Narrow Spaciousness

There are hard things in this book (Bible), hard things to hear, hard things to obey. ~ Eugene Peterson

My brother used  to let me stuff him into a hideaway couch and put the cushions on it. I’d sit on the couch and then invite my little sisters to come in for a conversation. I’d make an excuse to leave the room and they would stay seated on the couch. At some point my brother would begin to make noises and movements from inside the couch. It was quite fun to see how high my little sisters could levitate in fear.

He tried to fold me up in the couch but I couldn’t let it happen due to the following story:

One time he and I were playing hide and go seek with those sisters again and I got in the trunk of my mom’s car. My brother had the key, so I knew all would be well. I won the game. The slow-witted sisters never thought to look in a locked trunk.

Came time to get out and begin a new game so my brother inserted the key and turned it the wrong way and the trunk wouldn’t open. I began to threaten him from inside the trunk of the Chrysler and that’s when he panicked and twisted the key too far the wrong way and broke it off inside the lock. When he told me that, all manner of hell broke loose inside that trunk. I screamed. I kicked. I cried. I grabbed the tire iron and began to beat on the trunk as if that would release the lock. It looked like a mechanical octopus tried to escape the locked trunk.

Finally, my brother stuck the key back in and it married up with the broken tip inside the lock and he turned it the right way and the trunk popped open. I was so relieved to be out that I hugged my captor.

Not sure how we explained the trunk lid to my parents.

One time Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate…For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13,14)

That sounds awfully claustrophobic to me, does it to you?

Some of you may have heard the older English translation of this is, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life.” The word strait there is the older English word strait, not straight. The word s.t.r.a.i.g.h.t. means straight versus crooked, but the old word strait meant to be crushed, to be squeezed, to be strangled.

Sometimes we still use the term he was in dire straits. What does that mean?

Jesus is depicting something that looks like it’s going to crush you or smother you to death. These words mean death, and life means spaciousness. You need air. You need room to breathe, to move about.

In Psalm 18:19 we read,

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

And yet Jesus says there is this tiny little narrow gate that looks like it’s going to kill you and smother you, but on the other side of it is spaciousness and life, forests and lakes and trees and mountains tipped with snow.

I’ve found that sometimes we Christ-followers can lose our soul-spaciousness. For me, I can always tell I’m losing my spaciousness by how easily I fall prey to looking down on anyone who is living a life I find pitiful. But when I remember how much I have been graced by the generosity of God, I tend to find myself being generous with those in my world who are challenging.

I lose my spaciousness not so much because of sin, but because I forget the gospel.

There is a place in C.S. Lewis’ last of the Narnia chronicles The Last Battle, that describes a scene where the good King Tirian is in a terrible battle, and there’s a tiny stable on a hill.

He has to go in there, and he has reasons to think he’s going to die when he does. Here is how Lewis tells it,

He looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling to himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said Lord Digory. “It’s inside is bigger than its outside.”

Isn’t that good?

The Jesus-life is bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. Because in some ways, you leave your old identity behind and give up the right to live the way you want. And as a result, there will be people who will always consider you narrow. Are you ready to go down there?

Here’s what will help you do it.

Jessica McClure was born March 26, 1986 and became famous on October 14, 1987, at the age of 18 months after she fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas. Between that day and October 16, rescuers worked for 56 hours to free her from the eight-inch well casing 22 feet below the ground.

It just gives you the chills to even think about it.

That was nothing like the pipe Jesus went down. How big was Jesus? Infinite in size, and he became a human being. How glorious and free was Jesus? Yet He went to the cross. The infinite-sized Jesus was crushed.  Why did he do that? To know the spaciousness of a resurrection and a new heavens and a new earth with you and me in it.

Jesus is calling everyone to a narrowness that leads to spiritual spaciousness—and life.

That is the key that will set you free.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prayer as Truth-Telling

“We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” ~ Jesus and David

One of the truths I grip with all my strength is the fact that without suffering in this life we will never know a deep aspect of the character of God—His presence. Jesus promised us that we would feel the comfort of our heavenly Father when we mourn, and he said we would experience the blessing of God because of it.

Comfort from our heavenly Father and on top of that “blessing” or “favor” —when we mourn.

When we tell our story of pain, we gain authority over that story. Our painful experience transforms in the telling. I believe that is why there are more Psalms of Lament in the old Jewish hymnbook than any other genre.

