What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

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The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

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Workaholic L4L.09

Confession Of A Workaholic - They Say That Eve...

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The WORD

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’

Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.’

They replied, ‘We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’

Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:24-29 (New Living Translation)

This text follows Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. Those who had been fed realized that Jesus had moved on, so they followed him across the lake. Let’s read these words again, this time from the TNIV:

The crowd realized that Jesus and his disciples were not there. So they got into boats and went to Capernaum to look for Jesus. They found him on the other side of the lake. They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “What I’m about to tell you is true. You are not looking for me because you saw miraculous signs. You are looking for me because you ate the loaves until you were full.  Do not work for food that spoils. Work for food that lasts forever. That is the food the Son of Man will give you. God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.”

Then they asked him, “What does God want from us? What works does he want us to do?”  

Jesus answered, “God’s work is to believe in the One he has sent.”

Everyone knows a workaholic.

Some of us ARE workaholics.

The dictionary definition of workaholic is: somebody who has a compulsive need to work hard and for very long hours. Somebody addicted to work.

The people seeking Jesus had a compulsive need, in response to experiencing the miraculous signs and wonders of Jesus’ ministry, to do what Jesus did. Maybe they genuinely wanted to heal and feed the masses. Maybe they were caught up in the swell of excitement around Jesus and simply wanted to re-create that environment around themselves. Either way, these people had the potential to become addicted to work, and Jesus knew it.

The APP

Jesus recognized that this eager crowd had all of the markers of becoming workaholics; people who could very easily get lost in their work, losing track of the reason they were doing it in the first place.

Isn’t that just what happens to US? We find a job that will pay the bills, put our education to good use and allow us to contribute our unique giftedness to a purpose or cause that we can (hopefully) get excited about… and it sucks us in. Before we realize what has happened, our priorities shift, our time management goes haywire and we find ourselves dreaming workplace scenarios in the night.

Becoming a workaholic robs us of our sleep and our relationships and our health. What started with clarity as a beautiful thing can easily end up a disastrous mess when we lose track of why we’re doing it at all.

It’s no different in the church.

We get recruited to serve as a Sunday School teacher or sound technician. We like feeling useful. We like the idea that what we’re doing is God’s work. We figure that if we do even MORE for God, it can only be a good thing (right?), so we take on more hours or additional ministries.

Somehow we move from serving out of a response to God to serving in order to get a response from God.

Jesus knew we would be tempted to make our work the focus, which is why His response to this crowd of enthusiastic do-ers is worth our literal consideration today…

God doesn’t want our busyness.

God doesn’t require long hours.

God isn’t impressed with our spiritual resumes.

The only work God wants from us is our BELIEF in the Savior. Period.

Do yourself a favor today and make a list of what you do. List everything you do on a normal day, in a normal week. Then ask yourself these questions:

What are you doing that feels like busyness?

What are you doing that takes long hours, especially hours away from those whose lives are connected to yours?

What are you doing that serves mainly to build up a resume of spiritual service?

What are you doing that fits poorly, feels heavy or conflicts with something in your life that you value more?

God is giving us  permission to spend all of our energy on believing in Him!

Take Jesus at His Word.

He’ll take care of the rest.

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Affirmation Station L4L.07

Affirmations - Heart - Red

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The WORD

‘Please, sir,’ the woman said, ‘give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.’

‘Go and get your husband,’ Jesus told her.

‘I don’t have a husband,’ the woman replied.

Jesus said, ‘You’re right! You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!’” John 4:15-18 (New Living Translation)

It’ll feel a bit awkward, but read back through this text as a conversation – out loud! Try to feel as Jesus and the woman might have felt…

The Word for us today comes from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus strikes up a conversation with this woman whose past is probably part of the reason she is filling her bucket at the well alone, in the heat of the day.

Jesus had every opportunity to point out the error of her ways.

The woman had every opportunity to run the other way. Yet neither one did.

Well, you might say that Jesus asked about the woman’s husband in order to reveal her sinful nature, right? After all, He does proceed to describe her history in enough detail to convince her that He was, at the very least, a prophet.

