Category Archives: 21. The Story

The Story (Sunday) – Luke 23:26-46

As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. (Luke 23:26-27)

Simon involuntarily carried Jesus’ cross. Jesus tells us we must voluntarily carry our own. The cross of Christ drew a large crowd. Taking up our own is much less popular. Is the reality of the cross being lived out in contemporary western culture? In the church I attended for twenty years, I do not recall any sermons on Luke 9:23. Here is an adaptation of that verse from the Amplified Bible;

And Jesus said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him disown himself; let him forget and refuse himself and give himself up to me. Let him take up his cross daily and cleave steadfastly to Me. Let him be conformed wholly to My example in living and, if necessary, in dying also.

I cannot help but think of my granddaughter who just asked Jesus into her heart. Should this little note about her cross have been shared with her before she invited Jesus in? When will her obligation to disown herself come due? I pray that she will be exposed to (and choose) the full -gospel that birthed the first century Church – not the contemporary western version that has excluded the cross.

I understand my granddaughter’s prayer went something like this, “Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and (by the way) thank you for feeding the five hundred.” From there she likely picked up her American Doll and skipped on to her next adventure. How will this precious child come to understand Luke 9:23? Will someone be there to explain to her that she has been saved by a gift, yet as it is opened, it will include her cross? I have concern that her bright mind may stumble over the tangled ideas of a gift and a cross.

I am so grateful that Jesus has come into her life and that her parents will be the models of this apparent contradiction. I believe her parent’s lives will demonstrate how the precious gift of Jesus Christ is the beginning of life and that the continuance of it involves dying to our own agendas. By God’s grace, their lives will embody and model Luke 9:23 as the counterintuitive pathway to actual freedom. I believe their deference to the Holy Spirit will equip them to equip her to walk by faith and obedience. I believe her parent’s lives will help her untangle the mystery of the gift and the cross.

I pray for my young granddaughter-disciple that her community will help her distinguish between the American Dream and the Kingdom of God. I pray they will not only pledge allegiance to the American flag and the republic for which it stands; I pray they will model submission to God for the furtherance of His Kingdom. I pray that her grasp of the cross will help her to see America the Beautiful in the right light. While the constitution attempts to guarantee her rights to pursue liberty and happiness, I pray that she will see Jesus and His words in Luke 9:23 as her only true Guarantor of freedom and joy. So be it Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story (Saturday) – Luke 10:25-37

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heartand with all your souland with all your strengthand with all your mindand your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-27)

It is unfortunate that Jesus did not take the opportunity to preach the gospel of Himself (the gospel of Jesus Christ – as we have have it) and say, “You have answered incorrectly, you must invite Me into Your heart; do this and you will live.” Instead, the Lord of Life said to him…

“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)

It seems Jesus’ assuring words may have awakened the lawyer to his own legal problem. He immediately tries to reduce his exposure by fishing for a definition of neighbor that might not condemn him.

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Jesus knew this man’s dilemma. Its the same as ours. Jesus’ efforts to liberate us captives causes Him to share the story of The Good Samaritan.

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.  And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Being generous can be difficult cant it? As I listen to generous-hearted people describe their attempts to be good Samaritans, I hear painful accounts of being conned by those claiming to have been waylaid by life. Being poor has become an occupation for some and the key to their success is location, location, location – and guilt.

As the would-be Samaritans approach the intersection (franchise) in their cars, Guilt stabs their heart and says, “That person has so little and you have so much. That person’s burdens are much greater than yours.” These statements are not necessarily false but true charity asks, “Is this wise? Could my donation be doing this person harm?”

Did God intend for this person’s problems to drive them to this intersection so they could advertise their poverty to 5,000 cars (on a good day)? I seriously doubt it. At the same time we must not turn off our charity. Charity does no harm because it is both generous and wise. We would be poor stewards of charity if we were to react by hardening our hearts to all giving just because some have given the poor a bad name with their professionalism.

Well then…if these people are not the poor, who are the poor? I believe when we see things from God’s perspective, we are the poor, every last one of us who think we are making life work while excluding God. We are everywhere. Some of the poorest are those with wealth and power, living from one comfort to the next. Other poor live from paycheck to paycheck. And some poor live from handout to handout. The poor are all of us who live without God as our life.

The poor, in our parable happens to be a man with obvious and immediate needs. These needs became apparent to three different people in the course of their daily affairs, traveling from one place to another. Two of them grossly fail the test of loving their neighbor as themselves. In failing to love their neighbor, they failed to love God, in spite of their holy occupations and linage.

This unfortunate man is not just the subject of Jesus’ moralistic homily. God is defining for the lawyer (and us) just who is our neighbor. Remember, the poor are everywhere. We work with them and live next to them. They are our friends and acquaintances. Good Samaritans identify their neighbors needs and help to carry them. If we have eyes to see, these burdens are all around us. God has startegically placed us on earth such that we will encounter them and not pass them by. He wants us to love them as ourselves and in doing so, love him.

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)

I live among a community of saints who regularly encounter those in need and model the Samaritan’s pattern of charity. When they come upon the person lying in the road, they quickly try to stop the bleeding. They clean the wound the best they can. They make sure basic needs are met. They recruit help so that others can have the privilege of loving God. These teams find ways to follow through. They are faithful to stay engaged until the person (or family) finds their own strength and stability. Restoring people to this place of dignity is the goal of true charity. Drive-by-gifts are a sad and (typically) harmful parody of true charity.

