Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Stymied to Yes Man

You gotta love Jesus putting the smackdown on someone...espcially the arrogant and judegmental. Now I have to admit that arrogance is a real pet peeves of mine. When I see someone looking down on others or being snide and/or condescending because of some presumed superiority...well...it just insenses me and this cry for justice wells up inside of me. I want nothing more than to set things right...to see the arrgoant humbled. Which is probably why I love this story about Jesus and the chief priests (Matthew 21:23-27). The challenge, of course, is that I am not as quick to recognize those moments when I am the one being arrogant.

So Jesus enters the temple, and immediately the chief priests approach him (as if they've been waiting for him). The come at him in their characteristic "high and mighty" tone and demand that Jesus explain Himself. Now there is little doubt we are witnessing a supernatural patience when we see Jesus simply suggest a deal. If they answer His question, He will answer theirs. So Jesus asks (without waiting to see if they agree to the deal), "Was John's baptism of heavenly origin or human origin?" Of course Jesus knew He had them...even before He asked, because He knew them better than they knew themselves. And after much discussion, sure enough the chief priests were stymied...stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Now I don't know if you are like me, but I derive no small pleasure from seeing the chief priests humbled by Jesus. But as always, I think Jesus' intent was bigger...and we see it in the answer given by the chief priests...or rather the lack of an answer.

It seems to me the real failure on the part of the chief priests is that they missed Jesus' question altogether. Here Jesus, God's only Son, was encouraging them to consider with Him the profound, supernatural, awesome work of God...and rather than accept the invitation and really think about John's Baptism and what it means...they spent all of their time debating which was the most socially acceptable answer....which was the most beneficial answer politically. They couldn't push beyond the mundane concerns of this world. They were so addicted to power and prestige that all that mattered was which answer gave them more of both...or at least didn't cost them any of either. The truth of the answer was seemingly unimportant. And so, because they couldn't figure out how they could benefit from either response, they offered none. "We don't know."

How often does Christ give us opportunities to consider the profound works of God...or even better, how often does He give us the opportunity to cooperate with Him in His works...and instead of seizing the opportunity, we get caught up in how our participation will look to others...or in what it will cost us (leisure time, sleep, money, etc.)? How often do we have an invitation from God to be still and listen to him (as Mary did) and instead we put off or try to delay that opportunity because we have other, more pressing things we have to busy ourself with (as Martha did)? How often does the Holy Spirit lead us directly to an opportunity to touch someone's life with God's Love and instead we hesitate because we don't know them or we don't know what to say or it feels "weird"?

I am afraid to admit it...but I am not sure I am that different from the chief priests sometimes. Opportunities come...both those I recognize and those I am too busy to recognize...and I find myself stymied. I think about too many things other than the simple call at hand. God wants to engage me. The Creator of this universe wants to have a conversation with me. The King of kings wants me to help Him. He wants me to work with Him...to serve with Him. And what do I do? I think about all the problems...all the worries...all the social consequences...all things that my responding could "cost" me. And in the end...I miss it....the opportunity slips by.

Forgive me, Father, for being no better than your enemies. Forgive me for the opportunities I miss worrying about what they will cost me...or what others will think of me if I act on your prompting. But more than just forgive me...please transform me.

Dear Holy Mother, please teach me your obedience. We have no greater human example than your immediate fiat to God's request. Please show me how to say "yes" to whatever God asks of me in my life. Help me to accept and embrace whatever opportunities He brings my way. Please pray that in the same breath that I say "yes," I can also let go of the worries and anxieties of not accomplishing my plans for that moment....of doing something that may be initially uncomfortable to me...and of giving more or something different than I thought I could give. I want to be someone God can use. I want to be someone God can rely on. I want to be ready to love whenever the opportunity presents itself. In short, I don't want to be arrogant...and selfish. I want to be God's "yes man"...each and every moment.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

All In

We spend a lot of time focused on our thoughts, our intentions, our prayers. All of this internal stuff. And of course that is good. Jesus Himself directed us away from the purely outward understanding of spirituality, religion, and sin that dominated the thinking for some much of human history...including those in Jesus' day. He challenged us to expand our understanding of what it means to love God...and our fellow human beings with statements like, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultury'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew5:26-28)." The point is that maybe it is easy to not actually commit adultury or actually kill someone, but that if we entertain the idea in our heart...and in our mind...then we are still guilty. We saw that with the hypocracy of the Pharisees. So I get that.

