You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2008.

Marriage is not just spiritual communion, it is also remembering to take out the trash.

-Joyce Brothers

                 

One of my buddies at work was talking with me this morning about some differences that he and his girlfriend have—nothing too extreme or out of the ordinary really.  He was telling me he has some pet peeves that he figures must drive his girlfriend nuts.  One problem he shared is the age old toothpaste tube dilemma—he has to have it squeezed from the bottom (makes you wonder what couples had their biggest disputes over before Crest was invented?).  My buddy and his girlfriend have recently solved the problem by purchasing the competing brands they each prefer—Aqua Fresh for him and Colgate for her.  

The whole conversation got me to thinking later on this afternoon as I was running around the golf course I work at while I was finishing up my projects for the day.  Let’s say that Dan and has girlfriend both liked the same toothpaste—what would they do then?  Easy—get two tubes of the same toothpaste, and if they happen to share a bathroom they could have a designated spot for his and hers

When you stop to consider—there is usually a solution to most relationship problems.  I mean—there is no reason to have the same argument time and time again unless bickering is your idea of fun—a resolution or remedy probably exists.  And it all comes down to good-considerate communication.

 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.   (1 Corinthians 1:10, The Message Bible)

Dealing with problems creatively that we encounter in our marriages is sometimes the last thing we try.  Trying to change someone else—or even ourselves could very well be going at it all the wrong way.  We are quirky, temperamental, emotional, and even strange—like it or not—and that isn’t going to change just because we like to tell ourselves so.  As I have said more than once—normal is nothing more than a setting on your dryer. 

We might grow up, we might ease up, and we might even give up—when it comes to our pet peeves and preferences—but a better approach may be to recognize our differences and handle them better than by fighting over them.

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We only regard those unions as real examples of love and real marriages in which a fixed and unalterable decision has been taken. If men or women contemplate an escape, they do not collect all their powers for the task. In none of the serious and important tasks of life do we arrange such a ‘getaway.’ We cannot love and be limited.

-Alfred Adler

 

We fail to live up to our own standards when it comes to love—but when it comes to our spouses we expect them to love us not an inch less than God does.  And when they crack and reveal their imperfections (which is bound to happen if we are married for any length of time)—we are faced with a choice—to love or not to love.  When we love one another based on what we get or don’t get out of the deal, it isn’t long before any marriage is in dire straits—whether it ends in divorce court or not.  Many marriages die a silent death although there is no official funeral, while others get buried that are still very much alive.

I think it is fair to say that it is a fear of getting burned that motivates a good many of us to do some of the crazy things in our marriages we end up doing that ultimately serve to ruin them.  Even those of us who have been unfaithful can tell you that we didn’t set out to become cheaters—what happened is that we failed miserably to love somewhere along the line and sinned horrifically in the process.  And when you think about it—cheating in any form or fashion is more about re-acting—it isn’t responding. 

When we respond to one another rather than re-act—we move in love rather than act out of spite.

Re-acting is the sort reasoning we go through in our minds where we think he did this or he didn’t do that so I’m not gonna do such and such and so forth.  Imagine your relationship with your parents (if you were so fortunate to be raised by them)—and what would it have looked like if they handled you that way?  You would have never been fed beyond the age of two.  All of the marriage counselors in the world can’t do for a marriage what not returning the favorso to speak can do.  When we do things to hurt one another—intentional or not—all it serves to do is undermine and weaken the relationship.  And some times looks can be deceiving—the intentional can look so innocent and the unintentional can appear so cold and heartless.   

 Better to live in a tent in the wild  than with a cross and petulant spouse.

(Proverbs 21:19, The Message Bible)                      

If you’d like a marriage that not only stands the test of time but one that is worth cherishing—take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about—don’t return the favor when you are taken for granted or played as the fool.

Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.
               
-Mark Twain
 
            
Many of us abandon our spouses—maybe not physically—but emotionally and mentally for certain.  And some of us have done so without even noticing it.  By the time we we woke up and smelled the coffee, the damage had been done and our marriage was on the rocks—or worse yet—in the courts.  It’s not that the warning signals were missing, we just didn’t bother to pay attention to them—we more or less ignored them.  For many of us—our jobs, our recreation, our stocks, our yards, our sex, our you name it–became our idols in a sense–and it was our relationships with God and others that suffered for it. 
            
And as admirable as it may seem—even our mates, our kids—our families—can become idols.
                     
 For the rest of you who are in mixed marriages—Christian married to non-Christian—we have no explicit command from the Master. So this is what you must do. If you are a man with a wife who is not a believer but who still wants to live with you, hold on to her. If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him. The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be left out; as it is, they also are included in the spiritual purposes of God. 
           
On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse walks out, you’ve got to let him or her go. You don’t have to hold on desperately. God has called us to make the best of it, as peacefully as we can. You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God.
          
And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.    (1 Corinthians 7:12-17, The Message Bible)
         
The moment we elevate someone else above God we do them and ourselves a greater dis-service than we realize.  I am convinced that it is because of this type of worship  of one another—that we begin to operate out of fear.  We desire to control and manipulate one another because we can’t stand the thought of losing what we feel like we just can’t lose.  And in the end—when we try to control—we lose what or who we can’t control.  I have wondered who the genius was (there is conflicting information about who is responsible) who coined the phrase—If you love someone set them free?  Musical talent Sting has made a living singing those words—Jesus modeled the principle as a way of life. 
 
Maybe our marriages—and all of our relationships for that matter—would be stronger if we’d cut one another a bit more slack and laid off of giving one another such a hard time.        

For two people in a marriage to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked.

                

-Bill Cosby

    

 

In Sunday, from the hit series, Nooma, pastor and author Rob Bell tells of a husband who purchases flowers for his wife.  The wife, upon receiving her flowers turns to her husband and says—You didn’t have to do that.  To which Bell describes the husband replying some thing along the lines of—I know, they were on sale—It was the right thing to do—You are my wife, what would you expect?

 

Silly, right? 

 

But how often do we do what we do for one another out of obligation, fear—or for show?  Just as God desires our hearts—so we long to be loved from a heart that wants to love us.  And when our actions come from anything but a heart of love that says—Thank you, I love you—it is nothing more than mere lip service.   

 

Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it.    (1 Peter 1:22, The Message Bible)

 

Do we love our spouse because it is what we are supposed to do—or has the love of God taken root and begun to take form in our hearts and lives?  We can be sure God doesn’t love us out of obligation, but he loves us from a sincere heart. 

                       

An ounce of sincere love is better than a pound of anything when it comes to a healthy and prosperous marriage.

Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.  

-Martin Luther

                            

Contrary to all you may have seen growing up, a relationship soaked in fear is not the key to a successful and sustained relationship.  The key to a marriage that’s worth anything more than the piece of paper that makes it official takes more than vain threats and holding one another hostage for what each other might have done wrong.  You better shape up bucko or I’ll be shipping you out, these are far from the kind of words that motivate a spouse—rather they are the words that separate husband and wife.  Uttering the words, You’re not holding up your end of the bargain so I’m outta here—only alienates your partner.  These sorts of things never contribute to intimacy. 

Words that divide don’t have to be spoken to be said, and messages can be sent in a plethora of mediums.  A marriage in which a man and a woman can threaten less and tolerate more—is a marriage that has many of the components it takes to last if you ask me.  A marriage (or any relationship for that matter) in which unfulfilled expectations don’t win the day because neither party is depending on the other to change or be who they demand one another be is one step closer to being a winning marriage.  When a wife is secure in Christ to a certain degree, a husband doesn’t have to be her everything—and the man who doesn’t have to be everything has a realistic shot at being something. 

 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.      (Ephesians 5:25-33, The Message Bible)

How many marriages are ruled by an iron fist?  That kind of approach may work in a tire factory or even in a toxic church, but it never works in a loving relationship where freedom should be celebrated—not squashed.  Marriage is not a place to use bribery to get something from the other party—be it good behavior, money, sex, or a certain image we wish to project when it comes to what those on the outside see.  Marriages don’t thrive under oppresion—when either party attempts to use anything as a motivator instead of simply loving the other—it is ultimately resentment closely followed by a rebellion that ensues.  If you want to build you can’t continue to tear down.  Using sex or money as a weapon is all too common—and intimidation is just as lethal.  And marriages that live under the cloud of these sorts of things tend to drown. 

If you want a losing marriage—focus on demanding your rights and forget about laying them down.

