Tag Archives: gospel

It Takes Faith to Say Yes

Mike Glenn is not an economist, a fact he readily concedes, which may make you wonder why he then proceeds to attempt an economic analysis. When you read the book, don’t dawdle over this part. It is more of a rehash of political speeches than a picture of the economy. In fact, you could simply skip pp. 169-171 and be just as well off. The remainder of chapter 13 is very well done, except for overuse of the word greed. You will be hard put to forget the political definitions of the word, even though that is not what the author is talking about.

 

What is he talking about? Here is a selection

 

Gluttony – I don’t just need this. I need all of this.

Insatiability – I am hungry, and when I eat, I am still hungry.

Self-indulgence – I deserve the very best.

Avarice – I not only know how to make money. I know how to make money by hurting my competitors.

Covetousness – I have lots, but you still have something, and I need it.

Materialism – Don’t talk to me about things I can’t see.

Acquisitiveness – I have lots, but I don’t have that one.

Longing – I can’t die till I have one of those, and I think I will die if I don’t get one.

Craving – I can taste the essence and smell the aroma and feel the silkiness and hear haunting pipes and see that voluptuous shape.

Appetite – I will have it, and I will shape every day yet to come in order to have more of it.

Acquisitiveness – Tell me when the next new one will be released. I must have the first five.

Stinginess – I know I have ten of them I the cellar, but I might not be able to get another one. No. Find your own.

Selfishness – Just make sure that before anybody buys any more I get all I need.

 

There is a single problem at the root of all these attitudes and behaviors. Doubt. The opposite of Faith. Mike states it this way: “the hard truth [is] that … I am not completely convinced of the message of the gospel.” He doesn’t mean that he hasn’t received Christ as his Savior. Mike Glenn simply means that much as he believes that Christ has saved him from Satan, he isn’t quite sure that Christ is enough. For a pastor to confess this problem ought to comfort every reader who was starting to squirm at the message of this chapter. We are all human, and we all have our doubts, and our doubts about the gospel are at the root of our need for more and more new things. All those attitudes and behaviors that are listed above grow out of our doubt that Christ is enough.

If we really believed that God loves us so much he was willing to suffer and die for us, we would never doubt that we could share with people in need and still have enough. The rich young ruler is no different from you or me or Mike Glenn. He was so sure that he would starve if he gave up his wealth that he walked away from the Savior of the world. Mike confesses that, try as he will, he still does the same thing. Me, too. I can tell you right now that I don’t have the faith of that widow who put her last mite in the offering at the temple. I don’t have that kind of faith, even though I know for a fact when my next check will be deposited in the bank, and I know how much it will be. There are a lot of certainties in my life, but I cling to my budget and I always doubt that I can give anything when I am faced with real need.

Paul wrote to human beings who suffered from doubt, too. Just like me, they were not sure that Christ was enough. They had the same issues I have with want and need, and they had the same doubt that Christ loved them enough to give them enough. Paul told them, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” With thanksgiving? If we listen to the news or to our political candidates, we would believe that there is nothing to be thankful for. If the Philippians spent much time thinking about Rome or the emperor or the corruption of the Roman government, they would not have had anything to be thankful for, either. Political leaders, secular thinkers, idolaters, and pure scoundrels all tell stories of present chaos and impending doom in every age. Unless we have the faith to give thanks for Christ’s love and care before we get around to asking for what we need, we won’t have the faith to ask. We will never hear Christ’s “Yes.” Yes, you have enough. Yes, I love you. Yes, I will always be with you. Christ’s “Yes” is the gift of his presence and his power and his life-transforming grace that shows us when we actually have enough. 

Some people truly believe that they can count on Christ’s “Yes.” They trust that he will provide, and no matter how much he provides, they trust that it will be enough. Some Christians say “Yes” to Christ’s “Yes” and trust him for everything. Here is an excerpt from the Handbook of the World Mission Prayer League .