If we will open our eyes and connect with our community, we will discover that the poor are all around us. God may call some to direct their resources to the opposite side of town or abroad but He directs all of us to care for our neighbors. And who are neighbors? They are the people God has strategically located on our intersection – that place we are passing by on our way from here to there. Our communities are those people within our relational reach. With Christ in us, with Christ in our communities, we have the Resource to clean the wounds, stop the bleeding, recruit the help (if needed) without referring it the benevolent committee.

The wisdom and generosity of Charity are healing balms to the Body of Christ. We are vessels filled with this Ointment. Oh how healthy and beautiful the Bride shall be when she is adorned with true Charity. Authentic God (not guilt) -induced charity is one way we can be in the world and yet not of the world. Who knows, perhaps they will come to know us by our love.

Father, so  that we do not die without a vision, reveal to us our communities and our neighbors. Show us their burdens. May we discover the nature of the Ointment within us. May we see that “we” are the broken vessels from which Your life was to be poured out. Teach us to love others that we might love You – fill us afresh that we might overflow, for your Name’s sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story (Friday) – Luke 14:7-24

Jesus is once again in the house of a Pharisee. He is keenly aware that rank rules with these Jewish leaders. Jesus loves them yet he knows they are spiritually dead. Jesus, never loosing sight of His mission, is trying to set them free. To do so He must confront and overthrow most every idea they have about righteousness and where it ultimately comes from. What better place to do this than a party – where their heart-habit of comparison is in full play.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)

Jesus is not just picking on Pharisees. It just so happens that a heart-habit endemic to man just happens to be unusually concentrated in this setting. Jesus is a savior but He is also a social revolutionary unlike no other. To set all the captives free, He must confront and overthrow our most fundamental social conventions which are ordered around our own personal needs. We may not require top dog status – but we most assuredly love recognition. We believe this, at least, is our fair portion. Jesus is exposing our heart-habit of only gathering with those who have the capacity and willingness to repay each other in kind – with recognition. He is saying we should take a longer view regarding repayment. Jesus is our Savior, yet as our Truth – Who is also our Life, He often becomes the troubler of our hearts.

And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:12-15)

For Jesus’ after-dinner speech He chose the Parable of the Dinner where He was taking advantage of the meal setting as a metaphor for the gathering God is organizing. Every eye and ear are trained upon Jesus as He begins …

“A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'” (Luke 14:16-24)

His audience cannot yet know it but what God is about to do in Christ at Calvary is the invitation to the banquet. It seems that the excuses men gave for not attending to this invitation is the one thing that angers God. However, I cannot help but notice to what lengths God goes to compel men to accept His invitation and attend this banquet.

Much is made in evangelical Christianity of election. Whatever that doctrine actually entails, it is playing out in tragic ways in this parable as men reject Christ of their own accord (at least I don’t think God planted excuses in their hearts.) This is a great mystery for sure, but this parable does not portray God’s heart as exclusionary. On the contrary, God’s heart seems very, very inclusive and patient. But we must not reject His Son. After His patience is exhausted, His wrath will be directed at those who made excuses.

Father, allow your creation to open and read afresh your invitation. Challenge our excuses; persist until we see the folly of our choices. Confront and overthrow all our hurtful notions about You and ourselves, for Your Name’s sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Story (Thursday)—Luke 12:22-34

In his saving us, Jesus’ mission is to awaken our hearts to the preeminence of life in the Spirit, which is eternal, and to demonstrate its superiority over the flesh, which is external and momentary. For men conditioned in their thinking by a material world, this task can be an uphill battle. Jesus would probably say:

 How hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. Yet all things are possible with God. (adapted from Matthew 19:23-26)

On this day, a huge crowd presses Jesus. People are clamoring for solutions to the external problems of their lives. For example: one man makes what seems to be a reasonable request, “Order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” Jesus says, “No. That’s not my job.” Jesus knew this man’s real need was not material. To fulfill His mission, to proclaim and expand the kingdom of God, it was going to require him to say things that were offensive.  He had to expose the real issue at hand, which was the greed that prompted the request in the first place. “Greed?” we might ask. “That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? Didn’t the man say he only wanted his fair share?” Let me ask you a question: from God’s perspective, is “fair” a word that even applies to us as sons and heirs of the kingdom?

Behold,” Jesus announced, “The kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts].” (AMP)

Jesus is building His kingdom one heart at a time. His tools are innocent sounding stories with razor sharp edges that have the potential of piercing the heart of flesh where it resists eternity. I think of words of this nature as facilitating the ongoing circumcision of our hearts, which is the indicator of our membership in the new covenant, as physical circumcision was the sign of belonging to the old covenant.

Kingdom proclaimers endeavor to increase true wealth for others. They are conscious of the brevity of this life and desire that, when men stand before the Lord, their portfolios be invested heavily in the invisible things that moth and rust cannot destroy. To do this, they live and speak a different language (often one that cuts and offends). Listen to Jesus:

Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” (Luke 12:15 MSG)

How alien and sharp these words seem to us. Why would Jesus say such disruptive things? Because he knows it is always possible that, “This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” He doesn’t want anyone to die whose heart has stored up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Jesus continues:

 “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  (Luke 12:22-23)

Now Jesus reveals another unbelievably sharp edge of His scalpel. He is not only after what we want in order to protect us from greed, He is now slicing away at our needs to protect us from worry. We might be thinking, “That’s not fair.” Jesus might ask, “Fair?

