Thursday, September 30, 2010

intercessory prayer (praying for others) -- OMEGA

Not all prayer should be for our selves. To pray only for ourselves – whether it’s confessing our sins or presenting our requests or praising God for what He’s done in our lives – is selfish. Sure, it’s spiritual selfishness. But it’s still selfishness nonetheless.

Last week we said that the primary purpose of prayer isn’t to change things but to change ___ (us). Well, part of what needs to change is our selfish nature and praying for other people will do that. Intercession is a way of loving people and it’s a way to serve people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls intercessory prayer a “purifying bath.” Why? Because in praying for others we slowly scrub away the ingrained self-centeredness that keeps us from being like Jesus. And so tonight I want to ask three questions.

1. What is intercessory prayer?
2. What are the benefits of intercessory prayer?
3. How can we intercede for others?

But first I want to read a passage from Exodus, because it’s going to help us answer those three questions. Intercessory Prayer – what is it? What are the benefits? How do we do it?

Exodus 17: 8-13

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out and fight. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people.

On the surface this is a pretty strange story but the implications for intercessory prayer are pretty profound I think. The Israelites are in the wilderness and the Amalekites attack. Well, Moses – he’s the leader and because of that he’s the one that’s got to choose the military strategy, which I think can be summed up like this. “Joshua – you fight and I’ll pray.” You see Moses understood that behind this earthly conflict was a spiritual one and that only by lifting his hands in prayer could the battle be won. And here’s what’s amazing – the Bible is suggesting that Moses had the harder task. After all, Aaron and Hur had to hold his arms up. In other words, Moses’ job was more important than Joshua’s.

Now, when all was said and done who do you think got the credit? Joshua – after all, he was the one leading the charge. People probably started spreading rumors about Moses being a coward. But what the Bible suggests is that the real work was happening behind the scenes – where Moses and Aaron and Hur were interceding on Israel’s behalf. It was their work and not Joshua’s that determined the outcome of the battle.

Now what Moses and Aaron and Hur did for Israel is something all of us are called to do for each other and for our world. Not all of us are going to be on the front lines – visible, celebrated, “public leaders” so to speak. But we are all called to intercessory prayer. Behind every earthly conflict is a spiritual one and God invites each of us to partner with Him in His victory over sin, evil and death. And so with that in mind …

(1) What is intercessory prayer?

The best definition that I’ve ever heard is “longing for what’s best for someone before God” (Keller). Intercessory prayer isn’t about us – our needs, our sins, things we’re thankful for. No, in intercessory prayer we bring before God what we think is best for someone else.

Whenever we intercede for someone we do the work of a priest – we go to God on behalf of someone else. Whenever we intercede we act as a mediator. A go-between. Think of Moses – where does he pray? Moses intercedes from the top of a mountain, which is symbolic for being between heaven and earth. Moses places himself between the people of Israel and God and he raises His staff in prayer. That’s kind of what intercessory prayer is like, only the image is somewhat flawed because in Christ we’re not just standing on a mountain – no we get to walk straight to the throne of God.

And in interceding for someone I find it helpful to know three things –their needs, their flaws, and their strengths. I want to know a person’s needs so that I can ask God to meet them. I want to know a person’s flaws so that I can ask God to remove them – to change unhealthy heart patterns that keep them from becoming the person God wants them to be. And most importantly, I want to know a person’s strengths so that I can thank God for that person. Each one of us is a living, breathing miracle – far too often we forget that. That’s something we need to celebrate before God. But either way, in intercessory prayer we approach God and we “long for what’s best” for someone else.

Now, before moving on there’s something I want us to see. Intercession is something we all do on a human level. For example – let’s say Prescott Jefferson III wants to go to Harvard Law but he’s got a 2.7 GPA and he majored in frat. But lucky for him his dad’s best friend is head of admissions. He talks to his dad, his dad talks to the dean, Prescott goes to Harvard. His dad interceded on his behalf. Or perhaps something a bit more common – you don’t have tickets for next weekend’s game but your best friend’s roommate does. “Will you talk to him for me? I can only pay face value but I really want to go.” The only reason you got to go to the game was because your best friend interceded for you. Now in Christ, each one of us has access to the God of the Universe – a God that’s infinitely rich, a God that calls us his child and essentially says, “Ask me for whatever you want.”

(2) What are the benefits of intercessory prayer?

Ok, you might be thinking – that’s great but isn’t God just going to do what God’s going to do? What are the benefits of intercessory prayer? In other words, why do it? I’ll give us three good reasons. Intercessory prayer changes things, it changes relationships, and finally it changes us.

Intercessory Prayer changes things

What I’m about to tell you is very mysterious – prayer changes things without changing God’s plans. Now wait a second, you’re thinking, it’s got to be one or the other. No it doesn’t. We’re dealing with God and God’s ways are beyond anything we can understand. Prayer doesn’t change God. That’s part of what it means for God to be Sovereign. But, prayer does change things, circumstances, and people.

There’s a famous verse in the Book of James that says, “You have not because you ask not.” Think about that reading from Exodus. When Moses held up his hand in prayer Israel won the battle but when he dropped it – when Moses stopped interceding – the Israelites would lose. The author’s point is pretty clear – it matters whether or not we pray.

You see, whenever we pray for people we bring the mysterious power of God into their lives. Prayer may have psychological benefits but it’s not just a psychological exorcise. A lot of good things don’t happen because God’s people don’t pray. It’s like James says – we have not because we ask not. And so the first benefit of intercessory prayer is this– it changes things, circumstances and people for the better.

Intercessory Prayer changes relationships

There’s no getting around it, I’m a better Christian when I’m praying for the people I’m around. I’m more aware of their needs. After all, I’ve thought about them enough to bring them to God. I’m more aware of their flaws. I’ve been asking God to work on their hearts and so (a) I see it coming (whatever “it” is that bothers me about them) and (b) I want to be part of the solution – not part of the problem. And so I’m a lot more patient and a lot less irritable. And finally I’m more aware of their strengths. I’ve been thanking God for their faith or their humility or whatever gift they have that I know blesses other people. When we pray from someone our concern for them grows, our love for them grows. Why do you think Jesus told us to intercede for our enemies – because Jesus knew that in praying for them we’d eventually come to love them.

And so if there’s someone in your life that you’re angry with right now or if you’re holding a grudge, I’ll be bold – I know that you haven’t been actively interceding for that person. Why? Because when we think deeply about someone’s needs and flaws and strengths and pray for them God softens our heart. Prayer strengthens our relationships.

Intercessory Prayer changes us

Intercessory prayer is behind the scenes, servant ministry. Going back to Exodus, Joshua got credit for winning the battle but it was Moses – the man praying behind the scenes – who secured the victory for Israel. And intercessory prayer is really hard work precisely because it’s by nature behind the scene work. In other words, we’re not going to get any credit for the way our prayers bless the life of someone else. But here’s what we have to see – that’s the essence of holiness. That’s what it means to be like Christ. To long for the good of others is the essence of holiness. Or to put it differently, nothing will make you more like Christ than to long for the Christ-likeness of someone else.

I’ll be honest – meditating on scripture, praying for my own needs, praising God for what He’s done in my life – I find that easy and enjoyable. Why? Because it’s all about me. It’s all about my growth and my peace. And of course that’s good – I should be concerned with my own spiritual walk. But, we’re going to get stuck in the process of our sanctification – which is just a fancy theological word for the process by which God conforms our heart to His – we’ll get stuck in the process of our sanctification until we begin longing and praying for the sanctification of other people. Nothing makes us more like Jesus than longing for others to be like Jesus.

And so to recap – what are the benefits of intercessory prayer? It changes things. It changes relationships. It changes us.

(3) How can we intercede for others?

First, we need to intercede for others by ourselves. A portion of our personal prayer time with God needs to be designated for praying for other people. If we don’t yet have a personal, disciplined prayer time, well that’s something we need to consider. But we need to make a habit of praying for other people. And for reasons already mentioned, intercession is mentally tough work. It requires heavy thinking and because of our limitations we can’t pray for everyone. It can be draining to think about someone else’s needs and flaws and strengths. And so lesson #1 – don’t overdo it. Like Moses eventually our arm gets tired and if we try holding it up too long we’ll pull a spiritual muscle.