When God makes a covenant with us, God says: ‘I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.’ In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: ‘I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.’ Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

-Henri Nouwen

 

News out of California today concerns a man named Terry Childs who most recently was working for the Department of Technology for San Francisco in a pretty high ranking position—seems he was arrested over this past weekend for some violations concerning his privileges.  Childs is accused of improperly tampering with computer systems and causing a denial of service, said Kamala Harris, San Francisco’s district attorney, on Monday afternoon—according to Yahoo Tech News.  In addition, the story also says he is alleged to have installed a tracing system to monitor communications related to his personnel case.  And Mr. Childs isn’t going to go down quietly without making some waves either—he is withholding and has denied the city important passwords while he sits in jail, which subsequently poses a huge data security risk.

I’m not sure what the legal fate of Terry Childs is going to be, but I do know that no good ever comes out of holding something over someone else’s head—or using something we possess to damage or handicap some one else.  It would appear from a brief survey of the Holy Scriptures that God doesn’t warm up too much to the idea of our trying to destroy those he has so lovingly put into our lives.  And worse yet—using the very gifts he’s given us to do it.  I can’t think of a place that this kind of interaction is more costly than within the sacred confines of marriage.  But it happens, and does it happen.  Husbands are guilty, as are wives.

And how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God’s ways instead of a family of Christians? The day is coming when the world is going to stand before a jury made up of followers of Jesus. If someday you are going to rule on the world’s fate, wouldn’t it be a good idea to practice on some of these smaller cases? Why, we’re even going to judge angels! So why not these everyday affairs? As these disagreements and wrongs surface, why would you ever entrust them to the judgment of people you don’t trust in any other way?   (1 Corinthians 6:1-4, The Message Bible)

When you consider that Jesus didn’t owe us a thing—it sort of has a way of challenging the way we deal with one another.  Truthfully, Jesus owed us nothing but justice (how easily we forget that) and imagine for a moment if Jesus would have taken that road with each of us—Well, boys and girls, you are cooked without me and I figure it’s your fault so I am going to pass on this hanging on a cross thing.

But how often as spouses when given the chance to let one another off the hook—we are as trigger happy as a deer hunter on the opening day of hunting season.

A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.     

-Maurois Andr

 

When we take a new job we get the details down about the job description, company values, pay, vacation, benefits and the like—or the lack of the aforementioned.  We then proceed to shake hands and go to work.  Sadly, oodles of deals are made to be broken or eventually amended.  One day when it’s not going as well as we had hoped, or things change—we part company.  Or at least one party starts to threaten the other, seeing as this might somehow motivate the other.

Sounds like a lot of marriages I have heard about.  

For lack of a better term, I will call them marriage deals.

Too many of us who are married, and others of us like myself who have been—don’t know the first thing about what real love looks like or how it responds when it isn’t appreciated or returned.  Television and Hollywood surely have their own warped ideas about love and the church isn’t much better often times.  Over half of the marriages here in these United States end in court and some estimates say that over seventy-five percent of second marriages ultimately fail—which ought to say something about of all of the first time divorces to begin with.  And if you think the infidelity rate among married couples is any lower than our current divorce rate, I’d say think again, as not all marriages that are victim—are aware of it—at least one side isn’t.   And then there is the much overlooked issue of reverse infidelity that ends up having ravenous effects on a marriage.  Even fewer of us like to talk about that hot potato.  

 I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you’re doing. Is it possible that there isn’t one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don’t believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice?

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.   (1 Corinthians 6:5-8, The Message Bible) 

When you think about it, marriage isn’t some version of a business deal in which we shake hands on and agree to such and such.  No, marriage is to be a commitment to love someone when they don’t love you very well and even when it seems like they might hate you instead. 

Maybe we ought to think a little bit more about our own approach to marriage—and divorce?  

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.  

-Martin Luther

 

One of my closest friends and his wife were married for twenty-five years—but not to one another.  Both were divorced a few years before they ever laid eyes on each other.  My friends wife, I’ll call her Lori, was married to a practicing alcoholic for the entire tenure of her first marriage.  And it was tough.  Her husband was far from perfect to put it nicely—but Lori will tell you that she was no angel either. 