The late Dawson Trotman reminds us, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they flow over the lips and through the fingertips.”

Two things might help you when your heart is broken:

1. Write it out or talk it out.

Describe your pain. Talk about the impact that pain has had on your life to God. Find a spiritual friend with whom you can share your story. Or go for a long drive or walk and yell out your pain to the God who is there. Hold nothing back. He is patient enough and gracious enough to withstand your tantrum. Tell it exactly like it is in your heart.

That is what the psalmist and prophets did over and over again in the Old Testament.

2. Read ancient words of scripture and literature as prayer.

Why did God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preserve those ancient prayers of complaint? So that we could pray them back to God. This is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. He prayed those ancient prayers. They gushed out of his soul like water from a rock.

(You can find his references from the Garden of Gethsemane in Psalm 75:8 and from the cross in Psalm 31 and 22.)

A few years ago I was struggling with a season of spiritual melancholy and while camped beside an alpine lake here in Colorado I began to pray aloud the Beatitudes from Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message. And when I did I was shocked to feel a subterranean flow of emotion come through my voice as I read the words.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

The combination of the ancient words with a modern twist and the solitude of that alpine lake caused a spiritual catharsis. I read them aloud about 20 times.

It was very healing.

I was talking to a man recently and he told me of a time when he was a young man in the sixties and was a part of a small group studying the bible and trying to help each other grow in Christ. The man said the group, in a loving way, mentioned to him that they thought resentment was keeping him from deepening his walk with Jesus. They asked him why he was so resentful.

He said, “I told them about my father dying when I was twelve years old. I grew up without a father. I missed my dad. Then, my mother tried to fill that void in a misguided way by becoming overprotective, controlling and domineering.”

The man continued, “The more I talked about my Dad and my Mom, my emotions came closer to the surface of my life.”

He paused. Fighting back tears and through a shaking voice he said, “Joe, I may cry telling you this right now.”

I listened.

He went on to say that the leader of the group suggested to him that he tell God about the pain in his heart. Asked if he had a place where he could really have it out with God. The man said, “I drive 60 miles several times a week to seminary in the car by myself.”

They said that sounded like a good place to meet with God about the pain in his heart.

The man said for months, when he would drive to seminary, he would talk to God about his dad who had died too soon. About his mother and about how abandoned he felt by God. He said it got intense. Said he yelled at God. Said there were times he cussed at God. But then he said that even though his heart was broken by affliction, the pain diminished, and he began to feel the sweet presence of Someone else in the car with him.

And he said, “That’s when hope came and something like a window opened into my soul.”

Maybe you would like to read the words below slowly and out loud from the old Jewish hymnbook (Psalm 86) and let them speak what’s in your heart, not what ought to be in your heart.

Bow down Your ear, O Lord, hear me;
For I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am holy;
You are my God;
Save Your servant who trusts in You!
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
For I cry to You all day long.
Rejoice the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.
All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.
For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.
For great is Your mercy toward me,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the proud have risen against me,
And a mob of violent men have sought my life,
And have not set You before them.
But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.

Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me!
Give Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Faithfulness of God

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23

When we suffer loss, it is natural for us to grieve. And in our emptiness and sorrow, it is also normal that we focus for a time on ourselves and our misery. However, if our attention continues to be directed inward, we will eventually lose our perspective and our hope.

Life will become a confused mixture of “If only I had…” “I remember when…,” “If I knew then what I know now…,” and “Why…?” Soon guilt, bitterness, self-degradation, permanently scar or ruin a life, sometimes tragically ending it in suicide.

Where is God in all of this? Does He abandon us when we fall on bad times?

C.S. Lewis felt as if that were so after his wife died of cancer. He expressed his thoughts with disquieting honesty in his classic A Grief Observed:

When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.

Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have at times in my life. What do you do when you feel abandoned by God during heartbreaking times?

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, is called the weeping prophet. When you read his journal, you understand why. In the midst of sadness and despair, Jeremiah received hope. How did he do it?

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed…..” 

Said another way, God’s mercies never cease. Let that seep into your busy mind.

border-collie-terelesNext time you read the 23rd Psalm try to read it from the vantage point of a sheep. Read it wrapped in wool and watch for the Lord’s sheepdogs.

