Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mysterious Ways

The Spirit often works in underhanded ways. He changes your attitude toward a situation, until one day you realize that you are gentle where you used to be angry, merciful where you used to be harsh. He drops a notion in your mind, until you realize that you are in the perfect place at the perfect time to do some good, but afterwards you wonder how you got there.

Let Jesus Drive

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Darkness and Mercy

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Jesus and Prayer

Mark 1:35-38

Jesus struggled with time to pray alone. He prayed with his disciples, and he showed his devotion to Yahweh by reciting the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) daily. But to be able to listen to the Father and gain strength by praying alone was hard to get. To do this, sometimes he would get up before anyone else, sometimes he would tell everyone to go away, sometimes he would stay up after everyone was asleep. But as often as he could, he sought time with the Father.

Who Are the People of God?

We can look around at the different religions and the many different kinds of Christianity and we can wonder, who among all of these different kinds of religious people does God really care for? Some religions are strict, others are lax; some are private and personal, while others are public and in-your-face; some are meditative, others are ethical, while others are very social. And each one of them has their own ideas of what makes up the people of God and who really belongs.

Of all the people in the world, Jesus is one of the few who we can trust to really know what God prefers. Jesus lived among his people and taught and healed—but more importantly, God gave his stamp of approval on his life and teaching beyond anyone else, because God raised him from the dead. No other religious teacher or prophet or theologian could claim that. So rather than delving into theology or religious doctrine, let’s just look at what Jesus said about the subject.

The Beatitudes—Matthew 5:3-10
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for God’s people. He didn’t come up with it himself—although he packaged it. Most of this teaching comes from the Hebrew Bible (which is usually today called the Old Testament). It is called “the beatitudes” today because each statement speaks about a blessing that the people of God will receive. “Beatitude” comes from a Latin word which means “state of bliss”. And these statements explain who will receive a state of blessing or fortune from God. Before we explain it, though, let’s hear what Jesus has to say about God’s people for himself:

3. The poor in spirit are fortunate because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 4. Those who grieve are fortunate, because they will be cheered. 5. The meek are fortunate, because they will inherit the earth. 6. Those hungry and thirsty for justice are fortunate, because they will eat their fill. 7. The merciful are fortunate, because they will be granted mercy. 8. The clean in heart are fortunate, because they will see God. 9. The peacemakers are fortunate, because they will be called 'sons of God.' 10. Those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are fortunate, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Who are these people?
The first thing we want to look at are the characteristics of God’s people. Jesus statements about these characteristics can be divided in two: a. Situational characteristics and b. Ethical characteristics.

The Anawim of God
Some of the characteristics of God’s people relate to the awful situations they find themselves in:
• The poor in spirit (oppressed, especially economically),
• The grieving (remorseful about the situations they find themselves in),
• The meek (lowly, disenfranchised or outcast),
• Those hungering and thirsting for justice (greatly desiring right to prevail in their lives)
• And the persecuted (rejected or spoken ill of).

This isn’t exactly a top-ten of things that we want to be! These characteristics can be summarized in one Hebrew word—anawim. The Bible speaks much of the anawim, because they are the kinds of people God focuses on, and desires to help more than anyone else. (Read Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 34:6.) That’s because they have no one else but God to turn to. No power on earth will pay attention to them, because most people would prefer to pretend that they didn’t even exist. Some of the anawim in our society are the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, the chronically sick and all the various others who are socially outcast. These are the poor, the lowly, the outcast—and they are God’s people. If a person thinks that they are of God or His people, but have never experienced this kind of rejection by society, then they are not, in reality of God’s true people.

The Loving of God
However, one cannot just be rejected or poor and be of God’s people. Many teachers and theologians today will teach that Jesus said that everyone who is poor or outcast represents him. But that simply isn’t true. Jesus said that those of his “brothers” who are needy are his people. And Jesus said that his brothers would “do the will of my Father in heaven”. In other words, they listened to and obeyed God. But what kind of obedience is Jesus talking about? Not drinking on a Friday night? Studying the Bible every day? Standing on a street corner yelling, “You’re going to hell” to everyone you see? Hmmm… let’s see what Jesus says:

• The merciful (those who do good to everyone in need without exception);
• The clean in heart (those who do what is right because they have a mind focused on God, and not because of superficial reasons)
• The peacemakers (those who do good to their enemies, who refuse to judge on appearances and who gather people to be devoted to God);
• And the persecuted for righteousness’ sake (those who are rejected because they were doing the good God said to do).

These are the people who keep two things on their main agenda: They are devoted to God first and foremost, not allowing anything else in their lives to get in the way of their love of God. Second, they are doing everything they can to benefit other people, no matter who they are. This makes sense, because Jesus said that these two things are to be the focus of everyone who lives for God (Matthew 22:35-40). They love God and they love other people. And sometimes they get burned because of it. Sometimes they are rejected or even physically hurt because of it. But they know it’s worth it.

How can it be worth it?
It doesn’t seem worth it. Jesus is saying that God’s people are those who are so focused on devotion to God and assisting others that they get hurt by it. It just doesn’t seem right. But it really is—in fact, it is a weird sense of justice that indicates that these are God’s people and not others. Just look at what God’s people get:
• Theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God lets them rule His coming nation!)
• They will be cheered (God gives them happiness!)
• They will inherit the earth (God gives them land and city to be in charge of!)
• They will eat their fill (God will give them true justice—forever!)
• They will receive mercy (God will overlook their faults and meet their needs!)
• They will see God (God will let them be in his presence!)
• They will be called sons of God (God will call them his own!)

All wrapped up, these are the blessings of God that almost everyone wants. It is peace, security, true spirituality, all of one’s needs met, a peaceful society to live in. It is winning the real lottery—obtaining true happiness that you could never get with cash.

So why do these people get it, and not others? Because only God is offering it, and only those who are truly devoted to God and His ways will get it. And how can anyone know that we were really devoted—and not just faking it? How can anyone know that we really cared about other people and weren’t just faking it? Because we acted in love even though we were living in hard times. We stayed right with God, even though we suffered for it. We continued to help others, even though people thought we were wrong to do it. We suffered and loved at the same time.

How fortunate are the oppressed because they will rule God’s kingdom!
How fortunate are the sorrowful, because God will cheer them up.
How fortunate are the lowly, because God will give them the earth.
How fortunate are those who desperately desire justice, because they will get just what they want.

How fortunate are those who act in compassion, for God will be compassionate to them.
How fortunate are those single-minded on God, for they will see Him.
How fortunate are the creators of peaceful communities, for God will make them rulers.
How fortunate are the sufferers for righteousness, because they will rule God’s kingdom!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The True Authority

Jesus is deeply concerned about God’s reputation. He acts, more than anyone else in the Bible, as God’s PR agent. He truly acts as God’s Son, and, as any child of a famous parent, he is constantly living in the midst of his parent’s reputation, whether good or bad. This could be both exciting and disturbing. Exciting, because of the attention one receives that most people do not. But mostly, the child of a famous parent is disturbed, even if the reputation is generally positive. Such a child would be disturbed by the fact that most of what he or she is hearing about the parent is fundamentally misguided. Not necessarily wrong, but one’s reputation rarely is a reflection of the true personality or motivation of the one with fame—no matter how often the misconceptions are re-explained.

For instance, Jesus was constantly confronted with the reality of who people thought best represented God. If Gallup or Barna had done a first century survey of Jews throughout the world, asking the question “What person or group of persons could you trust to speak authoritatively for God?” the surveyors would get a number of responses: Priests at the temple; the Sanhedrin; the High Priest; or a particular School of Law, such as the Pharisees or the Sadducees. The interesting thing is not so much the differences of opinion, but their similarities—all of these authorities center on one place: Jerusalem. And many of them center on one person: The High Priest who was the leader of the temple priests, the Sanhedrin and the Sadducean school of Law. This fairly unified group of leaders are called in the New Testament Ioudaioi, often translated “Jews”, but better understood as “Judeans”. They could just as well be understood as “Jerusalemites”, for there was the center of political/religious Ancient Judaism. This would make sense, since the High Priest was the political/religious authority in Judea since the second century BC (as long as the U.S. have had presidents).

So when Jesus walked around ancient Galilee, people would always be referring to God’s authority as “the Judeans say this” or “the elders say that” or “the teachers say this.” The content of what they said would be some interpretation of the Law, but if it came from Jerusalem, it was authoritative—the final word.

Now Jesus had some issue with this authoritative approach to theology. This is not to mean that he was not authoritative. He was, certainly. But that was the problem. As the authority, the Son of God, the king of Jerusalem, Jesus found that the Sanhedrin and the High Priest had many things they disagreed with Jesus on. The disagreements came to a head when representatives from Jerusalem formally declared Jesus' teachings to be false and his healings to be empowered by Satan. The Judeans weren’t very diplomatic. But they didn’t need to be. They were the Accepted Authorities. They could say whatever they thought was true.

