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)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #17

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Prayer of Simple Trust (A Paraphrase of Psalm 131)

My prayer today, Lord, is a simple one. I just want to tell You that I’m trusting You. I’m turning my thoughts away from myself—those foolishly high and lofty wonderings of my mind. So much focus on self has got to go. I’m putting away those imaginings that I can impact the world with my beauty, brains, and brawn. Others seem to inhabit that realm where power and prestige are Goal One, but I’ve left all that.

What is in my power is only this: I settle my soul in Your love and faithfulness. In those rare, quiet moments when I’m really honest with myself—when all those false grand notions of my identity and importance are put away—I feel a stillness and quietness knowing You are here with me. Never leave me!

When I realize that everything I am and have and do is bound up with You I feel a deep, comforting peace. I’m like a weaned child with her mother. I do not demand to accomplish great things, go far places, or experience all that this world advertises. Just being with You exceeds all that.

Your presence fills and satisfies me like nothing else. I know all who put their hope in You find the same sense of rest. Help me remember, Lord, that this is the goal of faith: simple, soul-deep trust in You.

(Illustration Credit: [[File:Léon Perrault, 1894 – Mother with Child.jpg|thumb|Léon Perrault, 1894 – Mother with Child]])

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #4

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Goodness Prayer (A Paraphrase of Psalm 116)

God, You are so good. Imprisoned by trouble I would never have escaped, I discovered You coming to my rescue; You heard my cry and came in answer to it in a way that perfectly balanced grace—Your free gift, and righteousness—what justice required, and compassion—love for the unlovely. That is so good.

What it takes from me is an admission of my own need, my own lack of goodness. I must reject the pride that is my inborn habit, coming to You in faith—simple-hearted, open-faced and unadorned trust in You. My soul finds rest, time and time again, when I admit that You are good for me.

You deliver me from the dark influence of evil so that I may walk with You; this is Paradise found in the truest sense. And my role? You ask me to trust You, to believe in what I cannot see, to admit that You are completely good and all-powerful, and that I am anything but that. That is the covenant You call salvation and offer me—a cup of wine deep and fragrant and sparkling.

This imagery, of course, reminds me of You, Jesus, body broken for me, blood spilled for my eternal good. Because of You the death of every one of us who trust in You will be the precious reuniting of children with good Father, servants with good Master and the rescued with good Redeemer.

So I rejoice in being Your servant. I will take every opportunity to thank You for Your goodness and love, to praise Your name before others, and to live my life as a thank offering to You.

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 14

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More Than Human.

Why do children love a good superhero? Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and Spiderman have enthralled generations of modern children. Tales are told of super powers righting the wrongs done by evil villains and natural disasters. Even ancient civilizations had their tales of valiant characters—Greek gods and goddesses, heroes of myths, sagas, and legends.

I suggest that each one of us enters life with a natural credulity for the supernatural; our artless innocence is wired to believe a cosmic champion will make the wrongs of this world right. Is there more fact than fiction to this yearning for a greater-than-human victor to enter our lives?

As the first century writer Matthew pens his fourteenth chapter he touches that chord in us. He shows us evidence that this man Jesus is not merely a man; He is truly man but He is also much more than human.

On the day chronicled in Matthew chapter 14, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded at the whim of Herod Antipas, Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” He needed to mourn and He needed respite from the crowds that often surrounded Him. His closest friends, the Twelve, were with Him and they saw the depth of His sorrow at losing His friend to death’s dark blow. This enemy—death—was the foe Jesus had come to vanquish and He understood the significance of its venom much more fully than did those around Him.

Alas, as Jesus and His disciples landed on the far shore, the ‘solitary place’ was teeming with people who had skirted the lakeshore on foot. Crowds draw a crowd, and the people wanted a healer. His own grief must wait; seeing them, He “had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

Hours later, as the last broken mind and body was restored to vigorous health, Jesus’ disciples approached Him. “Send the crowds away,” they suggested. The sun was approaching the western horizon. They were getting hungry and the crowd of thousands was beginning to feel like a liability to the disciples.

“They do not need to go away,” answered Jesus. “You give them something to eat.”

Us?’ the disciples must have wondered in disbelief. The shore and hillside was literally thick with people—men, women, and children by the thousands. The disciples could not imagine what Jesus was talking about. ‘Who had the resources to feed this mass?’ they were thinking.

Then Jesus took a boy’s offering of five small loaves of bread and two fish. Thanking His heavenly Father, Jesus broke the loaves and gave the pieces to the Twelve to pass to the people. ‘How far will that go?’ the disciples must have wondered. Yet as they obeyed, reaching into their baskets to share with family after family, the supply met the demand. How long this took we’re not told, but it must have been long enough to work a miracle in the hearts of those Twelve men. Disbelief and confusion turned to surprise and joy, perhaps even repentance and awe—the mighty power of the God-man Jesus was feeding not only stomachs but also hearts and souls. When the last person was fed and satisfied the disciples’ baskets were finally empty.

