A Spirit of Fear?

church safety    Two pastors die tragically in just a few days of each other. One is gunned down in the church he serves, along with other church members, by a “stranger” they welcome into their midst. The other sets himself on fire, and dies as a result of his injuries, to “inspire justice”. Both stories are painful, tragic, heartbreaking. And yet, they seem to come from very different understandings and motivations.

As you might imagine, I am especially impacted by the tragic death of a pastor. It doesn’t mean I care more about those deaths than others- not at all. But it DOES mean that it “hits a little closer to home” when it’s a pastor that’s involved.

The gentleman who set himself on fire absolutely breaks my heart. I A. know nothing about the man and B. will NOT cast any stones about his decision. I don’t know why he did it. I know what I read…but I don’t really know why he did it. But I DO know that it is heartbreaking.

And then there are the folks in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. A total of 13 people, including the shooter who was unknown to the others, gathered for a Bible study. About an hour into the Bible study, the shooter opened fire. Ten people were shot- nine of them, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney, died while a tenth person survived. The other victims were  Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. The shooter escaped and was arrested the following day.

You may have noticed that, while I mentioned the names of all who lost their lives, I did NOT mention the shooter’s name. Not an accident. I refuse to give him any more publicity that he has already received. But the folks who lost their lives- well…that’s a different story. Those folks welcomed this man in their midst. They could have just as easily said, “We don’t know you, therefore you are not welcome here.” And in the current world climate, few would have blamed them for that choice. But…they didn’t. Instead, they welcomed him to their Bible study. And because of that choice, nine people lost their lives.

And while I didn’t know any of those folks, my gut tells me that, if given the opportunity, they would welcome a stranger into their midst all over again. Why? Because it’s the Christian thing to do. These folks gave their lives doing what they thought…felt in their hearts…to be the right thing. And their families publicly forgave the coward who took the lives of people they loved. Forgave him. Publicly. An amazing show of what it truly means to be a Christian.

It hurts my heart to think that I have to worry about some disturbed individual coming in the church I serve and doing something like this. And when I started in the ministry, it really wouldn’t have been much of a consideration at all. But now…it is a reality of life. Places that we have always considered safe are simply not that any longer.

But you know what? I don’t care. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I care GREATLY about those innocent folks who were just going about their lives, trying to be the best people they could be, not hurting a soul and died because of it. But I don’t really care about what COULD be. If I live my life, if I carry out ministry day to day, constantly worried about what the next person walking through the door might do…then I am of no earthly good to anyone.

Do I try to be careful? Yes. Have I been involved in training on what to do if something like that happens? Yes. Am I literally in the middle of setting up MORE training along those lines? Uh huh. But I refuse to live in fear. That is NOT the way God made us. Fear is not of God. So I, for one, will continue to do what God has called me to do…only I will do it with a greater understanding of what it really means to commit to God thanks to folks like those in South Carolina.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- Healing Rain: Sickness

Music is My Life

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It all started when I was 10 years old. The band director from the local Junior High (Middle School Fiddle School! Back in MY day, we had Junior High…and we LIKED it!) came to my Grade School to recruit new musicians. He brought some students and their instruments along and had each of them demonstrate what their particular instrument could do. He then went instrument by instrument and asked if there were kids who wanted to play that instrument.
Well, I had wanted to play the drums since I was old enough to know better! It just looked like it would be awesome! (Turns out…I was right!) So, when he got to the drums, my hand SHOT up! And just like that, I was a drummer! My mom was a little surprised when I got home from school and told her that I had signed up to play drums without asking, but she let me do it anyway.
I played in band all through Junior High and High School. I also was in the Marching Band and the Pep Band. (Honestly, while I loved them all…Pep Band was my favorite!) Then I went away to college, to be an actor. But Freshman actors at that particular university weren’t allowed to…act. But the first show of the year was a musical, so I asked if I could be in the pit orchestra instead of having to be an usher. That started a chain reaction that had me play drums for 5 shows that year plus a musical review (a PAYING gig!) at a local restaurant. In fact, I played drums so much that year, most people thought I was a music major! Along the way through late High School and College, I also played in a municipal orchestra (ALSO a paying gig, and one that got me into the musician’s union!) for several years.
Then, life got in the way and I went several years without really playing at all. That is, until I went into the ministry. Not long after I started, the church I was at wanted to start a Contemporary Service, but alas…they had no drummer. So I bought a cheap set and dove in. I played for about 6 years there before moving to my last church. I started a Contemporary Service there as well, so I played 8 years there.
And now I find myself at the current church. On the FIRST full day in this new town, I went to band practice. I really went just to listen, but I got the chance to sit on a couple of numbers. It was a blast! And as I sat at the drums, playing one song I have played a bunch of times and one that I have never even heard, I thought about the old saying about music being the universal language. And guess what? It is! I had never played with these particular musicians and singers before, but there we were, cranking good music out. We didn’t have to know all about each other- we just had to love music and love God! And both of those things were abundantly evident.
Without music, I would be an incomplete person. Music is a language that transcends race, color, age, gender and nationality. It reaches down, way past your brain, and touches your soul. There are few things that connect me to God AND others as powerfully as music does. That great theologian Don McLean asked the question, “Can music save your mortal soul?” For me, the answer is, “Yes!”
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