But setting aside, for a moment, the fact that they rejected Jesus’ authority, Jesus didn’t think that they qualified to be real authorities. The reason for this, Jesus said, is that they reject and even kill the ones who truly represent God—prophets and teachers such as John the Baptist. This meant that these leaders, rather than representing God’s authority and truth, actually represented their own interests. And, in the end, they would be crushed. Again, more about this later.

But who did Jesus say have God’s real message for his people? Who did Jesus say were the true authorities of God? Who should actually be listened to, if not the Judean authorities? Well, Jesus said, the folks like John the Baptist. People who spoke God’s word and were rejected, even killed for it. Folks like those who listened to John the Baptist—prostitutes and tax collectors who were rejected by the Judeans, but they listened to God’s word in humility and repentance. Folks like the man who was demon possessed with a huge crowd of demons, but who was healed by Jesus and then told to speak about what God had done for him. Folks like the Gentile centurion, rejected by the Judeans, but accepted by Jesus for his faith. Folks like the disciples who were never properly educated, but could be taught to say “The kingdom of God is near.” Jesus calls them infants and contrasts them with the well-spoken and educated. Jesus calls them poor and contrasts them with the rich and comfortable. Jesus calls them unimportant and contrasts them with the Judeans.

But Jesus also said that these are the ones who will enter God’s kingdom—receive God’s greatest blessings, exult in God’s greatest joy. These are the Anawim. The poor,and outcast-- they are the ones best suited to represent God's plan to humanity.

High Volume Meekness

Meekness isn’t exactly in demand today. Nobody wants it. Sure, people will buy books on love, on peace, on joy, on self-discipline—but how many people want Meekness for Dummies? Microsoft Humility? (Whoa, talk about a contradiction in terms!) McLowly? Meekness just doesn’t sell.

And why should it? Meekness doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t make us more successful, it doesn’t help us make friends or influence people. Let’s face it—the meek in our society are rejects. They are the outcasts, the people who don’t really fit in. Let’s see, who are the professional meek in the U.S.?

• Homeless
• Elderly in nursing homes
• Those living in low income housing
• Poor immigrants
• Mentally ill
• Those who work for minimum wage
• Panhandlers
• Those on Disability or Food Stamps
• Non-English speakers

Not exactly whom you want to be like? Perhaps not the friends and neighbors? Nor your usual upstanding church members? Of course not. These are not the building blocks of society, the ones who can make things change for the better, the righteous, the acceptable. Again, the meek are the rejects. Not just the unimportant, but the unwanted, the unacceptable.

And how do the middle-class church members—the Uptight Upright—treat these folks, the meek and lowly? Sometimes they treat them with pity, feeling sorry for their plight, perhaps seeing how they can help them. That’s typically the best response. If only the best response were the only response. Often the meek are treated as a “problem” that needs to be solved, the solution of which has avoided the minds of all the mighty. The meek usually are ignored by most—best not seen, not dealt with. The apathetic aren’t interested in judging the lowly, but they aren’t interested in doing anything else with them either. But there are many that do wish to judge the lowly.

These judges use the logic of Job’s friends—These meek are in the positions they are in for a reason. Perhaps in these post-modern times we do not want to use the argument of God only offering material blessings to the righteous, but we would use other arguments. “They made terrible errors in their lives, and so they ended up where they are.” “They will have to work hard like we did and then they can get out of that situation.” “This is the land of opportunity—anyone who works hard enough can get ahead.” “They just need to apply themselves.” “Lazy.” “Addicts.” “Trying to take advantage of good people.” These labels are used on the meek, even if they are not known. And if you think you are immune to this, how many times have you ignored a panhandler whom you have never seen before because, you assume, they would use the money you might give them for their addiction? This is judging by stereotype. Would we assume such things of our neighbor who lives on the same suburban street as us?

If we looked at these meek with God’s eyes, we would see that these meek are not the insignificant and hopeless as we might first have imagined. Just the opposite. We need to remember that God does not choose the powerful, the rich, the ones who already have everything in place. God chooses the needy, the insignificant, those for whom everything is falling apart. This means, biblically, when we look at our world around us, we need to see it with new eyes. Next time you see a panhandler, instead of seeing him or her with pity or disgust, think, “This is one of the ones whom God chooses.” Next time you see an elderly woman, living alone, respond, “I wonder if God will give her a son.” Next time you meet a mentally ill person, consider, “I wonder what God is going to do in this person’s life—it must be magnificent!” Next time you hear about the starving in Africa or Asia, instead of being overwhelmed with a mix of compassion and guilt, pray that God would do a work of power there.

Poverty and illness are not dead-end streets—they are opportunities for God to act.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Way of Salvation for Christians

Salvation in Jesus is not just an event, it is a life. Praise God that at a certain time in your life you presented yourself before Jesus and, in faith, accepted him. And you have assurance that he has accepted you as well, through the death of Jesus. But when Jesus, your Lord, spoke about salvation, he was not talking about a one time event. Rather, he spoke about a way, a path that somebody walks on, not just a stand that someone makes. He spoke about abiding in his word, not just believing in it. He spoke about enduring to the end, not just dedicating oneself. Even so, if you are to gain salvation on the last day, your faith must be something that is lived out every day.

Jesus describes the daily living of faith in this way: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to take up the cross? Jesus spoke of seven things:

1. Be wholly, single-mindedly devoted to God alone.

No one can do slave-service to two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one can serve both God and wealth. Matthew 6:24

If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

Be rid of anything that distracts you away from God. This could be a pursuit of wealth, an abundance of possessions in your home, a certain standard of living, social obligations, friends or family that are trying to convince you to not fully commit yourself to God. It could be a drug habit, a sexual relationship, your CD collection, your television or your own pride or shame. Whatever it is, put it away from you and focus on following Jesus alone.

Actions of devotion:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33)
Separate yourself from family or friends that tempt you to fall away from the way of Jesus. (Luke 14:26-27)
Make a plan on how you can devote your whole life to God’s kingdom and righteousness with no distraction, take counsel with other believers, and DO IT! (Matthew 6:33)

2. Be obedient to God by doing what Jesus says.

Why do you call me, Lord, Lord and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46 Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

It is not enough to give lip service to Jesus, we must also obey him. We cannot call him “Lord” if we do not do what he says. We must study the teachings of Jesus and obey him in all our ways.

Actions of obedience:
Study the teachings and life of Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)
Recognize that insulting another, looking lustfully at another, divorce, breaking your promise, not submitting to authorities (even evil ones), and only doing good to those who do good to you are sins that will condemn you. (Matthew 5:20-48)
Watch what we say, for out of our heart comes all sin. (Matthew 12:33-36)

3. Confidently take action to rely on God’s promises.

All things are possible to him who has faith. Mark 9:23

If we want to gain the blessings of God, then we must actively believe what God said he would grant those who have faith in him. It is not enough to intellectually “believe” in God’s promise—we must act on them! If Jesus is Lord—we must obey him! If the meek shall inherit the earth—we must be meek! If those who trust in God will have their needs met—we must trust in God for everything! It is not enough to talk about what we believe, we need to show that God’s promises will happen if we confidently step out to rely on them.

Actions of faith:
Pray for people to be healed and cast demons out. (Luke 10)
Be poor, mourn, be meek, cry out for justice, be a peacemaker, do mercy, be pure in heart, allow yourself to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus. (Matthew 3:3-12)
Pray for justice, for the Holy Spirit and for God’s kingdom to come. And don’t stop until they come! (Luke 18:1-8; Luke 11:1-11)
Rather than taking on vengeance yourself, wait for God to do it, for he will vindicate the innocent.

4. Boldly assert the word of Jesus in your life and proclaim it to others.

What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Matthew 10:27

Jesus commands us to take his word and to give it to those who do not know it. This is an act of love, but it is also an act of sacrifice for we will often be rejected and even persecuted for announcing what Jesus says.

Actions of boldness:
Gently assert the words of Jesus to those who are acting in disobedience—whether non-Christian or Christian.
Radically re-shape your life into the image of the words of Jesus.

5. Sacrificially love everyone in need without exclusion.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36

Jesus commands us to love everyone, without exclusion, even those people who hate us, or whom we find to be unlovely. Love means to love practically—not just with our heart. If we see someone in need, then we need to do all we can to meet that need—no matter who we are.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Luke 12:33

Our love is not just to be inclusive, but also sacrificial. Jesus gave of his whole self for our sakes and we are to do the same for those in need around us, especially for our brothers and sisters in Jesus

Actions of love:
Listen to people and find out their needs
Gently tell others when they are sinning before God.
Forgive everyone who repents of their sin.
Make available and give all that you have to those who are in greater need than you.
Do good to those who do evil to you—ask God to bless them, help them in times of need.
Feed the hungry, give clothes to those who don’t have enough, offer assistance to the needy—in what they need.

