“Live a little”

Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

Those facing inevitable death from the Black Plague said those infamous words. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. When faced with the reality of death the sum of a human life was reduced to meeting bodily functions and indulgence, because what did it matter anyways? The person who ate and drank the most, still died in the end.

When someone is faced with their mortality with a timeline placed in front of them, the question of what to do with my time I have becomes very relevant and immediate. Even when mortality seems like a long way off and you feel like there is decades ahead of you, the tick of change moving us forward to the day we meet our creator is still there, in the background, driving our actions and decisions.

What am I suppose to do with this time that I have?

The natural inclination seems to take all of the life I can into myself. If it is eating, eat till you pop. Drink till your blind. Be merry in all of the varied ways you can be merry. Indulge yourself, live a little, you deserve it, right?

But is that living?

Sometimes, when we hit the proverbial mid-life crisis, when a typical lifespan is halfway through and like they say its all downhill from here. The proverbial mid-life crisis looks like a convertible (or something equally big, shiny and loud) and an inappropriate relationship. Like somehow that is the epitome of being alive and if I don’t eat drink and be merry then I will have somehow missed out on life.

Peter, the ancient disciple of Jesus believed he knew exactly what Jesus should be doing with His time and life. (Matthew 16:21-22)

 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him[b] for saying such things.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

Jesus only had a short time of earthly life, the clock was ticking in the background and the cross was looming. Jesus spent his time teaching, healing, raising his disciples, preaching the Word. The time he had left, he taught them, had to be filled with many terrible things, with a horrible death and with resurrection. But Peter didn’t want any of that defeatist kind of thinking. Not even going to the part about the resurrection all Peter heard was bad, bad and more bad. No Jesus, this is the time to seize the moment, live your life to the fullest, reach for the crown. Quite simply, Peter wanted Jesus to storm Jerusalem, overthrow the ruling authorities, and reign with Peter at his side enjoying all of the benefits of earthly rule, including the convertible.

But instead of agreeing whole-heartedly with Peter and living a little, Jesus delivers to Peter one of the harshest rebukes against a disciple in the Bible, “Get behind me Satan, for you have on your mind the things of man, not the things of God.”

For Jesus to live, to be fully alive, to live life to the fullest, meant simply picking up his cross, dying and rising again. Nothing else would do. Nothing else would mean being alive, because nothing else would bring life, real life to the world.

So what are you doing with your time?

Because life comes with all of its trappings and workings. We work; we have house and home, family and errands, games to go to and hobbies to enjoy. We are a varied and interesting bunch with all of our things we like to tinker with, try and be challenged by. But what does it mean to really be alive? This is where we get all sorts of weird…

We kinda of get lost in the trappings that come with a life, trying to cling to life and suck the marrow from the bone. Basketball is life. Football is life. Fishing is life. Work is life. Money is life. That shiny, big loud vehicle is life. But do these things last forever? Is this what it means to be alive? If I no longer have or can do these things, are you still living?

Then we have the very important, very serious life matters, of home and hearth, family and children, spouse and parents and grandparents and all that comes with being a part of a family. But even these change, grow, are different with the different stages of a human life. Or what if I don’t have any of these things to really call my own, what life do I have?

If we follow after conventional wisdom and try to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, in all of its varied forms, the reality is that it is all simply dust holding on to dust that will return to dust, and its not that far from losing hope and purpose and becoming completely unmoored in this life. Trying to find our life but losing it.

But Jesus offers a very surprising and counter-intuitive way of thinking. A way in faith to not set our minds on the things of man but on the things of God, it is time to die. To die first to all of the things we have allowed to become too important and too God-like in our lives. To die to our sinful pride and our misplaced notions about what real living is all about. To die for myself and to live for Christ. To take up our cross and follow Jesus.

To let the cross of Jesus become the axis that our world spins around and the center that our life evolves around. What happens then is that when we lose our life for the sake of Jesus we find quite surprisingly that what we gain is real and lasting life that can never be taken away from us. With Christ at the center, all of the aspects of a human life spin and find their place, in proper relation and order of importance, both to God and to each other. I become more and more centered, stable and alive. But most importantly the life I gain is life with Jesus; life lived for Him, life without end.

So, take up your cross and follow Jesus, live a little, it’s the only way you really can.

The Key

This weeks meditation is from Matthew 16:13-20.

I remember my first year of marriage with Shi, that year when you begin to really realize what it’s like living with a different person. I left the toilet seat up and she put it down. I left the cap off of the tube of toothpaste, which drove her nuts, because she was fanatical about putting it on. I used dishtowels to dry everything off and she is very particular about how said dishtowels are to be used. She liked to leave all of the lights on in every room of the apartment. I liked to turn them all off and use the soft glow of table lamps.

It was those simple quirks of habit that we hadn’t known about before, that drove us nuts sometimes but also made us curious about each other, this other person we were married to, what made them tick? This curiosity led to deeper conversations, stories about family and the past, then every so often a story and a behavior would click, like a key in a lock. Many times it was my own realization about my own behaviors, why I did what I did. But sometimes I would catch a rare glimpse into that beautiful enigma that is my wife, the key turned and Yes! suddenly a whole new part of my wife’s world was opened to me.

In our Gospel reading today, we catch a glimpse of one of those rare kind of conversations, where the key fits into the lock and opens up a new world of understanding. Jesus initiates this conversation with his ancient disciples but the question posed transcends the centuries and is asked of us as well.

Who do people say that Jesus is?

The disciples answered easily enough, speaking for the masses and what they had heard. Many thought he was a great miracle worker come to heal their diseases and feed their bellies. Not very long before this conversation Jesus had fed the five thousand men, plus women and children with some crusty bread and fish. Before then he showed compassionate mercy upon the sick and the demon-possessed. But when Jesus began to teach that same crowd that he had miraculously fed about the kingdom, most of the people didn’t want anything to do with it. They wanted Jesus to be an on-call, On Demand, miracle worker, healing what they wanted healed, feeding them bread from God’s all you can-eat-buffet, but nothing more beyond that.

Some times, maybe more than than we are aware of, we treat God much the same way; expecting God to work within our timetables and expectations. Some even pushing it to the point where they actually expect riches and wealth from God just because they want it and they treat Jesus like a giant gumball machine in the sky, insert coin and get out what you want.

Who do people say that Jesus is?

Very much in line with that, many people held that Jesus was one of the prophets reborn from their history, like Jeremiah or Elijah. These prophets had been abused and mistreated by the people of Israel in the past because of the message they had of warning and to turn back to Yahweh and repent. They didn’t listen then and they weren’t listening to Jesus now. Today, Islam considers Jesus a prophet among many other prophets throughout history, From Adam, to Moses, Elijah, to Jesus, ending with Muhammad, just one more person in a long line of people.

