THEY DIDN'T NOTICE
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
There are times that I can’t get one of the readings out of my head and I keep thinking about it. This passage has been one of those.
At Doubt on Tap the other night there was a conversation, that happened before most folks showed up, about how amazing people are. There are so many kind men and women in the world. Every single day there are people acting out in beautiful ways.
Have you ever really thought about that?
I mean seriously.
Have you ever really considered that the vast majority of people out in this world are doing good and beautiful things every single day?
We don’t notice it though.
That might be one of the hardest lessons of the Advent season and one of the saddest things in this poem from John. Nobody really noticed that the Christ had come into the world.
This hard thing and sad thing is also something that brings me some hope.
Because it means that when we do good we don’t need the addualtion or congratulation of the world. When we go about loving well and nobody notices we can take joy in being able to identify even more deeply with Christ.
This holiday season when you love well and nobody notices, count it all joy!
The Christ entered the world and the world didn’t even notice, so it’s OK if the world doesn’t notice us either.
Let us love well for the sake of loving well.
After all, isn’t living that way what helps us become our true selves, our child-of-God selves?
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
I have a confession to make. Over the years I have begun to think that there is more to this whole following Christ thing than simply being able to “go to heaven” when I die.
For a long time that seemed to be the thing about following Christ. I can’t even count the number of conversations that I have had with people about becoming a Christian. Many of those conversations centered around the need to receive Christ so that the person would go to heaven. In my evangelism, for many years, the issue of eternal destiny was really all that mattered.
As I read the gospels more and more I am beginning to think that I have missed the mark. There is so much more to following Christ than eternal fire insurance.
Did you catch this little bit in the poem from John,
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
As I continue to live this Christ-following life I am learning that this is really the central part of following Christ. This whole “…made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves,” is really what it’s all about.
When we think that following Christ is only about eternity we miss out on the here and now of a life of faith and spirituality. Christ’s work of reconciliation I have often only thought of as something rooted in our eternal destiny. That is simply not the case. The reconciliation that Christ has wrought through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is to make us our true selves.
The reconciling work of Christ is a reconciliation of all things. This includes reconciling ourselves. In Christ we are able to finally become who we really and truly are.
Perhaps this is something that you’ve thought about before, but for me, it’s still in that whole “revolutionary” realm of thinking. I feel a bit dumbstruck by the ramifications of this truth.
God is not simply concerned with my eternal destiny. No, God wants me and you to become the best versions of ourselves right here and right now!
I think this is why we need to be in community and live life with one another. Because it is in the context of other child-of-God selves that we are challenged to become more loving, gracious, and kind. In other words, in the midst of deep community we have the best opportunity to become the best or fully reconciled versions of ourselves.
JESUS IS LORD
1 Corinthians 12:1-3
Today is special Knee Jerk Devotional! Instead of a written one devotional I recorded my sermon from this Sunday because many asked for it. You can find it at the Knee Jerk Devotional Podcast or my YouTube channel. The links are at the top of the email.
Never fear, my short attention friends, tomorrow we will back to normal!
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. — John 1:6-8, The Message
In my profession there is a temptation that is strong. Really strong. That temptation is to see myself as “The Light.” It’s wild to think about how easily we become deluded by our own sense of greatness. If us pastors are honest, we know that there are more than a few of us that struggle with this delusion.
There are have been many notable religious leaders who have fallen from faith. I would venture to guess almost all of them share two things in common. One, deep down they believe that they are indeed the light. Two, they had isolated themselves from any kind of accountability and community.
Perhaps I am making too much of this. But, the longer I do this pastor thing and read the stories of those who fall and lose their way the more I think that these two things are true. The natural question is, what comes first the sense of grandeur or the isolation? I am guessing it is a chicken and egg situation. In many seminaries budding pastors are taught that you cannot be close friends with your congregants and Elders. This of course leads to isolation. Pastors also have a clear sense of calling and many take this sense of calling as being of divine origin. Unfortunately, this is something that bleeds over into every aspect of their leadership. So in their minds, if you challenge them then you are challenging God.
This kind of thinking has lead to much spiritual abuse and harm in many local churches. It’s heartbreaking to think about how many have been deeply wounded by pastors who have come to the conclusion that they are The Light as opposed to simply pointing people to The Light.
Pastors, we have to do better.
We need to learn from John the Baptist.
We need to remember that our calling is to be people who, “point out the way to the Life-Light.” If we can remember that we are pointing out the way to the Life-Light then we will remember the proper ordering of things. We are not The Light. We are guides. If we are guides then we too are on the way. We have not arrived, we are simply people who have a map and a flashlight.
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn't put it out. — John1:1-5
“What came into existence was Life.”
This is a marvelous phrase.
“Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”
Another beautiful turn of phrase.
When you think about Jesus do you think about a blazing Life-Light that destroys the darkness?
Christ lights up the darkness.
There is something unconquerable about the Life-Light. No matter how hard we may try there is no dousing it.
The Life-Light overwhelms all that it touches.
When you come face to face with embodied grace you can’t help but be transformed.
We have all been around people who seem to be void of light. These are the dour people. Those who seem to have a shadow about them all the time. They are the Christmas Eve Scrooge’s of our lives. A coarse or negative word is always on their lips. There is only darkness for these people.
We have also been around those who are full of Light-Life. There is a joy that exudes from the fiber of their beings. They can’t help but smile and laugh. Light emanates from the core of their being. These are the Christmas morning Ebenezer’s of our lives.
If we look around and see darkness all around us, we must ask ourselves, “Will I be the light?”
Oh for those that claim to follow Christ to choose to be light in the world! We could light up the world, couldn’t we?
How are you moving in the world? Are you a bearer of darkness or light?
Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don't forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I'm locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I'll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. — Colossians 4:2-6, The Message
As Paul comes to the end of this little letter to the church at Colosse, he encourages them to pray, to pay attention to the world with gratitude, and to bring out the best in others in a conversation.
This morning I have been thinking about Doubt on Tap tonight. Our conversation topic is going to be about why our current crises have caused division as opposed to bringing us together. I am struck that this bit about bringing out the best in others in a conversation has something to say in the matter.
I wonder, do those of us who seek to follow Christ have this as our goal?
In the more literal translations like the NRSV or the NIV we see the translation, “so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” This is tied to the statement of, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.”
I think that Peterson gets to the heart of it. He allows the imagery of seasoned with salt have its full way with what Paul was writing. Properly salted food tastes its best when compared to under salted or over salted food.
In our day it seems that we Christians tend to over salt or under salt and as a result we spoil everything. The under salt folks don’t want to say anything that might make someone uncomfortable. These are the folks that if you have a booger hanging out of your nose would politely ignore it. The over salt folks, don’t care about bringing out the best in another, all they care about is winning. These are the people who would point and yell at the top of their lungs, “Hey look, Johnny has a giant booger hanging out his nose!” Then there are those trying to properly salt the conversation. They are willing to engage fully. They speak truthfully but lovingly. They listen and seek to understand more so than just simply winning a conversation. These people would gently come up to you and whisper in your ear, “My friend, you have a booger hanging out of your nose.”
When we lose the goal, the flourishing of our neighbor, then we have lost our way. If we lose the way, then we have in a very real sense lost Christ. Christ never loses us. Christ is always right there with us, but in our desire to not make waves or to simply win, we lose sight of Christ.
Tonight, I am going to be more intentional about trying to bring the best out of my conversation partners. I hope that I can grow in this area of my life. I desperately want to be a person who helps others flourish. How about you?
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.
Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them.
Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end.
Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits.
Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn't cover up bad work.
And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven. — Colossians 3:17-4:1
Have you found yourself uncomfortable with the “submission” language of the New Testament when it relates to household codes and the like? It’s something that has become a bit of a hot button issue for many in our society. This whole “wives submit” thing sure feels out of date, doesn’t it? This passage also includes the equally uncomfortable stuff about servants submitting to their masters.
The easy thing for me to do is to try and ignore the passage or to try and couch the uncomfortable passages into the more comfortable passages (husbands love your wives and masters care for your servants). I have done this often and I think that it is helpful to consider the whole of the context. It is fascinating to think about Paul’s instructions to the husbands, parents, and masters, who held power over wives, children, and servants in his culture. Why? Because he is subversively countering the culture by calling them to something different. There is no “power over” for the Christian. There is empowering or power alongside within the Christian economy. This is crucial and not to be missed.
I was reading a thought by another Christian leader, David Fitch, the other day about this whole submission thing. I thought it was intriguing and something that I really resonated with. So, in light of today’s reading, I drop it here for you.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD 'SUBMISSION' ...
...has been undermined, even destroyed, by patriarchalists in the church. It has been used to underwrite abuse and coercion. It has been used by leaders to 'lord it over' and gain compliance. But it actually describes what leaders do in the NT, versus what they demand of their followers..
In the NT, my argument is, it is the leader who submits. It is the act of 'submission' that initiates. When I propose something and then say to the group (or other leaders) "I submit this to you," I start the process of discernment into motion. To me that is leadership. We work towards the Spirit's movement then by mutually submitting, listening to every voice, learning and arriving at an agreement in the Spirit.
These principles are exhibited in Mark 10:42-45; Rom 12:3-8 and many other places.
In Eph 5:21, the general principle appears : "submit yourselves one to another out of reverence for Christ." Then Paul recites the household codes. He starts with marriage saying "wives submit to your husbands." Ironically I can't help but see this as putting the wife in the position of leadership. They go first and then are followed by "husbands die for your wives." So the fact that the women go first does not reflect a hierarchy in which women are under husbands, it reflects this revolutionary (bottom up) leadership dynamic that runs throughout the kingdom. The leader leads by submitting him/herself to the other, from which mutuality is returned.
With that being said, I think we have to understand all this in the context of, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
It seems to me that if we were living this way, then so many of these things become moot points. We will naturally love the other in an acts of mutual submission. There will be a constant desire to practice love through caring for the other. If we could live our lives as though every person we interacted with was Christ, then all these things that Paul talks about here and in other places become secondhand.
Oh let us practice love! Let us be a people who chooses not to leverage power over but seeks to empower the other.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. — Colossians 3:15-17, The Message
I love this image of the peace of Christ keeping us in tune with each other. It is this reminder of the one-anotherness of living in the way of Christ.
We live in a world where “going off and doing your own thing” is of the highest value. Yet, in the way of Christ, it is of little to no value. We are a people, a family, a one-another.
In my background there was this line of thinking that we could pursue a “just-me-and-Jesus” kind of spirituality. But, that is just not simply who we are or what we are called to. If we are going to try and follow Jesus in our lives then we need others with us. We need community. We need one another.
We are a one-another.
It is within this context that everything else connects here. We are to cultivate thankfulness. Have you ever thought about that word, “cultivate”? It means to “prepare and use” or “acquire or develop.” Thankfulness is not something that we come by naturally. We have to work at it. We must cultivate it in our lives. I love that it is couched here in the context of our one-anotherness because I have found that when I am deeply connected in community I am much more thankful.
It is in our one-anotherness that we speak gospel to each other. It is in our one-anotherness that we give it room to grow and develop and have its way.
The beauty of the gospel is that it grows in us. We don’t make some intellectual ascent and then BOOM!!! we are just like Jesus. No, we need a community of one-another to remind us of grace, mercy, compassion, and to love well.
Do you have your one-another community or are you trying to live this life isolated and alone?
LET US LAMENT
Lamenting is not something that we like to do. Lamenting is not something that comes naturally to us. But, when we are faced with a pain, a grief, a heartache that reaches into our soul, it is what we must do.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Every once in a while you come face to face with a brokenness that overwhelms you. It seems that lately this has been the case more than not. I look around and people are not being healed, they are losing jobs, they are experiencing death.
This all sucks.
I know, I know, I’m a pastor and my Mimi would be mad that I just used the “s-word.” But, you know what, it does suck.
That’s the truth of the matter.
The brokenness of this world is overwhelming at times. I am so mad and frustrated with it. I wish God would simply do what I want him to do. When I pray for him to heal someone, I want him to do that. When I ask him to save a marriage, I want him to do that. Every once in a while, I want him to supersede the secondary causes of human sin, frailty, and brokenness to make this world how I want it.
He’s sovereign and good I remind myself. But, dang it sure does not feel that way at times. Not even a little. I don’t really doubt his goodness, but there are times when I wonder if he really does have control of this ball of dust.
Intellectually, I know he does.
Intellectually, I know that everything has purpose.
Today, as I drink my coffee, it doesn’t feel like it at all.
Emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook statuses, they all point to something else.
Even now, I am thinking about all the times God has responded. All the times when it made no sense for something to happen apart from God’s miraculous intervention. That makes me smile.
A few years ago my son said, “Dad, if I need something important to happen, I am asking the church to pray. God listens to our church and does stuff.”
It doesn’t feel that way this morning. But, I know it to be true. Me and God have history. But, I have a short memory.
“When my heart was grieved and
my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:21–26
I am still in the, “I was senseless and ignorant” stage. I am working my way toward the “Whom have I in heaven but you?” stage.
Even so, God can handle me saying, “This sucks.”
As you can probably tell, when I need to lament, I turn to the Psalms. More and more of that time is spent in Eugene Peterson’s, The Message. He gives words to my soul. Today it is Psalm 77 and it’s all I got.
I yell out to my God,
I yell with all my might,
I yell at the top of my lungs.
I found myself in trouble
and went looking for my Lord;
my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.
When friends said,
“Everything will turn out all right,”
I didn’t believe a word they said.
I remember God — and shake my head.
I bow my head — then wring my hands.
I’m awake all night — not a wink of sleep;
I can’t even say what’s bothering me.
I go over the days one by one,
I ponder the years gone by.
I strum my lute all through the night,
wondering how to get my life together.
Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?
Will he never smile again?
Is his love worn threadbare?
Has his salvation promise burned out?
Has God forgotten his manners?
Has he angrily stalked off and left us?
“Just my luck,” I said.
“The High God goes out of business just the moment I need him.”
Once again I’ll go over what GOD has done,
lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
and give a long, loving look at your acts.
Your way is holy!
No god is great like God!
You’re the God who makes things happen;
you showed everyone what you can do —
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.
Ocean saw you in action, God,
saw you and trembled with fear;
Deep Ocean was scared to death.
Clouds belched buckets of rain,
Sky exploded with thunder,
your arrows flashing this way and that.
From Whirlwind came your thundering voice,
Lightning exposed the world,
Earth reeled and rocked.
You strode right through Ocean,
walked straight through roaring Ocean,
but nobody saw you come or go.
Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron,
You led your people like a flock of sheep." (Psalm 77, The Message)
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. — Colossians 3:12-14, The Message
I hope you had a wonderful holiday! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It is a marvelous time spent with family and no agendas. Hopefully, yours was just as sweet.
As we return to Colossians we find Paul doing Paul things again. He is reminding the Colossians of who they really are in Christ. This description is their truest selves.
The kicker? The description is our truest selves too.
I have to be honest with you. When I read this list of “clothing” that we are to put on I find it deeply challenging. So many of these things are so counter-cultural to our way of life. Yet, when we find someone who lives out compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline, even tempered, forgiving, and love we want to be around them all the time. Don’t we?
Many of us will read this and our immediate thought will be, “But what’s the limit? I will not be a doormat!”
That’s the wrong question.
The real question that we must ask ourselves is this: How can I develop these things in my life?
How do I become more compassionate?
How do I become more kind?
How do I become more humble?
How do I become more quietly strong?
How do I become more disciplined?
How do I become more even tempered?
How do I become more forgiving?
How do I become more loving?
You see, if this is the best and truest version of ourselves then we need be about working on these things in our lives.
One of the things that I’m learning while I try to develop these things is that I have little time to worry about others. What I mean, is that by focusing my attention on becoming the best and truest version of who I am supposed to be my posture toward others becomes more welcoming and loving. I am learning to recognize the reality that others are on the same journey. So, instead of me being angry, upset, or offended by them I grow in my desire to walk with them and join them in their journey.
Truly, these few verses are a call to #LoveWell. Let’s walk this journey together…
Today is “Giving Tuesday”. If you have found that these little devotionals have in some way been helpful to you would you please consider sending a gift along to The Antioch Movement? This is the congregation that some friends and I planted that began in Ypsilanti, MI but now has expanded into a variety of communities. Through the Antioch Movement I am able to be a full-time pastor in our various communities.
Thank you for considering giving a gift.
Here is the link to donate: The Antioch Movement
And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.. — Colossians 3:5-11
Every time I see these “sin lists” in Paul I am struck by two things.
First, I am struck by the communal nature of them. Did you notice that? The issues raised are, by and large, things that we experience in the context of community. We are social creatures for good or for ill. Our greatest joys are rooted in community but so are our greatest experiences of brokenness.
So often, I think we think of sin in the abstract. But, it’s not an abstraction. It has real impact in the world. I was reading the other day in a book called, Learning to Speak God From Scratch by Jonathan Merritt. In his chapter on sin he uses a definition from a theologian friend that defines sin as “anything that robs us of the fullness of life — or something we’ve done that robs others of the fullness of life. (p. 140)” This really seems to jive in my head and makes a lot of sense as I consider the way that the writers of the New Testament talk about sin.
Second, I am struck by the connection of the sin list to “idolatry.” In the more literal translations the sins are rooted in idolatry. Peterson describes idolatry in his translation this way, “That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” When we place ourselves at the center of things then so many of these issues will develop. If we have God at the center, understanding that we are united with Christ then we will be more intentional about taking off the “ill-fitting clothes” of the ways of the life-stealing-sin.
I love the imagery of God putting on us custom made clothes. When something is made custom it is one of a kind and perfectly designed for the recipient. In John 10:10 Christ says that he came to give abundant life. This abundant life is a life that is custom made for each us in the limitless creativity of our Creator. This is what gets hinted at in Ephesians 2:10, “No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Each of us are called to join in the work that God has created for us to do, and it is custom made for you and me to experience the fullness of life.
