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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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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Heartitude L4L.15

figs on tree

The WORD

“A healthy tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a poor tree bear good fruit. Every tree is known by the fruit it bears; you do not pick figs from thorn bushes or gather grapes from bramble bushes. A good person brings good out of the treasure of good things in his heart; a bad person brings bad out of his treasure of bad things. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:43-45 (Good News Translation)

Let’s hear this Word a second time, from the New Living Translation:

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

We ALL have bad days.

Sometimes a bad day leads to a bad attitude, doesn’t it? When everyone seems to be plotting against us, and everything appears to be an obstacle in our path, it’s downright hard NOT to gather up attitude and watch that ‘tude take on a life of its own!

For the sake of today’s Literal 4 Lent discussion, let’s peel off a few layers of misunderstanding when it comes to what ‘attitude’ is and is not.

Attitude…

    • Is how I feel about what is happening right now.
    • Can change from moment to moment.
    • Can be pinned on me by someone else.
    • Is sometimes ‘bad,’ sometimes ‘good.’
    • Is part of being human.

The thing about attitude is that it isn’t always the same. I might have a bad day and say or do something I will later regret, but a hasty word said in the heat of a moment does not a HEARTITUDE make!

The APP

What is HEARTITUDE, you ask?

Heartitude is what Jesus is referring to in today’s Luke 6 text. Heartitude is NOT the same as attitude!

What Jesus speaks of here is something other than the changeable ‘mood’ that you and I carry around and that depends on our circumstances at any given time.

Heartitude…

  • Has deeper roots than attitude does.
  • Can be best deciphered over time.
  • Is your ‘normal’ setting or default mode when your defenses are down and you are not ‘on guard.’
  • Is more than a feeling! It’s what I believe to be true, no matter how I feel about what is going on in this moment.

The idea that Christians are somehow capable of immunity from issues of attitude is deceptive. Don’t buy the lie that if you follow Jesus, you’ll never be guilty of copping an attitude in challenging situations. We want to rise above our gut-level reactions to things as they happen – especially to things that push our buttons, hurt our feelings and betray our trust – but we’re human.

God knows we’re human. He knows we aren’t perfect.

HE MADE US THAT WAY.

Heartitude is the posture of your heart in relationship to the Spirit of God. It’s where your ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT ultimately comes from!

What Jesus is saying here is that the content of our HEART spills over into our words and actions. By comparing this spillover to fruit on a tree, Jesus is saying that where our heart takes root is where our fruit comes from. Just as a tree produces fruit over time, in its season, so the fruit of our hearts is revealed over time, throughout the seasons of our lives.

Attitude pops up at a moment’s notice, but fruit takes its time to develop and grow. That’s what HEARTITUDE is.

If your life is producing hearty, healthy fruit, don’t let one bad day get you down!

Get back to your roots.

After all, the best remedy for an attitude problem is a Heartitude-check.

It’s just what the Doctor ordered.

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Hold On Loosely L4L.12

yes!!!

The WORD

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 (New International Version)

Sounds… painfully simple.

“When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.” (The Good News Translation)

This philosophy on life and living must have been easy for Jesus – He owned the clothes on His back. We never hear about Him owning a house or a boat. He never talks about His possessions, which leads us to believe He didn’t have much.

No goats. No sheep. No business. No emergency stockpile of food and supplies.

Not really a stretch to live this text literally when the physical things that others may need just can’t be found in your garage.

We, on the other hand, have garages and cupboards and closets and houses FILLED with things that may be needed by others. When someone asks to use something you have, Jesus is saying that the only answer to come from your mouth should be, “Sure!”

The APP

Now, this works well in some situations – like when the borrowed item is a duplicate or something I don’t use every day. But what about when the item is important to me? Something that I need? A practical help in my home, or a treasured gift from someone I love? How could I possibly let that thing out of my sight?

You’ll cringe (as I am), but the idea of entitlement creeps into our best intentions to put these words of Jesus into practice. Entitlement and ownership. I made it! I bought it (after saving up for months)! It belongs to me!

Picture clenched fists. Picture hands on hips. The stance of an owner.

God knows this is an area where there is plenty of room for me to grow, and over the past months He has given me an opportunity to get it right. You see, the stuff that I possess is becoming easier to let go of. Material things mean less and less to me as I grow more and more in the image of my Lord. I would almost say I had learned this lesson, but I would be wrong.

Because it’s not just about things that come with a price tag.

One of my life’s passions is creating environments and opportunities for women to really connect with God. I have a number of retreat curriculum that I’ve created over the years, and I guess you could say they’re my babies. Born of intense research, gut-deep passion and the guidance of the Spirit of God, these materials are attached with a sort of holy umbilical cord to my heart. If you listen closely enough, you can hear my heartbeat in those pages. No kidding.

My vision for using these materials has always included me. Me as the teacher, me as the leader, me as the one who puts it all together. It makes sense that it would be that way, since God chose to use me as the vehicle to deliver them from thought and idea into function and form, right? I faithfully wait, then, for the right timing to be able to put these amazing teachings of God into events that will move women closer to His heart. Opportunities have come, but they haven’t overwhelmed me. I am patient, after all, knowing that God has a plan to complete the work He has started… and then an email arrives.

An email from a woman I have never met. She has heard about me and my retreats. She has been praying for an opportunity to reach out to the women in her church. She knows this is the answer to her prayers – our connecting over the idea of retreat. God has led her to me and the work I’ve been doing. This isn’t just her take on the situation – I see God in it, too. His Name is written all over it.

It’s not a stretch for us to meet – she even offers to make the drive to my home, for my convenience. I’m excited and eager to share with her about my vision for what God is doing in this work of my hands! Maybe this is an opportunity for me to bring all of this goodness to another group of ladies! Confirmation that I was right – this is my calling, after all!

There’s just one problem. The women my new friend wants to minister to only speak Spanish, and I don’t.

In spite of my gifts, my passion and my enthusiasm, it becomes clear that this is not my gig. And the beautiful woman of God who sits beside me on the sofa is practically oozing Spirit and energy for this ministry! It’s gorgeous! God Himself is visible in her love for the women in her church, and she’s asking to borrow the materials I’ve created, in order to make it into something He can use HER for…

I could clench my fists, put my hands on my hips and say, “But it’s MINE!” After all, I did spend months preparing the talks, the activities and the projects that this pile of papers represents. My prayers, my study, my willingness to be used by God made this curriculum possible, right? But to take an owner’s stance would be to claim the glory that is God’s alone, taking credit myself for something that GOD HIMSELF has done.

If all that I have comes from God, then nothing I have is really mine.

It was a defining moment in ministry for me, the day I handed over those valuable pages to one who will use them for the fame and renown of our Lord. In those moments, I chose a steward’s posture, opting not to cling to God’s work but to set it free.

Holding on loosely to that which wasn’t mine to begin with.

This Lenten season, in keeping with the challenge to take Jesus at His Word, lighten up! Loosen your grip on the stuff of this world and instead, choose to live generously out of the true abundance that is ours in Christ.

After all, this is exactly what Jesus did for us.

He held His life loosely so that we might receive the benefit when He gave it all away.

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Face to Face L4L.11

Girl With Striped Fingernails Covering Face

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to hear this again.

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (The Message)

If I’m honest, this is not the way I usually handle conflict. A literal interpretation of these words from Jesus would mean doing an about-face from my current default mechanism for conflict resolution. It’s not that I disagree with Jesus or think that His way isn’t the best way; it’s just that I’m so stuck in mine.

