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the lyrics sort of remind me a little of what it means to walk with Jesus…  

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Desperate for changing
Starving for truth
I’m closer to where I started
Chasing after you
I’m falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I’ve held onto
I’m standing here until you make me move
I’m hanging by a moment here with you   

Forgetting all I’m lacking
Completely incomplete
I’ll take your invitation
You take all of me now…    

…I’m living for the only thing I know
I’m running and not quite sure where to go
And I don’t know what I’m diving into
Just hanging by a moment here with you    

There’s nothing else to lose
There’s nothing else to find
There’s nothing in the world
That can change my mind…    

~from “Hanging By A Moment”, Lifehouse

Thoughts?

joel osteenMove over Robert Schuller, the latest mega-preacher to emerge in what I will call “motivational Christianity” has reached superstar status. 

I’ve been asked to tune down my criticisms of Joel Osteen in my blogs elsewhere the last couple years by some folks I am pretty fond of, and even some I’m close with.  I’ve been asked to tune in and listen to the latest pep talk of Joels’ by someone I love to death. I’ve been told Joel isn’t all that bad of a guy (which I don’t doubt nor am I accusing him of being by the way) . Just yesterday I was told by another good friend that Osteen… “Has a way of making me feel so much better about myself.” Well, I’m sure everyone means well (am I allowed to say it’s Jesus we should be feeling good about and him we should be trusting in and looking to instead of ourselves?).

If you’ve watched Osteen on the tube, you’ll agree that he’s engaging, polished, and has a million dollar smile . The first time I caught him 6 years ago I was laid up and pretty ill with what seemed to be an incurable disease Read the rest of this entry »

Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet?  If so, it is a story like no other.  Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe.  Little wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe.   –Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew 

Jesus came to earth and made it his custom to visit those the world had forgotten.  And so, we should do the same.  We can get out of our comfort zones and familiar ruts and enter the lives of others.  There are the homeless — who could use a hug.  The hungry — who’d appreciate a meal.  The elderly shut-ins — who’d welcome a smile.  The children of prisoners — who’d otherwise get no gifts.  Christmas is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves, it’s a time to reach out to others who may be just a tad bit more lonely, broken, and less fortunate than ourselves.

10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:10, ESV)

It is Christ who embraced us.

This Christmas, while we are busy stuffing our faces with hors d’oeuvres we wouldn’t gorge ourselves with on any other day of the year and telling one another stories of the past year’s business challenges and of vacations fit for a king — there is another world oceans away and quite possibly right outside our front door.  A world where young and old don’t feel much singing along to the tune of Deck the halls with boughs of holly — Tis the season to be jolly.  Sadly, for many, it is a world in which they have been abandoned by those who didn’t find it convenient or advantageous to love them any longer.  

Truth is, Christmas is for such unfortunates.

The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jackhammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need or want, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball creche, the Hallmark Virgin.  Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it.  That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see.  Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t.  –-Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words 
 
   
The stockings of red and white with sparkled names are hung one by one.  The decorated tree  is surrounded as a guarded city—boxes and boxes lined up like soldiers decorated and spattered with shiny ribbons and bows.  The bright lights are set to dim, creating the ideal tone with thoughts of Yuletide.  The empty hallways are booming up and down with melodies humming shouts of glee.  And the dining room table is strewn in all it’s glory with food and drink as far as the eye can see, appearing as if it were adorned by Martha Stewart herself. 
 
If we are not careful to remember the kind of world Jesus visited some two-thousand years ago, we will be duped.  Just as hurriedly as we pack up and box up the bulbs and ceremic nativity scene in bubble-wrap (and take the tree to the closest recycle site)—we can just as quickly miss the messages of grace and wonder.  Back to life as usual happens without our even knowing it (that is if we ever remove ourselves from it to begin with).  With all of the excess of the Season and the slick-deliberate commercialization of the sacred, we skate right by Christmas, not even stopping to consider anything—let alone everything—that it so pointedly represents. 
 
