Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As was His custom

And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,  and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  Luke 22:45-46

Much grievous sin is committed when I am tired or sad.  We are all aware and perhaps even alert to the dangers of crimes of passion, but those of dispassion are perhaps even more deadly.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak is where I stop when I reach the end of my own strength and skill and overall general niceness.  It is at this moment when I need to press into prayer, “Lead me not into temptation.”  But I don’t.  I succumb to my fears, worries, selfishness and fleshly excuses.  And lead of life of regret and I-should-haves.  

This moment on the Mount of Olives is when The Tempter returned.  Unleashing his big guns for his final attack on the Hope which is Christ Jesus.  And Jesus met him toe-to-toe.  Not with dramatic signs and wonders, not with piercing biblical truths, nor by gritting His teeth and charging forward, perhaps flailing one of the two swords.

No, He met him alone.  Kneeling.  Seeking strength outside of Himself.  Not My will but Thy will be done.  Thus he was able to say, “...for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

The measure of my love.  When all of my natural defenses are peeled away, where do I turn?  Or do I just turn over in bed, cram a pillow over my head and hope it all goes away?  

Sifted Like Wheat

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22: 31, 32

There are so many things I don’t understand about what goes on behind the curtain.  Just as there is a very small bandwidth of electromagnetic spectrum that produces light or infrared or NPR radio, there are parallel universes of what is seen and unseen.  Perhaps time itself is a similar bandwidth.  

The disciples must have been overwhelmed with the sense of this when they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Here was the Source of Understanding in their presence.  And what did He say?  A pretty straightforward reminder that God is God and we are not, that He is at work.  And the requests, enough sustenance for just right now, forgiveness just as we forgive others, and protection from the Evil One.  Pretty limited stuff.  

And here He did not protect Peter from the sifting.  Somehow He understood that in the long scheme of things, as the rock which the Church would be built, that Peter’s sifting was a good thing.  But He prayed that his faith may not fail.  

And years and stories and perspectives later, the older and wiser Peter is able to strengthen his brothers: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

His sifting was part of the big picture.  The headstrong frailties of Peter have been an encouragement to generations, because we too are frail in our strength.  And the sufferings of Job, because we too suffer.  And the passionate inconsistencies of David because we too are inconsistent.  And the patience of Joseph because we too do not see the light at the end of the dark cell.  

Therefore, as I lean into prayer today, may I be aware of the great cloud of witnesses who are the physical manifestation of the reality that lies outside of my spectrum of visible light.  The manifest glory of the Holy One.  And let me not be entangled with my narrow understanding and inclinations to the softer path. Rather, let me fix my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith.  And the faith of those for whom I pray.  That it will not fail.  And that His glory will be revealed.  

Another Fire in the Fireplace

And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.  Luke 22:4

We all do the Judas thing to one degree or the other.  Or the Peter thing.  Or maybe the sleeping disciple thing.  We know better.  We have seen His hand at work.  We have heard His voice.  We have participated with joy in His big plan.  But sometimes we worry more about the religious or political ramifications.  Or we are gripped by an inexplicable panic when a curious onlooker asks if we are with Him.  Or we miss the Road Less Traveled for any myriad reasons, none of which involve alert loving, but mostly we are tired or worried or sad.  

Last night, a disparate group of people gathered under the backyard twinkly lights on heaps of cushions amidst platters of amazing tapas and shared this “A Road Less Traveled” moment.  Some of them were shots in the dark, no rhyme or reason to the momentous decision as they peered ahead past the undergrowth, but others told of a moment of faithfulness in small things: listening to a parent’s advise, stepping without hesitation through a door shoved open by God, learning from a painful experience, choosing the inconvenient consequences of being a person of integrity, committing to a difficult person ... there were many.  

But none struck my heart quite so profoundly as when Frederic tried to summarize the past six months of his life, leaving out none of the important bits.   And he side-stepped all of the snares that lay in his path, and declared in a nice, clear voice, “I can call myself a Christian now.”

And does anyone want a capuchino?  