With stories of birds and flowers he makes His case for the invisible yet unending kingdom. He wants to see men dressed suitably for that realm. He knows that none of the external things we tend to focus on will transfer when we die. And besides, if we have strived to possess them, we are even now shabbily dressed.

 “But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you?” (Luke 12:28)

Here is how He suggests we approach our wardrobe. First:

 Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. (from Luke 12:29-32 MSG)

Then:

 Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. Luke 12:33-34 MSG) 

Have we ever asked ourselves whether we are resisting or promoting the kingdom of God in our hearts? Maybe, in light of this story, we can simply pray and ask God to show us where we are obstructing the kingdom. When we walk through the aisle or look through the catalogue, we can become more in tune with our hearts when they say, “I want that.”  Could watching over our hearts diligently as we are commanded, equip us to distinguish between wants and needs? Perhaps our heart’s edginess and offense with words like fairnesswant or worry, is our signal that He aspires to open a new conversation with us, one that will expand the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Father, may our hearts be yours to shape and mold as you will. Cut away fleshly obstructions to Your kingdom. Show us how to die to any undersized and misplaced wants so that You might give us Your kingdom and its accompanying abundant Life. Thank You for saying these sharp and essential things. Help us to cloth ourselves for Your Kingdom, which has come and is coming. Thank You, that even though these things are impossible to us, they are all possibilities with You. Amen.

An entertaining story with many of its own sharp edges dovetails with today’s passage: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I highly recommend it.

 

The Story (Wednesday)—Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ (Luke 15:1)

So…Jesus told this large assembly “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” These stories bring to mind a phrase – ‘the fullness of time,’ from Galatians 4:4-6:

 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

In our passage we learn something about the nature of this fullness. There is tension in it. Heaven is prone to rejoicing, yet the stewards of the Law on earth are grumbling. And what is the source of their grumbling?

 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends. (The Message)

This suggests that in the fullness of time, the stewards and adherents of God’s Law had missed the spirit of God’s assignment so badly that they were persecuting people responding to Jesus – the actual fulfillment of the Law! Paul tells us that, “Because of you (Jews who were mishandling the Law) God’s name is blasphemed among the nations.” In attending to the letter of the law, they totally missed the spirit of itIn Romans, Paul, a former steward of the law, elaborates:

 The ‘Jew’ isn’t the person who appears to be one, you see. Nor is ‘circumcision’ what it appears to be, a matter of physical flesh. The Jew is one in secret; and ‘circumcision’ is in the heart, in the spirit rather than the letter. Such a person gets ‘praise, not from humans, but from God. (Romans 2:28 N.T Wright translation)

In a study of Romans I was recently involved with, we had a few who thought Paul was a bit hard on the Jewish leaders. They commented, “They had been given the Law and they were simply doing their utmost to obey it.” I suppose, in a sense, that was true, but we have to keep in mind that Jesus’ stories are designed to help us see what we’re not seeing. Outward obedience to a code in anticipation of reward was never what God wanted from us. That is what men do with God, in their flesh and without the Spirit. We need to keep in mind that it is the heart, and, apparently, its circumcision, in which God is interested.

 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

The Holy Spirit is focused on the why (or the spirit of the matter), while man, in his flesh, is hung up on the what (or the letter of the matter). God, as He perpetually endeavors to transform us into the image of His Son, is intent on why we do what we do. This happens along the way as we experience the circumcision of the heart. If we do not, we will be destined, like the Jews, to focus on external obedience and to repeat history—misrepresenting God to the very people He wants to reach.

In our Romans study, a number of questions came up, which I pray we might find answers to. One in particular stands out: “Is the circumcision of the flesh a one time affair, or is it an ongoing one?”

I believe the answer is ‘Yes!’ Physical circumcision takes place once in a baby boy’s life. It is something done by others to him. Flesh is cut away. I believe this happens once to us as well when we place our confidence in Christ as our new Life. Our rebirth is accomplished by the giving and receiving of His Spirit, something that God does to us—thus accounting for our new hearts which were promised as a part of the new covenant. And while it is a mystery, our flesh was crucified with Christ. In the unseen eternal realm the reign of our flesh is over. It is cut away.

Recall that it was circumcision of the flesh that was the evidence of being a partaker of the old covenant and its Law. It is circumcision of the heart that is evidence of the new birth and of being a partaker of the new covenant. Also keep in mind that we have been saved and are being saved. I believe in this being saved aspect of our lives (this working out of our salvation) his apprentices will also experience an ongoing circumcision of the heart. Those whose hearts are being formed into the image of Christ will see the scalpel again in the fullness of time when it becomes necessary to cut away aspects of our fleshly life which have yet to be surrendered to His rule.

I believe the idea of living-in Christ has been cut away from the normal Christian life in western culture. Living actively with Christ as Lord within our hearts is not well taught or modeled. Living fully in Christ, for the most part, has become an optional track for those who have been “called” into full-time ministry or into the “deeper” Christian life (as it has unfortunately been labeled). This is more than most signed up for when they asked Jesus into their hearts or performed whatever external ritual to join the church.