BUT, I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung too far the other way. I appreciate the Truth that Jesus gave as He chastised the Pharisees for being outwardly spiritual, but not inwardly. He talked about how they focused on the outward appearance and not on the motives and desires in their heart.
"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated ? 18 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Matthew 15:17-19.
So I get it. The heart and sould does reveal the person. It is the core of who we are. But while He directed us to pay attention to what is going on inside...He didn't say it is the only thing we should pay attention to.

So here is my thing. As I am moving through Lent, I am finding myself wanting to live more fully for Him...as I'm sure many of us are. I truly want my life to be more about Him than it is about me. I want to literally live out the idea that "I am third." And this isn't new. This has been a desire for a long time. And so I have to be honest with myself and recognize that I am obviously not moving in that direction...or at least not as fast as I would like to be...or should be. I mean yes, I pray a lot...at least if you count all the conversations in my head where I talk to God. And on one hand some (and for a while I) would consider that a positive. Certainly that is me pursuing God in my life. But I still feel unsettled. I feel like there is more...much more for me that I am missing out on. And so as I prayed this morning I feel like God directed me to take a look at what is on the outside. What outside of me...in the outer parts of my life...the physical parts...reflect that desire? Is my physical self pursuing God as much as my inward spiritual self? What around my life...my physical life...testifies to my desire for Him?

So I took stock. There is going to Church. And most of the books I read are spiritual in nature...saints and religious authors. And I talk to my daughter about God and Jesus as things pop up. But that seems sort of rudimentary to me. As good as it may be...it doesn't feel like enough to match the desire that is inside. Do I read at least some scripture every day? No. Do I specifically, intentionally, consciously do any acts for God each day? No. Do I have a regular commitment to do something for my church...say monthly or weekly? No. And on it went. So in the end, when I looked at the bulk of my daily activities...I realized that so few are deliberately infused with God. And then I realized the consequence. I have unintentionally set my spiritual life against my physical life. They are not in unison...not both being fed...not both being aimed at the same thing. And so I have had to conclude that for all the inner stuff I may do...my life...the physical, worldly part of my life is a bit empty when it comes to God. Put another way, I realized that it would be hard for someone outside and objective to look at my life and see this deep desire and pursuit of God. And so I've realized, I think some things have to change.

I am out of balance. I have spent too much time on the inward and/or not enough time on the outward. I need to make sure that I am putting my money where my mouth is, as they say. Or at least where my heart is. I need to serve God not just with my desire...with my heart and mind...but with my body...my outward self as well.

How much am I doing to help the Church? How much am I doing to share God's love with others? How much am I doing to draw closer to Him so that I can do more for him in this world? I have had to make myself realize that simply wanting to do it isn't enough. Talking about it with others, isn't enough. I need to actualy do it...to do something...to do several things. I need my body...and my physical world to support and encourage and reflect what is going on in my inner world. I need my outside to be consistent with my inside. I need my desire for God to permeate all of me...all that I am...inside and out. And please be clear (I say both to myself and those reading) that this isn't about doing things...physical, outward things...so that others can see my faith...or so that I can prove or convince people how religious I am or how close to God I am (or am not). Jeuss clearly condemned that (Matthew 23:13-36. No...this is about getting my whole being in sync. It is about me living my faith spiritually AND physically. It's about my whole life being aimed at knowing and sharing Christ's love. It's about me finally deciding to go all in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being Childish...in a God way