6. Humbly lower yourself under others.

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

Jesus lowered himself before everyone and did the task that no one wanted to do—to face the shame and agony of dying for the world. We are to do the same kinds of actions. Jesus tells us to lower ourselves and be servants of everyone in order to gain his kingdom.

For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and those who humbles themselves will be exalted. Luke 14:11

The principle is the same for everyone. If you lower yourself—be downwardly mobile—then God will raise you up in due time. But if you try to lift yourself up, then God will crush you and send you to hell.

Actions of humility:
Do acts of service that others find distasteful.
Actively associate yourself with those who are socially unacceptable.
Put yourself in a lower position than is fit for your station in life.

7. Remain with the words of Jesus although you suffer for it.

Everyone who endures to the end will be saved. Mark 13:13

Again, it is not enough to commit ourselves to the way of Jesus. We have to live it. It is not enough to begin the life of Jesus, we have to endure with it and with him even though we suffer for it. Let us trust him enough that when we lose everything and everyone for his sake, we will keep with him through it all so we may have him eternally.

Actions of endurance:
Assert God’s promises although no one believes you.
Speak the words of Jesus although you are reviled for it.
Obey Jesus although people disdain you for it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Does It Mean To Take Up the Cross?

Mark 15:12-40
The shame of Jesus
Convicted, yet innocent
Condemned by a crowd
Considered worse than a murderer and robber
Unable to bear his own cross
Crucified—hung in shame as a criminal
Didn’t take wine with myrrh
Crucified with robbers
Publically mocked as a false prophet, a liar and a weakling
Publically insulted
Prayer ignored and misunderstood
None of his friends would stand with him

Mark 8:34-38
This shame is what we should carry.
Yet Jesus told us not to be ashamed of the shame he bore and the shame we are to bear for him
If we are ashamed of the shame of Jesus, we will be shamed.

I Corinthians 1:17-31
The gospel is foolishness, because it teaches that Jesus is crucified
What is foolish about it?
To be hung on a cross is the ultimate act of shame
To be shamed means that one is unfit to be a leader/authority of anyone
But Christians hold to a belief of the one who was most shamed is most exalted by God
Followers of Jesus not only believe in him, but follow in these shameful acts
It is opposed to any kind of worldly “wisdom”—it doesn’t make sense!
Martyrdom and humiliation as salvation—not self-defense, not creating justice, not delivering curses, not

The cross is Humility, death, suffering, persecution, sacrifice, love, the ultimate act of faith—all for the sake of Jesus

Yet the cross is salvation. Anyone who does not take up the cross does not have salvation in Christ.

The salvation of Christ is the salvation of the cross.
You can try salvation in other ways, but that is not the way of Jesus.

Salvation by religious practices is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by intellectual belief is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by being nice is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by prayer alone is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by good worship is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by bible study or doctrine is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by going to church is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by hoping things will be okay is not the way of Jesus
Salvation by saying “praise the Lord” a lot or honoring Jesus is not the way of Jesus.
Salvation by acting crazy alone is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus calls us to the cross.
He calls us to shame
He calls us to act crazy like he acted crazy.
He calls us to do what he did.
He calls us to hope in the promises of God.
He calls us to give up everything
He calls us to be stupid in the eyes of the world
He calls us to take up his cross.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Suffering for Fun and Poverty for Profit

It is a fact that I do not share often that I grew up in Orange County, California. The OC. The beach, the multinational corporations, the malls. According to fictional media, the center of wealth and decedent lifestyles. Mind you, me and my friends teenage lives didn’t look much like the lives of the kids on the TV show or the movie named after my home county, but there is no doubt that I grew up privileged and a bit spoiled. Heck, I didn’t know any better, and as I became a Christian, I saw that wealth was a proper result of living a right life in Jesus. Every man and woman I knew who lived in Christ lived successful, beautiful, powerful existences. That was just to be expected if one lived in Jesus and was responsible and worked hard.

That was before I went to India. I went there to go to a mission school, and what a schooling I received. I spent six months in Calcutta and Bangladesh. Calcutta, at the time I lived there, had a population of 12 million people with a million of them living on the street, washing themselves under pumps in the street, picking through garbage heaps, holding half-dead infants. Bangladesh is considered the largest, poorest country in the world, having a mostly rural population half the size of the U.S. in a country the size of Wisconsin. I saw people in poverty, but learned from my caretakers not to give, not to even look at beggars, or else I would be taken advantage of.

I returned to Orange County on Christmas Day—a religious holiday covered in a veneer of materialism and decadence. I spent many nights awake at night, wondering how God could allow Orange County and Calcutta to both exist. It seems so unbelievably unjust when held side by side. And my own response in the midst of poverty was disgusting—selfishness, not “wanting to be taken advantage of” when poverty and death surrounded me. But what is to be my response to poverty? How should I respond to suffering and poverty, given that I have so many resources, so much?

I could have responded in guilt, and much of the time I did. I could have responded with apathy, and treat the poor as if their poverty is their own fault, or the fault of their nations. I could have responded to this contradiction in the earth by becoming an activist, to make the world a more just place. But as I looked to Jesus for my answers, I realized that what Jesus was actually asking me to do is to live the life of the cross.

We look to Jesus for our salvation and trust in God that through Jesus we will be delivered from sin, Satan and death. Praise God for the deliverance we have through his death on the cross! May the cross be proclaimed from the lowest parts of the earth to the highest point in heaven!

But in our proclamation of the salvation to be found in the cross of Jesus, we have forgotten the teaching of Jesus about the cross. The cross is not just something that we look at, believe in and admire from a distance. Rather, the cross is something for us to carry. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

The gospel is not a “feel good” religion. The source of the gospel is Jesus himself, and he himself determines what the gospel consists of. And Jesus himself declared the gospel to be the accepting of suffering and poverty—not only for himself, but for everyone who wishes to receive his salvation.

If we desire to partake in the salvation of Jesus, the cross is not just an option—it is a requirement. To lose our lives, to deny ourselves is not just something for the super-powerful saint, but for the everyday disciple of Jesus. If we do not follow him, we do not have salvation.

Poverty is not just an option.
The cross of Jesus is to accept a lifestyle of what many call “inadequate living” or poverty. Poverty is not just an option. Rather, it is an essential requirement of the gospel. To accept the gospel, one must renounce ones own riches and possessions for the sake of the kingdom of God, for the sake of the needy.

What does Jesus say?
The poor of this world will receive God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are you disciples who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke 6:20
“God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.” James 2:5

No one can be a disciple unless he renounces all of his possessions.
“Let’s say that a king is going to meet another king in battle. The lesser king has ten thousand men and the greater king has twenty thousand. Wouldn’t the lesser king send a delegation to the greater king for terms of surrender—giving up out of his storehouse what he has? Even so, no one can be my disciple unless he renounces all of his possessions.” Luke 14:31-33.

If you give what you have to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven.
“Do not treasure up treasure on earth, but treasure up treasure in heaven.” Matthew 6:19-20
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor and so make for yourselves a treasure in heaven.” Luke 12:33

One will gain the kingdom of heaven only by selling what he has and giving it away.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it and hid it again. Then he sold everything he had in order to buy that field in order to gain joy.” Matthew 13:44

He who renounces a normal life for the sake of Jesus will gain more than what he left and eternal life.
“There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age. He will receive houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms— along with persecutions. And in the age to come he will receive eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30

The one who renounces their possessions for the sake of the gospel will have their provisions met by God.
“Do not worry about your life— what you will eat or what you will drink. Do not worry about your body—what you will put on. Look at the birds of the air, that they do not farm, nor harvest nor store up food, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Matthew 6:25-26

If we are to follow Jesus, we must renounce our riches and possessions and surrender them to those who have needs. If we do not do so, we do not have the salvation of Jesus. This is a result of our faith, not just a nice thing to do. This is fulfilling the word of Jesus.

Suffering is not just an option.
The New Testament is clear about the place of suffering in the Christian life. If one is not suffering persecutions, tribulations, testings or opposition because they are following Jesus, then that one is not truly following Jesus. The one who does not suffer does not receive the kingdom of God.

