Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

(Click here for the Literal 4 Lent home page)

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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A Legacy of ACTION L4L.30

The WORDHealthy_feet

“Jesus Prays For His Disciples: ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.’” John 17:6-10 (New International Version)

There is practically no part of the Gospels more revealing of the heart and mission of Jesus than this prayer for His followers, as found in John chapter 17. As has been our Lenten discipline, let’s hear these words of Jesus again, through the paraphrase of The Message:

“I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them, and they took it and were convinced that I came from you. They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them.”

The APP

The forty days of Lent are nearly over.

Tomorrow we remember the words Jesus spoke over His last supper with friends.

On Friday we will commemorate the sacrificial death of our Savior, Jesus.

And on this day we complete our Literal 4 Lent adventure, looking forward to the resurrection celebration that is about to explode onto the scene, in our churches and in our hearts, come Sunday.

Jesus has provided the perfect words of summary for us in this prayer poured out on behalf of those whose lives had blossomed in concert with His own years of ministry on the earth. As Jesus speaks to His Father on behalf of His students, we can’t help but catch a glimpse of the legacy being left behind. A legacy marked by words like:

Revealed. Obeyed. Now they know. Gave and accepted. Knew with certainty. Believed. Done what you said. Firsthand. Convinced.

All of these are ways the Messiah chose to describe His work with His disciples to His Father. And all of these words indicate Jesus’ pleasure at the responses and activity of those who were closest to Him.

Not only is Jesus saying that His followers finally ‘got it,’ leaving His words as an endorsement of their future ministry in the world, but He is summing up His own work as well. And in the summary we find a legacy worth embracing, continuing, and one day, leaving behind – just as Jesus did.

This legacy of Jesus is not a legacy of opinions, ideas or bullet points.

Jesus didn’t just leave behind for His followers a legacy of good memories and amazing stories, to be told and re-told for generations to come.

Jesus didn’t pass along material items of worth, to be guarded and regarded as treasure throughout the centuries.

No, Jesus’ legacy to us is a legacy of ACTION. A legacy of revelation and obedience, knowing and accepting, giving and believing, convincing and DOING.

This prayer of Jesus reveals that He knew full well He had completed His mission. He did what He was sent to do.

His mission was to prepare us to complete OURS.

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Kingdom Vision

zeke

Image by goto10 via Flickr

The WORD

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:27 (New International Version)

“I tell you the truth, some people standing here will see the kingdom of God before they die.” (New Century Version)

“Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God.” (The Message)

These words of Jesus have proven for many to be a great stumblingblock to belief in God. Our initial response to this definitive statement is that it simply isn’t true.

The window for this to happen closed a long time ago. The disciples in Jesus’ presence on the day these words were spoken did not see the Kingdom come in their lifetime!

At least, not in the way they thought they would.

The APP

We’re winding down our Lenten dig into literal, modern-day applications of Jesus’ words. I’ve personally been struck by just how content I have been to settle for figurative interpretations of Jesus’ teachings over the years. I’m struck (as in, over-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat) by the potential for Jesus Himself to come to life through us, when we take Him at His Word and choose to be doers and not hearers only.

And today I am struck by how apparent this truth about the Kingdom is, now that I’m using my supersonic, laser beam, Spirit-enabled Kingdom Vision.

It began for me today with a crown. A Burger King crown.

A Burger King crown and a conversation between two Kingdom subjects.

You can watch it here, but what you need to know is that you’ll need your Kingdom goggles on in order to see it. In this short announcement by the leaders of Youth Specialties, the Kingdom of God is apparent…

  • In their forthright approach (no ‘spin’).
  • In the way their story is unfolding (not according to their ‘plan’).
  • In their sincere surprise at this turn of events.
  • In the ways that they are being stretched to fit into God’s plans.

Now, you could very easily watch this clip and miss the Kingdom markers in it. You could focus on the great loss to YS when Tic Long decreases his leadership role (because of course he will be missed). You could focus on the fact that YS has had more than its fair share of change in past several years and you could become embittered over yet another transition in this important ministry to youth leaders. You could sit in the skeptic’s seat and wait to see whether Mark Matlock can pull it off to your satisfaction…

You could, but you wouldn’t be using your Kingdom Vision if you did.