Looking at the Fig Tree

And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.  Luke 21: 9

It is clear that nothing in the headlines should take me by surprise.  It’s all here spelled out just before Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem: There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

It is also clear that none of us really understand what the end will look like exactly, and certainly not when it will come.  And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,  people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.

But it is clear how we should react to the headlines.  Beyond not being terrified.  We are to settle it therefore in our minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer when we are hauled before the courts for His name’s sake.  This means not to fret and worry or even to plot out possible scenarios.  We are to wholly trust in Him to give us words of wisdom.  

We will be hated and betrayed and maybe even put to death.  And here is an odd seemingly contradiction: not a hair of your head will perish.  Not what really matters.  Not the everlasting me.  This clay pot where I now dwell might be smashed.  And that’s o.k.  My endurance will gain me life.
Until these times we are to be alert, not caught up in the systems of this world.  We are to live clean and unencumbered by the cares of this world, because it is indeed going to be rolled up like an old stained carpet and crammed in the dumpster of eternity.  We are reminded to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.  We are to occupy and invest in what is of eternal value- those sheep, those bewildered wandering sheep.  Keep chasing them down with love and grace.  

And when at last these things begin to take place, we are to straighten up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.  This is a good thing, as ugly and painful as it might be, the final purge and surging push forward.  Giving birth to a new heaven and a new earth.  Justice and glory will have arrived.

Cleaning The Outside of the Cup

Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts; who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: these shall receive greater condemnation. And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had. And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and offerings, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Luke 20:46-21:6

Alan’s song One Coin In My Pocket is my favorite song of his.  
Just one coin in my pocket, one coin to my name
I’m going to drop it in the offering box, I’m going to give it all away
But it’s everything I have Lord, I have nothing to my name
I know it isn’t much; I’m gonna lay it on your throne of grace.

But that is not what this verse is about.  Not at all.  When you look at its context.

It is about the exploitation of the stranger, the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the innocent by the religious leaders.  For their selfish glory.  For their insatiable appetites.  The honorable and decent and very hungry widow gives everything away to these false teachers.  To something that is of no value, the temple that will shortly will be utterly destroyed, not one stone upon another.  

Woe to those leaders, the religious and political leaders of the day, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

And dear LORD, as we drown in political and religious rhetoric, let us be tender to your voice.  The same voice that called out,“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

May I be willing.

Snotty-nosed Babies

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Things that I believe:
Not one of us earns love.  Each and every one of us is a mess of twisted, inconsistent, selfish, whitewashed, complicated, shortsighted mundanity.

Yet.  For God so loved the world He sent His only beloved Son to die for us while we were yet sinners.  

And yet each and every one of us is so very lovable.  Why is it the uncomplicated and most vulnerable that touch the profound part of our heart?  That does not fit at all with evolutionary survival.  The wife linking arms with the trembling victim of Alzheimer’s.  Curious round eyes of Indian orphans who look for tomorrow.  Poopy, snotty, screaming babies.  Facebook is filled with posted shots of big eyes and parted lips with just a hint of drool. 

 Maybe all the pretense has been stripped away.  Love me because of who you are, and not because of who I am or what I have done.  Love me because of who I am becoming, through the tireless and endless work of the Good Shepherd.  Maybe because that is when we get the clearest glimpse of Abba Father.  Of glory.

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the cross.  He understood the work in progress and the end of the story.  And that was enough.  

Sure there were teeth-grinding moments of frustration as His disciples bickered about where they were going to sit or who was allowed to touch Him, but still He set His face toward Jerusalem.  Not because He was a nice guy, not because He was a stoic, not because He was enabling, but for the joy set before Him.  

Because He knew what’s what, what makes for peace and joy, He could walk free in the Truth.  He could answer the systems of the world that explicate with big fancy research words what we are owed and how things might appear, taking into account statistical probability.  He lifts a hand to the whisperings of the Liar whose bottom line is our utter unhappy alienation as he twists our thoughts like silk strands in his adept Surely-He-doesn’t-really-mean-that?  And He is not bound, bound by lusts and insecurities and selfishness.  He is not a slave; He is the Son.  And we are His brothers and sisters.  See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And how do we know we are truly His children?  By His love that lives through us.

