Wait For It

Wait For It

The band Arcade Fire touched on something in their song “We Used to Wait”, from the 2010 Grammy winning album of the year “The Suburbs”.   It’s a song about how fast our pace of life has become, how complicated things have become, about how even though we tell ourselves everything will be alright, we just can’t sleep at night.  If everything is so alright, just why can’t we sleep at night??   Here is a partial lyric sheet from that song…

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name

I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain

Now our lives are changing fast.
Now our lives are changing fast.
Hope that something pure can last.
Hope that something pure can last.

Now it seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

We used to wait.
We used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait.
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown

We used to wait.
We used to wait.
We used to wait.
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
I’m still moving through the pain

Now we’re screaming “sing it again”

I used to wait for it

I used to wait for it

Hear my voice screaming “sing it again”

Wait for it

Wait for it

Wait for it

Now I’m going back 4000 years.    Going back to a time when we used to wait for it…

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….”

Genesis 18:1-2 ESV

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mare, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….Do you have this image??   We can look at the Bedouin people in the Judea wilderness.  Arcade Fire sings that our lives are changing fast, but not for the Bedouins…Our lives may be changing fast, but theirs are not.  We can imagine what this scene is like, we can know what the tent looks like.  We can imagine old man Abraham sitting at the door of his tent.   We can imagine Sarah bringing to him a bowl of dates. Old man Abraham, it’s hot outside, just sitting in the door of his tent under his canopy.  Old man Abraham with his long beard, just sitting there.  Doing nothing more than occasionally eating dates, spitting out the pits, drinking from his jug of water.  He’s just being…alive in the heat of the day.  He can taste the sweetness of the date, see the blue sky, feel the heat of the day, hear the insects drone, he can smell the sheep….

Then in the shimmering distance on the horizon, he sees three men drawing near.  Three strangers, he doesn’t know them.  So Abraham does what Bedouins do to this day, offer their famous hospitality, he invites them to stay for a meal, and they do.  Abraham sits down in the heat of the day at the entrance to his tent with his three guests and they share a meal.  But over the course of the meal, and the conversation that ensues, Abraham slowly begins to understand that this more than three strangers, but this is in fact an encounter with God, the God that he worships, the God that he has followed out of Ur of the Chaldeans.

God begins to reveal more if his will and make more promises.  This time God makes promises to Sarah and Sarah laughs and thinks it’s funny.  Sarah says “I didn’t laugh”, God says “Yes you did.”   Because she did laught, because it’s funny.  God says that she, Sarah, at 90 years old will in a year give birth to a child by Abraham who is 99.  It’s funny stuff…

What is Abraham doing??  Ultimately he’s saving the world.  He’s establishing the line of Abraham that becomes the nation of Israel.  That becomes the people through whom Messiah comes and brings us salvation.  He’s living the most important life in history before Jesus Christ.  Not Moses, not David, not Solomon, not Elijah, but nobody is more important than father Abraham.

What does he do?  He doesn’t do much in life.  If you add up everthing he did in the Bible it wouldn’t take much more than a week.  Abraham spent most of his life waiting.  Just being, just waiting…

We used to wait for things.   That’s what Arcade Fire recognizes in their song as a change in our society.  We don’t wait much anymore.  Now our lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last….

One of the biggest changes over the past century, the whole of the twentieth century but even more so now in the twenty first century is the speed of life.  It just keeps getting faster and faster and faster…the speed of life.  Much of our technology has been utilized to make things happen that much faster.  So fast that we don’t have to wait for it.  As a people, we have learned to dislike waiting.  We hate to wait

I am writing to myself far more than you.  This might be for you but I know it’s for me.  I’m writing out of my own need.  We have been cultured in speed and instant.  We have learned to hate the idea of waiting for anything.  I am the worst, and it’s a defect in my character I’m asking Jesus for help with.   So when a band like Arcade Fire tells us to wait for it, they are speaking to me.  I know  this is something I need to hear, probably we all need to hear…

The Bible really has almost nothing good to say about being in a hurry.  In fact, the Bible seems to view being in a hurry as a kind of temptation.  A kind of lust to have things in an inappropriate way.  When the Bible portrays people who won’t wait for it, It usually means they are heading in a wrong direction….

Adam and Eve.  Think about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Knowing good and evil, that in and if itself probably was not an evil thing.  What was evil was for Adam and Eve not to wait for it and let God in his way, in his time, teach them good from evil.  Instead, they listened to the serpent, couldn’t wait for it, and went and plucked from that tree and put the whole human race into trouble.