Who do people say Jesus is?

Still others believed and still believe today he was merely a good teacher, like a Buddha or Gandhi, a person you could take moral lessons from on how to be a good person. This belief simply takes what it likes from Jesus, like the beautiful words of loving your neighbor as yourself, but it leaves behind the context which makes such a statement make sense, love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul and mind and in doing that you are empowered to learn to love your neighbor as God has loved you.

Throw a microphone out and you could get dozens of more answers and opinions to this question, who do people say Jesus is? Maybe you have heard some yourself, maybe you hold onto some of those opinions as well. Most of them have their place, emphasizing an aspect of who Jesus was and what He did to accomplish His work. He was a miracle worker and a prophet and a teacher. But each of these opinions are too small by themselves, to neatly tied into a tight little bundle, like why Shi is so particular about her dish towels, there is actually more to the story.

Then Jesus switches the question and it becomes personal. It’s easier to talk about Jesus in the abstract and what other people may or may not think, but this question reaches down to your very heart and soul, your core of belief, “who do you say Jesus is?”

Peter answered, for himself and for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the messiah, the Son of the Living God.” With this answer Jesus replies, “blessed are you Simon because this did not come from human opinion but from the Father in Heaven, now you will be called Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” The name Peter, or in the greek petros, meant Rock. Jesus had given Peter a new name with this confession of faith. And upon this Rock, which means both the confession of faith that Jesus is the son of the living God and the foundation of the Apostles teaching, Jesus would build his church of which we are heirs to, now 2,000 years later.

But what was so powerful about what Peter had said? What was so strong that it would be the Mighty Fortress, the Rock of our Faith and the foundation of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? There were and are many opinions about who Jesus was and is, many touching on aspects of Jesus’ identity, but those words did not come from human opinion, desires, or wants, but from God telling the world who Jesus is. Those words revealed from God was the key that fit into the lock, that began to explain all of the other aspects of who Jesus was. From this confession Jesus goes on to tell his disciples what it meant for Him to be the Messiah, that to be the Messiah meant suffering many things, dying at the hands of godless men and on the third day being raised from dead. That confession led to the cross and the empty tomb and a world that would never be the same.

But it all has to start with the answer to that question, who do you say Jesus is? Surprisingly then, the answer to that question is first and foremost, “it doesn’t matter who I think Jesus is!” What matter is who God says Jesus is and taking God at His Word and Promises, that Jesus is the savior, the messiah, the son of the living God. Then in faith, we take God at His Word and trust in His promises, we make God’s Word our Words and God’s truth our truth, we confess that I believe that God’s promises are true and Jesus is the savior of the world.

That confession of faith is the key that opens up the kingdom of heaven and as some theologians have said, “all of God’s yes’s are in found in Jesus.” Now Jesus is not only the savior of the World but He is your savior and Lord.

Because now, when that confession of faith is your confession of faith, all of God’s promises are “yes” to you in Jesus.

Does God know me and love me. Yes, because he sent his son Jesus to our world to live and die for you.

Does God forgive me all of my sins? Yes, because Jesus died upon the cross and his blood covers all of your sins.

Does God have a future and a hope for me when I die? Yes, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and has made a place for you with Him.

Will God one day make all things right and fulfill His promises? Yes, Jesus lives on high and will return to bring in the new heavens and the new earth, world without end, Amen.

In that confession of faith, built upon the Rock that is Jesus our Lord, you have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and its high time that we start opening some doors and letting the truth roam free. Not hiding it behind thick walls and locked doors, keeping it all to ourselves, but opening the kingdom of heaven to the world around us because Jesus is the Messiah, the savior, the son of the living God and all of God’s yes’s are found in Him.

“Overflow”

Have you ever felt like you were on the outside looking in?

I know I have. When you travel and live in a different place every few years while it’s exciting to be in the new place without fail you always find yourself on the outside looking in. Many times there are cultural walls that divide you. In the States we have all of our own different flavors from: Southern twang to Northern pride, East Coast cool to West Coast Sun, Mid-West Strong and all of the varieties in-between, there are always lines that divide and say “us and them,” or usually “us vs. them,” you’re different from us.

Sitting in Panera for lunch this week in my Midwestern Strong town, I watched a Middle Eastern family enjoy lunch, mom dressed in a full Burka across from a couple dressed to the nines with fine jewelry and impeccable taste sitting by another family in comfortable jeans and t-shirts all the while some college kids were studying and talking about how much they were going to drink that night and outside a man walked down the sidewalk who looked like he didn’t have a penny to spare. All people but divided by the lines that separate us: culture, race, money, social class, status and preferences.

As sensitive as we are to the words equality and equal rights, we are acutely aware of how real divisions exist here and across the world. Listen to the news as thousands upon thousands of Christians in Iraq and other minority groups are being brutalized by the militant group ISIS telling them they belong to the wrong culture and the wrong religion and they must leave, convert to Islam or be killed for their faith. These are very real lines that divide.

In all of these lines that divide people where does Jesus fit in to all of this?

Those first century disciples of Jesus thought they knew when they travelled with Jesus to the outskirts of Canaan after Jesus fed the five thousand with a few pieces of bread and fish. As they travelled a Canaanite women cried after Him, “Lord have mercy, my daughter is demon possessed!” (Matthew 15:21-28) We expect Jesus to turn, say a kind word and heal her daughter. But just out of curiosity, when you heard this account of Jesus and the woman, in your mind’s eye, what race and color was she? What did she look like to you? What language is she speaking? What accent is she using? Does she look and sound a lot like you and me? What about Jesus? I have to tell you, Jesus keeps popping up as a white guy in my head like the actor from the Passion of the Christ, Jim Caveziel.

That is one of the main difficulties we have in understanding this passage is that in our mind’s eye we make Jesus and the Canaanite woman look and talk and act like one of us, in our setting and culture. Like Patti here coming up and asking me a question. But the line that divided them was ten feet tall and plain for anyone in that place to see. It was the line between a very deeply divided inequality between men and women. The cultural and religious line between Jew and Gentile, the line between the age old enemies from Old Testament times whose hatred ran deep dividing Israel and Canaan, the line between her demon possessed daughter and the holiness of God. Lines that seemed insurmountable and obvious to Jesus’ disciples when they said, “just send her away Jesus, she’s not one of us, heal her if you like but she’s doesn’t belong to our group.”

Jesus replies with this statement to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In essence, Jesus had to put his disciples in their place, they were assuming too much telling Jesus who belonged and who didn’t. Jesus knew his ministry and his mission and what it included and no one tells Jesus who belongs and who doesn’t.

But could the mercy of God overflow past those very real boundaries they were dealing with? The Canaanite woman believed so and kept crying out to Jesus for mercy.

Then Jesus says one of the more disturbing verses in the Bible about not giving the children’s bread to the dogs. Dogs, was a word used by Jews to describe the Gentiles, calling them unclean. The divisions between these people were very real and tangible. Jesus was living in a real place and time, with real divisions and real problems. Jesus doesn’t deny these realities; they were part of the world He lived within. This was the opinion and the deep-seated prejudice that the disciples listening in to all this had.

But could the mercy of God overflow past those very real boundaries? The Canaanite woman believed so and kept crying out for mercy.

The question that this passage asks and answers for you and me is can the abundance and mercy of God overflow past all of those lines that divide us?

The answer to that question has to start with our own realization of the lines that divide us from God. Its seems easier to believe that God’s love is for all people in a broad, philosophical sense but when the rubber hits the road can I really believe that God’s love and forgiveness really applies to me? Because God is holy and I’m not, can God’s mercy cross that dividing line? When I remember my past circumstances, my failures, my sins, my damnable actions that brought Jesus to the cross, can God’s mercy cross that line? Or my sins right now, my actions that I am ashamed of just a little while ago or those that I know I will commit, can God’s mercy cross that dividing line of my sin that I have allowed to willingly separate me from the God who loves me?

Those lines, my sins, your sins, are real. Too deny them or say they don’t matter is to take away the reality and say you can do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter, there is no right and wrong. But when I see the hurt in my loved ones eyes, when I feel the pain in my own soul, when the hurt is something I can touch, we know the truth, it does matter what you do, there is right and wrong, holy and unclean, the lines are real and I’m on the wrong side of the line separated from God by my own doing and I can’t change that.

What else can we do then but believe that God’s grace is big enough to overflow over all of those lines that divide us from God and keep crying out to Jesus for mercy?

And God’s grace flows and never stops. Jesus says, “be it done for you as you believe,” and “your sins are forgiven.” Nothing stops God’s grace from getting to you. There are no walls that we create, no lines that we draw, no depths of sin that can stop the overwhelming flood of God’s grace from pouring over you. That grace that flows from the hands and side of Jesus himself hanging from the cross and showing you how limitless the depths of God’s love really is. You are covered in the cleansing flood of the blood of Christ and God knows your sins no more, erasing forever the dividing line of hostility between you and God.

Let His flood of mercy and grace flow over you. Let His flood of mercy and grace flow through and over the lines that divide us from one another.

Because those lines are still real. We still live in this world filled with lines based on sex, race, money, culture, fear, prejudice and the like. Lines that separate us from each other and lines that stop us from reaching out and loving others. The question isn’t whether or not these lines that divide are real but what are you going to do with these lines that divide?

Because like those ancient disciples we like telling Jesus who belongs and who doesn’t. We don’t mind if Jesus helps them as long as we don’t have to deal with them. Either they must fit in with our norms and traditions and become like us or they can fit in elsewhere, but we try to determine for God who belongs and who doesn’t. Once again Jesus reminds His disciples, both ancient and modern, that’s not how it works. Christianity is not our faith. It is not Western. It is not American. It is not white, or black, or anything else. Our fellowship that we worship within is not ours either, they don’t belong to us. We are not free to tell Jesus who belongs and who doesn’t. Jesus is the Messiah of all people, regardless of their circumstances and God’s love overflows through Him across all of those lines that divide.

Our challenge as we walk in faith is to recognize the depths of the lines that God himself crossed to reach us. If God would love us that much, how can we ever refuse anyone welcome into the love of God? Instead let us let God by His Word bring each of us across the lines that divide us from Him, and us from each other, through Jesus who crosses every line to save us.

“Bridges”

A very special THANK YOU! to Matt Connelly for delivering the message today!

 

“You give them something to eat.”

I can’t imagine how the disciples may have felt that hot evening in a barren desolate land far from any sort of comfort or lodging, surrounded by nearly, at best guess 10,000 men, women and children, though at that point its hard to tell with so many dirty, hot and tired faces peering up at you.

It was a simple idea at first. “Just trying to be helpful,” kind of good idea. Jesus had been at it all day, healing the sick, mending the lame, preaching and teaching. He must have been exhausted but he kept on going, feeding the people the very words of life. But it was dark now, stomachs were rumbling, the disciple’s minds kept wandering back to that meager meal of a few fish and some crusty dry bread they had. Maybe watching Jesus show such heartfelt compassion for those poor tired souls; even though he was exhausted he seemed to keep moving, clasping a hand, sitting with a child, wiping away a tear, was starting to wear off on the disciple’s hearts. Or maybe the disciples were just hungry and wanted this party to be over, we’ll never know for sure

“So Jesus,” one of the disciples speak up, “how ‘bout we let everyone head on back to town, while there is still a little light to see by and go get some food?”

But Jesus says, “you give them something to eat.”

Whatever the original motivation, (Jesus takes all of our motivations good, rough around the edges, incomplete-the mixed bag that they are) and He begins to shape the heart. The need of those 10,000 or so souls was the same basic need that the disciples had was the same basic need every creature has, we’re hungry and we would really like some food. Common needs that touch everyone at a fundamental, part of who we are level. Necessities like: food, drink, shelter, companionship, touch, approval, tenderness and care. Anyone can relate and understand. Suddenly those nameless dirty hungry faces aren’t so nameless anymore, they are people just like the disciples, with the same basic needs, same basic hopes, that become bridges to connect the gap between people and bring them together. Their welfare stops becoming something that I’m not responsible for but something that I am responsible in my own little way for. The heart starts understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“This is all I have Jesus!” A cry of frustration, of hopelessness, of the same kind of need; “I can’t meet the needs of so many with just a few crumbs and some salted fish. It’s impossible, just let them fend for themselves. I give up! I can’t do it! I won’t do it! I don’t want to fail! I don’t want to stretch my neck out too far! It’s scary out there and this is a leap of faith I don’t know if I want to take and I’m pretty sure I don’t want too! I might go without too!” Fear, doubt and shame all rolled into one.

Jesus simply says bring what you have.

Then Jesus does what only Jesus can do. He takes what they have, breaks it, blesses it and multiplies it. Tenfold, Hundredfold, Thousandfold. Multiplies it in ways the disciples cannot even imagine. Ways they would never know. Ways they would never see fulfillment of until they find themselves in glory. Because that food becomes so much more than just simple food. It is a blessing that confirms that Jesus’ words are true, that He is from God and going back to be with God, that He is the savior and the promised one. It is a blessing that touches the heart of maybe a little girl only five years old that never knew anyone cared for her until this moment when someone did in a very real and loving way. It is a blessing that maybe opened the way for a world-weary and tired old man to once again hope that God still knows him and forgives him. These and thousands of other blessings the disciples would never know are found in those few small crumbs and salted fish that Jesus blessed and used to create a bridge for faith to flow in.

But Jesus doesn’t walk around and feed those thousands of people himself. He gave it to the disciples to be His hands and feet to walk amongst the crowds that he walked amongst Himself. To let the disciple’s hearts grow with wonder and excitement as those few crumbs and salted fish, in Jesus hands, became what they never could be in their own hands, a meal that fills both body and soul till they are satisfied and need no more. Those disciples found that in the trusting of Jesus and the giving of the bread they benefited more than those they cared for. Their trust and hope in Jesus grew in leaps and bounds but so did their heart for the poor and needy, knowing they were the same really and those common needs were a bridge that connected them. And those words, “you give them something to eat,” was only possible with Jesus but Jesus used what the disciples had to make it possible for them.

I guess, I can Imagine after all how the disciples felt.

  • Yesterday, in my county 129 families with small children didn’t have a place to call home and 100 more men and women slept on a cot in a shelter.
  • Yesterday, in my county 200 women and children were forced from their homes because of domestic violence and had to find a safe place away from the abuse.
  • Last year in our country, 146 wide scale disasters struck 42 states and territories.
  • Tomorrow, in our world, 680 million people will never have even heard the name Jesus.

The closer we come to Jesus, the more we hear His words, the deeper we experience His compassion, the longer we watch His love for others, the more our heart grows for those around us. People who are just like us, same needs, same hopes, bridges that show how much more alike we are than not. But what do we have to give? A few crumbs and some salted fish. A few words, a hammer and a few nails, a weekend free, a few dollars in my pocket, a way with cars, a quick smile, a gentle touch. Wholly inadequate, I know, even for one family that doesn’t have a place to call home. But Jesus simply says to give it to Him, what meager things we have and have Him break it and make it into some thing new, bless it and set it aside for service and multiply it in ways we will never truly know this side of eternity. But Jesus, like always, gives it back to you, go and make disciples, go and care for the poor and needy, go and be Christian! And those words, “you give them something to eat,” is only possible with Jesus but Jesus uses what we have to make it possible.

“Heaven For Sale”

Hello friends, this will be a twofer with the meditations tonight but none next week, my family is on a stay-cation and enjoying some quality family time. God Bless!

 

The Gospel lesson today in Matthew 13 has been known primarily as a discipleship lesson, teaching us the true cost of discipleship and following Jesus.

Where the kingdom of Heaven is like, salvation and having a relationship with Jesus is like, a treasure hidden in a field and a person goes and sells all that they have and buys the whole field. Or a person finds a pearl of great value and sells all that they have, all of their other pearls, just to have it.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Finding heaven, paradise and glory eternal with God, healing, hope, forgiveness, love everlasting, restoration and peace. If you found that in a field who wouldn’t want to buy that? In fact, we hear this message time and again, do this for God and He will reward you. But I’m curious if we place ourselves into the story for a minute and pretend we are the person trying to buy the treasure hidden in the field I wonder if that conversation with the salesperson might sound something like this:

    +++

    (customer) I really want it. Have to have it. Pay anything for it.

     (salesperson) It’ll cost you. You sure you can pay that price?

     (customer) Yup, just tell me, how much is it?

     (salesperson) It’ll cost you everything you’ve got.

     (customer) Seriously? Okay, look here is my wallet, here is a check for what’s left in my bank account and here is any savings I have.

     (salesperson) It’s not enough.

     (Customer) You’re kidding, okay, here’s the key to my house, here’s the keys to the car and the van.

     (salesperson) It’s still not enough.

     (customer) Alright, here is a contract for all of my future earnings, anything I might earn, you can have it all.

    (salesperson) Well, that sounds like a lot, but you still have more. This treasure can’t just be for anyone. It is too precious, too pure and too beautiful. If someone doesn’t share those same qualities how could I ever sell it to them? By being in someone’s presence that is impure it would contaminate the purity of the treasure.

    (customer) All right, I said, here are my words and my actions. Anything and everything I do and say I’m selling to you.

    (salesperson) You can’t promise that, besides what about your thoughts, thoughts are what make words and actions come round.

    (customer) Fine, have it all, I’ve got nothing left to sell.

    (salesperson) Can’t, its not enough. This treasure is priceless and pure and perfect, what you are trying to sell, you can’t (thoughts, words, and actions) and what you can sell isn’t enough, plus I can’t let something this pure be with someone so impure, it just simply wouldn’t work. I simply can’t sell it to you.

+++ 

So, the person goes away despairing because there is nothing they can do to purchase that precious treasure. There is a truth in this parable that confronts us with our own inability. That precious treasure in the field: heaven, paradise, glory eternal with God, healing, hope, forgiveness, love everlasting, restoration and peace. We cannot buy that, there is no amount of money that can buy the peace that comes from a forgiven conscience. No amount of good works can make someone able to be good enough to be holy as the Lord your God is holy. We’re just not the same sort of stuff, heaven and us, because of our sin.

We have to kind of get that thought into our heads. Sometimes we have this sense of entitlement when it comes to a relationship with God, like we deserve it. Like nothing bad could ever happen to us eternally. Like we deserve heaven, we deserve God. It doesn’t really matter how I live or what I do, if I’m in worship or even if I have an active relationship with God because I deserve it. But when we think that, we don’t take seriously how lost, broken and just simply dead spiritually apart from the love of God we are. Scripture passages like Romans 3:11-19 remind us:

 

“None is righteous, no, not one;

    no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”


“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

    “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

    in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.

So it looks like all is lost, we can try to wrangle, finagle, demand, threaten, assume, try to have things our own way, but that doesn’t change the way that precious treasure is. So what’s the point of this parable then, is it just meant to make us despair or bang our head against the wall, keep trying with no hope of succeeding? Well, let’s go back to that conversation and see what happens next when the person comes back.

+++

    (customer) Jesus, what are you doing here!?

    (Jesus) I heard you were trying to buy this precious treasure.

    (customer) I am, but I can’t, the salesperson says I will never have enough to sell and even if I       did I can’t be the kind person who can have that treasure.

    (Jesus) They’re right, it can’t work that way. Like they say, you can’t buy your way into

    (customer) What do you mean, Jesus?

    (Jesus) Well, you’re looking at this treasure thing all wrong. You’re my precious treasure,      you’re my pearl of great value.

    (customer) Really, I don’t get it???

    (Jesus) You’ve been spending all of this time trying to buy something you can never buy, trying to do this all on your own power. But you’re forgetting the way I see things; You are my precious treasure, my creation, the work of God’s hands, you are beloved. Even though you were lost in the field, I’m the one who sought and found you. I’m the one who sold heaven and gave it all away so I could be with you. I’m the one that gave everything, even death upon the cross, so you could be mine.

    (customer) I don’t have any words to say how thankful I am but maybe I’m starting to understand what it all means after all.

+++

The whole point of this parable is two-fold. First to reveal to us our own fruitless pride and how we think we deserve heaven or we can somehow get it by our own power. In revealing that pride, it also shows it for what it is, useless and pointless. We don’t deserve heaven and we can’t buy our way into it.

Heaven must be given and in the giving makes us into people who can receive heaven in faith. Because of God’s great love for us faith makes us into the sort of person who can be in Heaven. Not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done for us.

This still will cost us everything, but not in the same way, this is not putting a price tag on heaven, which you can never do, instead because heaven has already been given to us, we respond in faith, offering what we have in our broken and incomplete way to God in thanksgiving and for His use in redeeming the world.

“No Words”

Sometimes there are just no words to express how you feel.

-When you hear about the Malaysian Airliner 17, all 298 non-combatants killed on a commercial airliner.

-When you are a first responder and you witness the hurt and brokenness of our world on a regular basis.

-When you hear the same kind of news comes home when there is a tragedy or violence.

Seriously, there are no words, nothing that can make it right or make it better. What we want is for it not to happen, for the bad things not to occur for someone or something to stop it. We ask, quite honestly, if God is good why does He allow bad things to happen, why doesn’t He step in and stop it. Because this isn’t how things are supposed to be.

But when we ask that kind of question, I’m not sure that we understand the direct implications that are involved with that. God created His creation and us humanity with an amount of free choice and will, to make decisions that are honoring to God and that are in line with what is right, true and holy. But also to make choices that are not in line with God’s will and are very much the opposite of all that is good and holy. The shape of our world in so many ways is the consequence of evil and bad choices made and built over generation after generation after generation, throughout human history living in a world that is made free to function and work and move and grow.

With that freedom in mind, would we really want God to rule the world directly and immediately, so that our every thought, word and action were immediately and directly weighted, judged and instantly punished? So that the price of God stepping in and stopping every act or atrocity would be that God would have to restrain and rebuke every single evil impulse, even those evil impulses that we are all too familiar with and enamored by in our own hearts. That would be the equivalent of everyone having one of those dog shock collars on that send an electric shock when they get too close to the fence. If we ask God to only work on those special occasions when we want Him to, do we really expect that he could do that when we want and then back away the rest of the time when we don’t want Him to be around?

So we are left with a longing that doesn’t really have an expression in words. Sometime there are no words to express how you feel. When we don’t know what to say, when words cannot do it justice God has promised that the Holy Spirit speaks from inside of us to the very throne of God with groanings that express all of our hurt and pain. That ask God, how long? How long must this go on. We long for the time when God will make things right, when justice will be served, when relationships will be restored.

Because we have this universal sense that when we say something is not right, not fair, not how it should be, that there is a right, there is fairness, there is a way that things should be and that militants shooting down a commercial airliner filled with innocent lives is not how it should be. Because if anyone does not pray and hope that the God who made all things will one day bring it to rights, they are condemning themselves to seeing the world as a sick, cosmic joke at best, and utterly meaningless at worse.

But what we want to know is that, that’s not so. That we are going in the right direction with Jesus, that God is still in control and that all of creation is moving to the place where God will make all things right, when God will make all things new.

This was the same kind of struggle that the disciples, were facing, the disciples who looked at their world of violence, tyrants, terrorists and rebels and said with us, that this is not right, not fair, this isn’t how things are supposed to be.

Jesus shared this parable about the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13. This story about a landowner who had an enemy that sowed bad seed in with the good crop of wheat in the field, that the two kinds of seed were identical until you saw the kind of plant and fruit they produced. How the workers of the field wanted to rip out the weeds but in doing that they would rip out the good wheat as well, because their roots would have become intertwined. They had to wait until the harvest when all would be sorted and made right.

Jesus used terms that were familiar to them as to us: wheat and weeds, good and evil, righteous and sinner. The impulse is the same as well, rip out all of the evil, make God stop all the bad stuff from happening, but we begin to see that it’s not as simple as that. By ripping out the one, by putting the shock collar on and thought policing our every impulse, by taking away all freedom and making us into simple, programmed automatons, it also takes away everything that makes us human. By ripping out the weeds you rip out the wheat, because there is longer any difference between the two, no wheat or weeds just simple programmed machines. That is not how we were meant to be, we were meant to be free, to be freely loved by God and to freely love, not under compulsion or control, because that could never be love.

But there is a sense of patience here, never discounting evil for what it is and calling it something else (like we are sometimes prone to say this will work out for good), but more of a sense that God doesn’t work like we do and that there is a much, much greater picture here, that sees all of human history, indeed all of creation’s history being moved by God towards the same goal. There is a time when judgment and justice will finally be served. Evil will finally and ultimately be defeated. Death will be overthrown on that last day and the righteous will be vindicated. That nothing, no amount of evil seed being sown, none of our enemies, can deter God from bringing all of His creation to that final place of judgment and restoration.

We have a foretaste of that promised day when everything will be sorted and all things made right in Jesus.  On the cross, evil was confronted and defeated not through violence but through the love of God. His resurrection from the dead was a witness and vindication of all that He had said was true and from God. In his resurrection death was defeated and Jesus reigns upon the throne bringing all of creation to the final day when all of His enemies will be placed under his feet.

We live in the tension between those two times, the tension between the victory of the cross and final victory that is to come on the Last Day. While we live in this in between time of now and not quite yet, we groan with sighs to deep for words to express our in-expressible sorrow over a world that is not yet how it is supposed to be. But we do this as people with hope, who look to the cross and the empty tomb as the foretaste of the promise to come, when God will make all things new in Jesus. Amen.

“Crazy Jesus”

That guy must be crazy!

This would have been going through everyone else’s mind when Jesus told this parable.

You have this farmer who doesn’t seem to care where his high priced seed is falling, instead he is taking it by the fistfuls, not even bothering to walk on the tilled soil of the farm but walking along an ordinary road like Mahoning Ave. and tossing the seed here, there and everywhere. It seems like at least two-thirds of it is landing on places lousy for seed like the asphalt, sidewalk and that overgrown weedy section at the corner by the sheds for sale. When it hits the asphalt it gets run over by the cars, some of it falls into the cracks in the sidewalk but there’s not enough soil to gain root, some falls into the weeds but gets choked out.

Then seemingly by accident, the seed hits fertile soil, producing a crop that yields healthy and vibrant plants producing a variety of different kinds of fruit. But no matter what happens to the seed, the farmer keeps walking up and down the path scattering the seed out, over and over again.

When I think about this parable from Matthew 13, what has always stuck out to me was the fertile soil. We’ve seen plants grow in some of the crazy places, but fertile, tilled, rich, deep, dark, moist, ready for seed soil does not happen by chance. It is deliberate and intentional, hard work with the right tools is necessary to make it happen.

I remember working with my grandfather one year breaking up an old and broken concrete patio so we could replace it with a wooden deck and garden. That is back breaking hard work, breaking the concrete with the sledge, pulling out the stone, working the ground, pulling out the roots and weeds and putting down some good soil to mix in. None of it was by accident. Someone has to make the soil ready for the seed.

When we hear this parable I believe there is an invisible helper in the background who we can’t see working but instead we can see the fruit of their labor.

Because the soil is our mind, heart and soul; the places where we hear and receive the Good News of Jesus which is the seed being thrown. But in our own mind, heart and soul there is first a spiritual battle being waged against the good seed of Jesus, the spiritual forces and principalities of this world struggling with all their might to take away the opportunity for the seed to take root. But despite the best efforts of these spiritual forces some seed manages to fall into the cracks and shoot up and grow like crazy. But it happens, like the blink of an eye, where there was once enthusiasm and excitement for Jesus the reality of the cost of discipleship, the cost of following Jesus, begins to set in. Because the Christian faith is not a show up on Sunday sometimes, crack the Bible open once or twice and occasionally get inspired by a new concept you haven’t thought of, kind of faith. The Christian faith is a all who you are, everywhere you go, alone or in a crowd, carry your cross along the way of sorrows and follow Jesus, kind of faith. Shallow roots, wedged into a tiny corner of someone’s life, choked out by the concrete pavers of the world, will only grow plants that are weak and helpless. Much like the seed of faith growing in the thistles and thorn bushes, which I think is a fascinating comparison. Jesus says that the thorns and thistles are compared to the deceitfulness of the world, with all of its lures of  false security, self-absorbed comfort and lust. But, you know what happens when you full on grab a thorn bush with no gloves on. Now compare that to reaching out to a strong fruit tree with appealing sweet and tasty fruit. Jesus is saying in the garden instead of reaching for the good fruit people are willingly and eagerly grabbing on to the thistles and thorns bushes instead and letting those thistles take control of their hearts.

That’s a lot of junk in our hearts that needs to be gotten rid, but we know that as long as we live this side of heaven, we will always be sinners and saints, thistles and fertile ground together. We cannot ever do away with all of the junk that has been growing in our hearts alone. We need a helper, strong and powerful, equipped with the right tools to work through all of the junk. Jesus has promised us that strong and powerful helper in the Holy Spirit who in faith uses the backhoe of God’s Words and the tiller of the Holy Sacraments to work the ground of our hearts, breaking the concrete, digging out the stone and pulling out the weeds. The Holy Spirit is that invisible helper in the background of the parable working hard to make the ground of our hearts fertile and ready for the seed of faith to grow and produce.

Just like weeds always grow and stones always seem to pop up in the garden, this work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing throughout our Christian faith. If someone asks why they should go to church, this is one of those reasons why. If you take yourself away from the tools that the Holy Spirit uses to work on the soil of your heart, take yourself away from the Word and the Sacraments, it’s like giving the Holy Spirit a teaspoon to dig out 20 acres of land. To grow in the Christian faith its so important to position are ourselves in the places where the Holy Spirit has the best tools possible to work and grow our hope in Jesus.

Now one of the things that people sometimes get a little freaked out about with this passage is they think that this is a once and done kind of thing with the farmer, like he only goes by once spreading the seed and that’s it, either you are fertile or thorny and stony and out of luck.

But here is where the message at the very heart of this parable reaches out to you with some very, very good news.

Jesus never gives up on you. That guy must be crazy! He never stops walking along the path, back and forth, spreading the seed of faith at you, over and over again. Thorny, stony, fertile, and always somewhere between, Jesus never stops throwing the seed of faith your way.  Even if everyone else has given up on you. Even if you have given up on yourself. Even if you’ve given up on Jesus. Jesus, never ever gives up on you. Amen.

“Fruity Umbrella Drink Freedom?”

Watching the Fourth of July parade in North Jackson on Friday, after I had shared the opening prayer, I saw the members of the local VFW drive by.

I thought of all of the military in the church, some here, some away from home.

I was reminded once again that in the middle of all of the picnics, parades and pyrotechnics the 4th is about sacrifice given for the sake of nation, family, neighbors and strangers they would never meet.

Freedom isn’t free.

But, sometimes it really seems like, everyone is just trying to be free. But this kind of freedom that everybody seems to be chasing after doesn’t have anything to do with really being free. The idea free life is like being on a sunny beach with drink in hand, enough money in the bank account never to have to work again, leisurely living at your own pleasure till you die. That seems to be the ideal life that many want. To be honest, at first look, it really doesn’t sound too bad does it?

But take a deeper look and see what this kind of freedom really looks like:

No obligations. A life without any obligations at all except your own leisure.
No real relationships. Because relationships are actually a lot of hard work and if you are invested in a relationship, in the health of the other person, you can’t spend your whole life on the beach drinking fruit drinks with umbrellas in them.
Nothing meaningful. Because a life of pure leisure never produces anything of worth or meaning in this world. Only hard work and sacrifice can accomplish something significant.
No God. Look at the world God created and continually works within to sustain and grow and you know that God does not sit on the beach relaxing and if we want to know God as well than that can’t be the way to do it.

In fact, that kind of life on the beach, actually holds nothing of significance at all to it. It is a nice vacation, but the essence of vacation is that it is an escape away from the duties and pressures of life. But if you spend your entire life escaping than you can’t be said to be truly living at all, can you?

Of course, it’s not always a sunny beach, but this kind of escape that people call freedom looks like: when a neighbor is in need down the street I ignore the need I can see plainly, when someone is hurt I look the other way, when someone is hungry I feed myself, when someone is lost I walk away; all because I’m looking after myself and my own needs first I’m willing to throw my neighbor under the bus so I can get that fruity umbrella drink in my hands.

That kind of freedom means living off of the backs of others (because someone has to make the fruity drink after all!), making others poor so I can have more, ignoring the needs of others so I can be unencumbered, that kind of freedom isn’t the kind of freedom that those soldiers of the VFW would recognize as what they fought for. If you call it simply what it is, it is plain old selfishness, looking after number one, me first.

This is when we make the shocking discovery that freedom isn’t about being independent but about being dependent.

There is nothing that we have in this life that we were not first given. From our country, our rights, our opportunities all the way to our very breath of life, everything is a gift given to us. Independence, meaning living selfishly for self-alone as If I’ve done it all myself, is a lie we tell ourselves that could never be true.

All of us have lived that lie from one time to another. Sometimes we got so caught up in that lie we believe it’s true. Sometimes even when we know it is a lie and not doing what it promised we still try to follow it. But if you’re tired of living the lie Jesus has some good news for you from Matthew 11:28 and following…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Selfishness, instead of being the life of leisure is not only hard but costly. It will cost you integrity, it will cost you meaning and significance, it will cost you anyone who might really have loved you, it will cost respect, it will cost you heart, it will cost you your very soul, it will cost you the ability to look yourself in the eye at night, ultimately it will cost you eternity with God. Are you heavy laden with the price that you have paid for selfish living, Jesus says come to me and I will give you rest.

How do we get this rest from selfish living? Jesus says,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The cure for selfish living is not becoming more independent but more and more dependent upon Jesus. Dependent upon the one who has given you all things you have already: your life, your soul, your very existence and the world around you. Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, He doesn’t stand far off but receives us even though we have lived as if He wasn’t there. Being dependent on Jesus finally means letting go of the burden of our selfish ways and letting Jesus finally be all in my life.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Because freedom isn’t free, because the life we live isn’t meant for us to live selfishly for ourselves alone. We will always have a burden in this life, either it can be the burden of selfish sinful living that costs you your soul, or the easy burden of dependence upon Jesus, walking in His path of Discipleship. As a disciple of Jesus the burden we carry finally is a burden of love, love for those that have come before us, love for those that have died for us, love for our Savior Jesus who gave all for us and love for those around us and those to come that rely upon us not to live selfishly but to carry the burden of Christian love.

“Freefall”

Grace is free but it is never cheap.

When we hear the stories, like the one about the 27-year-old woman had been imprisoned on apostasy and adultery charges, we see the truth of this. According to her lawyer, the case began when one of Ibrahim’s relatives, a Muslim, filed a criminal complaint saying her family was shocked to find out she had married Wani, a Christian. The Sudanese court considered Ibrahim a Muslim because her father was Muslim, but she said she was a Christian and never practiced Islam. She was charged with adultery, because a Muslim woman’s marriage to a Christian man is illegal in Sudan, and with apostasy, accused of illegally renouncing what was alleged to be her original faith. Authorities warned her to renounce Christianity by May 15, but she did not, instead responding that her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, raised her as a Christian. She said her Sudanese Muslim father abandoned her when she was 6. “I am a Christian,” she said during her sentencing hearing last month,”and I will remain a Christian.” She was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, along with 100 lashes… (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/07/01/sudanese-christian-woman-who-almost-died-for-her-faith-reveals-horrific-experience-giving-birth-in-prison/) for reference

Then the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34-36 take on flesh and blood:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Grace is free but it is not cheap. In such divided households this is a reality. Many times Christians are able to be a witness in these situations, not demanding from their loved ones “a decision for Christ,” because that is never an act of love, rather showing Christ-like love, patience and hope so that maybe through example bringing the unbeliever to faith, maybe without a word spoken.

Other times, sadly, non-believing relatives will demand allegiance and conformity to their way instead of the path of Christ. Then the disciple of Jesus must love Jesus more than father or mother or son or daughter.

The cross of Jesus acts in this very way within families and throughout whole nations. The cross is seen clearly as a dividing line, a line in the sand, that says this far and no farther, over and against the powers of sin, death and the devil. A line between life eternal and death eternal. The call of Christ is an all or nothing call of discipleship. You cannot love money and God, power and God, sin and God, one will always be your God whether it be the true God or not. So yes, the cross of Christ is a sword that divides, not only families, cultures, nations, but the very heart and soul of a person. Making what was dead spiritually alive in Christ. But through stubbornness of heart and soul not everyone wants to follow the way of the cross or respond to the life given in Christ and if the Christian caves in to these pressures, they only end up losing the only real life there is, eternal life with God through Jesus.

What then does this say about grace and how we say it is free. Because it would seem that Grace can cost you everything. Isn’t grace freely given by God through Jesus? Without a doubt. Jesus says, “come to me all you who are thirsty and drink.” But even though grace is freely given can grace ever truly said to be free?

When Jesus calls his disciples, both ancient and modern, he calls them to “Follow Me.” This is not a suggestion, or question, or optional college track. “Follow Me,” spoken by Christ claims absolute authority and claim over a human life. We cannot respond to Jesus and say “maybe next week,” or “when I’m older and I’ve sown my wild ways,” or “okay but…” whatever that but may be. With those words Christ claims us as His own. We can in stubbornness and human pride refuse to be claimed by Christ, try to say of what we have, “mine all mine!” and be like the kings of old who were buried with their treasures, later to be robbed by thieves. Or we can allow Christ to claim us as His own, repent and submit to the free grace of God. That grace, freely given, but will cost you everything.

Grace is free but it is not cheap. When Christ claims you as His own, you now follow Jesus, and in the following of Jesus cast off the attitudes, sins, selfish desires, prideful demands and anything else that sits on the throne of our hearts where Christ belongs. Remember that anything can become an idol and replace God in our hearts. It can be a building, it can be a familiar routine or habit, it can be a way of life, it can be expectations, it can truly be anything if it becomes more important to us than following Jesus.

When we throw these off it costs us. Because we like our prideful demands, we want our selfish desires, we all to often want things to be the way WE want them to be.

Ultimately what following Christ costs us, is ourselves and our control, given freely to God to let God be in control. To be a disciple of Jesus means letting go of what we’ve been holding on too.

Think of it this way. When my wife and I were in college, she introduced me to indoor rock climbing, I had never done anything like that before and I wasn’t really interested in trying until this pretty blonde girl asked me to. I was at the top of the wall and it was my first time belaying down with the rope and Shiloh kept yelling at me to let go of the wall, she had me. (I didn’t believe her) You’ll have to ask her, but I think we had this back and forth discussion of “let go,” and “are you nuts?!” for a half-hour, obviously not impressing the cute blonde girl by this point. Till I finally let go and I fell, I saw my life flash before my eyes, and then, you know what, she had me, I didn’t smash into ground but instead I found a whole new world and my wife in the process.

Being a disciple of Jesus means losing our selves to gain more fully, who we were always meant to be. Letting go of what we are comfortable with and with what we want all for the sake of what God wants, which is by far better than anything we might be holding on to right now.

Grace is free but it is not cheap. When we realize that all that we have is a hope and a prayer as we freefall through this life, abandoning what we left behind, relying on the grace of God alone; we find we have more compassion for those who are in faith, freefalling with us. Because this thing we call faith, this following Christ, this letting go and letting God, ain’t easy. It’s scary. We can feel and become isolated from family members and friends that don’t share the same hope we do. We can lose heart and just simply want to hold on to what is familiar instead of letting God be in control. It can be tough, and if it’s not tough, if the Christian life has become easy, than we still have things we are holding on too that we like better than God. We will not live this Christian life perfectly but it doesn’t mean we stop striving for the goal.

What all that means is that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying with all of their heart to follow Jesus and they’re just as scared and just as tempted to hold on instead of letting go, like everyone else is. We have a choice. Either we can be like the rest of this hurtful world and be one more person telling them that their not doing it right and their messing it up or we can grab their hand, squeeze tight and freefall in faith together.

That is why Jesus said, Jesus said, “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because they are a disciple, truly, I say to you, you will by no means lose your reward.” (Matt 10:42 paraphrased)

Even this will cost you, but grace is it not cheap and it will cost you everything, but don’t be afraid because God has already given you everything in Jesus.

“Play the Bigger Game”

Play the bigger game.

I heard this story once about an older brother teaching his younger brother about playing baseball. ( check out the Young Adult Christian book, Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan)

You work hard and train hard. You go out there and play the game with everything you’ve got. Sometimes it’s enough and you win, sometimes it not enough and you lose. When you lose, do you decide to go on steroids and juice up so you can win?

“No,” the younger brother says. His older brother says, “that right, because you’re playing the bigger game as well.”

You train hard and play hard, you want to win but it doesn’t always happen. But you’re playing another game as well at the same time, a much bigger game and that’s the game you don’t want to ever lose.

In our Gospel reading today from Matthew 10, Jesus is sending his 12 disciples out on a very specific missionary journey to the lost families of Israel. As Jesus sends them out on this journey he tells them about what will await them.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

This was not the kind of motivational pep talk that you might have expected Jesus to give to them. We would really like to hear something closer to, “don’t worry, God’s got your back, you can do this!” or “Just believe and you can achieve anything.” The same kind of motivational pep talks that are given to children all of the time. How often do we hear someone saying, “just believe in yourself,” or “have faith, you can do it!”

But sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, even with motivational pep talks, it happens, it’s a part of life. When Jesus sends the disciples out on this missionary journey it is the same, but with an even deeper dose of reality. You will be like sheep in the midst of wolves, you will be arrested and flogged, forced to give testimony, imprisoned and dragged before kings for the sake of Jesus Christ.

But Jesus doesn’t leave them with that harsh stroke of reality, instead He wants them to remember the bigger game they will be playing as well.

Jesus tells them not to fear those who may hurt the body but to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. This reminder for them is to look past the present situation in front of them and remember the bigger game and the greater reality they are involved in. When they are persecuted for the sake of Jesus there is a limit and a place where it will stop, even if their earthly life is taken away, no more can be done to them. Because the Christian remembers, they are part of the greater reality that does not end in this world but there is still more to come in eternity. So don’t be so afraid of those that may kill the body but cannot kill the soul, that you deny Jesus in this life, maybe gaining a few more years in this life, but losing eternal life being separated from God.

But the Christian life is not about fearing but to be aware of that greater game we are playing and what we are really living for. Then Jesus reminds them about the ultimate reality of just how much they are worth in God’s eyes. If two small sparrows that are sold for a penny cannot fall to the ground without the Father’s knowledge how much more are you worth, who even the hairs on your head are numbered by the Father. Suffering will come for those that live in Jesus because they follow the way of the cross and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but their heavenly Father has not abandoned them and even in the midst of earthly suffering He will never leave them alone.

Last week’s meditation we remembered that when Jesus calls us in the Great Commission to “Go and Make Disciples of all nations…” it is that going that’s not necessarily a special mission trip or just for professional Christians to do, but it is a going into every walk and area of your life. Go and be a Christian everywhere, all the time. This means to be a Christian even when it may not be popular, even when others look down upon you, even when you don’t want to act and be Christian.

But the same words of Jesus speak to us today as well in all of our goings as Christian, we are to remember the bigger game and the greater reality we are living in.

Jesus said, what good is it, if a person gains the whole world but loses their soul. For us today as Christians, we live our life with that greater reality and judge what we will do and will not do based upon it. There are many temptations and lures that call us to live according to worldly standards and away from the God who loves us. Temptations that promise the world if in exchange you only forfeit your soul. Sometimes these compromises come at work when we are asked to show a blind eye to something, or in school to fudge and cheat a bit on that report or from within when we say its okay if I use those hurtful words-I’m only human after all, or when we are alone to go places we don’t belong. Those areas when it seems to profit us in a worldly way but the price we pay is our eternal soul.

Remember the bigger game we are playing and the greater reality we are living in. Our ultimate goal, our hope and prize can never be found in those compromises or temptations but only in the greater reality of Jesus Christ and the eternity we are called to live in. How we live as Christians is not determined by what may profit us now but by looking to the bigger, eternal game that we don’t ever want to lose.

But take heart, your value to God cannot be taken away, You who are valued so highly that it cost Jesus everything to save you, God will not leave you alone or abandon you, but will be with every moment, now and eternally. The love of God in Jesus is the bigger game we are living in.

So, for Christians, what can we take from this passage? In life, we work hard, play and swing for the fences. Sometimes we win and sometimes lose, that’s life. But in doing that we remember that the way we make our decisions is not based on what we see in front of us but on the bigger, eternal game we are playing and that is the game we don’t want to ever lose. But more importantly our life is shaped by the greater reality of Jesus and His love. Amen.

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