Perhaps I am wrong-headed in this.  To me, the act of love is even more awe-inspiring than that of lifting of my hands in worship.  Even the trees of the field and the rocks by the road worship Him.  But the act of love is Him united with me, pulsing through my flesh and soul.  The tangible, not-of-this-world insistence that there is something outside of the neurons that link our sensations into thought.  Something from outside the box who claims I AM.

And the ying and yang of this Love is the freedom of forgiveness.  Gently He reminds me, “I died for that sin.  And for that one.  And even that one.”  Let go.  Done and gone.  Little by little I am understanding the swelling delight and celebration of release. The judge not lest you be judged.  Forgive and you shall be forgiven.  The be merciful even as you receive mercy. The seventy times seven.  Unforgiveness only chokes me.  Locks me behind the bars of hopelessness and things will never change.   The ironic horror of the servant who could not release his fellow servant.  Really?  None of us deserve nothing.  

And I will make this choice. Over and over.  The context of the mustard seed-sized faith was this: how can I possibly forgive my brother?  Help my unbelief, oh LORD.  Cast the mulberry tree into sea.  The mulberry tree of unforgiveness.  

And really, if none of this is true, (Strum, strum, the Witch’s fingers plucked the strings) I like Puddleglum would prefer to live in this world of hope and dreams and bright skies.  “One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.”

That is what I believe.

The Chosen Fast

 “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Luke 19:46

Jesus alludes to two different prophets in his “it is written,” both Jeremiah and Isaiah. 

Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed...for my house will be called  a house of prayer for all nations. I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:1

Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,  if you do not oppress the alien sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place. Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Jeremiah 7:4-7

Both passages make what is important perfectly clear.  There is woven into the very essence of creation His character of justice and righteousness and that is what matters.  Do not be deceived.  Religion does not matter. Sacrifices do not matter.  Obedience does matter.   

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”  

He is the plumb line, the standard.  Let me not fall into the Pharisaical peeking through my fingers during prayers at my neighbor, thanking God that I am not like the rest of men.  Rather let me fall humbly to my knees,”God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And let us, those who bear His name, not be deceived by the layers upon layers of parsing and legislation and policy that we have heaped up over the years to define ourselves, drawing so many lines in the sand; let us not trust in these deceptive words.  Rather let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream and may we be found marching in the forefront rather than hunched over in the back, messing about with bumper stickers.  

Self-imposed Shackles

...the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen,  saying, “Blessed is the King...”

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” 

And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! Luke 19: 37-42 
Those Pharasees knew exactly what was going on.  Whatever we can say about them, they were’t stupid.  Just foolish.  As in gain the whole world and yet lose your soul foolish.  And here, in comparison, even the stones know what is what.  

And am I not so very guilty of the same blindness?  The same folly?  Yesterday Chris’ sermon revisited what sin enslaved us ... bound putrid corpses  suffering rigor mortis ... that of the systems of the world (think twisted priorities), that of the ruler of this world (think twisted thoughts) and that of the lusts of our flesh (think twisted selfishness).  From this, through His great love and rich mercy and freely bestowed grace, we have been set free. 

Yet I return, like a dog, to my vomit.  Would that I would know, with clarity, the things that make for peace.  

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

We considered last night, in our community group, our prayers.  Our evangelical to do list that we offer (arrogantly?) to the LORD of heavens and earth. Does He not know what He is about?  Did He not teach us to pray Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?  

So be it.  

Help My Unbelief

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19: 5, 6, 10

The traffic in Santo Domingo is unbelievable. Truly and sincerely we have been piling in cars to drive one kilometer and it has taken close to half an hour.  So I am very aware of teeming masses right at the moment.  

And that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.  With a keen eye that pierces through whatever bluster and pretense.  And calls him out of the crowd.  This morning I am profoundly aware of His persistence.  He is faithful.  Even in the midst of grumbling doubt.