Abraham and Sarah, most of the time they did pretty good.  But then they had a hard time waiting for it.  So they wanted to speed things up, make it happen faster.  They got tired of waiting for it.  So Sarah gives Haggar to Abraham.  Let’s just say that created some tension in the home…brought some trouble about.

Maybe you remember the story about King Saul was waiting for the prophet Samuel to come preside over the offering of the sacrifice.   Samuel was delayed, Saul was waiting.   He had to wait for it. He didn’t want to wait any longer, so he offered up the sacrifice himself, something he was not authorized to do.   It got Saul in trouble, and it began his whole downward spiral until finally he would be rejected by the Lord from being King.  Because he wouldn’t wait for it.

Or the Prodigal Son.  He wouldn’t wait for it, he wanted his inheritance NOW!  It’s a defect in out soul when we won’t wait for it.

We need to realize that the pace of the Bible is slow.  The Bible is very pre-modern in that sense.  We, as modern people, have decided that there is nothing that can not be improved by making it faster.   But the Bible resists all of that.  The pace of the Bible is deliberately slow.  You will find that God makes a promise and then fulfills it…maybe 700 years later.   That happens with Isaiah.  Isaiah brings forth a promise from God that God is going to do a certain thing, and then seven centuries roll by before God gets around to doing it.

Who would like to be used of God to bring forth a great promise of God that will be fulfilled about 2718????

Wait for it

John Lewis

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Standing Firm

Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry.  It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.

That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV.   Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols.   Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry.  Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away.  Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day.   Dying by snakes.  It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel.  1 Corinthians 10:10.

As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real.  Sometimes, we forget this.  We get a little bit of sober time.  We get a lot of sober time.  We get clean, we stay clean.  We claim the victory over whatever ails us.  But we forget.  We forget that those consequences are still out there.  We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.

We forget.  We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We forget how close we are to falling.   In recovery, we call this relapse.   For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away.  That’s all it took, was just one look.  That’s all it takes.

People ask me, how do I keep from drinking??   I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo.   But, I do get asked about the drinking.   Y answer is always the same.  It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal.  I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks.  I’m just not drinking one.   The first one.

Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not),  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.   You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that.   It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes.   And in a way, that’s true.  None of us walks the same walk.  Each of us has a unique story.   But our struggles, this is what we have in common.  We all struggle with something in our lives.   And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come.     For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV.  But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.   We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives.   But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear.   Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter –  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV.   Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it.  John tells us what that way is.    “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV.  Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   

Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you?   Confess it.  To somebody.   On this point, those of us in recovery  have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor.  So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together.  Until we don’t.

Those consequences, remember them?   They are still waiting.  You might forget them, they will not forget you.  Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away.  Think you are standing firm?   Be careful that you don’t fall.  Find someone you trust, and talk about it.  Don’t hide.  “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18 ESV.  It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV

http://bible.com/111/1co.10.11-13.niv

John Lewis

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,  but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable.  In other words,  I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus.  We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different.  The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people.  As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.

So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   Did you hear that?   I hope so.  Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point.   You can not serve both God and money.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it[or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’  I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”   

This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.  He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like.   This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.   In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation).   The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it.  Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.

So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money,  what happens?   The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed himThe Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money.   They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.”    They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking.   Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce.   You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed.    If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).

The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing.  On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.

Jesus disagreed.  Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing.  Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil.   Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man.  So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil.  In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing.  But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.

This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.   That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man.  He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.

The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment.  Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system?   Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!

Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees.  Again, Jesus disagrees.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV.  Who are we going to blame here?   The man or his parents?   Jesus says “neither”.  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.   So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…

So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Luke 16:13-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.13-17.esv

John Lewis

Taken, blessed, broken, given.

Recently, in a group setting, the question was asked, what does communion mean to you??   I actually gave an answer, part of which included the statement “it is the center of Christian worship.”   Which I believe to be true, we’ve been going through the Gospel of Luke, and it seems as though every significant event which occurs in this gospel occurs reclining at table, sharing a meal.    Jesus reinforces this image in Luke 13, when as part of an answer to the question  “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:23 ESV, he says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29 ESV.  This is part of an answer Jesus gives in which he also tells us the story of the narrow door.  “”Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” Luke 13:24-27 ESV.  So in answer to the same question, Jesus tells us people will come from far and wide and recline at table in his kingdom, yet many who ate and drank in his presence (communion?), and in whose very streets Jesus taught (good church going believers?) will be told Depart from me, all you workers of evil!   To which I don’t have much specific to say here, except that we all must be careful of our own certitude with which we go into the world.   It seems to me that Jesus is telling those of us who think we have it all figured out (Jesus, God, Heaven, Hell, etc) that maybe we don’t know all that we think we know.  We think we know something about who is in or out (mainly that we are in), but when the time comes some of us will be knocking on the door, looking in at all those coming from far and wide, whom we assumed would be out, or at least behind us in line.   Sounds like a call to continue to walk in prayerful humility to me.