The lesson Jesus’ disciples learned that day was yet another building- block in the foundation of a new perspective the Twelve were acquiring. Jesus was no ordinary man—the disciples were becoming more and more convinced of that. Simon Peter would later put that growing conviction into words claiming, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15,16).

So we come back to the present, the here-and-now of your life and mine. Who do we say Jesus is—a good man, a teacher, a kind and compassionate people-person? Yes, that is all true; it is a beginning, but let’s not end there. We need the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When the Father places the thought on our hearts that the Son is more than man—He is God in the flesh—we must own that truth, apply it to everything we think, say and do. It changes everything.

That is what we are created for. That is the yearning we’ve had since we were children. Jesus is the superhero we have longed for, the valiant righter of wrongs who has the resources to speak everything we need into our lives. Let’s entrust ourselves to Him today in every aspect of our day. He is trustworthy because He is more than a man—He is God.

(Photo Credit: By Wegmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12632456)

ROMANS 15

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Insults vs. Blessing:

Floggings received: Five times the forty-lashes-minus-one the culture of the day allowed. Beatings: three with rods; stoned: once. Shipwrecks experienced: one, including a day and night in the open sea. Dangers faced: rivers, bandits, countrymen, foreigners, urban settings, rural settings, false friends, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, lack of shelter and lack of clothing. The list goes on. These are the difficulties described by a follower of Christ who wrote extensively to other followers in the early years of the fledgling church. And it is the same person who writes of the crossroads of insult versus blessing.

Is the emphasis on all the insults believers can expect to suffer for following Jesus as Lord of their lives? There have been plenty of insults. There will be more. Many will lose their livelihoods, their liberties and their lives for the sake of Christ. But instead, the chapter is chalk full of expressions of blessing.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,” Paul blesses, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God gives. He gives endurance and encouragement through difficult times. He does not leave us lost and alone as we face the challenges that come our way in life through following Him.

He gives a spirit of unity among His people so that we have a family of supportive brothers and sisters, unified in purpose and devoted to love and acceptance of one another.

And He gives us the ability to live in a way that glorifies Him – He empowers us to rise above the hopelessness and failings of our lives that characterized us before we met Him.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,” the Apostle Paul continues, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God gives joy; as we choose to follow His principles of selfless obedience to Him we find the strivings of our old ways empty and hollow shadows in comparison with His joy.

God gives peace; we still experience challenges in this life, but there is a difference now. We have the overwhelming sense of God working all things out for the good for those who love Him. We know the difficulties in life are being used by God to make us more like Jesus. Our lives are not in danger of being wasted, but in the process of being recreated.

And God gives hope, overflowing hope welling up within us by the presence of His Spirit and pouring out to those around us.

“The God of peace be with you all,” he finishes.

God gives Himself. He promises to never leave nor forsake those who turn their lives over to Him. He is ever-present, closer than a brother, deeper than our hearts or minds can imagine, and fuller than we can contain. He is with us.

While God is busy giving into our lives, we are not merely passive bystanders. Look back at both verses of blessing. God blesses as we do something. What is it?

“…as you follow Christ” and “…as you trust in him.”

Those who long to be borne on the path of blessing must recognize that there is a crossroads of decision to be made. We must decide to follow Christ. We must choose to trust in Him every step of the way. There will still be difficulties in life – in fact, we may become the brunt of insults heaped upon us by a world that hates Jesus Christ. But as we follow Him and entrust ourselves to His infinite care, we will be blessed by enough endurance, encouragement, unity, joy, peace, and hope to carry the day. His presence with us ensures that.

That’s the path of blessing. Are you on it?

REVELATION: CONCLUSION

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Invitation (Rev.3:19-22)

It is 1973. Several employees of the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden are being held hostage in the bank vault. Surrounded by the wealth they are on payroll to protect, the employees begin to react in increasingly strange ways over the six days of their incarceration. Rather than embracing the efforts of the police who have come to their aid, the hostages reject the assistance offered them, and side with their abductors. They have become emotionally attached to their kidnappers through a psychological phenomenon now known as the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ or ‘capture-bonding’. Their bonding to their captors has made them unwilling to invite or accept help from true rescuers.

As Jesus concludes his final message to the seven churches, he speaks of the need for captives to invite help. See if you can hear it.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We might say we have one scenario and two kinds of people on earth: all of us are captives to sin; some believe we don’t need God, and some believe we do. The greatest piece of Literature on earth supports this synopsis. Those of us who believe we don’t need God are prone to refute the facts. We will ignore, argue, or blatantly discredit God’s Word, God’s followers and even God Himself in order to support our worldview. We think our value as prime eyewitness of our own life experience establishes credulity in our case.