But, to experience this fullness of life we have take that old life thief, sin, and deal with it. Paul says, put it off like we do old clothes. This means that living and experiencing the fullness of life will require us to be intentional and active in its pursuit. Clothes don’t just fall off. They have to be intentionally removed. Clothes don’t just appear on us. They have to be intentionally put on.
As you go into the weekend consider, in what ways is the thief-of-life stealing life away from you or how are you joining in the thief-of-life to steal life from others?
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. — Colossians 3:3-4, The Message
On Sunday night in our missional community we had a conversation about contentment. One of the things that were said about how we can learn to be content was the recognition that there was more to come. There is something to the reality that knowing there is more than just this life frees to experience contentment.
“Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.”
This little statement drives home for me the depths of finding myself in Christ. I struggle with being content on many levels. The greatest one is being content to be obscure. There is something in me that wants to be “known.” I would love to be “on the circuit” or to have millions of podcast downloads each week, heck I’d love to have hundreds or even thousands. As I see that in myself I realize it’s because I am finding my identity in something other than Christ.
When I am in a season of contentment, because there are definitely seasons of contentment and discontentment, it is because I am leaning into the reality that my life is hid in Christ. Who I am is most rooted in the reality of myself being united with Christ. During these seasons I experience joy in the singular conversations. I am able to find happiness in being present with my community and seeing them connect with one another.
This is my real life.
This is who I really am. When I am not resting in that reality, I am pushing against something that quite simply isn’t real. It becomes obvious that when I’m chasing a shadow that discontentment naturally follows.
My prayer is that I will, more and more, lean into my union with Christ, so that I might live a content life.
WHERE THE ACTION IS
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. — Colossians 3:1-2, The Message
I keep seeing something in a lot of writings about the state of the church, it is this, “The average American Christian is discipled by the news more than the church.” This is quite the commentary on our times, is it not? Sadly, I think in many ways this is true. It seems that people are more likely to take their cues from Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow than they are from a crucified Jewish itinerant rabbi. The rush we get from hearing our favorite opinion personality “get” the other side is so addictive. We crave it more and more.
It appears that many of us who claim to follow Jesus have lost the plot. We are so caught up in the news of the day that we are missing the bigger picture of sacrificial-gracious-love that we get to participate in. We are overwhelmed by the need to pick a side and fight for the culture war.
The thing is though, when we get serious about living the resurrection life then we don’t have to play the game. We can step outside the game and see it for what it is. Whether the emperor rides a donkey or an elephant, the emperor is indeed naked. Like the conclusion that WOPR comes to at the end of War Game, “The only winning move is not to play.”
There real action is with Christ and seeing the world through his eyes.
When we do that we come to find out that what is most beautiful, most awe inspiring, most amazing, is being part of renewal, restoration, and reconciliation.
Don’t you see?!
You, me, we get to enter into this world as agents of renewal, restoration, and reconciliation. We get to play a part in helping people learn to love. This is the real action!
So, then, if with Christ you've put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? "Don't touch this! Don't taste that! Don't go near this!" Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they're just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. — Colossians 2:20-23, The Message
Few verses in the Bible have had as significant an impact on my day to day living as these. These few verses, for me, were the light bulb that went off and began to illuminate so much of the darkness. It was here that the shadows began to recede and the light of the gospel became something that was evermore beautiful. It was here that I realized that there was more to the Christian life than the dualism of my early faith.
For many of us, if not all of us, we must go through seasons of simplicity where everything is right or wrong, good or evil, beautiful or ugly, us or them. These lines of demarcation are clear and they allow us to find out feet in the world. Part of my psychology education included some work in childhood development. When children are young they are concrete thinkers. So, we engage with them in that way. They have not developed the ability for nuance. They need us to help them with “yes” or “no.” But, as they mature and develop they begin to ask, “why?” This is when the the real journey towards maturity begins. If we as parents shout down the “why” then we will stunt their growth.
We process through a similar pattern in our faith journey. Early on we need to find our footing. The Christ journey is messy and difficult. So, at first we find ourselves in a phase of simplicity. Believe this, not that, etc… But, then we inevitably come to the part where we ask, “Why?” This is when too often our institutions do not want to progress beyond the simplicity. The “why” questions appear to be challenges to authority and the like. But, they are simply the natural next steps in a maturing faith.
Paul is getting at this when asks, “So, then, if with Christ you've put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it?” Infantile religion is comprised of rules that you follow to “be good.” This is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ includes and transcends these rules like a Russian nesting doll. The rules ultimately become helpful as we wrestle through the “why” of them. When we work through the “why” we find the deeper principle.
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a master class of including and transcending the “simple” to move towards maturity. Every single time he says, “You have heard it said, but I say…” this is the very thing he is doing. He is taking another step in putting infantile religion behind him and refusing to be bullied by it.
What are the ways that you are bullied by infantile religion? Where are you still living in the realm of “simplicity” without asking “Why?” I am wrestling with these questions today, as I have for a number of years now. As I work through them I find myself moving toward greater grace, greater empathy, and greater mercy.
THE SUBSTANCE IS CHRIST
So don't put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.
Don't tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They're a lot of hot air, that's all they are. They're completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us. — Colossians 2:16-19, The Message
“The substance is Christ.”
Are you beginning to notice a theme in this letter? I am. It is becoming more and more clear that one of Paul’s concerns for this congregation was that they were possibly missing out on the centrality of Christ.
Could you imagine a group of Christians that are so completely concerned with…
worship styles, and
…that they miss out on what is most important to their faith?
I mean that could never happen, right?
If this isn’t a passage for our time, I don’t know what is.
We live in an age where the things that don’t matter have become of greatest importance and the things of greatest importance seem to longer matter. What takes top billing to many is the decoration of a coffee cup or the greeting of a store clerk. Yet, what matters most is our willingness to love our neighbor as ourselves and love our enemy.
Christian bookstores sell out of things like The Daniel Diet and books like Mere Christianity collect dust on their shelves.
Because we have lost the center.
No longer is Christ the center. So many other things crowd out Christ because the way of Christ is too hard, too sacrificial, too cross-oriented.
As I head into the weekend I’m going to be wrestling with this question, “Is Christ my center? Do I find all I need for spiritual sustenance in Christ? Is Christ the substance?”
YOU CAN'T GET IT
Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you're already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it's an initiation ritual you're after, you've already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ's Cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets. — Colossians 2:11-15, The Message
The depths of grace may be the most difficult thing for American Christians to wrap our minds around. We are so deeply rooted in the Protestant Work Ethic that we, almost by accident, ignore the marvelous workings of grace. There is something deep within us that bucks against the idea that grace is completely disconnected from merit.
We desperately want to “earn” things. There is nothing more significant than God’s pleasure, therefore, we have constructed systems to earn that pleasure. Now, let’s be clear nobody says, “Hey! Here’s our system for pleasing God!” Nah, that doesn’t really happen. But, there is social pressure that makes it clear what the system is.
When I was a missionary to college students our organization had a merit based system that determined whether or not God was pleased with us. Again, nobody stated it outright, it just was. The system included “quiet times,” “evangelistic conversations,” “prayer time,” and “scripture memory.” There were plenty other merit gaining tasks, but these were the most prominent. None of these things in and of themselves are bad. They are actually very good things. Problems arise with the “why.”
Grace is not something that we can obtain.
Grace cannot be bought.
Grace is simply a gift given. It’s given before we do anything. It’s just there.
Grace is the air we breathe.
Grace is the beauty all around us.
Grace is the ultimate reality.
This is what Paul means when he says, “Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve.”
All of this is centered on the cross.
I love the way N.T. Wright and Michael Bird put it in their The New Testament In Its World, “The cross is the surest, truest, and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross, in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the One in whose image we are made, and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known.”
Grace frees us to live this way.
THE EMPTINESS OF THE ARGUMENT
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that's not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything. — Colossians 2:8-10, The Message
Sometimes I think that we miss out on the things that are most obvious and right in front of our faces. It’s like the whole, “A fish doesn’t know it’s in the water,” phenomenon. There is a line in this passage that I think is like that and the ramifications of missing it are significant.
Peterson translates, “Everything of God gets expressed in him…” or in the NIV, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…”
It is for this reason that we don’t need to get caught up in the big words and intellectual debates. Let me be clear, I don’t think that Paul is arguing for some sort of anti-intellectualism or that he is arguing that what one thinks or believes doesn’t matter. Of course Paul thinks all those things are true, otherwise why write all that he wrote? Why care so deeply at helping these congregations shape their identities? I think what Paul is doing here though is making sure that everything is rightly ordered.
You see what is of first importance is the lived life. Christ, the Divine, are first and foremost embodied and lived realities. Could God have simply spoken the reconciliation, restoration, and renewal of all things into existence? I think so. However, the Divine Being chose to be embodied and do the work of reconciliation, restoration, and renewal as a man from Palestine.
I think it’s beautiful as we read in the book of Acts that the Jesus movement was initially called, “The Way.” This points so clearly to what we read in the writings of the early church that emphasized how people lived out their faith.
When we begin to truly consider “Jesus is Lord” as the center of our faith as opposed to theological conceptions (that’s not to say that wrapped up in the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” aren’t a ton of theological conceptions!) everything becomes a bit clearer. If Jesus, the person of Jesus we see reflected in the Gospels, is of the first order in our faith then we begin to center on the things that mattered most to him. I think that we can start in Matthew 5-7 and work our way out from there. Matthew 5-7 can be summarized as, love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies.
What are the big words and intellectual double-talk that catch your attention? What are the arguments that draw you away from an embodied faith where you seek to love well? How can you press beyond them?
These are the questions that I’m asking myself today and it makes me uncomfortable. The intellectualized faith of my tradition is much more comfortable than the embodied faith of Jesus.
GET BUSY LIVING
My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're deeply rooted in him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught. School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving. — Colossians 2:6-7, The Message
“Now live him.”
“Now do what you’ve been taught.”
These are the kind of statements that it feels like have been lost by many of us. We have begun to believe that all that matters is what kind of ideas we espouse. Do we “believe” rightly? Can we parrot statements of belief that are “orthodox”?
As important as those things are, what is just as important, perhaps more important, is how we live.
In the early history of Christianity what mattered most was The Way people lived. When a person wanted to convert to Christianity they had to show by their lives that they were indeed following The Way of Jesus. It is a fascinating history. The early church talked about people “seeing” how Christians lived and that by “seeing” the way Christians lived they would be compelled to follow The Way too. They also argued that if your life betrayed the words that you eloquently spoke to your neighbor you would drive them from the gospel.
For most of the history of Christianity the emphasis has been on living the way.
Only recently have we moved from a practiced, embodied faith to one that is just cerebral.
I think that if we could somehow return to a lived faith we might see the kind of dynamic, transcendent faith that is promised in the Scriptures. We might very well see a revival of The Way in our world.
As you consider your faith, is it something that you largely practice in your mind? Or do you live it out in your body?
A TAPESTRY OF LOVE
I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn't make any difference. Know that I'm on your side, right alongside you. You're not in this alone.
I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God's great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we've been shown the mystery! I'm telling you this because I don't want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or "the Secret."
I'm a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I'm on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ. — Colossians 2:1-5, The Message
“I want you woven into a tapestry of love.”
I think that this is something that those of us who are pastors need to sit with.
When I began in full time ministry right out of college as a missionary to college students, my desire, my goal was to change the world. I wanted to reach the campus for Christ and as a result reach the world for Christ. There was no doubt in my mind that my calling was to change the world. I was also convinced that I would do this through my intellect and skills of communication. That is, I would convince people of the truth of the gospel by winning arguments. I must say, I won a lot of arguments. But, there was little by way of world changing or even life change in those early years.
As I matured I realized that it wasn’t for me to change the world. That was God’s business. I came to believe that I should preach. Yes! I would be God’s man speaking to God’s people and inspire them to share the gospel with all those in their lives. This was the calling I had been searching for. To this day, I find I am a pretty solid public speaker, above average I think, and often people share how my messages have impacted them. But, this has ultimately played out not to be the calling.
A few more years of maturing have happened and while I still want to be a resource for people who are wrestling with who God is in Christ and while I still enjoy preaching, I am coming to realize that these things are really quite empty.
“I want you woven into a tapestry of love.”
It is hard for me to admit this for some reason, but what Paul says here about his desire for the Colossians to be “woven into a tapestry of love,” this is what I am beginning to realize is what I am here for. I’m not here to build large congregations or to make my name great with book deals and being on the speaking circuit. I am coming to realize that when my days come to an end I want people to say, “He was instrumental in helping to weave our community into a tapestry of love.”
Could you imagine? Could you imagine if this is what people said about you? My goodness! How beautiful would that be! Surely, this is the trajectory for the one of whom Christ says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Pastors, let us sit in this statement from Paul. Let us consider how we need to move into the world as though seeking weave tapestries of love. Let us pray for how we can help those people whom we serve to do the same.
I have to wonder, if we got serious, really serious about weaving a tapestry of love in the lives of one another, how much more beautiful this world would be?
I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.
This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me. - Colossians 1:24-29, The Message
I find it fascinating how different Christianity has become since these early days. We now have tomes of theology books, two thousand years or so of writing about the profound mystery of the Message. If you look for a Bible you are overwhelmed by choices and decisions to make. There is a Bible for every niche. All of this so that we can try and understand “this rich and glorious secret.”
We have taken the profoundly simple and beautiful and made it profoundly difficult and often times ugly.
It is a remarkable phrase is it not, “To be mature is to be basic.”
Too often in our modern Christian world we believe the most mature Christians are those with tons of knowledge. We believe that maturity comes from adding the alphabet after our names: M.Div, Th.M, PhD, and the like. But, it does not. Often folks with the alphabet after their name are no more mature in their faith than someone who just began following The Way.
Why is that? They know so much!
It’s because often in our learning we lose sight of what really matters, Christ.
The most mature followers of The Way that I know are those quiet, humble, women and men who are simply showing up and loving their neighbor as themselves.
They are basic.
I love sports. I can become enamored with great feats in sports. For instance, Miguel Cabrera was chasing many career milestones this baseball season and every night I watched the games hoping to see it happen. Or when Tiger Woods was completing his “Tiger Slam,” winning all four golf majors consecutively, I watched every stroke of his rounds. We see these amazing athletes do some amazing things. What we don’t see or notice is the hours spent my Cabrera hitting off a tee or Woods working on his game at the driving range. What are they doing? They are working on the basics. The difference between average and greatness, often times, are the basics. The greats do the basics nearly perfectly, every single time.
Paul was desperate for his people to be basic. Grabbing hold of Christ and never letting go. Martin Luther in his commentary on Galatians wrote this, “Thus it is an urgent necessity that the preaching of the Gospel continue among us, that we may hear and retain it, otherwise we would soon forget our Lord.”
I find it interesting that in our culture the term “basic” has become something a bit derogatory. Yet, when it comes to following The Way we must hold onto being basic as though our lives depend on it.
How much different would our homes, neighborhoods, and towns look if those who followed The Way were simply, basic?
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. - Colossians 1:21-23, The Message
When you think about the reality that God has “put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence,” what comes into your mind?
I am struck by the reality that I needed to be put back together. I wrote about this the other day, the sense of dis-ease and dislocation. Our world is so full of ways to help us put ourselves back together. I think we inherently know that we need to be put back together and we enter into deep frustration when we think that we can do it ourselves.
Because we can’t.
We need someone outside ourselves to help us do that. In our day to day, right here and right now this will be people in our community. Those that we allow into our lives can be agents of reconstruction. They can help put us together. The hard part is that they too are in need of being put back together and so, they can also be people who break us apart.
I am learning that one of the most significant things that happens as I follow Christ and trust the Spirit in me, is that there is an ontological change that happens.
What the heck does “ontological” mean? It’s defined like this, “relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.” Wow, thanks, super helpful. What that’s trying to get at is the “nature of being” thing. When we talk about something from an ontological perspective we are talking what it actually is.
Christ has changed us ontologically. Christ’s work of reconciliation has changed the very nature of who and what we are. When we can recognize the reality of what has happened, that we have been put back together it frees us to experience that put-back-togetherness.
Have you noticed that when you’re around people who are what we might call, “comfortable in their own skin,” you too experience a greater sense of being comfortable? Why do you think that is? I think it’s because on that deeper level of being they don’t need anything from you or me. This is the effect of what Christ has done.
You see, in Christ the reality is that we are not broken. In Christ we are put back together, we are whole and holy. The work that we have to do is moving towards that reality and experiencing it. When we surround ourselves with people who are seeking to do the same, we become people who reveal as opposed to people who reconstruct. That change of role for ourselves and our community frees us to love more deeply and live even more honestly with one another.
What stands out to you in this passage? What resonates? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
BROKEN AND DISLOCATED
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. — Colossians 1:15-20, The Message
Colossians 1:15-20 is my favorite passage in the whole of the Scriptures. There is nothing quite like it, in my opinion. Romans 8 is pretty great, but, when I read this my heart swells and a lump in throat is formed. This is the first time that I’ve meditated on it using Peterson’s translation in The Message and it does not disappoint.
There’s just so much here! I feel like someone who wants to tour their family around their new city. Do you know what I mean? I want to point out everything from the reality that in Christ we see God, to everything getting its start in Christ, to Christ holding all the things together.
Yet, this morning I’m particularly struck by this image of Jesus properly fitting together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe.
Oh, how often I have felt broken and dislocated!
For much of my life I felt like the odd man out. Always, it seemed, I was the third wheel. Everyone else seemed to be in on something and I was always one step behind. Whenever I would make a friend they would move away. It just never seemed that I was ever funny enough, good enough, or smart enough.
