading him — and have for years — but he has eluded appearing here as he’s one of a number of bloggers who types everything in lower case. Sigh! I decided today to either reformat every sentence or just run this as is, because there’s a paragraph — the one I’ve set in larger type — that I want you to really think about. (Time will tell which way this appears!) You’re also encouraged to read this at source where it appeared under the title, Pruning is Painful (but in lower case!)

i came home from work tonight to find that my trees had been butchered.

a little back story…

when we moved from our old home, i promised myself that i was done with trees. our last house was surrounded by big, beautiful oak trees. consequently, i fought all summer to get the grass to grow in the shade and i fought leaves the rest of the year.

when we found the house we currently own my wife fell in love with it instantly, and the house hunt ended suddenly. and this lot has more trees than the last one. so every few years i am forced to hire tree trimmers.

i’ve hired the guys with a truck and a chain saw who knocked on my door and offered me a deal i couldn’t resist (and i always regretted it), and i’ve hired arborists who are more interested in making trees healthy than making them look good.

several months ago i took bids from several companies and made arrangements to have my trees trimmed by a well-respected company. i invited them to come whenever they had room in their schedule. they came today.

it literally looks like my trees have been destroyed.

i’ve watched them work. the trimmers climb up into the middle of the tree and first cut out all the dead twigs and branches. then they begin drastically thinning the healthy branches. it looks terrible when they are finished, but the result is a tree that flourishes. what looks damaged today will grow symmetrically and evenly, and produce much more green foliage (that i get to rake in the fall, praise his holy name).

“that’s a delightful story, randy,” you may be thinking, “but is there a point?”

the longer i’m a christian the more i grow, but not all growth is healthy growth. my sinful nature compels me to grow in ways that are comfortable and convenient, but jesus calls me to grow in ways that are difficult and scary.

jesus illustrated this concept by pointing to a vine that bears little fruit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (john 15:1-2).

like the trimmers who devastated my trees today, the gardener in jesus’ analogy undoubtedly shredded the vine. after pruning, i’m sure the vine looked like it would never again bear a meaningful harvest. but the gardener knows how to care for the vine.

jesus’ prescription for healthy spiritual growth is connection. he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (john 15:5).

but connection is costly. it is not comfortable and it is not convenient. if i am going to remain in jesus, it will require deprivation. other pursuits must be neglected and ignored. connection will most certainly be painful. like pruning.

but i have visited connection in the past and i have found it to be encouraging and refreshing.

and as the seasons change, our pain will result in greater fruitfulness.

~randy morgan

November 3, 2011

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 pm
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You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.


Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and headachy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that.  John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D.  N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that 1. he went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions, 2. he risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing and 3. when it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

~Ruth Wilkinson

October 10, 2011

Our Lives are But a Breath

While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties. Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.

At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened. While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party. But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted, became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.

But then, the unthinkable happened again. Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.

I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs. Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.

Life can be short.

Life can end suddenly.

And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.

Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Another guy at the top of his game. Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another. But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next.

And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan. There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.

Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.” That’s what we’re here to do. Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business. It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.

Now go out and build the kingdom.

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