What do Jesus and the apostles say?
Those who are persecuted will gain God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are you when men hate you and insult you and slander you and separate themselves from you for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for your reward will be great in heaven.” Luke 6:22-23
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
“But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers treat the false prophets.” Luke 6:26

If we are followers of Jesus, we will receive the sufferings he suffered
“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor is a slave greater than his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. If they have called the head of the household “Satan,” then how much more will they slander those who live in the house!” Matthew 10:24-25
“If you patiently endure suffering for doing what is right, you have favor with God. For the purpose of suffering like this you have been called, since Christ also suffered for you, and thus he left an example for you to follow in his steps.” I Peter 2:20-21

It was Jesus’ purpose that his followers suffer opposition

“Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace to you, but a sword will be held against you. I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.” Matthew 10:34-36

The one who hates his life and suffers for Jesus will gain eternal life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. John 12:24-25

We will not gain the benefits of the salvation of Jesus without suffering.“We will not enter the kingdom of heaven except through many trials.” Acts 14 22
“Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” II Timothy 3:12
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Romans 8:16-17

Suffering is not an option. If we do not suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, then it shows that we are not true followers of Jesus. If we do not truly follow Jesus, then we will not gain the kingdom of heaven or be called children of God.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus indicates two areas that we will fall away from the gospel of God: If we do not endure under suffering, and if we focus on the things and worries of this world (Mark 4:14-20). These are the two areas that have also captured the church of the United States. We want to do everything we can to avoid suffering—even if it means that we must compromise the gospel. “God will forgive me” we say, and than we move on spending our lives focused on vanquishing pain instead of loving one another. We desire comforts and pleasures, at almost any cost. If others around us do not have their needs met, that doesn’t matter. What is more important is that we have our entertainments, comforts and securities.

We have forsaken the gospel for the things of this world. How can we think that we will gain the kingdom of God? How can we think that Jesus is pleased with our lives devoid of sacrifice or love?

What kind of poverty and suffering?
Not every kind of poverty or suffering will be blessed by God. Not everyone who is poor will be welcomed into the kingdom. Nor does every poor man represent Jesus. Those who are poor because of their own laziness are not blessed. Those who are poor because of drug use or mental illness are not blessed. Not even all of those who surrender their possessions to the poor will be saved. Only certain kinds of renouncing and poverty will be blessed.

Not all of those who suffer will gain God’s kingdom. Not everyone who is sick will gain the blessing of God. Not everyone suffering from war, famine or hate crimes will gain God’s favor. Those who suffer because they are taking vengeance are suffering rightly, and gain no blessing from God. Those who suffer because they have done wrong are not to be praised. Those who suffer because they are teaching that which is apart from the teaching of Jesus gain no favor from God.

So what kind of poverty and suffering do gain favor with God?
There are three kinds of poverty or suffering that follow the way of Jesus;

1. The renouncing of all that we have for the sake of Jesus, the kingdom of God and the gospel.
If we are to follow Jesus, the Lord requires that we place everything that we have at his disposal for his use. Jesus does not just require a tithe of our income. Nor does he seek out the occasional love offering. Rather, what he wants is total surrender. Jesus wants everything we have to be put at his disposal—every relationship, every bit of our time, every possession we have, every bit of our knowledge, every authority we have, all of our money, all of our energies. All of these are to be surrendered to Jesus for use in the kingdom of God. Some of these things are to be of no use for him—some of our relationships will have to be severed, some of our possessions will have to be sold, some of our ambitions will have to be laid aside, some of us will have to quit our jobs. There is nothing left for the world. There is nothing left for sin. Other things can be transferred to his use: our money can be used for his kingdom, our goals can be for building up his people, our energies can be used for obeying him. But whatever we have, whatever we are, all goes to Jesus. Nothing left for selfish ambition. Nothing left for our pleasures. All for Jesus. In this way, we are poor. In this way, we truly suffer. For there is nothing left for ourselves.

This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.

2. The consequences of loving others.
Jesus did not come to earth for himself, but to surrender himself for the sake of others. Even so, we are commanded to do the same (Mark 10: 43-45). We live not for ourselves, but for the sake of others. This self-giving love has consequences. For the sake of love, Jesus lost his privacy, Jesus had to run away to pray. Jesus was ostracized and slandered because he wanted to seek those who were lost. And finally, he suffered shame and loss of his life for the sake of his love for the world. We are to act as Jesus did. We are to surrender our possessions and money for the needy. We are to lower ourselves and make as nothing our worldly ambitions so we can life others up. We are to attach ourselves to the undesirables of the world in order to draw them to Jesus. We are to not do harm to anyone, not even to those who harm us. The result of love is suffering. The result of giving for the sake of love is having nothing left.

This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.

3. Opposition because of holding to the gospel of Jesus.
When we understand what the gospel really says and teach that gospel to others, there will be opposition. Few want to hear that Jesus is the only way. Few want to hear that their sin leads to death. Few can abide the way of the cross. The way of the gospel is narrow—few there are that can follow it. And those who chose not to follow the whole gospel will be opposed to those who proclaim it as the only way of salvation. In some cases, the advocates of the gospel will be hated by those who reject the gospel. Sometimes they will be called heretics or servants of Satan. Sometimes they will be sued or have their possessions taken from them. Sometimes they will have violence done against them. Nevertheless, the follower of Jesus will boldly proclaim the gospel, neglecting their own care or well-being for the sake of the kingdom of God. The result of proclaiming the gospel is suffering. The result of living for Jesus is the stripping away of all that we have.

This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.

How do we enter into Jesus’ salvation?
We must be practical and realistic. The salvation of Jesus is not just something to think about, something to debate. It is something one lives—fully and completely or not at all. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to debate the merits of the gospel or to argue on the finer points of it. He told them, “follow me.” He told them, “Deny yourself and take up your cross.” This is not just in the mind, in the attitude—it is lived or it is nothing. Here are some steps to help you live out the way of Jesus as a lifestyle of salvation:

1. Confess Jesus as your Lord and example
Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:24-25,32-34
Publicly confess Jesus as your Lord. As Lord, you will do all you can to obey him and he will be your Teacher, Master and Model. In all ways give him priority in your life.

2. Ask for the Spirit to assist you in the way of the cross.
Luke 11:11-13; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:26
We cannot accept the cross on our own. Rather, our desires reject the idea of the cross; our lives find the path of poverty and salvation repugnant. Seek the Lord for the Spirit of God, who will help us in our weaknesses. If we ask persistantly for the Spirit, God will give him to us, who desires only to give us that which is good.

3. Place God’s kingdom and righteousness first in your life
Matthew 6:33
Jesus’ priority is to have more people following his gospel and living out his righteousness. Dedicate yourself to desiring what Jesus desires and to dedicate yourself to living out the gospel of Jesus.

4. Renounce anything that is blocking you doing God’s will.
Matthew 18:7-9
If there is anything you have control of that is obviously standing in the way of you obeying Jesus, be rid of it as quickly as possible. It could be a person, it could be an item, it could be a habit you have. Whatever it is—be rid of it as soon as possible. Allow Jesus to rule you completely. Let nothing in that will interrupt your devotion to him.

5. Consider others’ and their needs as more important than yourself
Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 7:12
Jesus said that to fulfill his commands, you need to place yourself at other’s disposal. If someone is in need, look to see if you can meet that need. Their need might just be to have someone to listen to, it might be to guide them to Jesus, or it might be to give them some food or clothing. Be open to the opportunities circumstances allow you to be loving to others, To give to their needs.

6. Make of list of all of your resources and surrender them to your Lord, Jesus.
Luke 14:26-33
Jesus warned us that we ought to recognize what the cost of following him would be if we were to follow him. Let us literally “count the cost”—make a list of everything you have, including relationships, time, income, possessions, etc. For some of us this might take some time. Then, for every item on the list, surrender it to your Lord, Jesus and ask him what he would have you do with that resource.

7. Listen to the Spirit to determine what to do with each item on the list.
John 14:26; Matthew 6:33
The Spirit will remind you of the teaching of Jesus and give you help in applying it to your life in every case. Allow the Lord to guide you to use your resources in accordance with placing the kingdom of God first.

8. Be bold in proclaiming the full gospel of Jesus
Mark 8:38; Acts 4:29-31
Do not be ashamed of God’s true gospel as taught and lived by Jesus. Pray that the Lord might give you boldness to speak of Jesus alone—with no one else beside him. Pray that you may stand with Paul to proclaim the foolishness of the cross—both the cross that Jesus bore himself and the cross that we need to bear for his sake.

What are the benefits of suffering in the way of Jesus?
Approval of God
We will be allowed in God’s presence, like the prophets of old who had approval of God. Our prayers will be heard and we will be God’s children. (Luke 6:22-23; Romans 8:16-17)

Moral Strength
To suffer is not only profit for us, but it builds up godly character in us, if we accept it as a positive thing from God, in faith, and we will gain more future reward. (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:32-12:11)

Kingdom of God
God will give us rulership in the coming kingdom, he will give us his Spirit, he will give us authority, he will give us the whole earth. (Matthew 5:3, 5-6, 11-12; Luke 11:13)

Deliverance by God
God only gives deliverance to those who need it—this is the secret of the cross. If we suffer, we need deliverance by God, and he will deliver us personally. (Luke 18:1-8; Mark 8:34-36; Mark 13:13)

Ministry of God
The true teachers of God have suffered and sacrificed and will deliver the people of God. The false teachers are in it for themselves, for the money, for what they can get out of it. (Matthew 10; I Timothy 6:3-5; II Timothy 3:1-12; Colossians 1:14)

Riches in God
The ones who sacrifice everything for Jesus will receive everything they need in this world, and in the next they will have great wealth. (Mark 10:20-30; Luke 12:22-34; Proverbs 28:27; 19:17)

Even as Jesus died for the joy he would receive, everyone who suffers or mourns in Jesus will laugh and have great joy, both now and in the next life. (Hebrews 12:2-11; Luke 6:21-23; Matthew 5:4)

Jesus’ Solution
In the end, Jesus’ way of defeating poverty and suffering is to suffer and be poor. If we do so, then God will grant us the benefits of the righteous who are poor. In this way, the world will change. Only through incarnational suffering and poverty will God cause the world to be a different place. But we must accept this on ourselves. We must accept the suffering of the unjust, give our prized possessions to the poor—even if they don’t deserve it, or are taking advantage of us. If we live out poverty in Jesus, we can show Jesus to the poor. If we live out suffering in Jesus, we can show the world what Jesus’ suffering is like. We must surrender our lives and take on the sacrifice of Jesus. In this way, justice will be done by the only One who can create justice.

“Take, Lord, all my liberty. Receive my memory, my understanding and my whole will. Whatever I have and possess, you have given to me; to you I will restore it wholly and to your will I surrender it for my direction. Give me the love of you only, with your grace am I rich enough, nor do I ask for anything beside. Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve thee as thou deservest: to give and not count the cost; to struggle and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek reward save that of knowing that I do thy will, O God." -Ignatius Loyola

Loving God

Loving God
From “The Maxims of the Saints” by Archbishop Fenelon
Translated by H.R. Allenson, edited by Steve Kimes

There are many ways to love God. At least, there are various feelings which go under that name.

First, there is what may be called selfish love. This is a love of God which originates solely in regard too our own happiness. Those who love God with no other love than this kind love Him just as the miser loves his money, and the sensual man loves his pleasures. These attach no value to God except as a means to an end: the gratification of their desires. Such love, if it can be called that, is unworthy of God. He does not ask it, and He will not receive it.

Second, there is another kind of love that doesn’t suppress our own happiness as a motive to love God. However, this love requires our happiness to be a subordinate to a much higher motive: a desire for the glory of God. It is a mixed love, in which we regard ourselves and God at the same time. This love is not necessarily selfish and wrong. On the contrary, it is correct when we put our love for ourselves and our love for God in the correct position. In this way we would love God as He ought to be loved, and love ourselves no more than we ought to be loved. This kind of love is unselfish and right. This is the love most often spoken of by Jesus.

However, there is another kind of love of God. This mixed love described above can become a pure love of God. This can happen when the love of self is lost, though not absolutely, in regard to the will of God. Even mixed love can become pure love when the two loves, of ourselves and of God are combined rightly.

Pure love is not inconsistent with mixed love, but it is mixed love carried to it’s true result. When this result is attained, the motive of God’s glory expands itself so that it fills the mind. The other motive, that of our own happiness, becomes so small, and it so recedes from our inward notice that it is practically annihilated. At this point God becomes what He ever ought to be—the center of the soul. God is then the Sun of the soul, from which all its light and its warmth proceed.

We lay ourselves at His feet. Self is known no more—not because it is wrong to notice and desire our own good, but because the object of desire is withdrawn from our notice. When the sun shines, the stars disappear. When God is in the soul, who can think of himself? In this way we love God, and God alone. And all other things are in and for God.

Whoever has attained pure love has also attained all the moral and Christian virtues. For all the virtues: temperance, self control, restraining from sexual pleasures, truth, kindness, forgiveness and justice—are all included in holy love. Love will develop and show itself in all of these forms. St. Augustine remarks that love is the foundation, source or principle of all the virtues.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prayer for Mercy

Holy Father
Allow us to be transformed into your mercy
And so be your living reflection.
May your mercy pass through our souls to our neighbors.
Help our eyes to be merciful
So we do not judge by appearances
But look for what is beautiful in our neighbor’s souls.
Help our ears to be merciful
So we give heed to our neighbor’s needs
Not being indifferent to their moanings.
Help our tongues to be merciful
So we never speak negatively of another
But have words of comfort for all.
Help our hands to be merciful
So that we do good to our neighbors
And take up ourselves the more difficult tasks.
Help our feet to be merciful
Overcoming our own weariness
Hurrying to assist our neighbors.
Help our hearts to be merciful
So we feel the sufferings of our neighbors
And refuse our hearts to no one.
May we be locked into the merciful heart of Jesus.

What You Give to The, Give It To Me

"Whatever you make me desire for my enemies, give it to them and give the same back to me. You who are the true light, lighten their darkness. You who are the whole truth, correct their errors. You who are the incarnate word, give life to their souls. Tender Lord Jesus, let me not be a stumbling block to them nor a rock of offense. I beg your mercy on my fellow slaves. Let them be reconciled with you and through you be reconciled to me."
-Anselm of Canterbury

Jesus' Pain and our Own

"Dear Lord, you suffered so much pain in order to save me and all mankind from sin. Yet I find it hard to bear even this little pain in my body. Lord, because of your great pain, have mercy on my little pain. And if you wish me simply to bear the pain, send me the patience and the courage that I lack."
-Margery Kempe

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Aspects of Purity

Purity is a necessary, but neglected, part of our spiritual lives. Jesus said that without purity we cannot see God. Without purity, no one can be in God’s presence or even be heard by God. The impure cannot abide in God’s presence, nor will their prayers be heard—except for a prayer requesting purity. The spirit world cannot accept any but the most pure, the most clean things. Any gifts to God must be pure, and this includes our words, our actions, our intentions and our very lives.
Today, purity is no longer considered a benefit. When we think of “purity” we think of chastity belts, frowning aged faces and strict people wearing black hats with a buckle on it. To be pure is to be fundamentalist, to be a disciplinarian, to be judging, and to probably be a hypocrite. Purity in ancient times used to be something desirable, but we have so many negative images associated with purity that even if we love God we probably don’t want to spend much time considering it.

It is time for purity to have a makeover. Not that we need to change what purity means in some Orwellian fashion, but that we need to forcefully steal purity back from the judging and hypocrites. To do this, we must first understand what purity is, what God intended it to be:

1. Pure focus on God
Because most people understand that God is forgiving and merciful, they put their relationship with God on a low gear, low intensity. Although they feel that their relationship with God could be improved in some vague way, they know that God will overlook their faults and just be glad that they think of him at all. However, God is not content with a casual relationship. God wants us to have a mind that is purely on Him and His desires. God doesn’t need casual friends, he has billions of those. God is looking for a faithful spouse, a best friend, a lifelong companion. God asks for people to be completely surrendered to Him and to His ways.

2. Pure actions of holiness
The only time we use “holy” it seems is in the phrase “holier than thou”. Holiness is either considered a divine prerogative or a fa├žade someone puts on to make themselves seem better than they really are. But God told his people to be holy, to be holy as He is holy. This doesn’t mean that God is wanting his people to look down their noses on others who are not holy. Rather, holiness is a gift that we receive from God to be a people that is distinctly divine, not a card to play to stomp on others. Holiness is simply having religious, sexual, relational, and even clothing differences that distinguish us from “normal” society. But holiness isn’t something we just make up—the holiness code is something given to us from God. God commanded his people to not insult each other, to be faithful to our spouses in action and mind, to follow God’s sexual ethics, to keep our promises, to not get drunk, to not worship images, to do our religious actions in private at times. To be pure is to follow God’s code of holiness, even if others do something different.

3. Pure intentions of love
Purity, however, is not just a matter of action and devotion but of intent. To be pure is not just in relation to God and his desires, but to others and their needs as well. To be pure, we need to be more than holy. Purity is also an act of love, an act of caring for those around us. Part of God’s holiness code is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If, in our holiness, we attack or condemn others then we have forsaken our holiness. Purity is keeping in mind the weaknesses and misunderstandings of those around us, swallowing our revulsion of their impurity and caring for them as best we can.

Three Is One
To be pure is not any one of these three, but the whole. If one loves God with all of his heart and does everything he can to live rightly, but displays anger and disdain to those around him, then he is not pure. If one loves everyone around them and she does so because of her love for God, but she rejects a part of God’s holiness code for herself, then she is not pure. If one decides to live among the Amish, for example, and truly cares for everyone and lives according to their community code as a good way of life, but has little true devotion for God, then he is not pure. Purity is living for God, living according to God’s ways and living in love—all three without exception. Without all three aspects of purity, one will not be welcomed into the presence of God.

Purity of heart
The most difficult part of purity, however, is our minds. We all know that purity is not just a matter of action, but a matter of the heart. Mind you, one’s actions must be pure in order to be pure, but if one’s heart is not pure, then no matter how many pure actions one does, purity is beyond our reach.

The relationship between intent and action is complicated. One can do some actions, especially in public, and not have the intent behind it. But, ultimately, all of our true intentions come out in our actions. And we are so good at deceiving ourselves, often we do not know our true intentions at all, for our actions deceived everyone, even ourselves. So, if we desire to be pure, how can we truly know that we have achieved purity?

There are certain actions that indicate our true intentions, beyond our conscious desires. Here are a few areas we can examine to see our true intention:

• Money—
What we do with our money is an often unexamined area of our lives. We think of money to meet our needs, but God’s purity requires us to use our money to build God’s kingdom, for holiness and in care for others. Are we using our money in purity or impurity?

• Eyes—
What we do with our eyes is a small action, almost unseen by most people. But what we look at often indicates what we are most interested in, and our interest can show our intention. What do we look at regularly that we may not notice?

• Careless words—
When we don’t mean to be saying anything, really, what do we say? Do we express hidden insults or impure desires? Do we indicate our separation of God? What do our careless words show about our true intentions?

• Secret actions—
We all have actions that no other human can see. If we think that these hidden actions are insignificant, we might not have a deep relationship with God. Or if our hidden actions are unholy or unloving and we do not repent of them, it is an indication that we are not pure, acceptable before God.

• Sacrifice—
Everyone has to make tough choices in our lives. Some things have to be sacrificed in certain contexts in order to accomplish the greater good. What we allow to be sacrificed and what we give our sacrifice for indicates the priorities in our lives. If we are to live before God, then we would never sacrifice our relationship to God, our holiness to live before God or our concern and help of others. What do we sacrifice and what do we retain?

Achieving purity
Purity may seem like an uphill battle. To a certain degree, it is. Purity is not easy, and much in our human nature screams against our participation in the spirit world. This is why our flesh and the Spirit are not in communion, but battle one another. But this does not mean that purity is impossible. Many people have achieved it and God longs to have relationship with people. To obtain purity, we must do five things:

1. Commitment—
We must make a lifelong commitment to God. This commitment is often done by being baptized in Jesus or committing oneself to him for one’s whole life. But unless we commit to something, we will never know what it really means or how to accomplish it. The first step to purity is to commit to it. We can pray like this: “Lord Jesus, I commit myself to you and to your ways. I want to be in relationship with God all of my life, without exception.”

2. Longing—
Not only do we commit to it, but we must desire it with our whole heart. If we just think that purity is a nice thing that we want to do sometimes, then we will never accomplish it. We must eat, drink, live and sleep purity. We must work on having it be a deep part of our lives.

3. Prayer—
We cannot accomplish purity on our own. It is humanly impossible. But God can make us pure before Him through his divine effort. To gain God’s help, we must ask. Pray this: “Father, I want to be pure before you, but I cannot do it on my own. Please help be to be pure through the power of your Spirit. Help me to desire that purity and live in it all the time.”

4. Struggle
There will be times when we do not want purity. We want to live according to desires that overwhelm us. At times, we may even seem possessed by sins that drive us to impurity. While we must depend on the Lord's strength, we must resist ourselves. At times, the resistance internally will be so difficult we will sweat and moan as if we were in a physical battle. But we must deny that which wants to overcome us. We must strive with all our might to live as the Lord's people.

5. Separation—
There are many things that are driving us to be impure. There are things that tempt us to go away from God, to be unholy to be apathetic to others. If something doesn’t effect you, it doesn’t matter. But if something drives you away from God, if someone causes hatred in you, then it is time to separate from that thing or person. Whatever makes us apathetic or lustful or separated from God, we need to have nothing to do with it.

6. Community—
There are people who know about purity and can live it out. These people love God, live righteously, but isn’t holier than thou, and they are deeply concerned about others. Hang out with these people, learn how they do what they do and try to be like them. These are the people who can teach purity because they learned it from God and others who are pure. Do you see people who meet the three criteria of purity? Then be with them, in this way you will achieve purity yourself.

Judgment, Cheap Grace, and Mercy

• Judgment is immediate.
It demands the quick decision and the sentence is as swift and demanding as a guillotine.

• Mercy is slow.
Mercy takes its time, deliberating, mulling over options. Mercy is often second-guessing itself, repenting of former decisions as repentance is made known.

• Cheap Grace is careless.
It cares not what the issues are, and is as swift in its decision of forgiveness as judgment is of condemnation.

• Judgment is simple.
Black and white, clear cut, no recourse, no compromise. Judgment sees all situations from a demanding, no fills position.

• Mercy seeks truth—no matter how messy.
It deliberates, considers, ponders, discusses—but not without a goal. Mercy plods, the tortoise who wins the race, slow and steady. Mercy understands that truth cannot be found in a headline, but in a feature article based on many interviews.

• Cheap Grace triumphs the ignorant.
There is no need for determinations, deliberations or decisions. The decision has already been made—freedom and blessing for all, no matter what the situation.

• Judgment focuses on the law as a principle.
“The law is a standard which once broken cannot be mended. It is the Humpty Dumpty of God. It is an ancient china doll, needing to be placed behind glass—protected, served, and loved from a distance.” But the law of judgment is cold, hard and sharp as a steel blade. Judgment claims to be for the good of society, but the only one who benefits is Judgment itself.

• Mercy loves the law as a benefit to others.
The law is to “love your neighbor,” thus mercy is the heart of the law. The law is to train us in mercy, to see the Other as the beneficiary of all of our actions. Mercy considers the well-being of all—even the law-breaker. Mercy’s law is comforting, light, for it always seeks the benefit of all.

• Cheap Grace discards the law.
“The law was a plaything of youth, but is to be set aside as unworthy of consideration. Grace has set aside all law, especially the law of Jesus, as unworthy of God.” Cheap Grace claims to speak for Mercy, but denies the heart of God.

• Judgment demands recompense.
Judgment seeks equity to the cost of the action of the law-breaker. “You broke it, you pay for it.” It seeks a balanced account book for which each debit has its equal and opposite credit—the coin of which is blood and dishonor.

• Mercy pursues reconciliation.
Mercy can lead to dishonor, should repentance be the flip side of that coin. Mercy pleads for restoration, constantly seeking an ingathering together for all the saints.

• Cheap Grace rejects cost.
Cheap Grace points to Calvary and claims that all had been accomplished there. Cheap Grace ignores the man who said, “All who would follow me must take up their own cross daily.” Cheap Grace demands no personal cost, no change, no death, no discipline, and so gains no gift, no new creation, no life, no restoration.

• Judgment has no escape.
Once judged, there is no exit. The sentence is irrevocable, the differences irreconcilable, the community ununitable.

• Mercy offers an out—repentance.
The one who has harmed another—and so has defied the law—has an opportunity to be brought back under the law. To repent, to reconcile is the extent that Mercy demands, and will seek any way to achieve that goal.

• Cheap Grace is unconditional forgiveness.
It is spiritual bloodletting—seeking to heal the patient, while ignorantly killing him. Cheap Grace sees no need to gather in, to restore, for there was no separation.

• Judgment demands payment from the lawbreaker.
As the law suffered, so must the criminal. As society was harmed, so must the harmer. Judgment claims the lost deserve nothing, and so gives nothing.

• Mercy sacrifices.
Restoration also has a price, and the merciful takes that price on oneself. Mercy pays whatever the cost so the sinner can be restored. Mercy groans in prayer, endures attacks, forgives debts against it, pays debts against others, sacrifices its comfort, its family, its friendships, its resources, its very life—all for the sake of the lost.

• Cheap Grace gleefully ignores cost.
It is the thief, stealing from God’s honor. Cheap Grace receives no payment, demands nothing, gives nothing, since there is no debt incurred. Cheap Grace celebrates at the foot of grace delivered, but ignores the call of grace transferred to others. Cheap Grace requires nothing and so gains nothing.

• Judgment never forgets.
It is the elephant of virtues. It never trusts, never believes, never forgives, never restores. Judgment says “Once a sinner, always a sinner.”

• Mercy gives the benefit of the doubt.
Mercy does not forget, but allows complete restoration, a rebuilding of trust. Mercy believes in new creation, a new life, which has nothing to do with the old.

• Cheap Grace always trusts, even the hypocrite.
It always believes, even the liar. It always forgives, even the unrepentant. It accepts everyone and everything—except God’s truth.

• Judgment is Satan.
Judgment is the accuser of the brethren, the murderer of humanity for the sake of a bloodless law. It is the prosecutor seeking the death penalty.

• Mercy is Jesus.
It is the self-sacrificer, the reconciler to God, the perfect sacrifice. Mercy is the one who said, “Go and sin no more,” “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed,” “I have come to seek and save the lost,” “Unless you repent you will likewise perish,” “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance,” “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”

• Cheap Grace is the Flesh.
It is self-seeking, self-upholding, self-deceptive. Ultimately, it upholds what is abhorrent to God as the will of God. They practice sin and gives approval to those who practice it.

• Judgment is a liar.
It claims that God does not forgive, sees the sin and not the sinner. It denies the power of God to change the one in Jesus. It is lost, for it has forsaken the mercy of Jesus. Those in the power of Judgment will die by God’s hand—“Judge and you will be judged.”

• Cheap Grace is a liar.
It claims that God’s standard is flexible, and so non-existent. It loves the lost to such a degree that it cannot be separated from the lost. It causes the lost to remain lost, and so dead. Those in the power of Cheap Grace will die by God’s hand—“Whoever does not obey the Son will not see life.”

• Mercy is the truth of God.
It upholds the law, which is to love all. It demands love, even as it offers love. It demands forgiveness, even as it offers forgiveness. It demands sacrifice, even as it sacrifices. It demands purity, even as it offers purity. It demands devotion to God, even as it offers devotion to God. “Be imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Few Be The Lovers

What do we desire as Christians? We want the salvation of God, everything that God promised to give us and more. We want the blessing of Christ—healing, joy, satisfaction, eternal life, love of God, forgiveness. What fantastic things await for us! And we also seek the blessing of the flesh—family, acceptance, respect, riches, guilt-free pleasure. This is what we are promised by the church. And, frankly, it is what Jesus offers us as well. That is why we want to be Christians, why we seek God and go to church. To gain what the world may promise us, but will never give us without being damned.

We want cost-free, guilt-free, strings-free salvation. Jesus paid it all, so we have no charge, right? Of course, Jesus did die for our sins. He paid the ultimate price for us. But he never promised us a free ride. Jesus promises us the great life of God, but it is not without cost
• We cannot have forgiveness without painful separation from our sin. (Luke 24:47)
• We cannot have eternal life without suffering. (Luke 9:23-24;Acts 14:22)
• We cannot have a peaceful family without hating our earthly family and friends. (Matthew 12:48-50; Luke 14:26)
• We cannot have the pleasure of God without rejecting the pleasures of earth. (Luke 6:21, 25; Mark 8:36)
• We cannot have the respect of heaven without experiencing rejection from our loves. (Matthew 10:34-38)
• We cannot have acceptance by God unless we give up who we see ourselves to be. (Luke 14:26-27)
• We cannot gain healing unless we first experience suffering and humiliation. (Luke 4:18; Matthew 15:21-28)
• We cannot gain true satisfaction until we are sickened by the world we live in. (Mark 8:36)
• We cannot gain great riches from God until we first experience poverty. (Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 6:20)
• We cannot truly gain joy until we live with the utmost sorrow. (Matthew 5:4)

These seem paradoxical—how can one only gain peace and joy through it’s opposite? Yet it is no mystery, but based on three basic principles of life:

a. We learn what we need only by suffering want
If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t know we needed anything. If we never hungered, why would we eat? If we never desired companionship, why would we deal with conflict? Even so, if we never were sick, we would not seek healing. If we were never depressed, we would never seek joy. If we were never stressed or anxious, we would never seek peace. If we were never oppressed, then we wouldn’t seek release. If we didn’t die, we wouldn’t need resurrection.

b. We do not ask for a gift unless we feel its loss
If we give a child a toy they never wanted, they would throw it aside after a short time of playing with it. They don’t appreciate the cost of something, until they experience the loss. But if a child had and loved a toy and then lost it, then the child will cry until the toy is found again. Even so with salvation. If we have lost forgiveness and security and satisfaction, then we too will cry until we get it. And those who cry to God are those who receive.

c. We obtain God’s pity only by being pitiful
The rich and powerful, even the most compassionate, look only at the innocent who are helpless. The powerful and famous, the well-to-do and those who have everything “under control” do not stir the hearts of those who have it in their power to offer charity. Even so, God looks for the just who are weak and oppressed—the mourning and desperate—they are the ones whom God redeems and lifts up high. It is a matter of justice—those who suffer deserve joy, while those who already have joy gain nothing from God.

d. We prove faith through endurance
No one knows whether our faith be true or not unless it be tested. Everyone’s faith is strong in abundance and blessing—it can only be proven by testing and suffering. The one whose love endures through hardship—that is the one whose love is true.

So why do we seek only blessing? Jesus sought the curse in order to obtain the blessing. If the blessing only comes from difficulty and suffering, why do we seek only earthly joy and peace? It is because we do not seek the real Jesus. We have created a fantasy Jesus, a Jesus of our own imagining who promises us everything in this world and the next.

The truth is, many want the promises, but few want to gain the promises through the conditions Jesus offered. Many love the blessings, but few love the cross. The true followers of Jesus are those who take up the cross and follow him. The true lovers of Jesus are ready to follow him anywhere, wherever he leads. But few be the lovers of the cross. We need to love the real Jesus, not the Jesus of our fantasy.

If we are to gain salvation, we are to work hard and love that which Jesus told us to love:
• Benefiting others (Luke 10:25-37)
• Prayer (Luke 11:1-13)
• Commitment to God through Jesus (John 14:21)
• Giving to the poor (Luke 12:33)
• Rejecting the world’s ways of salvation (Matthew 6:1)
• Boldly proclaiming Jesus’ words and life (Matthew 10:32)
And we need to endure in all these acts of love and faithfulness through the crap the world gives us for faithfully seeking God. (Mark 13:13)

Who do we really love? Do we love the real Jesus, looking down on us, ready to endure with us if we are ready to pay the cost (Luke 14:28-30)? Or are we content with only a fantasy Jesus, an image of the true, who will give us what we want without having to endure anything? Let us not love the wealth of this age, the pleasures of the world, the satisfactions of our flesh. Let us be lovers of the cross.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. For what is the profit, if one gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Be a lover of the cross.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Do You Really Believe?

Who Am I, Really?
It is often quoted, “You are what you eat.” But I am not a tuna sandwich or a quesadilla. Perhaps what we eat gives us the energy to be who we are, but it is not who we are. Rather, it is our thoughts and beliefs that make us who we are. We do not name ourselves according to our culinary preference, but we proudly tell others the names that display what we believe. Our church group (what we believe about God), our political leanings (what we believe about how to help our country), our sports team (what we believe about that team—namely, they are great)—these are the things we talk about to indicate who we are (as well as other things, like occupation)

However, our beliefs are as complex as our thinking, and at times we say we believe something that contradicts what we believe about something else. And we also will say that we believe one thing and do another. I can say that I believe that people should be nice to one another, but if I found out my neighbor took my television without my permission then I might not be so nice to him. My wife would then point out the contradiction between what I say and what I did, and I will explain it to her: “You see, I think that we should generally be nice to each other, but if someone takes something from me, then I don’t have to be nice.” The reasoning may or may not be valid, but I only came up with the reason to excuse what I did. The reality is, what I said I believed originally—“People should be nice to each other,”— is different from what I really believed— “I will be nice to others as long as they are nice to me.”

Given that what we say we believe is so often contradicted by what we do, how do we know what we really believe. I say I believe in Jesus—but do I really? And how do I know? I think that if I make statements of belief—“I believe that Jesus is Lord”, that will be enough. If I know something, “Jesus rose from the dead” or “Airplanes are safe,” does that mean I believe in it?

Evaluating What We Really Believe In

Jesus recognized that often what we say and what we believe are two different things. This is why he gave us a test to find the true character of a person—what they really believe in, whether they are really good and bad. Jesus said, “We know a tree by its fruit. We know that a tree is an apple tree because it bears apples. And we know that a fig tree can’t produce pears. Even so, we know what a person is really like by their actions and careless speech.” (Matthew 7:16-20 and 12:33-36). Thus, we know what people really believe by how they behave in certain areas in life.

Below are six areas that, according to Jesus, indicate what we really believe. If we follow God in these areas, then we can say we believe in God. But if we do not, then we must believe in something else—for our actions are a mirror of our hearts.

As shown above, what we do with our lives—our work, our response to stressful situations—that’s what really shows who we are. We can say that we love God, but the question is, how do we show it? Sometimes the best way to determine our character is to imagine that a stranger who has never seen us before is presented with a videotape of our whole lives, with the sound off, so they can’t hear our own explanations of our lives. How would that stranger evaluate us? What would characterize us? If we stole, we would certainly be characterized as a thief. But we more often than not excuse ourselves, not wanting our actions to determine who we are—“Sure, I get drunk occasionally, but that doesn’t make me an alcoholic.” “Yes, I have hit my child in anger, but that doesn’t make me a child abuser.” Yet Jesus said that a person shows truly whether they believe in him as to whether they do what he says (Luke 6:46-49)

Jesus says that what we do with our money and possessions indicates where our heart is, thus who we are (Luke 12:34). A person can say, “I believe that God will heal me,” but then why does he spend so much money on medicine? A person can say, “My comfort will be in heaven,” but then why does she surround herself with comforts on earth? If we want to see what a person really believes in, we can look at how they spend their money—that will indicate what they think to be most important in life. Jesus said that if we want to show that we believe we will get to heaven, then we need to take a substantial amount of our wealth and give it to the poor—not necessarily the church, unless they are serving the poor (Luke 12:33; Acts 4:34-35)

As we said above, a person can say one thing and do another. But Jesus said that we should pay attention to people’s careless words—the statements they make when they didn’t have time to plan it out. Often that’s when people’s pride and anger and selfishness flare up. If we are planning a statement, that can be one thing we say, but the statements we use when we are being thoughtless and carefree—those are the words by which we will be judged, for those are the words that show what we really believe and so who we really are. (Matthew 12:35-36)

At times we all feel insecure. We are often struck by anxiety and we don’t know where to turn. Where we do turn in those moments of crisis indicates what we trust in or who we think will pull us out of our fear. Perhaps we will turn to a family member—especially if they are wealthy—or a friend. Perhaps we have a habit or addiction that we think will make us feel better. Perhaps we have nothing we can rely on but our anxiety, but we say, “How I wish I had this or that”. That is what we really rely on, the person or object we truly believe in. But Jesus tells us that in our time of crisis, the one we can always count on, the dependable one who we can trust in is God. (John 14:1; Luke 12:30-32). To “believe in” God doesn’t mean to have the correct doctrine, it means that you will count on him in a time of crisis. So whatever we turn to in crisis, that is our real god.

God makes it clear that he wants us to treat everyone according to their well-being. He wants us to do what is good for everyone we meet—whether that person is an evil person or a good one (Luke 6:27-36; Galatians 6:10). We can make a list of who we actually show care for and who we do not. “Yes, I try to help this person whenever I can. This person, though, is a dolt and so I avoid then when possible. I like to assist this kind of person, but this kind I detest and wouldn’t even give them the time of day.” By this test, then, we can often see what limits we place on our belief in God. We believe in God and in his ways when we are around certain people or situations, but in other ones we do not. If people respect us, that’s fine, we can believe in God in that situation. But if someone cusses us out, then we find it difficult to believe in God. For we know that we will be rewarded according to our love, not our doctrinal beliefs.

We often make promises and commitments, from appointments to projects we agreed to work on. Sometimes we do not even have a promise to do something, but we have a “social contract” with our family, in which our behavior is determined. And there are many things that we “believe in” that we commit to do, whether it be prayer or a favor for someone at church or visiting a sick person in the hospital. But what we believe in is not found in the promises we make, but in the promises we actually keep. We may “believe in” prayer and make a schedule for us to wake up a bit early to do it. But, when the time comes, we find that we actually believe in sleep more than prayer because the snooze button is hit until the prayer time has vanished. We may “believe in” visiting the sick, and so promise to do it, but when the time comes we find the television too alluring, showing that we believe in our comfort and rest more. Jesus said that we must fulfill our promises and so display our faithfulness, for what we do shows what we believe. This doesn’t mean that we are able to keep all our promises. Sometimes emergencies come up. But we must remember this, whatever we chose to do, that is what we really believe in. (Matthew 21:28-31)


One last thing to note—Jesus is a firm believer in changing one’s ways. We know he believes in change because he forgives people their sin. He displays his belief of changed behavior by accepting those who have repented. Even so, if you evaluate your true beliefs and determine that you haven’t really believed in Jesus, it is not too late to change! Jesus said he will give you his Spirit and he will help you repent from your old life and begin to believe in Him anew! Pray for God’s grace and you will begin to truly believe in Jesus, not just in words, but in your whole life. In that way you will be a new creation, created by God to do actions in light of Jesus!

Evaluate your actions, and determine
what you really believe!

Relaxing in the Tough Will of God

From a letter from Archbishop Fenelon

See God’s hand in the circumstances of your life. Do you want to experience true happiness? Submit yourself peacefully and simply to the will of God, and bear your sufferings without struggle. Nothing so shortens and soothes your pain as the spirit of non-resistance to your Lord.

As wonderful as this sounds, it still may not stop you from bargaining with God. The hardest thing about suffering is not knowing how great it will be or how long it will last. You will be tempted to want to impose some limits to your suffering. No doubt you will want to control the intensity of your pain.

Do you see the stubborn and hidden hold you have over your life? This control makes the cross necessary in the first place. Do not reject the full work that the power of the cross could accomplish in you. Unfortunately, you will be forced to go over the same ground again and again. Worse yet, you will suffer much, but your suffering will be for no purpose.

May the Lord deliver you from falling into an inner state in which the cross is not at work in you! God loves a cheerful giver. Imagine how much He must love those who abandon themselves to His will cheerfully and completely—even if it results in their crucifixion!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

God Challenging Social Norms

From "The Mirror of Perfection", a biography about Francis of Assisi

Likewise the Lord revealed to him the salutation which the friars should use, as he caused to be written in his testament, saying, “The Lord revealed to me that I should say for a greeting, ‘The Lord give you peace.’” Now, in the first days of the Order, when he would go with a certain friar who was one of the first twelve, he saluted the men and women on the road and those who were in the fields, saying, “The Lord give you peace.” And for that men had not heard up to then such a salutation from any religious they wondered greatly. In fact, some used to say to them with great indignation, “What does this salutation of yours mean?”

So that brother began to be ashamed of it, so he said to Francis, “Let me use another greeting.” The father said to him, “Let them talk, since they do not perceive the things of God. But do not be ashamed, because from now on the nobles and princes of this world shall show reverence to you and other friars for this salutation. For it is no great thing if the Lord should wish to have a new and little flock, singular and unlike all those who have come before them in life and work, a folk which should be content to have him alone and most sweet.”
-Section II, Chapter 23

This is a summary of the Priestly blessing in Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I summarize this blessing to my children and my congregation to: “May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace.” To have peace, in Scripture, is to have wholeness in one’s life. It is not the blessing of wealth or health necessarily, but the gift of well-being, having nothing in our lives that tests us beyond what we can bear. Peace is not the lack of conflict, but the grace to deal with conflict as it comes.
At times people look at the new thing and find it disturbing, even if it comes from God. Well, perhaps, ESPECIALLY if it comes from God. We want our God to be traditional, to fit into modes that we already understand. But God is looking for the well-being of his people, for their righteousness and devotion to Him, and He will guide his people to that place, even if it means that we must toss aside tradition and seek out the new.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God's Call for A New Community

From The Mirror of Perfection, a biography about Francis of Assisi

Francis said, “The order and life of the Friars Minor is a certain little flock which the Son of God in these last times asked of his Heavenly Father, saying, ‘Father, I wish that You should make and give to me a new and humble folk in these last times, unlike to all others who have gone before them, in humility and poverty and content to possess me alone.’ And the Father said, having heard the Son, ‘My son, that which You have asked is done.’”

Francis used to say that for this reason God willed and revealed to him that they should be called Friars Minor, because this is that poor and humble folk which the Son of god demanded of his Father. This folk the Son himself speaks of in the Gospel, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And also, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.” And the Lord understood this of all spiritual poor men, yet He spoke it more especially of the Order of the Friars Minor, which was to be in his Church. And so, as it was revealed to Francis that it should be called the Order of Friars Minor, so he made it to be written in his testament and the first Rule which he took to Pope Innocent III who approved and conceded it, and afterwards announced it to all in Consistory.
-Section II, Chapter 23

What a contrast is Francis’ attitude of his people from the majority of the church! Today, we want bigger churches, bigger incomes, larger congregations, and more significant influence in the world. Francis, however, recognized that Jesus called the church to be of and among the disenfranchised, the outcast, the poor, the suffering, the lowly.

Jesus said that it was the wealthy who were to be cautioned, for “you have already received your comfort” and because “It is difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus said that those who were lauded were to be unhappy for “this is how the false prophets were treated.” Francis sought out those who were willing to give up all they had to be lowly and poor and suffering and wretched. Jesus also told his disciples to be prepared for poverty, for the surrender of all we have, for injustice and for persecution. But in our teachings of the gospel, we encourage people to expect all blessings—a better life, health, wealth and honor.

Woe is us! Woe to those who preach the American gospel! Woe to those who think that they can gain everything in this world and have the next world as well! But blessed are the poor, for they shall receive the kingdom of God.