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:1-7, ESV)
 
Its become just another Hallmark Holiday as a friend of mine is fond of saying—referring to the likes of Sweetest Day and Presidents Day.  No disrespect to George Washington or your sweetie pie, but the celebration of our Saviors’ arrival isn’t some faddish or special day designed just to sell some more greeting cards, get the day off work—or even make us feel a little better about this dog-eat-dog world. 
 
On our cultures mainstreet in many ways, Christmas has become nothing more than a holiday on steroids.  It remains tops among driving consumers (as if it were our primary function in life to get and get until we can get no more) out to the malls by the droves to trade-in their paychecks for trinkets and trash, even if it means signing off on the next who knows how many checks.  It has become our civic duty to see to it that our economy continues to have a pulse if we consider ourselves true-blue Americans you know. 
          
Let us remember this Christmas, that Christmas is about more than just another occasion to get deeper into debt—and it isn’t another Hallmark Holiday.

…Maybe we should have more courses on evangelism, pray for the lost more than we do, learn some new postmodern techniques or create another film that will point to Jesus.  It could be that we aren’t effectively using mass communications or planning enough.  Perhaps we aren’t good enough, committed enough, don’t know enough or can’t debate well enough.

I don’t think so.  In varying degrees, we’ve already done all that.

What we have done is take something quite simple and made it complicated, hard and almost impossible to do.

What’s the Gospel?  People are screwed up.  If they go to Jesus, he will fix them, forgive them, love them and never let them go.

What’s evangelism?  Somehow letting people know the Gospel.

That’s it?  Yeah, that’s it.  In its understanding and execution, it really doesn’t take a brain surgeon!

-Steve Brown

 

I think it’s a first degree offense to God to act as if our dedication and hard work is the reason anyone one comes to Christ.   My belief about this horrendous misconception has only deepened instead of lessened the last several years as I have spent a considerable amount of time scrutinizing my hunch and investigating the gospel message to see just how wrong I must be.  I’m not saying I’m right, I just think anyone would be hard pressed in proving me wrong.

I’ve read and heard at least a thousand testimonies over the years and one that never ceases to make me squirm is the infamous account that starts out “I’ve gotten every last one of my family members saved and all sorts of other people including everyone I’ve ever sat next to on an airplane…”.  

Listen, we might get the opportunity to plainly present the gospel message—but we are to take no credit whatsoever for an accomplishment so beyond and above us (which by the way, is an accomplishment consumed and consimated in the person and work of Christ himself).

32 ”And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   (Jesus, John’s Gospel c12 v32, ESV)

I can’t give you an account that lists in detail how many people I have shared Jesus with, its better I leave the numbers to God.  Just as soul winning isn’t complicated, its not about another notch in our evangelism tool box. 

Our role always comes down to simply lifting Jesus up.

Jesus teaches us how to live in the present time. He identifies our present time as the end-time, the time that offers us countless opportunities to testify for Jesus and his Kingdom. The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can easily lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to witness!

-Henri Nouwen

 

As with many kids, my childhood was largely about sports.    

One thing I learned by being involved with various sports was the importance of preparedness.  Batting practice.  Fielding practice.  Shooting practice.  Passing drills.  Running laps.  Stretching exercises.  Why?  So that we could be ready for the game.

Jesus spent time training his disciples.  In other words, he didn’t send them out into battle without a sword.  He knew that his disciples would face demonic influence in every shape and size as well as Godless thinking in every form—and that they would need to be prepared to deal with such obstacles if they were to be effective in their witness.

I don’t know about you, but I do know about me, and I have been terribly unprepared at times to share Jesus with others.  It doesn’t take training to spout off a bible verse or to tell others they should go to church.  Telling others to shape up doesn’t require spending time with Jesus—having him fine tune you requires more than a vague familiarity with him.  The only effective witness for Christ is the one who points others to Christ, and we don’t have the courage in and of ourselves to do that I have found.  We need to spend time in the shop sharpening our tools, and the shop for Jesus-followers is time in prayer and time in God’s Word. 