But the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ tells us differently, doesn’t it? It describes a phenomenon where victims can lose the ability to correctly understand the situation. Kidnappers are seen as confidantes, rescuers as rivals. Satan, humankind’s worst enemy has availed himself of this phenomenon and duped us. We have bonded with this enemy-captor and cannot see clearly through the fog. Those of us who believe we do need God have made a choice to trust the facts presented in the Bible regardless of our Stockholm syndrome predisposition.

Jesus is not giving out this invitation. He’s asking for it. He’s saying, ‘I’m waiting here to be invited into the core of your being. I’m ready to be the honoured guest of your heart, to take over the leadership of your life.’ It’s an invitation we need to make on a daily basis, to acknowledge Jesus as Liberator, Confidante, and Sovereign. He will not intrude; He waits for our daily invitation.

The Christian life, as described here by Jesus the Redeeming One, is an upwardly spiraling coil: Jesus’ deep love for us is communicated — we respond by inviting Him to generally transform our lives — He communicates specific areas in our character that need changing — we ignore, balk, or procrastinate — He rebukes us, offering us the discipline we desperately need — we submit, obey and find peace in His presence — we invite Him deeper into our hearts — He draws us (metaphorically) upward; and the cycle repeats.

If we find ourselves today in step four, the ignoring, balking, procrastinating stage, Jesus’ message today is for us. We’ve allowed ourselves to be capture-bonded back into the old ways, but Jesus is near; His discipline is for our good and He is only an invitation away from drawing us further up and further into His plans to transform us. Those who take this step He calls overcomers. That’s a good thought, isn’t it? Let’s call to Him; He’s only an invitation away.

Photo Credit: WIkimedia Commons

 

THE D.C., GOD, AND YOU, Part 1

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Whose Are You?

Five spritely Navions darted overhead in formation. Their harmonizing rumble drew us out-of-doors to see the graceful and powerful display. On board each plane were some of our community’s most precious possessions—our daughters. Girls in our town were being invited to experience a thrilling encounter with flight: aviation’s call to consider a career in the skies. For some of those girls, this day would mark the beginning of a dream, the seed of a plan for whom the sky is no limit.

In a much larger sense, every one of us finds ourselves at some point allying ourselves with something bigger than we are, because we are drawn to belong. We collect in groups and we become, in some ways, like the group. Groups become known as sub-cultures, and the strongest group receives the dubious title of ‘Dominant Culture’—we’ll call it here the ‘D.C.’. It embodies the collection of values and behaviours practiced by the group that wields most power in that society. The concept is old; it goes way back, as far back as people have lived in societies. In fact, there is reference to it deep in the book of Second Kings, about one-quarter of the way into the Bible. It reads like it comes straight out of today’s D.C., and is intriguing. It gives us some ideas to think about and a few tools to manage our relationship with the D.C. of our time.

A little background might help. It’s about the sixth or seventh century B.C., and the Jewish homeland has been ravaged, internally by godlessness and externally by invading nations. The northern group of Jews has been carted off by the Assyrians and will become known as ‘the ten lost tribes’. Only Judah remains, and most of these people have taken refuge in the ancient city of Jerusalem because the mighty empire of Assyria is now besieging them. King Hezekiah has tried to appease the Assyrians by stripping Jerusalem’s temple of its gold, silver and other treasures. He thinks the assailants might be content with trinkets. But Assyria is hungry for more; it wants people and it wants land. It wants to assert its dominance. Can you guess who is the D.C. in this story? As the retinue of the supreme commander of Assyria stands boldly at Jerusalem’s gate, the onslaught begins. It’s a verbal one, and it’s intended to bring King Hezekiah to his knees in defeat. I think we have a thing or two to learn from Hezekiah’s response to this cultural onslaught.

We are told, “Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings…He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him…and the LORD was with him;” That’s a eulogy worth repeating. In fact, those attributes – trusting in and holding fast to the LORD, and persevering in following Him – are not obsolete. They are foundational to a solid, God-honouring life. Read them again. Would it be true to say that embodying those attributes could be more important than anything else we do with our lives? What would it take to move us from where we are now to being described by those words: trusting, holding fast, not ceasing to follow God? Do we want that kind of branding?

What set Hezekiah apart as a unique man among his peers was the object of his worship. Who do we worship? What or who is it in our lives that we honour as having the power to significantly alter and improve our lives?

As we begin to explore how we ought to relate and participate in the D.C. of our day, this is where we must begin: we must dig deep and ask ‘who do we worship?’ and ‘are we unswerving in our commitment?’. Think about it. Talk to God about it. As we move forward, this foundation will have everything to do with the outcome.