June 2009


conversationI have done this countless times, especially while at work.

Somebody asks me a question or states an opinion on a matter that Scripture clearly answers or addresses.  However, I’m working.  I have more productive things to do than get bogged down into deep and potentially lengthy philosophical or theological discussion.

Sometimes the opinions they offer are flatly false.  I have access to Truth and that Truth declares the opposite of my co-worker’s or employee’s statement.

Yet most often I just smile or remain silent or say something along the lines of, “Well, that’s one way to look at it.”  I say or do whatever it takes to not get wrapped up in such a conversation.  I don’t even say, “I disagree.”

At the end of Luke 11, Jesus blasts the lawyers, the experts in the Mosaic Law, for not only being unable to discern deep Truth, but also for not sharing it with the multitudes dependent on their resources and expertise in order to learn Truth.

The lawyers knew the Old Testament inside and out, yet failed to learn from the mistakes of past generations.  Just like their predecessors, the lawyers were unable to recognize true prophets and proceeded to persecute them and kill them.  They even killed Jesus, the greatest embodiment and proclaimer of Truth the world has ever known.

The layers had a responsibility to be wise…to actually recognize Truth and to teach it.  Not shallow knowledge or legalistic rules, but a deep, living understanding of the point of it all.  They had all the resources and training needed…luxuries in those days. 

But they failed.

Me, too.

This hurts.  I realized yesterday that I am just like them when I do not share the Truth God has graciously allowed me to know and study with those around me.  Maybe I’m the only “expert in the law” some of these people at work will ever know.  My refusal to get into meaningful conversations about Truth is akin to, as Jesus would say, taking away the key of knowledge and hindering those who were seeking it (Lk. 11:52).

I have a responsibility to be as wise as I can be, to be deep, and to affect people around me accordingly.

So…it looks like I’ll be in for some potentially long and deep conversations at work.  But, really, that matters more than any other thing I could be doing anyway.  And I always say that I want to be about things that really matter.

I have the privilege and responsibility of doing the hard, messy work of proclaiming and defending Truth, come what may.  To do it tactfully and responsibly, but to do it nonetheless.

It is one of the tasks Jesus gives to those who claim to be His disciples. 

It is a part of really living.

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whyHave you ever honestly asked yourself why you go to church?

Or pray, or read the Bible, or give time and money to charity, or…?

There are many things that “good Christians” do.  Why?

There were many things “good Pharisees” did in Jesus day.  Two of them were washing their hands before they ate and tithing with garden herbs (Lk. 11:37-44).  Neither of these two practices were commanded by the law, but the Pharisees went above and beyond and so practiced them and commanded other pious Jews also to practice them.  Why?

The Pharisees’ motivations surely were varied, yet the text settles upon one big, fat, overarching reason: the sake of appearances.

The Pharisees were intent on grooming and maintaining an appearance of “piousness.”  Of “living the life.”  Of being good, religious, God-honoring Jews.  Even of being self-sacrificial and so desperately obedient to God as to wildly give of their possessions, time, and money beyond what the Law required.

Jesus saw through all of that.  And needless to say, He was not impressed by their “show.”

Jesus did not see their extravagent tithing and meticulous purity rituals.  What He saw was a heart fixated on greed and wickedness.  He rejected the pharisaical lifestyle.

Not because their actions were wrong.  But because their heart was wrong.  They had the wrong motivations and attitudes.  Their heart hollowed out their actions to the extent that all their pious works weren’t just meaningless, but wicked…actually unknowingly leading others away from true purity and cleanliness of heart (v.44).

So why do we do what we do?  There is always a reason.  One universal reason is because we’ve prioritized what we do high enough to actually get done.  We’re never too busy to do what we prioritize.  Period.  I can’t use the excuse to not do what God calls to do by saying, “I”m too busy.”

But why else?

We cannot just give flip and superficial answers.  If asked this same question to the Pharisees, they would have said, “To protect the Law and obey God in every circumstance.”  But Jesus knew that wasn’t the REAL reason.

