Monday, January 31, 2011

Is It Possible to Believe?

They replied, "We want to perform God's works, too. What should we do?"
Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent."
                                                                                                            John 6:28-29

On the surface, it sounds so simple. But we would much rather do God's works than to believe in Jesus. 

We are creatures of action. We get our worth from doing things. It's the way our society values people. That's why children and older adults are not respected in our society.  They aren't the doers. Think about it. Children play and older adults are retired. We don't value play or retirement unless there is accomplishment in either. 

As Christians, we are more comfortable with a task to do than with this call to believe. Belief implies faith and faith implies waiting and waiting is not easy for us. We are used to meeting our own needs, not asking God to meet them. Shane Claiborne says we don't see miracles because we do it ourselves. If we need food we buy it. If we need healing we go to the doctor. We save for retirement instead of trusting God to provide, and while we are saving for retirement, the great need of the world now goes unmet.

Why don't we simply believe?
Believe that Jesus is the bread of life?
Believe that God will give us all we need?
Believe that miracles can and do happen?

Can I ever truly believe while living in this society? Trusting God for everything seems outlandish, radical, downright crazy. 

But Jesus say it is the only work God wants from us.

Can we even comprehend what our churches would be like if people really believe God would give us everything we need? I've sat in far too many finance committee meetings to know that this kind of belief is not prevalent in our church, and I expect in other churches as well. Because we don't have that kind of belief we also don't have sacrificial, some would say reckless, giving. We hold onto our resources because we don't believe God will provide.

I can hear folks saying, "Well remember the story of the woman on the roof in a flood who drowned because she was waiting for God to save her?" Is that the "gospel" we choose to believe? 

Jesus said anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God. Every time I fail to believe that God will provide, I am looking back.

Is it possible to live in this society and believe, when everything around us discourages us from belief?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

Forgive the irreverent title to this blog post. Here's the scripture that inspired it and the musings that follow: 
So Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19

Who is my father? Whomever I follow by my example is my father. If God is my Father, I will do what God does. I will pattern my behavior after that of Jesus. If however, my behavior and words are not self-sacrificial, not filled with love, and don't bring life to others, then maybe I follow a different father. If I am preoccupied with the cares of this world--food, money, clothing, status, etc.--then I am not following God as my Father. Instead, the world is my father. 

Like a baby duck that imprints on the first thing it sees upon opening its eyes, I also imprint on that which captures my attention and focus. I will do what I see my father doing, so I must focus on the right father. For me, that means immersing myself in the Word and surrounding myself with support that keeps me focused on the Father. What I read, the music I listen and others who also desire to follow the Father help me imprint the Father's ways in my mind.

From my earthly father I learned good things, but because he is not perfect, I learned behaviors that are not those of the true Father. I could not even recognize those behaviors as incompatible with God's behaviors until I spent much time focusing on God as taught and lived out in Jesus. As God has shown the traits in my life that are out of sync with those of Jesus, I have sought to imprint on Jesus so that those traits of the world are overcome by the love of God. 

It's a lifelong process and I'm constantly humbled by how much I fail to imprint on my Father. It's why I am so in need of grace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Missed Opportunities

                Recently I had one of those experiences where I completely missed the point, where, when everyone shared how meaningful the experience had been to them, I was unable to share anything. I came away feeling like a failure. I had an opportunity to see Christ and to be Christ for others, and instead I was self-absorbed and grouchy.
                I’ve thought a lot about how I acted and I realize that part of my problem was my need to be in control. Instead of allowing God to have God’s way, I assumed responsibility and control and made myself (and probably those around me) miserable. The experience has awakened me to how much I still cling to the notion that I hold the reins to my life and that how others view my “performance” is important.
                So I’ve been more focused on daily surrender to God, going with the flow of grace and living in joyful obedience. I’ve been much less stressed and much more attune to the way God is at work around me and in me. I am grateful that God took my failure to be a good disciple and turned it into a teaching moment. The humiliation I feel at failing God has caused me to be open to change.
                I’ve been reading in Exodus this week. The Israelites missed the point often, yet God continued to be faithful to them. They were self-absorbed and grouchy, but God kept showing them his glory and his power. It reassures me to know that God is steadfast with me, even when I fail in my discipleship.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Bondage of Fear

Because God's children are human beings--made of flesh and blood--the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
                                                                               Hebrews 2:14-15

Do we fear dying? Certainly our culture is all about life-extending practices such as diet, exercise, medical procedures and medicines. Some will say they don't fear dying but do fear suffering. Knowing that death is a certainty and given a choice, most of us would rather just go to sleep and not wake up than to endure months or years of suffering prior to death.

Yet Jesus did not simply die. He did not just go to sleep one evening and not wake up the next morning. His death was a process of humiliation and suffering, two things we seek to avoid even more than death. Fear of public speaking always outranks fear of dying in polls of people's greatest fears, likely because of the percieved liklihood that one will be humiliated in front of others.

Jesus did more than take on our sins when he died on the cross. The author of Hebrews says that his dying put to death the fear of dying. Death lost its power over us. But that is not all. In being humiliated, Jesus put to death the fear of humiliation. Pride lost its power over us. In suffering, Jesus put to death the fear of suffering. Pain lost its power over us. Jesus, in giving himself for us, set us free from the bondage of pride, pain and death.

When I consider how much energy I put into the avoidance of humiliation, suffering and death, it is liberating to know that those fears can be nailed to the cross and I can live free of them because Jesus broke their power over me. He took my biggest fears on himself, and now by grace I am released from them. It is liberating to see the cross as the symbol of overcoming all the fears that threaten to dominate my life. May I accept this grace!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Leaving Jerusalem

About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him." King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.
                                                                                                            Matthew 2:1b-3

Why did the priests not rejoice at the news that the Messiah had been born? As much as prophecy regarding the birth of the Messiah had been studied, I know they must have longed for the arrival of Immanuel. Did no priest or religious leader want to go find Jesus upon hearing this news? If everyone in Jerusalem was deeply disturbed, why didn't anyone, especially the religious leaders, act on the news? Were they too busy, did they not believe the wise men, or were they too proud to listen to people from far away (who were not Jews) who knew something they didn't. Or were the priests and religious leaders so cozy with Herod that they didn't want the Messiah to come?

When have I failed to respond to the news that Jesus is among us? I know I have been guilty of allowing pride to get in my way when I discount the messenger because of my own biases, or because acknowledging the presence of Jesus would upset my carefully made plans and relationships or because I was just too busy and distracted  to really take in the message. For me to acknowledge that Jesus is here among us, I have to lay aside my schedule, my relationships, my cultural biases and my pride and obey the Word of God, whoever delivers it and wherever it sends me. 

Like the wise men, I must follow the star even if it leads me to a different land, a different people, a different culture, and be prepared to worship Jesus among us. I must come with love in my heart for God that is stronger than anything that would hold me in Jerusalem, because as long as I remain in comfortable Jerusalem, I miss seeing Jesus.