But let me give you two methods I find helpful. First, because I read Scripture in the morning I make a list of all the people that come to my mind as I read the Bible and then when I’m done I pray for them. Some people are on my list every day. Some people asked me to pray for them earlier in the week. Some people just pop into my head. Whether it’s a coincidence or the Spirit, I pray for them. Second, I call this the “Google calendar” method. I look at my calendar for the day and I pray for whoever’s on it. This method also works at night praying for the people you spent time with that day.

Second, we need to intercede for others with others. Is Jesus with us when we pray alone? Of course. But He also went out of His way to say, “whenever two or three gather together in my name I’m going to be there, too.” And so in a way that’s kind of mysterious, Jesus is present in a deeper and more powerful way when we pray with other Christians. I’m not saying you have to join a prayer group. But I will challenge you to think about it. And I’ll also tell you that my spiritual life is much richer for being a part of one. This is what Richard Foster says about Christians interceding together:

“It is God’s desire to bring individuals and families into saving faith. It is God’s desire to bring people off of addictions to drugs, sex, money and status. It is God’s desire to deliver people from racism, sexism, nationalism and consumerism. Organized, corporate intercessory prayer is a crucial means for the fulfillment of these yearnings in the heart of God.” (Prayer, 199)

We need to pray for others with others. Moses wasn’t strong enough to hold up that staff by himself. And neither are we.

Now, a final word before we break for small groups. If we begin praying with persistence and passion we’re going to run up against the problem of unanswered prayer. And here’s what I want to say about that. The night I wrote this talk I spent two hours babysitting my nine-month-old goddaughter. Over the course of those two hours she tried to stick her slobbery fingers into an electric socket, eat a knife sitting on the coffee table, and crawl down the stairs by herself. Those were her “prayers” so to speak – the deepest desires of her heart. In not letting her do those things I wasn’t trying to tell her I didn’t love her. I was trying to show her that I did.

And so whether it’s for our self or for someone else, sometimes we pray for things that aren’t granted not because God isn’t good but precisely because He is. We may think our greatest need in life is eat that knife but it’s not. And so let me say this – when we’re faithful in prayer and persistent in prayer and intentional about prayer God always gives us and the people for whom we pray that which is best under the circumstances. And sometimes that means not intervening in people’s lives or allowing them to experience the result of their choices. But remember – God does that not because He isn’t good but precisely because He is.

Not all prayer should be for our selves – that’s spiritual selfishness. Remember our goal is to become more like Jesus and nothing will make us more like Christ than longing for the Christ-likeness of someone else.

Monday, September 27, 2010

true religion

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

I’d like to begin today’s sermon by asking you a question: What is our religion? Now, this sounds like a foolish question, right? After all, we sing Christian hymns. We recite Christian creeds. We break bread in the name of Jesus Christ. But if my question surprises you, know that it’s anything but foolish to dare to sincerely name our religion. Allow me to explain. The word religion is derived from the Latin verb ligare – which means to bind or connect. Our religion, simply put, is what we rely on, whatever we trust to make us feel secure. To practice the right religion is to root ourselves in reality. To practice the wrong religion is to chase after something that isn’t even real. And so when I ask “what is our religion?” I’m really asking “what do we rely on? What have we bound or connected our hearts to?”

I spent the summer of 2006 working as a hospital chaplain. I’m forever haunted by the memory of the first patient I ever visited, a 91-year-old woman named Mary. I want to read you an excerpt from the report I was asked to write on my impression of Mary: “She is bitter, alone, and she trusts no one. Mary believes she has been hospitalized so that her family may spend her savings. Mary is intent upon the idea that she is an exploited victim of a greedy family. There is no person on earth that she loves or trusts. Not one.” If these words give you chills, listen to the words of Mary herself. “I hate my family. They mean nothing to me. I am here because they want my money. They want everything I’ve worked for. For themselves. They are dead to me.” Mary was deluded. Her heart was so bound and so connected to her stockpile of wealth that she was unable to cope with reality. Money was what Mary relied on, what she trusted to make her feel secure. Mary practiced the wrong religion.

Today’s story about Lazarus and the rich man was first addressed to the practitioners of a wrong religion. Jesus tells this parable to the Pharisees, who Luke tells us are “lovers of money.” Perhaps you recall how last week’s parable ended: “you cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees’ response to this was to ridicule Jesus. The Pharisees mock Jesus’ words. You can’t serve God and money? Of course you can! You see for the Pharisees, money was the sure sign of God’s favor. People get rich when God is pleased with them, which means that poverty is a punishment –at least that is what they believed. And so when the Pharisees saw someone like Lazarus – starving for food, covered in sores, freezing and alone – they naturally assumed that God’s justice was at work. If Lazarus isn’t a sinner then his parents sure were! You see, the Pharisees sang all the right hymns, they recited all the right creeds, and they went through all the right rituals. But according to Jesus, they didn’t practice the right religion.

And so we have to wonder, what went wrong with the Pharisees? Well, the answer is simple. The Pharisees forgot their story. You see, God chose Israel because they were the smallest, the poorest, and the weakest. God chose Israel because they were slaves. God chose Israel because they longed to satisfy their hunger with the food that fell from Pharaoh’s table – who feasted sumptuously every day while they starved to death. For this reason God chose Israel and brought them to the land of Canaan, where God tells them in Deuteronomy: “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” In other words, I chose you because you were poor, and so you must love the poor. I chose you because you were needy, so you must love the needy. You see, the Pharisee’s problem was not with how they saw the poor, but with how they saw themselves. Forgetting that God chooses the poor, the Pharisees naturally lost sight of how poor they really were.

Now, the Pharisees don’t have the market cornered on being “lovers of money.” We live in a world that teaches us to rely, or to find security, in things with no power to save us. There is so much pressure to make our life a race in pursuit of something superficial – money just being the most obvious example. Is money bad? No. But to rely on money, to trust in money as the basis of our security – it’s the root of all evil. You see, for the rich, money provides the illusion that we are secure. For the poor, money creates the illusion that we could be secure if we just had more money. And let’s be honest – from time to time all of us are runners in society’s race to seek security outside the promises of God. We can all practice the wrong religion.

And so we have to wonder – when this does happen, what goes wrong with us? The answer is simple. We forget our story. The apostle Paul reminds us in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” In other words, God himself, the Source of all wealth, became poor. God himself, the Source of all life, tasted death. The God of our hymns, the God of our creeds, the God revealed in the bread we break was Himself broken, stripped naked, covered in sores, and starving for food. For us. You see our problem is not with how we see the poor, but with how we see ourselves. Do we honestly believe that we’re any better than the homeless man we’ll pass on our way to class tomorrow? If so, we’re not yet seeing the world through the lens of the cross. If so, we haven’t yet considered how far God had to go to reach us. If so, we do not understand how poor we really are.

The truth is there is not one person among us who can identify with Lazarus, and I thank God for that. There are many Lazarus’ in our world, and God cares deeply about every single one of them. On the other hand, we are not the rich man. No, as this parable comes to an end we have to realize that every single one of us stands in the place of his five brothers. Each of us has to write our own ending to this parable. But unlike the brothers, we have more than Moses and the prophets. Someone in fact has risen from the dead, and that Someone of our hymns, our creeds, and our communion invites us to step into reality, to practice true religion, to bind our hearts and to connect our souls to the Kingdom he came to proclaim.

So once again, what is our religion? Christianity is a religion of the cross. We cannot seek security in the cross of Christ and ignore the crosses of others. We cannot seek security in the God who became poor and ignore the poverty of others. We cannot seek security in Jesus and at the same time ignore Lazarus, for what we do to the least of Jesus’ brothers we do also to him. We practice the right religion when we root ourselves in the reality of the cross.

I’d like to end tonight’s sermon with a story. This story is about greyhounds, the kind that race around the track after that mechanical rabbit. The following is a conversation between a reporter and a successful greyhound that quits racing at the height of his career. Anyway, the conversation goes something like this:

The reporter says to the dog, Uh, you still racing any?
No, no, no, I don’t race anymore.
I bet you miss the glitter and the excitement of the track?
He said, no, not really.
So you got too old?
No, no, I still had some race in me.
So you must have not won enough races?
He said no, I won over a million dollars for my owner.
So, they treated you badly, that’s why you quit?
God no! They treated us like kings, as long as we were racing.
Then what, did you get injured?
He said, no, no.
I said, then what?
I quit.
You quit? Why on earth would you quit at the height of your career?

