Friday, December 31, 2010

FROM THE HIGH PLATFORM OF CHRISTIAN CELEBRITY

Downsizing for the sake of the call...

I read something on CNN a few days ago[i] that gives an example of what it looks like for one man.  Francis Chan just resigned from his 4,000 member church in California to travel through Asia visiting missionaries and small churches. 

He wants to disappear for awhile from the high platform he’s been given.  Francis Chan is a Christian mega-church celebrity in demand at conferences and on his DVD teaching series.

In his sudden resignation he said, “I think there has been too much emphasis on me. I want to be used by God, but I think we have this desire to make heroes out of people rather than following God and the Holy Spirit.”

Chan has recognized the danger of becoming too important—gaining the whole world of Christian subculture and losing his own soul.  As soon as you allow the cares of this world to take over, you begin to die.  Everyone who is ever given the privilege of teaching and leading others would do well to remember how Jesus led with humility.

Matthew 20:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  26 Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?  This is the cost of following; that we would give our lives away for the benefit of others.  As we reflect on the birth of Jesus, we need to see the reality of his downsizing.  It takes unimaginable love to go all the way down to save others. 

What is your attitude about becoming poor for the sake of others?

Philippians 2:5-7
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

GOD'S POVERTY

Becoming poor is a central theme of the Christmas story.  A few hundred years of prophecy, a string of angelic visitations and a handful of miracles— the long awaited dream ended up being the high King of Heaven downsizing from the throne room to living homeless.

The Hallelujah Chorus is sung because God chose to live in crisis.

2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

All sorts of people have become poor against their better wishes.  But who chooses to become poor when they do not have to?  That is what Jesus did when he descended to live among us.  He set aside the glory of Heaven for the gloom and dust of broken humanity. 

When he asked the rich young ruler to sell everything and follow him, He spoke of something he was experiencing himself. 

How have you experienced wealth?  For some, it is cash flow and the freedom to choose how and where they spend their time.  For others, wealth comes in the form of power and influence. 

If Jesus asked you to become poor to follow him, what would that look like for you?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

DOWNSIZING

As I drove past the 4,000 square foot home on an acre of land I thought, “This is the right street but that can’t be my friend’s house.”  After exploring the street to its end and returning, I pulled in the driveway and discovered my buddy had done well.

We were recently reunited at his uncle’s funeral.  A month later, I am here visiting a friend from my high school years.  He only lives an hour away, but you lose touch with some of your dearest friends over time.

And appearances can be deceiving.  He had done very well in the construction business until three years ago when recession took its toll.  Within a short period of time, he lost most of his wealth and is now starting over.  The huge house is on the market and a smaller home is being built.  He has spent the last couple years learning a new business as a day trader. 

All evening we talked about risk and dreams.  We talked about friends and family who have suffered and died.  It was a night about the things that matter most and what we are hoping for.

At 49 years of age, he has given up the American dream of living comfortably and retiring young.  Now, his biggest priority is to know God more and serve Him.  He always had faith, but now it’s going deeper.

So, I asked him, “What does that look like for you?”  After a thoughtful pause, he replied, “I’m starting to spend my time visiting sick people in the hospitals.  I want to be a man of prayer and to know God’s Word.”

An economic crisis has caused my friend to re-purpose his existence.  He is downsizing and making room for a bigger God.

What do you have in your life that needs downsizing?  There are many looming and overshadowing things that can block out the sky in your life.  Wealth, demanding relationships, fear of failure, self-importance—these are just a few of the God-blockers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

THE PURIFIED HEART

Matthew 5:8
"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."


Do you notice your attitude change when you are shown unexpected mercy?  While you wait for the slap of disappointment and shame, you are instead amazed by grace.  Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.

In these kind moments, your heart is purified.  This is like the refiner who heats up the metal until the impurities rise to the top where they can be skimmed off.  Purity happens through processing to remove pollutants.

Paul spoke to the church in Rome about the influence of God’s kindness on us.  It not only changes us but demands a new attitude towards others who disappoint us.

Romans 2:
3But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?
 4Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

God’s kindness awakens in us a change of attitude.  God’s mercy on me is the mercy I give to you.  I do not deserve it and you cannot earn it. 

The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) were monks and nuns who lived in 3rd century Egypt.  They were known for their devotion to Christ.  Many of their sayings were compiled and influenced religious development in subsequent generations.  One of their sayings said,

"As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly or any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him." [i]

Certainly, the fire of God’s Spirit has a purifying affect on us.  When we are filled with God’s Spirit, we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  Perhaps we are not as full of God as we lead others to believe.  We tend to think we can hide the sin in your hearts.

Jesus message of purity was spoken to a religious people whose lives were filled with ritual washings and ceremony to remove uncleanness. 

As the sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can never wash away all the bacteria and germs; the religious person cannot be satisfied of their cleanness before God.

Jesus noted the Pharisees who performed the rituals of cleansing flawlessly but inside were dead and corrupt.  The hater is really a murderer.  The private lust in your imagination is indicative of adultery in your heart. 

Clarence Jordan was a Baptist pastor, Greek Scholar and farmer who founded a religious community in southwest Georgia.  He was also influential in the founding of ‘Habitat For Humanity’.  He said,

When people attempt to live a double life spiritually, that is, to appear pure on the outside but are not pure in the heart, they are anything but blessed. Their conflicting loyalties make them wretched, confused, tense. And having to keep their eyes on two masters at once makes them cross-eyed and their vision is so blurred that neither image is clear.[ii]

Ever felt that you were leading a double life?  Have other gods and desires polluted your heart?  Welcome to the family.  None of us righteous, not even one—

But then there is this incredible gift of God’s mercy offered to us.  Forgiveness and acceptance from God—it trumps our ugliness and impurity. 

Faced with God’s mercy, I have a choice.  Will I surrender or will I resist?  The consideration of His kindness brings sobriety to my exaggerated mind.  I can face the truth of my damaged self and receive the purifying Presence of a Father who weeps with joy over returning prodigals.  God has not lost His mind, but found His children.  He knows them intimately and waits for our gaze. 

Impressed by God’s purity, we are cleansed in His love and open our eyes.  With clarity of heart we find clarity of vision.  We see God.



[i] Abba Pimen, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 154.
[ii] Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount

Saturday, December 18, 2010

MERCY BACK AT 'CHA

You know what to expect.  Once again you have done something you were not supposed to.  Because you have failed before, you know the disappointment and consequences awaiting you.  Parent, spouse, teacher, friend or God-- we dread the moment of reckoning. 

Unexpectedly, they acknowledge your failure and then offer understanding and forgiveness.  You thought you would be wallowing and drowning in shame, but today relief floods your soul.  You are loved and the desire to change is growing inside you.  The world is new in the light of mercy.

Imagine the trauma Noah and his family experienced.  They witnessed firsthand the powerful judgment of God upon the earth.  Everywhere was buried in water.  Everyone they had known was drowned.  The nature of the atmosphere had changed and only God’s mercy could explain their survival. 

When the door of the ark opened, mercy had brought them to a new place.  It was unrecognizable from their history.  The very first rainbow[i] appeared with a message from God—no more floods that destroy everything.  Mercy!

John would describe a vision of God sitting on a throne encircled by a rainbow[ii].  The Judge on His throne is bathed in the light of mercy.  Noah’s family experienced the presence of God’s throne as they looked up into a hopeful sky.  We see the rainbow when forgiveness is undeserved and freely offered.

The King of Kings preached on a hillside to people who needed a rainbow.  The hard rain of Roman oppression and harsh religion brought more doom than hope.  Mercy was no-one’s corporate value.  But here was the One who would judge the nations and open Heaven’s door.  His throne appeared on uneven ground of this rocky hillside.

Matthew 5:
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

No-one showed more mercy to the undeserving than Jesus did.  Sinners, Samaritans and sad-hearted failures came to life in the presence of the Mercy Giver.

The oppressors would have none of it.  Jesus was not the first one to be humiliated, judged and crucified.  He would not be their last.

But, here is a truth that works wherever love exists.  Show mercy to others and you will experience mercy back at ‘cha.  Jesus showed mercy to a heartless world that crucified Him.  Where is the reciprocation? 

Jesus received God’s mercy when none was available from the oppressors.  The Spirit of God resurrected Jesus from the dead, a fitting reward for the One who embodied God’s mercy.  Their lack of mercy did not impede the coming of God’s Kingdom.

In hearing the words of Jesus we are reminded of our condition.  The Beatitudes are best understood by people who are messy, broken and bewildered. 

Dallas Willard says these sayings are ‘explanations and illustrations, drawn from immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.’  [iii]

When you are merciful to others who have not deserved it, you will be rewarded with mercy.  It will likely come from somewhere unexpected.  If you expected it, would it really be mercy?

How is the quality of mercy in your household?  Are there people that you need to be merciful to? 



[i] Genesis 9:8-16
[ii] Revelation 4:3
[iii] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy p.106

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

EMPTY TO BE FULL


Matthew 5:
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 

The first three beatitudes describe various states of emptiness that God takes note of.  Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, those who experience insufferable loss (mourning) and the ones who are gentle and undemanding.  Our Father is observant of our deficit and works to bring goodness and rightness into the void.

There is great happiness in the emptying of our lives; making more room for God to fill.  Food always tastes better when you’ve missed some meals.  Water is most delicious when you are very parched. 

What is the righteousness that we hunger and thirst for?  Righteousness describes the character of God and includes the qualities of justice; truth; mercy and love.  In the emptiness you experience, is there an appetite for WWGD (What will God do?)?  How will God fill your empty places with Himself?

It is not enough to be empty and broken.  We need God and our desire for His presence longs to be satisfied.  It is the cry of the Psalms and Prophets. 

Isaiah 55:
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. 

In a world that demands payment for everything we need to survive, God invites us to His Kingdom where emptiness is the currency of sustainability.  What kind of justice, truth, mercy and love is that; when the poorest have their needs met without any more demand than the fact that they are hungry?  It is the nature of God’s grace to take care and reward people who have not earned it. 

The emptying experiences of our lives leave us hungry and parched with thirst.  God offers to fill us with His Spirit.  Jesus, the bread of Heaven is freely offered to the hungry.

Jesus' teaching is the opposite of Buddhist philosophy which seeks a state of nirvana in which one desires nothing. The solution to hunger is not to kill it, but to fill it. Our desires are not too strong, but too weak
C. S. Lewis said, "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."[i]

Jesus spoke to a crowd on the hillside who were familiar with emptiness.  Empty stomachs, empty wallets, humiliated by oppressors and chasing the empty promises of religion; Jesus called them to envision the Kingdom where God will have His way.  In that Kingdom, your worldly status and achievement will go unnoticed.  Kings will be servants and slaves will be governors.  Sick people will be healed and the broken will be fixed.

·         Everyone who feels inadequate and damaged before God has a fresh start upon the declaration of their spiritual bankruptcy.
·         To the one who knows only tears and depression a banquet of comfort is waiting.
·         The one who is unassuming and allows people to take advantage of them is highly esteemed by God and written into the will.  They will inherit more than the strivers.

 The banquet table of the Kingdom is spread with every good thing from God’s hand.  The beatitudes call us to a vision of God’s heart.