For you and me to see the Kingdom of God with our own eyes, we must be changed. The world around us is still the same, but when we look out at it through our Kingdom Vision, we see the King at work!

We see His hand in situations where others miss Him altogether.

We hear His voice come from people who look nothing like Kingdom subjects to the world.

We feel the air move as He passes through a room, even when His presence isn’t felt by anyone else.

We see beauty where others see only pain.

We see light where others are stumbling into walls.

We see hope where others have simply given up.

If we believe that Jesus meant what He said – that the Kingdom of God is visible HERE and NOW – doesn’t our calling become crystal clear? If you have the Spirit-given ability to see through our limited human vision into the things of God as they unfold, you just can’t keep it to yourself!

There are too many others who need your help to see their way through the messes they’ve made and to pull themselves out of the pits they’ve fallen into.

YOU have the eyes to see!

YOU have the ears to hear!

For the Kingdom’s sake, USE THEM!

 

Salty Friends L4L.24

Salt shaker, transparent background

The WORD

“Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.” Mark 9:49-50 (The Message)

‘Preservatives’ have the ability to protect from decay or spoilage. Another word for preservative is stabilizer

“Everyone will be purified by fire as a sacrifice is purified by salt. Salt is good; but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have the salt of friendship among yourselves, and live in peace with one another.” (Good News Translation)

When we preserve something, we make sure that it lasts. We protect it from anything that might cause its current quality or condition to deteriorate. We maintain it.

Salt is a great preservative, as long as it remains… salty.

Friendship is a great preservative, as long as it remains… salty.

The APP

Jesus’ words here can be boiled down to two simple yet profound directives:

  1. Be salty.
  2. Practice saltiness.

Salt is, by its very nature, generous. It is generous in the sense that its very purpose is to lend its best qualities to make something else, well… better.

But at the same time, salt is… salt. It doesn’t vary much from shaker to shaker. All of it basically looks the same. All of it basically acts in the same ways when used. There just aren’t too many variations on salt.

And the thing about salt is that it just isn’t that special on its own. Salt is meant to complement flavors that already exist! The value of salt is negligible when it sits in isolation – in the shaker, on the counter, by itself. Salt does its best work in combination, and it is only a commodity when it is put to good use.

Salt cannot fulfill its purpose unless it comes into contact with food. There’s nothing to protect, enhance or preserve inside the salt shaker. There’s only salt. And hoarding salt is utterly pointless, since its only merit is the effect it has on something else.

Judicious salting is critical, however. Too much salt can ruin a meal, which is why we salt to taste. We can carefully measure, as if following a recipe in a cookbook, which is actually a good way to get used to knowing how much salt to use. But salting well is also an art form; something to aspire to, like cooking by instinct or using recipes as suggestions rather than rules.

Whichever way we opt to salt, it’s important to remember not to lay it on too thick.

All of this wisdom applies just as readily to those of us who inhabit holy salt shakers in the Kingdom of God!

Salty people are, by their very nature, generous people. They are generous in the sense that their very purpose is to lend their best qualities to make others, well… better.

But at the same time, people are people. We don’t vary all that much from house to house or church to church. Most of us look, in basic ways, the same. Most of us act in basically the same ways. There just aren’t too many variations on people.

And the thing about you and me is that, according to Jesus, we just aren’t that special on our own. Salty people are meant to complement the variety and flavors of humanity that already exist in the world!

The value of salty people is negligible when we sit in isolation – in the church pew, in our Bible study, by ourselves. Salty people do their best work in community, and we are of greatest value when our qualities are put to good use.

Salty people cannot fulfill our purpose unless we come into contact with others. There’s nothing to protect, enhance or preserve inside our own salt shaker’s walls. There’s only more salt. And hoarding salt by only spending time with other salty people is utterly pointless, since our only merit is the effect our salt can have to bring out the flavor in someone else.

