The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 1

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Childlike Trust:

The most extreme thing any of us will ever do with our lives is not climbing Mount Everest. It will not be accomplished through transporting, transfiguring, transplanting or transgendering ourselves. It cannot result from changing our diets, changing our spouses, changing our habits, or changing the energy source for our vehicles. None of these attempts are radical enough. We need something bigger, deeper, broader and more difficult—maybe even impossible—to challenge the furthest limits of what we call extreme.

John Mark, the first century author of the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark, shows us how Jesus’ early disciples discovered the singularly extreme life of Jesus. People have investigated the life of this unforgettable Man since that time and have discovered something both attractive and daunting: Through a collection of paradoxes, Jesus calls people—at least, those who choose to follow Him—to an (almost) impossible paradigm. Some have called this paradigm the ‘upside down kingdom’ because of its antithetical value system compared to that of world culture. What does this (almost) impossible paradigm look like? Join me as we explore thirty-five verses in twelve parts from the middle of Mark chapter ten to begin to understand Jesus’ invitation to build truly extreme lives.

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10: 13-16).

Simple trust. This is the message Jesus sends to any who would call themselves His followers. In this passage, we find Jesus’ disciples appointing themselves ready-made bodyguards for Jesus. They had begun to develop a picture in their minds of how the Messiah and His followers could establish God’s kingdom on earth. It would take power, planning, and mobilization of resources—all those things they had seen the Roman Empire using to conquer the lands surrounding the Mediterranean and beyond. They were on the lookout for threats to their mission. This day, the threat was coming from the fluff and rubble of society, a group of common people who had brought their toddlers to Jesus to be blessed, as a father would bless his offspring.

“Shoo! Away with you!” the disciples began to crow at the small cluster of families. To those who resisted, the disciples began using harsher rebukes. Didn’t these people understand how important Jesus was?

Notice Jesus’ reaction to His disciples’ misinformed deterrence of the children and their parents. He is “indignant”. He is perturbed, incensed and decidedly intolerant toward His disciples’ misconception of His mission. Jesus’ message and mission is not based on the paradigm of worldly power. To participate in God’s kingdom, responds Jesus, requires one to become “like a little child.” Not like a bodyguard, or a militant crusader? Not like a business organization, or a rising political party? These all have self-developed resources based on personal power and the desire to expand it. All a child has is simple trusting dependence.

A child looks to her caregivers with complete faith in their care. She learns that her trust must result in obedience—even when it doesn’t make sense from her limited perspective. She can’t have candy for breakfast, and she must go to sleep at bedtime; joy comes from relationship, and pain is an opportunity for comfort. A young child lives, feeds, breaths, and cries for help in complete trust of father and mother. This is the image Jesus wants to impress on His disciples’ minds and hearts—on yours and mine.

Be like little children, He counsels us. Imitate them. Let God truly be your Father in a way you have never experienced before. Everything else is the fluff and rubble of worldly kingdoms. This is the upside down nature of God’s extraordinary kingdom: The last will be first. Leaders will be servants. To live we must die to self. These are not options; they are the signs and necessary features of those who have been given an entirely new life by His transforming Spirit. This is the life of those who have been ‘born again’ and who have a new lease on life.

So go ahead. Come to Jesus in a new way today. It’s never too late. Experience the radical life of living as a child in the family of the Everlasting Father and find what it’s like to be a baby again—this time a baby by choice.

(Photo Credit: By Walter J. Pilsak, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19631163)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 10

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Fearless

Ever been faced with a threat to your health or life? Ever barely missed being hit by an oncoming vehicle, a falling tree limb, a vicious dog or other serious threat? You know the feeling; a rush of adrenaline courses through your body, you involuntarily take in a gasping lungful of air and you react with the old ‘Fight or Flight’ response.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It can make us do things we never thought possible, or prevent us from doing things we assumed were inevitable. But sometimes fear takes on proportions it was never meant to have in our lives. It weakens us by limiting the opportunities we are willing to step into that would benefit our lives or others’.

Jesus tackles the concept of fear in this ‘Day 10’ of our exploration of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter ten lets us eavesdrop in on Jesus and His twelve closest friends as He appoints and authorizes them for a task. He is engaging the disciples in a sort of commissioning—preparing His apprentices for their first outreach project into the Jewish communities in their area. While the appointment is specific to the disciples, Jesus’ teaching regarding fear is very relevant to each of our lives and worth considering.

