Teachings


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”

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…”

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.

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