Love God. Love Others.


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.

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.

growthIt’s kind of like watching a baby grow.

Those who see the child daily rarely notice the rapid growth, while other friends and relatives who see the baby once a week or so frequently comment on how much Johnny is growing. 

How big he is getting!  Look at those arms and legs!  He’s saying so many words!  He’s walking around!

What can be hidden by familiarity and the nature of small incremental change to those involved with the baby on a daily basis is usually obvious to others less involved.

The same dynamic is at work in the spiritual growth of a community.

As a community we pray for growth, for change, for God to lead us into greater discipleship.  How easy it is for us to miss God answering those prayers.  To miss the very divine work we so earnestly yearn for!

So once a month, we as a community slow down.  We reflect on the past month.  We share what we see in our lives and our life as a community.   Where we are growing,  failing, succeeding, and experiencing frustration.  Where we see God.  And we pray.

It is tremendously encouraging to hear from each other the various aspects of the last month’s worth of journeying together.  And it is tremendously important for us to learn to discern God’s work in our lives.

God has reminded me this past month of the spiritual importance of the daily, small, boring details that make up life.  I’ve been learning to appreciate the small steps of growth rather than being frustrated that I don’t see greater leaps and bounds.  And I’ve got much more to learn and practice in these truths.

Our community is transitioning from a mostly child-less group of 20s and 30s to mostly child-full church, and how a bigger family affects our relationship with God and the community to which we’re committed.  We are figuring out what it means for the church to do the work of the church and not just rely on one or two people.  We are slowly moving away from simply talking about loving others to serving in concrete, real ways for others.  And we’ve got much more to learn and practice in these truths.

God is at work.  We see that when we slow down, rather than rush on.

May we learn to discern His work better.

May we never miss it.

prayer4It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  Jesus tells us to pray for the things in the Lord’s Prayer as though we are pounding on a locked door until it finally opens (Lk. 11:5-8).  We are to persistently, boldly, relentlessly present before God our needs in line with His will.

But He already knows them.  And He already desires to meet them (vv. 11-13). 

So why is God telling us to badger Him with the same requests, over and over again?  The whole enterprise seems rather futile before a omniscient, omnipotent, and loving God.

Surely it can’t be a form of divine manipulation.  If only we say this same prayer 30 times, THEN God is bound to grant it.  What hubris to even consider such human power over almighty God.

Surely it can’t be just a hoop to jump through.  The overall tendency of Jesus’ life and teaching seems to me to be a simplification of our relationship with God rather than imposing various new rules or laws or red tape.

Surely it can’t be to provide God with any new knowledge.  He’s God.  He already knows whether or not “we really mean it” or “really need it” or…

Surely it can’t be to change us.  I mean, we already know what we need.  We already know when we need it.  And how we need it.  And what’s best for us spiritually.  And all of the various implications.

Or, maybe not.  Definitely not.

So, as I see it, I’m left with one solution.  Persistent prayer is to change us in some way rather than change God in any way.

What’s the intended change?  I don’t know.  It’s probably different for different people in different places with their relationship with God.  Truly, each of us needs to be shaped a bit differently in order to grow in love of God and others.  To grow spiritually.

Maybe it’s to widdle away some pride or illusion of control.  Maybe it’s to force a greater dependence on God.  Or feelings of frustration that eventually boil over into greater honesty and surrender in prayer.  Or maybe a million other heart-changes.

Through persistent prayer, usually more gradually than suddenly, God shapes our hearts.  Somehow spiritual work is being done on you each time you pray it.  The you that pounds on the door the 50th time is probably not the same you who pounded on it the 1st time.

And that change is invaluable.

Have you experienced this?  How have you changed through the course of praying persistently for a particular need?  If so, please post it as a response…

choresOver and over again, Jesus teaches us to not allow the details of life to distract us from God.

He says, “Don’t worry about what you wear or eat or your lifespan.  Seek first the Kingdom” (Mt. 6).

He directs the 12 disciples to go on a journey to proclaim the Kingdom without food, defense, money, or extra clothing.  The disciples are simply to obey and not allow the necessary details of living hold them back (Lk. 9).

