Recent events in my own life have brought me to a new understanding of several passages of Scripture. Perhaps not on a cognitive level, but certainly on an experiential level.
First, reader, I share with some trepidation that my parents have chosen out of their convictions to “disfellowship” myself and my wife. Without going into detail about all that… it is this event specifically that has given me some new insights. I can’t help but share them, because I think these insights are crucial for the Christian to be able to move on from where they are… wherever they are.
The first is from Luke 14:25-26 – “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”” In this passage Jesus makes very clear that he must be held in regard above all other relationships. Our longing for him must exceed that of any other. What I have learned is that God has given both myself and my parents an opportunity to practice this truth. See, my parents love the Lord, in their own way. They are convicted that their way is the right way, and that my way (without going into what the actually theological differences are) is a way that leads to destruction. Out of their conviction, they have chosen to disfellowship their own son because of their love for God and a desire to follow him to the best of their own abilities. While I deeply, deeply, regret their decision, I must respect it. As for myself, my convictions remain true as well. I cannot change what I believe to simply match theirs any more than a mathematician could believe that 2+2 isn’t really 4 just because his mother says so. But this, in similar fashion, gives me an opportunity to show my love for the Lord above all others.
The second is from 2 Kings 19:19ff – So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!” Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.”
Following God is thrilling. In my experience, God opens doors that we didn’t even know were there, but we have to have our eyes opened and our ears attuned, listening for the call and the direction of God. Elisha, open to hear God… to understand what it was that Elijah had done when he threw is cloak over his own shoulders… wow! To respond in such a way that says, “I’ll leave everything behind and follow.” However, before Elisha could do that, he had to say goodbye to his parents. We don’t have a record of that conversation, but it should would be interesting to hear how that went for Mr. and Mrs. Elisha’s-Parents.
The point is, I suppose, that Elisha was ready to sacrifice it all for the thrill of following after the call of God. That is not to say that Elisha was hell-bound had he chosen to remain in the field, with is parents, working the farm. It is to say … well, here’s something I’ve come to believe.
Giving 10 percent of ourselves to God is a good baseline. God required the Jews, by law, to tithe. Many churches today ask their adherents to tithe. Statistically, few actually do. But when you read Scripture and you look at men and women who changed the world… they weren’t 10 percenters. They were 100 percenters. They were all in. They were men who left their nets, their farms, their families and moved in God’s direction leaving all behind. These were the people who destroyed enemies, won battles, moved rivers, walked on water, healed the sick and fed the masses.
I pray that God would give us all … more and more as we see the day of his coming approaching … an opportunity to leave behind the faith of our parents and find it unsatisfactory. I don’t mean that it won’t get us to heaven. I mean that God is still actively calling 100 percenters. I pray that you have a chance to hear that call. To know what it means with so many others to leave everything behind for the sake of moving with God in the direction of changing the world… bringing about his Kingdom on the earth. The truth is, people who live according to their parents faith may very well find their way to heaven when they die. On the other hand, what do we miss out on in the here and how, when we’re so busy listening to our parents faith, we shut out the call of God in our lives today?
I pray that we may not miss out on one more opportunity to hear God calling us to something more.
Bringing our suffering to God is the only way to survive it. I mean that in the sense that one might say that their mother’s home made cookies are the only way to eat cookies. Yes, there are other means, but the best option is to suffer in identification with Jesus Christ.
One of the major purposes behind Jesus coming was to identify with humanity… not, of course, for his sake but for ours. As our creator he knows all about humanity and what it entails. Including suffering. However, he came not so that could understand us, but that we might know that he understands us because history witnesses his coming. They saw him BE human. The world saw him suffer, cry, hurt and grieve.
Mark’s account of the Gethsemane story (Mark 14) is a great example of how Jesus suffered. How he was “greatly distressed and troubled.” How he agonized over the fear of death, over the disappointment of humanity, over his own betrayal.
I pray that today, you would take a moment to identify with Christ… or better yet, know that he identifies with you. Do you suffer pain? Do you suffer disappointment? Do you suffer betrayal? Do you suffer the loss of life or love? Jesus identifies. How precious is our savior who not only saves our souls, but speaks to our souls words of comfort through his willingness to let us see him at his very worst… in suffering.
God… may we see your suffering servant and know that he is also God.
I had opportunity this week, as many of you know to spend time at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The place is absolutely beautiful. If I think to, I’ll attach a few pictures of the Abbey later. I haven’t taken any this trip, but I might be able to find a few from previous trips. Or, I”m sure you could find it online through a simple Google search.
Anyhoo… when we attended the “Mass” today it struck me how the Catholic church truly reveres the Lord’s Supper. It is, of course, much more than a memorial for them, it is a celebration of the actual presence of Jesus Christ. According to Catholic tradition in the process of a Lord’s supper the bread actually becomes the “host” of the body of Jesus Christ. It is a process that they call “transubstantiation.” It is, as they understand it, an actual change of substance from the bread to the body.
It also struck me how they practice closed communion. One must be (in theory) a Catholic to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a Catholic Church. When I went to Mass this very morning it struck me that I don’t really enjoy feeling like an outsider. I don’t wish I was Catholic, nor do I have any aspirations to do so, but I do wish I could share communion with these good folks.
My good friend and co-worker Daren Lugafet was saying this morning how being here helps us in two ways. It helps us to see how we could do a better job revering Jesus Christ through the Lord’s Supper. It also shows, by contrast, the fantastic gift of being able to share an open communion with all those who believe in Jesus and who claim him as Savior. For that reason, I have appreciated our time here at St. Meinrad as well.
I pray that the church will continue to grow in its willingness to share communion with other believers. The very church In attend has, as her history, a great desire for Christian unity. The America Restoration movement, from which the Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the churches of Christ were “birthed” (so to speak) was at the onset, a unity movement. I wonder what the unity of the church will look like as we move into the future? The challenge will be to maintain deep spiritual and theological convictions on a personal and congregational level even as we move toward a greater and much needed ecumenicism.
May God continue to bless his church with knowledge of Jesus Christ and the magnitude of his love for all the saints.
(The picture below is actually a picture of the chapel at Ferdinand where the “Sisters of St. Benedict” do their work and worship.) But the idea is the same. Notice how, on their “altar” the “host” or “eucharist” is encapsulated and given special place and reverence. I believe that God’s exaltation of his body today is not in the “host” that is the bread, but in his “church” that is the living and active body of Christ in the world).
I think it must be the case that there are things that happen to us in life, whether we may be at fault or otherwise, that bring changes in us. Difficult ones. I wonder, too, whether we might face changes so drastic that it changes the our very person. And … try as we might, we can never be the person that we once were.
I used to live in Tulsa. Our home was, like most of the other homes in Tulsa, on a slab foundation. I always remembering hear that the water table was too high or something like that. I know nothing about that sort of thing so just take my word for it when I tell you that almost no one in the Tulsa, OK area has a basement. If they do… its a very basic storm shelter and not essentially a two story house with an underground floor. The foundation of the home we purchased had been peered. Meaning that a portion of the foundation had broken away from the rest of the foundation and was essentially moving. I don’t know if it was moving right or left or down or what, but it was moving. Some foundation experts had come in some years before we bought the house and drilled down to the bedrock way beneath the home, and fastened steel rods from the foundation down to the bedrock. The end result is that the house was more stable, having been peered than it was before.
Knowing that the house had already been peered, my wife and I bought the house with the full understanding that the foundation, though cracked was solid! And during the years we lived in the home… the house had no movement. The foundation was solid.
Then we decided to move.
What we didn’t know is that people, in their ignorance, don’t understand that a peered house is actually more solid than an unpeered home. People hear that the foundation has been cracked and don’t want to buy. We had a difficult time selling the house for that very reason. The cosmetic appearance of the home was only slightly marred by the previous damage. There had been nothing done in the breaking of the foundation that had made the house unliveable, but people were still frightened at the concept of buying a home with a flawed foundation.
Something happened to that house that changed it. It would never be the same again. On the surface… it looked very much the same. Even the places that were cracked on the inside had only suffered slight damage, but had been repaired. Even though it was stronger than when it was first made, it was still seen as undesirable.
I think this same kind of thing can happen to people. I think it does happen to people. I think I’ve seen it. I think I’ve experienced it.
Consider the kinds of events that change the very foundation on which we live. Murder. Rape. Abandonment. Violence. Spiritual warfare that causes us to question the reality by which we are surrounded.
All of these things can crack our foundations. Through much spiritual healing and work, however, we find that we can by God’s grace dig deeper and find something beneath us that is more solid and more “unmoving” then anything we had imagined before. Getting to that place takes a lot of work… a LOT of work. It isn’t easy and the cosmeting or superficial damage done to our lives may be mild, or maybe even severe.
But the damage done to the surface of our lives isn’t nearly as significant as the way that the world perceives us. Life is different when we’ve been broken. We can no longer see ourselves as we once did, and the world will no longer see us as it once did. However, if we are careful to seek the direction of God, we can, I believe, have faith that he will bring us to a renewed strength that surpasses the capacity of our original position or situation.
I pray that if you find yourself in a situation where life has become broken, that you would take heart. The work is difficult, and the perceptions of the world around us may be that we are weaker and somehow less desirable. However, what you and I know, as does our God, that it is his strength that undergirds our very spirit, making us strong for his own purposes.
people find a way for truth to meet its home in practical application. The first lesson in Post Encounter is called “Strong in Freedom.” In it, I tried to make very practical some ways that, through disciplines, we an not merely have a mountain-top experience, but live a mountain-top way of life.
I shared four “D’s” of Surrender. The key to Freedom and staying in it, is of course, Surrender. We typically think of surrender as the beginning of enslavement. But where God is concerned the opposite is true. Surrender to God equals freedom.
But how does one surrender? How does one surrender to God?
It begins with an “encounter” moment. Simply put, an encounter moment is any time at which a person meets some element or portion (whether large or small) of God’s truth that challenges them to change… to start something or to stop something. In that moment God has given the individual direction. That direction can come straight from God’s word (i.e. Scripture reading), or it can come through the influence of a believer or another avenue. The point is… it is God’s truth and it is challenging change. This is Direction…the first thing to which we must surrender in order to keep moving toward greater freedom.
Once we are surrendered to God’s direction, or leading, we must be surrendered to God’s discipline. There are many spiritual disciplines, but I like to use the acronym RPMs to describe what I see as four fundamental or foundational spiritual disciplines.
MEET (with other believers)
SERVE (in the new way of the Spirit)
The great thing about these disciplines is that they can be practiced almost at any time by any believer. In reading Scripture, praying to God regularly, staying encouraged by other believers and serving others in some capacity, we find ourselves growing stronger in our personal freedoms.
Third, we must be surrendered to the beauty and balance of mutual domestic support in the realm of spirituality. I believe that God created the family as the mot basic discipleship group. Before there was a tribe, a nation, a people… there was a family. God made families to function in a way that would pass faith on from generation to generation. It began with Adam and continues on today. Everyone is born to a family, whether they are ever able to enjoy that blessing or not… we all have parents. Within this familial institution, men and women both must surrender to the need to be mutually submissive to and supportive of one another. We pray for each other, we do life together, we train up children together… it is fundamental training grounds as even Paul attests in his letters to Timothy and Titus. For a man to serve as an elder in the church he must prove himself capable of making disciples by having believing children.
Fourth, we must be surrendered to other people in the form of a small (or relatively small) accountability group. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpents another. A chord of three strands is not easily broken. We are to bear one another’s burdens. So many passages of Scripture indicate that faith is a relational endeavor. If we fail to submit ourselves to others for accountability, we become isolated, proud, and then comes the fall. By staying accountable to other believers, we stay flexible in the way we walk from day to day. In this behavior, we allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit as he works on us through the lives of other people.
These four things keep us surrendered… And staying surrendered means staying free in Christ!
I’m absolutely thrilled about Sunday’s lesson. The implications of and the responsibility that God has placed upon us in preaching the gospel of repentance in the name of Jesus Christ. What a priestly responsibility! That God has given such authority to me… to proclaim forgiveness in his name. And to know… that people either believe it and receive it… or the reject it. Powerful stuff.
For your consideration: What are the implications of Luke’s version of the Great Commission? What are the implications of the story of Jesus healing the lame man and first saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” And then the people are amazed that God had given such authority “to men.” Does the church today still wield that authority in his name?
Are still to be about the business of proclaiming forgiveness of sins in his name? Do we actually have that authority and to what end? To what limit?
Great questions, aren’t they?
I think pretty much everybody has the same story. Oh sure, in one story the good guy wins, in the next the bad guy, but the plot is the same. I’m always me. You’re always you. God is always God. Sin is always sin. And grace is always grace.
It began with the world.
Just as you and I were born into this world… parents hovering over us ready to grab at us and love us the moment our lungs first struck air. So God hovered over the face of the deep by his Holy Spirit, ready to embrace the creation as it sprung forth from its own watery womb.
Just as we were born infants in this world: screaming selfishly and demanding our own needs be met, careless of the thoughts or needs of parents, depriving them of sleep and money and peace. So the mankind came in the bodies of Adam and Eve who recklessly abandoned God’s commands and desires and put thir own desire for wisdom above their care for God. In them, Adam and Eve, the whole world violated the greatest command: Love God. They failed. So do we.
Just as we, in our selfishness, hurt our siblings, made fun of them, crushed their spirit, laughed at them at their own expense. So Cain despised his brother and killed him. In Cain, the world violated the second greatest command… love your brother (or neighbor). They failed. So do we.
Just as we pursue our own goals and dreams thoughtless of bringing God into the equation. Money, success, bigger, faster, stronger, more prestigious, more recognized, more … more… more. Our thirst for self exaltation brings us to build kingdoms for ourselves that are devoid of God. So mankind, through the tower of Babel, left their God in the dust and chose, rather than to trust God or exalt him, to exalt themselves in the plains of Shinar. They built their tower of Babel, and so we build ours. Neglegent of our God. Forgetting our own maker.
And finally, we realize and acknowledge our sin. . . or we don’t.
If we do, then we know that what we deserve is death. Destruction. To be wiped off the face of the planet. We may even wonder if there is anything in us that is worth saving at all. Even our very best thoughts, our very best deeds, our very best efforts fall short of perfection. We are, alas. Sinners. But calls us to believe that if we put our faith in Christ, if we confess his name and are immersed in his authority, then there is something within us worth saving. And God, by his grace, saves us by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the world… In all this sin, because man’s heart was only evil all the time, God was ready for a “do over” and so he created one by calling for a deluge. Yes, there was one man who was worth saving. But even Noah’s family had a measure of dysfunction. But the fleshly minded people of the world had to go. The flesh had to be destroyed. And so God baptized the world.
After God baptized the world, he made the world a promise. It was a promise of grace. That he would never again destroy the world by water as he had done. One baptism. That was it. No more. He put a rainbow in the clouds to seal the promise.
As we are baptized into Christ, God makes us a promise too. He sets the rainbow of his Holy Spirit over our hearts as a seal. A promise of salvation. A promise of grace.
Have you put your flesh to death? Have you let the deluge of baptism wash away the old so that the spirit may be alive in Christ?
Sin is not unique to you. You are not worse than anyone else. You see, the story of the world… it’s your story… It’s my story. It’s our story. It’s a story of sin, death, tragic loss, grace and redemption.
Where are you in the story?