Through A Glass Darkly

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.  Luke 18: 38-40

I too want to see the world around me with clarity and truth.  As it pushes and shoves its way past me, honking its horn, leaving me in a wake of confused dust, I long to see with  His heart.  His priority.  And His understanding of what will stand.  

One curious question.  Twenty-seven years ago, the villages of Las Mercedes and of Canada del Horno were both identical rows of cement block cubes lined up in straight rows across bleak rubble.  Now one is unrecognizable.  Trees of all sorts tower over brightly colored plastered homes with brightly colored barred doorways opening up into richly cared for and cluttered homes crammed with refrigerators, stoves, televisions, carved furniture.  Shops of every sort shout their wares and neatly uniformed students crowd into the bright yellow school for two shifts of classes and some sort of fried something dripping with bright red sweet stuff.  Life has not been easy, I was assured over and over.  But God is good.    

Equally boisterous buildings line the curving road to Las Mercedes.  But then there is a break in the buoyant merengue blasting out of every doorway.  To the left is the bright yellow school and a newly fashioned flush toilet outhouse where the row of solar latrines once marched.  But across the now paved road to the village sits the familiar rows of cement block cubes, bleak and perhaps, after twenty-seven years of waiting, hopeless.    One or two homes sport a smear of paint, but otherwise, everything else looks unchanged: a few slumped bodies fill the dark doorways, a few scrawny chickens scurry in  search of a stray bug, and a few tumbles of plastic bags and broken toys and ripped boxes and old shoes are strewn about.   The aluminum foundry has long since closed down, although each and every household is stilling frying their yucca and plantains in those familiar thick silver pots.  Has the self-imposed label of refugio de los damnificados has been emblazoned on each heart and soul in the place?

Who knows what one would find, tracing the tangled history of decisions, events and personalities through the long years.  But one cannot but wonder of the impact Mencho from Colombia who determined to pray over each and every home from four to seven in the morning each and every day. And every morning we wandered together through the penciled map of the community, naming each name in the presence of the LORD.  Is this why He commanded us to pray?  He who understands and knows and truly sees?  For we struggle not against human opponents, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm. 

Lord, have mercy on me.   

Flapping Curtains

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.  Luke 18:17

It is so much fun having Frederic live out his new joy in our midst.  This joy that is childlike in every good sense of the word, re: not childish.  But there is a freshness and simplicity about it, a salty sea breeze that makes my nose twitch and a smile to my lips.  Which would be such a cliché, except that it is flat-out true.  And even though this is a brand-new once-in-a-lifetime experience, there is a familiarity about it, told over and over again, God reaching down and pulling back the veil.  Or did Frederic grab a corner and tug it?  Whichever.  Whatever.  The light is pouring pell mell in through the opening.  

And these are his steps, faltering yet each one stronger.  His own individual journey.  Yesterday afternoon, in the prayer room with its quiet light tumbling in through the swinging vines, Mary Anne and I were marveling how each person is so strikingly different.  Each man’s individuality is unfathomable.  Exponentially beyond any snowflake marvel.  Each squint-eyed child swaddled by an adoring Father certain that this is the very most wonderful precious amazing brilliant creation of all.  And He is exactly right.  

He Is At Work,vIn Both Plural & Singular

And He said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see the day of the Son of Man, and you will not see it... And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.... And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? Luke 17:22-18:18

Well, this is sort of disappointing.  Reading Scripture in context.  Remembering that punctuation and chapters were not part of the original text.  So suddenly this oft’ repeated tale about the persistent widow doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be persistent in our personal petitions because we do have a judge who is righteous.  It is really addressed to The Elect who are suffering persecution and are brokenhearted over the world’s injustice: the poverty, wars and rumors of wars, child slave trade, corruption in high places, streetfuls of Syrian mourners being machine-gunned down, and about the coming Kingdom and the end times and Justice with a capital letter.  