Jesus is preparing the Twelve to accomplish the double task of going to Jewish communities in the vicinity and healing every disease and sickness—physical, mental or spiritual—while teaching the message, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” He doesn’t want them to go into the task thinking all will be rosy. There will be barriers. Those who perceive their own power might be usurped by this ‘heavenly kingdom’ will not take kindly to the message. They never do. In fact Jesus warns His followers, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” and “Be on your guard.” Followers of Jesus need to be wise in their exercise of the task Jesus gives them.

So Jesus comes right out and voices what they have all been wondering, saying, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” He is preparing them for a worst-case scenario. Most of those first disciples would face martyrs’ deaths—the Roman Empire of the day was free to inflict the death penalty where it perceived a threat—but the disciples didn’t know that yet. None of us know how we will meet our earthly end. And Jesus wants to discuss the issue of fear, because many situations are possible in our lives. We may face any number of worst-case scenarios; any one of an array of fear-inducing developments may arise to threaten our health, our welfare, or our lives. Jesus wants to prepare all of His followers to meet and defeat this great inner enemy each of us have known at some time or another. How does He do it? What deep metaphysical and rational reason does Jesus provide to enable His followers to combat and conquer fear? He tells them to consider the wild birds of nature.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus muses. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” I imagine Jesus makes this last comment with a smile. He can be the master of understatement when He wants to be. He is asking, ‘Do you even begin to know the great worth the Heavenly Father places on each of you?’

Jesus is revealing the depth of personal interest God the Father takes in each individual. Can anything truly disastrous happen in the life of a person who has entrusted himself or herself to God’s care? The answer to that rhetorical question is no! We must gather that thought and frame it; we need to place it forefront in our minds, understanding it as perhaps the single most important truth for understanding how to live our lives in this often dangerous and daunting world. God is with us; what need we fear?

David begins a psalm with that thought. “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” he asks himself. “The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Again the answer is implied: an emphatic ‘no one!’

The secret to thwarting fear is to focus on the Father. Keeping in mind His great love for each of us makes the fearsome threats of life pale in comparison. We are of great value and worth to the God of the universe. Would He let anything hinder His plans for us? Absolutely not! Believe it—and watch those fears disappear.

(Photo Credit: [[File:TwoSparrows.jpg|thumb|TwoSparrows]])

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 7

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Satisfying Cravings

Maslow may have been wrong. He was the one who postulated that we humans have a hierarchy of drives or cravings that organize the way we behave. He said our primary need is physiological – the primal drive for food, water and shelter – and that until that level of need is met, we cannot progress to higher levels, such as social needs and self-actualization. But new studies on the brain show something entirely different (David Rock, Managing with the Brain in Mind). It seems the brain puts social needs on par with the most foundational physical needs for survival. In other words, we are wired to be in right relationship with others; our brain is constantly assessing whether to initiate a threat response or a reward response based on social cues. When we feel ostracized, the same part of the brain that feels physical pain is stimulated to produce those chemicals that prepare us for the ‘fight or flight’ response. Our brains are constantly probing our social context to assess whether our survival is at risk. While we may not consciously realize it, we crave right relationships with others.

So it’s timely, as we explore God’s ministry in the lives of people, that we should come to a segment of the Apostle Paul’s letter (II Corinthians 5:11-21) which communicates this same concept. He observes that God’s expression of love for people, if adequately understood, is enough to satisfy the deepest need and craving of any man, woman or child. God is the great Other, the social Being with whom we are primarily wired to be in relationship. If our cues, conscious or subconscious, lead us to believe that our relationship with God is threatening, our brains will direct us to avoid Him at all costs or fight Him with everything we are and have. But if we come to understand that God has done and is doing everything in His power to communicate His love for us, our lives will be transformed; the threat response will be replaced with the reward response and our deepest cravings will be satisfied. Listen to how Paul puts it:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Stay with me here. All this talk of death sounds morose, but it’s talking about the social-spiritual dilemma our species has gotten itself into, having corporately embraced rebellion against God. We have to admit it. Our brains know it, even if we and Maslow have failed to register it consciously. The core message of the Bible is that God designed the one and only means of recovering relationship with you and me to occur by entering figuratively and literally into our world as one of us. Submitting Himself to the human experience of death was a payment in lieu of our own social-spiritual demise. He did it for love. Let that thought percolate in our brains. God loves us and wants us to replace the old scenario of threat with a new one of reward. It’s a transforming thought, if we understand it rightly. Paul goes on to say that when we embrace God’s love through Christ this way, we enter into His ministry with a new mindset.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

It’s an ongoing revelation for every one of us. It’s new because it is not in the easy realm of observable cravings like Maslow’s base level of needs. If we are open to this idea of God’s love for us, it will seep deeper and deeper into our minds each day of our lives and transform us from the inside out. We need God – it’s what our brains having been trying to tell us all along.