In their book ‘Resident Aliens’ Hauerwas and Willimon write:

Imagine a sermon that begins: “Blessed are you poor.  Blessed are those of you who are hungry.  Blessed are those of you who are unemployed.  Blessed are those going through marital separation.  Blessed are those who are terminally ill.”
The congregation does a double take.  What is this?  In the kingdom of the world, if you are unemployed, people treat you as if you have some sort of social disease.  In the world’s kingdom, terminally ill people become an embarrassment to our health-care system, people to be put away, out of sight.  How can they be blessed?
The preacher responds, “I’m sorry.  I should have been more clear.  I am not talking about the way of the world’s kingdom.  I am talking about God’s kingdom.  In God’s kingdom, the poor are royalty, the sick are blessed.  I was trying to get you to see something other than that to which you have become accustomed.”[ii]



[ii] Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens, Abingdon Press

Saturday, December 4, 2010

THE REWARD OF KIND-HEARTED NEPHEWS


Matthew 5:
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

How many movies and books have been written where a family gathers with an executor to hear the reading of the will?  Each of the descendants sit forward waiting to hear their name called and inheritance described.  To the surprise of the greedy and anxious cut-throats, the estate gets willed to a kind-hearted nephew who was valued just for being a nice guy.  He lacked the social prominence and worldly wit of the other family members.  He lived in obscurity and without privilege.

God is looking for kind-hearted gentlemen and women who are not asserting and demanding their rights.  The meek person is one ‘who is kind and considerate to others, even to those who oppose him, who is easily approachable, not prideful or resentful, not temperamental or harsh.’[i]

Think of Jesus’ audience on the hillside.  The three major cultures influencing their lives were Jewish, Roman and Greek.  Jews were proud of their race and believed they were morally superior to all others.  Romans were proud of their power and stronger than everyone.  Greeks were proud of their knowledge and smarter than the others.  There were so many people trying to be holier, stronger and smarter than everyone else.

Meekness was not part of anyone’s culture.  Everyone was taught to assert their rights on the basis of their pedigree.  What was the better attitude of God’s Kingdom?

Jesus used the Greek word praeis when he described the meek.

The image most closely associated with "meek" and its meaning is that of the horse.  The Greek historian Xenophon used the very same word Jesus used to describe a horse broken to saddle, so that it is under control.

A horse is a powerful animal.  It is a symbol of strength in the Greek world.  Wild and untamed the horse is a useless animal.  It cannot be used for any of the tasks man has for it.  However, if the horse is broken it can be used for all kinds of tasks for which it was created.  It can be tamed and then taught.  A tamed horse is a picture of power under control.
 [ii]

In the Kingdom of God there is great happiness for those who learn to obey; submitting their primal assertiveness to God’s control.  These meek souls are rewarded at the reading of the will.  They inherit the unattainable earth that others grasp and manipulate for.

They are satisfied knowing that the Father is keenly aware when they get bumped and jostled to the end of the line.  They have found the contentment that things are still okay when they do not appear to be.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

OTHER WORLD ATTITUDES

‘Other world’ attitudes—you know when you have seen them.  There are buried treasures that break through the crust of our worldliness and remind us of a different kind of place.  They are beautiful attitudes.

The King James translators called them beatitudes.  Jesus taught them on an ancient hillside; a preacher who practiced what He preached.  He casts a vision of a people who are salt in a tasteless world; bonfires in dark valleys.

This is not a to-do list for highly motivated and disciplined people.  The beatitudes mostly describe circumstances where we are powerless to do anything but pray and seek God.

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes Jesus’ list of virtues this way:

The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3 - 12) offer us a more spacious world, a world where I do not have to explain everything, fix everything, or control anything beyond myself, a world where we can allow a Larger Mystery to work itself out through us and in us.  These things are done to us more than anything we can do.  The Beatitudes are about changing me, not changing other people.  Wonderfully, it is not about being right anymore.  Who can fully do the Beatitudes “right”?  It is about being in right relationship, which is a very different agenda.[i]



[i] Richard Rohr, Adapted from Jesus’ Plan for the New World, p.174

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