Or is it encouraging?  It is good to be reminded that God is much bigger and better and broader than we have ever imagined or thought.  And I am not God and thus cannot wrap my brain around things.  Marco said that his grandmother wished that she had not gone to the British Museum because the Egyptian displays upset how old she thought the world was and what about prehistorical times?  And it shook her faith.  And Marco didn’t know how to explain things.  And I don’t either.  I don’t know how all the pieces fit together, but I know that they do because I have seen the Great Puzzle Master at work, patiently and steadily working towards Justice, in and around and through time.  And He is faithful, not only in seeing Justice for the Downtrodden and Those Without Hope, but for the poor widow ladies, one at a time.  Touching each heart with His finger, one at a time.  He is indeed faithful.  

Will I be found faithful?

Savorless Pillars of Salt

Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  Luke 17: 32-33

I often am overwhelmed by the kindness and grace of God.  His tenderness towards His wandering sheep.  And then I sometimes forget how serious Jesus is about compromise with the world. There is no place in any of his teaching for partial or halfhearted obedience.   You cannot serve mammon and God both.  The man plowing the field is warned about looking back.  We are told not to measure our field or bury our dead. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head.  He says, “If you do not forsake all that you have, you cannot be my disciple.”  And then there is His message to lukewarm Laodicean church: “I will vomit you out of my mouth.”

We begin with the crisp black and white of the ten commandments.  Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not murder.  Do not commit adultery.  Nothing subtle about these laws that hold together both the fabric of our society and the order and sense of our lives. These are the concrete learner laws.  The color-inside-the-lines guidelines to give us a good and healthy life.  Who would step into chains of sin once the Son has set us free? The rich young ruler answered simply enough, “These I have kept from my childhood.”

And then there is the overarching truths, the higher order thinking: Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your might, and Love your neighbor as yourself.  These are the ones that must be worked out in the shop of daily living.  Pounding them out, shaping them, practicing day after day.  

That is the story of Lot’s wife.  glance by glance she eased back into the comfortable world of Sodom and became entangled.  It is not at all about what we know: she knew the God of Abraham.  She probably obeyed the rules.  She was clearly warned by the angels.  But deep within, she was torn.  She hesitated and all was lost.  

I was talking to Frederic yesterday about the distractions.  And Brother Lawrence and the Practice of the Presence of God.  Developing the habit of full out obedience to the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit.  No time for discussion or wavering.  Act.  Immediately.  And I will mess up and I will waver, but then I must pick myself up, brush off the dust and set off again, training my ear for that still small voice.  Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

Wasting My Possessions

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them,“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. Luke 16: 14

The Parable of the Wise Steward, or rather the Dishonest Steward.  Or actually the Dishonest Steward who is Wise.  The point of money is not to store it up- it is not to fill bigger barns, nor to stash it somewhere for moths to chew through or rust to corrupt.  The point of money is to spend it on things that matter.  The dishonest but wise steward is commended for understanding this truth- money is of no value, whether it be printed bills or jars of gold coins. So he invested it in people, in his weird little way.  That which is eternal.  But the Pharisees loved it.  They were trapped and could not see free.  

And what matters, in the teaching of Jesus?  Are there any patterns I can discern so that I too can be wise? Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away goods do not demand them back.  Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Love your enemies, and do good, lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be the children of the Most High.

There is the wisdom of the world- scrabbling for that what will not last, or there is wisdom from above, from the Most High, first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  Jesus summarizes the Dishonest but Wise Steward story with this truth: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

LORD, may I prove faithful in the small worthless things; may it reveal my heart as wise.  Wisdom from above, that is.  

My Burden Is Light

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  Luke 14: 27

We (I) often think of this daily picking up of the cross as a great burden.  Crosses are heavy and painful and that is what life is supposed to look like if we (I) really love Jesus.  

But really that is not what this verse is saying.  What is actually heavy and painful and a burden is having two masters, being double-minded, tossing back and forth like a wave.  I am the chief of this sort of sinner, trying to make everyone happy.  Being all things to all people- that is what is painful.  The burden of people-pleasing, trying to climb ahead in the world, getting more and more stuff, worrying about tomorrow, all of that has been taken away.  We are dead to the old, and this is important enough to Jesus that he repeats himself as He nears Jerusalem.  This cross stuff is on his mind.  The big picture of why he had come to earth.  To set us free.  Every day we are dead to self. And the sin nature.  It has been dealt with, done.  

And we are alive to the new.  C. S. Lewis reminds us: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The tense of the verbs is interesting: If anyone would come (present tense, continuous action) after me, he must deny (Aorist, single action in the past) himself and take up (Aorist, single action in the past) his cross daily and follow (present tense, continuous action) me.  Jesus understood this: For the joy set before him (present tense, continuous action) he endured the cross (Aorist, single action in the past).

Therefore, every day, let us embrace our death to self and sin, and celebrate our new life in Christ and grace.  And follow Him.  

What Is Serious?

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Luke 14:16-23

So Matteo wrote me this morning.  What does it mean to you following Jesus seriously?  “It’s not how clever we are or who we are or what we did that earns us a place at the table”...  When I stop thinking how little seriously I follow his teaching I get terrified...especially when is about getting in disagreements with other people..afraid of saying NO, or to correct young people who say blasphemies against God.. so..would be so kind to give me some daily examples of seriousness???

One example of seriousness is that of assuming the role of a teacher, because one is especially sensitive about not leading others astray.  Especially where Christ heads in the next teaching, that of “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  That is also another example of seriousness.  

Jesus is serious.  He has set his face toward Jerusalem, where He knows His suffering and death await. “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

And yet.  There is a tenderness here.  He longs to gather her children up as a hen gathers up her brood under her wings.  And He urges the servants to go to the highways and hedges and compel people to come, because His table must be full.  He knows that we are but dust.  

So what did I tell Matteo?  Obviously this is part of a broader discussion.  What would others say?  

I do not think that being bold in disagreeing with other people, or correcting young blasphemies means that you are being serious about following Jesus.  

I think it is done in the quiet of one's heart.  A settledness that does not mean that you never have doubts or questions or even anger towards God... I think of David of one who was serious with God, but the Psalms are full of working out his understanding of God and Who He is.  And full of his ending the conversation with “You are God.  Bless Your name.”  

There is a good book with a good title... A long obedience in the same direction.... which speaks of the idea... The best book that I have ever read on the topic over and over... for many years is Brother Lawrence who writes about it... Practicing the Presence of God... “We must do our business faithfully; without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to GOD mildly, and with tranquility, as often as we find it wandering from Him.” It is NOT about being perfect... it's about messing up and gently getting up and heading off after Him once again. 

And what pleases God?  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

I KNOW what is serious. The parents of the students competing at the ACSI Regional Spelling Bee.  THEY are serious.  Off to Phoenix in my little black car.  

Even When It's Cold & Dark

Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. ‘But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  Luke 13:24-27

This word ‘strive’ is the same word Paul uses when he speaks of an athlete training for a prize.  There are no distractions. Eyes are forward.  Leaning in.  Pushing past the pain and discomfort. This word is also used when describing “wrestling in prayer” and “I have fought the good fight.”  

So my little paddlings are no training for the Olympics.  But I still have to make the same sort of decisions every single morning.  Leaping out of bed at the first swoosh of the ocean waves alarm clock.  Stripping down to a slightly damp suit.  That jump into a far-below comfort level pool.  She who hesitates is lost.  Every fleshly bone in my body longs to be back in bed with a pillow over my head.  But I have made the decision so strive I must.  

This does not mean that we work our way into the banquet; it’s not how clever we are or who we are or what we did that earns us a place at the table.  The entrance is the door, Jesus.  He is the Way.  His death carved the passageway through the wall of sin.  

However we do indeed have to take the call to follow Him seriously.  It’s not a wandering in circles sort of call, lackadaisical sort of meandering.  Something to be attended to when it is more convenient.  This is serious business.  Not just glancing up and musing a bit when Jesus passes by.  It is straightaway dropping our nets and following Him.  


Back to the Basics

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all nations upon the earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.  Psalm 67:3–5
A teacher of the law knew better than anyone else that the Samaritan had bad theology.  And Jesus knew that he knew it.  And He himself told the Samaritan woman, You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But that didn’t, and doesn’t matter.  

What does matter is mercy. 

We get off track sometimes by the second question, “Who is my neighbor?”, but the story starts with the first question, “What must I do to receive eternal life?” The answer to the second question is, “the one who showed mercy,” and the answer to the first question is “Go and do likewise.”

This is not a one shot theological point.  We are all familiar with Micah 6:8: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   But do we remember it?  

We forget that For God so loved the world.  We forget that He is not willing that any should perish.  We forget that somehow, in ways that are a mystery to us, that He guides all nations upon the earth.  But one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is LORD.  No purpose of His will be thwarted.

Let all the peoples praise Him.  And let me show mercy.  To each and every people.  He is the One who will judge with equity.  Not I.  


“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”  Luke 9:41

I know sometimes I get um, what is the word? Discouraged, frustrated, hopeless with people sometimes. Christians in particular.   In my small understanding of life, they, me included,  just don’t get it.  Whatever “it” is.  

The disciples didn’t get much of anything.  After three full years with the Teacher.  They couldn’t do a relatively straightforward exorcism, they were arguing about who would be the greatest, they were drawing sectarian lines when they should have been pulling in reinforcements, and for a grand finale, the Sons of Thunder wanted to call down fire from heaven on an unwelcoming village.  Bam, bam, bam.  Luke lays it out.  

And in the midst of this fussing and fuming and wandering around in mental circles, is my all time gut-wrenching moment in the Bible: He set his face toward Jerusalem.  Resolutely.  Steadfastly.  And from the sound of things, alone.  

And in a way, (yes, I know there is all that stuff about community and family and a friend that is closer than a brother), that is how each of us needs to make the journey.  Without distractions.  It’s about Him and me.  Pressing in together.  I need to rip my eyes away from the world, the milling multitude, and follow Him.  

Follow me.  
Uh, where?
It doesn’t matter.  I have no place to lay my head.

Follow me.
Uh, gotta go take care of a few family details.
Let the dead bury the dead.

Follow me.
Uh, can’t I just even say good-bye?
No turning back.  No turning back.

Onward.  To our purpose and calling.  To our Jerusalem.  

Flimsy Tents

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.  Psalm 126:6-7

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  Luke 9:30

Who could have ever guessed it.  Really for long, rather bleak lives with just a few moments of light, Moses and Elijah are pretty close to the top of the list.  Even those victories were pretty dark.  I mean, if you even pause momentarily to imagine exiting Egypt in the middle of the night filled with weeping mothers and dough with no yeast in the kneading troughs wrapped in clothes carried on your shoulders with ahem, 600,000 men besides the women and children, uh, it could not have been much fun in the modern understanding of the word.  And all of our Sunday School hearts beam when the fire shoots down from heaven and swallows up the water-soaked oxen laid on those twelve big rocks.  But Elijah ran in fear for his life, to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said.

These two men put my minor heart wrenches into perspective, as does the brokenness and pain that envelops our little world.  Well, in our minds, our great big expansive world crammed full of historical famine, torn limbs, and second grade teachers who photograph blindfolded students as they eat cookies iced with semen. 

The point of this all is Lewis’ glimpse of joy.  He, wordsmith par excellence, struggled for words, tossing out metaphors haphazardly... Milton’s enormous bliss of Eden and something about the huge regions of Northern sky in Norse legend.  But somehow a childhood glimpse, standing beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day, propelled the search of a lifetime.  And this moment of glorious splendor likewise girded the loins of Peter, James and John.  I imagine that Peter’s garbled tent of worship was at the very least constructed in his heart, and brought comfort in dank prison cells and at the end, as he hung upside down.  To James as the stones hurled.  To John as he wandered a graveled beach in isolation.  And to Jesus himself, as he lay crumpled in a dark garden, whispering, “Not my will.”  The Weight of Glory.

And I pray for Lucas and Nicole as they try to wrap this glorious joy with words for a suffering world very aware of the suffering, not so aware of the joy.  We are but pilgrims passing through.