I want to propose another motivation for Jesus’ approach: What if Jesus asked the husband question just so that He could say to her, “You’re RIGHT!

Think about it… Even in today’s culture, a woman who has gone through five husbands and a live-in probably doesn’t receive much affirmation from the people around her. She gets pointed at because of her choices. She is shunned because of her reputation. She is ‘wrong’ at every turn of every failed relationship, and she is probably surrounded by reminders of those failures no matter where she goes.

Today was no exception – she had no friend or family member to gather water with; the ‘right’ people had already been to the well in the cool morning hours, so she had made the dusty trek alone.

It’s not as if Jesus asked the husband question often – this is the only time we hear of such a thing in Jesus’ ministry. He wasn’t trying to sell her something – say, a timeshare – where His spiel could only be presented if both husband and wife were there to sign (or refuse to sign) on the dotted line.

What if Jesus asked the husband question simply to be able to show her the grace she didn’t deserve; ascribing to this broken woman the value she didn’t know she had?

He asked a question that, if answered truthfully, would allow Him to say, “You’re RIGHT!” to someone who only knew how to be wrong.

The APP

I’ve had the privilege of serving as a volunteer for Youth Specialties at the National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. One of my roles in the past has been on the Affirmation Team – a small group of servants whose mission is to affirm, appreciate and encourage youth workers – many of whom arrive at Convention as walking wounded, having been beaten up by the very ones they live to serve.

One of my very favorite A-Team responsibilities was the Affirmation Station – a table set up in the middle of a traffic area, stocked with poster-sized paper and markers. A place where paid and volunteer church staff could create signs to express their love, care and appreciation for the soul-weary co-workers they were attending the event with. The A-Team would routinely stop by the Affirmation Station to hang the posters, and by the end of the week we invariably would have run out of wall space.

Affirmations like these covered the walls, written to build people up and remind them how important they are:

David Jones is the BEST youth pastor in Tennessee!

Mt. Vernon Presbyterian LOVES their Sr. High staff!

What you’re doing MATTERS, Kara! You’re making a difference in Alpharetta!

My life was changed forever because my youth leader CARED!

When Jesus chose to affirm the Samaritan woman that day, He gave back the beauty, intelligence and worth that the living of her life had stripped away.

She was all wrong until Jesus reminded her, “You’re RIGHT!” His affirmation, and the conversation that followed, left her (and many others) changed.

Look around you today.

Look for those who seem all wrong.

Look for those who have been hurt, lied to, beat up and compromised.

Look for those whose past is ever-present, and then follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Set up your own Affirmation Station and make it your Lenten mission to paper the proverbial walls of your home, your workplace and your community with healing words of hope and desperately needed messages of love.

It doesn’t get much more literal than that.

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Low-Hanging Fruit L4L.04

The WORDYoung man harvesting plums

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (New Living Translation)

You know the drill – let’s read it again.

“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (The Message)

This season of Lent, forty days long (not counting Sundays), is a reflection of the forty days of preparation Jesus spent in the desert prior to being tested by God’s enemy. Before He even began His ministry, Jesus set Himself apart from outside influences, perhaps because He knew that His best shot against Satan would be a steady stream of God’s influence, untainted by the comforts and conveniences of the world.

By resisting the physical need to eat, Jesus was feeding His spiritual hunger at an all-you-can-eat buffet of Scriptural truth at the table of God. Truth that not only came in handy, but won the battle with evil, propelling Jesus into a whirlwind ministry of teaching and preaching that ultimately changed the world.

Jesus was starvingcan you imagine going forty days without eating? – and yet He was able to resist the low-hanging fruit of the tempter when it was offered to Him. It’s no accident that this scene unfolds at the start of His ministry, as it is in perfect parallel to the temptation of God’s first people as they stood, naked, in front of that tree in the Garden.

Low-hanging fruit is always the enemy’s Plan A. And it’s no wonder, since we (like Adam and Eve) are always so eager to take a bite.

The APP

What’s so appealing about the low-hanging fruit of the enemy, and why are we such easy targets?

Low-hanging fruit feeds our physical appetites. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to give in to His hunger, we are tempted every day to settle for the fruit we can easily reach.

Fruit we don’t have to work hard to obtain.

Fruit that is readily available.

Fruit that is temporarily satisfying.

Our appetites will always lead us into temptation, just as Adam and Eve were drawn to the fruit of the one tree in the Garden that wasn’t theirs; but we don’t have to partake.

We’re easy targets because we aren’t prepared. Jesus – Son of God, Messiah, Lord – spent forty days preparing for Satan’s testing. By denying Himself in the physical realm, Jesus was freed up to be strengthened in the spiritual realm and consequently was ready for battle when Satan appeared on the scene.

We fall to temptation again and again because we fail to take seriously our times of preparation. As long as we are satisfied with dabbling in the Word of God, we will never be satisfied with the hard-to-reach fruit of the Spirit.

If, as Jesus said, “It takes more than bread to stay alive,” then you and I must hunger for that steady stream of God’s Word if we are to allow low-hanging fruit to dangle while we stretch and reach and climb to obtain the fruit that will last.

For you, today, this may mean a fast. A day, a week, or perhaps forty days of refusing to give in to the easily-met desires of the flesh. Often we choose to give up something that is tempting to us as a token offered to the season of Lent; this is not what I’m talking about today.

What you and I most desperately need is to set ourselves apart for the purpose of being prepared – not preparing ourselves, mind you, but dedicating ourselves to being open to the preparation God provides us through His Word.

Until we take Jesus’ words to the enemy literally and choose to draw our very sustenance and spiritual nutrition from God’s Word, we cannot walk the path that Jesus walked. We cannot follow Him.

This is how Jesus’ walk began: with preparation, with temptation, with victory.

In that order.

May it be so for us today.

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Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

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Several years ago I attended Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. I always LOVE YS events, and this one was no exception, with speakers like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio on the main stage. I was especially eager to hear Shane Claiborne speak – his message the year before had seriously rocked my world, so I was hungry to hear what he would have to say this time, as thousands of youth workers gathered to be inspired.

Shane took the stage and proceeded to do a couple of carnival tricks, including fire-eating, which was weird but not altogether unexpected (have you ever seen Shane?). Then he took out his Bible and began to read from the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount.

He read chapter 5. And chapter 6. And chapter 7.

Not a short text, yet I was ready for what was coming next – Shane’s unique way of looking at scripture that would certainly lead me into new understandings and applications of the Word.

That’s not exactly what happened. As Shane read the final verses of Matthew ch. 7, he looked out at the crowd of eager listeners and prayed:

“God, give us the courage to live it.”

And he walked off the stage. Talk OVER. Total, stunned silence fell over the room.

From my journal, dated Nov. 16, 2007: “I admit to entertaining the question, ‘is this… IT?’ Yet even as I asked myself the question, I couldn’t believe I was asking myself if Jesus’ greatest sermon – in His own words – was ‘all’ that Shane was going to share… but I did think it.”

Sitting in the silent company of thousands whose mental gymnastics had to be similar to my own, I was MOVED from disappointment to the realization that this man, who clearly had the full attention of everyone in the room, had just leveraged his influence to lift up the words of Jesus as GOSPEL… TRUTH.

I was moved – to tears. “I am at once convicted and motivated; mortified and passionate; confused and crystal clear.”

The way this sermon of Jesus ends is the way I have chosen to begin the season of Lent, as it is ushered in today, on Ash Wednesday. Jesus makes it clear that His words are not just something to add to our collection of wise sayings, to be pulled out and comforted with in times of need. No, what Jesus says is something that I most desperately need to hear, and I suspect that you do, too.

“‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.’ When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying – quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” Matthew 7:24-29 (The Message)

THIS was the BEST TEACHING they had ever heard. Because Jesus wasn’t just telling them what to do – He was showing them.

What if Jesus meant for us to do the same?

What if Jesus was serious when He said that the role of Bible study is to work the Word into the living of our lives?

What if He meant for us to take His teachings literally?

During this Lenten season that begins today and runs through Easter morning, I invite you to join me in asking, “What if?