He said, I quit the day that I found out that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit. That’s when I quit. All that running, running, running, running, running, and that thing I was chasing, it wasn’t even real.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meditation (spiritual brooding) -- OMEGA

I’m fascinated by the miracle of a chicken’s birth. For a young chick to be born and to grow a mother hen has to sit on her eggs for days or even weeks, a process known as brooding. And when you watch this process the mother hen looks lazy. All she does is sit motionless and she seems to accomplish nothing. But in reality, something crucial is happening beneath the surface. The mother hen is incubating new life. Her brooding is actually breeding – the process through which new life emerges. (Packer)

Meditation, or spiritual brooding, is like that, too. It’s a long drawn-out process. It looks like we’re doing nothing. But in reality meditation is the process through which new spiritual life emerges. The spiritual process of brooding – thinking about Scripture, turning it over in our heads, allowing it to transform us from the inside out – is actually breeding. Spiritual brooding is spiritual breeding.

Tonight we’re going to ask three questions.

• Why is mediation, or spiritual brooding, important?
• What exactly is meditation?
• How do we meditate?

Why do it? What is it? How does it work?

(1) Why meditation is important

Well, the primary purpose of prayer isn’t to change other people or circumstances, though prayer certainly does both. In fact, prayer would be psychologically impossible if we thought it didn’t make a difference. But, the primary purpose of prayer isn’t to change things. It’s to change us. According to Richard Foster, “The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of His Son.” In other words, we pray to become more like Jesus, and that means moving past simple prayer. You see God doesn’t just want to be our Provider. He wants to be our Teacher and He wants to be our Friend. God wants us to learn the joy of obedience and that’s why we pray – to be like Jesus. Meditation, or spiritual brooding, is about sitting on the egg of Scripture – about setting our minds on Scripture – so that new spiritual life hatches and we’re changed from the inside out.

In other words we meditate because conversion is at the heart of Christianity. God may fully love us as we are, but God’s love won’t allow us to remain as we are. Why? Because, in the words of Switchfoot, “we were made to live for so much more.” Our God insists that our hearts be changed and yet we have absolutely no power to change them. And so we engage in spiritual brooding. We put ourselves in the presence of the Divine Physician and we ask Him to come do surgery.

Think of it like this. A sailboat won’t move until the wind comes. But at the same time, the wind won’t have any power until the sails are up and able to catch it. To meditate is to put up our spiritual sails so that when God does send the wind – which in the Bible is a metaphor for His Spirit – it will actually propel us forward.

And so becoming like Jesus, growing in Christ-likeness, this is central to Christianity. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try to change – to be kinder and more loving and less selfish – because if we rely on ourselves our hearts will never be touched. Our behavior might improve but we’ll probably become self-righteous and we definitely won’t feel joy. Real change is from the inside out. It happens when the Spirit moves our hearts. And because only God can change hearts, we need to come before Him and brood. We need to sit on the scriptures and allow new life to hatch.

(2) What is mediation?

Well, all great Christian thinkers for the past 2,000 years tell us that meditation is indispensable to growth; that not meditating on God’s Word is like a child needing vegetables but only eating candy. And so what is Christian meditation? I’ll focus on two things. Meditation is (1) biblical and (2) affective.

Mediation is Biblical

First, Christian meditation is biblical, i.e. it’s rooted in Scripture. I say this because mediation is hot these days. It’s in. No pressure, but everyone who’s anyone – anyone who’s cool, they meditate. But, Christian mediation is distinct. It’s not the same as Eastern and New Age forms of mediation, all of which stress emptying our self and our mind to achieve different goals, like inner peace and finding the real you and “becoming fully aware.” Unlike Eastern forms of mediation, Christians don’t want to empty themselves. We’re not trying to peel off all the layers of that onion we call our soul in the hope that we’ll find a great surprise. Biblical mediation is about emptying ourselves of what is false in order to fill ourselves with what is true. Once again, we empty ourselves of what is false to fill ourselves with what is true.

And so whenever we brood, we take our problems and our choices and our fears and our insecurities and we turn them over and over in our minds in the clear light of Scripture, consciously aware that the Divine Physician is doing surgery. To say that mediation is biblical is to say that it’s Christ-centered. Having our hearts conform to the heart of Jesus – that is the goal. We empty our mind of what is false and we fill it with what is true. Why? Because before we can love God with our whole heart, we first have to love Him with our whole mind. In other words, in order to brood we need to use the old noggin.

Meditation is Affective

Second, meditation is affective – that’s affective with an “a.” Of course Christian mediation is also effective. I wouldn’t teach an ineffective form of prayer. But Christian mediation is also affective. The word affective has to do with the affections of our heart – with the things we set our hearts on because we think that they’ll make us whole. And so a good working definition of affections are “root motivations.” Our affections are what drive us. They’re our root motivations. Our affections are the people or the things that our heart most loves. Our affections are what we build our lives on. They’re our foundation.

Now, God designed us to set our affections on Him and to the extent that they are we experience life, peace and joy. But do we always set our affections on God? No. Far too often our affections are set on relationships and prestige and money and status and image and our body and the bodies of other people and on a million other things. In fact, a great definition of sin is “misplaced affections.” To say that meditation is affective is to say that its purpose is to bring our affections into the light. To say that meditation is affective is to say that it deals with the root motivations of our heart. Remember, prayer’s primary purpose is to change us. But if God’s going to change us He has to go to the root. And that’s what I mean when I say that meditation is affective – it goes all the way to the root.

(3) How do we meditate?

I’m going to answer this question by getting personal and telling you about my own prayer life, but first I want to read a passage from Colossians. I think it perfectly sums up what’s been said so far.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). (Col 3:1-5)

Why do we meditate? Because we’ve been raised with Christ. Yes there is a future resurrection, but at the same time the Gospel says we’ve already been raised, at least metaphorically. In God’s eyes we are perfect. Jesus’ goodness is our goodness and we’ve been raised to where Jesus is – the right hand of God. And so what should we do? Set our mind on the right things – on things that “are above” as Paul says. Biblical things – things about who God is and what God’s done. Why? Because as Paul says, “our life is hidden with Christ in God.” In other words, you’ll never find yourself until you find God because your life is hidden in Him. If we want to find our self we have to set our mind on God. What does that mean? “Putting to death whatever in us that is earthly.” In other words, it means bringing our misguided affections and our self-centered root motivations into the light – that’s what Paul means by fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed. All those things are nothing more than a bunch of misguided affections.

And so how do we meditate – how does God change our misguided affections? We set our minds on things that are above and ask God for new affections. But if we’re going to do that, we have to learn to read the Bible differently. Rather than asking questions of the Bible we have to brood and let the Bible ask questions of us.

For example, in Bible study we may come across Romans 8:1, which reads “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and perhaps we start asking questions. What does it mean that I’m not condemned? And what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus” for that matter – to have faith in Him? To go to church? And what about people not “in Christ” – are they condemned and if so why? Now, asking tough questions, this is good and holy and valuable work. We’ll never grow without asking questions like this. But, God’s Word is living and active and reading the Bible in a one-sided way, picking it apart, will only take us so far. We have to let the Bible ask us questions. We have to let the Bible pick us apart.

Now, there are a million ways to let the Bible speak to us but I’ll give you my method. I try and spend at least one hour praying each morning. I’ve got about a 75% success rate. And for the majority of that hour I brood on Scripture, and there are certain questions I let God ask me. And so what I’m going to do is give you those three questions, read the passage I meditated on the day I wrote this teaching, and then I’ll tell you my answers.

First, the three questions I let God ask me.

1. How does this passage reveal my lack of affection for Christ or my inordinate affection for something else?
2. What bad emotions govern my life when I fail to live into the Gospel being portrayed?
3. How can I begin to live into the change that God is already bringing about in my heart?

Acts 3: 1-10

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

1. How does this passage reveal my lack of affection for Christ or my inordinate affection for something else?

I could give many examples but I’ll limit myself to one. Peter and John took the time to stop and look intently at this man that God brought before them. More often than not, I don’t. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a beggar, a friend, a student or a stranger. You see like Peter and John I’m always going to the Temple – it’s what I do for a living. But at times I take my work so seriously that I love the work more than the God who called me into it. I love being obedient to my calendar more than I love being obedient to God – a God who is always asking us to stop, to look intently at others, and to share the Gospel with them in word and deed. This is clearly a misplaced affection on my part – being more committed to my schedule, to “going to the Temple,” than to God.

2. What bad emotions govern my life when I fail to live into the Gospel being portrayed?

I miss the miracle. I miss the joy of seeing God’s healing power and settle for a small, self-absorbed life. And because of that I feel contempt for the people I perceive to be beggars. Rather than seeing interruptions as God’s gifts I see them as distractions. And so whenever I’m interrupted and my schedule gets thrown off I get self-righteous and angry and anxious – all of which are sure signs that my “root motivations” are in the wrong place.

3. How can I begin to live into the change that God is already bringing about in my heart?

I felt God asking me to do a few things. First, I made a list of all the “beggars” I overlooked the previous day and I prayed for each of them by name. And in doing so I experienced a strong desire to see each one of them again. Second, I made a list of all the people in the last week that have stopped, looked intently at me, and have gone out of their way to help me. And this list was much longer than the first one. I thanked God for each one of them and was humbled to discover that I’m a lot more like the beggar than I am like Peter and John. Third, I remembered the Gospel – that Jesus could have overlooked me; that He very well could have passed me by, but that He didn’t. And I praised God for saving me and I recommitted my life to Him.

Now, we’ve got to stop but let me end by saying this. Mediation is like brooding. Not a lot seems to happen when a mother hen sits on her eggs. But in reality, something crucial is happening beneath the surface. Her brooding is bringing about new life. Something new and beautiful is about to hatch.

And that’s the best image I can give you for how God changes our hearts. It’s a long, drawn out process. It happens slowly and over time. But if a hen doesn’t brood, her eggs will never hatch. And so remember that the spiritual process of brooding – thinking about Scripture, turning it over in our heads, allowing it transform us from the inside out – is a process of breeding. Does prayer change things? Of course. But the first thing to change is always us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

living wisely

Luke 16: 1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

In the last few months I’ve become addicted to Monopoly, which is a really cool way to spend your time when you’re 29 years old. Monopoly is a game of acquisition. Accumulation is the name of the game, which ends when one person acquires everything. And I’m serious when I say that Monopoly is addictive – taking someone’s last dollar, watching him quit in utter despair; it’s great. But it’s addictive – it’s so easy to get lost in the game. Yes, the money is paper. The property is cardboard. You are a plastic hat. But when you’re in the game it just feels so real. You lose touch with reality. You convince yourself that everything belongs to you – that your stuff is your stuff and that someone else’s stuff needs to become your stuff. And so you spend. Acquire. Hoard. Trade. You wheel and Deal. Build a Kingdom. Make a name. Round and round the board you go – conquering and counting. It all feels so good – until the game ends because then so does the illusion. And everything goes back in the box.

Now on the surface tonight’s parable from Luke is strange but Jesus’ point is actually pretty straightforward. “In light of my arrival on earth and what I’m here to do,” He says, “think twice about losing yourself in the world’s game of acquisition. The money you hoard – its paper. The property you acquire – compared to the true riches, its cardboard. Your stuff,” He says, “is not your stuff. You’re just managing what belongs to God. And so don’t waste your life going around the board without stopping to think about what’s important. Because sooner or later the game’s going to end and everything goes back in the box.” Now that being said, let’s take a look at this four-part parable.

Part I – “a rich man had a manager.” Jesus’ audience would have known from the beginning that this parable is about God and humanity. God is the rich man. We are the managers. Now, if you need convincing just think about how the Bible begins. God creates a perfect world and puts Adam and Eve in charge as managers. In the words of Psalm 8, “You’ve given humanity dominion over the works of your hands; you’ve put all things under their feet.” In other words, first God creates a perfect world and then He creates us for a purpose – to manage His stuff. To love His stuff. To care for His stuff. To find joy in our work as managers.

Part II – the rich man discovers that the manager isn’t doing that great of a job. Now, I doubt you need convincing that we humanoids haven’t been faithful in managing God’s stuff. We spend. Acquire. Hoard. Trade. We wheel and deal. We make our lives comfortable and think very little at how others are put out. And God knows we conquer – nations conquer nations and people conquer people – physically and psychologically. At some point the human race fell – we got lost in the game. We stopped being managers and went into business for ourselves on the false premise that everything belongs to us – that my stuff is my stuff and that success is about your stuff becoming my stuff. Part II is about the manager’s rebellion against the true owner.

Part III – this is the crisis. The rich man confronts the dishonest manager and demands an account. Now, remember – the rich man in the parable is God. And so we need to see how radical this parable is coming from the mouth of Jesus. “In me,” Jesus says, “through me, God is back and He demands an account. The jig is up. That stuff isn’t your stuff; it’s my stuff – what have you done with it?” In other words, in the person of Jesus Christ God has returned; and He demands an account for how we’ve managed his stuff.

Finally, Part IV – the manager is forced to decide; the rich man’s return demands a decision. And as I read the parable what the manager does in reducing the bill is repent – he changes his ways. Commentators point out that in reducing his master’s bill, the manager is actually cutting the interest that he had charged on something that wasn’t even his, which according to Jewish law was prohibited. “Look,” he says, “I know I gave you a bill for a hundred bags of wheat even though you only borrowed eighty. But – it’d be wrong to take twenty bags for myself. After all, that wheat wasn’t mine – it belongs to my master. I shouldn’t have run up the bill.” And so that is why Jesus praises the dishonest manager. In light of his master’s return he acts wisely – he repents and repairs the damage.

Now, that’s the parable – what’s the lesson? Well, Jesus says two things that demand our attention. First, “the children of this age are a lot more shrewd than the children of light.” In other words, when people in our world cheat or act dishonestly and it becomes clear to them that they’re going to get caught – that their master, whoever that is, is coming and that he demands an account; they’re not just going to sit there. They’ll do something. They’ll apologize or make amends or change their ways. But they’re going to do something. The point Jesus is making is this. “God created you to be managers, you’ve acted dishonestly, and guess what – you’ve been caught. The Master knows everything and in Me, right now, He’s here to confront you. Do something! Wake up! Repent! Start playing the game with integrity!”

Second, Jesus explains that repentance means living faithfully now. “If you haven’t been faithful with dishonest wealth,” he says, “can you really be trusted to handle real wealth?” In other words, “Compared to the true riches of the Kingdom of God what you’ve been asked to manage now is paper and cardboard. And so don’t build a life around paper and cardboard. If you can’t be trusted with the little God’s given you, how can you ever be trusted with an inheritance of your own?” And so notice – eternity isn’t just clouds and harps! We were made to be managers. Each of us will have a huge part to play in the Kingdom of God. We’ll be entrusted with true riches. But, there does seem to be an organic connection between who we are in this life and how fit we are to take our place in the next one. And so as you go out into the world this week, please remember – your stuff isn’t your stuff. It’s Gods. We can’t keep it. One day we’re going to die, the game is going to end, and we will be put in a box.

And so make a decision. Decide for yourselves what it means to be faithful with what God’s entrusted to you – with what you have been given to manage. In a couple of years you’ll be making some money. Do not keep it all for yourselves. God’s bottom line isn’t the same as Wall Street’s. In a similar way, each one of us gets 168 hours a week. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s your time. No, time is a gift. It belongs to God. Share some of the time you’ve been given with other people, especially the needy, and share an even bigger chunk of that time with God. Some of you are really intelligent, and because of that really powerful. A strong intellect can be used to build up and encourage, or to intimidate people and make you feel superior. What will we do with the stuff God’s given us? Either way, we’ll have to give an account.

Now, like most parables there’s always a twist. In the context of Luke’s Gospel Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he’ll die on a cross for the sins of the world. Here’s the irony. We humans weren’t just entrusted with God’s stuff. We were entrusted with God. You see in the person of Jesus Christ God became human; He became vulnerable and allowed himself to be mismanaged by his own image-bearers. Our primary sin is not that we squandered God’s property. Our primary sin is that God became human in Jesus Christ and we squandered God. On the cross He was conquered and counted as nothing. I mean, think about that. We killed God and put Him in a box!

The good news of the Christian Gospel is that box couldn’t hold him. Jesus was raised from the dead, and because of that all things are His. As Paul says in Colossians, “all things have been created through him and for him.” Everything belongs to Jesus. Our money. Our time. Our body. Our intellect. What are we going to do with that stuff? Either way, we’ll have to give an account. We can spend, acquire, hoard, trade, wheel and deal, and make our life about acquiring paper. Or, we can live wisely. We can build our lives around things that matter. We start preparing now for that future promotion and become people capable of handling the true riches.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Simple prayer (beginning right where we are) -- OMEGA

The secret to praying well is to know that God is ___ (praiseworthy). As Christians we pray in Jesus’ name because He’s our great High ___ (priest). Well done. Now that we’ve looked at why we pray and how we pray we can turn our attention to what we pray, or perhaps to be more accurate, where we start. And I’d like to begin talk with a quote by Richard Foster.

“Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (Prayer, pg. 7)

That’s a pretty radical thing to say – that God longs for our presence. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Doesn’t Psalm 42 say, “As the deep longs for the water brooks so my soul longs for you, O God?” And of course the answer is yes. The author of Psalm 42 understands that we all long for the living water that only God can give, even if we search for that water in empty wells, like achievement and sex and recognition and money and power and reputation. In fact, I’d say that behind every sin is a longing for God. Augustine long ago noted, “our souls are restless O Lord until they rest in thee.” But, according to Foster and according to the Bible, God also longs for us. His soul is restless until we rest in Him.

And because God longs for us, prayer is an invitation – an invitation by God to come back home. Like the prodigal son we’ve left home and made a mess of our lives but our Father is good and He invites us back to the feast. And that’s why prayer, above all else, is an ongoing intimate love relationship. It’s about learning to long for God and about knowing that He longs for us. And so to be effective pray-ers, we need to learn how to love. Real prayer isn’t about rolling up our sleeves and just resolving to do it. Real prayer is about falling in love.

But where do we begin? Everyone’s got their theory, their technique, their approach to prayer. And so where are we supposed to begin?

Well, a lot of us never learn to pray because we think we have to get our lives in order before we can start praying – that having it all together is a prerequisite to prayer. In other words, first we fine-tune our lives or learn the different prayer techniques or kick our addictive behavior and then we can start to pray. But that’s wrong.

You see prayer isn’t like calculus or physics and it’s not something we master. It’s something that masters us. When it comes to prayer we’ll never be competent and we’ll never be in control. After all, we’re children and children aren’t in control of anything.

The truth is that in prayer each one of us brings mixed motives to God. We’re full of love and anger, goodness and selfishness, good motives and bad. And I know this may come as a surprise, but it’s not our job to sort all that out. In fact God forbids us to even try because (1) we’re not smart enough and because (2) God’s big enough and gracious enough to take us as we are. We don’t have to be smart or pure or full of faith to pray. That’s why there’s something called grace. And as Christians we’re not just saved by grace. We live by grace and we pray by grace.

And so once again, where do we begin? Well, all prayer begins with the most basic and primary form of prayer there is, which is often called “simple prayer.” Simple prayer is about bringing ourselves before God “as is” – our wants, our desires, our fears, our frustrations. Like a child sitting on Santa’s lap we open our hearts and tell God what we’re feeling. We make known our requests. Without pretension or forethought we simply share our concerns.

We pray for good weather. For help with our test. If we’re lonely we pray for friends. We tell God how frustrated we are with our roommate and how excited we are about our date Friday night. In a very real sense, we are the focus of simple prayer – our needs, our wants, our concerns. Simple prayer is mostly about us.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “that sounds selfish. I thought Christianity was about losing our lives for others – not about treating God like Santa Claus.” And of course you’re right. There’s no doubt a lot of pride and vanity and egocentricity that comes with simple prayer, but I want to ask you this. What alternative do we have?

Just for fun, suppose we try filtering our prayers. Let’s say we work really hard to sort out what’s worth bringing to God and what’s not. Let me ask you this. Does a child do that? And if we do take matters into our own hands and try filtering out what’s worth bringing to God and what’s not, do we really believe in grace? And on top of that, do we really think God doesn’t know what we’re up to, and could God really be pleased that we find Him so unapproachable and that our coming before Him has to be so planned?

To filter our prayers; to only pray about those things we think God wants to hear; to pray for world peace when all we care about is our toothache; this doesn’t come from a high view of God. It comes from a low view of God. It’s fake humility. You see God is perfectly capable of handling our anger and frustration and disappointment and selfishness. As C.S. Lewis once noted, prayer is about laying before God what is actually in our heart. Not what we think ought to be in our heart. Simple prayer, if nothing else, is honest. And that’s why we have to begin with simple prayer. Because prayer is about falling in love, it’s about a growing into a personal relationship. And without honesty a relationship isn’t possible.

Now of course God wants his children to grow up. It’s really cute when a three-year-old girl asks her dad for a pony but it’s really weird when a 33-year-old woman asks her dad for a pony. And so yes – as we grow in grace we’ll move beyond simple prayer. That being said, the only way to move beyond simple prayer is to go through simple prayer, not make a detour around it. We’re born into this world as infants, and we’re born again into God’s world as infants. And even as we grow up, we’ll never leave simple prayer behind completely because genuine prayer is about conversing with God about the real condition of our heart.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that simple prayer is the most common form of prayer in the Bible. For example, consider Moses’ prayer to God when the Israelites rebel in the wilderness. Here’s a paraphrase of Numbers 11. “God, why’d you burden me with these losers? Did I give birth to them? Then why are you asking me to lug them around like a mother nursing her baby?” The Bible describes Moses as the most humble man that ever lived and yet here he is laying before God his anger, his sarcasm, and his frustration. That’s simple prayer. Another example. The prophet Elisha goes bald and some kids make fun of him. As II Kings tells us, Elisha prays for bears to come eat them. That’s simple prayer. The author of Psalm 137 finds himself taunted by his Babylonian captors. How does he respond? By praying for the death of their children. That’s simple prayer – bringing to God what’s actually in us, even if it’s ugly. Not what we think ought to be in us.

Now with that in mind let’s look at Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6 & 7 (selected verses)

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Your Father knows what you need before you even ask Him. Therefore Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

There’s a lot of wisdom here for getting started with prayer. First, don’t be a hypocrite, a word meaning “play-actor.” In other words, don’t act or put on a show. Don’t ask God for world peace when all you care about is your tooth. Second, don’t pray to be seen. If prayer is our tool for becoming more popular and admired by others then it isn’t prayer. Third, God knows what we need before we even ask Him. That’s encouraging. No one’s more in tune with our wants and needs than God. Fourth, God tells us to ask anyway. Yes He knows but God wants to be asked. Fifth, even though we’re evil God is still good and God’s desire is to give his children good things.

Now you might be wondering. If God already knows our needs before we ask then why on earth do we have to ask? In other words, why doesn’t God just give us what we need? Well, it goes back to our first “p” from two weeks ago. The God we pray to is personal and petition, or asking, is at the heart of all personal relationships. At the heart of prayer is “the request” – addressing God as our Father and asking Him to do something for us. And of course the request works both ways – as prayer becomes more natural we’ll learn to hear God when He’s asking us to do something for Him, and He will. But the God we pray to is personal, and because of that God wants to be asked.

And so back to our question – when it comes to prayer where do we begin? The answer is simple – we begin right where we are. We speak to God about what concerns us – our families, our classes, our friends, our dreams, our disappointments. I know it sounds trivial but this is the most profound truth you’ll ever hear about God. We worship a God that freely chooses to enter our world, our reality. And so if your reality right now is a toothache – that’s the only reality God wants to enter.

