Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Bling Cross

Mark 8:31-38
This past Christmas I looked for that “little something extra” for my daughter’s Christmas stockings. I wanted to do something special, not the usual fare of chocolate and socks and nail polish. And I found these wonderful bead bracelets with a bit of bling on them. Not only were they on sale, but as a bonus I found one for myself, with a sideways cross on it.

Today, I wore my bling cross bracelet, the “I am a Christian” statement accessory. But as I looked at it, I realized how far away it was from the intent of my beloved Jesus. Nestled in the center of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus makes His first reveal about the cross, and His death and resurrection:

[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.

Peter was so horrified that he impulsively took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for having said it. Jesus turns it into a teachable moment for His entire crowd of followers:

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”

I trivialize the cross to wear it and think it makes a statement. The cross Jesus beacons us to carry is not studded with sparkles. It is not meant to be carried on our wrists as a fashion accessory. His cross is to be carried on our backs. Its presence tests us. Its weight transforms us. Our journey with it prepares and beautifies us.

I carry my cross not with what I wear but with what I do: with a kind word to the irritating client, with patience to the older woman who needs a listening ear, and with loving words and home-cooked supper for my family. I carry my cross when I go out of my way to organize a family dinner out for my mom, hold my mother-in-law’s arm when she walks down the stairs, play cards with my grandson. In the end, I find it is true that His yoke is easy and His burden light. Because the cross I carry brings joy back to me when I embrace it.

Ok, I am not going to toss this bracelet. I like it a lot. But as I look at it, Beloved, remind me that Your cross cost You dearly and freed me completely. Remind me that my cross sometimes is painful but in the end my crown will be more stunning that any bling I can buy on earth, and I will cast it at Your feet to show my gratitude and love for You!

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.”  

Friday, May 09, 2014

What Must I Do?

Mark 10:1-31

As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It’s so subtle. We ask the question, we want the rule. Then we look at the rule for the loop hole. What is it? Do we want the list of commandments  follow? Not really. We want to justify ourselves. Likewise, this man wanted Jesus to tell him that he was good enough, that he was all right just as he was. We can see this, because he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

But Jesus could not do that because Jesus is truth. And Jesus loved him. So Jesus told him how much he needed to do in order to be righteous and perfect on his own merit. 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

With one sentence, Jesus removed any possibility of a loophole and he grasps he couldn't do it, not on his own. I cannot do it either. On my own, even trying hard, I end up like the man who came to Jesus: At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Or if we are “religious” we come at Jesus another way. We ask the question: are your rules as good as our rules? Are you as holy as we are? The Pharisees were like this, but hey, some days I am too!

Some Pharisees came and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  

The Pharisees wanted to hear Jesus’ rule not because they wanted His wisdom, but because they wanted to evaluate Him. Jesus knew He was being tested and His followers were listening. He loved them all, so He gave them the trut, God’s beautiful intention for marriage: a sacred, exclusive, intimate, life-long union of one man and one woman.  

But Jesus’ answer is so narrowly defined, so hard to accept that we have been looking at it and debating ever since. We know the story of our divorced friends. We know our own story. Do I stay with him even though he prefers alcohol to me? Do I stay with her even though she berates me day after day? He had an affair and left me for another woman; am I never to marry again? Life brings hard questions, with real people, who are deeply hurt.

I would venture to say, the rules are not Jesus’ point. Jesus paints a picture for us of God’s original purpose for marriage at creation. But Jesus knows we live in a broken world. The point is wedged in the middle of these two questions.

Come to Grandpa and get love and ice cream!
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in his arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.

The children came to Jesus not for rules, not looking for loop holes, not to evaluate Him, or even to evaluate themselves. They came to Jesus. And He freely gave them His love and blessing. Children know what we have forgotten. We are weak. We need love. We are not self-righteous or self-sufficient. We are not good. So Jesus reminds us. “No one is good—except God alone.”

Jesus knows we cannot keep the rules. The world is broken and hurting people hurt each other. In this world, sullied by sin, we will never be good. Not like God. We can be better than others on some days perhaps, but in our heart, we know we are not good enough.That’s why we need a Savior! Jesus didn’t come to give us more rules, harder rules, different rules. He came to break the power of sin and death. He came to get us and bring us back to Himself. 

The more faith we have, like a child, the more we can trust Jesus, the more we will be able to run to Him for comfort when we have been hurt and for forgiveness when we sin. That’s all He wants, for us to come to Him.  He will not hinder us because the Kingdom of God belongs to us, His children.

Thank You, Jesus, for clearly showing us that we ask the wrong questions. It is not about what we need to do.  It is about what You have already done: opened the doors of Heaven to us, by Your mercy, power, and sacrifice. It is never about what we do. It is what You have already completed. It is finished and we are welcomed home. What must I do? Run to Jesus. That’s all.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Epilogue - Feed My Sheep

It just didn't seem done, although it is after Easter. I needed to return to the gospels and try to sum it up. So I found myself at the last gospel, the last chapter, John 21...

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

And I can hear Jesus telling me:

I am going to show up in the middle of your work whether you call on Me or not. I will call to you. You’re Mine now and you cannot run away from Me. You cannot bury yourself in your work, or your duties, or trivial pursuits. You can never return to where you were before.

No matter where you hide, I will find you.

Remember, what you are trying to do on your own will get you nowhere. You come back empty. Follow Me and you will be fuller than you ever can imagine.

Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?”

[Simon Peter] answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”

Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.”

And I hear Jesus saying to me:

I am interested in your response to Me.  Do you love Me? Are you willing for the mission I will send you on? The mission is these others, My sheep. I am not calling you to an organization, or a building. I am not calling you to something that is about wealth, success, or power in any form, although you can be confident I will provide for your needs.

I am calling you to My sheep.

I fed you, Jesus said. If you love Me, then feed My sheep.

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Jesus tells me: No two missions will look the same so do not bother looking to your left or your right. I don’t need to be a Peter, or a Pastor, or a church-paid-staffer, or a ministry leader, or an author, or a speaker. I can just be me loving Him, following Him, feeding the sheep He has placed around me: serving them, teaching them, loving them, having compassion on them.

And I can do that, when I rely on Him and Holy Spirit power.

If we are willing to do that, as we practice—not perfectly but, not giving up either—we are bringing in Jesus’ kingdom, day by day.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.