But this does bring me to my point for today, an answer to the question “what does communion mean to you?”   I can answer this question many different ways, communion means many different things.  It’s not a one dimensional picture, it’s a many dimensioned picture of Christ, and the way his followers are to go into the world.

I’m going to focus on four key words in relation to communion, from the account in Mark – taken, blessed, broken, given.   And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them.   This tells us Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread.   Taken, blessed, broken, given.  Continuing, Jesus said “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.   So, do you see what has happened here?   Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread.   He took the bread, blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take; this is my body.”   Jesus is giving his disciples a picture of what is to come over the next 18-24 hours, and we need to realize that Jesus did not just serve the meal, he became the meal.  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.    So Jesus takes bread, blessed the bread, but then he does something mindblowing, now all of a sudden it’s not just bread and wine he’s serving, but his own flesh and blood.  He goes from serving the meal to becoming the meal.

From the gospel accounts, we can sum up communion in four simple words, taken, blessed, broken, given.   Because Jesus doesn’t just serve the meal, he becomes the meal.  Jesus laid down his life and was broken and poured out for the sick, the hungry, the broken, the hopeless, the sinners.   Jesus was taken, Jesus was blessed, Jesus was broken, Jesus was given for the sake of the world, and we are called to go and do likewise.

Jesus was poured out for all.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit show no partiality.   It took Peter a decade or more to figure this out – “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35 ESV.  So come one, come all, And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.

So who are we, as the church??   Are we not the body of Christ??    What we miss in communion is that this is a picture Jesus gave at his last supper of how his disciples, then and now, are to go into the world.  Luke’s account tells us Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  We are to Do this in remembrance of me.   Do what??   Is Jesus just talking simply about sharing a meal together in remembrance of him as a religious ritual.  No, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.  He’s talking about much more than that. Communion is not just about what we do once a quarter or once a month or even every Sunday.   Jesus did not give us a task to do, walk away from, and check our box saying “well, I took communion today!

We are not washing the dishes or taking out the trash.  We don’t come to the table, eat the Lords Supper, and walk away thinking we are finished.   No, communion is a picture Jesus gives us of how we are supposed to live life.  We modern Christians have a problem.  We don’t ever want to finish the meal.   Communion is a four course meal. The bread is taken, blessed, broken and given.  Christ was taken, blessed, broken and given.   We want to stop at the second course.

We love our blessedness, we love to talk about we are taken by God, Amen!!!???    Taken from our addictions, from our sins, from our hurts, habits and hang ups. But to finish the meal, to walk as the body of Christ, to be broken and given, poured out for many, we would rather not eat those two courses of the meal.  We would much rather gluttonously revel in our taken-ness and blessedness than to be broken and poured out for the world around us. But that is our call.  That is why we Do this in remembrance of me.  

We all want to be taken, we all want to be blessed.   But do we want to finish the meal?   “Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” Matthew 20:22 ESV

Taken.  Blessed.  Broken.  Given.  Finish the meal.   Go into the world as the taken, blessed, broken, and given body of Christ.

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.””

Mark 14:22-25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.14.22-25.esv

“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

Luke 22:14-23 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.22.14-23.esv

John Lewis

The Prodigal Father

Good morning and Happy Monday!   Back to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.   Starting with Act 1 of the three act play that is Jesus’s parable, focused on the Prodigal Son himself.

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

There is a wealthy landowner, who has two sons.  The younger son is ungrateful.  The younger of the sons loves neither his father nor his life in his fathers house.   He approaches his father and asks very inappropriately for his share of the inheritance NOW.  Basically, he is saying to his father “I wish you were dead.  I don’t want to wait for you to be dead.  Give me my share NOW.”  

The inheritance was the land and the livestock.   This request is very inappropriate, even more so in that time and culture than now.  But the father does not resist the wishes of his younger son, and says to him “This is your portion of the land and livestock.  It is now under your control.  I give it to you.”   So then the younger son did something even more inappropriate.  He sold the land and livestock.  He wanted cash.  You are not to do that, the land must remain in the family, but he sold it so he could have currency.

He’s sold the land and livestock, he’s flush with cash.  He breaks with the father and leaves, not only his family but his people and religion.  He goes into another country, goes to live among the Gentiles, the pagans, those who don’t know God.  He lives there as a profligate sinner, squandering this money he had not earned, that was rightfully his fathers.   He had taken his portion of the land and livestock, turned it into money, and now he squanders it on wine, women and song.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll!!  You know the story.

And yes, you do know the story.  You know what happens, it’s always this way.  The money runs out.  Hard times come, this son is in a bad way.  He goes and gets himself hired by a gentile pagan landowner who gives this broke Jewish boy the glamorous task of feeding the pigs.   You can almost hear the shock as Jesus’s audience catches their breath.  He’s a servant of a pagan gentile, he’s feeding the pigs, he’s even starving for the very food he’s feeding the pigs.

Now Act 2.  The compassionate father.  But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.   AMEN!!!   So the prodigal son has hit rock bottom in the pig pen.  He’s come to his senses.  His motives appear to be nothing more than self preservation.

He begins to make his way home.  He knew he wasn’t worthy, he was just hoping to be hired by his father as a servant, because even his fathers servants eat better than he does right now.   But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…how is this possible?    It’s possible because the father is looking for him, that’s how!!!   And when he sees him, he feels compassion, co-suffering love, that’s what compassion means, co-passion.   Com – together, passion – suffering, he feels the suffering of his son, and his co-suffering love rises up inside him, and he runs to his son, and he throws his arms around him and begins to kiss him.

The son begins his prepared speech – ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’   But the father is hearing none of this!!   The father starts barking out orders to his servants “Wait a minute, wait a minute!  Go get my best robe, my most expensive robe, this boys in rags!!  Go get the family ring, the boys lost everything.  He has no shoes, come on servants, get some shoes on him here!  We’re going to have a party, you know that fatted calf we’ve been waiting for something to celebrate?  There’s never going to be a better reason to have a party than this!!”  Hear me now…that’s what the Father does.

Jesus wants you to know, that what the Kingdom of God is like!!!   Why is Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors?   Because that exactly what the Kingdom of God is about…


We call this the story of the Prodigal Son.  Prodigal is an adjective.  It means “spending money recklessly and extravagantly.”  The son ran off to the far county, and he was living prodigally, spending his money recklessly and extravagantly.

But now that he’s come home, who’s being Prodigal?   Who’s spending money extravagantly and recklessly?   THE FATHER!!!    You could just as well call this the Parable of the Prodigal FATHER, who when his son comes home says I’m going to spend money extravagantly and recklessly because we have to celebrate.  Jesus wants you to know that’s what the kingdom of God is like.

Isn’t what Jesus told us over and over?   “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 ESV.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”  Matthew 18:12-13 ESV

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 ESV.   If that’s not spending extravagantly and recklessly, I don’t know what is.  He’s Prodigal, I tell you!

John Lewis

An Easy Yoke?

I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age.  This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Or, at least part of a solution, a cure,  to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us.  This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV.    So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light.   The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.

But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it?   As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”   Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”.   And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He?   And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying.   And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…

We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb.  But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not?  As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!

It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments.  A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved.  We choose to live this way.   We call it normal human life.   As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.”   As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.

Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  But do we take these statements seriously?  Do we believe them?   Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden?   I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human.  These things seem anything but easy and light to us.

We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus.   And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens.  The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).

Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis.  We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself.  I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!!  Hurt me once, shame on you.  Hurt me twice, shame on me.   We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head.  But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…

We are saved by grace, amen!!??   Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us.  We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness.   Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!

Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is.  Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals.  No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better.   And he kept training, he kept training.   And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.

This is true for everything we do in life, is it not?   A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon.  If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do.  We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).

The same is true of the Christian life.  A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.

If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry.  Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town.  Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV.   There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.

After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting.  During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer,  often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.

It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing.  He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for.   It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.

So, what’s my point?  This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about.  We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot.  We will surely fail.  If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life.   Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be.   If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete.  If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal.  If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.

We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us.  This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps.  If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”

Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us.  But Jesus does expect us to follow Him.  These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.

Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make.  It will seem the only sensible thing to do.  For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike.  True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.

Im going to finish here.  We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles.  You will never make it.  The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5.   No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.

Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human.   I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives.  There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.3.esv

John Lewis

Chills

Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?

Chills.

How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.

Chills.

“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis