Finding the Kingdom of Heaven

A passage of Scripture that has been on my heart and in my mind lately is Matthew 13:44.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

This passage tells me discipleship is an all-or-nothing issue. It is difficult but 100% worth it.

I am still wrestling through what it means to “give up everything.” However, I’m afraid the real heart of the issue is I am not so much wrestling “through” as I am wrestling “with.” I am resisting and pushing back against any idea to radically overhaul my life, and I’ve been using this idea of “processing” as my vehicle to procrastinate.

I fear that I have grown too accustomed to comforts and ease, trivialities and entertainment. If Christ knocked on my door and told me to do something radical for Him, it would be hard not to obey a “standing-right-in-front-of-me-and-in-my-face” Jesus… at least for a while. But the Spirit speaking softly to my heart is too easy to ignore and too often drowned out by all the other voices.

But if my brother in Christ shares with me where he is at in this process of following Christ, the Holy Spirit who is speaking softly to him, speaks to me through him, and suddenly the Spirit’s voice is amplified to me and I am encouraged and strengthened in my resolve.

Christ might not knock on my door anytime soon, but you can be Christ for me and I can be Christ for you and we can pursue Christ’s call to discipleship together.

The Cross of Christ, II

Excerpt from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis:
Found here.

OF THE FEWNESS OF THOSE WHO LOVE THE CROSS OF JESUS

Jesus hath many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross.
He hath many seekers of comfort, but few of tribulation.
He findeth many companions of His table, but few of His fasting.
All desire to rejoice with Him, few are willing to undergo anything for His sake.
Many follow Jesus that they may eat of His loaves, but few that they may drink of the cup of His passion.
Many are astonished at His Miracles, few follow after the shame of His Cross.
Many love Jesus so long as no adversities happen to them.
Many praise Him and bless Him, so long as they receive any comforts from Him.

But if Jesus hide Himself and withdraw from them a little while, they fall either into complaining or into too great dejection of mind.

But they who love Jesus for Jesus’ sake, and not for any consolation of their own, bless Him in all tribulation and anguish of heart as in the highest consolation.
And if He should never give them consolation, nevertheless they would always praise Him and always give Him thanks.

The Mission of the Church

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I love this clip from the movie “Hoosiers.” Coach Dale wants his assistant coach, Shooter, the town drunk, to be ready to step up in case he ever gets kicked out of a game. So Coach makes a risky move: when the game is on the line, he puts Shooter on the front line, forcing him to make the calls needed to win the game.

This is no practice. This is the real deal. Shooter fails; team loses. Shooter succeeds; they get a ‘W.’

You can see almost see the thoughts forming in Shooter’s mind when Coach gets kicked out: “How can this be happening? Again? I can’t handle this. I failed miserably last time. I’m not Coach. I’m not able to do this.”

It’s almost identical to what I imagine was going through the disciples’ minds as they watched Jesus ascend to heaven. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions: carry on his mission of making disciples. And then he leaves. He takes himself out of the game.

Why would Jesus leave the most important task in human history in the hands of… humans? We are unqualified and incapable of carrying out this mission on our own. We are the town drunk, sitting on the bench, afraid to speak, afraid to move, watching the final seconds of the game slip away, putting our head in our hands in defeat.

We may look in the mirror and see the town drunk, but Jesus Christ looks at us, His Church, and sees potential and promise. And he did not leave us on our own, he left so the Holy Spirit could come. The only thing that’s changed is then the disciples walked alongside God-in-the-flesh and now we walk with God-inside-us.

This is no practice for us either. This is as real as it gets. Success for us is walking in step with the Spirit, being obedient and faithful to what He calls us to do. Let us do our best to succeed because there is much more on the line than a simple basketball game.

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Can I Trust You?

Photo credit OdeToJoi

Sometimes my kids can be irrational. There have been times when they were convinced that they couldn’t do something (say, for instance, that even though everyone else in their swimming class is happily jumping into the pool, they can’t). Times when they were convinced that something was going to happen (say, for instance, that over and over again, night after night after night, they are convinced that the blinking light on the smoke detector means that there’s a fire). And there have been times when they stubbornly refused to do something no matter how much we pleaded (say, for instance, refusing to drink anything even though they’ve thrown up ten times and are dangerously dehydrated).

From their perspective they are being rational. The way they understand the world makes sense to them. If only they could trust what we say, especially at those times when it conflicts with what they think they should do.

I read a parenting book recently in which one of the key points was that while it is important that a child prove to a parent that she is trustworthy, it is much more important for parents to prove to their child that they are trustworthy. A child who knows that she can trust her mom and dad grows up in an environment of security and stability that she needs for healthy development. In addition, imagine the pain and troubles that could be avoided if our children trusted and obeyed us even when they did not want to! How heavenly those teenage years would be!

If only life were that easy.

Have you ever been on a ‘Trust Walk’ where you’re blindfolded and someone else is directing you? With each step you take you’re sure that you’re about to step into a hole or bang your shin against a boulder or get run over by a semi, but the person keeps telling you to step forward. Are you able to fully trust them, or do you have to take a peek and reassure yourself that you’re alright?

It is extremely hard for us to place total trust in someone other than ourselves. It’s just the way we’re wired. And we bring this inability to trust into our relationship with God… at least into those situations in which our perception of what is best for us differs with what we hear God calling us to do. But isn’t that the very definition of trust?

Think about Abraham. Good old Father Abraham. Over 100 years old and doting over his son, Isaac. The child of the Promise. Then one day God says to him, “Take your son up the mountain. Build an altar and sacrifice Isaac upon it.”

How do you imagine Abraham responding? “Hmm, well yeah, ok. I was kinda already thinking I might do that this weekend, so I’m glad you’re telling me to. No problem, I’ll get right on that.”

Of course not! He’s thinking, “What?! That’s madness! What will my wife say?! I can’t kill my son. What about God’s promise about my descendants through him?” But Abraham believes that God will raise his son up from the dead, and so he trusts God and he obeys God, even though I’m sure everything inside him was screaming at him to stop. That’s trust.

(In case you don’t know how this story ends, God stops Abraham right before he kills Isaac and provides a ram as a substitute sacrifice.)

Trust and obedience are joined at the hip. They are tied to one another. Trust is proven real by our obedience. In some things it is easy to obey; in others it is much harder. There have been and there will be times when following Christ seems like madness. But the path of following Christ, the path of discipleship, is simply obedience. To trust and obey.

And if anyone has proven himself trustworthy, it’s God. So keep the blindfold on, keep listening, and keep walking!

40 Days of Lent

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter… Resurrection Sunday.

Lent is a season to reflect and prepare our hearts for Easter. Traditionally, many Christians fast (give up something) during Lent. Some give up chocolate, some give up TV; one of my friends gave up Facebook this year during Lent. Personally, I’m thinking about giving up broccoli… well, maybe that wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.

The intent in giving something up is 1) to be able to identify with Christ, who gave up everything for us; and 2) to take the time or energy that would normally be given to that thing and redirect it towards cultivating our relationship to Christ. To take our cravings for (you fill in the blank here) and replace it with a deeper hunger for the Lord.

Giving something up, and sticking to it, is tough and takes work. But so is having a good relationship with God. And in a strange way, when we give up something for God, that in turn helps us be more conscious of Him throughout our day and even grow closer to Him! Now that’s a double win.

So think about it. What could you give up during this season of Lent?

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Meade