Discussion


anxietyIt’s a classic passage, whose familiarity unfortunately lessens its profundity.  Jesus tells us to not worry about what we will eat or drink or what we’ll wear.  Rather, He tells us to “seek His kingdom and these things will be given to you as well” (Lk. 12:22-34).

Practically, what does that mean for me?

We already know that these earthly things will not last.  We know that God promises to take care of our needs as we intently pursue Him.  And we’ve heard these admonitions again and again.  Live for God and nothing else.  Take the next step in your pursuit of God, regardless of whether you know how the details will work out (food, money, clothing all included as details to following God’s call!…see past posts).

But, for me, what does this really mean?

For some around me, it means serving God in Brazil and Argentina without knowing where the money will come from, or how to raise a child in a foreign culture, or even when they’ll finally be supported enough to leave.  But they know God is calling them there and that “these things will be given to you as well.”

For others around me, it means writing a book without a publisher, having a hard discussion with a co-worker without knowing the results, and finishing a partially completed degree without knowing how God will open the doors to get back into the program.

But what about me?  Where am I focusing on life’s details rather than the Giver of life Himself?  What am I pursuing and with what am I allowing my heart to be wrapped around?

As I’ve written about in the past, I am wrestling with preparing to further my education.  I’m wrestling with it because God’s call to it hasn’t been as clear as it was to go to seminary…yet it seems to those who know me well and to myself that He may be calling me back to school anyway.  I wrestle with it because just to get in is extremely competitive and requires much work through reading many books, taking tests, building relationships with prospective professors. 

I wrestle with it because I don’t know where the money would come from.  And I would have to move.  And I’m not really the classic academic type anyway.  And I would have to undertake an incredible school workload, including learning two new languages that I have no interest in learning.

All this to pursue God’s probable call?

Jesus says don’t anxious about those two big preceeding paragraphs.  He says to me that if God is calling me there, that He’ll take care of the details.  My job is to obey.  To wrap my heart around Him and not the unknowns.  He reminds me that God knows what I need and will provide as long as I am following Him.

He doesn’t promise it’ll be easy or clear cut.  But He promises to take care of me anyway.

I must believe Him.  I must trust Him.  And step.

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hypcriteJesus finishes criticizing the Pharisees and the Scribes for pretending to be holy in public when in reality they are completely missing the point.  And then He turns to His disciples and tells them to not be hypocrites.

He tells them that what is now spoken of in private will go public in the future (Lk. 12:1-3).

I think Jesus is warning His disciples to not do the opposite, yet just as hypocritical, sin of the Pharisees and Scribes.

His disciples knew the Truth.  In private (and many times in public!), Jesus taught His disciples how to really live and what it means to be human.  The danger for the disciples was not particularly to try to appear more holy than they actually were, but to intentionally appear ignorant when they were taught Truth by God Himself.

Their hypocrisy would exist in publicly denying Truth, but privately teaching it.  A sort of “reversed hypocrisy” of the Pharisees and Scribes.

Jesus then goes on to warn them to not fear the earthly consequences of going public with Truth, with really living the life they’d be taught.  Rather, He warns them to fear the eternal consequences of NOT going public…of being hypocrites.

We all know the immense persecution the following years would bring to the disciples.  As a result of going public, most of them would die a criminal’s death.

I can’t say that I face anywhere near the same persecution as the early Church.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t face the daily conscious decision of whether or not to be a hypocrite, even if the word “hypocrite” doesn’t come to mind.

How do I make myself appear at work?  Too often I give the appearance of not taking Truth seriously, especially in the little things…by the jokes I laugh at, or the comments I make or don’t make.  I fear coming off as “holier than thou”  and “out of touch” if I live what Jesus taught at work…and that would make me unapproachable.  It is easier to live a sort of split-life…the serious Christian in private and on Sunday mornings, but “just one of the guys” in public.

But Jesus tells me that I’m being hypocritical.

Or at home.  I know the truth that I need to be more selfless.  I exhort our community to do the same.  But what next steps do I actually take to live this Truth?  I must learn to be intentionally more selfless with my wife.  Even when I’m tired, especially when I’m tired, to serve her rather than expecting to be served.

Otherwise, Jesus tells me I’m a hypocrite.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Do I really want to push deeper?

This does not mean that if we are not perfect, then we are hypocrites.  But it does mean that every time we intentionally live below the standards of real life, we are hypocrites.

Thankfully, Jesus also promises us aid (Lk. 12:12).  The Holy Spirit is the power we desperately need to actually do any of this, and He’s just waiting to help us live Truth publicly.  To help us lift our foot, push it forward, and bring it back down again within new territory, within a deeper and more unified relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Intentionally.  In public.

grassThe passing of life came into sharp focus on Sunday as we literally counted the number of days we have left, given the average American lifespan of 78 years.

About 17,850 days left for me, if I live that long.

