A postmodern journey of faith...
"To be present is to arrive as one is and open up to the other."--Sacred Space We talk about being in God's presence, but how often are we present with God? I know for me, when I go into His presence, so often I come with my shields up. I suppose it's because I'm afraid of what I'll see. The thing is, I know that God has no desire to hurt me or wound me. Why do I hide? You know, I can tell when someone's glad to see me and when they're just giving me lip service. Can't you? I'll bet God can, too.
Today's passage: Luke 12:39-42. Be ready. In the conservative Evangelical tradition I come from, this passage has typically been interpreted in light of being ready for the rapture, when we who believe will be caught up in the clouds with our Savior. I remember as a child being scared to death that the rapture had happened, and I had missed it. What a way to live. But I wonder if that was really Jesus' point here. To me, it seems to be more of a call to be ready...doing the Master's business. Being ready means being busy doing what he's called us to do. For me, the challenge is figuring out how that fits into my "new life." I'm beginning to think that, perhaps, my days as a formal clergyman are numbered...but that doesn't excuse me from being about my Master's business, ready when he comes. When he does come for me, however he comes, my desire is not to be found "with my heart ready." My desire is to be caught in the act of being intentional about his calling on my life.
Now, the big question is, what is his calling for me? It's not fair going through a mid-life crisis at 26.
One thing is certain, I need to do the Gospel. And I'm not talking about street witnessing or passing out tracts, or even necessarily preaching and leading worship. I'm talking about "doing" it. John Wimber said it best when he said that we are to be "doin' the stuff!"
Why do I have so little faith. I mean, deep down inside, I'm worried about this. I have $80 in the checking account. I should be able to handle this. I've had less. We have plenty of food here. The lights are on. The bills are paid. Why am I worried?
Because I am, that's why.
I'm also bothered by the kid thing. My daughter didn't bother to inform me that she couldn't reach the school clothes...so she just stayed in her pajamas until 8:02 am when I came down from my shower. I got angry. I know, stupid reason. But that's life. And I'm not a morning person, ok? But it was really silly--her for not telling me she needed clothes, and me for losing my cool over something so trivial. I really need grace.
"A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe
that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture,
and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor,
who sees by her genius what she can make of it." (St Ignatius)
How is God using these two things to sculpt me?
Today's scripture is Luke 12:35-38. Alertness. How do I stay spiritually alert. Surely I would love to have the Master feed me--but how do I warrant such a prize? Let's backtrack a bit...how have I been unready today? Well, I think the answers are obvious. I should have known about the finances--a wise shepherd knows the state of his flocks and herds. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, and it shouldn't have. And beyond that, I shouldn't have bothered me so much. God has always taken care of us, I don't think he'll stop now. And the kids, well, they catch me off-guard more than anything else in my life. I love them dearly, but I'm never ready when crisis strikes, no matter how minor it may be. So my question is, "In this area of my life, how can I be more ready? Ready...to reflect God's grace and love?"
Perhaps the answer to being ready is to stop and think. In this passage, why were the servants ready? Because they thought to be so. They took a minute and considered the options, drawing the conclusion that it would be better for them to be prepared than not. So they did, and were justly rewarded.
So my answer to "being ready" today?
Think twice. Take a minute and consider.
That's my Word for today.
How can I be formed by God's grace? Grace means that my need to perform is gone. I don't have to "prove" myself. True humility is defined in this simple principle: "nothing to prove, nothing to lose" (thanks, Chuck Swindoll). I must live by this today. True freedom is found in letting God form you with life---to submit to his grace. Submit to grace...hmm...an interesting idea. How do I submit to grace? How do I do it today? Maybe it has something to do with trusting God after you've done your best. I tell my kids that all the time--"just do your best." Maybe I should live by it.
Today's scripture is Luke 12:13-21. I constantly say that I'm not worried about the budget at church as long as we're serving the Gospel. But the reality is that, depending on circumstances, they may not be able to pay my salary here in a month or so. I'm tense about that. But that's really sad. "One's life does not consist in the abundance of posessions...[be] rich toward God." Petersen says, "Steep yourself in God-reality." There's food for thought. What is God's reality? I guess I'm drawn back to The Matrix...a modern-day allegory. God's reality is apart from our own. His reality affects our reality, but our reality is not "real" because it is subject to His. So, in this latest ordeal--which is probably only an ordeal because I'm allowing it to be one--what is God's reality? Is He moving and shaking things for a reason? Is He preparing the way?
I think it could be.
So what do I do with this? Steep myself in God-reality. Stop worrying about it. Take it as it comes. I've spent the last 16 hours anticipating what could go wrong. Maybe I just don't need to worry about it. He's taken care of us thus far, I'm sure he's probably not bent on giving up now.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
I'm a little glum tonight. Just got word through the grapevine that someone may be leaving our church--this saddens me a great deal. I've been aware of some tension there, but had really hoped we could work through it.
Not much else to say right now.
Actually, two somethings.
First, I decided not to preach tomorrow. Instead, we're going to have an exploratory service based on Lectio Divina. Don't know what Lectio is? If you need something to energize your time with God and his word--and you'd like to learn how to really BE with him, I'd recommend it. Check here and here for more information. Admittedly, I'm a little aprehensive about tomorrow...but I really think God is in this, so it will work out just fine. It will just force some people outside of their box.
And that's a really good thing.
Second, I got a cat.
Yes, really. He's jet black, and his name is Paco. Don't believe me? When I get a digicam, I'll get a pic of him. Me...the quintessential cat hater...got a cat. And you know what else? I actually like him. He was helping me type earlier...along with trying to eat the vine that cascades down over my desk.
Oh, and don't blame this on my wife, either. It was my choice.
Both things. ;)
Maybe I'll get back to you later...for now, here's the message that's been eating me up for a week now:
Last week we looked at the first section of James 3. In this section, James focuses on how the tongue shouldn't be used. This week, we move on to the rest of the chapter and learn about how, exactly, the tongue should be used.
(13) Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (14) But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. (15) Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (16) For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (17) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (18) Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Wisdom. For most of the world it's a confusing topic—and it means something different to most everyone. For the sake of argument, I went to the American Heritage Dictionary to learn about wisdom, and here's what I came up with:
- The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
- Common sense; good judgment: “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things” (Henry David Thoreau).
- a. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge: “In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations” (Maya Angelou). b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.
- A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.
So there you have it. Wisdom. But it's important that we know that in the Judeo-Christian context, wisdom is simply knowledge applied. To the Jew and Christian, wisdom should be something that's just plain-old common sense practical.
I'd like to take a few minutes to share a story with you today, written by a wonderful author, Max Lucado.
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.
People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.
One morning, he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You chould have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you've been cursed with misfortune”
The old man responded, “Don't speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the resit is judgment. If I've been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don't make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”
The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don't know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can't say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”
The people of the village laughed. The thought the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn't he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proved that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn't been stolen; he had run away in to the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”
The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don't judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?”
“Life is so vast, you you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don't say this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don't.”
“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.
“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don't go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We have only a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little change that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.
“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son's accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”
The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”
--Max Lucado, “The Woodcutter's Wisdom,” In the Eye of the Storm
excerpted from The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, page 613ff, Charles R. Swindoll
What is wisdom? I would go as far as to say to you that it's not something we can possess. It is something we must do. James asks us the question, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it...” (v. 13) This falls in the same vein with, “You say you have faith. I have deeds...I'll show you my faith by what I do,” which we read about in Chapter 2. But James is good enough here to nail this down even farther for us: he tells us what to do to show that we have—or rather—act with wisdom. Reading forward, “Let him show it by his good life...” Pretty simple. If you have the King James, it will say, “Let him shew out of a good conversation.” This is why I'm an advocate of modern translations.
Aside: What is a conversation? (Talking with others.) Right, but not in 1611 when this was translated. In 1611, your conversation had to do with the whole realm of how you interacted with others, not just what you say. It had to do with how you lived your entire life, especially in relation to others. In 1611, it was a good translation of the original Greek, because it really captured the essence of what James was saying. In 2003, it doesn't quite cut it.
So, what we're really talking about here is interpersonal relationships—how we treat other people, in every way. Goodness, it seems like God really likes to major on this relationship thing. We talk about it pretty much every week.
So, show it in how you deal with others, and “by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” Every day, the longer I live, the more I learn, the less I know. I think that's wisdom. The word translated as humility here can be best illustrated by a horse broken to submit to a bridle. Is he weak? No. Is he frightened? No, not if he's been broken properly. Is he under control? Yes. This humility is the gentleness of strength under control of the Holy Spirit. And what is the bridle for us? It is knowing...that we don't know it all. And that we can't. It is the freedom that comes from no longer needing to judge others—because we don't have adequate criteria with which to judge them. Why? Because, we don't know it all. I quote the story from a few minutes ago, “Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don't say this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don't.” The word perturbed doesn't have anything to do with anger, like we so often interpret it. Rather, it means to be disturbed, uneasy, or anxious. So—it's a peace. 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For now<,> we see in a mirror, dimly...” ...for now. There is tremendous freedom that comes from knowing that we don't have to know it all. And there is even greater freedom that comes from realizing that because we don't know it all that all we have a responsibility to judge then, is our own lives. “I can't believe he did that? What was he thinking?” Good question. You don't know, so don't worry about it.
(14) But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. (15) Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (16) For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
The only thing that would motivate us to ignore the fact that we don't know it all is the desire to serve ourselves, especially when it comes to dealing with others. Now, maybe it's for personal advancement or position. Maybe it's making yourself look good by making someone else look bad. Or maybe it's just proving that your point is right. The problem is, that for you to be right—that means you have to highlight why someone else is wrong. For every winner, there's at least one other loser. You may be right, but there's a lot of times that we make sure everyone knows we're right just because it serves us well. James calls this, “denying the truth.” You may be right, but you deny the truth you claim to defend because of how and why you do it. Check your heart, check your motives. The only person you have a right to judge is yourself. Do it well...becuase as we read before we have communion every month, if we judged ourselves, then we wouldn't have to come under judgment. And besides, in verse 15 we learn that defending the truth for personal advancement is of the devil. A more literal rendering would be, “demonic.” It is an action inspired by demons. Ouch. (16) “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
But God's wisdom—God's wisdom is so much better. Let's look at it:
(17) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (18) Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
God's wisdom—a thing which must be practiced, not possessed—is:
- Pure—no bad attitudes, no ulterior motives except sharing the love of Christ with EVERYONE—even those with whom we might have struggles. From this one quality flows everything else we read of from this point forward in this passage.
- Peace-loving—a peace-loving person is not bent on self advancement.
- Considerate—God is grace, pure and simple. And this word in the Greek is often used to refer to His grace. There are many times when God should discipline us harshly. But because of His grace, He doesn't. We are to be like Him—not insisting on the letter of the law—but rather exercising love's leniency. Remember, you don't know it all. What you judge in yourself and someone else may be covered by God's grace for them, because they aren't at the same place you are. God's wisdom dictates that we remember that the only One who knows it all is Him.
- Submissive—it is ready to yield, like the horse in the bridle.
- Full of mercy and good fruit—it is immediately compassionate, rather than judgmental—quick to help instead of condemn.
- Impartial—it does not discriminate against anyone. Finally, it is
- Sincere—literally translated, it is without hypocrisy (explain hypocritos, having two faces)
Clearly, James definition of wisdom here does not encompass anything we can have—but everything we must do. Wisdom cannot be possessed—it must be lived. The result of living it: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” Amen.