Well, if she wasn’t an angel, who is?  Lori wasn’t about to divorce her husband just because it was difficult, she was going to love him instead.  She has told me that it wasn’t for their two children either that she endured what was, according to her, an often almost unbearable marriage at times.  It was out of love that she did so.  A good many of us would have counseled her to get out of dodge while the getting was still good and while she had something to offer—or in other words, something to market.  Oh, we wouldn’t have been so crude—we’d have spiritualized it by saying that God would want her to enjoy her life and being married to a screwed up man like that never was going to allow her that luxury. 

What may surprise you is that it was Lori’s ex-husband who ended up divorcing her—and not vice versa—and not for another woman.  It was a real blow for her.  But she doesn’t regret her decision to remain married to a man who eventually dumped her when just about everyone would have expected her to be the one doing the dumping. 

…It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it.    (1 Corinthians 7:2b-5, The Message Bible)

Some people would call Lori crazy and others might call her worse—I call her a hero.   

Remember that even if you make the right choice, you’re forgiven.  -Unknown  

I haven’t done a very good job of confessing my sins to anyone lately even though the Bible says it’s a good idea—and whenever it’s me verses the Bible, well, let’s just say I need to think less of what I think and more of what it says. 

And my blog certainly isn’t my confessional booth. 

The reality is this: Lately I haven’t even been confessing my sins to God as I have been busy trying to ignore them and I know that seems like a perfect strategy to a good number of people—as if maybe ignoring our sin is to deal with it effectively.  But that approach doesn’t help me in my walk with God I have learned.  So I was out taking a walk here on a beautiful Michigan July afternoon today and I got to talking to God and he hadn’t forgoten my name even though I had been putting off talking to him for longer than I will admit.  After thanking him again that I was still alive after a stormy few years (as I find myself doing on a pretty frequent basis for a guy who doesn’t pray near enough—thanking him that is).  And then I began to confess a few sins he already knew about so I lumped them together and just said something pretty close to this; You know I have a lot to ask forgiveness for Lord.  I ended in mid-sentence before I ever finished my thought as I sensed that God just may have had something to say himself in response to my prayer (as if I needed to stop talking before he could seal my lips and roar back at me if he wanted to). 

Do you want to know what God said to me? 

I’m not going to tell you just yet.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.     (James 5:16-18, The Message Bible)

Maybe you think it’s too easy to be forgiven and that we should have to climb a flight of stairs on our hands and knees in our skibbies in the freezing cold every time we sin.  If you do, I feel sorry for you—God’s mercy can’t be bartered for.  I told you that I’d tell you what God said to me so I will—he didn’t say anything.  I didn’t need him to, I knew right then and there when I started speaking the words what he might say to me.  It was clear: Although I might have a pile of sins—he has more forgiveness than I have sin and my going on about them wouldn’t be needed.

And what God says to every one of us who trust in his mercy, is simple—the fountain of his forgiveness never runs dry.

I dare you to move…

I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
like today never happened  
today never happened before
welcome to the fall out…
 
maybe redemption has stories to tell
maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
where you gonna run to escape from yourself
where you gonna go?
     
Salvation is here…
       
-Lyrics by Switchfoot
    
               
Years ago I ran across a story that’s pretty reminiscent to my own experience. 
        
On January 1, 1929, Georgia Tech played The University of California in The Rose Bowl.  During the game, a player recovered a fumble, became confused, and started to run the ball the wrong way.  Fortunately—a teammate ended up tackling him just before he scored a touchdown for the opposing team.  At halftime, all of the team gathered in the dressing room as is custom—each of them wondering what in the world the coach was gonna say about the big mess up? 
           
The young man sat alone, put a towel over his head, and cried.
          
When the team was ready to take the field for the second half, the coach stunned the team when he announced that the same players who had started the first half would start the second.  As all of the players made their way back out the field the young man who’d made a fool of himself would not budge.  The coach looked back and called him—the young man remained motionless.  After the coach called to him again—the young man looked up and said, Coach, I can’t do it.  I’ve ruined you.  I’ve disgraced The University of California.  I’ve ruined myself.  I can’t face that crowd in the stadium again. 
              
The coach in return simply walked over and put his hand on the player’s shoulder and said—Get up and go back in, the game is only half over.
       
 19 And he said, ‘O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.’ And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, ‘Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.’   (Daniel 10:19, ESV)
        
What’s your biggest failure?  None of us are immune to feeling like calling quits a time or two—we’ve all run the ball the wrong way. 
        
Our Coach is putting us back out on the field for the second half.
    