Do you remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? Moses is going about his daily life as a shepherd in Midian and God comes to Moses and says, “Moses, take off your shoes.” God wants Moses to know that the world he inhabits is holy. The scandal of Christianity is that God enters our world and that as we go about our life burning bushes are everywhere. Think about it. When God entered our world He chose a small, smelly stable. His mom was an unwed teenage girl and the first people to admire him was a group of shady shepherds. And so don’t think that your life is too ordinary for God or that He’s just not interested in you. That’s not being humble. From God’s perspective, it’s just being rude.

And so when it comes to prayer, God wants us to begin right where we are – with simple prayer. And so for those of you eager to get started I’ll leave you with four pieces of advice.

1. Remember that prayer is first and foremost an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And because of that no one has any advantage. The bruised and the broken can enter simple prayer just as freely as the wealthy and the wise. The only thing we need to get started is desire.

2. When you begin to take prayer seriously don’t get discouraged by how bad you are, or at how difficult you find prayer to be. Our hunger for God is actually where prayer begins. In other words, wanting to pray is the beginning of prayer. The very desire to pray is a gift of the Spirit and in time our desire will lead to practice and that practice will then increase our desire. And so don’t get discouraged.

3. Don’t try praying too hard. There is a natural progression in the spiritual life. We don’t take occasion joggers and expect them to run a marathon. In the same way we don’t take spiritual children and expect them to pray for hours at a time. In other words, don’t be spiritually greedy. If prayer isn’t a fixed habit for you instead of starting with 30 minutes a day start with 3. Pour all your energy into those three minutes and then tell God you need a break. Trust me, He’ll understand.

4. Learn to pray even when you’re sinning. If you struggle with anger or lust or greed or ambition don’t isolate these things from your prayer life or take a break from prayer until you beat them. Instead, talk to God about them. It warms God’s heart that we trust Him enough to bring our mess to Him in prayer. And so pray, even as you sin.

If we’re going to learn to pray we have to start where we are. At first, we will be the center and the subject of our prayers. But then in God’s time and in God’s way our hearts will begin to change. We’ll stop thinking of God as a part of our life because we’ll come to see that we are a part of His.

“The heart of God is an open wound of love.” As the deep longs for the water brooks so God’s soul longs for us. We don’t have to clean up before we go back home. We just need to go back home and trust God to clean us up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I am the Worst

"Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother's womb." – Psalm 51

"I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." – 1 Tim

"All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." – Luke 15

The following is written on the wall of the Epoch Coffee House men’s room. “Sailors shouldn’t go to church. They should go to Hell where it’s much more comfortable.” Apparently Anonymous – the guy’s name that wrote it – doesn’t think the church does a good job of welcoming certain people in our society. The church, he assumes, is for good people, the best people. But if you’re a sailor or a sinner – well, you can just go to Hell. It’s a whole lot better than going to church.

I just read an online article entitled, “Reasons Why People Quit Church.” At the top of the list was a sense, a feeling of not being good enough. According to the article, “The feeling of … judgment lies heavy upon churchgoers. If God ever needs help on judgment day, He need not go any further than the nearest church.” In other words, Pharisees and Scribes are still found in our pews grumbling. And so here’s my question. Who’s the church for? Good people? The best people? Or, is tonight’s Gospel true – is there more joy in heaven when the worst sinner repents than over ninety-nine people who know they’re the best? Who belongs in church? People who think they’re the worst? Or, people who think they’re the best? My answer may sound a little strange. People who know that they’re both.

In tonight’s epistle Paul says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. But then he adds something amazing. “Of whom I am the foremost,” a word that really means worst or chief. When it comes to sin, “I am the worst!” Paul says. “I am the chief sinner!” You may be thinking, “isn’t Paul exaggerating just to make a point?” Well, by reading his letters, you know that he isn’t. In 1 Corinthians he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” In Ephesians 3 he calls himself “the very least of the saints.” And notice, Paul doesn’t say I was the foremost sinner. He says I am the chief sinner. Paul is the worst. Just ask him.

Now, the devil’s advocate in you might start to wonder – is this attitude healthy? “Lighten up, Paul. You’re obviously a perfectionist. Go to therapy.” If we think we’re the worst, won’t that lead to low self-esteem? “I can’t be the worst. I thought Hitler was the worst. I’m the worst? I’m not the worst.”

In high school I was really moved by the movie American History X. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a young neo-Nazi that goes to jail for murder but then has a profound change of heart. But the movie forces you to ask an interesting question – what if I was a raised in a Neo-Nazi family and had Neo-Nazi fiends? Would I be a neo-Nazi? What if I was born in a different country? Would I be a Christian? What if I was born in Paul’s shoes? Would I persecute Christians? Is Paul the only chief sinner? Or, if circumstances were different – could that have been me?

Well, Paul uses this great word to describe himself. He calls himself a man of violence – but the Greek word is hybristes, which means deep-seated spiritual pride. It’s also the root of a word we commonly use – hubris. In other words, Paul says that behind all the violence was this hybristes in his heart – this deep spiritual pride that made him the monster that he was. And according to Jesus, we all have that same hybristes. Each one of our hearts is infected with pride. And so with that in mind, is it possible that we are the worst? Can we claim the title chief sinner?

Well, I can only answer that question for myself, but as a preacher, I am going to point out what our readings say. Psalm 51 says, “I have been wicked from my birth.” This psalm is attributed to David, who was a thief, adulterer, liar and murderer. In other words, this psalm is David’s way of saying, “I am the worst.” In tonight’s Gospel Luke holds the tax collectors up as the heroes. Why? Tax collectors know they are the worst. And I think I’ve covered where Paul stands on the issue. Each one of tonight’s readings has the exact same perspective. “I am the worst.”

Now, I don’t want you to leave here tonight with low self-esteem; there’s a second piece to this puzzle. If we understand the Gospel, knowing we’re the worst will lead us to the good news that in Christ we are the best. Think about this. Paul should have had low self-esteem. Paul killed Christians. I mean, think about this – the 1st century church was small. I imagine at some point Paul ran into Stephen’s mom and was like, “hey, how’s Stephen – haven’t seen him at church,” and then there was an awkward silence because Paul was like, “oh, yea – I stoned him.” Now, I’m kind of joking but think about this. For the rest of Paul’s life he had to work with people whose son, whose brother, whose friend, whose mother he had killed. Why didn’t Paul wrestle with low self-esteem? How did he deal with his conscience?

Well, here’s what Paul says about that. “Because I am the worst I’m the best.” Because I am chief sinner I’m the perfect example for those who believe. In other words, Paul wants his life to be the lens through which we see our own. Because I am the worst, he says, I am the best possible vessel for God’s patience, God’s love, God’s mercy. And of course in tonight’s Gospel what Jesus says is even more shocking. “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance.” How did Paul deal with low self-esteem? Paul knew in his bones the one thing we too often forget. The Gospel isn’t about us. It’s about God. And because of who God is, God delights in taking the worst and in Christ declaring them the best.

Here’s what I’m trying to say. If you know you’re the worst but don’t quite get that Christ makes you the best – if you’re in constant pain because, spiritually speaking, you don’t measure up – I want you to consider carefully that you may be either proud or ignorant. Perhaps you’re proud – more focused on what you do than on what God did for you. Or you may just be ignorant of the Gospel – the Gospel that says salvation is a gift received through faith; not a right earned through works.

On the other hand, maybe what Paul said doesn’t resonate at all. “I’m not the chief sinner. Yea, I mess up – but the worst? C’mon.” Here’s what I’d say about that. If we don’t think we’re capable of doing what Paul did if the circumstances were different; we’re not just proud and ignorant – we’re naïve and dangerous. There’s only one difference between a Pharisees and a tax collector. One of them knows they’re the worst. You see the irony of Jesus’ parable is that there’s no such thing as a righteous person that doesn’t need to repent! Not knowing we’re the worst will make us Pharisees and Scribes – self-righteous grumblers who look around and see people worse than us. The same hybristes that was in Paul’s heart can be found in our heart, too.

Now, I know this all sounds strange, but God wants us to be humble – to see all people as our equal. But practically speaking, there’s only one way to live life not looking down on people – we have to take our place at the bottom. We have to be willing to name ourselves as the Chief sinner. Nothing will make us more humble than knowing we’re the worst.