Christ told us that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). On one hand I think I get it. We are to trust Him the way children (at least little children) trust their parents (or caregivers). I mean how different would our lives be if we simply believed everything God said...which as any parent can attest, is how children are. If you tell a child you will catch them, they jump blindly and gleefully into your arms. If you assure a child that there are no monsters in the closet, they will (eventually) go to sleep. In short, if you tell a child something...anything, they believe it. They trust. It doesn't matter how crazy it sounds or even how much evidence there may be to the con tray. They have faith in the person telling them. And the surest sign that they have this faith...this trust...is the fact that they act on what you tell them. In other words, whatever you tell a child impacts their lives. If you tell them that Santa Claus comes down the chimney every Christmas Eve...they believe it...and talk about it...and sit and wait as long as they can every Christmas Eve to try and catch a glimpse of him...and that story you told them becomes the only possible explanation for how all the presents got under their tree. In the same way, if you tell them they are going to the amusement park on Saturday, they will spend the week thinking about it...talking about it...making plans with the same certainty as the sun rising. They have no doubt that it will happen. So little children believe...and trust.

Oh if only we trusted God like that.

"...for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move ; and nothing will be impossible to you."Matthew 17:20
"And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen."Matthew 21:21

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Already Free

As we sit at the beginning of Lent, looking at 40 days of spiritual clean-up, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When we pause and consider where we are in our relationship with God, the distance we have to travel to get from here to where God wants us to be might as well be lightyears. At least that is how it often feels to me. I recall previous Lents...previous periods where I was determined make changes, to be more of the person God is calling me to be. But then here I am, still feeling like I am so far away from where I want to be.

Of course, as God so often does when we get to that place where we realize we (by ourselves) simply can't do something, He stepped in. Now I might have preferred if He had just changed me. But sadly I'm still not yet doing all the things He is calling me to do in my life, nor have I jettisoned all the bad habits and sinful tendencies I've accumulated over the years. But what He did do...was free me. Actually, He showed me that I am already free.

You see, if you are like me, you often fall into the trap of thinking that change is hard. You see your mistakes standing in your way...the consequences of choices you made in moments of weakness. You only too quickly become aware of your personality traits, your habits and patterns, and your failures. And then, even if you convince yourself you can work around all that, you are confronted by all the expectations of you...those by your spouse, your parents, your kids, your friends, your co-workers...even yourself. Change doesn't only impact you, it impacts those around you. It challenges the routine and the norm, and people like knowing who you are. They take comfort in that.

And so we have all these things to contend with. All these things limiting us. Or at least we think we do. The truth is, as God's children, we are a new creation. The old man/woman has passed away. We have been reborn. And like somuch of life, that isn't a one time thing. It is a continual thing. Each day, every day we are new. There is nothing to bog us down or hold us back. The past is the past. We can choose to be whoever we want to be today. We can choose to be that person who God is calling us to. Sure, yesterday you were the procrastinator who never got around to praying, but today....today you are that guy/girl who found a quiet place during lunch to just sit and talk to God for 15 minutes. Yesterday, you were the no time for chit-chat manager who was all business and never spent time getting to know your staff, but today you are the guy/girl who moved seized the chance to cancel an unnecessary meeting and instead walk around and spend a few minutes to talking to all the people on your team. Yesterday, you were the exhausted parent who couldn't wait to get all the kids fed, bathed, and into bed as quickly as possible, but today you are the dad/mom who decided the last 15 minutes of your kids' day would be spent doing something together, even if it meant going to bed a little bit later.

You see, there literally is nothing holding you back...except you. God has freed you. We are not bound by sin, by old habits, by tendencies, by weakenesses...by anything. We just need to choose to be THAT person...the person God has been calling us to be. All it takes is making a decision. And while changes may still affect others, the good news is that God won't let us handle that alone. He is working in their lives too. And who knows, once those around you see that you are free to change...to be better...they may just realize they are too.

So as we stand here looking into Lent, preparing to walk with our God for 40 days and 40 nights of reflection, and prayer, and spiritual cleaning...let's remember that we do so as free creations. There is nothing stopping us from just being the person we want to be. God's already done all the hard work...we just need see that we're free.

This all reminds me of an old song from The Newsboys:

Like a criminal guilty on all counts
Rattling his cage with every ounce
Of resolve he never had
I was convicted

Then I took the pardon and the walls came down
But I must like it here 'cause I keep hanging around
For a better suit and an escort and a winning lottery ticket

First we waited for miracles
Then we needed a sign
Now we're here to confess
We've wasted the time.

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day! So what are you waiting for?!