I was never enough.
The awareness of my brokenness and dislocation created in me an always present sense of dis-ease. It was as though I was going through life walking on one of those sidewalks where the tree roots have broken and disjointed the cement. I was never quite able to find my footing.
I’m grateful to have found a loving community that has embraced me. I have friends who love me well. The older I get the more I’m finding my footing.
These days I’ve never felt more healed and located.
This is part of what seeking the face of Christ does for us, I think. We find the healing of our souls and we find our location in the creation.
It is beautiful isn’t it?
Are you feeling broken and dislocated? Then let’s pursue this Christ together. I’d love to walk the journey toward healing and place with you.
DEAD-END ALLEYS, DARK DUNGEONS, AND THE KINGDOM
God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He's set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. - Colossians 1:13-14, The Message
Do you ever wonder about what it takes to change? Not the kind of change that lasts for a few days, but the kind of change that we call transformation. You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind of change where we become someone different than we were before.
Throughout my life I have tried make many changes. All of them were changes that I thought would help me become the best version of myself. Most of them did not stick. Every year I create a list of goals that I want to pursue. Most of them are never accomplished.
I think a big part of making any kind of change is an influx of energy. This could be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental energy. When we are making a change in our lives it means that we are going in one direction and we want to go in a different direction. To change direction requires a significant amount of force to stop us, turn us, and get us going again. Over the last couple of years I have made a significant change to the way I eat. The force necessary came from the realization that food is an important tool to my health. My health was in decline and if I made changes to what I ate, I could change my health for the better.
What kind of force is necessary to change the spiritual direction of humanity? What is required to bring about the reconciliation of all things? On a personal level, what kind of force is needed to help us get “rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating”?
It turns out that it is a divine force. We, quite literally, needed divine intervention to change us.
I just love the imagery here of God rescuing us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. We could not save ourselves. There was no way for us to pull up our boot straps so to speak. No, we were stuck in a cycle of sin-sicknesss in dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. At every turn it seems that we would make the wrong turn.
God, not only saves us from the dead-end alleys and dark dungeons but sets us up in the kingdom of the beloved Son. There is a change that has taken place an infusion of divine energy and force to make us different. We are now free to live as those who live in the kingdom of the beloved Son. In our daily lives we can choose to put others before ourselves, we can choose to practice the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).
I look so often at myself and see that I too often still live as one trapped in a dead-end alley or a dark dungeon. Why? I think it’s in those moments that I find I’ve come to the place where I think it all depends on me to “live right.” But, it doesn’t. Part of the learning the way of the Master is to learn how to yield and trust the Spirit of Christ in me and my neighbor.
How are you doing? Are you finding yourself experiencing the kingdom or the beloved Son or are you too often living as though you are in a dark dungeon?
Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven't stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. - Colossians 1:9-12, The Message
I am struck this morning by Paul’s prayer for the Colossians that they would “live well for the Master.”
If we are to live well then we have to live. That sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. Yet it seems to me that many people who go to churches on Sundays and even those of us who preach in the pulpits too often make following Christ out to be something that we accomplish in our minds. For a while now right believe, orthodoxy, has outweighed right living, orthopraxy. This has come as a result of people not wanting to become legalistic or somehow infringing on the beauty of God’s grace.
It turns out though that God’s grace is most greatly demonstrated in us as we live out our faith. The Christian faith is not one that is practiced through ideas or concepts. It’s a lived and embodied faith. We carry it with us where we go and we are to practice it in our daily lives.
I don’t think that anyone would ever claim that Paul teaches some sort of “works based salvation.” Yet, I do think that many have said that he teaches how we live matters little as long as we believe rightly. I think that if we take seriously what he writes in its entirety that we just can’t get there. It turns out for Paul that living well is crucial to following Christ.
To follow Christ is a call to live in the way of Christ. That is to live a life marked by, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Do you want to know what else is beautiful about what Paul writes here? He doesn’t expect the Colossians to have it perfected. He assumes growth as they learn the way of Christ. Did you catch that? “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.” In the Christian life there is an expectation of growth, change, and maturity. It will take time to grow. We won’t have it all figured out. But, we will grow if we are seeking to follow Christ.
Following Jesus therefore demands all of who we are, body and soul. It’s not an either/or. There is no room for dualism in the Christian life. Following Christ is an all encompassing calling for all of who we are.
The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn't diminish or weaken over time. It's the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you've been hungry for more. It's as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He's the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit. - Colossians 1:5b-8, The Message
Sometimes I think we miss out on the reality that the gospel message is not something that we can control. It’s living. It’s active. Or as it says here, “vigorous.” The message of the gospel, this message of grace is something. Too often, too many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that the gospel is just an idea or concept. But, there’s something more to the gospel.
What is it? What is the more?
I think that the more is the reality that the gospel is not simply a truth to be believed or an idea to give intellectual ascent to. It is a call to join God in the work that God is doing in the world.
This work is the work of reconciliation. God is bringing together the whole of creation.
As I read the Scriptures what I see is a descent into isolation, separation, broken relationship, in a word, exile. It seems as though the trajectory from Genesis 3 until the coming of Jesus is one of greater depths of exile. The story of course begins in Genesis 2 where all is good. The whole of creation is living in harmony, there is no exile. Yet, with Genesis 3 humanity experiences exile for the first time. From there, it’s a never-ending cycle of a deeper experience of exile.
Then Christ comes and shows the way of reconciliation. He becomes “the other” and demonstrates for everyone how to live in the way of reconciliation. Reconciliation is defined as, “the restoration of friendly relations.” I think this what the gospel is at work in the world doing.
When we begin to fully understand
we move out into the world differently. There is less animosity and greater empathy.
As the gospel sets in it makes things messy and beautiful.
It is uncontrollable.
Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can't quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope. — Colossians 1:3-5a
I love this line, “the lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack…”
What draws me to it is this image that Peterson paints here of our purpose being tied into the future of heaven with hope pulling on them. This gives me some insight into this idea of purpose. Purpose is something that is important for us to have in our lives. When we feel purposeless then it makes it very hard to be content in our lives. When we lose a sense of purpose we can struggle with feelings of depression or apathy.
I love this idea that purpose is future oriented and pulled along by hope. I am finding that hope is often the animating force behind much of our actions. If we think a particular situation is hopeless then we give up. If we have hope, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen"," then we are able to press on and push through problems and difficulties that arise.
It’s interesting to me that Peterson translates this passage the way he does. It’s a bit of a departure from the NIV but similar to the way the Common English Bible (CEB) and the NRSV render it. Which makes sense because this opening section of the letter is one gigantic sentence in the Greek. As a result there are any number of ways of making sense of the passage.
Speaking of the CEB check out its rendering, “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.”
What I like about the more literal translations is that we see more readily how faith and hope are tied together.
I recently heard someone define faith as “risk with a direction.” That resonated with me and even more so as I consider the role of hopeful expectation and purpose being tied together.
What if the direction of risk that we are called into is one of hope? What I mean to say is, could it be that the way we are to move about in this world is not as cynics but as ones who are filled with hope?
How different would this world look if you and I entered every interaction with others as one filled with hope?
To quote the great Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be!”
I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God's master plan. Together with my friend Timothy, I greet the Christians and stalwart followers of Christ who live in Colosse. May everything good from God our Father be yours! - Colossians 1:1-2, The Message
I’ve been writing through the Gospels for over a year. It’s been a fantastic time of reflection for me and it has re-acquainted me with the subversive nature of Jesus. He challenges us at the core of who we are and calls us into lives of flourishing rooted in gracious-loving-kindness. It’s time for a change. I am going to spend some time bouncing around the epistles for the next few months. Which means, I’m starting in Colossians, it’s my absolute most favorite letter. It is dense and concise and subversive.
I was thinking that I would take a larger chunk of the first chapter but I couldn’t get around these first couple verses.
There is something about Paul’s sense of calling that I am enamored with. He was convinced of who he was and secure in his identity as one called by the Master.
Don’t we all want to know and experience that?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about being present in the lives of others for the last number of years. In the midst of that thinking has also been a concerted effort to practice it. As I do self-evaluation of being present, when I succeed is when I am most secure in who I am. To say this another way, when I am in a season of healthy self-love it affords me the ability to practice self-forgetfulness. When I am able to do this then I am able to be fully present with another.
I think that a part of landing in this “self-security” is connected to our sense of calling. Do we really know who we are and what we are supposed to be doing? Paul had this clarity. He knew who he was. He was a sent one. Paul never claims perfection or having arrived. What he claims is that he was an imperfect, sin-sick, grace embracing person who was sent. Now, obviously, that doesn’t come from this particular verse. But you can read more about Paul’s journey in the letters to the Galatians and Philippians, also in the Book of Acts.
Paul also knew what he was supposed to be doing. He was to be carrying out a special assignment from the Master. What was this? This special assignment was to go to the world and teach people the way of Jesus through demonstration and teaching. Too often we miss the demonstration aspect of Paul’s life. He was out here writing about “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” This means he was seeking to live a life that was worthy of imitation. This was embodied.
How do you answer these questions: Who am I? What am I called to do? Sound off in the comments!
"Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut— make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me.
"If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me.
"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."
Over the years within many Christian circles there has been this call to “radical” living. It’s as if many leaders think that to truly follow Jesus one must become something akin to a faith daredevil. I totally get the attraction to such messages. They are exciting and they tap into this desire that many of us have for adventure and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.
Yet, they also create shame.
Most of us will never be in a position to be a “radical” for God. We have responsibilities that are important to keep. Responsibilities like marriages, children, jobs, and the like.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Doesn’t Jesus say that if we count those things as more important than him then we don’t deserve them? Dan, aren’t you trying walk back what Jesus is saying here and making it less challenging?”
That is a fantastic question. Honestly, this passage more than most has caused me heartburn over the years. Are we supposed to simply leave our families to do something radical for Jesus? What does it mean to not put our families in front of Jesus?
Two things that I think hold the key for me, particularly reading this translation of the text. First, there is the aspect of self-forgetfulness. When Peterson translates, “But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me,” he is translating the bit about “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” I have often struggled to put my arms around this idea of “losing” my life. To put it in terms of self-forgetfulness is so helpful. When practice self-forgetfulness we are freed up to be fully present in the lives of others.
Second, how does Jesus argue for the radical display of discipleship? Does say leave home and go to the mission field? Does he say become a martyr? No. He says, “Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.” Would you like to read that in the NIV? Sure, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Jesus is calling us to what might be called, “radical ordinary kindness.”
What a key idea for us to consider. The call of Jesus on our lives is fundamentally a call to radical ordinary kindness.
How can you practice some radical ordinary kindness today? Leave a comment with some ideas!
"A student doesn't get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn't make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, 'Dungface,' what can the workers expect?
"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.
"Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
"What's the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don't be intimidated by all this bully talk. You're worth more than a million canaries.
"Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you?
I love the balance that Jesus brings here to what he says in earlier in this teaching. It’s never either/or with Jesus. He is not a dualist. Everything is both/and with him.
If we stopped with “don’t bring attention to yourselves” we could get the sense that we shouldn’t really talk about Jesus and what he’s done for us. But that’s not the case. In the midst of the wolf pack he says, “don’t be intimidated.” We don’t need to fear the world we can speak into it.
I think in today’s climate this is more important than ever.
Because we live in a day and age of hyper-tribalism.
A friend of mine was working for a presidential campaign this past cycle. She ended up leaving the campaign because they were banned from any critique of down ballot candidates within the party. In other words, “Don’t say anything bad about our tribe!” The staffers were in a sense being bullied into silence about things that they knew were wrong, misguided, or untrue being stated by those within the tribe.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter which tribe you belong to these days for this to be true.
In the context of tribalism there is a demand for absolute and unquestioning support in all things.
When you seek to follow the way of Jesus you find that gospel truth doesn’t fit neatly into the tribal boxes. You will find that whichever tribe you are drawn towards will eventually demand you to speak against its values at some point. Why? Because at their heart tribes seek to “other” those with whom they disagree and the gospel near its core is an act of “de-othering.” When find ourselves at odds with our tribe then there is a reality that we will be bullied toward silence. Yet, the call of Jesus is to speak.
We do not need to be intimidated by our own tribes and we do not need to be intimidated by other tribes either.
When we choose to follow the path of radical gracious kindness we will find that no tribes will accept us. You will be mocked, derided, and called names. When we choose reconciliation over revenge we will be seen as weak, sell-outs, and traitors to “the cause.”
When it comes to speaking our faith we must not be bullied or intimidated into silence. For us to have courage we must realize that our faith is rooted in our identity, the core of our being. In so doing we are able to be free from the wants of the tribes around us because we don’t need them because we have our faith.
"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
"Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
"When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.
It’s so interesting to me as I read these words with fresh eyes in The Message. They are familiar and yet shocking at the same time. The development of the ideas here by Peterson are something that I think Western Christianity needs to hear.
As Jesus sends out the Twelve (for this is the context of this passage) he is not going to sugar coat the situation. Jesus is not naïve. He tells them point blank that they are walking into a dangerous world. It can be scary and it can be hard to live life as as follower of Jesus. There is no deceit on Jesus’ lips.
So, what does he challenge the Twelve with? He challenges them to go and to be wise. He argues that they should not draw much attention to themselves but simply go and represent Jesus in the neighborhood. Remember, just before this he tells them to go and be present in the neighborhood. Now he tells them not to be naïve for as they go about teaching the way of Jesus they will face some hard things in a hard world. But, in a sense he is saying, “Don’t bring it on yourselves. Be present, be authentic, be faithful, but don’t be seeking the spotlight and bringing attention to yourself.”
When we were in campus ministry one of the things that we were committed to doing early on was “making Jesus an issue on campus.” We did all kinds of things to try and create a stir around the person and work of Jesus. In some ways I think that was OK. But, if I’m honest it always felt off. We would expend all kinds of energy and time to create a “buzz” but the pay off was primarily burnt out volunteers and staff. At some point we made the conscious decision to no longer “create a buzz” but to simply focus our energy and attention on helping one another grow in our faith. This translated into people trusting Christ and our ministry growing. People shared their faith with those in their community not as a result of compulsion but as a result of identity formation. They began displaying the fruit of the Spirit in their neighborhood and it was beautiful and attractive.
I think this is what Jesus is getting at here in his instructions to the Twelve. Go, be present and live authentic lives of faith. Living an authentic life of faith necessarily includes talking about your faith in Jesus. But, it ceases to be a canned elevator pitch and becomes something deeper.
If you’re a follower of The Way then show up today in peace, authenticity, and grace.
Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
"When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.
"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry—but it's no concern of yours now.
“Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.”
That way of rendering the verse about not going to the Gentiles but the “lost sheep of Israel” really hits home.
I think Jesus is simply saying, “show up.”
Be present in the lives of those in your neighborhood. Just show up. When we seek to simply show up we don’t need a lot of money and we don’t need a lot of stuff. All that is needed is a willing and open heart.
Jesus’ ministry was all about showing up. He was present in the lives of those around him. Peterson taps into this concept in the way he translates the opening of John 1, “he moved into the neighborhood.” It is in Christ that God was made manifest. This means that God was physically present in the world. What a remarkable concept! There was no fear by God that corruption would naturally follow as a result of being in the world, there was only the promise of the redemption of all things.
Too many times those of us who are Christian are too afraid of being in the world. We fear becoming corrupted by the sin-sickness we see around us. Yet, the call of God is to go be present in the world. We are not to hide in holy huddles but we are to be lamp-stands in a dark world.
In other words, we are to show up.
Where do you need to be present today? With whom do you need to show up?
LIFE IS TOGETHER
As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, "My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live." Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along.
Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, "If I can just put a finger on his robe, I'll get well." Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you're well." The woman was well from then on.
By now they had arrived at the house of the town official, and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and the neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: "Clear out! This girl isn't dead. She's sleeping." They told him he didn't know what he was talking about. But when Jesus had gotten rid of the crowd, he went in, took the girl's hand, and pulled her to her feet—alive. The news was soon out, and traveled throughout the region.
Do you see! Do you see? The healing narratives are about an invitation, a clearing the way into full community.
The woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years was ceremonially unclean. She could not fully participate in the community. She was always on the outside looking in. There was no way for her to be part of the life of her community, not fully at least. The act of healing, while important, is a bit player in the ultimate ramifications of the healing. This woman who had been on outside looking in was now on the inside. She could fully be with her community. The barrier of the ceremonial law of the Jewish Scriptures had been removed. This woman, was finally fully welcomed!
The girl that Jesus raises from the dead is one of the ultimate acts of reconciliation. She was in the place of the dead and yet this Jesus was able to bring her from there to here, the place of the living. You don’t get any more outside than death.
This action of bringing her from the place of death to the place of life is an image that other writers in the New Testament will grab onto, particularly Paul of Tarsus. We see this language all over his writing of the Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians.
One of the things that I have learned over the last 18 months is that life to the full is found in community. We need one another. In our physical isolation I was able to find life and connection through the digital realm. I needed it. Yet, as wonderful as it was, there was nothing that could replace the vitality of being with people in an embodied way. I think that this reality hit home with me when I did a driving tour to see and pray for the people that I have been called to specifically serve. Even just seeing folks from a distance in a driveway was magic and filled me with wonder and awe at the beauty of our shared community.
So, do you see? Do you see that the goal of healing is not healing in and of itself? It is the bringing people together into a reconciled community! How beautiful is that!
Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him.
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?"
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
A little later John's followers approached, asking, "Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don't?"
Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!"
He went on, "No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles."
I love that Jesus is all about the outsider. The person that the religious folks have no time for.
Do you notice what he’s doing in this story?
He’s eating with people whom the religious folks find disgusting. This is a statement that can’t be overlooked or minimized. Table fellowship was a big deal in this culture. When you had table fellowship with someone you were saying, “They’re with me and I’m with them.”