Is it time for you to take off the towel draped over your head and leave your biggest failure at the foot of the Cross?

Consider the postage stamp—it’s usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.

-Josh Billings

 

The ’68 Summer Olympics took place in Mexico City under the cloud of the Tlatelolco massacre which claimed the lives of hundreds of students killed by security forces just ten days before the Games were to begin.  It was mid-way through the Games—October 20th, 1968.  Evening was just settling in.  The last of the marathon runners from all over the world were being escorted off to first aid stations—as is custom when a runner has just spent every last dime of energy in the gruelling heat running as if his life had depended on it.  For those of us who have needed medical attention after a one or two mile run, we can only imagine running three miles until we are so delirious we aren’t sure if we are a marshian from outer space or a human when we finish.           

It had been well over an hour earlier that the winner, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia, had crossed the finish line and completed the 26.2 mile race, but as the remaining spectators were clearing out an odd thing happened—police sirens began going off down in the entrance tunnel to the stadium.  And the attention suddenly shifted to the gate, where a man wearing the colors of Tanzania came limping into the stadium.  John Steven Aquari had taken a wicked fall during the race and subsequently busted up his knee as well as dislocated the thing.  The crowd began to cheer as the last to finish began to make his way around the track.  After limping around like a dog who had been shot in the hind leg, he eventually crossed the finish line—not to mention in a good amount of pain.  A reporter caught up with the exhausted marathoner and simply asked—Why didn’t you quit?—no one could have blamed him if he had. 
            
Aquari answered back, My country did not send me 7000 miles to start this race.  My country sent me 7000 miles to finish this race.    
 
15 Lie not in wait as a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous; do no violence to his home; 16 for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,   but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.              (Proverbs 24:15-16, ESV)
              
Is it a battle with pornography that you continue to tangle with, an anger management issue that won’t stop eating at you, a bout with depression that keeps you feeling guilty, or a substance abuse problem that is dogging you years after you decided to get clean?  Maybe it’s gossip or a self-righteousness spirit that you can’t seem to conquer some days.   
                      
We can’t quit—we have been sent here to finish.    

A man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.  

-C.S. Lewis

Detroit Tiger and slugger Gary Sheffield could have easily retired last winter after twenty hard fought seasons in Major League Baseball.  After all, the last several years have entailed shoulder surgery upon shoulder surgery for the feisty and outspoken star.  If you have ever seen Sheffield swing it’s no wonder his shoulder is silly-putty, he is a violent hitter who lines the ball as close to the speed of light as any hitter I have ever seen.  Shef (as his teammates call him) is a probable Hall of Famer. 

This last off-season had included a major shoulder surgery for the slugger.  When they went in to do the procedure they found even more problems which no doctor had anticipated—so it was no shock that many fans such as myself who were already sceptical thought we may have witnessed the end of Sheffield’s playing days in 2007—with or without his permission. 

On Opening Day in late March Shef was asked about his return and what motivated him to come back and live with the pain he’d surely have to play through and the possibility of an unsuccessful bid to cap his career with another Sheffield type performance.  He didn’t blink.  He shot back something to the effect, When I considered my teammates, our general manager Dave Dombrowski, and our manager Jim Leyland—and I’d do anything for them… When I looked at who I was doing it [returning] for, it was easy.

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!    (Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message Bible)

No one else in the entire universe might realize the challenges you have taken on, the demons you have battled, or the sacrifices you have made that have went unnoticed and under-appreciated, but know this—Jesus sees the love you have for him and others.  

A saint is not someone who is good but someone who experiences the goodness of God.

-Thomas  Merton

 

What is it or who is it you will forsake in order to follow Jesus? 

If it’s not everyone and everything—you are in the same boat as the young man who was stuck on his possessions.   The young rich man didn’t need Jesus when you get down to it.  It wasn’t just his money he was holding on to, he was plenty content with himself and his own good works—the young man was happy enough and could live his life without Jesus.  Those of us who follow Jesus—well, we decided the time had come to give up on our plans to live without Jesus. 

Unlike the self-suffiecient young man, we didn’t decide to follow Jesus because we were so smart, wise or even good.  We were in need and Jesus came to us and we figured nothing else had worked.  The assumption that we were so willing to forsake all else was challenged the moment sin came knocking on our door and we succumbed—the notion that we were so smart was shattered the day we put our hope in something other than Jesus—and the idea that we were so wise was dispelled the moment we followed the crowd rather than the Savior.  And if you can’t relate, follow Jesus a little while and you will.