Different people have different reactions when confronted with the possible number of their remaining days.  For me, it’s depressing and a bit scary.

One day, I’ll die.  And that day keeps getting nearer.

There is so much I want to accomplish in my life.  I want to be involved in big things, do work that will change the world.  I want to give all that I have for a God-given cause, to be expended for something so much greater than myself.

But I’m already 29 years and 49 days old.  To me, that’s getting too close to mid-life.  And I thought that by now I would be more “on my way” to the “big things.”  Or at least I’d have an idea of the “big thing” God would be calling me to.

So, 17,850 days doesn’t seem like a lot of time to really get after it.  I don’t want to waste any of them.  Yet I’m just as lazy as the next guy.  I battle where I find my worth, how I engage life while staying true to my heart and its deepest God-given passions, and finding value in my daily grind. 

I’ve blogged a fair amount about the significance of our daily lives, about being called to battle the complacency right here and now.  About the role of these things comprising “real life.”  Yet this question still haunts me, continually: When will “real life” begin?

When do we actually start living it?

The answer, ironically, is at least partially embedded in my many past blogs.  I’m studing, writing, and wrestling with it.  Past saints and scholars have taught about it.  And the Bible, the “answer book,” after all, is centrally concerned with ‘real life.’   But that doesn’t make the question go away.  And it doesn’t make it “feel” any different.

Someday I’ll be dead.  Maybe in 17,850 days.  Maybe sooner.  Maybe later.  But I’ll be gone.  In the imagery of Psalm 90, we’re like grass that springs up in the morning, and then withers and is gone by the evening.

But right now we’re still “springing.”  And we have a relationship with the only Source of true worth and significance.  With the only Source who can calm our fears and give our lives deep meaning.  My questions begin to grow quiet before Him.  They pale in comparison with His glory. 

Sure, the questions will come back.  And the God of the universe can help us deal with them.

I pray that He would give us the discernment and wisdom to make sense of life and our passions.  That He would grant us the patience we need, the conviction for our direction, and the courage to take the next step.

On our own, we’re nothing more than a passing mist.

May our work during our short lives be of value.  May it matter.  Psalm 90 ends this way, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands”

nepalOur friend Calvin was back for a visit after following God’s call to serve in Nepal.  He’ll be going back for another two years.

What is so striking to me about Calvin is not particularly his love for the poor and disenfranchised, nor his work in Nepal, but his courage to go where God called him.  In his case, Nepal.

Surely to leave friends, family, and the comfort of America in order to serve the poor in a  strange third-world country, where your financial is support is whatever you could raise back home beforehand, takes much courage and conviction.  It takes obedience and self-surrender.  It takes love in action, both for God and neighbor.

God called and is calling Calvin to Nepal.

The question that is haunting me is whether I have enough courage, conviction, obedience, self-surrender, and love to follow God where He calls me.  Do I?  And do I have a sense of where God is calling me?

The  majority of us will not be called overseas.  Our calls may seem less dramatic, or maybe even less important.  It is helpful for me if I remember that the essence of God’s call on all of our lives is to love Him and others.  It is the HOW that changes from person to person, and community to community.

Calvin’s HOW at this point in his life was to go to Nepal.  That’s how God concretely and specifically is working out His call upon Calvin to love Him and others.

But what about me?

At times I wish that I could leave everything here in America behind and immerse myself in a strange and hard culture without the material comforts I so cherish, serving God in seemingly more tangible and real ways.  This fantasy suggests that maybe I wouldn’t have to battle complacency so hard.  That maybe I would really better understand what it means to live, and that it would come more naturally due to the circumstances of such a life.

But my heart tells me those fantasies, at least for me, are in part a desire to escape the hard realities of being a disciple of Christ in America.  They are searching for an easier road of discipleship, one void of the common American pitfalls.

But God isn’t calling me to escape, as my fantasy would have it.

It seems to me that God is calling me to the hard, seemingly impossible, battles facing American disciples of Jesus.  The battles of sorting out what life is really about and then spending our time, energy, and resources accordingly.  The battles of forcing out complacency and welcoming in deep life in its stead. 

These battles are overwhelming.  And more often than not, it seems I lose…both in my own life and in the lives of those around me.

Yet if God is calling me to this, then it will have to be by His grace and power that any head way is made anyway.  The HOW God seems to see fit for me for now are apparently the normal things like The Gathering, our garden, my job, my hopeful pursuit of going back to school, my friends and family, my choice of leisure activities…

My HOW is a frustrating how.  It means I can’t indulge my fantasy and escape.  My HOW is composed of the details of American life and the important communities of which I am a part.

It doesn’t seem very exciting.  Or adventurous.

But if God is working here…in my HOW…then nothing could be more thrilling.

My HOW will take much courage and conviction.  It will take obedience and self-surrender.  It will take love in action, both for God and neighbor.

The question still lingers: Do I have the courage to step deeper into my God-given HOW?

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.

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.

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