Could the widely acknowledged malaise in western Christianity be traced to the circumcision of discipleship (living in Christ) away from the Christian life? Could this error account for millions of believers who are anticipating God’s kingdom when they die, when in fact, unbeknownst to them, it’s already here? How are we different than the Jews who were in trouble for their stewardship of the covenant entrusted to them? Is there sufficient transformation into Christ’s image to prevent His name from being blasphemed by us in our age? Isn’t this already happening?

 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

So many of us are laboring in our obedience to live lives that are pleasing to God. If we are to measure ourselves by New Testament standards (and not our own present culture’s) there are a few litmus tests we can use. The first one I see is this: when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, joy will always accompany it (certainly not grumbling).

A second: persons of questionable character will be drawn to the salvation which they see worked out by the adopted sons and daughters whose identities are being altered and whose character is being reshaped – saints who are infected with celebrant, childlike joy and gratitude. Sadly though, people will continue to be repelled by joyless lives attempting to comply with the letter of a particular religious code, however hard they labor to please God. Always, the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.

Is being a disciple really a deeper Christian life or is it just the normal one which has been, of necessity, cut away from western Christian culture so that we can focus on the here’s and now’s of a temporal, material world without troubling our consciences?

Father, We have rejected the disciple’s life in Christ for so many wrong reasons and not surprisingly we are failing in Your commission to go and make disciples. Let now be the fullness of time. Let authentic renovation of our hearts take place. Deliver us from all the heart-errors that contribute to our misrepresentation of You. Awaken us and restore to us our new hearts, which do not see your reign as a heavy burden, rather as the very Spirit of righteousness who indwells and animates us. Work within our hearts until our realization of being Your sons and daughters spills out into a flood of stories honoring Your holy and precious name.

 

 

The Story (Tuesday)—Luke 7:36-50

Simon was nervous already, having invited Jesus, a known sabbath-breaker (and yet possibly a prophet?) to his home for a meal. Simon knew that Jesus was performing miracles, but he was also deeply troubled that Jesus so easily mingled with the uneducated and unclean people who were beneath the status he and his Pharisee brethren had attained. He was deeply conflicted. God was obviously with this man, but how could that be when he regularly contaminated himself, mingling with the rabble, and violating the Sabbath? Simon’s righteousness—in fact, that of his nation’s—had been maintained through their meticulous attendance to the Law, which this Jesus seemed to so easily disregard.

The room was already filled with awkward social tension when a prostitute, the most defiled person in the city, found her way into the gathering. No one escorted her back outside; she was far too unclean to be approached by men of Simon’s stature and purity. Besides, to make matters worse, she was crying uncontrollably. The only thing that brought the noise level down was when the woman’s eyes met Jesus’. She rushed to him, falling to her knees, and with convulsive sobs drenched his feet with tears. She added perfume to the pool that was forming there and used her hair to mop up the mixture. With that concoction, she washed Jesus’ feet.

Jesus, knowing Simon’s fragile condition as a Pharisee and dinner host, jumpstarts the conversation. He says, “Simon, I would like to say something to you.” Simon, relieved beyond telling, says, “Please, by all means, say it.”

Jesus then relates “The Parable of the Two Debtors.” We know both the story and its punch line:

 She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal. (MSG)

Simon realized that Jesus had just exposed him and most of his guests as the ungrateful minimalists in the parable.  What Simon didn’t know yet was that while this seemed to easily be the worst day of his life, it was, potentially speaking, the best. Jesus said, astonishingly to Simon, that this woman’s sins had been forgiven on the basis of her profuse gratitude. It was quite clear: Jesus was implying that his sins (and those of the other Pharisees present) were not forgiven because they had, as yet, no thankfulness in their hearts.

In God’s sight, whose sin is actually greater? Is it a woman who repeatedly sells her body for the money needed to survive, or is it that of those further up the social ladder who repeatedly pass judgment on others like her, who they perceive to be beneath them morally and socially? In the sight of God, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who have come to see their spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God. And also…how hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. This explains why tears flowed from one and not the other.

In some circles today, a heart broken by God is way down the list as a spiritual experience. Stories containing healing, deliverance, blessing, or an answered prayer are much preferred. In some circles, it would be unthinkable that God might coordinate the circumstances, as he did for Simon, to expose in us some impoverishment of heart. We are told that our hearts are not impoverished. They are brand new, intrinsically good and above such old-time religion. I actually agree with this theology, but I have a problem: I believe God has broken into my new heart on at least three occasions since first coming to know Him in 1976. And I would not trade those encounters for anything. They were answers to my deepest and most heartfelt prayers:

 One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. Psalm 27:4

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139: 23-24

Had it not been for these break-ins (and the accompanying gift of repentance), I could have never wept over my heart (however new it may have been) for the hurtful and anxious ways it had learned to live independent of God, while making, I might add, quite a showing (religiously speaking). I read about Simon the Pharisee, and I have hope for him because I recall Robthe Pharisee. It is just like Jesus, in his kindness, to step into a party (or a human heart) and disrupt the false and fragile equilibrium of the status quo.

I know from experience that this process of brokenness is a rare and precious thing. Without having passed this way a few times I would never have arrived at the place of my present declaration:

 God is able to keep me from stumbling, and to make me stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. (From Jude 24)

Having experienced this kind of blessedness, I can only pray to Him who is the fulfillment of the Law for all those who have and will believe…

Father, would you cleanse us from every pharisaic attitude operating in our hearts. Please help us to see where, in any way, we carry around judgments toward those you bled and died for. Grant us the same compassion You have for the oppressed and discarded. Break our hearts where they need broken and let us rise cleansed—free and joyful, ready to proclaim your name in both word and deed before a world that is lost and rightly skeptical about religion. Through us show them Your Life!

 Now to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. (from Jude 25)

 

 

The Story (Monday)—Luke 15:11-32

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language, and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice. But God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall be open to one another.” (From Meditation XVII by John Donne)

Today’s passage is “The Prodigal Son.” I think Tim Keller was right in suggesting that “The Prodigal Father” would be even more appropriate. However in a religious culture largely bent on saving souls from Hell, the traditional focus on the wayward son is predictable. Recently I have been learning more about the father and the elder brother as God has been writing new chapters in my life. In a real way, MwM is simply my commentary on these new chapters.

I wasn’t a youngest son. I was an only son, and I was a classic prodigal. I didn’t ask my father for any share of his estate, but I did take enough of it to get myself the heck out of my home town and off to college where I faced an unprecedented opportunity to squander time and money without restriction. Sweet freedom! Or so I thought.

I, too, spent everything I had and experienced a severe famine of sorts: it was a famine of the soul. In that season I didn’t even know what I was hungering for. All I knew was that, somewhere deep within, I was dying. In the desolate landscape of my heart, no one was giving me anything that my spirit could digest. My attempts to nourish my soul with hard work, reading, and eastern meditation each promised hope but did not deliver.

Then I came into real contact with Jesus Christ—the one I had heard about in those Presbyterian Sunday school classes. This Jesus was different though. He wasn’t just the Lord of Easter bunnies, Christmas trees, and high church. This Jesus was the Lord of Life. Incredibly, he rescued me from my toxic and condemned life.

All I did was say to Him, “Since I am destroying it, You can have my life.” To my utter astonishment, He imparted something into my deepest being that began to undo and remake me. I was no longer starving, and a peace that surpassed anything I had ever known filled me up. To this date, I account for this miracle by simply saying, “The Lord of Life miraculously and mysteriously imparted His own Life into me.” I became a new creation in Christ only because the Holy Spirit took up residence in my heart. It’s that simple.

But then, glowing brightly as the restored prodigal, I decided I had to commit to a way of life that was pleasing to God (where did I get the idea that He wasn’t pleased with me?). And I heard the preacher say that the laborers were few, so I reasoned that He was calling me into those fields white for harvest. Yes, this was it: “I have been called into ministry!” (It rattles me to this day when I hear people, particularly young ones, utter this phrase. But, that is another chapter, which I will call “How I Was Called Into Ministry–And You Weren’t” (much sarcasm intended).

Sarcasm excised, my story should be titled, “Confessions of an Older Brother—How Prodigals Become Elder Brothers.” The short version: many churches and ministries are starving for laborers to enter into the harvest fields of their defined visions. In the execution of their vision, in the hirings and the firings and the preaching and the teaching, it is all too easy to make human doings out of human beings, pharisaic elder brothers out of innocent and authentic prodigals who were legitimately restored to their Father. The problem: modern western Christianity is not reproducing disciples who each understand their indispensable kingdom calling. It is reproducing (not surprisingly) church attenders who exist apparently to fund real ministry with their tithes (where in the living Word did this vision come from?).

This unfortunate mutation into elder brotherhood can happen as we begin to think, as I did, that our labors (not we ourselves) give God pleasure. As Adam’s descendants we are born into this world with a crisis of identity that, unfortunately, can survive our rebirth as Christians. How does this happen? We were evicted from Paradise and exiled into a land where we learned to survive by our wits. However, that eviction notice was branded into our souls and predisposed us to feeling rejection. At the core of our being (let’s call that place our identity) something says, “I am unworthy.” This misshapen identity magnetically attracts religion, which most churches will gladly exploit to fuel their version of the original vision.

Note: In my writing religion is any system of thought or practice whereby the thinking or the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God.

We compensate in any and every way to avoid that singular worst case-nightmare of being rejected again. Let’s imagine our new convert’s entrance into the kingdom. He is legitimately born anew: Christ has entered his life and begins putting things right in his heart. However, this poor soul is exposed to a shrunken vision of Christianity wherein he has been saved and is called to nothing more than survival—the church attending mentality—while the world Jesus died to save continues its inevitable slide toward immorality and judgment. The believer’s role is to submit himself to the covering of the Pastor’s authority and vision. In this vision the kingdom grows as we invite our friends and family to church so that they too can avoid hell and get to heaven.

The insecure soul has had no spiritual father to tell him the rest of the story and how he is destined to find his place in the Father’s ever-expanding kingdom. He hasn’t had a father who can remind him that he is now God’s very own beloved new creation. The culture of spiritual poverty this poor lamb is subjected to is sustained by many heresies. The biggest is that even though he has been born again, he is still, in his primary nature, a “sinner” with a wayward bent. Another lie, following close on the heels of the first, is that God is justifiably angry and wields the rod quickly and harshly. The idea of a laughing or smiling God is inconceivable.