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’

Jesus said, ‘Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.’

The man asked, ‘What in particular?’

Jesus said, ‘Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

The young man said, ‘I’ve done all that. What’s left?’

‘If you want to give it all you’ve got,’ Jesus replied, ‘go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.’    (Matthew 19:16-21, The Message Bible)

Some of us are fortunate enough to have somehow ended up following Jesus.

If we but turn to God, that itself is a gift of God.

-Augustine 

 

The evils of being dependent on foreign oil have flooded the airwaves and dominated much of the discourse between this years two political parties as their presidential hopefuls square off.  With gas prices continuing to escalate it won’t be too long and the annual cost of fueling a car to get from point A to point B will soon equal that of sending a son or daughter off to an Ivy League college for an entire calender year.

The praises of self-sufficiency are as prevelant as ever.   We here in the States preach the virtues of self-sufficiency.  To be dependent on anyone other than ourselves is to be weak, or so we are told.  Contrary to what feel-good television preacher  Joel Osteen might have to say—you can be sure that Jesus-followers aren’t to be a self-sufficient people.  And I know that trusting God and throwing off any and every hope that we can change, redeem and save ourselves doesn’t set too well with us proud people, but the writers of Holy Scripture never did ask for our contribution—the gospel message is to shape our opinon instead.

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.’

The disciples were staggered. ‘Then who has any chance at all?’

Jesus looked hard at them and said, ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.’ (Matthew 19:23-26, The Message Bible)

The moment we are born we need air that we cannot provide for ourselves, and in the days to follow we will need care, food and shelter—and much more if we are to grow up healthy.  God’s design has never been that we become self-sufficient, it’s that we become God-dependent.

The doctrine of self-sufficiency is a myth after all. 

None but the Lord himself can afford us.  The more clearly we recognize how we dig our own wells in search of water, the more fully we can repent of our self-sufficiency and turn to God in obedient trust.

-Larry Crabb

 

Our independence day was the day we turned our back on ourselves and trusted Jesus—and that is our challenge each and every day.  The account of the young rich ruler can be heard in many pulpits on any given Sunday. Jesus tells of a young man he bumps into who was much like many of us—content with himself.  Essentially, Jesus rains on the young man’s feel-good-about-himself parade and tells him to go and sell all he has and give the money to the poor—that meant giving his cash to those who hadn’t worked nearly as hard or been a tenth as smart with their money as him.

The problem many of us encounter in our reading of the account of the young rich ruler is to take it as a call to forsake ourselves and then go and bury our heads in the proverbial sand. Make no mistake, Jesus brings a sword to life as we know it. But that’s not all he does, he calls us to follow him once we have turned our backs on ourselves.  And what seems to be the end of of our lives turns out to be only the beginning. 

The point in Jesus’ telling of this story isn’t to show that the man loved his money too much (we can be sure he did, just like many of us do)—the truth we must grasp here is that following Jesus is life.  When we choose our money—or anything including anyone else for that matter over following him—it is him we miss out on. 

 That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.   (Matthew 19:22, The Message Bible) 

When we stick with anything other than Jesus we always walk away sad.

The sin that held a good many of us captive and still keeps a good number from following Jesus is rooted in relying on themselves—we can be a self-sufficient people. Few of my friends if any won’t make it into heaven for being ax-murderers—instead—it’s an overblown belief in themselves and the idea that stealing a candy bar isn’t enough to land them in jail with God that is their undoing.  

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of lessons.  To take no account of oneself, but to always think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We all are frail; Consider none more frail than yourself.

-Thomas a Kempis, Inner Life

 

I can remember sneaking around our dark-musty and damp basement as a kid one fall day looking for some of my Christmas presents that my parents had went out and purchased a little early that year (I had inside information).  Looking back as worse as I can remember, I don’t feel so bad about my doing the bad deed as much as I do about dragging my younger sister into the shame of it.  After not too much rummaging around, I found it, the jackpot—what looked to be a sleeping bag—and a nice one at that.  I couldn’t fully open it as it was already wrapped and seeing I’d have to put back together any unwrapping job I did to keep my mischeviousness under wraps—I wasn’t able to decipher exactly what brand or color it was.