Judicious salting is critical, however. Too much salt can ruin a friendship, which is why we salt to taste. And we take lessons from the Chef Himself, whose artistic and instinctual cooking sets the example by which we aspire to live.

And it’s every bit as important with people as with food to remember not to lay it on too thick. A little bit of salt goes a long way toward making a tasty masterpiece, whether our environment is the kitchen or the community!

When people are salty, their presence has a sort of stabilizing effect on those around them.

Salty people make some things last and keep others from deteriorating or falling into a state of decay. Things like attitudes. Perspectives. And friendships.

When my saltiness is showing, everything and everyone I touch stand to benefit from the fact that I am there.

Not because the world is that bad and I am that good.

It’s just that we are better together.

Interested in learning MORE about SALT?!
Click here for information about a SALTY! Retreat for women!

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Consider Yourself WARNED L4L.23

Attention yellow2

The WORD

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.” John 16:1-4a (New International Version)

Excerpted from Jesus’ parting words to His disciples, these words of warning are unavoidably unsettling. A taste of what’s to come. An attempt to prepare His followers for the realities of their commitment to the Kingdom.

“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.” (The Message)

Before we can process these distressing words of warning, it’s crucial that we understand exactly who they are…

The APP

The passage that comes before this one in John is subtitled “Hated by the World” in The Message. It’s reasonable to assume that, because our text flows out of this ‘world’ talk, that the they in this warning refers to the godless world outside of our believing circles. Jesus could certainly have been cautioning His followers to watch out for the world that views the Gospel message with attitudes ranging from animosity to skepticism (at best).

We’ve all experienced some of this, haven’t we?

People whose threshold for tolerance has been tampered with by having had a few too many evangelists show up on their doorstep over the years.

People who are so consumed with self that the idea of faith in something bigger than themselves just doesn’t compute.

People who were raised under the oppressive religiosity of works-driven theology, only to slingshot as far away as humanly possible from the church the moment they were emancipated from childhood.

People who have so bought into the wisdom of the systems of man that the mere suggestion of the spiritual elicits scorn and contempt.

Jesus’ reminder in John 15:18 deals specifically with a world filled with hate toward those who will follow in the Messiah’s footsteps:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (NIV)

Just in case you’re thinking that you can handle the haters in the world outside of the faith, there is something even more disconcerting to consider in this Literal 4 Lent text today, and it is found in John 16:2.

“They will put you out of the synagogue.”

“They are going to throw you out of the meeting places.”

The they in this sentence doesn’t seem to be referring to the people outside of the church. Why would that they care whether we attend church or not? No, this they appears to be those people who are inside the church walls with us.

People whose presence in the worshiping community might be deceiving.

People who have never really understood the Father and the way He operates.

People whose spiritual eyes have been blinded, failing to recognize the embodiment of Christ in the imperfect people through whom He lives and moves and works today.

Jesus is warning us that, as we grow into our God-ordained, Spirit-enabled callings, not everyone is going to applaud.

The world that hates the Light is going to spew its loathsome venom in our direction in an attempt to silence the Good News. Be ready.

The institution of church is going to attempt to consume the living Body of Christ, and if you’re one of His holy organs, you’d better be prepared.

Jealousy will rear its ugly head and seek to put you (and the attractive presence of the Spirit in you) out on the street, where you’re less of a threat and distraction to the well-oiled machine that is the church. Consider yourself warned.

There is no rejection like that of your family and friends.

Jesus doesn’t just say this might happen… He says when.

“When the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.”

As Holy Week approaches and as our experiment in being Literal 4 Lent comes to an end, consider yourself WARNED, my friend.

Warned so that you can get ready for whatever is coming next.

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The Sacred Discipline of Stubbornness L4L.22

Hand on her hip

Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

The WORD

‘One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”’ Luke 18:1-8 (New Living Translation)

It almost sounds as if Jesus is coaching us to be persistent to the point of annoying when it comes to our prayers for justice…

‘Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’ He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice – otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”’ (The Message)

Now, there’s a weighty question… How much of that kind of persistent, stubborn faith will Jesus find on the earth when He returns?

The APP

During this Lenten season we have made a concentrated effort to take Jesus’ teaching literally. This isn’t always how we read the words of Jesus – for the purpose of actually doing what He says – and this is one of those texts that is easy to pay lip service to, but not so easy to put into practice.

First of all, I have to admit that I have a hard time comparing our righteous God to a sleazy judge. They have nothing in common! The judge in Jesus’ story is cold, hard-hearted and uncaring. The only reason he even gives the widow a second glance is because she won’t get off his back; her unrelenting pleas getting underneath his skin to the point that he would do anything to shut her up!

This story makes me squirm a bit, but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe I’m squirming because this idea of God-as-Judge is one that stretches my understanding of who God is and what that consequently says about me.

Maybe I’m squirming because I’ve been bugged to the point of annoyance by people who, like the widow, just won’t back off or let go.

Maybe I’m squirming because, if I understand what Jesus is saying here, I don’t qualify as one who has persistent faith if that faith is measured by my relentlessness in prayer for the relief and justice of others.

I haven’t fully developed the sacred discipline of stubbornness.

In fact, I still see stubbornness of any kind as a character flaw.

And I’m so self-focused! When I do pray consistently for something that I’m passionate about, how many times is that a passion for justice to be rendered or for people to be released from the tyranny of their enemies?

There is an organization I’ve recently become more aware of that is seemingly built upon these very words of Jesus. International Justice Mission ‘seeks to make public justice systems work for victims of abuse and oppression who urgently need the protection of the law.’  This is their mission. They are a non-sectarian Christian organization staffed with lawyers and advocates and prayer warriors whose hearts are in a constant posture of prayer on behalf of those whose lives are consumed by others.

Sex trafficking. Forced labor slavery. Illegal property seizure. Police brutality. Sexual violence.

Justice for the victims of these criminal activities is the mission of IJM. But it isn’t just the organization’s mission that has captured my attention today: it’s the people who work there.

‘In preparation for the day ahead, IJM employees begin work with 30 minutes of silence and solitude. Then, at 11:00 a.m., employees gather daily to pray corporately for the needs of our clients and the work we are seeking to accomplish.’

Every day. Every employee. An entire organization of faith-filled believers who are developing the sacred discipline of stubbornness.

Not only do they pray for the justice of others, but they follow up those prayers with feet on the pavement – entering courtrooms, approaching judges and relentlessly pursuing the protection of the widows and the children and the elderly and the outcast. Using every legal means available by which to achieve justice for the least of these. Enabled by a just and righteous God who has promised to stick up for them and not to drag His holy feet.

Jesus says that we should pray consistently and never, ever give up on God. Why? Because God comes to our rescue. Quickly.

Our faithful, stubborn prayers do not fall on deaf ears.

We need to jump all over that promise, my friends!

It could literally change our lives.

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No Vacancy L4L.21

Full House (Painted Ladies)

The WORD

“When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry places, looking for a place to rest. But when it finds no place, it says, ‘I will go back to the house I left.’ And when it comes back, it finds that house swept clean and made neat. Then the evil spirit goes out and brings seven other spirits more evil than it is, and they go in and live there. So the person has even more trouble than before.” Luke 11:24-26 (New Century Version)

Are you noticing, as I am, that Jesus really didn’t stick to fluffy, benign topics when He taught? Hear these words again, from The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures:

“When a corrupting spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can be-devil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return, it finds the person swept and dusted, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits dirtier than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”

Jesus did a lot of exorcisms in His day, sending the demons packing who were camped out inside the lives of tortured people. It happened everywhere He went. He was known for it! People would seek Him out for the express purpose of having a demon cast out of a loved one.

There must have been great rejoicing every time one of these spirits of evil left the life of a God-created individual!

The APP

With some notable exceptions, we don’t really talk much in terms of ‘demons’ and ‘possession’ in our day, do we? We just don’t go there very often. In our world of scientific and medical explanations for just about everything, our need for a supernatural perspective is regularly quenched by a preference for ‘Just the FACTS, Ma’am.Only the facts.

Yet, if we look long and hard at our personal issues and struggles, we might find some demons residing within. Demons with names like ‘addiction,’ ‘anger,’ and ‘greed.’ Demons with friends known as ‘materialism,’ ‘lust,’ and ‘pride.’ Demons who are likely to become quite comfortable in their human homes unless we take the work of Jesus seriously and seek His participation in our emancipation from the claims they’ve staked in our territory.

And once we’ve been set free – as many of us have – from the tendrils of sin and death, what’s next?

Our celebrations of healing and recovery last only so long before those same addictions and temptations find their way back to us. And, if what they find when they return home is a neat and tidy EMPTY nest, well, Jesus told us what would happen.

When we do the hard work of cleaning house and making room in our lives for MORE, we must remember that it is absolutely necessary for that space inside to be filled with God-given housewarming gifts. Otherwise, it will be returned to its original squatter (and he won’t be coming back alone).

Some of us are nodding our heads, having seen or experienced this very thing in lives that are close to our own.

We master that addiction.

We get our anger under control.

We overcome our greedy ways.

We shed the harmful habits and behaviors, but we fail to adopt the ongoing healing and restorative process offered by God through faith in Christ.

We gut out the old and decaying interior, but fail to give the Contractor access for the remodel.

Maybe the urgency just isn’t there to do things differently.

Maybe the anticipated cost of renovation is much higher than we originally thought.

Maybe the starkness of a life without the negative influences is enough for now. Why rush out and buy the farm when we can just rent for awhile, right?

Letting down our guard in the aftermath of healing is exactly what the enemy would love to have us do. He knows that we’re tired of fighting. He knows that we’re finally breathing easily and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But what he also knows is that, unless that LIGHT is ushered INTO our lives, the darkness has a foothold and can always slip back in. Possibly undetected. Probably in the company of like-minded companions. Either way, as Jesus tells us, we’re worse off than we ever were before.

The solution? Let Jesus move in!

Let’s pray that the real presence of the Spirit of God would inhabit our lives from this day forward.

Let’s choose to hang a hefty ‘No Vacancy’ sign on the door to our hearts, notifying all prior inhabitants that LOVE HAS COME to reside within us!

Or, as in the immortal words of TobyMac:

“Love is in the house and the house is packed, so much soul I left the back door cracked. Mama always said it’s a matter of fact, when love is in the house, the house is packed.”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Listen to Love Is In The House here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMOj2sqnzDs

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Hands of Blessing L4L.20

Food of Love

Image by Collin Key via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.’ Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.” Mark 10:13-16 (The Message)

I’m picturing the children in my church family right now. The ones whose parents faithfully bring (or drag) them to church every week. The ones who spill things on the carpets. The ones who make paper airplanes out of their service folders. The ones who fill their plates with the choice snacks during Fellowship time. The ones who kick balls in the courtyard (and manage to get balls stuck on the roof, in the trees and occasionally hit an innocent worshiper in passing).

Get a picture in your head of the children in your life and read this passage again.

The APP

Why do we bring our children to worship if not in hopes that Jesus might somehow touch them?

The answer to that question is probably closely linked with our own answer to the same: why do we attend churches and worship services and Bible studies? Is it sincerely because we hope to get close enough to Jesus for Him to lay His hands of blessing on us? Or does it have more to do with obligation? Tradition? Ritual? Social circles? Appearances? Habit?

The parents in today’s Gospel story knew that a touch from Jesus could heal, restore and forgive. As eager as adults were to get close enough to touch the hem of His clothing, you can imagine how parents might have hoped to see their children blessed by being in His presence as well.

Be honest, though. You can also relate to how the disciples must have felt.

  • This is important ministry that Jesus is doing!
  • To be in His company is a really big deal – a privilege! A gift!
  • These kids are just goofing off and getting in the way of His teaching and healing.
  • They’re keeping those who need Jesus from being able to get close.
  • Where ARE the parents of these kids, anyways?
  • Somebody get these kids a babysitter!

Their reaction isn’t unlike our own, is it? I can’t tell you how many times words like these have been spoken (or unspoken) by adults in the church, concerned that the distractions created by children are wreaking havoc with the ability of the grown-ups to worship and study on Sunday mornings.

  • This is an important meeting that we’re having!
  • To be here in worship is a really big deal – a privilege! A gift!
  • These kids are just goofing off and getting in the way of the Pastor’s teaching. They’re distracting the adults from their focus on Jesus!
  • Where ARE these kids’ parents, anyways?
  • Somebody get these kids a babysitter!

Smacks, doesn’t it? Yet this is often how our worshiping communities react to the influence of children on the adult-centered worship experiences we’ve created. We want to meet with Jesus in the sanctuary, so we send the children down the hall, in blatant disregard of Jesus’ very heated words:

“Don’t ever get between them and me.”

If children are, as Jesus pointed out, at the very center of the life of His Kingdom, how dare we lay hands on them to distance them from our encounters with God when what Jesus wants to do is lay His hands of BLESSING on them!

Hands of care and concern.

Hands of gentleness and protection.

Hands that render a touch filled with love and acceptancesomething that most of us (and most of them) are hungering for in our affection-starved lives.

Accepting the children around us, as messy and loud as they might be, is prerequisite to our participation in the Kingdom Jesus speaks of. Until we learn to see the ‘distractions’ that they cause as divine appointments with the Savior Himself, we will miss out on the richness of Kingdom life as it is lived in relationship to the lost and the least.

Until we remember that in the year 2014, the literal hands of Jesus ARE you and me; we are the ones withholding the blessing that He longs to shower on the children in our homes, in our churches and in our world.

I don’t know about you, but I heard the tone of His voice when He told them, “Don’t push these children away.”

I think He meant it.

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A Mind-Blowing Promise L4L.18

Praying handsThe WORD

Jesus answered, “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:21-22 (The Good News Translation)

Jesus is speaking to His disciples, who are dumbfounded by Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and the speed at which it withered up at His words. This band of imperfect followers, though rarely speechless, had to be living in a constant state of the mind-just-blown.

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (New Living Translation)

I’ve got to come clean with you today. I’ve been avoiding this text on our Literal 4 Lent adventure. Like the disciples who were daily witnesses to the wonders and signs of their Rabbi, this text has always blown my mind. It seems, at first glance, too good to be true.

If Jesus meant what He said on that day, why in the world are our churches filled with mousy Christians whose prayers seem to fall to the ground rather than receive the holy audience Jesus promises here?

If Jesus was serious, and yet our prayers continually fail to birth Spirit activity, where is the breakdown? Where is the disconnect?

Where are the answers we’ve been waiting for?

The APP

Chuck Smith, in his commentary on this scene from Jesus’ ministry, calls this “a very broad promise for prayer.”  He goes on to remind us that Jesus’ audience beside the withered fig tree was not the general population, not the crowds, not the 5,000. Jesus’ listeners were His inner circle, His students, His disciples. And we know what Jesus says about what it takes to be His disciple, right?

“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Smith goes on to say that “the purpose of prayer isn’t really to get my will done; the purpose of prayer is to get God’s will done. And that person who is a disciple, the person who has denied himself to take up his cross to follow Jesus Christ, is more concerned in God’s will, than he is his own will. And that man has power in prayer and this promise is for that man. It’s not a general promise to anybody.”

Which leads us to ask ourselves today: Am I that man?

The one who has walked away from self? The one who seeks no higher goal than to see God’s will and work be done here on earth – among the salt of the earth – as in heaven? Have I so totally sold out to the Gospel that my own selfish desires have been crucified on the cross I now haul around on my back?

Do I have a literal faith in the power of God and in the reality of every one of His great promises?

If we can be totally honest with ourselves, we may very well have to say ‘no’ to those questions. If our own comfort and agendas drive our prayer life, we can rest today in the knowledge of what it’s going to take for our prayers to result in God-action. We know what our APP is today if we want to be His disciples.

But what if I’m feeling like I AM that man? What if I do believe that God can do what He says He can do, and that every promise in His Word is absolutely, positively TRUE? What if, in spite of that believing, I still don’t see trees shrivel up and die at my command? What’s up with THAT?

It’s one thing to believe. It’s quite another to pray believing prayers.

It’s one thing to have faith. It’s quite another to faithfully pray, especially for things that we know God desires.

Why would we need to pray those kinds of prayers? Won’t God do His will without our asking? Isn’t He going to do what He’s going to do, with or without my involvement?

If this is you, I feel like Jesus is reaching out to you today because He really wants you to ask. He wants you to pray. He wants you to want to engage in conversation with Him about the holy. About what makes His heart beat. About what makes His heart break.

Prayer, for our God, isn’t a means to an end – a way to get what we want, even if what we truly want is in line with His will.

Prayer is where we connect with His heart and plug into His powerful Spirit.

Prayer is where sparks fly and relationship happens.

Prayer is where minds are blown and the Good News takes on flesh and walks right out the door, into our very own homes.

Into our very own lives.

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Smith, Chuck. “Matthew 20-22.” The Word for Today. Blue Letter Bible. 1 Jun 2005. 2011. 7 Apr 2011.
<http:// www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?
AuthorID=1&contentID=7126&commInfo=25&topic=Matthew&
ar=Mat_21_22 >

					

Fear of Heights L4L.17

Piece of chalk and blackboard

Image via Wikipedia

The WORD

“You must not be called ‘Teacher’, because you are all members of one family and have only one Teacher.” Matthew 23:8 (The Good News Translation)

“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do.” (The Message)

These words of Jesus have great potential to tweak us all today. Whether we lean toward passive followership or have a penchant for taking charge, Jesus is very clear that we are ALL students in God’s classroom. Standing up there, in front of the chalkboard, isn’t Pastor so-and-so or Dr. such-and-such…

It’s GOD.

The APP

There is great danger in our failure to take literally these words of Jesus.

Caution is required anytime we begin to subscribe to a particular human teacher’s words or ways. To the degree that our earthly teachers seek to function as holy plumbing systems, a person can actually participate in the active Word of God as it flows through the lives of His people. At the point that those pipes seek to channel God’s goodness in directions of its OWN choosing, we’ve crossed that delicate line between participation and power.

Even the most well-intentioned human teachers can become sidetracked in issues of pride, authority and control. We don’t do them any favors by empowering them to exercise their issues in our lives, do we? There is a great need for all students of the Word to keep ourselves in check when it comes to who we listen to and how far down the road we are willing to go behind a person who is herself attempting to follow the Rabbi.

My Tuesday morning women’s group has discussed this many times – the way that we in churches tend to put all of our eggs into the Pastor-basket. Pastors are people, lest we forget, and Jesus’ reminder is timely for those of us who would rather see one person charged with much responsibility than to take up our own crosses and follow the Teacher Himself.

On the other hand, some of us would be wise to ask God to give us a healthy fear of heights. Leadership comes so easily to some, along with the temptation to become something more than we were ever called to be. We who seek to let the Living Waters flow from our ministry efforts would do well to keep the picture of the classroom in our minds.

I picture old, wooden desks (the kind with the lift-up desktop and pencil shelf inside), arranged in rows facing the blackboard. There are boys and girls seated on chairs that swivel and squeak. Some have buzz cuts. Others have pig tails. Scraped knees. Ankle socks. Grass stains on their jeans. These are my classmates – real, down-to-earth people – and I sit there with them. I am one of them. And just like sweet first-graders, we love our Teacher.

Today, on this Literal 4 Lent journey, take a good, long look at your surroundings:

  • Do you feel a bit nauseous? Do people look like ants from where you stand?
  • If you were to fall, would you have far to go before hitting bottom?
  • Is it unclear who your Teacher is?
  • Are there other voices speaking into your life that compete with His?
  • Are you content to live vicariously through the bold and boisterous others you’ve surrounded yourself with?

Consider what gives you pause. Pray for caution and pray for fear. Embrace your classmates. Listen to the Teacher.

Let Him tell you what to do.

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