Our new convert with his young heart is grateful that he has been accepted into the fellowship of the righteous. The rejection that still operates within his saved yet unconverted heart, finds that fellowship (especially new found attention) is a balm to his loneliness and search for meaning. He may not be doing the soul-math consciously, but he has calculated in his heart that he now belongs, and he will do whatever is necessary to continue belonging. The insecurity of his heart has not been dealt with: it has only been appeased. The identity that should have been forming in-Christ alone is now attached inordinately to the group.

As time passes and the convert is faithful in little, he inherits much responsibility. Our prodigal is becoming a leader inside the shrunken vision of their local church. The value of having some visibility and receiving kudos for his labors has not escaped his insecure heart’s notice. However in his moments of reflection (which are incredibly sparse now that he is a leader), he is haunted by the notion that he has lost something precious and, if he could be honest, still feels isolated. Something is missing. But—pastor has assured him that hearing this disturbing, fleeting voice is normal.  His council: “Just keep being faithful and God will reward you–if you remain faithful (especially in regards to tithing).”

Pastor was right (as always). Over time the disturbing voice diminished. The problem was that in its place a hardness and rigidity of spirit took shape. Where there were once innocent questions, there are now mostly dogmatic certainties upheld by collections of Bible verses. Even though he has never spent any meaningful time with him, the disciple has become like his pastor/mentor. (We always do.) He is busy and has less and less time for people (just like Pastor). Of necessity, he becomes further isolated from people: ministry obligations consume all his time. And, he thinks to himself, “I am being paid less than minimum wage. Given the pressure, pastor (and God?) place on me to perform, there is an inordinate weight of responsibility on me. If only somebody (preferably Pastor) would say thank you occasionally!” And as to how he feels about God–he dare not express that. His identity, his purpose, and his livelihood are all dependent on not rocking that religious boat.

Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:25-27)

If I may personalize what comes next:

I became angry and was not willing to go in; and my father came out and began pleading with me. But I answered and said to Him, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ (adapted from Luke 15:28-30)

The real heart of my complaint sounded like this:

Because you have expressed your joy and love openly and extravagantly to my so-called brother, I am reminded that this is always how you are with everyone but me! I’m the reason this place keeps running, and You have not treated me fairly. (the lie embraced by the insecure heart)

At this point in the story, Jesus leaves us hanging. In a real sense, 2000+ years after the original telling, this is where we find ourselves today. We have those who label themselves Christian yet misunderstand God and what he endeavors to do in this age. If the earth’s future depends on the vision of us elder brothers, we have great cause for concern.

Father, would you continue putting this world to rights, renovating our hearts, sweeping them clean so that no demonic lies can return there, imprisoning us in walls of our own pious delusion. Restore identity to your sons and daughters that we might be a generation of people who live out of Your Life within us.  May we live as the sons and daughters of a new creation—kingdom children and co-heirs with You, those who see Your delightful smiling face and who never sacrifice a thing in regard to true righteousness and holiness. Amen.

 

The Story (Thursday) – Luke 12:22-34

The Story – Luke 12:22-34

In his saving us, Jesus’ mission is to awaken our hearts to the preeminence of life in the Spirit which is eternal, demonstrating its superiority over the flesh which is external and momentary. For men conditioned in their thinking by a material world, this task can be an uphill battle. Jesus would probably say…

How hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God yet all things are possible with God.

On this day Jesus is pressed by a huge crowd. People are clamoring for solutions to the external problems of their lives. For example; One man makes what seems to be a reasonable request, “Order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” Jesus said, “No”. That’s not my job.” This was because Jesus knew this man’s real need was not material. To fulfill His mission which was to proclaim and expand the kingdom of God it was going to require him to say things that were offensive.  He must expose the real issue at hand which was the greed that prompted the request in the first place. “Greed?” we might ask, “That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? Didn’t the man say he only wanted his fair share?” Let me ask you a question; From God’s perspective, is “fair” a word that even applies to us as sons and heirs of the kingdom? 

Behold”, Jesus announced, “The kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts].

Jesus is building His kingdom one heart at a time. His tools are innocent sounding stories with razor sharp edges which have the potential of piercing the heart of flesh where it is resisting eternity. I think of words of this nature as facilitating the ongoing circumcision of our hearts, which is the indicator of our membership in the new covenant as was physical circumcision the sign of belonging to the old covenant.

Kingdom proclaimers endeavor to increase true wealth for others. They are conscious of the brevity of this life and desire that when men stand before the Lord, their portfolios are invested heavily in the invisible things which moth and rust cannot destroy. To do this they live and speak a different language (often one that cuts and offends). Listen to Jesus…

Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”

How alien and sharp these words seem to us. Why would Jesus say such disruptive things? Because he knows it is always possible that; This very night our soul is required of us; and now who will own what we have prepared?’ He does not want anyone to die whose heart has stored up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Jesus continues..

For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Now Jesus reveals another unbelievably sharp edge of His scalpel. He is not only after what we want in order to protect us from greed, He is now slicing away at our needs to protect us from worry. We might be thinking, “That not fair.” Jesus might ask,

Fair?”

With stories of birds and flowers he makes his case for the invisible yet unending kingdom. He wants to see men dressed suitably for that realm. He knows that none of the external things we tend to focus on will transfer when we die. And besides, if we have strived to possess them, we are even now shabbily dressed.