The Mission’s financial policy believes and assumes that God is faithful, and may be counted upon to provide in every way, both spiritually and materially, for the advancement of his kingdom’s work around the world. The Mission, therefore, does not curtail or delimit its activities on the basis of a formal budget, or pledged and calculated income. New workers are accepted, commissioned and sent without requiring that there first of all be money in sight to support them. No stated salary is pledged or promised to any worker wherever assigned. All workers in the Mission, whatever their location or position, share impartially in the distribution of living allowances made each month out of the general funds of the Mission.

Do you have the faith to say “Yes” to Christ’s simplicity?

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Blogging Through the Book is a group of bloggers who literally blog while reading the book. It’s different than merely reading a book and posting a review. We have a chance to read and share our thoughts in community. Click HERE to learn more or visit www.danapittman.com.”

Good News for both Us and Them

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...
First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Readings: Isaiah 35:4-9     Psalm 146     James 2:1-17     Mark 7:24-37 

I have long been a fan of the lyrics of Pink Floyd, not because I advocate their way of life, but because those lyrics speak some powerful and harsh truths about the world. One of the great songs is “Us and Them,” in which the common acceptance of broken relationships in our culture is mourned.  The gospel reading today relates to us the way Jesus addressed some of that brokenness.

Both stories in Mark 7:24-37 are about non-Jews. Jesus goes first to the “region of Tyre” and then into the “region of Decapolis.” It is sufficient to know that these were territories where the dominant population demographic was not Jew. The woman in the first story is clearly identified as “Syro-phoenician,” a term that Mark’s target audience in the first century would have immediately recognized as not a Jew. The man in the second story lives in Decapolis and has friends who care about him enough to bring him to Jesus. It is logical to conclude from his integration into the culture that he is not Jewish, either. In both stories, Jesus works healing just as he has been doing in the Jewish communities. As Jesus travels through these non-Jewish areas his message is the same message he has been preaching from the beginning – “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” We can hear that message behind these two miracles.

In these stories, Jesus preaches another message as well, to the Jews of his day, and to any of us who are inclined to view our own culture divisively. Many Christians today feel threatened by cultural restrictions that are building due to the increase in completely secular thinking coupled with a dramatic increase in immigrants who adhere to a wide variety of religions. The sense that Christian ideas and Christian values are not dominant in our culture has produced in many Christians an “Us and Them” mentality. This attitude is sometimes expressed in ugly confrontations. Jesus’ message to the Jews of his day, and his message to us today, spoken by his actions, not his words is the same message God spoke to ancient Israel. As Israel encamped around Mount Sinai, even before God had given them the Law in the Ten Commandments, God gave them a commission. He said, “The whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5b-6) The work of priests is to mediate between God and man, and the clear message of this statement is that God intended for Israel to tell everyone about him and to draw everyone into worship and service to him. The same message is repeated in Revelation when the book opens with this prayer: “To him [meaning Christ] who loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) When Jesus brought his message of healing and reconciliation to non-Jews, he brought his commission to all his followers. The commission of the church, like the commission to Israel at Sinai, is to be mediators between God and humankind throughout the world. We are to take the message of the kingdom to everyone.

Isaiah described what it was like for everyone who comes to the Lord. He said it was as if water had suddenly bubbled up in a desert. He talked about healing and about the joy someone would feel if he were cured of deafness and a speech impediment after a lifetime of suffering. Isaiah even said that in the place where God’s kingdom burst out there would be a highway for all his people where the redeemed could walk safely. Instead of a blessing to which everyone is invited, it almost sounds like something for “us” that shields us from “them.”

When Christians start feeling that the world is divided between us (Christians) and them (everybody else), it is easy to feel scorn for “them.” This is not God’s plan. The whole world is his creation. Every person is his unique creation for his own unique purpose. Not one person was excluded from God’s love when Christ died on the cross. As God’s priests, we are called to share the same message Jesus shared with Jews in Galilee and with a Syro-phoenician woman in the region of Tyre and with a handicapped man in the region of Decapolis: “The kingdom of God has come near.” The message is not a treasure to be held close to the chest of Christians, protected from the ridicule of secular thinkers and adherents of other religions. The message is a treasure that we must share with everyone. We, God’s priests, are called to tell the good news and let everyone know that the kingdom is for “them” as well as for “us.”

Life, Death, or Other Options

St. Catherine's monastery viewed from Mount Si...
St. Catherine’s monastery viewed from Mount Sinai, Egypt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the ancient church fathers, Irenaeus, wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Sadly, many people are not fully alive. They are dead, or near death, or slogging through a wilderness that makes them wish they were dead. Even people of faith live this way if they are still trying to “work out” their salvation by becoming perfect in their own eyes. Mike Glenn’s book The Gospel of Yes is a must read, because it is about becoming fully alive. There is nothing here about becoming rich and famous, so look elsewhere if that is your goal, but if you want to be alive and feel alive, then this book is for you.Of course, this book works, because it is about the Bread of Life, another book you need to read. Mike’s book will point you to the food that nourishes real life, so it would be a good idea to have the Good Book, the Bible, handy as you are reading Mike’s book. You may want to check his premises to see if they are true.Today’s post is the first of a series that will be posted here for the next nine Wednesdays as I join five other writers in Blogging Through the Book. The Wednesday theme of Living on Tilt is “Building Strength and Endurance Through Faith Practices.” The Gospel of Yes offers a great deal of guidance and inspiration for our spiritual maturity, leading us to develop the strength and endurance of our faith. Each of the nine posts growing out of The Gospel of Yes will discuss one or more of Mike’s suggested discussion questions. If you really want to join the conversation, you might want to acquire the book. It is available on Amazon or you may have other favorite book sites. We hope you will visit some of the other blogs for various perspectives on the book, and we all welcome your comments and contributions to the conversation.

In The Gospel of Yes, Mike tells a story about a time when he felt God had let him down, and he demanded that God show up to explain himself. Have you ever felt that way – that God failed you and you jolly well want to know why?

I have never had the intestinal fortitude to do that. When I read Mike’s story, I was dumbfounded by his audacity. I have read Job’s story, and I know that Job did the same thing. Moses and Elijah both came to moments like that. Yet I have to confess that I have never thought that God let me down, because I have been very sure on any and all occasions that I was the one who let God down.

Are you like me? Do you always think you are doing it wrong? When all is said and done do you always feel as if you were not quite worthy? Or that you were completely unworthy, lower than dirt, a flop, a failure, a smudge on God’s perfect world? I have never ever felt that I could call God to account to me. When I read Mike’s story, even though I thought he had a point about what God might have called him to do and what God might have promised him, I still could not imagine saying to God, “Come on down here and explain yourself.”

Here’s the thing. Mike got into his situation because he listened to God. In fact, he didn’t do it all by himself. A lot of people at the church he served listened to God, too. They called Mike to be their pastor and Mike agreed to do the job, because all of them were listening to God’s guidance. The situation that upset Mike was actually building to a fiery explosion all the time these faithful folk were listening to God. Yet when things fell apart, everyone felt completely flummoxed, and Mike thought it was all up to him. Mike thought he was supposed to be able to fix it. He drove himself frantic, because he could not fix the problem. When he reached the end of his rope, he demanded that God come down and explain why and how this had happened. He sat down to wait for God.

Moses had a moment like this. He had been minding his own business out in the wilderness on what the Bible calls “ the back side of the desert” when God spoke to him from the burning bush. Against his better judgment, Moses obeyed God and brought the Israelites out of Egypt and led them to the “back side of the desert” around Mount Sinai. He went up on the mountain to do what God wanted him to do, and while he was there, his own brother, the one God thought could be a spokesman for Moses, led everyone to worship a golden calf. When Moses came down from his glorious meeting with God, the whole camp was engaged in a completely ungodly orgy in worship of the calf.

Moses could not imagine how God had let this thing happen. Moses doubted that God ever called him or wanted him to lead the people. Moses, like Mike, felt that he must have missed all the signs that he was on the wrong path doing the wrong work in the wrong place, and Moses wanted God to prove himself.

Elijah felt the same way. He had faced down the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel and after he showed them how to call down fire to burn his sacrifice to God, he cut them down in a bloody judgment. Then at the height of this triumph, reality slapped him in the face. He knew that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel would throw the might of their empire against him in retribution for this defeat of their god. Instead of continuing to dare them to stand against God, the God who had shown his power so mightily against Baal’s priests, Elijah turned tail and ran. Facing a bunch of silly pagan priests was one thing. Facing the army of a mighty king was quite another. Elijah apparently thought that God might not defend him in that kind of a challenge, so he ran away to hide in a cave. When God asked him what he was doing there, Elijah whined about his situation. God’s response, after showing Elijah that bluster and pyrotechnics are not power, was what some translations call “the sound of sheer silence.”

This is what Mike heard. Sheer silence. For the longest time, nothing but silence. When God finally spoke, it was like a breath of fresh air.

The Gospel of Yes is a breath of fresh air, because just as Mike was ultimately called to be nothing more and nothing less than the person God had created him to be, this book makes it very clear that each of is us called to that same purpose. We don’t need to try to be who we are not. Moses did not need to try to be the arbiter of Aaron’s character flaws. Elijah did not need to fret because he could not control Jezebel. Mike needed to relax about the consequences of somebody else’s bad choices. You and I need to stop comparing ourselves to other people who are popular or rich or powerful. We need to get over our inability to fix every little thing. Instead, each of us needs to listen when God’s voice pierces the sheer silence and leads us to the perfect fulfillment of his purpose in creating us. We need to relax and let God bring us alive, fully alive.

 

Be watching here next Wednesday for more about The Gospel of Yes.

 

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-120

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Blogging Through the Book is a group of bloggers who literally blog while reading the book. It’s different than merely reading a book and posting a review. We have a chance to read and share our thoughts in community. Click HERE to learn more or visit http://www.danapittman.com/blogging-through-the-book-focus-on-yes/.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The book of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ early ministry in a way that sounds quite incredible. He goes from one miracle to another. He is a major celebrity. Townspeople welcome him as a star, and the religious leadership feels quite threatened by him.

In Mark 6:1-6, however, nobody feels threatened. In fact, nobody is impressed, either. In Nazareth, Jesus is not a celebrity. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Everybody knew Mary and Joseph, and they knew that Jesus was the oldest of the children. In this text, people rattle off the names of Jesus’ brothers, they know his sisters are still in town, probably married, and they know that until he started wandering around the countryside, he worked as a carpenter. Despite all the rumors about miracles and exorcisms and healings, Jesus looks just the same to the residents of Nazareth as he ever looked when he was sawing pieces of lumber for his father.

It isn’t simply that they know him, however. They are at great pains not to be impressed. I think Nazareth was a lot like the town where my grandmother lived, the town where my dad grew up. When we visited there, all the men and women of my grandmother’s generation made sure we all knew that to them, my dad was not an important civil engineer with the highway department. To those ladies and gentlemen, he was that kid Billy that Doran used to take fishing on Peedee Ditch. He was the one who didn’t pay attention in Sunday School. My dad was an adult, but the people of his home town kept him humbled by the fact that they knew all about his childhood behavior. To them, he was no celebrity.

Jesus was faced with the same problem. Mark writes that Jesus simply could not help the people of his home town. Why not? Because they had no faith. In Mark 5, Jesus healed a woman who merely touched his robe, because she had faith. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, because when the little girl’s parents listened when Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” The people of Nazareth had no faith in this carpenter-turned-rabbi, and they weren’t about to let him pull the wool over their eyes. They knew him.

Sadly, they did not know him. Their self-confident appraisal of Jesus shut down their ability to see who Jesus really was.

Our culture has the same problem. Lots of people think that Jesus is just another god in a pantheon of charlatans, idols and myths. They think they know all about religion. They think human beings have outgrown their need for faith, miracles and salvation. Our generation is too sophisticated to learn how to find Bible verses and name the twelve apostles. In the twenty-first century, people are busy trying to save the world from pollution and global warming. They feel that God is a needless dead weight from the primitive past. They are not impressed by people who talk about Jesus.

Christians living in the US today face the same problem Jesus faced in Nazareth when they try to talk to their friends about Christ. In fact, if they simply carry a Bible or wear a necklace with a cross pendant or suggest prayer in response to a national tragedy, they may encounter a stronger reaction than mere dismissal. They may encounter angry rejection at the very idea of trying to foist off such partisan behavior on other people. Recent events have shown Christians how completely secular our culture is becoming, all because people with no connection to any faith believe that people who have any faith whatsoever are ignorant, immature or perhaps a little crazy.

Our culture believes it is too well educated and too mature in its understanding of all things religious to swallow the idea that humans are sinful and need to be saved or that there could possibly be a God who cares about humans. In the face of such rejection it is hard for Christians to say or do anything that might persuade someone otherwise. Jesus could not do major miracles for the people of Nazareth because of their lack of faith.American Christians can hardly make a big impression on Americans who hold a secular worldview for the same reason.

We can learn something from the way Jesus handled the situation. He made himself available to Nazareth, and after they had enjoyed their condescending scorn, he simply continued to do what he had been doing before he arrived there. In fact, he multiplied his work by sending the disciples out to do the same thing. Jesus did not give up on people when they rejected him.

We must not give up either. Even though the American culture is trying very hard to shut down public expression of Christian faith, we who know Christ cannot take it personally. The culture is rejecting us because we are annoying “little Christs” just what the word Christian says we are. We have one calling, to be like Christ. We must forget about any insults to ourselves and go forward just as Jesus did telling the good news and loving people we meet along the way.

To the people of Nazareth, there was a contemptible familiarity about Jesus, a familiarity they could not see through to the truth. To us, secularism may appear to be contemptibly familiar, too, and we may simply not want to deal with it anymore. Jesus did not give up on people because of the scorn of Nazareth. Likewise, Christ does not call us to protect our own self-image and dismiss those who dismiss us. Christ calls us to tell the good news and make disciples even among those who reject us with the same condescension the people of Nazareth showed toward Jesus.

All or Nothing

Sunday Readings:  Genesis 3:8-15     Psalm 130     2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1     Mark 3:20-33

 

When we first read about Jesus in the book of Mark, it says that Jesus came into Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist and his message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” John the Baptist had preached repentance, but he was not able to give people the good news that Jesus brought. It was good news to suffering people, but it was not good news to Satan. Jesus’ words announced that the war between good and evil, a clash between kingdoms battling for universal triumph, was on.

The kingdoms first clashed in the Garden of Eden. In that battle, Satan appeared to win. He deceived Eve. She lured Adam to join her. God’s supreme creation chose to reject his wisdom and do what felt good to them. It looked good, because Satan made it look good. Even as God pronounced judgment on his rebellious children, however, he served notice on Satan. In today’s Old Testament reading God says, “I will put enmity … between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head.” Those few little words were God’s promise of hope for humankind.

When Jesus showed up with his message that “the kingdom of God has come near,” Satan knew that his days were numbered. In fact, the image of Satan hearing Christ speak for the first time, recalls to us the image in the book of Revelation where the great dragon lashes out with his tail and stars fall.

In the Revelation story, the terrible dragon stood waiting for a son to be born, and as he waited, he twitched his tail, seemingly destroying stars as he did so. To be able to drag stars out of the sky made him appear powerful, but his seeming power was short-lived. The child escaped. Instead of devouring the child, the dragon was confronted with an army of angels, and soon he was utterly defeated. In the Revelation story, the dragon was thrown down to the earth. Ultimately the story says that he “went off to make war on … those who keep the commandments of God.” Using the imagery from that dragon story, it is easy to imagine that great dragon raging and lashing out with his tale when he hears Jesus speaking to people saying, “The kingdom of God has come near.” The clash of kingdoms had begun.

In Galilee, people who suffered mental illness, incurable diseases, social ostracism, fear, hunger, and hopelessness heard those words, and they came running to Jesus. Families and friends brought people who could not bring themselves. The excitement mounted. The crowds surged around Jesus, crowds of people who wanted to be healed, crowds of people who wanted to observe the healings, and crowds of people who wanted to figure out how this charlatan was pulling off such a masterful show. In the last category were quasi-religious leaders who could read and write for hire, who accused Jesus of complete fakery, of trying to lure people away from God to himself by working in cooperation with Satan.

When Jesus heard the accusation, he famously replied, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Yet this dramatic moment is sandwiched between the hints of some family conflict that raises a confusing image. The crowds drawn by the spectacle of healings and exorcisms were so huge Jesus could hardly get a moment to eat. His family made early attempts to rescue him, because people were starting to talk as if Jesus were the madman, not those he had healed. And the religious leadership joined in the fray. The family understandably wanted him to be safe and to take time for a little R&R. It is hard to know if they stood outside because they could not push through the crowd, or if they stood outside, because they were actually afraid to get too close to such a controversial figure, but whatever the reason, they remained at a distance. They sent a message to Jesus asking him to come to them, but Jesus responded by dismissing them. His earthly family was, therefore, immediately divided.

As if the obvious division were not enough, Jesus went one step further. He looked around at the people crowded close, watching his every move, listening intently to his every word. He looked at the people who needed healing, and he looked at the people who had brought patients for him to help. Mark doesn’t try to read his mind, but when I read his words, I conclude that his mind was thinking, “The kingdom of God has come near. I can’t take it away from those who need it.” Aloud Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” These are shocking words. His family only wanted what was best for him – some rest, some food, some quiet, maybe even some sleep. How harsh those words must have sounded.

Yet this is not the only time Jesus said such things. When Jesus was calling people to serve him, some made excuses. They had work to finish. They had parents to take care of. They wanted to get their rest and their sleep and just a little bite to eat before they headed out to follow Jesus. Jesus told them, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In another place, Jesus said, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” In today’s story, and in all these other instances, Jesus was talking about priorities. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than doing the work God gives us to do. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” We must put Christ above everything. He summed up this teaching one day when someone asked him what the most important commandment was. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Christ who tenderly looked down from the cross and made sure his mother would be cared for after his death, looked up from the center of a needy crowd and dismissed that same mother. Priorities.

So when Jesus’ mother and siblings showed up in the middle of his work, he wasn’t being petulant and egotistical. He was showing us where our priorities must lie. He was not rescinding the commandment to love and honor our parents. He had not lost his mind. He was busy fighting the battle with the kingdom of evil on behalf of people who needed to know that God’s kingdom was more important than anything else. It really was the pearl of great price. It really was worth more than life itself.

Because a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

That is the real message. When we work for the kingdom of God, everything else is secondary, maybe even less than that. We must do the work God gives us and fill our place in the kingdom. We can’t be partly committed to the kingdom and partly devoted to our own comfort or to pleasing our parents or our children. The battle between good and evil demands full commitment. Jesus said it very simply, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The kingdom of God has come near. God will not permit his kingdom to be weakened by half-hearted promises. If you want to be part of it, you must commit yourself to God alone.