Now, as you read the stories in the Gospels, Jesus eats with the religious folks and with those whom the religious folks find deplorable.
I have to wonder if what the religious people found so frustrating about Jesus eating with the “riff-raff” was the mere fact that he ate with them or the fact that in doing so he was uniting them to one another.
Think about that for a minute. Jesus was having table fellowship with all these people. In so doing he was the bridge between them. If the religious wanted to be with Jesus, they necessarily had to be with the outsiders. If the outsiders wanted to be with Jesus, they necessarily had to be with the religious. It was not either/or for Jesus, it was both/and. He was bringing these different people together through himself.
How many “good Christians” would have table fellowship with those considered to be “riff-raff” by their community? Sadly, not as many as we would like to imagine, I think.
This passage is another reminder for us to go show up in the world and not hide from the world.
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
One quick note, I chose to use the NIV this morning because The Message was not discernibly different except that it created some confusion with the context, making the story too different from Mark 2 (the other place we read this story).
Another passage filled with loads of theological stuff. It’s dense. It’s also one of my favorite stories in the Gospels.
This morning I am struck by the communal aspect of what is happening here. We begin by seeing a group of friends bring their paralytic friend to Jesus, we end by seeing the broader community celebrating. In the middle we see the religious leaders upset.
My attention this morning is drawn to the friends who bring the paralytic to Jesus. They don’t know what is going to happen. Will Jesus heal? Will Jesus not heal? We learn from Mark 2 that they get the man to Jesus by digging a hole in the roof of the house, would Jesus be mad at the destruction of property? All these guys wanted was for their friend to be healed and walk again. Why? Probably so he could do life with them.
I think this is the thing that we so often miss when we read the Bible. These stories were about real people who had real lives and were living in real community. Could you imagine the overwhelming joy these men must have felt when their friend rose up and walked out of that house? They could finally do life fully together. He could be with them without barrier.
Isn’t that the beauty of the gospel? The reconciliation of all things! Jesus authority to forgive sin was so amazing because it brought about reconciliation in real and embodied ways. It was not just a theological idea of words. No, it translated into real life.
And, all of it done in the context of community. From start to finish.
I think sometimes we overlook the value of having people around us who will carry us. Sometimes we just can’t get to where we need to be on our own. It turns out we need one another.
Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body."
Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done."
As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain."
Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him."
"Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened."
Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well.
By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him.
That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon:
He took our illnesses,
He carried our diseases.
This is one of those passages that most of us preachers can spend hours on. It is rich with theological poignancy. There is much that we could dive into and tease out. But, this is not the time or place.
The question that I have for you is this, “Did you notice what Jesus was doing?”
Did you catch what he was up to in these stories?
I have been a professional Christian for a long, long time. I have read and re-read the New Testament many times over. But, it was not until this past year that I really took note of what Jesus was doing in these kinds of stories.
It’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time you slap your forehead and think, “How have I not noticed this before? It’s RIGHT there!”
Do you have an idea yet?
Here it is: Jesus was bringing people into community. He was clearing the path so that they could come and be fully participating members of community together.
It’s not really about the healings. It’s about something more than that. What Jesus was doing as a result of the healings was making it so that individuals were no longer exiled from the community.
The leper couldn’t be in community. The demon possessed couldn’t be in community. The lame, the blind, the deaf, none of them could fully participate in community.
Jesus even says as much when he heals the Centurion’s servant, “This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
He was saying, “You see! You see! Those who were on the outside will be on the inside. Those who were not a people will be a people. They will come and eat at God’s table.”
When the kingdom breaks in, this is what we see happening. People who were on the outside, people isolated from community, people who were once “untouchable,” become part of community. Those who were only able to participate on the fringe, are brought into full participation.
This is the beauty of the healing narratives. The healings are cool, no doubt. But it is the effects of the healings that we must notice.
How are you helping bring people into community? How are you breaking down barriers for people to fully participate in your community? Maybe this weekend, you can do something to help facilitate that.
INCIDENTALS OR FOUNDATIONS?
I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'
"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards."
When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
I love this line, “These words I speak are not incidental additions to your life…”
I am also struck by, “All you did was use me to make yourselves important.”
This morning as I process these words and ponder them, I don’t really know what to say.
The conclusion of the sermon on the mount is one final push and challenge by Jesus to remind those listening that they have to respond with their lives. It’s not about the words we say or parrot. It’s about how we are living. We must build our lives on the words and principles found here.
There is a very real call here to embody what Jesus is talking about.
What does it mean to embody something?
It means that we must physically live out the words in the real world. There is no way around it. These teachings of Jesus must find their way into our real lives. Lives lived in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and communities.
I think the most challenging thing for me as a pastor is the last bit, “It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers!” Ouch! Every week I lead people into discussion about Jesus, am I living out what I’m preaching? Is it evident that I’m doing so? I want that to be true. Yet, I know how much work I have yet to do.
I desperately want to see more fruit of the Spirit in my life, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When these are the ways that people describe me, when these are the things that I can begin to see in myself, then I’m on the way of practicing what I preach.
The question I have to wrestle with this morning, “Do I believe that these are simply incidental ideas or do I believe that they are foundations to build my life on?”
"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.
"Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.
"Knowing the correct password—saying 'Master, Master,' for instance—isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills.
“A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook.”
This punched me right in the face this morning.
I am coming to believe that the two ditches that are along either side of pastoral ministry are these: emotional manipulation and financial manipulation. These seem to be at the root of so much abuse in the American church.
Before I finalize a message to preach on Sunday I have to make sure that I’m not practicing in the ways of emotional manipulation.
It’s just too easy.
I am confident that early in my years as a public speaker that I used it to great effect. The ability to create a “holy hush” due to the use of the manipulating of people’s emotions felt so “successful” at times. After some time I came to realize that it was nothing more than cheap salesmanship and really nothing more than a way to get people to agree with me. In other words, it was about “winning.” You see I would create my messages as arguments, trying to “prove” something. I imagined in my head an interlocutor who was disagreeing and challenging me. So, I had to “win” the day for the gospel. There was this sense that do so required “exposing the need.” What that translated to in my world was exposing some sort sin or failing in a person’s life and then getting them to feel the weight of that (which is odd because I would have told you “feelings” have nothing to do with your spiritual life). Then taking them from that place of vulnerability I would seek to get them to agree with my solution for their lives.
All of this was of course couched as “leading people to Christ.” But, it was really about me and placing myself in a position to get people to do something.
Thankfully, I had mentors who demonstrated a better way. They showed me a way that was not dependent on “winning” but a way that was built on pointing people towards Jesus and what he embodied: grace, mercy, love, truth, compassion, and empathy. They showed me that when we preach we need to leave the manipulation and moralism behind. As Peter writes, my responsibility is to “declare the excellencies of [Jesus].” This is the work to which pastors are called.
Perhaps over the last few days you have seen the headlines from the other ditch, the ditch of money and greed. One televangelist is crying for money for a new jet and another saying that Jesus has not returned because people aren’t giving enough money to his ministry.
It’s all manipulation.
I pray that those of us who are pastors would follow Paul and know nothing but Christ and him crucified. I pray that we would be people of the Cross. I pray that we would eschew the wisdom of this world and embrace the folly that is Christ crucified and resurrected.
WHAT'S IN YOUR EYE?
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
My custom is to use The Message for these daily devotionals because it’s often jarring to read these well known passages in a different translation. While I really like the way Peterson renders this section, I think he misses the central issue that Jesus is getting at. But, I think the NIV, NRSV, and other more literal translations get at it a bit better.
Because of the word, “hypocrite.”
That really seems to be the heart of what Jesus is teaching here, we must engage with one another in humility because we are flawed and none of us are perfect. If we act as though we have it all together then we are nothing more than hypocrites.
All in all, I think Jesus is saying, “Give one another the benefit of the doubt.”
When Amy and I joined the staff of CRU we were assigned to a campus team at Illinois State University. I am so grateful for those years. We grew up there. When we arrived to campus we were in our early 20s and not much older than the students were serving. I was young, brash, overly confident, and believed I knew everything.
Boy, was I wrong.
Thankfully, our team leader, Matt Kent, was kind and gentle. He didn’t put up with my childish ways, but he also acknowledged he was imperfect. Matt is the embodiment of humility (he probably just blushed without knowing why). One of the greatest gifts that Matt gave Amy and I through his leadership was this, “We will believe the best in one another.”
“Believe the best in one another.”
What Matt meant by that was that we would endeavor to give the same amount of grace and mercy to one another that we wanted to receive ourselves. This meant that we didn’t question one another’s motives. Our posture was to assume that each of us on the team had the best intentions and wanted what was best for one another. By serving together in this way, we experienced one of the healthiest teams that I have ever been a part of. There was no question where you stood with one another, there was little to no drama, and all of us really respected one another. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreements or arguments or hard conversations. No, it’s just that when we did we knew that we were all coming from a place of mutual respect.
In our society we take an approach of, “I will extend respect to you if you first extend respect to me.” Do you see how this is so broken?
The thing is, I’m guilty of it too.
There are days when I have forgotten that lesson taught to me by Matt about, “believing the best.”
As a follower of Jesus I am reminded this morning that believing the best is something that I’m called to from a deeper place. It’s part of my new identity. I am called to believe the best because I recognize my own weaknesses, my own need for grace, and my own hope for mercy. You see, I need grace and mercy from the people in my life because I’m so deeply flawed. If I’m deeply flawed, then I can’t expect others to not be deeply flawed. All of us need grace and mercy. All of us are carrying around planks in our eyes, when we are able to recognize this reality then we are able to offer up grace to our neighbor and their speck.
Let’s not be hypocrites. Let’s not act like we have it all together. Let’s recognize our own sin sickness and engage the world from a position of humility.
PRAY SIMPLY, SIMPLY PRAY
"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.
You can pray very simply
If that isn’t an encouragement I don’t know what is.
I think that sometimes we have in our minds that prayer is something akin to spells that we see in fiction. You know what I mean, right? There’s this idea that we often hold that thinks we need to use just the right words and have just the right intentions and have just the right body language for prayer to work.
But, that’s not the case at all.
We can approach God with simplicity.
There is no need for big words or lots of words or few words.
There is no need for theological treatises.
There is not right or wrong time to pray.
There is no right or wrong body position to pray.
We can simply come.
Over the years I am learning that just showing up in prayer is the key. Setting up some time to pray and then doing it is what matters most. More and more I am finding that I have less and less words. During the last year or two my most often prayer has been, “God, seriously? What the heck?”
So often I find that I don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray. When that happens I pray that and leave it at that.
I am reminded often that the Scriptures say, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
You see, we don’t need all the words, or the best words, or even any of the words. We can simply show up in prayer and trust that God is at work in us through the Spirit. This is grace.
We can also use all the words. There is freedom to dump everything in our hearts and minds out as well, even if it’s an unfiltered stream of words that flows without breathing. Sometimes simplicity in prayer is knowing that we don’t need to filter anything with God. This is grace too.
To experience this grace we find ourselves unclenching our fists and relaxing our shoulders. We breathe again. There is a yielding and trust in God.
I am so grateful that we can pray simply. How about you?
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.
"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well.
I have often wondered what it was about the prayer closet, the secluded place, that was so important. I understood what Jesus means here about “playacting” or “hypocrisy” in our more literal translations. That all made sense. But, I have often wondered if there wasn’t more to it.
Peterson expands what we read in the NIV when he writes, “Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
Here’s how the NIV handles that verse, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
As I have been pondering this, this morning I think what Peterson is tapping into here is the “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret,” part of the verse.
There are a few people in my life who really know me. These are people that I feel “seen” by. There’s a depth of knowing by them that allows me to let my guard down and simply be.
This idea of the Father “seeing” is something that I have glossed over too many times. I have focused so much on the “reward” aspect. Too often in my young Christian life I had the belief that if I prayed rightly that I would be rewarded by getting what I asked for.
I don’t think that’s what is being said here.
No, I think the reward is knowing that the Father sees me.
The Creator God of the universe…
is present with you…
cares about you…
None of this is dependent on whether or not you pray in a secluded space. It’s all true regardless of you or your actions because that is the beauty of who God is. God’s actions are rooted in God’s personhood, God’s being, God’s identity, God’s nature. God is faithful regardless of us.
What is dependent is our experience of this seeing by God. This is our reward! The intimate, experiential, awareness that the Father sees me.
Every kid I know (and I am well acquainted with being a child as well) wants to be seen by their parents. I was moved by images of an NFL rookie after playing in his first NFL game running into the stands to his parents and family. It doesn’t matter how old we get, there is something about being seen by our parents.
How much more so the Creator God?
The more I practice the simplicity of secluded, private, prayer the more I am growing in my awareness of the presence of the Divine. More and more I am feeling seen by God. More and more I am feeling secure in my relationship with God. More and more I am feeling loved by God.
"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
Once again, reading this in the Message just feels different. These passages are hitting me in places that I don’t like to talk about at parties.
It’s fascinating to me that this passage, above most in the Sermon on the Mount, gets explained away whenever it’s convenient.
Here’s a secret:
I do it.
I make excuses to hate my enemy.
All. The. Time.
It’s not just a once in a while kind of thing. It’s a most of the time kind of thing. It feels so good to “get them” when they show themselves. Man, it feels like justice when I can stick it to people I’ve determined as my enemy.
Usually I explain it away in one of two ways. First, when I’m feeling super spiritual I will say something along the lines of, “I’m not hating my enemy, I am speaking truth to them. It’s for their own good.” When I’m being really honest I say, “Listen, I’m not going to be a doormat for Jesus. I’m standing up for my rights and for my family.”
Those are my “go-to” outs for loving my enemy. What are your outs?
We all have them.
More and more I am realizing that this love thing is at the center of being a follower of Jesus. If I want to grow in my Christ-likeness then I must grow in love. There is no way around it. This is the thing.
I am not good at loving, on the whole. I do well some times, especially if I know people are watching. But, in places that I don’t talk about at parties, I struggle.
As I grow older, I am becoming more desperate to learn how to love well.
Sometimes people ask what does it look like? What does it practically look like to love like Jesus. That kind of love is laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 13. Have you ever noticed it before? I mean, I know it’s read at weddings. But, have you ever realized that this is the way to live the Christ oriented life?
Consider it today…
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
"You know the next commandment pretty well, too: 'Don't go to bed with another's spouse.' But don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they are also corrupt.
"Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here's what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.
"Remember the Scripture that says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights'? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are 'legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure.
"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
This is tough stuff from Jesus. In our modern day and age you might be made uncomfortable by some of Jesus’ statements here.
It hit different reading this in the Message than in the more familiar NIV.
What struck me this morning was the radical minimum standard of integrity that Jesus was calling for. Morality and commitment were not just behavioral issues for Jesus. He pressed into people’s hearts. The sentence, “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure,” really struck me. This is such a subversive way of thinking in our day and time. So many of us deem what is legal and what is moral as the two of the same things. But, Jesus calls us to something deeper. He demands a depth to our integrity that goes beyond the legal.
“You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk…”
This challenge by Jesus to his hearers was meant to cut them to the quick. The reality is that integrity is something that demands from us more than just words. It requires action. But more than action, it demands something even deeper.
Did you notice that?
You can do the right thing and still not have integrity.
You can say the right thing and still not have integrity.
You can say and do the right thing and still not have integrity.
Jesus’ call here is a wholeness of being. It goes down to the soul or heart of a person. If we are living duplicitous lives then eventually they will be exposed. To live with integrity means that the wholeness of who you are, the wholeness of your being, lines up and is integrated.
Your words and your actions and your soul must all integrate.
We live in a day and age where integrity is rare.
This challenges from Jesus is one that we need to hear again and again.
WHAT WILL YOU BE?
"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
What will you be?
This is the question.
It’s not a question of what won’t you be. It’s a question in the affirmative. What will you be?
Too many times in our day and age in America, Christians are known for what they’re not.
“Don’t dance, drink, or chew and don’t go with girls that do.”
American Christianity is too often portrayed as some sort of cancel culture. Which makes sense, if you think about it. I remember Christians trying to get Teletubbies off PBS, I can’t count the number of times Disney has been boycotted by Christians. The fundamentalist, evangelical culture that I experienced in college was one marked by ridding ourselves of secular influences like non-Christian music. I spent hours pouring over lists of “If you like this secular band, then try this Christian band.” There was a time when I traded in my Garth Brooks for Michael James.
In our desire to be different and set apart we too often find ourselves only championing those things which we are against.
Notice the way Christ discusses how he wants his followers to live in the world.
Bring out the God-flavors in the world.
Bring out the God-colors in the world.
It was a new way of being.
There is a significant difference between saying, “Don’t be darkness,” and “Be light.” The negation of being leaves us in a place of not knowing how to move forward. We end up stuck and lost. But, when we are given an affirmative command to “Be” we are finding ourselves united with the divine.
Why do I say that?
Because God’s nature is being. When asked his name, “I AM.”
To be a God follower, to be a Christ follower, is to BE something. We are being salt and light.
This weekend I would encourage you to take some time and ask yourself, “Do people know me more for who and what I am or do people know me more for who and what I am against?”
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about this passage a bit. N.T. Wright and Michael Bird in their book, The New Testament In Its World, argue that the beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom work. It strikes me that as we start to seek living this agenda out we will likely find ourselves at one time or another practicing all of this.
Each of us will likely jump into the fray at different points. Some of us come into this at the beginning of the agenda, at the end of our rope. Some of us might pop in at the middle and others may experience persecution right from jump street. Where ever we find ourselves, we must recognize that living this way is our agenda as followers of Jesus.
The longer I try to become more like Christ, the more attracted I am to people who live this way. I find them to be refreshing and life-giving.
Most particularly I am finding that I want to be around the peace-makers. Peterson says it like this, "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.” Thinking about peace-making this way is so beautiful to me. The idea of teaching people to cooperate as opposed to competing feels subversive in our world today. There are so many stories about leaders in our government who refuse to find middle ground positions of cooperation because they can’t look like they are capitulating to the “other side.” As a result, good policies don’t get done on behalf of our nation. I also think about the disunity in the body of Christ and the schisms and divisions that have happened over the years because people were unwilling to pursue peace-making.
Over the last few years I am growing less concerned about my theological tribe “being right.” I am more concerned with those of who claim to follow Jesus practicing this kingdom agenda that we find in the opening lines of Matthew 5. Again, I’m pretty wrapped up in this idea of peace-making as I write this. What would it look like if the Christians of our world steeled themselves toward making peace? How would our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and nation changed if there was a collective effort toward teaching people to cooperate with one another?
I guess, at the end of the day what I long for is people to love their neighbor and their enemy as themselves.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Tonight I’m talking about this passage at some length during Beyond Sunday School at 7 pm. You can join me in the Zoom Room if you would like to be part of the conversation. I am also realizing that this passage hits home with the conversation that my friend Mike and I had on the Simple Theologian podcast yesterday about “disappointment.”
This passage is a microcosm of the prophetic ministry of Jesus. He starts by quoting a famous passage from Isaiah. It was a passage that many in the first century were holding on to as an image of what would come in the Messiah. To be sure, when Isaiah wrote it, he was writing about the return from exile in Babylon. But, by the time of Jesus it was being held on to as something deeper, a hope for the climax of the history of Israel. Isaiah 61 had become the picture of what would happen when God would set all things right by bringing his people out from under the oppressive pagan regime and placing Israel again in its rightful place as God’s chosen people.
At first people are ecstatic! They are excited, thinking that Jesus was embodying this hope for national Israel and that the climax of history was at hand.
But, then Jesus says something that they didn’t expect. Jesus, in the words of the great theologian Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friends!”
This was bigger than national Israel. This was inclusive. This was universal. What God is doing with the in-breaking of his kingdom is expansive in ways that the people could never have imagined.
Jesus says from the jump of his ministry, a pagan widow and a gentile cripple may have a better seat in the kingdom than national Israel. Why? Because at the heart of Jesus’ message, just like every prophet before him, was the call to repent. There had to be a change in direction. This change in direction for the people he was speaking to was to see themselves as the agent of global blessing as opposed to being the blessed.
Perhaps if Jesus was speaking to us as Christian Americans he would say, “Friends! Repent! The kingdom is here! You must no longer cry ‘God bless America!’ but ask, ‘How can we bless the world?’”
This is, in some sense what he is doing. There was a fundamental misunderstanding of the people about their role. God had chosen Israel to be agents of blessing, justice, and mercy to the whole of creation. But, Israel had flipped it around thinking that in their chosenness they were the recipients of blessing, justice, and mercy from the rest of creation.
When they were challenged, they became irate.
Why? Because they were disappointed that God was not working in accordance to their personally designed framework. They were experiencing missed expectations. Anne Lamott says, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”1 When we are disappointed by God this disappointment is often rooted in our own expectations that we have created. When we experience this disappointment we have two paths. One is to move toward resentment where we continue to feel the disappointment over and over again. This leads us into a place where we are hardened to change. Or, we can move into a season of disillusionment where we deconstruct the illusion of God that we have fashioned. This eventually leads to a deeper understanding that is based more in reality than the view we held before. I have found over the years that there is a spiral of growth as my expectations lead to disappointment that leads to disillusionment that leads to deconstruction which leads to a reconstruction of new understandings of who God is.
How do you respond when your expectations of the divine fall short? What have you done with your disappointments in God?
As quoted in Learning to Speak God From Scratch by Jonathan Merritt, p. 118
When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills. This move completed Isaiah's sermon:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
road to the sea, over Jordan,
Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up.
This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.
What do those words mean to you?
I think if most of are honest they don’t mean a whole lot. We are a people who don’t know much about kingdoms, kings, or any such things. Sure, we have some ideas, but we are people who lived our lives in a republican democracy. In our experience the idea of a kingdom is pretty far outside our experience. We live in a time and place where we believe that each of us has the right to speak into who our leadership is. Our nation is one built on a constitution and people we vote into office to represent us.
So, if we’re honest, when we hear Jesus say, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here,” it just doesn’t hit the same way that this kind of thing did back in the first century.
Over the last number of years this idea, “kingdom of God,” has become something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. Mostly because I realize that I don’t have a good grip on it, but also because it seems to be at the center of what Jesus was talking about and trying to live out when he was doing ministry.
I have to confess, I still don’t think I have my mind totally wrapped around what it means.
When we bump up against concepts and themes in the Scriptures that are so far outside our common experience we have to recognize the gulf that exists between our time and their time. Then, we have to being to do the work to build a bridge over that gulf. It’s hard work. This work demands something that I don’t have a lot of, humility. To do this work requires me (and you) to say, “I don’t know.” As a professional Christian that is expected to have all the answers about Christianity, that is a hard pill to swallow.
I want to be really clear, I don’t think that I have it all figured out when it comes to this whole “kingdom of God” thing.
One of the things that seems to be true about the kingdom of God is that it demands us to change. However they were living back in the first century and however we are living today, to acknowledge the kingdom of God is to acknowledge our need to change. Perhaps this is why we get uncomfortable thinking about this kind of stuff?
Why must we change? I think the answer to that comes from the end of the story. Do you remember Jesus talking with Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion? He says something to Pilate about his kingdom that I think points us toward the necessity to change. He says that his kingdom is not of this world. The way that Jesus is King is different than the way that other authorities practice their authority. It also means that his kingdom is unlike anything we have seen in history. Jesus’ kingdom transcends our usual way of thinking about these things.
Because of this, we must change.
One of the changes that I see throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is constantly reconciling people who are separated from one other. It appears that in the kingdom of God the various barriers we create between one another are brought down. We love our “us vs them” or figuring out who the “other” is. But, if we are going to try and participate in this kingdom of God then we are going to have to change and set aside our desires to sort and separate.
I’m still struggling to grasp and understand the kingdom of God metaphor and how to understand it in light of our current reality. How do you make sense of it? For me the bridge building comes from that reality that it’s not a kingdom of this world, so it allows me some freedom to leave the militaristic version of kingdom to something else entirely. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
And that's about it, friends. Be glad in God!
I don't mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don't mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.
Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they're interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ's praise as we do it. We couldn't carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it— even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God's law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God's law Book.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness.
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.
Paul was a guy with a pedigree. He was a guy with amazing credentials. There was no question that he was something special. Paul’s zeal for the faith was so strong that he persecuted Christians as a young man. But, then something happened. He had an encounter with Christ. This encounter changed him to his core. He was transformed from the inside out and would never be the same. Paul spent the rest of his life pressing forward a message of grace, truth, love, and reconciliation.
I think what strikes me about this passage is the humility of Paul.
He knows that he’s imperfect and that he has not reached the goals that he’s calling the Philippians to live out. But, he says, I’m going to keep pressing on, I’m going to keep trying to become like Christ in all things.
He desperately wanted to know Christ and his resurrection. The NIV says it this way, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul’s greatest desire was union with Christ. If having union with Christ in his resurrection meant suffering, so be it, it would be worth it. I don’t think Paul went looking for suffering. I do think that Paul saw in his suffering an opportunity to find a deeper identification with Christ. Again, this was not some sort of trite platitude. No, Paul truly suffered and struggled. This is akin to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as he processed his experience in the holocaust. Paul wrote from a place of real pain and the meaning he found was an identification with Christ.
It was in this that Paul’s humility was rooted. He had found meaning in Christ and he wanted others to find it too. He knew his pursuit was imperfect but the beauty of grace was in the pursuit, it was in the straining toward the goal.
Let’s journey together shall we? Let’s join the pursuit of the resurrection by focusing on living as Christ. Let’s pursue a radical minimum standard of self-forgetting, self-giving, self-sacrificing love.
What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.
Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.
Even if I am executed here and now, I'll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ's altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout's fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me.
I plan (according to Jesus' plan) to send Timothy to you very soon so he can bring back all the news of you he can gather. Oh, how that will do my heart good! I have no one quite like Timothy. He is loyal, and genuinely concerned for you. Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus. But you know yourselves that Timothy's the real thing. He's been a devoted son to me as together we've delivered the Message. As soon as I see how things are going to fall out for me here, I plan to send him off. And then I'm hoping and praying to be right on his heels.
But for right now, I'm dispatching Epaphroditus, my good friend and companion in my work. You sent him to help me out; now I'm sending him to help you out. He has been wanting in the worst way to get back with you. Especially since recovering from the illness you heard about, he's been wanting to get back and reassure you that he is just fine. He nearly died, as you know, but God had mercy on him. And not only on him—he had mercy on me, too. His death would have been one huge grief piled on top of all the others.
So you can see why I'm so delighted to send him on to you. When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you'll rejoice and how relieved I'll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give. Remember the ministry to me that you started but weren't able to complete? Well, in the process of finishing up that work, he put his life on the line and nearly died doing it.
I love these kinds of passages in the Scriptures because they remind me that I am reading someone else’s mail. The last few paragraphs about Epaphroditus have my mind ablaze! Don’t you want to know the back story? Me too! I also want to know more of the back story of what was going on with Paul. These are the things that begin to drive us into the mysterious and wonderful depths of the Scriptures and history. If you are curious like me, start digging!
The thing that grabbed my attention this morning was this line, “Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.”
Oh! I so desperately want to be that fresh air, don’t you?
This morning I shared a quote from Fred Rogers that resonates with the same energy that this quote from St. Paul does:
The ones that see the “see the need and respond” these are the ones that are being breaths of fresh air in this “squalid and polluted society.”
As I ponder this idea from St. Paul I am struck by a couple of things. First, there was no question in his mind that the world was sick. He didn’t have a Pollyanna perspective of the world. No, Paul had a realistic view of society. There was no doubt that it was in need of healing.
Second, unlike many that would come after him his counsel was not to hold up in some sort of sanctuary but it was to go out. Paul called the followers of Christ to go forth as breaths of fresh air to show the world what the good life looks like. This life we know from earlier in Philippians 2 is one marked by self-forgetfulness and selflessness. Far from building Christian hideouts, Paul desired Christians to be people who were “out there” as living models of the sacrificial love of Christ.
Third, he challenged them to go “uncorrupted.” This was a calling to live life differently. The Christian is to live a life that is not corrupted by the greed and self-centeredness of their society. This demands discipline, awareness, and community. We need awareness to see where we need to grow. We need discipline to do the work necessary to towards being “uncorrupted.” And, we need community to help us practice awareness and discipline. To be a Christian is to live in the context of community not in isolation.
Let’s go be breaths of fresh air together today!
If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
If that’s not a counter cultural call to live differently I don’t know what is. “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” You may be thinking that this is definitely counter the “secular” world but what we are missing is that it subverts much of the way Western Christians think of themselves too.
I think about many of the recent debates about ridiculous things that have spawned over the last eighteen months. Too often the Christian has been on the side of thinking of ourselves and demanding our personal rights. We have strayed long and far from the place of Philippians of 2:1-11.
Paul writes, “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” This is tough stuff. It’s brutal when we consider the reality that so many of us are more concerned with “defending my rights” and “getting our (sic) own advantage” than we are with putting ourselves aside.
If we are going to have the mind of Christ it demands that we practice self-forgetfulness which leads us to a selflessness. It was this kind of living that lead the Christians of the Middle Ages to care for the sick during the black plague. It was this kind of perspective that drove people like Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day to care for those on the fringes.
I find that this battle is waged within me constantly. The desire to get my own advantage is fighting against my desire to practice self-forgetfulness like Christ has displayed.
Whose advantage do you care most about? How do you go about practicing self-forgetfulness? What does it look like for you to be selfless?
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I'm in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they've learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the Christians here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.
It's true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they'll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I'm out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.
So how am I to respond? I've decided that I really don't care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!
And I'm going to keep that celebration going because I know how it's going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don't expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn't shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I'm Christ's messenger; dead, I'm his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can't lose.
As long as I'm alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I'd choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better . But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it's better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We'll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people's trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they're up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There's far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There's also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You're involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.
It’s a single word and it has ridiculous power when we embrace it.
Webster’s dictionary defines it this way, “1 : the angle or direction in which a person looks at an object. 2 : point of view. 3 : the ability to understand what is important and what isn't; ‘I know you're disappointed, but keep your perspective.’ 4 : an accurate rating of what is important and what isn't; ‘Let's keep things in perspective.’”
This word is what popped into my mind as I read this passage this morning.
I think that over the last 18 months or so we have all had a crash course in perspective.
We have had to discern what is really important and what isn’t. We have had to make choices to help us to keep from becoming distressed and heartbroken over and over again. Disappointment seems to be around every corner and so we have had to learn the art of “managed expectations.”
Perspective is something that we have had to learn to hold on to.
Paul had mastered the art of keeping perspective. He had figured out what was most important and in so doing was able to keep everything else in its proper place. He was able to see the beauty and good in those who were even preaching the gospel from impure motives. He knew that he wanted to be with the Lord but he knew that what mattered most, at least in this moment, was loving those entrusted to his spiritual care. It’s wild to think that someone could say something like, “There's far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There's also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.”
I’ll tell you what, that’s a perspective that can only be held and shared by someone who has walked through a depth of suffering and come out the other side. For many of us, to say that would be trite. But, for Paul, it was truth. He lived that out. This was not a philosophical truism. No, this was a reality that he had embodied.
When I think of someone who is able to keep perspective I am struck by my good friend Mike. He suffered the loss of his only son. Yet, from this loss he has encouraged and loved others with a depth that most of us can only imagine having. Holding the perspective that Mike does about pain, suffering, and heartache, was one that he lived. Mike didn’t read about it and dispense it tritely. No, Mike has lived it and holds on with grief and joy all wrapped up together.
As I read these words this morning it is this word, perspective, that is pricking my spirit. In what ways have I lost perspective? Where do I need to re-evaluate my perspective? Are there things of lesser importance that need to be let go of in light of greater depth?
How about you? How are you doing at keeping perspective on life?
REDISCOVER THE BETTER STORY
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom—it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats.
Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way.
You're cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that "he's a fiercely jealous lover." And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that "God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble."
So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet.
Don't bad-mouth each other, friends. It's God's Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You're supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?
So, if yesterday wasn’t a punch to the gut, if yesterday’s passage didn’t make you say, “ouch,” then today’s ought to. James is pulling no punches and doesn’t hold back.
If we say we follow Christ then we have some things to consider. First, our actions not our words demonstrate who we are. Some will read this and think that this means that we are then free to speak mean and nasty things. But, that isn’t the truth (that should be clear from yesterday). What James is getting at here is that if your words are kind and nice but your actions display otherwise, your actions reveal who you are. We must live authentic lives. As someone once said, “Be wary of all earnestness.”
Second, we must be willing to sacrifice our “wants” for the love of neighbor. Are we not seeing this on display today? Our world, and much of it driven by Christians, is filled with rancor and quarreling and violence. I am saddened and disgusted by what I see. Scroll “Christian” Twitter and it is filled with nasty, mean-spirited, and divisive talk that would have James turning over in his tomb. Oh friends! We have lost the plot!
Third, those of us who are Christians must realize that every word and every deed is a reflection on Christ and the Message. Are you bad mouthing other believers? Are you driving strife because of your self-centered ways? Am I? My dear friends, we must have a posture of mutual submission toward one another. It has become clear and evident that many American Christians don’t have any desire to practice love if it gets in the way of their preferred politics.
How do we rediscover the better story?
I’m going to be pondering this bit from the passage above today. Perhaps it will stick with you too…
Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
WORDS ARE FIRE!
Don't be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you'd have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue—it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that this passage is a gut punch.
Man, if this passage was true in the first century, how much more so today? Each of us carries with us a global megaphone in our pocket and we are not afraid to use it. Heck, many of us are addicted to using it.
It turns out destroying the lives of people with words is not a new thing. It’s been around since the earliest human civilizations. It has taken many forms over the centuries. Whether it’s “cancel culture” or “scarlet letters” or anything else we can come up with, destroying people with words has been and will continue to be a “thing.”
We need James’ wisdom today more than ever.
You see our words carry force. They create deep penetrating wounds in our souls when used as weapons. They also create healing and life when used for the sake of love.
I know that some of you are faux tough and pretend that words don’t hurt. But, trust me when I tell you we all know you’re lying.
Words matter. How we say them matters.
Every time we open our mouths we can choose to use our words in a way the blesses another and bring life or we can choose to use our words to curse another and bring pain.
What will it be?
I too often find myself using words as weapons. The snarky criticism rolls off my tongue with ease. I would be a liar to say they don’t. Too many times I find that what I communicate is my frustration and anger. My hunch is that more people know what I’m against as opposed to what I’m for.
I am trying to grow in this area, but it’s so very hard.
Amy (my wife) says that instead of always railing against something, someone, or some situation we need to think in terms of telling a better story. How can we invite our “enemy” and neighbor into a better story of pursuing love, relationship, kindness, and respect?
I think this is the next big step for me. It means that I need to be looking at the world differently and thinking about it in terms of the better story. It means that I need to be seeking to embody the better story that I want others to embody. We cannot invite others into something that we are not living out ourselves.
How about you? How are you doing at living out what James talks about here? Are you a life speaker or a curse maker?
THE WAY OF BEING
Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?
Wasn't our ancestor Abraham "made right with God by works" when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn't it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are "works of faith"? The full meaning of "believe" in the Scripture sentence, "Abraham believed God and was set right with God," includes his action. It's that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named "God's friend." Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn't her action in hiding God's spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.
Over the years my understanding of the faith/works divide has changed a bit. That change has come from studying James and Paul. These two men, I have learned, are saying the same thing even though we try to tear them apart.
Did you know that there were some in the early church that didn’t want to include this letter by James in the Scriptures because they felt that it was too focused on “works”?
Honestly, there are some today who secretly wish that they had left it out. Why? Because it would make things so much easier. We could get away with not living the faith but simply saying magic words.
Is James arguing that works saves us? No. Absolutely not. What he is saying is that faith will animate our lives to good works. That is, faith makes us more like Christ. True Christian faith is not something that we can just talk about. It’s not an idea or mindset or a perspective. True Christian faith is a way of being.
A way of being is something that includes all of who we are. It’s mind, body, and soul. There is no pulling it apart.
Some will say, “So what you’re saying is that if we don’t have good deeds then we are not saved? That really flies in the face of ‘by grace through faith alone’ does it not?” This is the very charge that James faces squarely when he says, “You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”
You see, it really is a chicken and the egg kind of thing. If we have faith we will be changed. There will be transformation which results in the fruit of the Spirit. What is that? Well, we find that in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he writes, “But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
Too often, too many think that faith in Christ is nothing more than a get out of jail free card. But, that’s not how it works. Authentic faith in Christ means that we are seeking to live with the mind of Christ, which in turn means that we are seeking to live and love like Christ.
If we are not growing in the way of love, then we are not following Christ.
THE ROYAL RULE
My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, "Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!" and either ignore the street person or say, "Better sit here in the back row," haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?
Listen, dear friends. Isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world's down-and-out as the kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn't it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren't they the ones who scorn the new name—"Christian"—used in your baptisms?
You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: "Love others as you love yourself." But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can't pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God's law and ignoring others. The same God who said, "Don't commit adultery," also said, "Don't murder." If you don't commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you're a murderer, period.
Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.
I hope you’re ready for your inbox to be filled with posts again! It’s writing time again. I’m excited to return to my daily habit and I hope that you will find these brief devotional writings helpful too.
This year I’m not going to post these devotionals as widely on my personal social media. I am asking you to consider sharing these on your personal platforms if you find them helpful and beneficial.
Talk and like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. What’s the rule? “Love others as you love yourself.”
It really is that simple.
What if every day we lived that out in our bodies? Not just with words but in action and deed. What if we practiced loving well as a way of life?
I have a secret to tell you: More of you do so than any of us realize.
Over the last 18 months I have been amazed at seeing how people practice loving well every single day. There is no limit to the love that is shown in this world. We just don’t hear about it because it is not exciting news and it doesn’t get clicks or likes.
But, I am convinced the majority of you reading this do your best every single day to live according to the Royal Rule of Scripture.
So, wait, how does what I just said make any sense with the my question at the beginning? Simple, we need to become aware of the reality that we are not alone in loving well. We need to realize that the people around us are trying just as hard as we are to love well. When we do, we can engage more people as those who we want to extend compassion and empathy toward.
Too much of what fills our newsfeeds is outrage, snark, sarcasm, and biting critique.
I was telling my Mom the other day that more and more I find myself exhausted by snark. It’s never ending. People can’t simply enjoy the beauty in front of them. We have to mock it or add some snarky comment. I find myself doing this all the time. I get a laugh from some and that confirms the behavior in me. I so desperately want to stop.
Part of learning to love well and to live out the Royal Rule of Scripture is to learn to celebrate with those who are celebrating and to weep with those who weep. This means that I have to take my sarcastic, snarky comment and capture it, stick it in my back pocket, and then let it go. For a time I was doing this on Twitter and saving the snark as drafts. I was going to release it all on Festivus (a made up holiday from the television show Seinfeld where part of it is an airing of grievances). Thankfully, Twitter somehow deleted all my drafts and the snark was gone forever.
How about you? What are the steps you need to take in learning to live out the Royal Rule of Scripture? Sound off in the comments and let’s learn to “love others as yourself” together.
LOVE IS THE ROOT WITH NATHAN SOOS
In this week's episode I chop it up with Nathan Soos, a teacher and coach from Lincoln Middle School. He's a guy that embodies what it means to love well. I hope that you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. I loved what he had to say about love being the root of all the things that are good in this life.
Check out the Soos Playlist on Spotify for tunes that he listens to help him continue to love well: #LoveWell with Nathan Soos
BEAUTY OUT OF UGLY THINGS
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 23:13-25
Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, "You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It's clear that he's done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go."
At that, the crowd went wild: "Kill him! Give us Barabbas!" (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.
But they kept shouting back, "Crucify! Crucify him!"
He tried a third time. "But for what crime? I've found nothing in him deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go."
But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.
This is part of the story that is so hard to read and think about. I find myself again asking, “Where do I see myself in this story?” What role would I have played in the great tragedy of injustice that took place here? Because, there is no doubt about it, this was unjust. Jesus did not deserve the punishment he received. He was found blameless. Yet, the shouting mob demanded him convicted.
The innocent found guilty.
The guilty set free.
Where is the justice?
I hope I wouldn’t be in the crowd shouting for injustice. Yet, there’s a good chance that I would be. In all honesty, I would probably have been with what I assume the disciples were doing in that moment, standing there in silence not wanting to face the same fate.
I don’t really know which is worse. Actively asking for injustice to be done or silently watching it happen.
You have to wonder, why? Why would the shouting mob demand Jesus’ conviction and not the conviction of Barabbas? We learn from Matthew’s gospel that it was the religious elite that convinced the crowd that Jesus was to be convicted. Why?
I think at the end of the day it comes down to whose authority was being undermined by Jesus. Pilate could see that Jesus was no threat to Rome. He was no violent insurrectionist (unlike Barabbas). But, the religious elite saw in him and knew him to be one who would undermine their power and their authority. His teaching was challenging the religious power structures in such a way that they needed him gone.
What is absolutely wild about this whole thing is that it was going exactly to plan.
Whenever I read this story I imagine Jesus making eye contact with the chief priest and dropping the Obi-Wan Kenobi line from Star Wars when he was fighting Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Ultimately, I think what I walk away with from this story is that somehow God is at work behind the scenes making all things right.
The beauty of the gospel is that God takes what we do, even the ugly and the evil, and redeems it for the good and the beautiful.
Bono, one of my favorite poet/songwriters wrote,
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It's the name for a girl
It's also a thought that
Changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
She's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty
She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty
Grace finds goodness in everything
May you find grace today. May you live grace today. May our eyes see the beauty in ugly things.
During the month of July I am taking time to recharge my spiritual tanks. So, I will not be publishing daily. I may do some, but there will be days when it won’t happen. I will return to daily writing in August. In August we will also see the return of Doubt on Tap, The Simple Theologian Podcast, and Beyond Sunday School. During this break, The #LoveWell Podcast will be released every Monday with interviews of people who love well.
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 23:1-12
Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him. They said, "We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King."
Pilate asked him, "Is this true that you're 'King of the Jews'?"
"Those are your words, not mine," Jesus replied.
Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, "I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me."
But they were vehement. "He's stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He's a dangerous man, endangering the peace."
When Pilate heard that, he asked, "So, he's a Galilean?" Realizing that he properly came under Herod's jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.
Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he'd heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn't answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.
Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.
The political drama of this passage is so interesting. From the religious leaders trying to go right to the top, to Rome passing it back down to a lower court, to Herod and Pilate’s new found friendship. This whole scene could be something out of a TV drama.
What did you notice about Jesus in the story?
What I noticed is that Jesus didn’t defend himself. He didn’t get his hackles up and got at Pilate or Herod. His only defense, “Those are your words not mine.” When he’s interacting with Herod he stayed silent.
He looked in the face of his accusers and tormentors and said nothing.
As I think about my own life and when I have been in situations where I feel like I’m being maligned or attacked I fight back. And I’m pretty good at verbal sparring. Obviously, I’ve never been engaged with something like what Jesus is experiencing here. Nothing even close, nothing even in the same universe.
So, why when the stakes are so small do I look for a fight and Jesus doesn’t when the stakes were huge?
I think it’s because Jesus was completely and utterly confident in his identity. He knew who he was. He didn’t need his ego to protect him. He could stand there and listen and take in all the anger, rage, wrath, and falsehoods knowing that none of it was true. It’s as if it passes right through. He’s completely untouched by it.
I am learning that as we grow in our lives and faith and become more grounded in who each of us are we are able to listen to the other. We no longer have a need to defend ourselves or make an argument for ourselves. No, we can simply look at the other and say, “Those are your words not mine.” We can say, “Who do you say that I am?” And no matter the answer it passes through us.
For instance, when I was a young Christian I was enthralled with apologetics. I was driven to find empirical support for every aspect of my “faith.” I had all kinds of head knowledge and I used that information as a weapon. I was inspired by stories of modern apologists who would tell tales of conversations on airplanes where they would make people cry as they “destroyed” the other person’s worldview. Those were my faith heroes. I wanted to be just like that.
Why? Because I was unsure of who I was and what I believed. I had to protect this fragile belief and faith. I was like the disciple with the sword on the Mount of Olives who sliced off the servant’s ear.
As the years go by and my faith grows and matures I find that the apologetics questions and the endless debates are uninteresting. They mean little by way of what really matters. To follow Jesus is not to follow a philosopher who is seeking intellectual dominance. The follow Jesus is to practice and embody love for God, self, neighbor, and enemy. I find that to be way more interesting and energizing. Wrestling through how I am supposed to practice love.
I have been reading a book called The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider. It’s a deep dive into the life and practices of the early church. What has been so interesting to me is that their primary concern was changed lives. How did people who wanted to be part of the church live? This was the question. Before they were admitted to the fellowship they had demonstrate their lives were different and that they were living after the way of Christ. This took time and patience and training.
Today, we are overjoyed with someone saying a magic prayer.
No wonder we have lost the plot so thoroughly.
Jesus fully embodied his identity. He knew who he was and rested in that truth. As we move toward that reality then we no longer need to fight. We are able to move into a practiced reality of loving well. Even if that means standing silent before those who seek to mock or shame us.
CARE AND COMPASSION WITH JENNIFER GORMAN
This week I sat down with my good friend, Jennifer Gorman to talk about what it means to love well. She is an avid volunteer and serves some of the most needy in her profession. One of the things that really hit home for me was that Jennifer made the point that to love well we need to live transparent lives. I hope that you find this conversation as fun as I did!
Jennifer and Jeffrey just launched a business with Tastefully Simple, I'd encourage you to check out their store.
Make sure you check out Jennifer's #LoveWell Playlist on Spotify!
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 22:63-71
The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted, "Who hit you that time?" They were having a grand time with him.
When it was morning, the religious leaders of the people and the high priests and scholars all got together and brought him before their High Council. They said, "Are you the Messiah?"
He answered, "If I said yes, you wouldn't believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn't answer me. So here's what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God's right hand, the place of power."
They all said, "So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?"
"You're the ones who keep saying it," he said.
But they had made up their minds, "Why do we need any more evidence? We've all heard him as good as say it himself."
When I read the narratives of the scriptures one of the questions that I ask myself is, “Where do I find myself in the story?”
The easy thing is to always try and identify with Jesus. So, what I intentionally have done is to say that’s off limits. He is the unique God-man and so identifying with him in the story is not plausible. My next default is to identify with the disciples and sometimes that’s true. What I have to often make the hard decision to do is to place myself as one of those in opposition to Jesus in the story.
So, for instance, in the story of the Good Samaritan I desperately want to identify with the Samaritan. When in reality, I am more like the priest or the Levite. Perhaps it’s the story of the prodigal son. Don’t we all see ourselves as the prodigal? But, in reality, I am much more like the older brother. When Jesus interacts with the religious elite of his day I have to make the conscious decision to remember that is literally who I am today. I am among the religious elite. That sounds weird to say. But, I am a full-time churchman. I make a living from serving as a pastor to a community of people and I have advanced training and education in religion.
More and more I am forcing myself to see myself in the story as who I really am.
That is hard.
Particularly when I read this story.
I don’t see myself as the guards who mock and beat Jesus. I am not a representative of the state or a wielder of the sword. But, I am far worse. I would find myself among the religious leaders. Those whose sin here is that of not wanting to lose power.
You see, if Jesus is the Son of God, then he was the authority and not them. The people would no longer need to follow their lead or obey them. If Jesus had that kind of authority then the religious leaders would lose their stature and their authority.
Let me let you in on a secret. Religious leaders of any day and age don’t like losing authority or power.
This is why so many isolate and surround themselves with “yes” people. Far too many are fragile and weak.
By placing myself in the role of religious leader here, I am able to glimpse my shadow self. It provides me a check for the ways that I try to hold on to authority and power. It also opens my eyes to see why I need to be around people who are not going to simply tell me what I want to hear.
I am so grateful that what I have in my life are people who care enough about me to pursue me in authentic relationship. This means that we disagree about things. It means that we work through those disagreements. It means that all of us are able to be real. The best part is that when I move towards my shadow self they are there to shine light on it and help draw me back.
My prayer for you is that you will be surrounded by a community that helps you live authentically and helps you grow and change. A community that shows you your shadows and walks you back into the light.
FAITH MY EYES
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 22:54-62
Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, "This man was with him!"
He denied it, "Woman, I don't even know him."
A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, "You're one of them."
But Peter denied it: "Man, I am not."
About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: "He's got to have been with him! He's got 'Galilean' written all over him."
Peter said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about." At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." He went out and cried and cried and cried.
This is one of the most heart wrenching stories we have the in the Scriptures. The worst part is when you realize that Peter’s denials come within earshot of Jesus. It’s not like Jesus was somewhere that he couldn’t see or hear what was happening. Nope, he was right there, probably being held in the courtyard so that folks could mock him. Peter tried to be brave, but he broke. He wilted in the face of standing with Jesus.
And Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
There it is. That’s the sentence. He turned and looked at Peter.
One little word, at. It makes the whole thing so personal and damning and heartbreaking.
As I process this story this morning I am struck by the absolutely personal and specific nature of the interaction.
Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
I think the reality is for those of us who are trying to pursue God we must realize that it’s personal as well as communal. Yes, Christ saved a people. But Christ also is about our personal transformation. The intimacy of this moment with Peter is the great reminder that our spirituality is intimate and it is personal.
Do you notice the gentleness of this too? Jesus doesn’t call him out. He doesn’t belittle him. He doesn’t “put him on blast” (as the kids say). Jesus turns and looks at him. That’s all it took. The holy one looking at him made him realize what had happened.
We must also not miss the inherent detail in all this either. Peter was looking at Jesus too. If he wasn’t then he would not have noticed the fact that Jesus was looking at him.
You see the intimacy of our faith must go both ways. It is when we are most intimately looking at Christ that we will see how he looks at us. There is something in the look that is filled with grace, mercy, love, and truth. As we look at Christ and Christ looks at us, we begin to see ourselves for who we really are.
It is in this moment that we may feel some conviction. We may experience the heartbreak of Peter. But, as we learn later in the story, he doesn’t hide from his faith family. Christ, after the resurrection, finds him in community.
This is the difference between Judas and Peter. Judas kills himself. He hid away, he isolated. Peter weeps but moves into relationship to find life.
I have to wonder if the difference between Peter and Judas was that Peter was looking at Jesus. His eyes were on the Christ. Perhaps Judas was simply looking at himself?
How am I living? I am looking at Christ or am I looking at myself? Where are my spiritual eyes fixed?
This song written by Derek Webb hits this morning, Faith My Eyes, the chorus goes like this:
So keep'em coming these lines on the road
And keep me responsible be it a light or heavy load
And keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes
That’s what I’m praying this morning. What about you?
YOU FEEL ME?
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 22:39-53
Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, "Pray that you don't give in to temptation."
He pulled away from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?" At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.
He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, "What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won't give in to temptation."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, "Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?"
When those with him saw what was happening, they said, "Master, shall we fight?" One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest's servant and cut off his right ear.
Jesus said, "Let them be. Even in this." Then, touching the servant's ear, he healed him.
Jesus spoke to those who had come—high priests, Temple police, religion leaders: "What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I've been with you in the Temple and you've not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way—it's a dark night, a dark hour."
We come to the end of another week and hopefully you are doing well. I know for me it’s been great, one of the best weeks in a long time.
This morning’s reading is technically for tomorrow (but since I don’t write on Saturdays I thought it would be ok to jump ahead!) because I wrote about today’s passage earlier this week on accident. Ha!
Here we are in the Garden, the moment of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. It’s a moment that always breaks my heart. Every time I read it. The grief of the moment and Jesus being betrayed with a kiss from one of his closest friends, it’s gut wrenching.
What strikes me about this story this morning is Jesus’ humanity.
I think that we often think of him only as the God-man. Too often we miss his humanity. We miss his weakness and his broken-heartedness.
Here we find him praying and begging that the cup be taken from him. He knew and understood what was about to happen. You can hear and feel the pain and sorrow in his words. But, there is also something else, a decision and willingness to trust God in the moment. It wasn’t a blind trust by any stretch of the imagination. It was an eyes wide open, I know what’s coming, this is going to be awful, decision.
I find it beautiful that there was a moment where Jesus said, “Any other way?”
The struggle that he walked through in this moment wasn’t sin. It wasn’t wrong. It was holy and good. The struggle of faith includes weeping and frustration. It includes the hard stuff. Struggling to follow God is not always easy and it’s OK to say so. If the God-man can wilt and cry out for mercy, so can I. I, you, we don’t have to have some false bravado all the time. We don’t have to be strong every minute of every day. There are times when we are going to feel weak and sad and heartbroken and struggling.
Jesus life of faith included that too.
So, on this dreary rainy Friday, remember it’s OK to enter into the sorrow of life. People will fail you. Your friends might betray you. Life will be hard. To enter into it and feel it with all of who you are is good and righteous.
I wrote yesterday about how sometimes the Psalms feel whiny for me. But, I think that is rooted is my own dislike of feeling my emotions. The Psalms show us that God wants us to have all the feelings and to express all the emotions. God is good with us being brutally honest with all of it.
I’m going to wrap this up with the opening lines from Psalm 102, it’s heart wrenching, and it’s Scripture and it’s holy.
GOD, listen! Listen to my prayer,
listen to the pain in my cries.
Don't turn your back on me
just when I need you so desperately.
Pay attention! This is a cry for help!
And hurry—this can't wait!
I want to learn to engage my emotions and not just stuff them.
INTENTIONALITY AND HOSPITALITY WITH ROBERT NORRIS
In the season premiere of #LoveWell I interviewed Robert Norris. He's a volunteer extraordinaire and all around great husband, dad, and friend. There are few people who are more loving and caring than Rob. We talk quite a bit about what it means to be intentional and the joy of hospitality.
Be sure to check out Rob's required listening to help you put on your love goggles, Beyonce's "I am...World Tour", over on Spotify.
Also, check out Rob's Pampered Chef page on Facebook and give it a like and follow: Pampered Chef with Robert Norris.
THE ETERNAL NOW
Knee Jerk Devotional: Psalm 105:1-6
Thank GOD! Pray to him by name!
Tell everyone you meet what he has done!
Sing him songs, belt out hymns,
translate his wonders into music!
Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs,
you who seek GOD. Live a happy life!
Keep your eyes open for GOD, watch for his works;
be alert for signs of his presence.
Remember the world of wonders he has made,
his miracles, and the verdicts he's rendered—
O seed of Abraham, his servant,
O child of Jacob, his chosen.
I have a confession to make. I totally misread the Book of Common Prayer earlier this week and got myself tangled up and out of order in Luke. So, instead of rehashing a passage from earlier this week, I thought I would take a bit of the psalm from today’s readings.
Reading the psalms for me can be tedious. So many feel too emo and whiny for me. But, then you get ones like Psalm 105 which tells the narrative of the people of God. This psalm is like an epic poem in its retelling of the Exodus. It is, on its own merits, a beautiful piece of poetry.
What really hit me this morning were these first six verses though and verse four in particular. It reads, “Keep your eyes open for GOD, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence.”
Over the last year I have begun learning to practice being in the moment. The realization that all we ever truly experience is the “now” was a bit of a perspective shattering thing for me. I have always been a bit like Luke Skywalker in the swamps of Dagobah with my mind elsewhere. I constantly think of the future and what is next. I really struggle to be present in the moment. Even as I sit here writing this morning my mind wanders to later today, next week, next month, and I have to bring myself back to this moment. It’s not a bad thing to be oriented this way, but there is a danger in it.
The danger of always dreaming and thinking about the future is that I miss what’s right here. I miss the joy and beauty of the moment, the now.
I think back over my life and wish I had savored certain seasons more deeply. Yet, I was always moving and thinking about the next thing.
Just before the pandemic struck I was spinning up and getting excited about the future. There was momentum in all of our missional communities. Things were happening and it was exciting! All of my dreams were beginning to come true. But, then everything stopped. The world shut down. I was crushed.
Somehow, I had to learn to find joy.
In an ancient letter to a group of Christians in the city of Philippi, Paul of Tarsus wrote, “I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.”
I am trying to learn this. It’s brutally difficult. God graciously continues to provide opportunities. But, I don’t like it. I don’t like learning contentment or living in the eternal “now.” Why? Because when you do you begin to feel things. I am finding that I am more aware of my emotions and my body. It’s strange to say and that sounds really “woo-woo” to me. But, it’s not. It’s this growing awareness of what it means to bring all of myself to this immediate moment.
Just now, after becoming aware of and confessing my wandering mind I have written more in just a few minutes than I had the twenty minutes before. It’s a very strange experience.
Practically, I am trying to live out in the body what the psalmist writes here in verse four. I am intentionally trying to be alert for God’s presence. To do this demands that I am embrace the “now” as eternity. In so doing, I am learning to be content and satisfied with what is happening in the moment. It is both beautiful and ugly. It brings me joy and sorrow. But, the contentedness that I am experiencing is something I have never truly known.
Another word for it might be, “rest.”
How about you? Are you experiencing contentment? Are you embracing the eternal “now”?
THE UGLY BEAUTY OF COMMUNITY
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 22:14-23
When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, "You've no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It's the last one I'll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God."
Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, "Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I'll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives."
Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory."
He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.
"Do you realize that the hand of the one who is betraying me is at this moment on this table? It's true that the Son of Man is going down a path already marked out—no surprises there. But for the one who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man, this is doomsday."
They immediately became suspicious of each other and began quizzing one another, wondering who might be about to do this.
Welcome to the ugly beauty of living in community.
I have read this passage hundreds, if not thousands of times over my life. It has never clicked with me the immediacy of the beauty being interrupted with the ugly. It’s not that I’ve not known it was there, it’s just that it never hit me that there was this immediacy to it.
Jesus just instituted what would become known as the eucharist or communion. The meal that Christians would eat regularly to symbolize our union with Christ and with one another. It is beautiful. Every time I celebrate communion with my community of faith I am moved by its simple beauty and the depth and weight of it.
But this morning I see it so clearly, there it is right alongside this beautiful moment, suspicion and arguing.
Community, even the ones that we hold most dear and ideal are imperfect. There is a sickness that runs through them and each of us. We all need healing, individually and corporately.
The beauty for me of the meal, of the eucharist, of communion is that it provides for us this weekly opportunity to declare that we will not let the spiritual sickness that resides in us win. It provides opportunity to deal with the issues. When we take time to reflect and wrestle with out readiness to receive the meal there is a chance to extend forgiveness and seek it.
What is most amazing about this story to me is not the moment in and of itself. It’s the fact that after this we have the continuing story that we call The Acts of the Apostles. This moment didn’t destroy them, they worked through it. They came out the other side to launch a global movement. As we read through Acts we find that the ugly of being in community together is never far away. The early church struggled with one another. They argued and had disagreements. There were tensions but they dealt with them and worked through them together.
What happens today is that we walk away from one church building to one down the street and never deal with the issues. There is little by way of entering in and redeeming the ugly. We just walk away.
Could you imagine if at that point in the story the disciples just walked away?
Could you imagine if they decided that they just couldn’t deal with “that person” and they were out?
I am so grateful they fought for redemption and relationship and the beauty of community.
UPSIDE LEADERSHIP WITH YOUR BOY JC
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 22:27-38
"Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You'd rather eat and be served, right? But I've taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you've stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God's people.
"Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start."
Peter said, "Master, I'm ready for anything with you. I'd go to jail for you. I'd die for you!"
Jesus said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me."
Then Jesus said, "When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?"
"Certainly," they said, "we got along just fine."
He said, "This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you'll need; there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, 'He was lumped in with the criminals,' gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion."
They said, "Look, Master, two swords!"
But he said, "Enough of that; no more sword talk!"
Here we are in the upper room on the night of Jesus’ arrest. We could spend some time talking about the swords and how that relates to Jesus’ pretty clear position on non-violence. But, I think that’s better left to a chat over coffee, beers, or whiskey. So, if you want to discuss that let’s set up a time. So, if we’re not talking about swords, what are we going to talk about. How about the whole authority rooted in service thing?
This is one of those deals that goes against much of what we think about when it comes to leadership. Jesus does here what he often does and flips the expectations upside down.
Over the years I have read many books on leadership. I have sat through tons of leadership seminars and trainings. One of the things that I find interesting is that the direct connection between authority and service is one that is rarely made. Serving is usually a utilitarian concept. You serve others so that you can influence them to get them to follow you. This is the way that serving is used in leadership circles. I mean nobody puts it that crassly but if we’re honest that’s the underlying message.
Jesus here is talking about authority and sacrificial service. It’s a fascinating interaction to me because of how counter-cultural it is for our leadership climate. He has given the apostles authority so that they can eat at his table so that they can serve.
I’m not sure I have ever put it together that way. The authority isn’t given to them so they can have people follow them. No, it’s given to them so they can be strengthened to serve. How does that even work? Why do they need authority to eat at the table? How does this whole thing work?
I have way more questions than answers at this point in the game. Truly, this is a fresh insight for me. It’s not like I didn’t think that serving was mission critical for the leader, but the connection between authority to be strengthened to serve is new. I need to wrap my head around how that plays itself out.
What changes do I need to make as a leader? As a servant? It makes me think that the authority scorecard needs to change from being that of do people do what you want them to do to that of “do I have strength to serve?”
Ok, I need to process all this more. Perhaps you do too. I’d love to hear your thoughts. So leave a comment and let me know you what you think…
THE ONE ABOUT HOW MUCH JESUS CARES
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 21:5-19
One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, "All this you're admiring so much—the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble."
They asked him, "Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it's about to take place?"
He said, "Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, 'I'm the One,' or, 'The end is near.' Don't fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end."
He went on, "Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You'll think at times that the very sky is falling.
"But before any of this happens, they'll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You'll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I'll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.
"You'll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There's no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved.
We could do a deep dive on the stuff in this passage because it’s one of the harder passages in Luke about the “end times.” To be sure, I think this passage has been used and abused in ways that don’t fit what’s happening here. But, that’s not what these little daily devotionals are for. If you want to talk about the end times or second coming stuff, hit me up and let’s set up a time to chat.
Did you catch what Jesus says at the end of this passage? “Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved.”
I wonder, do I believe this? Do I believe that Jesus cares about me so deeply that “nothing of [me] will be lost”?
Isn’t it interesting the ordering of that last bit. First, he reiterates his care. Notice, it’s not necessarily his disciples that he’s speaking to here. He’s talking with “people.” Luke consistently makes it clear when Jesus is focusing his teaching on those in his inner circle and those outside the circle. Here, in this moment, this comment is directed to the masses. At the very least, this should wake us up to the reality that Jesus’ care extends beyond the “church” to the world. This is some pretty powerful stuff. Many of us under estimate the love of Christ. Here, he makes it clear the depth and scope of his love.
In light of his care he says “stay with it!” It is because we can be secure in his love and care for us that we can persevere through persecution, pain, and suffering. Hold on, not because you have to, hold on because he loves and cares for us. This is a bit of a flip in the way that we usually think or act. Typically we view relationships the other way around. Is this person faithful and loyal? Then I will love and care for them. Jesus loves and cares first and because of the love and care we are able to hold on.
Do I really believe this? I desperately want to. I want to believe that Jesus cares about all of who I am. Did you catch the totality of his care? Body, soul, right down to the hairs on your head. I really want to believe this. Much of the time, I think I do or at least try to.
The next question I wrestle with is, “If this is how Jesus loves, and I want to be like Jesus, do I love this way?” Am I willing to love and care first without the promise of reciprocation? Am I willing to risk for the sake of living like Christ? Can I put aside the questions of whether or not someone is worthy of my love and care?
The second batch of questions is harder to answer. We really like it when someone loves and cares for us without strings. But, it is a lot harder to love others like that.
How about you? Where are you in this process of growing in love? Do you recognize the love of Christ for you? Are you living the love of Christ similarly?
A PRIEST, A RICH GUY, AND A WIDOW WALK INTO CHURCH
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 20:41-21:4
Then he put a question to them: "How is it that they say that the Messiah is David's son? In the Book of Psalms, David clearly says,
God said to my Master,
"Sit here at my right hand
until I put your enemies under your feet."
"David here designates the Messiah as 'my Master'—so how can the Messiah also be his 'son'?"
With everybody listening, Jesus spoke to his disciples. "Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preen in the radiance of public flattery, bask in prominent positions, sit at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they'll pay for it in the end."
Just then he looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. He said, "The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all!"
Once again Jesus goes in on the religious scholars and lifts up the humble. Luke reminds us that the way that Jesus understands the world is upside down from the way that we do. He just sees things differently.
There’s an artist named David Hayward who creates cartoons that are subversive and challenging for mainstream Christian evangelicalism. In one of my favorites there is a pastor at the podium declaring, “Let’s give glory to God!” But, everything else about the church gathering is giving glory to the pastor.
It turns out that we are no different than the religious folks in Jesus’ day.
The pastor when they are doing well get lost. They become nothing more than a mirror to reflect the glory of Christ to the people.
When you look in a mirror you don’t think, “Wow! That’s a great mirror!” No, you see your reflection. The mirror “disappears.”
The religious elite in our day and age make a bit too much news. We are a bit too concerned about our own notoriety and influence. So much so that we miss when we are really doing the work.
Recently, I was talking with a good friend about some of my struggles with wanting to have more “influence.” In other words, I wanted to have more people read, share, watch, and engage with the content that I create. He reminded me that what matters are the conversations and the communities that I have been able to help foster. I had lost the plot a bit in my own desire to sit at the head of the table, so to speak.
As I continue to process this passage, I am thinking that we need to shift our gaze from thinking of religious elites as heroes of the faith to the widows who give their all. These women and men who have little to offer by the way of the world but give everything they have to love well. These are the heroes of the faith. These are the people who show us what godly contentment looks like. These are the people who patiently and faithfully trust God for all they need.
May we all learn the quiet, simple, sacrificial faithfulness of the widow.
GET BUSY LIVING OR GET BUSY DYING
Knee Jerk Devotional: Luke 20:27-40
Some Sadducees came up. This is the Jewish party that denies any possibility of resurrection. They asked, "Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to take the widow to wife and get her with child. Well, there once were seven brothers. The first took a wife. He died childless. The second married her and died, then the third, and eventually all seven had their turn, but no child. After all that, the wife died. That wife, now—in the resurrection whose wife is she? All seven married her."
Jesus said, "Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. Even Moses exclaimed about resurrection at the burning bush, saying, 'God: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob!' God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living. To him all are alive."
Some of the religion scholars said, "Teacher, that's a great answer!" For a while, anyway, no one dared put questions to him.
Once again, I’m struck by Jesus’ ability to handle difficult questions and interactions. The Sadducees who, don’t believe in resurrection, ask a question about the resurrection. I probably would have said something like, “You guys don’t believe any of this, why are you asking about it?” But not Jesus. He gives them an answer that shifts their perspective.
I think that’s what strikes me as as much as anything in this passage is the perspective shift that Jesus pulls on the Sadducees. Honestly, it makes me wonder where my perspective is most of the time. The Sadducees were wanting to debate the finer points of religion, they sort of wanted to argue about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. Jesus was not going to bite. It’s not about the details, the minutia, the “what-ifs.” He pointed them to the deeper, the truer, the more beautiful perspective of life.
You see, resurrection for Jesus is about life. He quotes Moses at the burning bush (side note: this was because the Sadducees only held that the first five books of the Bible were authoritative) to show that God’s perspective is that the patriarchs were living. In effect Jesus is saying, “Don’t get caught up in all these ‘what-ifs’ of religious dogma. Ask yourselves if you’re living.”
So many of us get caught up in the “what-ifs” and miss out on living. I think if we grasped the depths and ramifications of resurrection that we would be more free to go and live. It is as if we think God is more worried about our right thinking than he is with our right living. Sure, we should learn and try to believe rightly, but if that doesn’t translate into right living then the belief is meaningless.
I love reading and thinking. I meet God in those ways. But, if I’m really honest with myself it’s the times that I have been outside of my office and away from a desk living life with my community that I have experienced the love of God in true intimacy.
Does your perspective need to shift? I know mine often does.
As the great theologian, Andy Dufresne said, “It comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to live that resurrection life. It’s time to get busy living.
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 20:20-26
The one where Jesus isn't a sucker...
Watching for a chance to get him, they sent spies who posed as honest inquirers, hoping to trick him into saying something that would get him in trouble with the law. So they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you're honest and straightforward when you teach, that you don't pander to anyone but teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
He knew they were laying for him and said, "Show me a coin. Now, this engraving, who does it look like and what does it say?"
"Caesar," they said.
Jesus said, "Then give Caesar what is his and give God what is his."
Try as they might, they couldn't trap him into saying anything incriminating. His answer caught them off guard and left them speechless.
Last Wednesday night during Putting the New Testament In Its Place I did a whole historical breakdown of this passage. I want to encourage you to join me for that time. I host a Zoom classroom for discussion and we also live stream the class at 7 pm on Wednesday nights on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch.
As I process this passage this morning, the thing that struck me is the way the religious leaders approached Jesus. They effusively praise him and tell him how great he is. This was a pretty significant change in tact from many of their earlier interactions with him. I mean, in verse 19, we learned that they were so angry they wanted to kill him on the spot.
Jesus spoke to his disciples about being crafty and wise to the way of the world. Here, we see Jesus live that out. He doesn’t get caught up in their praise of him. Jesus sees through their baloney. As a result he’s not taken by surprise at their attempt to trick him.
It seems to me that many of us in the American church need to be more aware of the intentions behind too much flattery. When we are flattered we are quick to trust and this leaves us in a place too often where we find ourselves with a subverted faith. All of a sudden we are yoked with people who have an anti-Christ agenda. Then our pride gets in the way and we find ourselves unwilling to say, “I was wrong about this.” As a result we double down and go deeper into the hole.
If we are going to maintain our holiness we will need to learn to be aware of too much flattery. The tickling of our ears, while it feels good for the moment, leaves us in a place where we are vulnerable to be taken advantage of and then we wake up and come to ourselves finding that we have left the narrow path well behind.
Jesus didn’t get used.
Jesus didn’t get tricked.
Jesus flipped the script and left them speechless.
I am hoping to be more like Jesus.
To do so means being present and more aware of what is happening around me. I need to listen and pay attention. Living like Jesus requires an intentional hearing of people in my life. It demands a mindfulness to the moment that I often don’t have. My mind is often somewhere in the future and rarely in the moment.
How about you? Do you get easily suckered by flattery only to find out you were being used?
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 20:9-19
The one about being exposed...
Jesus told another story to the people: "A man planted a vineyard. He handed it over to farmhands and went off on a trip. He was gone a long time. In time he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect the profits, but they beat him up and sent him off empty-handed. He decided to try again and sent another servant. That one they beat black and blue, and sent him off empty-handed. He tried a third time. They worked that servant over from head to foot and dumped him in the street.
"Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'I know what I'll do: I'll send my beloved son. They're bound to respect my son.'
"But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. 'This is our chance—this is the heir! Let's kill him and have it all to ourselves.' They killed him and threw him over the fence.
"What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He'll come and clean house. Then he'll assign the care of the vineyard to others."
Those who were listening said, "Oh, no! He'd never do that!"
But Jesus didn't back down. "Why, then, do you think this was written:
That stone the masons threw out—
It's now the cornerstone!?
"Anyone falling over that stone will break every bone in his body; if the stone falls on anyone, it will be a total smashup."
The religion scholars and high priests wanted to lynch him on the spot, but they were intimidated by public opinion. They knew the story was about them.
In this story Jesus does one thing: He exposes the religious hierarchy for what they were. They wanted power over and were willing to do whatever it took to maintain that power.
What really strikes me is their response. They got angry, angry enough to want to kill Jesus on the spot.
So, what is my response to being exposed? What is yours?
There will be times in our lives when we are going to be exposed by others or by the Spirit. Our lives will be laid bare and we will have to come face to face with our shadows. To be sure, we do everything we possibly can to avoid that. We put on masks and identities to hide our shadow selves and to remain acceptable. But, eventually everything is brought into the light and we will have to deal with the false self we have created.
In photography, exposure alludes to the amount of light that is collected by your camera. An underexposed picture is dark and grainy, conversely an overexposed picture is washed out. In both situations the true picture is obscured.
When we are underexposed we are living in darkness. Our self created shadow hides us from one another and God. It keeps us from growing or experiencing truth. We are unable to move into any sense of mature faith, life, or relationships.
If we get overexposed then we are likely being spiritually or emotionally abused. Our imperfections and sin-sickness are used against us to create shame. When we are living in this situation we find ourselves wounded and unable to move into any sense of mature faith, life, or relationships.
To be properly exposed is to be able to remove the shadow and become who God made us to be, the very best versions of ourselves. While it might hurt in the short term and even help us to identify areas for which we are guilty, this process frees us to mature in our faith, life, and relationships.
I think it’s fascinating to see how Jesus exposes the religious leaders. He doesn’t do it by shouting them down or wagging a finger. He does so with a story and through the side door. Their own consciences pricked them and they responded. Their response was not with a desire to change but with anger.
So, again, I am left wondering, how do I respond when I am exposed? Not in an overexposed kind of way but in this way where my conscience is allowed to work. If I’m honest with myself, the response is typically one of two things. First, I will often try to rationalize my shadow. I will argue for why this mask is important and needs to remain. Second, I will get angry. That kind of irrational anger that makes no sense and then you look back and think, “Well, that was dumb.”
When I’m doing well and practicing good healthy spiritual and physical disciplines, my response is different. I will listen. I will take it in. I will evaluate it. And often will make appropriate changes. I wish that was the case more than it actually it is. I think, these responses are coming more often. But, I want this to be more the norm than the exception.
How about you? What is your response when you are “exposed”?
KNEE JERK DEVOTOINAL: LUKE 19:41-48
When you don't notice it...
When the city came into view, he wept over it. "If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it's too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They'll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact. All this because you didn't recognize and welcome God's personal visit."
Going into the Temple he began to throw out everyone who had set up shop, selling everything and anything. He said, "It's written in Scripture,
My house is a house of prayer;
You have turned it into a religious bazaar."
From then on he taught each day in the Temple. The high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying their best to find a way to get rid of him. But with the people hanging on every word he spoke, they couldn't come up with anything.
I knew that today’s passage would be the one about cleansing the Temple. I was all ready to go all in on all the stuff that I know about what was going on there. Truly, it was on my mind and I kind of couldn’t wait to write this morning about it.
But, then I read it fresh this morning.
Sometimes when I come to these well worn stories I have pre-determined in my mind what I’m going to write here and then the Spirit redirects my gaze.
The opening of this story grabbed my heart. Luke writes, “When the city came into view, he wept over it. "If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it's too late.”
This morning I experienced some disappointment from missed expectations. These missed expectations were not about something important, life-changing, or even really all that meaningful. I could feel myself begin to spin out a little.
But, then I read this passage this morning.
It was a 2x4 to the soul.
I was about to let something small, insignificant, and of no real value rob me of “this day, and everything that was good for” me. The Spirit re-oriented immediately.
It’s funny, yesterday I wrote and there was nothing remotely application oriented about it. Today, I’m writing it’s all application.
Jesus wept over the city because they didn’t recognize the day of his visit. They could have experienced all the good. But they weren’t paying attention or they were paying attention to the wrong things. So much so that they didn’t notice all the beauty and the good in their midst.
How often do we miss things the same way? How many days have we “not recognized” and missed “all the good”?
For me, it’s way too often. Too often I get sideways about the insignificant and the petty. Whether it’s unkind people or frustrating situations, I fix my attention there instead of all the good in front of me.
I don’t recognize the day.
Well, today, I’m choosing to recognize the day. I want to see all the good. Whose with me?
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 19:28-40
The Return of the King
After saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: "Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you'll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, 'What are you doing?' say, 'His Master needs him.'"
The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, "What are you doing untying the colt?"
They said, "His Master needs him."
They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street.
Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God's name!
All's well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!
Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, "Teacher, get your disciples under control!"
But he said, "If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise."
On Wednesday nights I have been hosting a virtual gathering called, “Beyond Sunday School.” We have looked a the history of Israel’s monarchy and we are now doing some background stuff on the New Testament. Last night we talked about the New Testament as history. This particular passage is beautiful in its own right, but is even more beautiful when you know a bit of the history.
One of the things that we have been talking about is that engaging with the Bible is to engage with the stories of people and their interactions with the divine. So, as we study it, we want to try to wrap our minds around their stories and see how our story connects to theirs. This moment in the gospel of Luke provides us a great example to do just that.
As they approach the city Jesus sends a couple guys ahead to get a colt for him to ride on. But not just any colt, a colt that hasn’t been ridden. According to Numbers 19:2 and Deuteronomy 21:3, an unbroken beast of burden was considered sacred. So, this colt was fit for a king.
Notice Jesus doesn’t just jump on the colt. He is placed there. The NIV says it this way, “They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.” This was a coronation and enthronement.
Now, we get to this moment where knowing a bit of history is invaluable. Luke tells us, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”
So, what’s the big deal?
Well back in 2 Samuel 15 we have the story of David fleeing from Absalom and we get this line in verse 30, “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.”
Do you see what’s happening here?
Jesus, “the Son of David”, is reversing or redeeming what happened when David fled. He is enacting a mirror image of what happened. David went up the Mount of Olives weeping and Jesus comes downs the Mount of Olives rejoicing!
The king has returned!
None of this is lost on the Pharisees who knew their scriptures inside and out. They knew exactly what was happening. This is why there is almost a panic in their voices, “Get your disciples under control!” Jesus entering Jersusalem as the King could be catastrophic. The full power and force of the Roman Empire could come down on him, and them. Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on much and they probably saw him as someone who close to their camp. The more I think about it, the more I think their response was out of legitimate concern for him and them. The Pharisees held no love for the Empire but they were no zealots.
The king has returned! The son of David has returned to claim his throne and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s kind of the point of the whole, “The rocks will cry out,” bit.
It’s fun to know a bit of history and see the different layers come out of the story.
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 19:11-27
The one where I'm confuzzled...
While he had their attention, and because they were getting close to Jerusalem by this time and expectation was building that God's kingdom would appear any minute, he told this story:
"There was once a man descended from a royal house who needed to make a long trip back to headquarters to get authorization for his rule and then return. But first he called ten servants together, gave them each a sum of money, and instructed them, 'Operate with this until I return.'
"But the citizens there hated him. So they sent a commission with a signed petition to oppose his rule: 'We don't want this man to rule us.'
"When he came back bringing the authorization of his rule, he called those ten servants to whom he had given the money to find out how they had done.
"The first said, 'Master, I doubled your money.'
"He said, 'Good servant! Great work! Because you've been trustworthy in this small job, I'm making you governor of ten towns.'
"The second said, 'Master, I made a fifty percent profit on your money.'
"He said, 'I'm putting you in charge of five towns.'
"The next servant said, 'Master, here's your money safe and sound. I kept it hidden in the cellar. To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid. I know you have high standards and hate sloppiness, and don't suffer fools gladly.'
"He said, 'You're right that I don't suffer fools gladly—and you've acted the fool! Why didn't you at least invest the money in securities so I would have gotten a little interest on it?'
"Then he said to those standing there, 'Take the money from him and give it to the servant who doubled my stake.'
"They said, 'But Master, he already has double . . .'
"He said, 'That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.
"'As for these enemies of mine who petitioned against my rule, clear them out of here. I don't want to see their faces around here again.'"
This is one of the hardest parables for me. It doesn’t fit into the nice and neat categories that other parables do. It also raises so many questions in my mind that probably most of you aren’t interested in. So, be prepared to be a bit bored.
Truly, in these Knee Jerk Devotionals I don’t “study up” on them. My process is simply pray, read, respond, publish. That’s it. This is my daily reading of the Scripture and personal journaling through it.
But, this parable.
It challenges me.
Here’s the thing, I struggle with this parable because the traditional interpretation of it just doesn’t sit right with me. I have heard this parable taught too often as a cudgel to guilt people into doing things for the church. Sure, we couch it in “faithfulness” language but, really we are simply asking, “Why are you wasting your time?”
This morning as I was thinking about it again there was a sense of guilt and shame that washed over me thinking about this passage.
Am I really being faithful?
Have I taken what God has given me and multiplied it?
Am I a good servant?
These questions lead me into a spiral of shame. I am left wondering, where is the grace in this parable? Where is the mercy?
The traditional interpretation is that Jesus is the “king” figure in the story. But, the description of the king doesn’t jive with the picture or Jesus from the rest of the Gospel.
Jesus says that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” He had just said that he had come to find the lost. The description here of one who “doesn’t suffer fools” or in the NIV, “a hard man.” Why the two descriptions? Could it possibly be that something else is going on here? Is Jesus really saying that if we are deficient in our good works that we will be condemned?
Welcome to my mind. I am struggling with this one this morning. I don’t have the answers. This is the beauty of the Scriptures for me. I love coming to these places and not having an answer. I get to search, study, research, think, process, pray. It energizes me and ignites my imagination.
So, if you don’t mind I’m going to wrap this up, I have some thick books to start digging through and some time to be spent on Google Scholar.
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 19:1-10
I'm hiding and you can't see me...
Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn't see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home."
Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, "What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?"
Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, "Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I'm caught cheating, I pay four times the damages."
Jesus said, "Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost."
Zacchaeus reminds us that to follow Jesus results in a changed life. The resultant actions of the one changed is to actually live life differently. The story of Zacchaeus also reminds us that there is no use hiding from Jesus.
The Message here is a bit ambiguous in its reading of Zacchaeus’ response. It almost reads like he was already giving away from half his income and paying back damages. But, when you turn to the NIV or NRSV, it is clear that this was his response to being invited into relationship with Jesus.
Table fellowship in the first century was a really big deal. Jesus sitting down at the table of Zacchaeus was him declaring that they were in a close, personal, almost familial relationship. This simple act by Jesus was restoring Zacchaeus to his community. We learn at the end of the story that Zacchaeus was Jewish. So, he was definitely understood to be a traitor by his own people. He was probably on the outside looking in at much of the life in Jericho. Most likely he was not welcome at Synagogue or anywhere else.
Yet, Jesus sits and eats with him. Zacchaeus in response gives to the poor and makes restitution to those he’s cheated. Do you notice that Zacchaeus doesn’t even try to cover up the fact that he had cheated people? He acknowledges readily and says, “Let me make this right.”
I think of all the things in the passage perhaps that is the one that strikes me most deeply, when we come into the presence of Jesus we are laid bare. There is no hiding. There is no faking. All of who we are is brought into the light. Perhaps that is why so many of us try to domesticate Jesus into our own image? Perhaps that is why many of us have turned Christianity into an intellectual game?
How am I trying to hide from Jesus? How are you trying to hide? Guess what, we can’t hide. He is the best finder and he will restore us.
Trying to hide from Jesus is like when you play hide and seek with a baby. They simply hide by closing their eyes or covering their face with their hands. “You can’t see me!” They declare. Yet, we can see them. No matter how hard they squeeze their eyes or press their hands over their face, it doesn’t change the fact that we can see them.
When we attempt to hide ourselves from Jesus we are like that little child. Instead, let us be like Zacchaeus, totally exposed and leaning on the grace of Christ as we lived changed lives.
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 18:31-43
The one about bringing the outsider in...
Then Jesus took the Twelve off to the side and said, "Listen carefully. We're on our way up to Jerusalem. Everything written in the Prophets about the Son of Man will take place. He will be handed over to the Romans, jeered at, made sport of, and spit on. Then, after giving him the third degree, they will kill him. In three days he will rise, alive." But they didn't get it, could make neither heads nor tails of what he was talking about.
He came to the outskirts of Jericho. A blind man was sitting beside the road asking for handouts. When he heard the rustle of the crowd, he asked what was going on. They told him, "Jesus the Nazarene is going by."
He yelled, "Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!"
Those ahead of Jesus told the man to shut up, but he only yelled all the louder, "Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!"
Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought over. When he had come near, Jesus asked, "What do you want from me?"
He said, "Master, I want to see again."
Jesus said, "Go ahead—see again! Your faith has saved and healed you!" The healing was instant: He looked up, seeing—and then followed Jesus, glorifying God. Everyone in the street joined in, shouting praise to God.
Last week I wrote about the persistent widow and a persistent faith. This morning we see another example of persistent faith in the story of the blind man.
What I think is really interesting here is how obvious it becomes that he is on the outside of his community looking in. As great as the miracle of “seeing” is, it is really only a small part when we look at the story through the lens of the blind man.
Jesus is rolling into Jericho. At the outskirts of the city, the part of the city that would have left the man unprotected and exposed to all kinds of dangers, the blind man was begging. In so many ways he was sitting outside the life of his society. He couldn’t work and so he was dependent on the alms giving of those entering and leaving the town. He was physically outside of the town so he couldn’t get money from those residents milling about in the town square. This man was physically an outsider.
Once he is told about Jesus coming to town he begins to cry out for mercy from Jesus. What happens? He is told to be quiet. His voice is silenced by those who were not excluded from the community. The blind man’s position in the community was reinforced by the attempt to keep him from receiving mercy. He didn’t deserve it. He was a blind beggar on the outskirts, it would be better for him to be quiet.
Yet, this blind man persisted. He lived out the parable of the widow. We read that he didn’t back down, he didn’t get quiet, he didn’t shut up. No, he cried out all the louder and all the more. The blind man had a faith that persisted in the face of resistance. He kept crying out for Jesus to have mercy.
Did you catch what Jesus did in response? “Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought over.” There was a physical change in location for the man. He was brought to Jesus. He was physically moved from the outside to the inside, close to Jesus. This was the beginning of reconciling the man not only to God but also the community. Then, Jesus heals the man.
What happens next? “He looked up, seeing—and then followed Jesus, glorifying God. Everyone in the street joined in, shouting praise to God.” He had become part of the community. He was now in the midst of the crowd and following Jesus and worshiping with the community around Jesus.
We cannot miss how what was really going on here was the inclusion of the man into the community as a result of his healing. It was just that he regained sight. It was that he was no longer left on the outskirts of town to fend for himself. He was brought into connection, community, and society. In a very real and clear sense he was redeemed and reconciled.
His persistent faith brought him into deeper connection with those around him.
I keep praying that God will open my eyes to those on the outside who are crying out, “Jesus have mercy on me!” And instead of telling them to shut up I want to bring them close to Jesus. Too often over the last 70 years or so, those who have been crying out, “Jesus have mercy on me!” have been told to shut up.
We need to change that.
KNEE JERK DEVOTIONAL: LUKE 18:9-14
The one where I confess...
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."
As I read this passage this morning the question was loud and clear: Which of these two men am I?
Clearly, I’m the Pharisee.
I have a very high regard for my personal level of awesome. I’m quite confident in the depth and purity of my faith. As look out at the world around me I see so many “tax collectors” that I am glad I am not like.
You may think I’m being facetious or trying to make myself look contrite by identifying with the “villain” of this story. That’s an old preacher’s trick by the way, you make yourself look bad but in so doing you’re making yourself look good (the Apostle Paul did it quite a bit and it makes me chuckle).
I’m completely serious. Over the last number of years there have been so many people that I have looked down my nose at. As I reflect on this reality it makes me a little sick to my stomach. Sure, I talk a big game about loving well and all that, but in those places deep down that we don’t talk about at parties, I am this Pharisee.
One of my favorite song writers is Derek Webb. He wrote a song called “Crooked Deep Down” the opening lines go like this:
My life looks good i do confess, you can ask anyone
Just don't ask my real good friends
Because they will lie to you
Or worse, they'll tell the truth
Because there are things you would not believe
That travel into my mind
I swear i try and capture them
But always set 'em free
It seems bad things comfort me
This story told by Jesus reminds me that this is the reality of what is going on in my soul. If I were really honest about myself, then I’d have an attitude towards the divine and others would be more like the “tax collector.”
I hope that I’m growing in this.
I see in myself much self-righteousness and arrogance. I desperately want to eradicate those things from my life.
How about you? Where are you in the process? With whom do you most closely identify in this story?