But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you?

Here is how he suggests we approach our wardrobe. First…

Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Then….

Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Have we ever asked ourselves if we are resisting or promoting the kingdom of God in our hearts? Maybe, in light of this story, we can simply pray and ask God to show us where we are obstructing the kingdom. When we are walking through the isle or looking through the catalogue, we can become more in tune with our hearts when they say, “I want that.”  Could watching over our hearts diligently as we are commanded, equip us to distinguish between wants and needs? Perhaps our heart’s edginess and offense with words like fairnesswant or worry, is our signal that He aspires to open a new conversation with us, one that will expand the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Father, may our hearts be yours to shape and mold as you will. Cut away fleshly obstructions to Your kingdom. Show us how to die to any undersized and misplaced wants so that You might give us Your kingdom and its accompanying abundant Life. Thank You for saying these sharp and essential things. Help us to cloth ourselves for Your Kingdom which has come and is coming. Thank You that even though these things are impossible to us, they are all possibilities with You. Amen.

An entertaining story with many of its own sharp edges (which dovetails with today’s passage) would be The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story (Wednesday) – Luke 15:1-10

The Story – Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So… Jesus told this large assembly The Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost Coin. 

Jesus’ stories brought to mind ‘the fulness of time‘, a unique phrase from Galatians 4:4-6

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

In our passage we learn something about the nature of this fullness. There is tension in it. Heaven is prone to rejoicing yet the stewards of the Law on earth are grumbling.  And what is the source of their grumbling?

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends. (MSG)

This suggests that in the fullness of time those entrusted with God’s Law had missed the spirit of God’s assignment so badly they were persecuting those responding to Jesus who was the actual fulfillment of the Law!  Paul tells us that, ‘Because of you (Jews who were mishandling the Law) God’s name is blasphemed among the nations‘! In attending to the letter of the law they totally missed the spirit of itIn Romans, Paul, a former steward of the law elaborates on it.….

The ‘Jew’ isn’t the person who appears to be one, you see. Nor is ‘circumcision’ what it appears to be, a matter of physical flesh. The Jew is the one in secret; and ‘circumcision’ is in the heart, in the spirit rather than the letter. Such a person gets ‘praise, not from humans, but from God.

In a study of Romans I was recently involved with we had some who thought Paul was a bit hard on the Jewish leaders. They commented, “They had been given the Law and they were simply doing their utmost to obey it.” I suppose in a sense that was true but we have to keep in mind that Jesus’ stories are designed to help us see what we are not seeing. Outward obedience to a code anticipating blessed outcomes was never what God was after. That is what men do with God, in their flesh without the Spirit. We need to keep in mind that it is the heart, and apparently the circumcision of it, in which God is interested.

   Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

The Holy Spirit is focused on the “why” (or the spirit of the matter) while man, in his flesh is hung up on the “what” (or the letter of the matter). God, as He is perpetually endeavoring to transform us into the image of His Son is intent on why we do what we do. This happens along the way as we experience the circumcision of the heart . If we do not we will be destined like the Jews to focus on external obedience and repeat history – misrepresenting God to the very people He is endeavoring to reveal Himself to.

In our Romans study a number of questions came up which I pray we might find answers to. One in particular stands out; Is the circumcision of the flesh a one time affair or is it an ongoing one?

I believe the answer is  ‘Yes!’ Physical circumcision takes place once in a baby boy’s life. It is something done by others to him. Flesh is cut away. I believe this happens once to us as well when we place our confidence in Christ as our new Life. Our rebirth is accomplished by the giving and receiving of His Spirit, something that God does to us – thus accounting for our new hearts which were promised as a part of the new covenant. And while it is a mystery, our flesh was crucified with Christ. In the unseen eternal realm the reign of our flesh is over. It is cut away.

Recall that it was circumcision of the flesh that was the evidence of being a partaker of the old covenant and its Law. It is circumcision of the heart that is evidence of the new birth and of being a partaker of the the new covenant. Also keep in mind that we have been saved and are being saved. I believe in this being saved aspect of our lives (this working out of our salvation) his apprentices will also experience an ongoing circumcision of the heart. Those whose hearts are being formed into the image of Christ will see the scalpel again in the fulness of time when it becomes necessary to cut away aspects of our fleshly life which have yet to be surrendered to His rule.

I believe discipleship itself has itself has been cut away from the normal Christian life in western culture. Living actively with Christ as Lord over our hearts is not well taught or modeled.  Discipleship, for the most part, has become an optional track for those who have been called into full-time ministry or into the deeper Christian life (as it has unfortunately been labeled). It is quite simply more than most signed up for when they asked Jesus into their hearts or performed whatever external ritual to join the church.

Could the widely acknowledged malaise in western Christianity be traced to the circumcision of discipleship away from the Christian life? Could this error account for millions of believers who are anticipating God’s kingdom when they die when in fact, unbeknownst to them, its already here? How are we different than the Jews who were in trouble for their stewardship of the covenant entrusted to them?  Is there sufficient transformation into Christ’s image to prevent His name from being blasphemed by us in our age? Isn’t this already happening?

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

So many of us are laboring in our obedience to live lives that are pleasing to God. If we are to measure ourselves by new testament standards (and not our own present culture’s) there are a few litmus tests we can use. The first one I see is; when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, joy will always accompany it, (certainly not grumbling).

A second is; persons of questionable character will be drawn to the salvation which they see is being worked out by the adopted sons and daughters whose identities are being altered and whose character is being reshaped, saints who are infected with celebrant childlike joy. Sadly though people will continue to be repelled by joyless lives attempting to comply with the letter of a particular religious code, however hard they are laboring to please God. Always, the Spirit gives life but the letter of the law kills.

Is being a disciple really a deeper Christian life or is it just the normal one which has been, of necessity, cut away from western Christian culture so that we can focus on the here’s and now’s of a temporal material world without troubling our consciences?

Father, We have rejected discipleship for so many wrong reasons and not surprisingly we are failing in Your commission to go and make disciples.  Let ‘now’ be the fulness of time Lord. Let authentic renovation of our hearts take place. Deliver us from all the heart-errors that contribute to our misrepresentation of You. Awaken us and restore to us our new hearts which do not see your reign as a heavy burden, rather as the very Spirit of righteousness who indwells and animates us. Work within our hearts until our realization of being Your sons and daughters spills out into a flood of stories honoring Your holy and precious name.

 

The Story (Tuesday) – Luke 7:36-50

The Story – Luke 7:36-50

Simon was nervous already, having invited Jesus, a known sabbath-breaker (and yet a possible prophet?) to his home for a meal.  Simon knew that Jesus was performing miracles but he was also deeply troubled that Jesus so easily mingled with the uneducated and unclean people who were beneath the status he and his Pharisee brethren had attained. He was deeply conflicted. God was obviously with this man but how could that be when he regularly contaminated himself, mingling with the rabble and working on the sabbath? Simon’s righteousness, in fact that of his nation’s had been maintained through their meticulous attendance to the Law which this Jesus seemed to so easily disregard.

The room was already filled with awkward social tension when a prostitute, the most defiled person in the city, found her way into the gathering. No one escorted her back outside; she was far too unclean to be approached by men of Simon’s stature and purity. Besides, to make matters worse, she was crying uncontrollably. The only thing that brought the noise level down was when the woman’s eyes met those of Jesus. She rushed to him, falling to her knees and with convulsive sobs drenched his feet with her tears. She added perfume to the pool that was forming there and used her hair to mop up the mixture. With that concoction, she washed Jesus’ feet.

Jesus, knowing Simon’s fragile condition as a Pharisee and a dinner host jump starts the conversation. He said, “Simon, I would like to say something to you.” Simon, relieved beyond telling, said, “Please, by all means say it.”

Jesus then relates The Parable of the Two Debtors. We know both the story and its punch line….

She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal. (MSG)

Simon realized that Jesus had just exposed him and most of his guests as the ungrateful minimalists in the parable.  What Simon didn’t know yet was that while this seemed to easily be the worst day of his life, it was, potentially speaking, the best.  Jesus said, astonishingly to Simon, that this woman’s sins had been forgiven on the basis of her profuse gratitude. It was quite clear,  Jesus was implying that his sins (and those of the other Pharisees present) were not forgiven because they had, as yet, no thankfulness alive in their hearts.

In God’s sight, whose sin is actually greater? Is it a woman who repeatedly sells her body for the money needed to survive or is it that of those further up the social ladder who repeatedly pass judgement on others like her, who they perceive to be beneath them morally and socially? In the sight of God, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who have come to see their spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God. And also…. how hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. This explains why tears flowed from one and not the other.

In some circles today, a heart broken by God is way down the list in terms of its worth as a spiritual experience. Stories containing a healing, a deliverance, a blessing or an answered prayer are much preferred. In some circles it would be unthinkable that God might coordinate the circumstances, as he did for Simon, to expose in us some impoverishment of heart. We are told that our hearts are not impoverished. They are brand new, intrinsically good and above such old-time religion.  I actually agree with this theology but I have a problem; I believe God has broken into my new heart on at least three occasions since first coming to know Him 39 years ago. And I would not trade those encounters for anything. They were answers to my deepest and most heartfelt prayers…..

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. Ps 27:4

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Ps 139: 23-24

Had it not been for these break-ins (and the accompanying gift of repentance), I could have never wept over my heart (however new it may have been) for the hurtful and anxious ways it had learned to live independent of God, while making, I might add, quite a showing (religiously speaking). I read about Simon the pharisee and I have hope for him because I recall Rob-the pharisee. It is just like Jesus, in his kindness, to step into a party (or a human heart) and disrupt the false and fragile equilibrium of the status quo.

I know from experience that this process of brokenness is a rare and precious thing. Without having passed this way a few times I would never have arrived at the place of my present declaration…

….that God is able to keep me from stumbling, and to make me stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy  (from Jude 24)

Having experienced this kind of blessedness, I can only pray to Him who is the fulfillment of the Law for all those who have and will believe….

Father, would you cleanse us from every pharisaic attitude operating in our hearts. Please help us to see where, in any way, we are carrying around judgements toward those you have bled and died for. Grant us the same compassion You have for the oppressed and discarded. Break our hearts where they need broken and let us rise cleansed – free and joyful, ready to proclaim your name in both word and deed before a world that is lost and rightly skeptical about religion.  Through us show them Your Life!

Now to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever.