One of the most common phrases heard around our house these days is, “that’s mine”. And it really is a rather recent development with our two youngest. Foster kids can really change your perspective…for a bit. Because for a while it seemed like they were super human because they really didn’t claim ownership to much of anything and so “those disputes” didn’t seem to happen. Boy was I naive. Now that #3 & 4 have been in our house for over a year the claiming of property seems to resemble the gold rush of 1849 more than the charitable sharing that typified their initial behavior. “That’s mine”, “I had it first”, “No” and “Give me” have become the calling card of all their interactions as of late. And I can’t help but wonder how much of this I have taught them.
Most of us learn the art of possession from an early age. We learn that things cost money and we have to work for that money and so through our toil these things take on a value that we assign. The problem occurs when we assign these things a greater value than we assign to other people. We don’t want certain people coming into our house because they might mess it up. We horde up or collect nice things because we we worked for it (Even the word horde brings to mind images of Smaug from the Hobbit). Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t even own the very breath in our lungs, do we “own” any of these things? Or do they own us? Jesus had this to say about the things on earth we lay claim to or possess, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 The crazy thing about that is the inference to the expansion of family and resources in the present age. A lot of folks might try to tell you that this is about God “blessing” you with bigger and better things, but it really is about something much richer.
I’ve begun to see it happen recently due to impending/ongoing threats to people’s homes and security in the United States. In the wake of Harvey and under the threat of DACA or Irma I have begun to see Christians open up their homes, lives and possessions to those who face the unknown. And this is what Jesus really is referring to in the passage above…a shared kingdom life. It’s a life that literally says, “mi casa es su casa (my house is your house)”, because the things that I have come to “own” are actually things that I am a steward of and so they are best used when they are shared. In fact, this is the “hundred times as much” that Jesus refers to in the passage above. It is not about me amassing wealth and being greedy, but about me belonging to something much bigger than myself by realizing I don’t own any of it. There was a wonderful quote from Mahatma Gandhi that describes our world and the need for this type of behavior, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” I hope today you find yourself letting go of the “that’s mine” mentality so that you can open yourself up to see how Christ could use you for those who need you in the worst way.
Yesterday afternoon I found out about the passing of Glen Campbell. I don’t think I would have ever been characterized as a Glen Campbell fan per se, but I always enjoyed listening to his music and there were times I would even find myself binge listening. In fact, just this last Saturday on our way to a wedding I had my wife indulge me in one of those moments as we listened to Gentle on My Mind while rolling down Business 20. So yesterday after hearing of his passing I launched into a Glen Campbell kind of afternoon and I heard a song I hadn’t heard in quite some time. The chorus goes like this, “You got to try a little kindness, Yes show a little kindness, Just shine your light for everyone to see. And if you try a little kindness, Then you’ll overlook the blindness, Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.” Huh. It’s weird to think that we should need the lyrics of a Glen Campbell song to remind us of what might be important in today’s world.
Kindness does seem to be a dying commodity in the world lately. We are consumed with winning arguments, proving our point, getting our opinion across, tweeting our stances and jumping on our soapboxes before we even begin to think about the consequences and whether or not we are thought of as being kind. Which for us in the church is very strange. After all, in Galatians we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 Did you see it there? (I underlined it and bolded it just in case). Kindness is a fruit of living life by the power of the Holy Spirit. One might even say that kindness is evidence of God living in you. And yet, sometimes it is a quality we value least in today’s world because we think it might make us appear weak or a pushover or tolerant or whatever adjective or excuse you want to pin onto the need to not be kind.
Personally I’ve been accused at times of perhaps being a bit too nice…but I have to be honest with you, it’s not me. There are so many times that I would love to give someone a piece of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I have wanted to tell someone off or just let loose on someone who has rubbed me the wrong way. But then there is this gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that reminds me of how God feels about the person across from me. And so I pause, try to put myself in their shoes and try to think about how God would treat them if He were right there instead of me. Do I always succeed at being kind? Probably not. But in the words of Glen Campbell it is always worth trying at. And maybe you might effect the life of the narrow minded across from you and find your own narrow mindedness being healed in the process as well.
When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.
You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – Matthew 18:15 The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.
I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20 Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.
Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?
I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25
Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.
“I usually don’t get too political…” How many times have we seen or heard this phrase from our friends as of late. And what follows is usually some rant or expression intended to bend our ears or our hearts to their cause or stance. And I’m sure it’s pretty much effective 99% of the time, right? It almost seems that every one these days is a political expert and with so many experts it’s mind boggling to think that our society isn’t more healthy. I mean we all know the right answers to fix everything so why isn’t everything fixed?
During Jesus’ days his opponents would often try to find ways of tripping him up or engaging him in some debate. And they didn’t shy away from political discusssions either. At one point they even questioned Him about paying emperial taxes and Jesus’ reply was ingenious. He asked to see a coin, examined the image, and “Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesarʼs, and to God what is Godʼs.”” -Matthew 22:21. This has been interpreted a myriad of different ways but it’s probably best thought of in this light. Jesus was saying to his opponents, “Let Caesar have his money and his power and his way of doing things. God has His own way of getting things done.” And that has always been the case. God’s Kingdom does not operate according to the systems, laws, means, and methods of this world…it’s different; an alternative Kingdom.
But so often as of late it seems we in the church have forgotten this. We enter into the political arena with the same tools, the same weapons, the same words as those who are not a part of the church. In his epistle, John puts it this way, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18. So what does that mean? If you’re pro-life, then be pro-life by adopting babies, supporting foster agencies and single mothers or by sponsoring a child overseas. If you care for the widow, then volunteer at an assisted living facility or find a shut-in to help out. If the homeless tug at your heart then head down to your local mission. If caring for the earth strikes home then start a recycling program and help educate others. If you care for refugees then find a local agency and find out how to volunteer. The Kingdom of God is about action, but not the action that we do often see on display that belongs to Caesar. Our action is love in action and it enacts God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get political.
Lately I feel as if I am surrounded by noise. And I’m not talking about the loud rambling oilfield trucks that plague our suburban streets. I’m not even referencing the fact that there are four kids in my house who must all have inside voice issues. I’m actually making reference to the multitude of voices in our world today that feel the need to make sure that they are heard, they are understood, they are perceived as being right and that they solicit change. It’s exhausting. It doesn’t matter on which side of which issue someone is speaking about it all has begun to blend together and just become noise…and I’m afraid I have even been guilty of adding to the noise. And so today I say to you and to me…’shhhhhhh’.
Often when I am plagued with some seeming societal ill I try to look to the testimony of Jesus to see how best to address what is going on around me. There are a couple of interactions that Jesus has in the gospels that have always perplexed me. It comes after Jesus has spoken some very unpopular/polarizing words and it doesn’t go over so well (I’m sure none of us can relate to that as of late). The first is in Luke at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” – Luke 4:29-30 The other instance takes place in John 8 after Jesus is forced to stand in the way of the religious elite on behalf of a woman caught in adultery and then speaks about His being sent by the Father. “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” – John 8:59 Notice what it doesn’t say here, “Jesus kept arguing the point with his opponents until they were forced to concede and admit defeat.” No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He realizes the crowd will no longer listen, has gotten past the point of listening and so He walks through their midst. Jesus just steps away.
Of course Jesus doesn’t walk away and have a pity party. No, Jesus gets back to doing what He does best…enacting the Kingdom of God. In Luke He begins casting out unclean spirits and in John He heals a blind man. Jesus realizes that His argument is best made in enacting that which He is speaking about. There is no greater defense of one’s position than positive Kingdom action that will at once pull you away from pointless arguments and eventually silence your naysayers. Jesus knew this and trusted His work to it. Why? Because He knew the value of silence and He trusted the mission. Here as well we must seek to model Christ of whom we read these words just a short time later in Luke, “ But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16 Maybe we need to pull away from the noise. Maybe we need to withdraw. We certainly don’t need to add to it. Maybe it’s time for a little more shhhhh and a lot more action for the Kingdom.
I’ve never really been too into politics. I can remember my first introduction as an elementary student and all of us 4th graders trying to figure out if Dukakis or Bush was the better candidate (The eyebrows made it obvious). And throughout the years I was always curious and would usually form an opinion, but it was rarely something that kept me up at night. It seems like more and more these days, especially with the advent of social media and 24/7 news coverage, that the political landscape has come to dominate culture. Everyone has to have a side and depending on where you land your opinion and your worth is validated by those around you or you are completely written off. Our nation has become a nation divided and the same spirit of the age of politics has even begun to infiltrate the church and it’s becoming bit worrisome.
I guess the reason it disturbs me so much is that this is not supposed to be the way in which the church transforms the world. We were never meant to grab hold of the reigns of kingdom and political power and yet for many it seems that this is our only recourse. How do I know this is not our way? As his ministry began Jesus was carried off into the wilderness by the Spirit and for forty days was tempted. Matthew’s gospel records the temptations in a certain order and the last temptation Jesus faces should give us some insight into this dilemma. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:8-10. Jesus was offered all the political power in the world. He was offered all the kingdoms and glory and prestige that comes from earthly rule and all he had to do was compromise his mission. All he had to do was for a moment set aside his true mission of worshiping and serving God and all that power would be His. But that wasn’t God’s way.
Jesus came to show us what it meant to live a life that fully honors God. And even at the beginning of His ministry he was offered the opportunity to seize earthly power and political sway in order to accomplish that mission. But he knew bowing down to the Ruler of this world would destroy His Divine purpose of showing us what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. I wonder if we as a church have sometimes lost our way in an attempt to grab onto this earthly power. Sure, we want to influence culture and see God’s way become the one true way…but at what cost? Have we compromised the mission of God because we thought we could accomplish His mission through other methods. Sometimes we have allowed allegiances to political systems to tarnish the mission of God and our witness to others and this should never be so. The apostle Paul said this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12.
Before you write this off completely hear one last thing. I am not saying to not be political. But just be careful that when you are working within the systems of this world that you don’t forget your citizenship is in Heaven and your allegiance is to a God whose Kingdom goes beyond what we see. And in this way you can still be political and remember we are solely called to worship and serve.