Listen:  “The Lord is my shepherd…..surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…..”

Did you know that the Lord has sheepdogs named “Goodness” and “Mercy”? Every time that I run astray, “Mercy” and “Goodness” is trotting right beside me. Every time I feel distant from God they are following close behind.

That’s what Jeremiah is saying.  The Lord’s mercies never cease.  They are relentless. Isn’t that good news?

“…..His compassions fail not.”

“Compassions” means sympathetic love, concern for the helpless. It always includes “involvement” when it is referring to God.  His compassions never fail.  His heart keeps going out to the prodigal.

Remember the story in Luke 15?  The boy leaves home; but the father doesn’t run after him.  He doesn’t try to bribe him with half the inheritance if he’ll stay.  He lets him go. Just like God does with us. And in that foreign land, the boy spends it all.  He runs out of food, folks, and fun! He decides to go home.  And there he finds the father never moved. In fact, when the father saw him a long way down the road, he ran to his son. His compassion never fails.  When you and I come home He says, “I’ve missed you.”

“…..great is Thy faithfulness.”

How big is “great”?  His faithfulness never diminishes. He won’t forget my name, circumstances, or prayers.  I will never go to God and catch Him off guard.  He doesn’t have to ask the Angel Gabriel to pull my file. He is faithful to know exactly where I am and what I am going through.

He won’t forget me.

When I was a boy growing up in the mountains, I had a Boxer named Heidi. She was my best friend. She followed me on every adventure. I took her hunting. She was not much of a hunting dog. The only animal she could catch was a porcupine. I don’t know if you can imagine what a Boxer and a porcupine fight might be like, but let me just say the dog always loses.

While laying around on the living room floor in front of the fireplace watching grainy and gray episodes of Gunsmoke with my family, I would use her as a pillow.

Heidi the Faithful

One summer I was gone for an extended period of time and upon my return, as we got closer to the house, my heart began to beat a little faster. I missed my mom and dad and my brother and one of my sisters, but the person in my family that I wanted to see first was my dog Heidi.

I asked my mom if she thought that Heidi missed me as much as I missed her. We pulled up in front of our house and I looked for her and looked for her. I couldn’t find her anywhere. She always would meet any vehicle driving into the drive way, but on this day she was not in the yard or on the porch.

So, I went out back and looked down the canyon behind our house. I whistled. Then I heard her let out her “warning bark.” The bark she reserved for strangers. I yelled her name.

Silence.

I called her name again. Suddenly she let out a bark of recognition and started running towards the house. Her tongue flapped out of one side of her mouth like a red scarf flowing in the wind of a World War one bi-plane pilot. Faster and faster she ran towards me until we came together—then she jumped into my arms and licked my face with that washcloth-sized tongue until my face was red and raw.

If a dog will remember a boy after weeks of unexplained absence, you can trust the God of the universe to remember you and be faithful to you.

So, my friend, if you find yourself distant from the Father-heart of God—return to Him. And the second you turn your heart towards home, you will find him leaping off the front porch, and running towards you with open arms.

And that is the safest place for you to be during your afflictions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Life at the Speed of Your Father

When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom.
Proverbs 11:2

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Mac Davis

I went backpacking with my eighty-year-old father and twenty-six-year old son recently and it might not surprise you to know they both walked at a different pace. Being sixty-years-old, my pace is somewhere between them. We had a good time enjoying the wilderness of Colorado and the mountains we love.

At one point my dad wondered aloud why Christians can look at what our current president says and does and see him so differently. I wonder the same thing. We talked about it for several hours beside Sand Creek in the Sangre De Cristo mountains.

Full disclosure: My dad voted for and, to a large extent, supports the current president. I did not vote for him and do not support virtually anything the president stands for.

Our conversation ranged far and wide to all the sensitive social issues: Abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, religious liberty, etc. On virtually all of those issues my dad and I are in agreement, but when it comes to supporting the President we differ greatly.

After our long and amicable conversation, I went for a solo hike up to Lower Sand Lake. I asked God to help me understand how two men who love Him so much and agree about most things theologically and politically could be at such odds on this. I’m not sure He gave me a very definitive answer.

The Romanowski Rule

But what did occur to me is that some people support their guy because he is their guy. They are loyal, if nothing else. That reminded me of a professional football player from the 90’s named Bill Romanowski. He played for the San Francisco 49er’s and the Denver Broncos. ESPN named him the fifth dirtiest player in the history of the NFL. When he played for the other teams I hated him. He was dirty. In my mind, every tackle there was a flagrant foul and unnecessary roughness. He should have been penalized on every play.

Then he came to the Broncos (my all-time favorite team) and for several years in the late 90’s Bill Romanowski helped us win. We even won back-to-back Super Bowls. It’s funny, I didn’t see him as such a dirty player during those years. He was helping us get what we all wanted. A world championship.

But then he went to play for the hated Oakland Raiders. Now he was the devil incarnate again.

Honestly, I think many see the current president the way I viewed Bill Romanowski. As long as he helps us win at the political game, we can overlook his antics, but those on the “other team” look at him with disgust and contempt.

The Humility Principle

On the hike down from the lake I wondered what singular character trait Christians should admire in a leader and immediately I thought of humility. It doesn’t mean we agree with everything he or she stands for, but shouldn’t Christians admire leaders who display some modicum of humility?

By the way, the humblest man I know is my father. I remember him saying many times growing up in his home that the sign of a maturing Christian is that they display a “teachable spirit.” I find it difficult to believe that a leader with a teachable spirit would not be humble. That is the kind of leader I want to be anyway.

Isn’t humility indispensable to the life of a Christian and shouldn’t it be our most important value in a leader? This is true in business, church life, and politics. How can you embrace in your heart a pastor who is narcissistic? How can a Christian who follows Jesus so closely that the dust from his sandals is on their clothing at the same time embrace a leader who is filled with hubris?

The Executive Director for our state denomination of Colorado Baptist, Nathan Lorick recently said,

“I believe the two greatest qualities of a leader are integrity and humility. Culture tends to make it about ability, yet without integrity and humility, ability will eventually lead to a dead end in leadership. I will take a leader with these two qualities any day!”

I completely agree. As has been my practice for decades, I will pray for the leaders who do not display integrity and humility, but I will give my allegiance to those who display at least a hint of humility.

This week my dad had a procedure done to his heart that, hopefully, will help the bottom chamber and the top chamber stop beating out of sync. Right now, he can’t walk very far on a trail without his heart racing out of control and causing him to be light-headed and short of breath.

Dad hiking Music Pass Trail with Tijeras Peak in the background

On our hike to Sand Creek I never walked with my son. His pace was too fast for me, but I told my dad on Father’s Day this year that I wanted to go backpacking with him. Frequently, between breaths, Dad would say things like, “Son, you don’t have to wait on me. Go on ahead.” But I didn’t come into the wilderness with him to hike by myself. I came in the wilderness to be with him.

If I want to walk with my father, I have to go at his pace.

There are a lot of layers of meaning to that last line. What is true of my dad is true of my Heavenly Father, too, but we will save that for another time.

Being with my father was more important than the pace at which I was able to cover ground. And, honestly, it was more important than keeping pace with my son. I will be back in the wilderness with my son. I know that for certain.

But now is the time to walk with my father, no matter who he voted for.

Posted in Uncategorized

My Letter to Eugene Peterson

Dear Mr. Peterson,

I received your address from David Hansen. I read his book The Art of Pastoring and sent him a letter thanking him for his contribution to my understanding of what it meant to be a pastor and we have become pen pals. (Even though we do it by email.) Since you wrote and endorsement to his book, I wondered if he might have a way for me to get a letter to you. He obliged.

I am a third-generation Southern Baptist preacher. My oldest son has also answered the call to be a minister. The first book of yours that I bought was The Contemplative Pastor. I tried to read it, but I could not find it interesting. I tried. I really did. But my value system and maturity as a Christ-follower was as deep as a birdbath in my thirties. Ten years, and a life implosion later, I read it again. It fed my soul. I read it every other year now to remind myself of what my primary responsibility to my congregation is to be.

I read The Message every day.

When I finished reading your memoir The Pastor, with tears in my eyes, I said aloud to God or myself or both—I am proud to be a pastor. I have not always felt that way. My calling a pastor has been unequivocal, but my self-esteem in that calling has always been queasy at best. After I read The Pastor that all changed. God used that book to change how I view my calling.

So, thank you.

I’ve been married to the same girl for thirty-six years. We have three grown sons and four grandgingers. I pastor a small, older congregation in the mountains of Colorado in a town called Buena Vista. It is at the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

Every summer people come from all over the country to raft the river. That means that river guides also come to lead those trips while the water is high from the spring run-off. These guides live like homeless people. They live in tents and eat mostly Ramen for the summer. Our church began a ministry to feed those river guides over twenty years ago. So, every Monday night from Memorial Day through the first week of August, we open our doors to the guides to come take a shower and eat a home-cooked meal. We can feed upwards to 100 guides.

These guides won’t tolerate much evangelizing, so we try our best to show them kindness and the love of Jesus in the form of Soup, Soap, and Soul Care. They can get a good meal, and hot shower, and prayer or a warm conversation if they want one.

My congregation is primarily senior adults. When I was considering whether to answer the call to pastor this mountain church, I was lamenting to my seventy-eight-year-old father that everyone is so old. He looked at me sternly and said, “Son, old people need a pastor, too.” The church extended an invitation to me to be her pastor, I accepted, and my wife and I moved here from the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2015.

We have struggled with what we need to do to be the church God wants us to be. There are twenty churches in this town of 2,700 people. Three other churches are large and very effective. I know their pastors well and love them dearly. They are reaching many young families with children and students. We are attracting early retired folks and lots of snowbirds. At first, I struggled with this mono-demographic. But, as time has gone on, I have grown accustomed to who we are. We are trying to be a church of elders, not just seniors.

While I lived in the Seattle area for fifteen years, I began to mentor young church planting pastors. I fell in love with them. I love spending time with them and listening to them. I don’t have much to offer them in terms of strategies, but I ask them about their hearts, kids, and wives. That seemed to surprise them and comfort them at the same time. I’m old enough to be their father and it comes easy for me to shepherd their souls.

I have a dream of offering, for the lack of a better term, a ministry intensive to pastors. This would be loosely based on the psychological model of intensives. A ministry couple would come and spend a week with my wife and I in our mountain home and we would do a 360-degree examination of their ministry that would include: Interior Life of the Soul, Relationships as a Pastor (Marriage, parenting, friendships, and spiritual direction), Pastoral Care of their Congregation, and Leadership as a Shepherd.

We have not had a pastor come yet. But, we are ready.

I’m really writing this letter to tell you how much you have meant to me as a mentor. I am a voracious reader. I’ve read all your books. Some of them more than once. No one has influenced my calling as a pastor more than you. God has used you to make me a better shepherd.

I have a Mt. Rushmore of authors: Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, and you.

So, thank you, sir for being faithful to your Lord and Master. I admire you greatly. When I am faced with how to respond to a pastoral concern, I pray to the Lord, I read the ancient book that we love, and I ask myself, “How would Eugene respond?”

Thank you for showing me the way…The Jesus Way.

Gratefully yours,

joe

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Salt and Light Company

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.  –Jesus

We all know what happens when a revolutionary party suddenly finds itself in power. It’s one thing to shout angrily from the sidelines, but quite another to form a government and run a country. All sorts of things have to be organized and dealt with which a rebel movement can happily ignore.

When this happens, two questions are asked. First, can this movement really do the basic things that a government can do better than its predecessor? Was it just making a lot of noise which now turns out to be hot air, or can it really deliver the goods? Second, can it remain true to itself and its original ideals even though it’s now in power? Will it, in turn, become corrupt and just like all other governments, starting off in a blaze of glory and good intentions and ending up riddled with corruption and muddle?

Jesus was starting a revolution all right – but it was a different sort of revolution from all the other ones that were bubbling up in his days. (the above paragraphs adapted from N.T. Wright)

For instance, Jesus said in his famous sermon on the mount…

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.  Matthew 5:38-39

In this world the assumption is: “You hurt me, I will hurt you back.” In the Kingdom revenge no longer gets the last word, but love and mercy get the last word. I have to apply this with wisdom and discretion and judgment. This teaching was never to be used to justify someone staying in an abusive relationship.

He goes on and says, And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

A Roman soldier was allowed by law to force an Israelite to carry his pack for a mile. This happened all the time. How do you think the zealots, who were bent on the violent overthrow of the Roman government in Israel, felt about this law? They hated it. How do you think a zealot felt when Jesus said,

OK, here is the idea: A Roman soldier comes, gives you his burden, and forces you to carry it a mile for him. When you are done, look at him and say, “I have got some time, I can help you some more. Let me carry it for you for another mile.”

