Still grinding sausage, please be patient

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Figuring out video

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Keeping it Real

At New Way Church we are in the midst of a series about the final week of Jesus’ time on earth. The four part series is called Potential. We started on Easter with the story of the resurrection of Jesus, and over the following three weeks are “flashing back” to the days that led up to that event. Today we discussed the famous “Palm Sunday”.

Specifically, we read about two events that took place on that day. First, Jesus entered Jerusalem being hailed as a King. Then, immediately following this, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus went into the temple and cast out the people who had turned it from a house of prayer into one of profit.

Now, there’s a lot going on in this story, but I suggest that one thing to learn here is the importance of “getting real” with yourself at the beginning of a spiritual struggle. The arrest and execution of Jesus–and therefore his resurrection–came about in part because his actions on Palm Sunday both openly declared war on the religious power structure operating in the temple in Jerusalem, and also represented an act of treason against the civil authority of the Emperor of Rome. Likewise, true spiritual battle doesn’t really happen until we acknowledge the authority of the Lord in our lives and also admit that there are things in our mind–evil and false things–that hold us back from fully accepting all the goodness God is trying to do for and through us. Attaining the spiritual potential he sees in each of us requires that we first “get real” and objectively observe the good and the bad within us.

So my challenge to everyone today was to take stock of life, and find some quiet time to consider the thoughts and affections of their minds and the actions that flow from them. And to make a list of all the good that is from the Lord. And then to acknowledge just one bad desire–a selfish tendency, a greedy attitude, an unloving habit, etc. And for the rest of the week, to just be mindful. See what comes up. Be aware.

So I thought I’d share my own results from this process of self examination. You don’t have to share your results out loud, but sometimes it can be helpful. Sometimes, though, what you find in yourself is hard to share. Don’t worry about that. You don’t have to completely follow my example to learn from it.

So here goes…

First, I see God in my life. How? I love my job. My calling. My church. My wife. Each of my children. These are all gifts from the Lord that I have done nothing to earn. I cherish them.

But going deeper, I realize that my very ability to love each of these is itself from the Lord. It is the Lord in me. My capacity to cherish, my desire to serve, and the joy I get from doing so, are also pure gifts, the result of God’s infinite grace and mercy.

Going further, I realize that the Lord has given me skills, talents, dispositions, resources, connections and experiences that make my life what it is and that have allowed me to achieve all that I have achieved. And I can’t take credit for any of them! For instance, I’m a reasonably smart person, and that has helped me accomplish some things, but I would be (and at times have been!) a total fool to even begin to think that was something I had anything to do with. If anything I have dishonored the gift over the years by slacking off in school, by using it for lazy purposes, and even at times using it for purely selfish–even petty–purposes.

And the same is true for any other trait or talent or ability I might ever accept a compliment for or be proud of or whatever. If it’s good, it’s from God. So, thank you, Lord, for all of these things!

Now, I could say a lot about what I might repent of. Already my mind is being drawn to selfish, arrogant and lazy ways I have misused whatever I have been given for selfish ends, but this week I just want to focus, laser-like, on one very specific thing. In fact, it is a thing that I have been aware of for a few weeks now, and I’m tired of it holding me back, and tripping me up.

Lately I have become increasingly aware of the fact that I sometimes struggle with trust. Part of it is just the result of having been hurt in the distant past; we all know what it’s like to have our trust shaken, right?

But I’ve come to believe there’s more to it in what’s going on with me these days. I’ve observed in myself a voice that seems to want to dwell in mistrust. If I’m being completely honest with myself–and that IS the point of this spiritual practice, after all–I have to acknowledge that some small, broken part of me actually enjoys the worry and fear that comes from not trusting.

And this is a very subtle thing. I mean, my difficulty with trusting isn’t something that plays out on the stage of my life much; it’s almost entirely an inner thing. I don’t much act on it, but in the depth of my mind it’s there, breeding quiet worries that I barely notice but that nevertheless undermine my connection with the Lord. I didn’t see them at all until something small prompted me to look deeper into my own motivations a little while back.

And now, thinking further on it, I have come to believe that part of what is going on is that hell is using the perfectly natural instinct to avoid being hurt by misplaced trust to stir up in me a desire to control that which I have no right to control. Thus a subtle insecurity can, over time, be turned into a selfishness that could some day poison relationships, the greatest of which being my relationship with the Lord. If I let it.

Now, there are other things in my life that don’t belong, either. But this subtle thing is actually a serious potential threat to my spiritual health and I’d like to get it under watch now, before it does major damage. And, frankly, this is one of the things I struggle with that I am actually (somewhat) comfortable sharing in such a public way. Like you, I have many things about me that need a little work, but many of them are things I only share with the very closest of my confidants, if with anyone at all. I’m sure you understand.

So for this week, for the sake of this public exercise of what is often a very private spiritual practice, I’m choosing to work on how a subtle difficulty with trust can undermined relationships by stirring up a selfish need for control.

That’s my suspicion, at least. I am going to spend this week mindful of my feelings, and of the thoughts those feelings generate. I’m on the lookout for worry and distrust, but more particularly for any controlling desires that get excited by my fears. And if it turns out that my theory is right, I’m going to take the next step.

But that’s a topic for another post.

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Outlaw Preacher

Who are the Outlaw Preachers?

Interesting question…

 

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Sail Away

This morning, my family had a brief time of worship together. We’re trying out homeschooling our four kids this year, and we’ve been trying to kick off each weekday with worship. It’s a simple thing: we light a candle, my daughter opens the Word and reads a verse she finds there, I read a longer selection from the Word (we’re going through the Gospel of Mark right now), and then we have a short discussion. We finish by going around and giving everyone a chance to share a final thought, then say the Lord’s Prayer together. It’s very much a “small group” experience.

Anyway, this morning, we read a very short story about Jesus, and I found it particularly intriguing:

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. (Mark 8:11-13)

I love that!

A boat sailing away in sunset

First of all, Jesus was in the middle of a tour of the land in which he was going around casting out demons, curing deafness, and had only one paragraph previously fed thousands of people with just a handful of food, and not for the first time!

But the Pharisees wanted a “sign”.

And the Lord’s reaction? Wow. We all smiled at that, and laughed a little in sympathy. What a powerfully human reaction: he “sighed deeply in his spirit”. Of course he did!

But it was his next move that really grabbed my interest the most.

Did he argue with them? Nope. He said, “A sign? Sorry, can’t help you.” And that’s it! He didn’t point out all the signs he’d already provided, he didn’t explain to them what was wrong with their question, he didn’t call them out for what they were really doing or point out that they didn’t want a sign. I think I would have. Would you? He basically said they couldn’t have any signs, which I understand as him saying, “If you haven’t seen any ‘signs’ so far, then you’re not ever going to.” That’s powerful. But not overpowering.

Did he give them a sign? Well, technically, he had many times, and would many times again. He spent years doing miraculous things that could be taken as “signs”. But people were always able to interpret his actions in different ways. At one point, some theorized that he could cast out demons because he was somehow allied with them. But I think he could have given them a sign they would have to see. That they couldn’t ignore, or explain away, or deny. He could have opened a doorway to hell and taken them on a tour, then taken them up to heaven and shown them around. But he didn’t. He could have called down fire right there and then, but he didn’t. He could have reached into their minds and taken away their freedom of thought, reached into their hearts and forced them to want to worship him. But he didn’t.

Instead, he got in a boat and sailed away.

Sailed away!

I bet many there interpreted that as a sign of weakness. But that was powerful. When you know you’re right and good, and the people you’re with don’t want to hear that, go spend time with someone else!

Now, Jesus sometimes engaged people like this in debate. Sometimes he preached to them. But sometimes he just walked away. (Or in this case, sailed away.)

So what does this tell us? FIrst, it says something about the nature of God. Namely, that he isn’t going to force or trick or argue or debate anyone into doing anything. He wants more than anything else for us to love him. And love can only be given freely. It’s part of the definition. So if we don’t choose to follow, to worship, to believe, to obey, to love, then that’s that. He won’t force the issue. The sentence my daughter found to read at the beginning of this morning’s gathering relates to this idea:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:  But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

He is always reaching out to us, but we do things that throw up barriers between us and him. If we don’t want those barriers removed, then he’s not going to force his way through to us. Instead, he patiently waits.

So what does this say about our own lives? One of my sons pointed out that it’s a reminder to be more aware of the signs the Lord has given that are all around us all the time. His brother connected it to this really cool video:

(Quick aside: I highly recommend you, right now, go and subscribe to that guy’s YouTube channel. Go on. I’ll wait.)

Now, what I personally was drawn to this morning was the idea that, sometimes, the best thing to do when confronted with conflict, hate, obtuseness, temptation, is to just sail away. Cross over to the other side. Go spend time with different people, different ideas, different affections.

And that’s just skimming the surface. This four-sentence vignette from the life of Jesus has tons more depth to it that I’m not even beginning to mention here. What is that boat a symbol of? Why is it significant that it was Pharisees he sailed away from and not Sadducees, or lawyers, or tax collectors, or the demon-possessed? What’s the significance of the fact that he crossed water, rather than just walked away down a road?

But I’ll leave exploring that to you.

For me, for this moment, I’m taking away from this the following idea.

Sometimes, it is best to be like water: flow where gravity takes you, passing over and around the barriers, ever moving forward. And maybe in passing you will eventually wear down some rough edges. But don’t worry about that. Just change direction when you have to, and move on.

 

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