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…   (1 Peter 3:15, ESV) 

Always being prepared.

You can’t expect to be effective whatsoever if you haven’t taken the time to get ready.

         

Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.

-Blaise Pascal

 

A friend of mine and I were surfing through the channels some months ago when we just so happened to catch a glimpse of Bravo’s brand new program called Make Me A Supermodel. What an absolute sham of a show, television on so many fronts has become nothing more than a stage for runaway narcissistic-selfish living and it is why the vast majority of television shows make my skin crawl.  

And once again, I wasn’t disappointed. 

There is more disgusting stuff than wholesome when it comes to entertainment choices anymore.

A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.  (Proverbs 13:7, The Message Bible)

The few minutes we treated ourselves to showcased a woman going in to see the plastic surgeon for a breast reduction, common place practice I understand.  I’d say the woman they were chronicling on this particular episode was in her late-thirties and she was an attractive lady, but her fascination with just how perfect she could look made her much less so.  I’d say she didn’t need the surgery in the first place—this procedure she now was having was a reduction.  She was going on and on about her breast size and how she’d had enlargements done some time ago—it had become a bit tiring for her with all of the glances she and her seemingly unfazed husband had to endure.  She now wanted these distractions sized down to a less noticeable size to meet some new standard she apparently had for herself.  I was finding it hard to feel sorry for her I must admit.

What caught my attention was this woman’s comment—My tits are my best asset. She sort of sounded proud about it actually (as if the few thousand bucks she shelled out or someone else invested in these so-called assets made her someone).  I find it really tragic that anyone would have such a low view of themselves. 

This line of thinking typifies a rising segment of our culture if we are honest; a culture fixated on outward appearances and everything trivial. If anything, we value the trite and the unimportant while we ignore or disregard that which is sacred and holy. And to be perfectly honest, it’s not just us men who are to blame for a culture so animalistic and shallow.

It is all of us. 

What defines you?  

The question I am confronted with after watching such carnage is not a comfortable one: How much do my values reflect those espoused on shows like ‘Make Me A Supermodel’?

Change me Lord, I’d rather be a ‘regular Joe’.

All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity.  Grace is the only exception. 

-Simone Weil, French mystic and social activist (1909-1943)

 

I was surfing the blogosphere recently and ran across the above quote, to which an unnamed blogger commented—He whose will is his Father’s, whose company is his betrayer, whose victory is his forsakenness, whose love is his suffering, is free; the exception which destroys the rule

There is no one in the entire Old Testament who got a rawer deal than Joseph.   Job lost everything, Hosea had a prostitute wife named Gomer to deal with, and prophets were killed for speaking the word of the Lord—but Joseph lived in exile year after year for merely having a dream and being foolish enough to share that dream with his own brothers (the very brothers who sold him for twenty shekels of silver and staged a phony murder to fool their father).  Fortunes turn however, and the brothers faced a famine and a brother in turn who now had their futures in his hands—a brother they thought was long gone.  

18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.   (Genesis 50:18-21, ESV)

It is said that Joseph was a type of Christ, a foreshadow if you will—no scripture bears witness more.

As each of us play the betrayer at one point in our lives or another—sooner or later we become the betrayed.  Living a life of grace means giving grace to the most undeserving.  Essentially, it is handing the very instrument intended to wipe us out to the one who would do the deed.  Eventually we all face our accuser—we all stand before our enemy—empty handed, with one of two choices: To strangle the scoundrel with our own two hands, or to reach out and embrace him.    

Jesus calls us to extend grace.  Even to our betrayer.  To withhold grace from the most underserving is to most assuredly be—ungraceful.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life together

       

We all have been there—so consumed with someone else and their life—we made our self utterly miserable.  Why is it that we think so and so is better off than us for such and such reason or that everyone else has been given gifts and talents that are superior to ours?  One day we feel as though we are on the cusp of living the life we believe God has destined we participate in—the next we wish we were in someone elses’ shoes.

Jesus tells Peter to care for his brothers and sisters after asking him several times if he loved him (the two happen to be in direct correlation with one another)—and concludes by indicating what kind of death Peter would suffer and by simply saying Follow me.  I’m thinking Peter got agitated by the exchange because moments later he’s thinking about John.  

 Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?”

Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” That is how the rumor got out among the brothers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that is not what Jesus said. He simply said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you?”    (John 21:20-23, The Message Bible) 

It’s not for us to concern ourselves with what Jesus will do with our brother and sisters.  Frankly speaking, it’s none of our business—our concern is to give ourselves to that which Jesus plans to do with us.

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.      

 -Westminster Confession, XXVI:1  

 

It’s no secret that today scores of lives and relationships are at the breaking point.  As followers of Jesus, we need to do better than refusing to be square with one another.   

Like Doc Holliday (who I mentioned in the last post), it can take a life altering or ending event to shake us free.  Being able to level with one another starts with being honest with God and ourselves—once we do that—we can begin to walk in community with one another.  Wikipedia states, ‘Koinonia’ is the anglicisation of a Greek word (κοινωνία) that means communion by intimate participation.  It’s basically where our word fellowship comes from (so no, the word fellowship isn’t some cheesy word your pastor thought up in describing mid-week meeting just to be weird).  The idea comes straight from the Bible itself, and we see it lived out beautifully in the early church.  But not without the participants being willing to bare their souls and share their sufferings, burdens, losses and their joys—one with another.  The book of Acts records that they came together daily—in other words—they very regularly participated in the lives of one another.    

How about us?

I have a brother and a sister of my own who both have families of their own.  However, a part of having a healthy and rewarding relationship with either of them is by the grace of God—and somehow attempting to participate in their lives. 

And it requires intention and sacrifice.    

 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.   (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)

What are you a part of that’s more important?

When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.
        
-Corrie ten Boom
 
                        

My favorite movie (Tombstone) winds up with Wyatt Erp visiting his friend Doc Holliday on his deathbed at a sanatorium—he is dying from tuberculosis.  Wyatt, not having enough friends to need more than one hand less four fingers to count them on, comes to visit Doc every day and try his luck in a few hands of poker—despite Doc’s displeasure with the visits.  The afternoon Doc is going to die, Wyatt walks up to his bedside—in a style only Wyatt could—and asks, How are you feeling today Doc?  To which Doc candidly replies, I’m dying, how are you?  

And that’s what it takes for some of us to level with one another when we should have much sooner.

Why are we so phony with one another?  We are asked on a day that we feel like crawling in a hole, How you doing today?  And what’s our answer?  Great, never been better.  Even Joel Osteen has a bad hair day.  How many couples spend a lifetime together and never take the time to stop and really learn about one another?  I’ve had bosses who after months of working for them say to me—I didn’t know you had any kids?   And I want to ask them—Do you think I would work this second-rate job if I didn’t?  

 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

…Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.   (Colossians 3:9-11, 15, The Message Bible) 

It’s okay to say—I’m hurting, would you pray for me?   Which reminds me, it’s even better to say—I can see your dying, what can I do for you? 

Often we remain silent when we need to speak. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to our parents, children, lovers, or friends: “I love you very much” or “I care for you” or “I think of you often” or “You are my greatest gift,” we choose to give life.

It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. When a son can say to his father, “Dad, I love you,” and when a mother can say to her daughter, “Child, I love you,” a whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.

-Henri Nouwen

 

I remember it vividly, as if it were this morning.  I was staying with my parents.  A grown man with children of my own, feeling like the biggest loser in the world.  I had not been divorced all that long and to make matters worse the divorce had been the consequence of a series of bad bad choices on my end years earlier.  And to top it off, months after the spectacle I had went out and messed up my life even more. I felt like my insides were being torn out to be frank.

One morning as I was laying in bed, home from my job (which required traveling)—But he knew I was dying inside and it was killing him.  I began to cry and I couldn’t stop.  Silence and sobs.  And out of nowhere my dad said seven words: You are a man of God, Ken.  He didn’t need to say anything else, it didn’t matter to me what I felt like or the fool I had made of myself, I was still God’s man.       

 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.   (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message Bible)

Thank God he’s a Father who has chosen to love me and pick me up when I can’t even lift my chin.

God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.

Blaise Pascal

 

Our natural inclination is to be committed to one another so long as the relationship doesn’t get too distant, too cold, too one-sided, too uncomfortable, too costly, too painful, or too embarrassing for us.  I can certainly imagine the scene in the garden called Gethsemane on that bitter night of betrayal when every last one of Jesus’ closest followers couldn’t even stay up and pray with him—the night that ultimately ended days later in the Victory to dwarf all victories combined. 

These disciples weren’t always committed exactly, and yet, Jesus never gave them an inkling of a reason to question his unflinching loyalty to them.  Jesus wasn’t duped either—he knew one was a snake from the onset (Judas).  Aware of his disciples’ inconsistencies, he had warned Peter hours before Peter delivered his I’ll do anything for you Jesus speech.  So, that doesn’t surprise me.  It’s what Jesus says to Peter before he predicts his denial that blows my mind.  

“Simon [Peter], stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon [Peter], I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”   (Luke 22:31-32, The Message Bible)

Basically, Jesus says in all this—Hey, I know you are going to fail me no matter what you say.  The promises you are making, while they may be well-intentioned, are hot air.  You are gonna back out on me.  That being said Peter—I’m not only going to let you in on a little secret here, but I am going to let you know ahead of time that I won’t give up on you when you duck and run.  And even when you feel the worst about yourself, I won’t even think of abandoning you.  When you realize this, and you will—turn to your brothers and sisters in the faith and encourage them.

There will be times when we will prove uncommitted, but it’s essential that during those times we don’t despair—Jesus remains committed to us.  Following Jesus isn’t about telling him all the wonderful things we are going to do for him, and it isn’t about declaring war on his enemies.

Following Jesus is about having faith that he remains committed to every one of us when we fail him most.  

Love God? Sometimes I hate Him!

-Martin Luther (in answer to a question about whether he truly loved God)

 

We’re sure to tell God of our intentions to obey him and in the hour of our testing we miss the mark.  Okay, you haven’t.  But for the rest of us who have—we can relate with Peter.  Peter wasn’t alone that night in his self-assured profession—the other disciples just had enough sense to not be so loud.  And it should be no wonder that zealous Peter still has plenty of company today, whether we open our mouths or not.  We are no different than the original twelve. 

On the eve of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus tells his disciples they will fall to pieces and Peter essentially says no way.

Peter broke in, “Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won’t.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” All the others said the same thing.   (Matthew 26:33-35, The Message Bible)

One moment brash Peter is promising Jesus he’ll stand steadfast by his side—and the next minute he’s brandishing a sword and cutting off the ear of one of Jesus’ captors.  Peter thinks he’s validated his commitment to Jesus while Jesus knows better. 

The lessons of Gethsemane are plentiful—but one that has stood the test of time is simple: Jesus’ idea and our idea of what it looks like to be his disciple are often at odds.  Jesus knew a thing or two that Peter didn’t know—following Jesus isn’t about slaying his enemies, or even staying awake with him when we should be praying.  Peter, like us, had to experience a personal moment of crisis in regards to his outspoken declaration of character and as a result he learned that following Jesus is about painfully recognizing ones fallibility—no matter how tedious and time consuming a process it encompasses.  Remember, it was only moments before wrongly defending Jesus (as if Jesus the Son of God needed any), that Peter was swearing up and down he’d never do such a thing as deny him—only to do that very thing before the sun comes up the next morning.  It was with one vicious swipe of a sword it sure looked like Peter meant business.  But it wasn’t the business of Jesus. 

Rather than showing Jesus his commitment—he shows us all his lack of it.  Jesus isn’t looking for our swords or our big talk, he’s got it handled. 

What he wants is us.  

Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.

-Blaise Pascal

              

I may have trouble seeing, but I’m not blind.  The harder I have tried to make the people in my life prouder of me and happier for knowing me—the more I realize I have disappointed instead.  I have failed others as well as myself.  I know my failures are obvious and we’d rather ignore them—although some may wish to publicize them for reasons of their own.  Does my life exist to make a name for myself or build a legacy I can be proud of?  I am more apt to be a colossal failure than I an amazing success.  I don’t much like it really—and my friends tell me I need to stop beating myself up and over it.
 
Alright—point made.
           
I concede.
 
But it don’t change the facts.
     
 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.”
        
”Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'”
      
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself,  you will become more than yourself.”   (Luke 18:9-14, The Message Bible)       
                
I’m not giving myself a hard time.  I’m really being pretty easy on myself considering.  I’m not going to write to beat myself up.  Likewise, I didn’t decide to write to build myself up.  And just as I’m not going to talk about my accomplishments—I’m not going to flog myself.  The excruciating details surrounding my failures are irrelevant, there’s no good to come of that for goodness sakes.  What I will do is write about how much my inability to save myself or anybody else only highlights the sufficiency of God in Christ Jesus. 
      
And in the end I won’t rise up to be anyone in and of myself—Jesus has leaned over and helped me up.
    
I will need more of the same in the days to come.     

That we must love one God only is a thing so evident that it does not require miracles to prove it.

-Blaise Pascal, Pensees

 

I love reading.  You name it I’ll read it—books, articles, blogs, newspapers and notes on cocktail napkins if need be.  Good writing and reporting turns me on, and I know that sounds suggestive, but oh well.  I thoroughly enjoy thoughtful conversation and dialogue. 

Truth be told, I also have an affection for good food, dogs, lakes, and art of all kinds—but not a one of them holds a candle to my passion for literature.  Of course I have my preferences—call me picky if you like, there are several genres and styles I simply can’t tolerate let alone enjoy.  But give me anything by Eugene Peterson and I’ll dive right in.  When it comes to books I dig—I can tell you a good one from a great one no problem.  When it comes to a couple of prints I have framed on the other hand, I don’t know an expensive painting from a dud.  And I haven’t always been this way mind you—although, even as a kid in elementary school when I had time to put down a baseball bat or a hockey stick I did to take in a good read from time to time (but I was sure not to tell anyone for fear I might get teased). 

There is a difference between an affection and an allegiance.  People toy with affections—they’ll die for an allegiance.

Following Jesus means being so passionate about him that we have no comparisons—no dual allegiances. Sort of in the way a young man would take a bride.  He forsakes all others.  He may have affections for another woman or two, but when he marries, he forsakes those affections.  There have been instances in which I have been reading that I get so engrossed in what I am doing (or not doing depending on who you are asking) that I have lost track entirely of everything else going on in the world—which reminds me—when we love Jesus we just don’t get all tied up in the same things that used to consume us. 

Jesus knew what it looked like for his disciples to be passionate followers of his.

 ‘You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

‘If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.’   (Matthew 6:24-26, The Message Bible) 

Who is it that you love with no equal?

Now we see, how many good things, interwoven, spring from the cross.  For, overturning that good opinion which we falsely entertain concerning our own strength, and unmasking our hypocrisy, which affords us delight, the cross strikes at our perilous confidence in the flesh. 
         
-John Calvin 
 
     
There is a story that goes something like this—This guy’s strolling down the street when he stumbles and falls into a manhole with walls so steep he can’t get out.  A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, Hey you, can you help me out?  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, Father, I’m down in this hole.  Can you help me out?  The priest writes a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a friend walks by and the guy excitedly shouts up, Hey, Joe, it’s me.  Can you help me out?  And the friend jumps in the hole.  The guy says, Are you nuts?  Now we’re both down here.  The friend says, Yeah, but I’ve been down here before—and I know the way out.
           
Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, ‘Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.’   (John 6:61-64a, The Message Bible) 
      
The King James Version of the Bible puts it maybe even better—the flesh profiteth nothing.
                        
Think you can beat sin, handle temptation, master your lusts, and manhandle the Devil?  I tried, and my advice—don’t try it—there are some things not worth trying and destined to fail.

It is not experience of life but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother, I can dare to be a sinner.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  

In business and sports—not to mention other arenas I may be skipping over—it’s not a sin to admit and face your failures.  No, rather the transgression is in avoiding and skirting around it when it’s the elephant in the room no one wants to address.  A small oversight can be the beginning of the end for a prospering business or a successful sports franchise.  Like cancer unchecked—so is our refusal to deal with the reality of a world gone bad that we just happen to live in.  You’d think by the way some of us act that to get touched by it’s consequences (hard as we try to avoid it)—is some sort of huge sin.  And the way we avoid one another when we are drowning only confirms the suspicion—when we do come around, we have the perfect advice.  

Job’s friends thought so.  And to top it off his own wife lost her mind before they even got started on him.

Satan left God and struck Job with terrible sores. Job was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes.

His wife said, “Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!”

He told her, ‘You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?’

Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God.   (Job 2:7-10, The Message Bible) 

You may whip the world, but you are bound to have people in your life who need you when they are on the other side of the whip—who aren’t as lucky—but instead find themselves the whipped  (and I know some of us think it’s our right living that’s got us sitting pretty and if everyone else would just live like us they’d be honky-dory too). 

There are those (and could just as easily be you or me) in our lives who desperately need the touch of someone who can be broken with them. 

Will you be too together to stoop down and help your fallen brother when he needs it most?

 Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

-G.K. Chesterton

 

Several years ago my pastor was teaching and told a story about a young couple he counseled in the months leading up to their marriage.  He could sense the excitement and was feeling happy for the bride and groom.  About a week after the wedding took place however, Dr. Richard Alberta received a phone call that he was not prepared for nor expecting whatsoever.  The new groom had called to inform him of his broken heart—upon returning home he had discovered to his horror a voice mail that had been left while away on his honeymoon with his new wife.  The call was from her lover (that the new husband had no idea about) and went into explicit detail regarding their intimate relationship.

When you get married, your new bride is your pride and joy—you consider every other woman inferior.

 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.    (Philippians 3:7-9, The Message Bible)

Jesus is in a league of his own—and for us who know him—there is no comparison.      

If you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ’s own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.

-Martin Luther

          

We’ve all surely heard the old joke about the religious man who climbed up onto his roof when a flood hit, praying for God to save him. A boat came by, and he waved them off—Save someone else, God will save me.  A helicopter came by—same thing. The flood waters rose higher, and he drowned.   When the religious man got to meet God, he demanded, Why didn’t you save me when I prayed?   God simply responded—I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter…

The help that God sent in Jesus Christ is all the help we need—for without him we can’t fight our way out of a wet paper bag spiritually.   Our chances of getting into heaven without the free gift of salvation in Christ are zilch—nada—nothing.  And when it comes to living the Christian life without the empowerment of God the same holds true—we don’t stand goldfishes chance in a pool filled with piranhas.

We can’t add a pennies worth to all the riches of heaven—anything we have to offer God was a gift in the first place.

 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, ‘Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.’ (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.’   (John 6:61-65, The Message Bible)

We have no chance of following Jesus without the grace God gives—namely, the power of the living Christ flowing and breathing through us.

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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