What is Jesus’ way when it comes to responding to awkward and painful relationship issues? This text deals specifically with how a believer is to respond when offended, hurt or disrespected by a brother or sister in the faith. Can I just say, to get it off of my chest, that nothing makes my heart hurt more than the unchecked emotions and unbridled tongues of those whose rulebook includes basically two entries:

  1. LOVE the Lord your God with everything you’ve got.
  2. LOVE everyone around you as you love yourself.

How CAN we say we subscribe to the first if we don’t also practice the latter?

The APP

The only way to carry out these words of Jesus is to take ALL conflict face to face.

Our response to the pain inflicted by friends and family in the church must first be one-on-one. Face to face. This is Jesus’ way – the way He’s calling us to walk – and yet we often choose to do something like this instead:

Match their argumentative or hurtful posture with a like-minded response.

Talk with a different friend (or friends) about the situation first.

Send an email, make a phone call, write a memo, send a text.

Build a wall of silence and keep your distance.

Unless we seek out the one whose words or actions have hurt us and do the difficult and often painful work of sitting down and addressing what has happened, we fail to honor Jesus’ teaching. In addition, by adding our murmurs to the rumor mill, we end up contributing gossip rather than grace; tearing down the community rather than building it up.

I really believe that the majority of conflict could be resolved by simply adopting this face to face approach and choosing to take our feelings and concerns directly to the source. It’s counterintuitive, really, to respond in any other way, yet we do it all the time in both our personal lives and corporate settings.

The side-effects of taking Jesus’ advice and going to the source of relational conflict are absolutely worth paying attention to:

No one else gets dragged into a fixable situation, which goes a long way to preserve the peace in a community.

The name of the person you’re at odds with is less likely to be dragged through the mud, protecting their reputation among the people.

YOUR name and reputation are protected, too, because you chose to tackle the issue, not the person.

Most people will ultimately feel valued by your choice to approach them first, giving them and their behavior the benefit of the doubt.

Handling conflict in this way allows for the possibility of a friendship to grow. Any other method stifles future friendly contact.

If being Literal 4 Lent is appealing to you, then we’ve got our work cut out for us! There is more here, in Matthew 18:15-17, for us to learn – we will come back to this text again.

For now, make face to face your mantra and pay attention… to how it changes you.

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Dark Monday L4L.08

Porchlight

Image by matthileo via Flickr

The WORD

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lamp-stand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16 (The Good News Translation)

We’re far too familiar with these words, Lord. Wake us up to Your LIVING WORD today! Make Your words leap off of the screen and into our hearts as we read them again…

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)

I heard a seminary professor say, in a recent meeting, that WORSHIP should be REHEARSAL for Christians, so that they are prepared to perform their faith when they leave the building on Sunday mornings.

Yet, in many of our churches, worship is actually a performance.

Think about it. Even if it makes you squirm, you have to admit that there are elements of performance in much of how we have allowed our worship services to be shaped.

Rows and rows of benches or chairs, all facing the front of the room.

Elevated platform in the front, where the speaker(s) stand to address the listeners.

Microphones are given to those who are prepared to speak and sing.

We pick up an outline of the service when we enter, which is given to us by an usher.

Should I go on? Because it seems to me that the only ones rehearsing anything in many Christian churches on most Sunday mornings are the pastor and the praise team, and maybe the lay reader and the acolyte. The rest of us… well, what do the rest of us do?

The APP

‘Dark’ is a theater term which means that a show does not have a performance that day. You might say that most churches are ‘dark’  Mondays, meaning that the planned, organized, communal gatherings of Sunday morning are over for the week. If someone walks into your church looking forward to worship on a Monday morning, in all likelihood they are out of luck. The lights in the office may be on, but the sanctuary, as they say in show biz, is ‘dark.’

Now, this is actually okay if we subscribe to the idea that worship is our rehearsal time – that the main event for those who follow Jesus begins when we exit the building. After all, for church buildings to be dark on days other than Sunday ought to mean that the real action is out there – at my workplace, in your home, on our streets, in our neighborhoods.

Isn’t this what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:14-16? Doesn’t He tell us that each one of us is here for the purpose of bringing the Light into the world?

If church is our staging area, then it should be dark Mondays! And Tuesday – Saturday, for that matter.

What we don’t get from Jesus in this text is an invitation to go dark in our real-time faith walk. In fact, quite the opposite is said…

We are light-bearers!

We’ve been put on a lamp stand!

We’re like a city, up high on a hill, shining its light warmly in the night!

Light for the whole house – the whole world!

Jesus is telling us that our life of worship – everything we say and do in front of others – should look and sound like the old Motel 6 commercial: We’ll leave the light on for you!

Newsflash, my friends: church itself is not the light. We are.

Resist the urge to do what many who attend worship on Sunday will do again, today, when the light of their witness in this world gets shoved under a bucket so that their own show can go on. Fight the temptation to go dark Monday.

Instead, be brave and watch the Light in you illuminate every room you enter, every car you travel in, every conversation in which you engage.

I think Jesus will enjoy watching us take His words literally today.

I think He loves to watch us SHINE!

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SHOUT! L4L.05

The WORD

“What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daylight comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” Matthew 10:27 (New Living Translation)

“Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.” Matthew 10:27 (The Message)

Sometimes we, like Elijah, identify our God as the still, small voice in the aftermath of life’s disasters. Jesus confirms that God’s voice is often a whisper in our ear rather than the booming baritone hailing from the clouds (with lightning) that we might wish for in our times of need.

There is power in these two sentences for those of us who are in the dark. Jesus will speak to us in our darkness! He will whisper in our ear, even as the rest of the world vies for our attention in less subtle, more obtrusive ways.

The APP

Maybe these words of Jesus are a clue for us today. Some of us find ourselves asking again and again: How can I recognize God’s voice?

Part of today’s application of the Word may be a tuning of the ear. An adjustment of the radar. A cluing in to the way God often speaks in the lives of His people. If we’re expecting to hear God in big and mighty ways, we may very well miss His gently delivered words as they fall on us in silence. But if we’re listening for the still, small voice, well, there He is.

There’s a second part to applying Jesus’ words from Matthew 10:27. As challenging as it may be for us to listen for His whisper, the bigger challenge still is to share those whispers with others.

I don’t know about you, but I have heard some pretty profound, difficult and surprising things from God in the dark. Things that sound pretty crazy. Words with the potential to push a lot of buttons for a lot of people – followers of Jesus or not. How many of us would be willing to take words that were whispered to us in times of quiet intimacy and shout them from the rooftops, for the whole world to hear?! Yet this is exactly what Jesus is saying we must do.

What God says to us in intensely personal times of connection is not for us to keep. This text is a reminder that someone else is in need of the words we hear from Him – someone whose ear may not be tuned to His voice yet – someone who needs His message desperately, and the only way God can speak His whisper to them is through you and me going public now! So often we choose to internalize God’s Word and leave it at that – never sharing, never starting conversation, never breathing out loud what God has spoken inside. But this is not faithful living in light of Jesus’ words today.

If we are serious about being Literal 4 Lent, we must not only pay attention to the clues Jesus gives about the way God speaks, but we must be willing to go all the way, delivering God’s words with a rooftop SHOUT!

Sharing our impressions of God.

Sharing our experiences of God.

Sharing our intimacies with God with anyone who will listen.

Yes, a time is coming when all of this will be revealed and God Himself will lay it all out there for the world to hear and see. That time has not yet come. Our call is to go public NOW, without hesitation.

Tell your God-stories!

Share your epiphanies!

Wrestle out loud with the difficult words He has spoken over you!

There is someone who is listening for your sacred SHOUT today! Don’t keep them waiting.

Just let it out.

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Hoop Jumping L4L.02

Hoop jumping

Image by Oliphant via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They asked him, “Why don’t your followers obey the unwritten laws which have been handed down to us? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered, “And why do you refuse to obey God’s command so that you can follow your own teachings? God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but I have given it to God already.’ You teach that person not to honor his father or his mother. You rejected what God said for the sake of your own rules.

You are hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he said about you: ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’” Matthew 15:1-9 (New Century Version)

Remember that one of the disciplines we’re working to develop during Lent is listeninglistening to JESUS as He speaks into our lives from His Word. Go ahead – read it again (feel free to read it from your favorite translation – here’s a link to many different versions if you’d like to give a new one a try: Matthew 15:1 at Blue Letter Bible).

Initially, I thought we’d just ease our way into Jesus’ world, Jesus’ thoughts and Jesus’ agendas. Start with the easy stuff and progressively get to His more challenging teachings, maybe as we get closer to Easter. Break ourselves in slowly. But, good grief! There IS NO ‘EASY’ when it comes to what Jesus had to say! These are fighting words spoken to the keepers of the Law. Fighting words that could get a prophet killed; the Messiah crucified.

Jesus has, in these few sentences, accused the leaders of the church of passing off their ‘traditions’ as Gospel. The Jewish hand washing rituals that were spoken of by the Pharisees and Law teachers were not something that God had taught them to do. Jesus says that they are teaching man-made ideas as commands from God, passing off their rituals as God’s ways. This was an especially brazen act in Jesus’ day, when the average Jewish devotee did not have his/her own copy of the Holy Scriptures. What Jesus is saying is that the leaders of the church were taking advantage of the people, furthering their own agendas by failing to distinguish them from the actual teachings contained in the Word of God.

The horror! No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites – a word that meant ‘actor’ or ‘pretender.’ ‘Poser’ is what we might say today. People whose perceived authority enables them to misuse their power, mislead the innocent and make it harder than necessary to walk in the ways of our God.

Amazing. That NEVER HAPPENS TODAY! (?)

The APP

A lot of us know a lot about the Bible. A lot of us have read much of the Bible for ourselves over the years. But a lot of us have not, and we’re taking for granted the sincerity of our faith-leaders when we base our belief and understanding of God on their say-so; on second-hand information.

The APP for today isn’t easy. (Neither was yesterday’s, by the way.) In order to apply these words of Jesus to our own lives, we have to be ready to make it personal. By that, I mean that we have to be ready to study God’s Word for ourselves, taking responsibility for what we’re learning.

The modern day church has created – perhaps inadvertently – a generation of couch potato Christians. Worshippers who are really just groupies, looking for the best show on Sunday morning. Followers who are out to have their ‘ears tickled’ by teachers and leaders who are still passing off their traditions and agendas as Gospel truth.

Much of today’s church, like the church at the time of Jesus, requires a whole lot of hoop jumping that is not biblical, and many of us are so entrenched that we aren’t even aware that such a thing is going on.

This isn’t right. Jesus said so.

To take this text literally, I believe we’re being called to ask the burning questions that are already floating to the surface as the Spirit stirs the pot…

Why do we do (this) in our worship?

What are the roots of our faith practices and traditions? Are they scriptural?

If something feels heavy and burdensome, isn’t that a clue that someone other than God is putting that thing on me?

I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be able to tell the difference between God’s ways and His best for me and the hoop jumping that goes on when we buy into the hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas of those whose traditions are more sacred than the Word itself. This is not to say that all church leaders and teachers are like the hypocritical Pharisees and Law-keepers that Jesus refers to – there are beautiful shepherd-leaders and Spirit-filled teachers in every denomination and non-denomination today. But how will we know that what we’re being taught by others is a sincere, Spirit-led interpretation of the Word if we don’t compare what we’re hearing to the Word itself?

Today’s APP could be aptly titled: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. And Read the Bible. And Know What It Says.

Some of us have been spiritually bullied long enough. We’re tired of jumping through hoops of tradition, empty ritual and shallow words.

Today, pick up your Bible.

Pick up your Bible, and READ.

And this weekend, READ and REST. I’ll see you back here on Monday, as we continue to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

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No Worries! L4L.01

Blue and white clothes shop Guadeloupe 2010-03-27

Image via WikipediaThe WORD

The WORD

“So I tell you, don’t worry about the food or drink you need to live, or about the clothes you need for your body. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes…

And why do you worry about clothes? Look at how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers. God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today but tomorrow is thrown into the fire. So you can be even more sure that God will clothe you. Don’t have so little faith!

Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” Matthew 6:25;28-33 (New Century Version)

I know, I know… You’ve heard this text before. MANY times, perhaps. Maybe so many times that you’ve become desensitized to what Jesus is really trying to say, to you.

Most of the texts we will read during our Literal 4 Lent (L4L) experiment are going to be familiar. In order to give the Spirit of God every opportunity to dwell richly in us through these often-heard words, I’m going to ask that you develop the habit of reading each text at least two times before considering my commentary and The APP (application) for the day. So, go back. Re-read today’s text. Ask God to reveal through these words of Jesus His living, active, teaching Spirit. Ask Him for a receptive heart.

Worry is as natural to me as breathing, so this text has always stirred in me a range of emotions, including plenty of guilt. Lately, though, I’ve come to the long-awaited conclusion that guilt is not the way of Jesus. I see nothing in scripture that leads me to believe that Jesus teaches us by laying on the guilt. So, to hear this passage afresh today, I have to let go of my feelings of guilt (about how I’ve failed to live this Word of Jesus) and let God take me to a brand new understanding of what ‘No Worries!’ looks like to this aspiring follower of the Way of Christ.

Which leads me to admit that I’ve never really ‘worried’ about having clothes to wear. I have LOTS of clothes! Many of which were Goodwill finds, but the point is that my step-in closet is loaded with shirts and jeans and jackets and dresses, probably to the point of excess by anyone’s standards.

Having never been in need, then, for clothing to put on, this part of the text has often escaped my notice. I’ve honestly always felt that this text didn’t apply to me, because I have more than enough in the way of clothes. I was wrong.

While I may not suffer for lack of clothing, I’m pretty sure I do suffer from anxiety about what to wear – because of all of the choices I have. Just last week I found myself running late (more than once) because of my self-consciousness and inability to make up my mind about what to wear.

TOO MANY CHOICES can lead to worry, too – not just lack.

This revelation changes everything for me, in light of Jesus’ words. I’m seriously moved to do something about it today – on Day One of Literal 4 Lent.

The APP

How are we to take Jesus’ ‘No Worries!’ text and put it into practice in real life? I am compelled strongly to respond in a big way today… but you may not like it very much.

I spent a week traveling last Spring, living out of a carry-on with a limited number of clothing choices for each day, and it was WONDERFUL! Getting ready in the morning was painless and quick, leaving both time and energy for whatever might come my way.

What would it look like for me to limit my choices every day during Lent? Instead of choosing from hundreds of shirts and dozens of pants in the morning, what if I chose to live out of a suitcase for 40 days?

The body is more than clothes, right? And Jesus does say “don’t worry and say… ‘what will we wear?’”

What if He meant what He said? What if Jesus really does want us to stop thinking about our clothes, long enough at least to start thinking about His Kingdom and what matters to HIM?

I have no idea what will happen, but today I choose to be Literal for Lent, adopting a ‘No Worries!’ mantra for the next 40 days. My personal APP is to choose 7 tops and 7 bottoms to be worn for the 40 days of Lent – not quite living out of a suitcase, but you get the idea. It took more than a few minutes to make my choices, but I’m eager to see what happens each day as a result of my abbreviated options! [Be grace-full, please, if you bump into me more than once during Lent and notice my counter-cultural lack of clothing variety!]

Will you do this with me? Or something like it?

Chances are that you’re like me, wasting precious time while lost in the throes of decision-making as a result not of lack, but of excess.

Pay attention to what you seek first today, and if it isn’t God, well… it’s time to do something about that. Literally.

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