How Do I Pray?- The Prayer of Faith

How Do I Pray Prayer of Faith     A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, I have not been a very good boy. I know that. So I would like to ask you to make me a better boy. But Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy…don’t worry about it. I’m having a pretty good time like I am!”
     Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways remember him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.
Today, we start a brand new sermon series- How Do I Pray? Each week, we will focus on either a particular type of prayer of aspect of prayer. Today we focus on the fact that, when we pray, we should have faith in both God’s power and His goodness. But that is often easier said than done, For many, prayer is a bit of a mystery. For many, God is some kind of cosmic Santa Claus and prayer is ultimately a Christmas wish list. But at the end of the day, prayer isn’t simply asking for stuff. It’s SO much more. It’s a longing of the soul. It’s daily admission of our weakness. And in prayer, it’s not always about saying the right words. It’s better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
The Bible offers many different types of prayers and uses a variety of words to describe them. For example,1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” Here, all four of the main Greek words for prayer are mentioned in one verse.
supplication- deesis (deh’-ay-sis) – need, desire, seeking, asking
prayer- proseuche’ (pros-yoo-khay’) – prayer
Intercession- enteuxis (ent’-yook-sis) a falling in with, meeting with, coming together
thanksgiving- eucharistia (yoo-khar-is-tee’-ah) thankfulness, gratitude. (From this Greek word comes our word Eucharist, which is one of the names of Communion- an act of thanksgiving.)
James 5:13- 15 Are any of you in trouble? Then you should pray. Are any of you happy? Then sing songs of praise. Are any of you sick? Then send for the elders of the church to pray over you. Ask them to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered by those who have faith will make you well. The Lord will heal you. If you have sinned, you will be forgiven.
The minister’s six-year-old girl had misbehaved SO badly during the week that her mom decided to give her the worst kind of punishment- she couldn’t go to the Sunday School Picnic. But as the day drew near, her mom began to feel that perhaps she had been too harsh. So the day of the picnic, she went to her daughter and told her that she could go. The girl’s reaction was a surprise- she started to cry! Her mom asked what in the world was wrong. “I thought you’d be glad to go to the picnic.” I was…but now it’s too late!” the little girl said. The mom was confused, “Too late? Why?” “I’ve already prayed for rain!”
We love stories about answered prayer. We get a genuine rush hearing about God’s miraculous interventions in people’s lives. And those stories motivate us to be more diligent in prayer. And so…we pray. We’re specific. We’re confident. We’re bold. And we are absolutely convinced that God will answer our prayer. We have a level of faith and enthusiasm that we’ve never experienced before. We ask. We seek. We knock. And yet…it seems as if God is silent. The thing that we wanted so desperately doesn’t happen. Our enthusiasm is first blunted and then crushed and we are left to wonder what happened. We ask ourselves, “Is it worth it? Does God even hear me? Does He even care?”
Remember the movie “The Santa Clause”? Tim Allen accidentally causes Santa to fall off of his roof and go to that great Toy Shop in the sky. Allen therefore becomes the new Santa Claus. As the movie unfolds, his ex-wife and her new husband think he is completely delusional. They both state that they no longer believe in Santa. And they can both name the event that caused them to stop believing. For both, it was when requests made to Santa were denied. The ex-wife wanted a special doll while the new husband wanted…a Weenie Whistle! And when they didn’t get what they asked for, their response was to simply close themselves off to the reality of Santa Claus.
Some folks respond to God that same way. Cable television mogul Ted Turner had a strict Christian upbringing. He even considered becoming a missionary at one point. But he became disenchanted with Christianity when despite, his prayers, his sister died. Turner is now one of the loudest anti-Christianity voices out there.
The truth is that, no matter how spiritual you might be, there are times when God says, “No” to your prayers. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve sacrificed or accomplished for Jesus. There are times when it feels like God has turned a deaf ear to your requests. The first response from many when God doesn’t seem to come through for them is that they give up on Him, they give up on prayer.
How do you respond when that happens to you? How do you make it through to the other side? Pray with faith- faith that God will ALWAYS answer your prayer…always. It won’t always be in the way that you want it or in the time that you want it, but He WILL answer it. When God doesn’t seem to be saying anything, rest your faith on what He’s already said. “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.”
Sometimes, God has to remove all the other noises from our lives before we can clearly hear His voice. We let so many things compete for our attention. We’re so busy. We often have neither the time OR nor the motivation to stop and just…listen. You have ALL kinds of voices telling you what you need to do. God might just be saying something to you but in all the noise and confusion, you simply can’t sort it all out.
But I just stopped by this morning to tell you to NOT limit where God’s voice might be found. If you’re always waiting for a “parting of the Red Sea” kind of miracle for God to use to communicate to you, you may have a long wait. God often uses the ordinary and everyday to reveal Himself to us. Some people lump prayer and meditation in the same category. I would argue that prayer is more than meditation. When you meditate, your source of strength is…you. But when you pray, you are leaning on a power source MUCH greater than yours. Have faith in God’s power, not your own. Have faith in God’s power…because the truth is you have NONE on your own.
Hebrews 11:1-3 Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. That is what the people of long ago were praised for. We have faith. So we understand that everything was made when God commanded it. That’s why we believe that what we see was not made out of what could be seen.
There are things we face that cause us to ask, “How am I ever going to make it through this? How am I ever going to be of use to God, to my family or to anyone else?” And God answers that question with this statement, “Have faith- My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”
When you have a nagging problem that just won’t go away- a medical condition that doesn’t seem to get any better, a child that won’t obey, a co-worker that doesn’t respect you, a loss that you just can’t seem to recover from– you find yourself wondering, “God, is Your power strong enough to enable me to handle this?” And God responds with, “My strength is greatest when you are at your weakest. I can get you through anything. Have faith.”
When it comes to pray, there should be an element of, “Believe you’ve got it before you get it.” Thank God in advance. Pray on rainy days as well as sunny days. Pray on bad days, when everything is going wrong, as much or more than you do when everything is all kittens and moonbeams. But there is also an element of, ultimately, “Thy will be done.” And if you trust God, if you believe that He has your best interests at heart, then you have to be willing to pray that His will would ultimately be done…even if it doesn’t match with what YOU want. The cure for worry is prayer. When prayer takes away distrust and doubt and replaces it with a level of certainty, it becomes faith. And the world is built on faith.
God is always looking for people to use to further His kingdom. And the truth of the matter is that if you show yourself to be usable…He will wear you out. And you will love EVERY minute of it! The best…and most dangerous…prayer you can pray is this, “Dear God…Use me.”
Prayer is the bedrock foundation of our relationship with God. It’s how we communicate and fellowship with Him. And yet a surprising number of people, young and old, new and long-time Christians alike, say they’re not satisfied with their prayer life. WE need to devote ourselves to prayer. We need to be earnest in prayer. We need to be persistent in prayer. We need to be active in prayer. Prayer should be the key to open the door of your morning and the lock to close it down at night. If you are committed to God and His unfailing love, then you need to pray with faith. You need to P.U.S.H.– Pray Until Something Happens. Prayer doesn’t change God…it changes us. Don’t give up praying until something happens that either changes your situation…or changes you.

Random Thoughts on Communion

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The church I currently serve celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of every month. (Every week at the Sunday evening service!) I have people ask, “So, is that when Methodists take Communion then…the 1st Sunday of the month?” And the answer is a decided…maybe! The reality is that there is no “set in stone” schedule for serving Communion by which individual United Methodist churches do it- it is left up to the discretion of each congregation. Some serve it weekly, some serve it month, some serve it quarterly…I would hazard a guess that none serve it less frequently…but I don’t know that for sure!

Communion is a fascinating topic- it has been around for about 2,000 years, and subject to interpretation for about 1,999 of those years! Some folks serve only unleaven bread, some serve other types of bread. Some serve only wine, some serve only grape juice, some make both available. In some denominations anyone can serve Communion while in others only clergy can serve. Some faith traditions have guidelines about how old one has to be before they can take Communion…others do not. Some churches only allow members to take Communion, others allow all to partake.
Frankly, just about ANY derivation of the basic “bread and cup” format that you can imagine is being done somewhere. For some, that is a cause of stress. They worry that theirs is the only way to serve Communion and if it is not taken that way…then it is flawed. I have a different view, which is frankly one of the reasons I chose United Methodism.
I feel that the example of Communion given to us in the Gospels was, like Jesus’ baptism and other things, contextual…that is, it happened in a certain setting, a particular time and place. And because of that contextual nature, it was done the way it was done. In other words, I feel that the specifics of Communion are NOT found so much in the HOW as in the WHY. For me, it is a representational meal that is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ- when I serve or take Communion, I am stating publicly that I choose to be a follower of Jesus. Further, by having an “open Communion” (anyone is welcome), I am reinforcing Jesus’ Gospel message that His grace and salvation are for everyone!
How do YOU take Communion? What is YOUR understanding of what it is, what it means? Notice I said “I feel” and “I think” in this article. Your thoughts are just as valid as mine. So…what are they? How do you view this rather mysterious rite of the Church? I’m curious to know! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Five-Dollar Seminary Words

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When I was going through the process of becoming ordained (And don’t EVEN ask me what THAT was like! It makes me want to use words that would make a sailor blush!), I had to write a LOT. And be interviewed a LOT! And at one of those interviews, the team that was handling the process was talking to me about what I had written for that round. The man in charge was clearly trying to say something specific…but was unwilling. Instead, he beat around the bush. I finally said, “So, what you are trying to say is that you want me to write in such a way that I can prove I went to seminary?!” There was a long pause and then he replied, “Uh…yes.”

The bottom line was that they wanted me to use big words and complex thoughts to show them that I had actually earned the Master’s Degree in Theology that was listed on my paperwork. So…I went back home and wrote a scholarly paper on…whatever it was I was supposed to be writing on! Done!

I know pastors who pepper their sermons with those big words and complex thoughts. And perhaps for them, that approach works. But for me, I prefer to use words, phrases and concepts that make sense to people who DIDN’T go to seminary, which would be pretty much everybody who sits in the pews on Sunday!

But knowing those words is not a bad thing. They can give you greater insight into the idea of faith. With that in mind, here is a VERY incomplete list of some of those “five-dollar words” for your perusal and edification!

Asceticism– the ethical view that holiness or purity is achieved by mandatory abstinence from bodily comforts and material pleasures.

Dispensation– a distinct administration of God’s covenantal relation with man or the age characterized by such.

Eschatology– the doctrine of the “last things” pertaining to the individual (death, afterlife) or to redemption (the coming, course, and consummation of Christ’s kingdom, the millennium) or to the world (Christ’s return, the resurrection, final judgment, the eternal state).

Exegesis- to draw out extracting what is in the text the way it was written. Finding the true meaning and explain the passages of scripture from their context.

Hermeneutics-The science of interpreting the written word, to find what the text actually meant.

Hypostatic union- The dual nature of Christ being both 100%God and 100% man dwelling together as one person.

Incarnation-God becoming flesh- the eternal Son.

Inerrant- the teaching of the Scriptures which are free without error, in doctrine, historicity, geographical and science, etc.

Isogesis-Reading into a text what isn’t there. Interpreting it by different rules than a consistent understanding from the Bible. Using a presupposition to arrive at the meaning, by ignoring the language and culture it was used in.

Justification- a legal declaration giving one right standing before God pronouncing a sinner righteous because of Christ’s merit.

Sanctification- ( to be set apart) holy-Anything set apart for God’s use can be sanctified.

Teleological– pertaining to a goal, aim, or purpose; teleological ethics emphasizes and makes decisions in terms of the proper goal of man or the kingdom of God as man’s highest good, etc. (cf. “consequential perspective”).

Theophany- A physical manifestation of God as a person or messenger (angel) a pre incarnate appearance of Christ in human form, called “the Angel of the Lord.”

There you go- just a FEW of those five-dollar words from seminary!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- Garage Saling

A Professional (14-Year Old) Painter

I grew up out in the country- my closest neighbor, geographically, was 1/4 of a mile away. Most of the money I made as a kid/youth was made doing some kind of manual labor: picking up hay, cleaning out barns, tending animals, mowing, etc. But the summer of my 14th year (sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?), the widowed neighbor lady (the one who live 1/4 of a mile away) hired me to paint her house and garage. I had never painted a house before in my life, but assured her I could do it! She got all the paint and supplies (rollers, brushes and the like) and I was ready to go.

I started with the garage, because it was small and easy to get to. (Picture a building that would JUST hold a car…and nothing else…literally!) I scraped it (which, at least for me, is by FAR the worst part of painting!) and then started painting. I painted what I could reach from the ground first, then got the step ladder out and began painting the top half. I was about halfway through the top half when…disaster struck! I had a big container of paint on the ladder, and instead of taking it off first, I decided I could move the ladder with it on there!Oops! The container tipped over…right onto me! The paint hit me just below the chin (at least it missed the face!) and POURED down the front of me! The front of my shirt, my arms, and part of my legs were covered in white paint! I stood there for a moment, frozen, trying to decide if that REALLY happened or not! But ONE look down was all I needed to convince myself that, yes, it did indeed happen! So, I did what any self-respecting 14-year old would do…I ran! I actually ran to my bike, flew home, got cleaned up, washed the paint out of my clothes, got fresh clothes, and then pedaled back to keep painting.
Later on in the job, I got to a part of the house that was on the 2nd floor. The house had a loft-style 2nd floor that only covered part of the 1st floor. It wasn’t reachable with a ladder from the ground- the only was to get to it was the roof of the 1st floor. BUT…the roof of the 1st floor had such a steep pitch (the angle of the roof), that it was nearly impossible to stand on it at all, let alone actually paint something! What to do, what to do? Aha! I went home and got a long rope we had. I tied it to the front porch railing of the house I was painting. Then I threw the rope over the house, climbed up on the roof on that side, TIED myself to the house…and painted that part!
In the end, the neighbor lady was quite please with the job. (She told me, after the fact, that people told her she was CRAZY to let a 14-year old paint her house! Looking back…they MAY have been correct!) The paint job held up well for years, in fact. But what I took away from that job (other than the money I made!), was the need to be flexible and creative. And that awareness has served me well, in a VARIETY of settings, over the years. We so desperately want life to be cut and dried, black and white. But in the end…its just NOT! And if you try to FORCE things to fit into that cut and dried/black and white mold…you end up banging your head against the wall, over and over. If, on quite the other hand, you are willing to be flexible and creative, you will be so much more ready to meet what comes. Things may happen the way you thought they were going to…but you are READY for that! You bend, you shift, you adapt…and life is a whole lot more interesting and satisfying.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

6 Di.N.T.S. (Difficult New Testament Stories): Hate Your Family!

6 DiNTS Hate Your Family

A Scottish mother visits her 
son in his New York City apartment and asks, “How do you find the Americans, Donald?” “Mother,” says Donald, “they’re such noisy people. One neighbor won’t stop banging his head against the wall, while the other screams and screams all night long.” “Oh, Donald! How do you manage to put up with them?” “What can I do? I just lie in bed quietly, playing my bagpipes.”
Tonight, we wrap up our Sunday evening service- 6 Difficult New Testament Stories. We are looking at 6 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. The first week, we started with a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hell! Week 2, Jesus died and went to Hell to preach to those in bondage. Week 3 had us staying right here on Earth as we watched Jesus throw a temper tantrum…at a fig tree! Week 4, we were a fly on the wall as we listened to Jesus tell the people to NOT pray out loud. Last week, we were somewhat shocked to hear Jesus tell us to NOT defend ourselves and to give everything…to everybody! And tonight, we bring it all to a close as we consider the fact that Jesus tells us that, if we want to be His followers…we need to hate our family!!
A little background on this passage- Jesus has just eaten at the house of a very well-respected pharisee. Those temple leaders in attendance were watching Him closely. A man with a badly swollen body was there. Jesus, knowing the pharisees were testing Him, asked if it was against the Law to heal on the Sabbath. No one answered…so He healed the man. After that, Jesus offered some teaching to those in attendance. Immediately after that, Jesus is traveling and has a large entourage in tow. He turns to them and offers this challenge.
Luke 14:25-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, even life itself– such a person cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.
Dear Dad,
$chool i$ really great. I am making lot$ of friend$ and $tudying very hard. With all my $tuff, I $imply can’t think of anything I need. $o if you would like, you can ju$t $end me a card, a$ I would love to hear from you.
Love, Your $on

The Reply:
Dear Son,

I kNOw that astroNOmy, ecoNOmics, and oceaNOgraphy are eNOugh to keep even an hoNOr student busy. Do NOt forget that the pursuit of kNOwledge is a NOble task, and you can never study eNOugh.
Love, Dad
So what do we make of this? And further, what do we DO with it? As a Christian, passages like this are a bit of an…embarrassment, aren’t they? We think we have all the answers to the naysayers…and then they question us about a passage like this and we are left to think, “Shoot! I was hoping they didn’t KNOW that one!!”
I mean, surely when He said “hate them”…He didn’t MEAN…HATE them…right? He HAD to mean something else…right? You have to admit, for those naysayers who read the DaVinci Code and are now certain that NONE of this Bible tripe is real but was instead written down long after Jesus’ time to “defend the realm”, so to speak…if there even WAS a “Jesus”…this passage actually works in our favor! I mean, who in the WORLD would have written this after the fact to DEFEND Christianity? Nobody I know! We’re pushing family values. This is NOT the passage we would write if we were just making all of this up as we went along!
Maybe they weren’t so “pro family” back in the Ancient Near Eastern world. No, that’s not going to fly! The Hebrew people were VERY tribal and intensely family-oriented. And 1st Century Romans idealized family to the point of obsession. Maybe that’s why Jesus felt He had to speak so directly on the subject. I am convinced that sometimes the wisdom of Jesus Christ isn’t aimed so much at helping us make sense of everything as much as it is aimed at help us better prioritize our lives.
The Bible is full of what is referred to as Wisdom Literature. In fact, Wisdom Literature is literally a genre of writing in the Bible- Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon or Song of Songs are Wisdom Literature. And the passage we’re looking at tonight is another example of wisdom teaching. But while the Old Testament Book of Proverbs says things that make pretty good sense and are rather simple…but not easy…to apply, many of the things Jesus says are cryptic, veiled, hard to wrap your head around!
Apparently, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you have to hate your mother and father, your wife and children, your brothers and sisters- even your own life! Hate them! Hate them all! God spends the entire Bible creating and perfecting the concept…the importance…of family. And then, He offers something like THIS up to us? Am I missing something? Where’s Allen Funt, because this MUST be Candid Camera?
Ultimately, I see this passage as hyperbole- an exaggerated statement or claim that is not meant to be taken literally. He offers it up to make a point- He should be our greatest love, and our love for anyone else should less than that. I have shared before that I hear people say, “But how can I love God if I don’t first take care of my family?” I would argue that the proper question is, “How can I take care of my family if I don’t first love God?”
What I read into this story is that even the most fundamental things- our relationships with those closest to us- get called into question by Jesus. Everything…EVERYTHING…has to be brought forward and laid at the altar. And some days…that just doesn’t seem fair. I mean, I give Him my Sundays. I give Him my 10%. I give Him what I can afford. Isn’t that enough? Let me gently suggest that…no…it’s not enough. Why? Because He wants it all. You have to be willing to trust Him with the whole thing- lock, stock and barrel. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. That is the definition of discipleship. And if you’re tempted to hold something back- a treasured possession…or even a treasured relationship…then you have to sit back and count the cost.
When it comes to Jesus, you’re either in…or you’re out. Give Him everything or give Him nothing. There is no real middle ground. He wants total commitment from us so that He can do all the wonderful, beautiful, life-giving things He has planned for us.
In the Gospels, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” But what does that mean? I mean- abundant life…nice cars, nice house…houses…sitting on a beach somewhere, sand between your toes, nice tropical breeze. Right? But that doesn’t seem to be the abundant life Jesus was talking about. Don’t you wish He had been more clear?
Well, perhaps He was clear all along and we have…intentionally or unintentionally…missed it. Maybe He is constantly explaining it and we just find it hard to understand. “Life abundantly” isn’t necessarily “life comfortable”. On the contrary, when Jesus gets involved and starts taking over our lives, everything is up for grabs, isn’t it? All our traditional hopes and dreams- quiet, stable life, peaceful suburban home with white picket fence, 2.4 insanely happy children, soccer mom van in the driveway and the intoxicating aroma of home-baked bread and apple-pie wafting through the air- they all get called into question, don’t they?
Jesus’ standard is radical! When you choose to be become a Christian, your allegiance changes! My genetics come from one place, but my grace comes from quite another. While my family bloodline matters a great deal, the bloodline that REALLY counts is the blood that was shed on the cross.
Jesus says, “Choose Me. And even if your family gets in the way of your relationship with Me, I should still be your ultimate choice!” We have a choice. And that choice is before each of us. Who will you choose? Will you choose the world? Or will you choose the One Who died to make us free?