Not too long after, Christmas day rolled around.  And was I jazzed.  I had been waiting months for my new sleeping bag.  When it finally came time to open up the thing I ripped it open as I was fond of doing and blurted out without an ounce of hesitation—I thought it was blue the first time saw it! 

I was cooked, the thing was hunter green. 

Many times what we think we see isn’t even close to what we think it is.  No where is this more evident than in the way we judge one another.  One of the most horrendous things we can do is look down on and greatly mischaracterize one another.  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me may be repeated on playgrounds, but you won’t read the words in Scripture.  We shred one another with the the words we whisper without ever picking up a pair of shears.  We size one another up by what we say and by what we don’t say, by the the things we do or don’t do—or most of the time—what we think was said or done.  Essentially, we save our harshest judgements for the way things look.

I call it guilty by speculation.

Jesus instructs his disciples:

It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.   (Luke 6:41-42, The Message Bible)

Often, what our assessments of one another are built on is what we have heard—based on someone elses’ selfish and twisted agenda. When we gossip, we are not re-telling the truth to get the story straight—no—we are telling it most often to verbally crucify someone or make ourselves look or feel better.  

 

God help us.

In a Christian community, everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship. 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer   

 

Where I grew up it was expected that us kids be outside every waking moment—it took a tornado sighting or a monsoon to get us to budge when it came to going back into the house for the day.  If you were a boy, it was seasonal sports you played.  My favorite was baseball and I’d do my darnedest to get everyone together in early spring not a day later than the last snow had melted—even if it was to forty degrees out—the beginning of another season couldn’t wait.  And I’d be sure to see it that we played well into football season come fall.  I was what you might consider the ring leader, not to mention the annual home run champ most campaigns.  More times than not I was one of two captains charged with the high responsibility of putting together a championship caliber team for the day.  And as most captains are fond of doing—I never failed to pick the strongest and most talented players first.  Most of us are taught as kids that winning isn’t the most important thing—having fun is.  Well, some of us young competitors knew better.  Losing isn’t much fun as an adult or a kid.   

The ex-cons (and even those still incarcerated), divorced, singles, disabled, terminally ill, elderly, marginalized, under-employed and the unemployed all have a place in the family of God that is just as important a spot or moreso as the spot occupied by the most learned, well heeled or highly respected member.  God’s family isn’t a business or a sports team, as it is neither a club for high rollers.  It is a family.  I don’t know about your family, but in my family each of us children are valued not for the size of the contribution we make, the depth of our pockets, or the talents we possess—we are valued because of the love that has been unconditionally showered upon us by our parents and one another.    

 1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’    (Romans 15:1-3, ESV)

The people we like to put on the bench, God puts on the field as starters, and often times these are the very people who are God’s greatest representatives as they know first hand what it is to need and depend on God.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.   

-Herbert Agar

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr, was executed by hanging at the young age of thirty-nine for his opposition to the terrible mass-murderer Adolf Hitler and his regime (it is reported that Bonhoeffer was stripped naked  for the occasion and strung up on a  meat hook by piano wire—the wretched process takes about thirty minutes to kill someone).  A German pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer knew a thing or two about following Jesus and in the end it cost him his very life.  His book The Cost of Discipleship is a modern day classic.  

Bonhoeffer wrote:

When the Bible speaks of ‘following Jesus’, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogma, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience. If they follow Jesus, men escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ. But does this mean that we can ignore the seriousness of His command? Far from it! We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when His command, His call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety. Only the man who follows the command of Jesus without reserve, and submits unresistingly to His yoke, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard—unutterably hard—for those who try to resist it.

The last several years have meant time and occasions for some serious reflection for me personally.  And while I haven’t completed my project yet—I have made some re-discoveries in terms of just what it means to follow Jesus.  Over the last twenty years in particular I have spoken with several professing Christians and a good number have given me the impression that they somehow believe they can have Jesus as someone of peripheral significance—sort of like a mistress if you will.  Unfortunately, for any of us who have the idea that we can be part time Jesus-followers, God doesn’t negotiate the terms when it comes to following his Son. 

 Then another said, ‘I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.’

Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’    (Luke 9:61-62, The Message Bible) 

It’s not enough to have Jesus in the passenger seat of our car, and besides—Jesus drives the car or he walks. 

 

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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