But on the other hand, God also wants us to be bold, secure, and joyful. We need to know that we are the best – the Christ stooped down, brought us out of the miry clay, washed us through and through, and placed us in His Father’s presence. And nothing will empower us more than knowing that Jesus has made us the best. We’ll still be humble. But at the same, no one will intimidate us. We who stand in the presence of the King will learn not to cower in the presence of the surfs. You see there’s a strange blend of humility and confidence that only the Gospel can produce. But humility without confidence is shyness, and confidence without humility – that’s just being an arrogant jerk. You and I are the worst. We need to know that. But it’s for that very reason that Christ makes us the best.

In II Corinthians Paul writes the following. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ was the best. He lived a perfect life. No one was less deserving of Jesus’ death than Him, and yet Paul says God made him to be sin. In other words, in Christ God took the absolute best and reduced him to the absolute worst. Why? So that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So that in Him we – the absolute worst – might be transformed into the absolute best. That’s what the Gospel is. Jesus the Best becoming the worst, so that we – the worst – might become the best in Him. “To the King of Ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Priestly prayer (in Jesus’ name) -- OMEGA

Last week we discovered the secret of praying well – knowing that the God we pray to is ___ (praiseworthy). That’s right, in Jesus God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He’s adopted us into His family, called us His children, and because of that we can call Him Father. Because of Who God is and because of what God’s done, the God we pray to is praiseworthy.

If last week was about why we pray, this week is about how we pray – which the Bible sums up with the words “in Jesus’ name.” And so what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?

Well let me begin by saying that as fallen humans who “miss the mark” with respect to what God requires of us we’re in quite the predicament. God is holy. God is righteous. But you and I, if left to ourselves, are not holy and we’re definitely not righteous. The prophet Habakkuk says that God’s eyes are too pure to even look at evil. But if that’s true how are we supposed to pray, you know, if God can’t even look at us? That’s our predicament.

The Bible’s solution to our predicament is the priest. Now before I go any further I want to be clear – I’m not talking about myself or any other denominational priest. You don’t need me to bridge the gap between you and God. I’m just as flawed as you are – if not more. But, you still need a priest. And so to understand what praying in Jesus’ name means there are two questions we need to answer.

Who is our priest?
What does that mean for our prayer life?

Now we need to brush up really quickly on what a priest does. Does anyone know what a priest does? If you say play ping-pong and eat at New World Deli I’ll be forced to quit my job. In the Old Testament a priest does two things. First, a priest acts as a bridge between humanity and God. A priest stands in the presence of God and serves as a bridge. In the Old Testament people wanting to pray really only had one option. They’d have to find a priest – someone to offer a sacrifice to bridge the gap between themselves and God.

Second, a priest is deeply sympathetic to the needy, the poor, and the broken. Old Testament priests functioned as public health officers. It was their job to work with the lepers and the lame and the overlooked. And so being a priest is a two-fold job. It’s about standing before God as a bridge and about being deeply, deeply sympathetic to all people.

With that in mind, we now hear the story of the first priest and the first prayer that’s recorded in the Bible.

Bible reading: Genesis 18: 17-33

Then the men set out from there, and they looked towards Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him. Then the Lord said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’ So the men turned from there, and went towards Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’ Abraham answered, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ Again he spoke to him, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will not do it.’ Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.’ Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Now let’s be honest – this is a really strange story. God and Abraham’s conversation doesn’t sound like a prayer. It sounds like someone haggling a street vendor to get a good deal on a fake Rolex. But what I want you to see is that Abraham isn’t just praying. Abraham is taking on the role of a priest. You see God invites Abraham to stand before Him – to enter His presence and to serve as Sodom’s attorney. God invites Abraham to plead on behalf of the city.

It’s actually amazing what God says – “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” And then God says, “no.” “I think I’ll invite Abraham to weigh in.” And then Genesis says that Abraham “came near,” which in the Hebrew is a legal term that basically means, “to approach the bench.” And so this really is an amazing scene – the people of Sodom are on trial for oppressing the poor and God invites Abraham to be their defense attorney, to stand in His presence and to plead on their behalf.

Now at this point there’s something we need to look at, something we’ll miss if we read this story through the lens of our individualistic culture. Abraham knows the people of Sodom are guilty and he knows that God would be just to punish the entire city. Let me explain.

We live in an individualistic culture – a culture that says my sin is my sin and that your sin is your sin. And so if John Doe kills his wife, then he alone will be tried for murder and he alone will be punished – not his father that abused him as a child, not his wife who cheated on him, not the vendor that sold him the gun, not the Hollywood execs making “action” movies because they know that violence sells. Only John Doe will be punished, and in a human court that’s probably for the best. But, the Bible’s view of sin and guilt is a bit more balanced. The Biblical view leans a bit toward corporate responsibility. When it comes to our sin, the Bible challenges our individualistic leanings. Whereas we like to say, “just you – you’re responsible and no one else,” God often says, “no, you’re all responsible. I’d be right in punishing all of you.”

And so whereas our culture blames John Doe for murder, God knows that sin is a bit more complicated than that – that we’re interdependent people and that we’re complicit in each other’s sins. Does God hold John Doe responsible? Yea. But God also knows that his father, his wife, the vendor, the people working at the factory, the execs making the movie and the people paying $8 to watch it also have a role in killing his wife. And so who’s responsible for the outcry against Sodom? The entire city. God would be right to punish them all.

And so when Abraham says, “will the judge of the earth not do what is right?” he’s not suggesting that God would be unjust to destroy Sodom. No Abraham assumes God’s justice. But what Abraham is wondering is this – “Could it work the other way around?” Could God value the righteousness of the few so much that he’s willing to spare the unrighteous many? If I can be judged for the sins of someone else, could I also be let off the hook for the righteousness of someone else? Could it work the other way around? If people with whom I am in solidarity sin and I can be judged for that, what if I’m in solidarity with someone who is righteous – could that cover my sin? You see in asking God to spare the city for the sake of the fifty, the forty, the twenty, and the ten, what Abraham is asking God to do is to so honor the righteousness of the few that he forgives the unrighteousness of the many.

But here’s what’s so amazing. Abraham – the first priest that prays the very first prayer – quits at ten. This reading is like a play that’s missing the final scene – build up, build up, build up … but then the show just ends. 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 … we’re almost there. The reader waits for God to spare the city if one righteousness man is found but Abraham loses his nerve, doesn’t ask, and goes home.

Now I’m not sure why Abraham did that. He probably just lost his nerve. He’s clearly getting more terrified with each request. But, I don’t think that’s the reason. I think Abraham knows that there isn’t even one righteous person in Sodom. Like him, they’re nothing more than, to use his own words, “dust and ashes.”

But, Abraham was clearly on to something. He came to see that the God in whose presence he stood valued righteousness so much that if only one righteous man could be found that his righteousness could cover the unrighteousness of the many.

And so here’s the million-dollar question. Where can we find such a righteous one? Because when we find the righteous one we’ll find our priest.

John 17 (selected verses)

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. I am asking on their behalf; Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.

This is a portion of Jesus’ prayer the night before he dies. Scholars call it the “high priestly prayer.” Why? Because in John 17 Jesus approaches the bench and He pleads for his people. What Abraham was on the verge of discovering – that the righteousness of one could forgive the unrighteousness of the many – Jesus executes. You see Jesus knew that he alone was the true high priest – the righteous one whose mission was to bridge the gap between God and humanity, not by offering a sacrifice but by becoming one. Do you see what Jesus us saying? “Righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you but I do and I ask that you would value my righteousness so much that their unrighteousness would be forgiven.” In John 17 Jesus approached the bench and He stands there to this very day.

And so who is our priest? The answer is obviously Jesus. That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name – to trust Him as our priest before God. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “Jesus saves those who approach God through Him for he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest – holy, blameless and undefiled” (Heb 7: 25-26). Do you understand how radical this is? Next week we’ll talk about us praying to God. But this week I wanted us to understand that God lives to pray for us. Jesus “lives to make intercession for us.” Jesus is always in the presence of God pleading on our behalf. And because He is the righteous one God never turns Him down.

