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.
First of all, I have to admit, I don’t know how to spell absorbsion. My spell check wants me to “absorb ions”. But I’m feeling electrically neutral today so there will be no ion absorbsion. I’ll just switch to narcisism. Okay… apparently, I can’t spell that either… it’s also got the red line of idiocy. So let’s go with self-focus. There we go. No red line.
Okay. . . Kill Joy # 1 is self focus… or self obsession. (goody! no red lines there either).
I can actually think of about three different things that prove the point … at the same time providing motivation for us to do something besides think about ourselves.
1). “Make my joy complete.” Absorb the full section of Scripture here: then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Php. 2:2-5). See? Paul’s joy is complete not by being absorbed with himself but by being absorbed with the body and the attitude of Christ. He is joyful when he is like-minded with the body, when he shares the same love, when he is unified in purpose and spirit with other believers. He is joyful when his motives are not selfish, ambitious or empty. He is joyful when he considers others above himself. He is joyful when he looking to the interests of others.
2) Augustine once said that we will never be at rest until we are at rest in him. Is this not what Jesus meant when he said “If you obey my commands, myself and the Father will come and abide with you.” And what is his command but that we “love one another.” The logic is solid. If we love each other, then the love of God himself resides in us. And where love resides, we also find ourselves at joy.
The Christmas season proves this… so does nesting season after a child is born into this world. I remember when my kids were first born and Ginger and I were spending time in the hospital. There were no agenda items, no to-do’s more important than just abiding. And abide we did. We were filled with the interest of our new baby and we were at peace. We were at joy. The same with Christmas. Christmas is a time to just abide in Christ… to abide with one another. There is no need to be somewhere, to hurry, to focus on self. And for a day or two or three, the world is joyful.
By the way… I did a study on suicides over the holidays. During Christmas itself, suicides actually go DOWN! It’s only after the holidays are OVER that people get back to their life consuming depression.
3) Personal experience as a counselor. I don’t do much counseling anymore. Okay, let me rephrase. I don’t do counseling anymore. Crossroads is blessed with Kevin Guffey…. a man with a passion for counseling. Unfortunately, when I do counseling with people, they tend to leave my office crying. And I’m left with an expression on my face that says simply, “What?” However, one of the things I do know is that in those few occasions when I have been able to successfully counsel someone I have helped direct them to some form of service for someone else.
I guess I would say we just don’t have time to have problems of our own when we’re focused on helping someone else. That’s my counsel for the day.
If we stop being so focused on ourselves, we’ll be more likely to find the joy we’ve been missing.
Preview… The three things I am going to address are 1) self-obsession, and then in parts two and three — Pragmatism and Restlessness. And, by the way, I blatantly stole these ideas from Ronald Rolheiser’s book “Holy Longing.” See you next time.