If I honestly ask myself this question, the answers start to become a bit scary.  Sometimes I read the Bible because it is simply something that must get marked off my to-do list.  Sometimes I pray and tithe because I subtly believe that God will bless me as a result.  Sometimes I weed our community garden because somebody has to do it.

Or even deeper, how many of these things do I really do in order to improve other people’s opinion of me?  To make me look more “spiritual?”

But life, the Law, the moral code, “good Christian do’s and don’ts,” spiritual disciplines, work, play, are all there to help me grow nearer to God.  To shape my heart.  And I miss that if I am doing them for the wrong reasons.

I risk missing the point.  The entire point of life.  Of Christianity.

Here’s the crucial lesson: honestly discern your “whys” and then, no matter what is your initial “why,” ask God to use “what” you’re doing to fascilitate spiritual growth in your life.

“God, honestly too often I write this blog because it is a duty of mine, and if I can be smart or thoughtful enough, maybe others will think more highly of me.  I give that to you.  Shape my heart as I think and write…”

mowingOne of the biggest obstacles to developing a closer relationship with God is the very nature of that relationship.

It’s “invisible.”

And felt, experienced results from living nearer to God are often delayed.

I usually can’t spend time and energy deepening my surrender and obedience to God and then immediately see the results like I could if I spent time and energy doing the dishes or writing a paper or mowing the lawn or going to work.

While we can and should use concrete, physical, touchable, observable details of life to further our relationship with God, they often simply distract us.  They lie to us and tell us that we “don’t have the time to be with God” because they are right before our eyes and need to be done.

The lie is twofold: first, you are always with God and all that you do affects your relationship with God, whether positive or negative.  Second, you’re not too busy.  Things can always be cut out or diminished or changed to make way for greater priorities.  Your greatest priorites get your time.  Period.

Most of the time I choose to work on and finish what is right before me.  What gets measured, or graded, or easily observed.  I did that all the time through seminary, and still do.  The paper or the book had to be finished before I could really pray or just “be” with God.  I needed to get that “A” rather than get a “B” because I intentionally spent time away from my studies being quiet with God.

The easy cop-out is to say that I’m using the actual schoolwork or yard work or family time or job to grow nearer to God.  Ideally, that would be true.  But let’s be honest, most of the time it’s just an excuse to do what we always do and appease the divine tug upon our conscience in one fell swoop.

Certainly jobs and chores need to be done.  And families need to spend time together.  But not at the expense of our relationship with God.  Never at that expense.  It is a price much too high to pay, even though we often don’t feel the cost right away.

It’s all about balance.  Not between your relationship with God and concrete, physical details of life, but between the types of time you “spend with God.”  You need both times of quiet with God and work with God.  You need both times of disengagement from the world with God and engagement in the world with God.

My struggle is to spend time that could be used for something “more productive” to slow down and be quiet before the God of the universe.  To invest in what usually cannot be immediately measured, but is of infinite importance. 

And my guess is that’s the side of the balance most of us need to address.

So no more excuses.  Not for me.  Not for you.  Invest in the invisible.  Truly, in more ways than you or I could ever know, our lives depend on it.

eyechartDo you want to see God?

I don’t know of anybody who would answer “no.” Of course we desire to see God and Him working in real life right now. What could be more encouraging to continue the hard work of discipleship?

I’m sure the religious elite of Jesus’ day would say the same thing. Yet “seeing God” for them would have to fit within a predetermined box…otherwise it couldn’t be God at all. Remember the Sign of Jonah from the last post?

They didn’t have eyes to see that God was right in front of them, working in a miraculous way to change the course of human history and to write another chapter in the story of redemption.

Their eyes were bad. Dull. Opaque. The light can’t get in. And if the eyes, the gateway to the body, are bad, then the inside is consumed by darkness…by falsehood, lack of direction, and misunderstandings, whether we realize it or not (Lk. 11:33-36).

But what about my “eyes?” I recognize Jesus as Truth, as the Son of God. I claim to be a Jesus-follower, a disciple, a pursuer of God. But can I see God’s works right in front of me, even though they may not be what I thought I wanted?? Do I recognize His movement? Do I realize it’s God when it’s God?