In contrast to the many details involved with being a good hostess that were consuming Martha, He says that Mary has chosen the one necessary thing, the good part.  Mary has chosen to be with Jesus.  Her focus is wrapped up in her relationship with God Himself (Lk. 10).

And we know this.  We hear these admonishments time and time again.  Why is it  so hard to actually live a life devoid of distraction?

I believe one of the biggest reasons is because the details of life aren’t details to us.  How can God say that what I’m going to wear or eat is simply a detail?  These “details” are concrete…I can see them, feel them, and I know when I do and do not have them.  And I need these “details.”

The same is not as easily said about our relationship with God.  Our spiritual health is more ethereal and hard to really nail down.  If we completely ignore it for a couple of days, we don’t feel the same consequences as if we went without clothes or food.

But Jesus says that nothing is more important.  Nothing is more necessary or better than allowing the many things that make up life remain as details in contrast to our relationship with the Creator of the universe.

How do we live that way?

I believe the resolution lies with our focus, our heart.  By letting go of the details of life Jesus does not mean to avoid them.  He’s not saying to stop buying groceries or clothes or being responsible.  Remember, Jesus is most concerned about our hearts, because from our hearts flow our actions.  Flow our “details.”

Jesus is teaching us to not allow the details of life, especially when they don’t feel like details, to distract us from our God and our relationship with Him.  Don’t be consumed by your future plans, or financial concerns, or daily housework, or schoolwork, or career, or family, or…  Once these things consume us, they have become our gods, mere idols.

So, for Martha, she allowed the work of hosting Jesus and His disciples consume her and distract her from spiritual reality.  She allowed resentment to build up against her sister Mary rather than recognizing how powerful her service was in not only allowing her sister to grow nearer to God, but also in serving God Himself!! 

What Martha was doing was not wrong.  It was how she was doing it.  It was her heart.

For me, I find the challenge is in not allowing the mundane, boring, little daily routines distract me from God.  Rather, I need to make my routine a spiritual discipline of sorts.  A discipline that brings me nearer to God by recognizing each activity as spiritually significant.  To do my Martha work and to choose the “good part” at the same time.  Each day.  Little bit by little bit.

Jesus reminds us that where we are and what we do MATTERS.  Right now.  Here today.  And it is all about our hearts. 

Defend your heart from distractions as you go about the details of life.

This is the work of a disciple of Jesus.

empty-tombAbout 2000 years ago God became man, walked among humanity and taught them.  He was born of a virgin, was sinless, and performed various miracles.  Around the age of 32, he was wrongly accused of blasphemy and of starting a rebellion (among other things), he was convicted by a  “judge” persuaded by some public opinion, suffered for the sin I’d commit thousands of years later, and was crucified.  Three days later this same God-man came back to life, ascended back into heaven, and lives there today.

I believe this.  I believe what to most sounds outlandish, crazy, mythical, and simply wishful.  Yet, and certainly not without evidence, I believe it.

Frequently I find myself repeating the plea a father made to Jesus in hopes that Jesus would heal his boy, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” 

I believe these things actually historically happened.

That claim provides quite a jolt to my daily perspective of life, especially in relation to difficult tasks to which God is calling me.

Tasks of self-sacrifice.  The daily grind of many small and boring yet spiritual significant decisions.  The larger big and exciting projects and their various necessary elements and steps.   

I’m beginning to believe that self-sacrifice is the root of all of God’s calls upon my life. 

He calls me to sacrifice the common things of  time, energy, money, possessions, and comfort.  But underneath  and deeper than these “objects” of sacrifice, He is concerned with shaping my heart.  Here, He calls me to sacrifice my feelings of inadequacy, of being overwhelmed, of self-sufficiency.

Especially self-sufficiency, and the pride that entails.  When will I get it?

Jesus sacrificed so much more.  He displayed a power that goes beyond understanding.  My struggles in comparison are nothing.  They are child’s play.  When will I actually live like I need to literally, daily depend on Jesus’ strength in order for me to meaningfully sacrifice anything…for me to grow?

It is ludicrous to imagine that Jesus can’t help me with my own areas of self-sacrifice.  Consider His crucifixion and resurrection.  Look at what He already did.  Look at what He already proved. 

I need that perspective.  I need that divine power.  I need that help so I can take the next steps God has for me.  My next small, but significant steps.

I need all of it daily.

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