Pink Shoes Ministries is going to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Each week day during the 40 days of Lent we will be considering the literal application of the teachings of Jesus and their potential impact on our lives, our families, our churches and communities. We’ll take a daily look at the red letters in the Gospels, making the Word our primary text for this season of the church year – this Way of the Cross.

Each week day, here at Pink Shoes Ministries on wordpress.com, we will consider THE WORD (a teaching from Jesus’ ministry) and THE APP (how we might live it – today). On the weekends we will rest and consider the impact of this experiment in Kingdom living, taking note of what the Word has done as we gave it hands and feet and took it into our world.

What if people listened to what we have to say and responded, “It’s apparent that they are living everything they are saying – quite a contrast to the typical religious crowd.”

Let’s DO IT! Let’s pray for the boldness and the courage to LIVE the best teaching ever heard for the next 40 days – and see what happens!

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. It’ll be counter-cultural, but it will also be counter to the passive Christianity that appears to have its roots somewhere other than in the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

I realize that we are all over the place when it comes to our interpretation of scripture, but won’t it be an unprecedented undertaking to be Literal 4 Lent?!

In November, 2007 as I sat silent in the crowd, this prayer rose in my heart. May it rise in your heart, too, as we follow Jesus into a life LIVED for the glory of God…

“I am eager for what YOU will do NEXT, God! Bring it. I am ready.

I am yours.”

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Pray Like This… L4L.29

The WORDMaria_Magdalene_praying

“Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13 (New Living Translation)

Such familiar words deserve yet another hearing…

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored; may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need. Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.’” (Good News Translation)

This prayer and these words, for some of us, are so routine that we haven’t actually heard them in a very, very long time. Here’s one more opportunity to receive afresh this lesson on prayer from our Lord:

“With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” (The Message)

Many a prayer formula has been devised using this teaching moment of Jesus. I get the feeling – don’t you? – that formulas weren’t exactly what He was going for as He said this prayer out loud.

The APP

Praise!

Desire for His presence!

Longing for His will to be made known and put on display!

Our physical hunger – quenched.

Our shortcomings and failures – forgiven.

The ability to give grace to others – desperately needed.

Minimize our mistakes (please).

Protection and rescue. Protection and rescue. Protection and rescue!

There it is, Lord. Yes!

Jesus’ most specific teaching on prayer is not only simple, but specific. Nothing fancy. No guesswork here.

To be literal with Jesus’ prayer is something most of us are used to doing – word for word – so the APP for today isn’t necessarily what you might expect…

Instead of rattling off some words that don’t require you to think as you speak, adopt a new and different version of the Lord’s Prayer for Holy Week. Use one of those provided above, or better yet – write your own. There is something soothing and beautiful about familiar words, but there is something powerful and stirring about looking at the familiar from a different point of view.

I would love to hear your version – your personal Holy Week prayer.

Use the comment space below!

Here’s a daily prayer, written by John Eldredge, that utilizes scripture and serves up a powerful opportunity for connecting with our Father. Check it out!

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Getting it SDRAWKCAB L4L.28

Grain in the field

Grain in the field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The WORD

“Then Jesus said to [the Pharisees], ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.’” Mark 2:27 (New Living Translation)

“Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘The Sabbath day was made to help people; they were not made to be ruled by the Sabbath day.’” (New Century Version)

God created. Land, sea, stars, moon, trees, flowers, animals, humans. After a survey of the work of His hands, He found it all to be very good. He heaved a holy sigh of contentment and took a day off – to appreciate His workmanship. To enjoy His surroundings. To reinvigorate His creative energy. To rest.

And He calls us to do the same.

The APP

Forever looking to discredit this Rabbi of the rabble, the Pharisees seem to have spent a good deal of time and energy following Jesus around. On this day, they watched as the motley crew of twelve snacked on ripe heads of grain while walking through a field. It was the Sabbath – God’s day of rest. Jesus and His disciples were traveling on foot, presumably outside of any town (hence the fields of grain), and yet here were those overly-zealous Pharisees, in hot pursuit. On the Sabbath. When they should have been at home, resting. (Shame on them.)