Many times, no. Many times only long after the fact. When I’m in the situation, I frequently don’t even ask the question, “Is this God?” even though I long to see Him and recognize Him.

I think it’s largely because God and His work don’t always fit into my box.

I’m not supposed to just be working part-time after finishing seminary and still wondering what God wants for my “career.” I must have messed up somewhere, or am too selfish, or have not shown enough initiative, or…

My employees at work are supposed to be easier to manage, more bought in to what we are doing, and united. What happened to my “magic touch?” I must not be in the right place, or have become too soft, or have passed my prime, or…

My life and community is supposed to be more alive. I shouldn’t still have to battle complacency, a dry prayer life, distractions, and materialism. I must not be trying hard enough, or really understand, or am able to turn any of this around, or…

Yet I’m learning great lessons in patience, discernment, and where I find my value by still “just” working part-time. Plus, my schedule allows me to be more involved in other important ventures, even though I do not get paid for them.

Yet I’m being forced to grow through the challenges of a difficult employee group and am being shaped to take on even greater challenges down the road. I’m learning a lot about myself and my management and leadership styles, both strengths and weaknesses.

Yet I’m finding out first hand that I am indeed unable to do anything about my complacency outside of the grace of God. Really living is HARD work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and I am the neediest of all!

Really, I probably don’t have know a fraction of how God is using different circumstances in my life for good…how He is working right now. I need to pray for that discernment.

I need to pray for good eyes.

open handDeciding upon the answer before you even ask the question is a rather foolish, wouldn’t you say?

Or formulating a conclusion before you do any investigation is a tad counter-productive, to say the least.

To decide Jesus is in league with Satan without honestly checking the facts is eternally damning.

Yikes.

Yet that is what many of the religious elite in Jesus’ day did.  Luke 11 gives us the story of these religious leaders’ accusations of Jesus as practicing witchcraft and also their demand of Him to provide a sign in order to prove Himself…even though the Torah (their own Scripture!) taught to test a prophet by their message (Deuteronomy 13).  If it led one to God (rather than gods), then the prophet was to be trusted.

If nothing else, Jesus’ message leads one to God.

But many of the scribes and Pharisees turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the real validation of Jesus.  They were not honestly seeking the right answer, but the answer they personally desired.

In response, Jesus compared them to the notoriously evil Ninevites in Jonah’s day and the pagan Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s day.  In this comparison, the Jewish religious elite lose.

Even the Ninevites really listened to Jonah’s preaching.  The Queen of Sheba truly investigated the stories of Solomon’s wisdom.

The Ninevites repented and fasted.  The Queen of Sheba showered gifts upon Solomon and praised his God.

Both the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba had much less go to on than Jesus’ accusers, yet they recognized truth when they heard it.  Many of the Jewish religious elite  had the Son of God Himself, yet they played blind and dumb.

They had already decided who Jesus was, what He wanted, and what that meant for them.

Me too.  I frequently decide ahead of time what God desires.  Of truth.

For example, I’m a planner.  It is good to consider the future in order to responsibly make present day decisions.  But too often, I plan a course of action or a desired result and then proceed with my plan blind and dumb, so to speak.

The Gathering is a very transient and evolving community.  Decisions need to be made today that will affect the community tomorrow.  But 6 months ago who could have foresaw the radical changes all of the pregnancies would bring about?  Who could have guessed how the community times on Sunday mornings would evolve or how the logistics for creating the garden would actually happen?

Many of my “plans” had to be radically altered, if not thrown out all together.  I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted enough.  But just like the Ninevites and the queen, once I recoginze God’s desires, I need to submit to them and act accordingly.

Here is the point: plan, but hold those plans with an open hand.  Investigate and decide, but do so honestly with an open heart.  God is not bound by what we think is best and expect (thank God for that!!).  Remain sensitive to His guidance and divine change of plans (c.f. James 4:13-17).

Otherwise we risk missing out on something God desired for us to experience. 

We miss out on growth.