Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keeping it Simple (Part 1)

Sometimes I wonder where all the 'stuff' in my life came from.  It's everywhere - in the house, in the closets, in the garage, in the yard.  I don't even remember where some of these things came from, but here they are, and because I have to store them and maintain them and repair them, it seems like they own me!  Yikes!  Is that how this is supposed to work?

In a word, no.  The Message Bible says in Eccl. 7:29, "God made men and women true and upright; we're the ones who've made a mess of things." James says in 4:2-3 that every kind of conflict comes from evil desires for more, more, more:  "You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure."  Adam and Eve messed things up when they wanted more, and we're still doing it!

Jesus gave us our priorities in Matt. 6:33 -- "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."   Earlier, in verse 24, he said we cannot succeed by having two gods:  "You cannot serve both God and money."  So do we give all our stuff away so we can just live simply?  Richard Foster, in his classic book Celebration of Discipline, quotes Kirkegaard commenting on this passage, 'no, we must first seek God's kingdom.'  Shall we spend all our time preaching the Gospel so our lives will be properly simple?  No, we must first seek God's kingdom.  In other words, we have to get our inward life right, then we will find the right outward expression of what is true inwardly. 

Simplicity, as a spiritual tool, is a huge topic.  Foster writes a chapter on it, and barely begins to outline it.  But simplicity begins, and continues, with having our hearts and energies and lives focused on the will of God.  Studying the life and teachings of Jesus, and how those were expounded by the rest of the New Testament, is our best view of 'the will of God.'  As Jesus himself said in John 6:28-29: 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.”

Focus on what he said just there, and we will find simplicity.  More on this idea next time. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are We There Yet?

"Are we there yet?" How many times have I heard that? 

The good news -- make that the incredibly great news -- is, something has happened that means you really are gonna get there, but in another way it says you've already arrived. 

Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-6 "God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus."  See, the dead don't raise themselves, they have to be raised; and the instant Christ was raised, all humanity was, in a spiritual sense, raised from the dead along with him.  That happened before we could recognize it or make a choice to accept it or not, and Paul says that, because of what Christ did to unite us with him, we're already 'seated...in the heavenly realms.'  

"Now, Mark," you might say, "Paul may think that's true, but he doesn't go to my school, and that really doesn't sound like 3rd Period Spanish with Ramirez."  Or, for adults, working at the welding shop, or being a single parent.  So can it be true that we're 'in the heavenly realms' when life looks just the opposite?  What is a 'heavenly realm' anyway? 

What Jesus did for you and me, a long time ago, was to make sure that every human ever born was invited into the circle of family love that originates in the Triune God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That love is self-giving, it finds its joy in seeing others thrive, it honors others above itself, and is endlessly flowing outward.  It is without boundary, without holding back, and without end. That love reached out to us in the person of  Jesus and loved us too.  In Jesus' words, "...you love them as much as you love me" (John 17:23).  Wow, how do we understand that?  Does God really love us that much?  Yes, he does.  Jesus said so.  

Being in 'the heavenly realms' I think, is being loved like that -- already!  If we can begin to imagine that, it's the only way we can understand the overwhelming reality of being with God in eternity -- being loved without limits and without end.  Sound like heaven to you?  It does to me!  So even in 3rd Period Spanish, if nobody else loves you -- God still does.  Jesus said so.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Giving It Up

Our Western society is not known for self-denial.  We have fast-food palaces practically everywhere, with 'dollar menus' set up to drain the last resources from our wallets.  We're not accustomed to having to wait for food, or for that matter, anything else -- some people even watch movies and TV on their mobile phones instead of returning home or going to the cinema! 

Youthworker.com posted an article on July 26 called "Going Techless" that told the story of a girl who went without her cellphone, radio, television and computer for a week (you can watch the full news segment, on NickNews, here.)  At first she drove everyone crazy, then later in the week began talking instead of texting, and "began cooking, singing and playing the guitar." Who knew? 

Jesus reminded us of the perils of our "stuff" when he said in Luke 12:15 “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”  I looked that verse up in the Greek -- it says "all greed."  Wow, all?  Every type? What if I really, really like chocolate?  Or books, even theology books?  Or food?  The Boss was telling us to not let anything get the upper hand on us that turns out to be a subtle form of outright idolatry -- having something else that is more important than God. 

The Bible describes 'fasting' as a way to tell ourselves "no."  Fasting typically refers to going without food, but truly, it could refer to anything that we use that threatens to become too important to us.  People sometimes fast from television, a certain food, or some other part of life; and instead of moping around the house in despair from not having it, they use that extra time and energy to serve God instead of themselves.  

But it takes courage and dedication to give up, even for awhile, something we are so tied to.  It's a sacrifice!  But those sacrifices can teach us a lot about ourselves:  what's most important to us, and how much time we waste on what isn't really important.  How about it?  Is there something you would give up for God?  What would it be?  Why? For how long?  When will you start?  What will you do with the extra energy you get?  It's worth asking yourself the questions, then getting started!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hangin' Out

A full week of summer camp is just finished, and The Amazing Joanne and I spent that time with a wonderfully charming and crazy-energetic bunch of teens and staff at 8,500 feet near Buffalo Creek.  We ran around together doing sports, chapel, meals and a lot of other fun things.  For me, the best was just hangin' out -- after a meal, before an activity, a chance encounter along the path, even a conversation while putting clean dishes away.  To have that kind of relaxed fun with a friend (old or brand-new) was a treat. 

Jesus hung out with his disciples a lot.  The video "Matthew," shot using the NIV of the Gospel of Matthew as its script, shows Jesus (played with depth and passion by Bruce Marchiano) laughing, teasing and conversing with his disciples; a real look at God in the flesh. Rather than just preaching all the time, Jesus is shown hangin' out with his followers, whom he treats as friends, and having conversations with them.  There is plenty of teaching, of course; but a lot of it is in the process of everyday life with its ups and downs.  He settles arguments, uses everyday events as teaching moments, and even engages in a water fight with his 'dorm' in a local stream.  (It doesn't show who won, but I have an idea.)

The Boss said at the end of Matthew, 28:19-20, that we should make disciples wherever we go; and then, he said "And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  His words "I am" are in the plain ol' present tense, not anything conditional.  So he's still walking around with us, hangin' out as it were, teaching us as we go, and helping us figure out what this "discipling" thing is about. 

So I think the best thing we can do is to learn how to 'hang out' with Jesus better and better.  To be more aware that he is here (in the person of the Holy Spirit, who "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13) and be more careful to listen.  We know he wants to lead us; so we need to 'listen up' as we sometimes say at camp, to be able to hear him.  He'll teach us through the written Word, through awareness of the spiritual realities all around us, through the good words of friends, and other ways.  Let's see what happens if we 'listen up' even better, shall we?