Dedicated to keeping the entire Law of God (and ensuring that others did, too), these legalistic purists managed to find fault with Jesus everywhere He went. On this day, they were themselves breaking the Sabbath in order to catch Jesus doing the same.

In their passion for the letter of the Law, these religion fanatics managed to do more damage than good in their time and culture, as evidenced by the great number of times that Jesus is found responding to their veiled threats and vile efforts to entrap Him on a violation of God’s commands. Somehow, what started as a faithful attempt to get it right ended up becoming a frightful adventure in missing the point, and here we find the Pharisees getting it BACKWARDS. Again.

We are each in danger of following suit with the Pharisees when we take God’s commands into our own hands. There really is a fine line between our best efforts to do life God’s way and trying to fit God’s ways into our best efforts at doing life. When the Pharisees set out to ‘keep’ the Sabbath, somehow it became an issue of ‘ownership’. Jesus follows up His words in Mark 2:27 with a comment that must have stung like salt in the open wounds of their injured egos – He said ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.’ (Mark 2:28)

Whether it’s the commands of God regarding Sabbath rest or any other teaching in scripture, the moment I presume to take ownership of it, I’m no different than the Pharisees. God’s words and God’s ways are just that… GOD’S. When I choose to follow and obey His teachings, I no more ‘own’ them than the Pharisees ‘owned’ the Sabbath. They literally chose to ‘keep’ the Sabbath for themselves, failing to realize that the invitation was never one of possession, but of participation with God in celebration of creativity and the work of our collective hands.

I set out to write this blog during the season of Lent, and this is our final week together. On the evening before each Literal 4 Lent post has been ‘due’, I have diligently completed the necessary steps to have L4L ready for you to read the next day. Until last night.

I was halfway into this text when it hit me that I am not so different than the Pharisees. God has given me a gift and an invitation to use it in His world – I love to write! I especially love to write about Him. But when my response to His invitation begins to look like ‘ownership’, I find myself getting it BACKWARDS. And I found myself in that place last night – convicted by Jesus’ Lordship over everything in my life.

So, instead of cranking out today’s blog on time, I yielded to the Lord of the Sabbath. This post, while ‘late’, has literally served to remind me that this work of mine isn’t mine, but His. The day I possess these gifts of God in my life is the day they become mine to manipulate – to withhold or dispense on my own schedule rather than God’s.

Today I choose to participate in the large work of the Lord rather than attempt to possess the small work I am capable of producing on my own.

Instead of getting it SDRAWKCAB – againI resolve not to be ruled by the interpretation of God’s Word, but by the literal Word Himself.

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Pneuma & Alētheia L4L.27

File:Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Dove of the Holy Spirit.JPG

File:Gian Lorenzo Bernini – Dove of the Holy Spirit.JPG

The WORD

“But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24 (New Living Translation)

“But the time is coming and is already here, when by the power of God’s Spirit people will worship the Father as he really is, offering him the true worship that he wants. God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is.” (Good News Translation)

One more time, so as not to miss the riches contained in these words of Jesus:

“But the time is coming – it has, in fact, come – when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. God is sheer being itself – Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (The Message)

Two thousand years later and we still haven’t realized that what we’re called and where we go to worship does not matter…

At least, not to God.

The APP

One year ago I spent a weekend at camp with seven middle school students – my Confirmation class from church. We immersed ourselves in Jesus – His words, His actions, His life experiences – and we ended the weekend with a service of worship.

Those of you who work with youth will agree that it takes a great deal of faith in the Spirit of God to allow teenagers to design and lead worship for adults. Something (SomeONE) told me, in my preparations for this end-of-the-year event, that I needed to trust Him and give the students lots of wiggle room as they planned to lead worship on Sunday morning, for their parents and mentors.

We began on Friday night by agreeing that we would not do anything in our worship service that wasn’t meaningful to us, and we proceeded to create a time of communal worship to reflect God’s presence and activity in each of our lives. One student wrote two prayers for worship (“God, at camp we went outside and looked at the stars. We were supposed to whisper a prayer, then we were supposed to yell a prayer. I yelled that You are so amazing!”).

Another student connected with the scriptures and found several passages that she read aloud, and we selected songs to go with each. Three students experienced God’s presence in a particular Station of the Cross, and they worked together to share not only the words of the Station, but their personal reflections and feelings about it as well. Two students remembered Jesus’ words at the last supper and shared these with us as we prepared to commune with Him over grapes and crackers. We built in time for hugs and handshakes and conversation about God’s Word, and we set aside time for a student to tell jokes (because laughing out loud made these students feel closer to God).

What emerged from their honest efforts to connect with each other in the presence of God was true, Spirit-empowered worship.

The kind of worship God seeks from you and me.

Two Greek words from this John 4 passage jump out at me as we seek to be literal today:

Pneuma – Spirit

Alētheia – Truth

No matter how sincerely we attempt to worship God from deep within ourselves – from our God-created spirit-nature – the only way we can do this is by the power of God’s Spirit. He is the influence that breathes pneuma into our otherwise physical existence.

It is only by the power of His Spirit working within us that we stand a chance of being the kind of worshipers God is actively searching for today.

Animated by the pneuma of God, we find a fluidity to our worship that simply flows from who He is into who we are, both as individuals and as a community of faith. This is what happened at camp last weekend, when we let God lead us into His presence (rather than creating a worship form and then trying to make God fit inside).

Strong’s Greek Lexicon describes the word alētheia (truth) as“that candour of mind which is free from affection, pretense, simulation, falsehood, deceit.” When we do the faithful work of separating from the influences of the fallen world we live in, we find ourselves free from the fiction that our culture exalts as truth. We find the ability to unbuckle ourselves from the simulators and strip away the obligatory social/political correctness, releasing us to enter into unadulterated worship of the God who sees our true selves and longs for us to see Him, too. As He really is.

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Interested in music created in celebration of TRUTH and COMMUNITY? Check out the two-woman band, Alathea.

Street Corner Dance-Off L4L.26

a human directional holding a sign for Cingular

The WORD

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6 (Good News Translation)

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (New Living Translation)

The slightly disturbing cultural phenomenon of human billboards runs rampant in my town. Each day as I make the trek from home to work and school, I pass at least one person on the side of the road, holding up a sign for a local business. The sight is so commonplace that I hardly even notice them anymore, but there was this one day…

I could see him in the distance – the male Statue of Liberty – waving at passing cars and holding up his ‘tax time’ sign. Nothing new – he’s been there since February. I drove past as I normally do, probably grinning at him ever so slightly, feeling badly as he stood there in the not-yet-springtime chill.

Twenty minutes later, on my way back home, I approached the same area and noticed another human billboard on the opposite side of the road. This one was directly across from the torch-bearing guy in the green dress, only he wasn’t exactly costumed. His sign was propped up next to him and he had a Michael Jackson-esque hat on his head, sunglasses on his face, and headphones on his ears. He wasn’t dressed for the weather, but this isn’t what made him stand out. In an effort to attract more attention than his counterpart across the street, this guy was singing at the top of his lungs (I could hear him as I drove by, windows rolled up) and dancing as if to save his life.

I looked over to the Statue as I drove past. No longer was he waving benignly at the disinterested drivers – now HE was dancing his stately heart out and looking directly at the rockstar across the road. It was a competition now – a street corner dance-off!

I laughed out loud all the way home.

The APP

Jesus knew that even in the church, people like to put on a show. You can act surprised, but I know you know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen the spiritual version of the street corner dance-off take place in God’s house, drawing attention to the outwardly pious at the risk of bringing glory and praise to people rather than to our Father.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this text points out that Jesus teaches us to pay attention to at least three things when we think about how we pray:

  • Place
  • Posture
  • Pride

The hypocrites Jesus refers to here have chosen the street corner for their prayer demonstrations. Maximum exposure for maximum recognition. While this may be the best course of action for drumming up business during a slow season, Jesus makes it very clear that God isn’t impressed with human billboards when it comes to prayer. The second glance these showmen get from passers-by is their pay-off. God Himself is going to drive right on by.

Standing is, of course, a legitimate and acceptable posture of prayer – was for Jesus, is for us today. What Jesus notices, though, about these public pray-ers is that their posture conveys a sort of self-importance and ill-placed confidence in themselves rather than the reverent humility which is becoming of a follower of God. Yes – we can stand as we address our Father in prayer. We can also kneel. We can bow. We can even pray with eyes wide open and mouth closed shut while walking down the street.

If the point of prayer is to connect our hearts with God’s, we would do well to be mindful of what our posture communicates to GOD as we address Him through our prayers.

Jesus knows that there are times when what we do for Him and His Kingdom will be visible to the people in the world around us. Is He saying we shouldn’t pray in public? No. But what Jesus is saying is that our public prayers ought to be a reflection of our private life of prayer with God. When our roots of relationship with the Father run deep, there is no need or desire to trivialize the holy by making a spectacle of our words and actions. To pray publicly in the context of Christian community is one thing, but to love doing it is something else altogether.

As Matthew Henry says, ‘they love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed.’ And being noticed for their prayers led to pesky issues of pride in these street corner performers of Jesus’ day.

Think costumed, sign-bearing, dancing roadside billboards…

And run away.

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the big IF L4L.25

SIN EDITAR

SIN EDITAR (Photo credit: angel almanzo grupo 52)

The Word

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” John 5:24 (New Living Translation)

“It’s urgent that you listen carefully  to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.” (The Message)

I sat beside a dear friend today at Bible study and listened as she entertained the big IF.

You know it. You’ve heard it before. You may have even spoken it aloud, like my friend has, more than once. The big IF doesn’t discriminate based on denomination or age or the number of church activities you participate in. It doesn’t take into account how many times you’ve read through the Bible from cover to cover. It doesn’t care how many scripture verses you know by heart.

No, the big IF makes itself available to everyone who has ever doubted that what they’ve said and done can be forgiven by a just and righteous God.

The big IF, despite its many variations, usually sounds something like this:

IF I go to heaven when I die.”

The App

If ever there was a time to take Jesus literally, that time is today and these are those words.

Salvation is not a crap shoot and heaven is no lottery jackpot, yet we continue to play the game (if you were to die tonight – as the age-old evangelism hook goes – would you go to heaven?).

With words as clear and firm as these, spoken by Jesus, why in the world do people still sit in our pews and around the tables in our fellowship halls, allowing for the big IF? Don’t they know that Jesus came, not to condemn them, but to love and save them from their sinful selves? Don’t the spiritual leaders in their midst speak this truth – Jesus’ own words – over them in their shame-filled, doubt-ridden existence?

Whose responsibility is it to point out to those who listen to Jesus’ teachings and believe in the one, true God that eternal life is theirs ALREADY? There really is no excuse, church (shame on us!) for allowing the big IF to infiltrate the ranks of the redeemed. Every day that the great deceiver is allowed to taunt our brothers and sisters by dangling heaven in front of their imperfect lives is a day that the Body of Christ is caught taking a nap on the sofa. It’s time to wake up and crush the enemy, people. It’s time to get literal with the big IF.

If you listen to Jesus’ message,

If you believe in the God Who sent His Son to live among us AS one of us,

YOU WILL NEVER BE CONDEMNED FOR YOUR SINS!

YOU HAVE ALREADY PASSED FROM DEATH INTO LIFE!

There is no IF I go to heaven about it, because your open heart and belief in God have already marked your entrance into eternity.

If we aren’t sure that God is saving a place for us in heaven, the problem isn’t that we haven’t done enough or said enough or jumped through the proper hoops in the prescribed order… the problem is that we aren’t taking Jesus seriously.

If we live our lives in a state of perpetual timidity, tentative and failing to embrace our Kingdom standing, how then can our lives bear the fruit they were designed to produce?

Believe the words of Jesus!

Align yourself with God!

Take a giant step away from the big IF and into the land of the living!

It’s high time we stop tip-toeing around the big IF and instead choose to live boldly into the reality of our eternal life, armed with nothing less than the assurances of Jesus Himself.

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