So let’s get practical – what does that mean for our prayer life? Revelation 1:6 puts it like this: “to Jesus who loves us and freed us from our sins … and made us to be … priests serving his God and Father.” Peter, writing to his flock, reminds them that they are a “royal priesthood.” The author of Hebrews urges believers to “boldly approach the throne of grace,” which by now we should recognize as priestly language. If Jesus is our priest that means that we are priests, too. The work of prayer is the work of a priest. And let’s not forget what priests do.

1. A priest stands in the presence of God, has intimacy with God and speaks freely with God.
2. A priest feels great sympathy for the broken and the needy and because of that a priests wants to help.

Practically speaking, as we learn to pray both of these priestly tasks will become second nature to us. First, we’ll learn to live in the presence of God and to speak freely with God the way a young child speaks to His Father. And if you want a sign that measures how well we’re doing this, this is what I’d say. We’ll grow in both boldness and humility. In the world it’s either one or the other but God wants us to be both. He wants us to be humble, because like Abraham we’re still “dust and ashes.” In and of ourselves we’re not righteous. But God also wants us to be bold. Why? Because the Righteous One has bridged the gap. He speaks out on our behalf and He invites us to boldly approach the throne of grace right, to stand right where He is. And so as we learn to pray two things will happen. We’ll (1) look down on no one but at the same time (2) no one will intimidate us. We’ll discover the paradoxical blend of humility and boldness that only the Gospel can bring about.

Second, as we learn to pray our desire to help the broken and the needy will go up. And I don’t necessarily mean the person in the shelter – of course they’re included. I mean the broken and the needy people we interact with day in and day out. Prayer gives us new eyes. The person we once saw as a satanic devil we come to see as a wounded child, someone who’s been hurt time and time again, someone whose learned to bite back just in order to survive. It’s the only way they know how to stay safe. The person on trial for murder? His spirit was murdered long before he pulled the trigger. Prayer helps us see that there is only One who is righteous, and because we come to see it isn’t us, our anger will turn to sympathy.

To pray in Jesus’ name is to trust Him as our priest and if we do that He’ll make us priests as well. Why is this so important? Because we will never pray to God until we understand that, in Christ, God lives to pray for us.

Monday, September 6, 2010

counting the cost

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

When I moved back to Austin in May of 2008 I bought a house. If you don’t know me, I’m not really a “handyman” so to speak. On mission trips that involve building and nailing and sawing I’m always the supervisor. I don’t know the difference between a buzz saw and a jigsaw. When it comes to skilled labor I am completely unskilled. But it took trying to fix things myself to figure this out and I’ll tell you who the culprit is – Home Depot. Home Depot has this heinous slogan. “You can do it. We can help.” I can do it? If by that Home Depot means electrocute yourself, destroy hard wood floors, rip un-repairable holes in your wall and buy things you can’t assemble than yes – I can do it. Home Depot gave me a false sense of confidence. They told me I was competent, that I could do it – that all I needed was a little help. “You can do it. We can help!”

Far too often we take a Home Depot approach to Christianity. We make faith about pursuing our own agenda and look to Jesus for help when things don’t go our way. But if we think Jesus came to help us with our lives we’re mistaken. For the last 2,000 years Christians have confessed Jesus as their Lord – not as their assistant. In tonight’s Gospel Jesus is clear. He’s not here to help with our life – he’s here to take it. To follow Jesus is to make everything in our lives second to Him – our family, our agenda, our possessions. Jesus loves us too much to settle for a piece of our lives. He wants the whole thing.

Now, just to be clear, Jesus doesn’t want us to hate our family. In fact, let me read the last verse of the entire Old Testament, which is a Messianic prophecy. “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.” In other words, Malachi says the Messiah will restore family relationships. But, the great irony is that we can only love our family to the extent that we learn to love God more. The Greek word translated hate has nothing to do with our emotions. No, Jesus is using hyperbole. His word is meant to be an arrow that pierces our heart and makes us ask, “Where’s my ultimate loyalty? Is it to my family? To my agenda? To my possessions? Or, is my ultimate loyalty with Jesus?” Jesus’ desire is not to help us with our life. His desire is to take our life and remake it. Jesus loves us too much to settle for a piece of our lives. He wants the whole thing.

The “crowds” in today’s Gospel don’t seem to understand that. In the context of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is marching to Jerusalem fully aware of the cross that awaits Him. You see Jesus knows what the crowds do not – that saving the world is costly. It’s going to require a bloody death on a Roman cross. But the crowds – they want magic and miracles. And so in tonight’s Gospel Jesus is clear. “You’re welcome to follow me. I want you to follow me. But, there’s a cost. It requires putting me first – before your family, your agenda, and your possessions. If you follow me to my cross you’ll have to embrace a cross of your own. And so count the cost. After all, you wouldn’t haphazardly build a tower or go to war. No, you’d first assess the cost and then make a decision. All I’m asking for is the same consideration. Following me will cost everything.”

And so here’s the question tonight’s Gospel demands that we ask. Where’s our ultimate loyalty? Is it to our parents? Parents are really good at deceiving themselves into thinking they should run your life. And you know what? They should when you’re six or sixteen. But, you’re an adult now. Your parents may want one thing for you life but God may want something else. James and John’s dad wanted them to be fisherman but Jesus called them to leave their boat behind. Symbolically speaking, you may have to do the same thing to be faithful. Or maybe our ultimate loyalty is to our own agenda. Perhaps our ambition for ourselves is so great that everything else, including our parents and friends, takes a backseat. Or maybe we’re seeking some other possession – money, fame, respect, the perfect body, the perfect image. Maybe we want this person’s love or that person’s approval. Where’s our ultimate loyalty? What do we love the most? Jesus? Or something else?

Listen – it’s impossible to love any thing or person too much. You can’t love your family too much. You can’t love your self too much. You can’t love your money too much. You can only love these things too much in proportion to your love for God. And by definition, that’s all sin is – loving something or someone more than we love God. And it’s something that all of us do. And so we need to be clear about Jesus’ desire in calling us. He doesn’t just want to help us. Jesus’ desire is to save us – to teach us the joy of seeking the Kingdom of God first. But, that lesson is costly. It requires learning to make Jesus the supreme treasure of our life – it means learning to love Him more than we love anything else.

Our problem isn’t that we love things too much – that’s impossible. Our problem is that we love God too little. Teaching us to love God – with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength – that’s ultimately what Jesus is about. That being said, it’s a costly lesson. Writing from the perspective of Jesus, this is how CS Lewis puts it:

“I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment or frustrate [your natural self]. I’ve come to kill it. No half measures will do. Hand [your whole self] over to me – … all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will shall become your will. My heart shall become your heart.” In other words, Jesus says “I love you too much to settle for a piece of your life. I want the whole thing.”

And so here’s the million-dollar question. After counting the cost, where do we get the strength and the courage to give Jesus everything? Well, there’s something we have to see – Jesus only asks us to do for Him what He’s already done for us. Let us not think that in becoming human God was taking a risk. No, the Son of God first had to count the cost – the cost of becoming human; the cost of being rejected and killed; the cost of not just leaving His Father, but on the cross, being abandoned by His Father. Think about it. On the cross Jesus looked like a false Messiah – he was mistaken for a man that started something He wasn’t able to complete and people passing by began to ridicule him. “This fellow began to build,” they said, “and was not able to finish.” The Son of God had to count the cost. To save us Jesus had to march straight into battle not with ten thousand at his side but alone, and with no terms of peace. Before saving us, God first counted the cost. Jesus knew that our salvation would cost him everything. And here’s what’s so amazing. To God it was worth it.

To be a Christian is to believe that the One for whom and through whom all things exist gladly gave up everything for us. Do you see why Jesus isn’t the sort of person you ask to be your assistant? No – He’s someone that deserves our ultimate loyalty. And learning to give Jesus our life – it’s a lifelong process. I’ll be honest; there are a lot of things I haven’t turned over yet. When it comes to following Jesus we’re all just a little unskilled. And so as you go out into the world this week do me a favor – don’t try to fix things yourself. Hope Depot Christianity is a parody of the Gospel; the Gospel that says Jesus counted the cost and decided to fix things for us. Has that sunk in? Because to the extent that it does we can drop a possession here, and a possession there, and follow Jesus to the cross with a smile. Why? Because the One we follow counted the cost and apparently thought we were worth it.