These are dangerous words.

Jesus is NOT saying, “Anytime somebody asks you to do something, you always have to do it.”  He is saying, “The general prevailing attitude is: If you’ve got an enemy, stick it to him. But in the Kingdom here is what we are going to do: We are going to love our enemies.”

The is the divine conspiracy of subversive spirituality. How well are we at doing this?

Jesus is saying, “Now in the Kingdom, here is what we are going to do: See these people that get mad at us—we are going to love them. But now, how are you actually going to do it? How am I doing it?  This is revolutionary, how are we going to do it?

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. 

Effie Peyton was an 85-year-old saint in a church I pastored.  I would go to visit her in the hospital and always leave feeling blessed by her. I would walk into the room with the buzzing machines, the harsh florescent lights and when she would see me she always reached over and grabbed her teeth and put them in her mouth and smiled a huge smile, this 80-pound woman.

“Pastor, how’s that beautiful wife of yours?” she’d ask. “And what about those boys?  They are getting so big!”

We’d visit a while and then I could tell she was getting tired and I would make a move to leave and she’s say, “Pastor, can I pray for you?” Then she’d spend the next several minutes with her spindly arms up outstretched to her heavenly Father, and pray for me and my family.

A nurse came in one time while she was praying and Effie new she was in the room, so she started praying for the nurse, by name.

I left the room and then lingered just outside her room for a moment and heard her say to the nurse, “Honey, that’s my pastor. He’s a good man. He loves Jesus. Honey, do you love Jesus?”

She was the salt of the earth.

In the day-to-dayness of your life and when you bring joy, when you challenge somebody, when you listen, when you touch, when you hug, when you laugh, when you say “You matter,” when you give a gift, when you write a note, when you make a call, when you volunteer, when you say to somebody…

Honey, Jesus loves you, He would love to be your friend.

that is the revolutionary movement that Jesus started, that cost Him His life—that revolution has now spread around the globe—while empires, nations and civilizations have come and gone.

And so, my friend always remember that you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.  May you live this day to love God, love others, and serve the world.

That’s revolutionary.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Jesus

Who would you secretly nominate as a person or a people group with whom God might be irritated? And, if truth were known, you are secretly hoping they don’t find favor with God.

Maybe they are people of color.
Maybe they wear their pants sagging and their hat sideways.
Maybe they were buttoned down oxford shirts and power ties.
Maybe they speak with a clipped northeastern accent. Or with a thick southern drawl.
Maybe they have a confederate flag flying outside their house.
Maybe they are loud and proud.
Maybe they wear scarves over their faces and turbans on their heads.
Maybe they are chronically addicted.
Maybe they are obese.
Maybe they are ugly.
Maybe they are super attractive.
Maybe they are young.
Maybe they are old.

Whoever you thought of is who Jesus is speaking to on this mountainside. They had no spiritual qualifications. They had no credentials. They were religiously illiterate.

There are a lot of folks like that in our day, maybe you are one of them.

The people sitting on the mountain side don’t know the Bible. No one’s asking them to teach Sunday School. They’re spiritual zeros, didn’t get the faith-gene.

When you read the stories just preceding this you find that Jesus was busy loving, healing, serving, and touching the untouchables of his day…

So, let’s say that Jesus sees in the crowd someone that has been brought to Him that He’s just helped. Maybe it’s a man who was brought to Jesus because he had been demon-possessed, emotionally tormented, out of his mind, a spiritual zero. Never part of a faith community; nobody would ask him what does he think about God.

But now he’s calm and in his right mind. Why? Because even though he had done nothing to deserve it, Jesus just comes up and touches him, and heals him. And so Jesus has him stand up, and they smile at each other.

And Jesus turns around and has him face the crowd. Jesus says,  “You want to know who’s blessed? This guy right here; blessed are the spiritual basket cases. Blessed are the faith-challenged. Blessed are the religious disasters, for now theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He goes, maybe, to a middle-aged woman. She has always been sad her whole lifelong, because she was unable to have children. That’s always a sad thing. That day it was desperately broken. And now her husband has died and she’s alone. And she’s penniless. To tell the truth, she would have supported herself by becoming a prostitute because that was the only way. But now she is too old even to do that.

She has no hope. She comes to Jesus in utter desperation because she’s got nothing else to do.

He sees her, and He whispers to James and John, “You watch out for her, now. Because that’s going to be one of our core values, caring for widows.”

And Jesus goes to this widow. And He has her stand up and He puts an arm around this woman’s shoulder, and He has her face the crowd.

Jesus says, “Want to know who’s blessed? Blessed are those who mourn. Not because it’s a good thing to mourn, but because the reality of the presence of the Kingdom is coming down to the mourning, and they shall be comforted now. You just watch what happens in the life of this woman. In my kingdom, things will be different for the likes of her. Better, much better.”

And on and on he goes.

It’s important to remember that the Beatitudes are NOT instructions on how to be blessed. The Beatitudes are not instructions on how to do anything. The Beatitudes are designed to shock people into realizing that now the blessing, the good and beautiful life—that we all drive ourselves crazy and frantic and busy trying to grab a hold of—the life in the Kingdom is now available to anybody who wants it through personal contact with this man Jesus.

And no one and no thing can shut you out.

What about ‘The Blessed’ in Our Day? If Jesus were giving them right here? What would they sound like?

Who are the people that our culture says are shut out of the good life?

Blessed are the geeks.

Blessed are the nerds.

Blessed are the wimps.

Blessed are you when you have dandruff and blemishes and all manner of bad breath.

Blessed are those who have no fashion sense.

Blessed are the uncoordinated.

Blessed are the middle-managers.

Blessed are the wrinkled.

Blessed are the anxious.

Blessed are the unemployed.

Blessed are the homeless.

Blessed are the “deplorables.”

Blessed are the drop-outs and the burn-outs and the left-outs.

Blessed are the chronically angry.

Blessed are the liberals.

Blessed are the sexually addicted and the sexually frustrated.

Blessed are the mentally ill.

Blessed are the HIV positive.

Blessed are the parents who failed.

Blessed are the children who ran away.

Blessed are the divorced.

Blessed are the barren.

Blessed are the pregnant out of wedlock.

Blessed are the failures.

Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed…

Is this good news for anybody yet?

Here’s the Kingdom, now, available to you through Jesus to begin now and to know in its fullness one day and enjoy into eternity.

See, when Jesus began to form His community, it’s like there was a giant welcome mat out in front of Him. Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect.

Anything’s possible with God.

Now, of course, lots of people rejected Jesus. But it was because they didn’t want His Kingdom. It was never because He gave them the subtle vibe that they really weren’t Kingdom material.

Because for Jesus everybody was Kingdom material: Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect, anything’s possible.

I think in a lot of relationships I have a lot of moments in my life when I put up a “No Trespassing” sign where Jesus would roll out a welcome mat.

Not long ago, I met with a pastor and I began to speak ugly about another brother in Christ. I began to paint a picture of him to my friend in a way that made him look silly and shallow.

My wife was gone and I sent her a text: “I spoke ugly about a pastor to another pastor and feel horrible about it. I am an idiot. Please pray for me.”

She replied: “I know.”

I have been called to speak words like “apples of gold in settings of silver” and yet often I find myself speaking words that tear down rather than build up.

I have thoughts that cause me to blush in shame. I am in a perpetual state of repentance. I am daily, sometimes hourly in need of course correction because I fall so far short of the life I want to live for King Jesus.

Nobody needs the Kingdom more than me.

But you want to know who’s blessed?

Me.

I’m blessed. Not because I ever get it right or have anything together or am well-gifted, because Jesus came to me almost 50 years ago. I don’t know why. He just did.

You know who’s blessed?

You.

Not because you live in a well-managed.  Not because you’re well-off, well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated. Because, truth be known, underneath our nice well managed life we are a mess…a hot mess.

Oh, how I wish we could conjure the spirit of the late Brennan Manning. We need him now more than ever. As Manning reminded us in his final book,

Blessed is the…

The inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t…
The dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way…
The liar, the tramp, the thief; otherwise known as the pastor, speaker, and author…
The disciple whose cheese slid off the cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’…
The younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again…

The favor and flourishing of God has come to all of those who feel left out of the good life in this world.

That’s good news. The good news of the Kingdom. Are you in the Kingdom or are you trying to make it on your own

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment