A Path to . . . somewhere!

Greetings fellow traveler!

As most of you know, we have been in a “step out, not sure where we’re going“ mode since at least last spring. Even before we moved from Seattle, God had me thinking about this, talking with Him, and . . . taking pictures. Here is one I took while on a walk just north of Fort Casey on Whidbey SAMSUNGIsland: notice that the path is clear, a gate is open enough to walk through (but a car would need to wait), but the destination—where the path leads—is not visible. Maybe you feel like you are on a path like this, not at all certain where it will lead. I’m not speaking in an ultimate sense—I think most of you are part of God’s forever family; you know you will spend eternity with Jesus—but where you will live or work, maybe who you will marry, or how many (more) kids you will have (along with innumerable other details) are unknown to you. You might have a reply you give to some of these if asked, because you have learned that our culture definitely favors those who answer such questions with great certainty!

Don’t get me wrong, I think having “goals” and “making plans” are good, as long as we subject them to “if God wills . . ..” I don’t mean we say that as an excuse for not being reliable; I mean we should say it because we actually surrender our plans and goals to Him. I think surrender is the only authentic response if you really follow Jesus. As I was reading again this week in Eugene H. Peterson’s excellent book The Jesus Way I was reminded that, for many people (unfortunately even many within God’s family who live and think in the way of the world), following seems foolish. Think while you read:

            “When we follow Jesus, it means that we don’t know exactly what it means, at least in detail. We follow him, letting him pick the roads, set the timetables, tell us what we need to know but only when we need to know it. Caiaphas knew exactly what he wanted and where he was going, and he had a pretty good idea of how to get there. He was a master at getting what he wanted in religion. . . ..

              “When Jesus says ‘Follow me’ and we follow, we don’t know where we will go next or what we will do next. That is why we follow the one who does know.”

(The Jesus Way, p. 240)

 Peterson’s words suggest that, in truth, nobody knows where they will go next or what they will do next. Many people think their plans are certain, but they are mistaken. Some tragic examples arose in central California this week, I’ll share only one: two families had their lives plunge into inexpressible pain when one mom, making a right turn out of the elementary school driveway after dropping her children for the day, struck and killed a twelve year old on a bike as he approached the same driveway from her right. . . . Papa, bring your tangible presence, including empathetic visits from some of our brothers and sisters, to comfort those who ache because of death. But I don’t know the details. It could be that the parents in one or both of these hurting families are Jesus followers—which brings me to another point from Peterson:

“. . .Following Jesus is not a path to privilege. It is not a way to get what you want. It is not the inside track to a higher standard of living. In both Judaism and the church there have always been a lot of people who expect everything to turn out wonderfully when they commit themselves to God’s ways, worship faithfully, study their Bibles, witness to their friends, and give generously. But it is following Caiaphas that gets you that kind of life, not following Jesus. Jesus makes that explicit when he says, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross . . .’ (Matt. 16:24).”

(The Jesus Way, p. 229).

If you are struggling in the Way today, if life seems confusing or hard (or both), do not despair. It is possible to follow yet not have all the answers. Remember, even though “we don’t know where we will go next or what we will do next, . . . we follow the one who does know.”

Lord Jesus, please allow us to see and hear You in ways which Your Spirit will use to enable us to be good followers.

 

Go Green!

While it remained unseasonably warm in Seattle through mid-October, the weather has cooled and the colors in the trees (and on lawns, sidewalks and streets) is now amazing. This picture is one I took earlier this week with my phone. As He often did with those who followed during the time He pitched His tent among us, Jesus has sent me thinking yet again about how some “common” aspect of “nature” speaks volumes of spiritual truth.

According a composite of articles from Ask.Com, “When leaves appear green, it is because they contain an abundance of chlorophyll. There is so much chlorophyll in an active leaf that the green masks other pigment colors. Light regulates chlorophyll production, so as autumn days grow shorter, less chlorophyll is produced. . . Sunny autumn days are needed for the brightest color displays, . . .. Overcast days will lead to more yellows and browns. . . . The major factor influencing autumn leaf color change is the lack of water. Not a lack of water to the entire tree, but a purposeful weaning of water from each leaf.”  

I’d been thinking about personal faith as including many distinctive beliefs (beyond the essentials concerning Jesus, what I believe about a particular passage of Scripture may be very different that what you believe about that passage). Thus, while I see divisions as bad [as I addressed in “Don’t Miss That Opportunity”], I see distinctive beliefs among Christians as an essential element of personal faith (consider prayerfully Romans 14, for example, where we are told to avoid both “regarding with contempt” and “judging” others in the family because of their different personal beliefs). An effort to force “organizational unity” is not the path to living as “One Church.”

I’m thinking differences in personal faith are like the variations of color in fall leaves. They are a beautiful thing, something we can celebrate as of God. Yet, such variation does not mean the leaves came from different trees or were not part of one another while actively growing. That in itself is worthy of some contemplation.

Selah (pause and think)

Remember the earlier days, when all those distinct combinations of chemicals which give rise to color variations in the leaves were completely indiscernible, when the light was plentiful and chlorophyll production high, when each was an “active green leaf”? The green masked other pigment colors (we might say, you couldn’t see their colors for the green). As the light decreases in the days of autumn and the tree restricts the flow of water to the leaves, the other pigments become more dominant. The Lord takes my mind to “walk in the light as He is in the light” and passages where water represents the Spirit (like John 7:38 & 39 and Jeremiah 17:7 & 8). Like leave in summer, when we walk in the light (reveling in Papa’s love and loving others), people see Him in us: We are alive and lifegiving (as He uses us to actively absorb from the “environment” that which is hurtful to human life [as the leaf does with carbon dioxide] and He produces in and through us that which is necessary to life [much like chlorophyll producing oxygen via the leaf]).

As I was musing on some of these things (Papa continues to “open” them to me, even as I write), I was saddened by a short video by a theologian who decries the proliferation of denominations and “independent churches” as evidence of disunity, but says he doesn’t know the solution. Brother, God gives Life! Papa’s solution is beyond theology. His solution is simple: His solution is love. We will live as “One Church” not because of doctrinal uniformity but through unconditional love actively practiced in our day to day. What was it Jesus said? They will know you are My disciples because of your doctrinal unity? Not! Rather,

Everybody will know you are Mine when they see your love for one another.

His solution is simple, but not easy—not easy but hard, or better yet—not hard but impossible—apart from His Spirit, Whom He has poured out fully into all who are His. Such was the testimony of the world concerning the early Church:

Look and wonder at how deeply they love one another.

 

And He opened to them a parable, saying:

To what shall I liken the Kingdom of God? It is like a tree in summer, full of green leaves, furnishing far more than shade. Yet, many revel only when the green fades and vibrant colors dominate the leaves—colors which please the eye briefly but soon fall from the tree, litter the paths, and clog the streams. May each who has ears to hear, hear.

 

Walk in The Light. Live by the Spirit. Love.

 

John

Don’t miss that Opportunity!

Beloved of Papa,

On Tuesday my reading brought me to I Corinthians. In Chapter One I read,

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he?”

The “no” was loud and emphatic as I read “no divisions among you.” As I read on I was hearing . . . “I am of Calvin,” and “I of Wesley” . . . no divisions. I’m sorry if that hurts, but it is what happened. I know most of you are beyond such things, but all are not yet free.

As I read on, the diagnosis got stronger in Chapter Three,

“ . . . for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”

Wow! Fleshly? Jealousy? Strife? Why? For one says, ‘I am of Warren’ and another, ‘I am of Osteen,’ (or any other name expressed as a faction within The Church [including the proud, I follow Christ, as in 1:12!]). This is not milk for babes—yet it is Papa’s loving word to the Saints at Corinth (or Seattle, or Concord, or any other place where such proud distinctions are claimed). Papa had Paul write it as a corrective, which we need to hear and receive today—not to produce guilt or shame (or self-justifying), but for conviction, confession, cleansing, and transformation by the power of the Spirit.

All this reminds me of Ray Stedman’s thoughts in Talking to My Father. In addressing what he calls the “divine strategy” for reaching the world (as seen in our Lord’s prayer recorded in John 17), Stedman says:

“I have resolved that my heart shall be always ready to love every person, without exception, in whom I sense a love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God – regardless of his denominational label or lack of it and despite any theological differences of viewpoint.  I am ready, God in me and helping me, to give myself in love to any Christian, anywhere, whom I may chance to meet and in whom I sense a fellowship of love for Jesus Christ. . . .”

I was particularly convicted by his next paragraph:

“Are you willing to join in that?  Are you ready now to say, in order to reach the world around us, Lord teach me to give up my prejudices, these separations, this withdrawal, these sub-Christian attitudes toward my fellow brethren in Christ and make me willing to love them and to show it for Christ’s sake?”

By His grace He has brought me to a place where I say, “Yes. I am.” But saying it to Him is not always enough! He calls on me to say it and live it toward each specific brother or sister in my life. Sometimes He even prompts me to reach out to some brother or sister I wouldn’t otherwise encounter! If the Spirit has not brought someone like that to your mind as you have read this, perhaps He will do so later today. When He does, reach out in love: Send them a note, phone them, or walk over and give them a holy hug! Since He loves us without limit, we are able to love one another—not just with words, but in authentic acts of love! Don’t miss that opportunity!

Live who you are—a child dearly loved by Papa.

John

Beyond Tolerance

Greetings of Love,

Over the past 10 days or so I have had a number of encounters which were both convicting and encouraging. You are familiar with the process—while you are active but clueless God shows you how your thoughts and actions fall short of what Jesus calls us to, while also bringing a realization that He has brought you a long way toward Christ-likeness (considering where you once were on this issue). As God assures us through Paul, He began the good work in you will continue His work . . .. Praise God! My thoughts can be connected by the words tolerance, love and hospitality.

Tolerance. Just the word seems politically charged, but I’m not talking politics (yet I hope you’re registered and will vote). No. I’m using tolerance in a more traditional sense, as in I really enjoy steak but I can barely tolerate brussel sprouts (if they’re your favorite, don’t be offended–I’m using them merely as an example). We might use tolerate that way in connection with any number of things—a particular course, household chore, or even a person! Part of God’s renewed conviction of me is that at times there are still some people I merely tolerate; the encouragement is that the number is considerably smaller than it once was.

Love. As seen in Jesus as He showed us Abba—genuine and deep concern for the wellbeing of others, to the point of acting for their best.  This is pretty tough to do if you are only tolerant of them.

Hospitality. In modern English usage many people equate hospitality with entertaining, but they are not the same. Indeed, in Biblical usage (and in mine) it means love of strangers. Paula is gifted by God in this way—she has the gift of loving strangers, making them feel at ease, enjoying them. God continues growing me in this quality as well. He is not done with me yet, but I am increasingly interested in people who I haven’t yet met, befriending them and sharing with them.

So . . ., how do these ideas connect with your conduct toward others? Most of us can talk it up, but to actually conduct ourselves in ways which are not merely tolerant but involve actively loving strangers in tangible ways, well . . . not so much! Many of us, confronted with this discrepancy between word and deed begin to try to help the poor or disadvantaged. I don’t want to discourage you in that, but today I want to redirect the challenge a bit: How’s your conduct toward those who call themselves Christian but don’t adhere to your particular “flavor” of The Faith? Perhaps they are far more “literal” in their approach to Scripture than you are, or not; perhaps their view on “welcoming & affirming” is far too “liberal” for your taste, or not. Can you look to Jesus and move from a “brussel spout” face into love and hospitality?

I’m not claiming that God is through with me on this, but I know the work of Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection along with the work of the Spirit in our lives, accomplished a far greater work than most of us live into in our actions toward others in His body. Those who strongly proclaim “tolerance” are often downright hostile toward the more “conservative” parts of the Family, who (or their part) question the lineage of all who don’t adhere to their particular “exegesis” of the Word. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you abandon your passion or belief! What I am suggesting is that each of us allow the love of Christ and His enabling/empowering Spirit to move us into loving-hospitable actions toward one another. Really!

I am reminded of the time, while The Son pitched His tent among us, that He was approached by a couple of His most fervent followers. They had encountered some yahoo who dared to claim the name of Jesus in casting out demons but had never come to a single gathering of the faithful! “Because he wasn’t one of us we demanded that he stop!” Jesus spoke some key instruction, which may be more applicable than we typically admit: “Don’t forbid them! . . . Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Really? How can they be for us? Read it for yourself (Mark 9:38-40), but don’t stop with the reading. Ask the Spirit to open to you His application of these words in your life, including your extension of love and hospitality to parts of Christ’s Body you can barely tolerate. Then, do what He says. Well, always do what He says.

By this will all men know that you are My disciples, in that you show love to one another.

 

John

Rest, Refreshing and Connection

It’s Sunday, the first day of the week, The Lord’s Day, and I am prompted to send you some challenge and encouragement on how to “Have a great day!” My thoughts break into three parts: Rest, Refreshing and Connection.

Rest. Americans don’t get enough of it. Not only do many of us function habitually “sleep deprived,” we also have no rest. When do you “get away” from the pressures? What do you do for relaxation? When was the last time you did that? I have talked to a number of Christians who live as if they believe God expects them or wants them to live pressed for time and exhausted. They live at a pace which proclaims themselves “indispensible” to God’s mission, although they would deny such a high opinion of themselves if you asked (as Donald Miller explains, we don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do). What happened to following Jesus? The One who did, at times, labor to the point of exhaustion, but who also took advantage of time on the boat for a nap, was to deliberately “get away” to the other side, and Who promised Rest to all the weary ones who come to Him? Perhaps today, on His day, what He would like is for you to spend a couple of hours . . . sleeping!

Refreshing. For me, sleep is often not enough. There are plenty of times I need sleep, but even more than sleep I need refreshing. There is something very invigorating in a change of pace and change of location. I spend a lot of time reading and writing in preparation for classes, so those activities on a Sunday tend to not “bring me life.” It is helpful for me to change my physical surroundings and do something I really enjoy—find a new place by the water to take a walk, drive somewhere and stop to enjoy the view, or spend time looking at stuff and watching people at an outdoor market. Whatever the activity, I trust Jesus to be reminding me that He is with me and to cause me to be grateful. When I see something beautiful, like the sunset above or the clouds here (both caught on my cell phone on different days last weekend), I thank Him. I am reminded again that times of refreshing are in His presence. That is, I am refreshed as I experience the reality that He is with us, and gives us all things to enjoy. What things does Jesus prompt in your mind and heart as you read that you would enjoy and find Refreshing today?

Connection. Speaking of cell phones, they are great tools. Not just a phone, they are now the multimedia connection Steve Jobs envisioned. But all that utility comes at a price beyond dollars. I find myself addicted! Put a pause in my day, after class or after church, and almost immediately I’m checking messages, making calls, checking email, or following a link to somewhere. I confess, I have done it more than once while another person is right there with me (sorry Paula). My connection to the world wide web is interfering with a more important interpersonal connection (and probably robbing me of Rest and Refreshing as well). I read an article recently about “how to take a day off” and one of the recommendations was to turn off your cell phone. I think it’s a good idea: Maybe all day is too drastic for you, but how about for a couple of hours? Maybe Jesus wants you to give that a try today.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this, it’s not all that important what I think (or what you think for that matter). What matters is what Jesus thinks. Why not ask Jesus right now what He thinks about what you need today, then do what He says. Maybe it will be something I suggested, maybe a combination, or maybe something far more adventurous. Go where He leads. Always.

Enjoy Shalom (all of God’s best).

John

 

More Thoughts on Fire

As I was praying about how to share these other thoughts about fire it occurred to me (I won’t say definitively it was the Lord, but I won’t say it wasn’t either) that often what I write is too long. So this one will be fairly short, in the nature of a parable (which has application wherever you are).

The Kingdom of God is like a man wanting to cook five pounds of hamburgers for his friends. He lights a single sheet of newspaper under some briquettes (some old, some new) in his charcoal chimney, and when those coals begin to burn hot, he dumps them on to others in his Weber. When they are all white hot, he adds the grill and cooks the burgers. Then, he welcomes his friends to the table. 

Nobody, wanting to cook five pounds of burgers would separate all the coals, use only one or two briquettes, or not bother first lighting a fire. 

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

John