Tag Archives: Love

Crash and Learn

Life goals and dreams of success might look different in different ages, but sometimes after we start our journey with Jesus we start to wonder, “What are you up to God? Am I missing out by being a Christian, and putting you first in my life?”

Peter was the bold disciple, the one who swore he would follow Jesus to the ends of the earth, to the grave if need be. He was the one who kept stumbling onto the truth. He was the leader, when the group was talked about it was often talked about as “Peter and the 12.” This was the guy who walked on water with Jesus. The one Jesus called the Rock. And yet when the chips were down Peter had abandoned Jesus, he had denied him three times. And though Jesus had risen and Peter was overjoyed, his joy probably very quickly brought him full circle back to shame. Everyone knew his boldness had flickered. The group was in serious need of restoration, but Peter probably needed it more than anyone else. He had failed as a leader, and he had failed as a follower. It was probably pretty tempting to just go out on the water, turn off your mind, and return to the simple life of fishing. This is where we see Peter in John 21:1-19. After Jesus has died, Peter goes back to fishing… but Jesus was fishing for Peter’s restoration.

Jesus showed up again. He came once as a stranger, and pointed the way to the fish, the way to the catch of a lifetime; a catch so big the nets were breaking. And it is almost like Jesus and had Peter started over, full circle back at the beginning. All through the story Peter is called Simon Peter, or simply Peter, the name Jesus had given him, but now Jesus calls him by his former name, Simon son of John.

Jesus almost pretends he doesn’t know Peter anymore. Yet he brings Peter back to restoration! In almost a reversal of the three denials, Jesus asks, “do you love me?” and by the end of it Peter feels hurt. Jesus asks him to show his love for him, not by being a fisherman, but by serving as a shepherd. Scholars argue about what Jesus means by “these” when he asks Peter, do you love me more than “these.” Some think it is the boat and the life of fishing, but the best answer I could find is that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Jesus more than the other disciples. Peter once had claimed boldly that even if the others would fall away from Jesus that he would not, but instead he had fled… along with the rest of them and after denying Jesus three times.

You have probably heard a sermon on this text that speaks about the different Greek words for love, and their basic differences. It is true that Jesus uses agape here, a word that is often used to describe the selfless love of God, and that when Peter answers back he is using phileo a different word for the love of a friend, or brotherly love. There is a difference in these words and John clearly means for us to notice the difference here, but the difference in the words is not as extreme as people used to think. Contrary to what you may have been taught, agape has been used in some ways that might seem surprising to us. It is at times used to speak of false love, or even the love of the world, and phileo has been used even to speak of Jesus’ love for the Father. These words are in many ways synonymous at times, and not as radically different as many people have often been told. Peter does respond in a slightly softer way than Jesus asks him to, but this is not Peter denying Jesus all over again. There is something specific here about the word choice, and I believe John uses this choice because Jesus and Peter are talking past one another, but this is kind of a subtle thing.

As we come before God with our need for restoration, it is true that we can—even in our relationship with God—talk past one another. It is true that God asks for a deeper love than we are sometimes willing to give. Our priorities about the love of God can sometimes get confused. But I think most importantly what this story teaches us is not to be found in the difference in lexical meanings of Greek  words about love, but in the example of love Jesus shows us in how he approaches Peter’s restoration. Jesus makes them breakfast when they come in to the shore! Though he comes to them as a stranger… we see love shown in the hospitality of Jesus to make them something to eat right there on the shore. We see the patience of Jesus as he waits through all of Peter’s waffling… as his questions start to break Peter’s heart and get him to see his need for his savior. We see Jesus’ compassion in his seeking out Peter to take care of the unfinished business of Peter’s reconciliation and his restoration to his calling…

How many of us would do the same to someone who turned their back on us in betrayal, while we had suffered and died? No… the love of God is not about the definition of Greek words, it is about the love of God going all the way to the cross, and all the way back to the banks of the lake where Peter, James and John had started out at when Jesus first called them. Now they were all together again, to be called away from the water again, to be fishers of men and nothing else. They were once again presented with the decision to be committed to the cause of Christ.

When Peter said before he would not fall away even if the others did, that he would be willing to lay down his life with Jesus, he had not lived it out. He had run away from the questions of even a lowly servant girl. But now he was right back to square one, right back to where it all started, and he could have a second chance at radical obedience. He could chose again to follow Jesus, knowing exactly how much it could cost him.

At the end of the passage, when it talks about another dressing you and leading you where you are to go, the word for dressing really means girding. It is not the usual word for dressing, but the usual word for binding. On the cross, Jesus was pierced with nails, but nails alone would not be enough to hold a struggling crucifixion victim on the cross until their death. The arms and legs of people on crosses were also bound by cloth or ropes, they were girded. The death John points to that Peter would experience was not the death of an old man, in his senility and perhaps poor vision, being lead around and dressed by others.

According to early church tradition from ancient church historian Eusebius, Peter’s example of commitment and sacrifice did end up being radical. Peter would be martyred in a time of intense persecution under the oppressive emperor Nero. But according to Eusebius, Peter requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the exact same manner that Jesus did. Peter would be restored, he would live up to his name as a rock, he would follow Jesus in radical obedience, even knowing it would eventually cost him his life.

The question God has for us today is not what kind of witness we will bear in death, but what kind of witness we will bear in life. Where there is boldness and passion, people will follow. Steve Jobs, the innovator behind Apple, had tons of followers. He believed in himself and he believed in his product and his mission. Jack White might be the greatest Rock Star that ever lived, certainly the greatest of our time. People follow him because of his passion, a passion that matches his talent. Marshal Mathers believes he is the greatest rapper of all time, and because he believes, other people believe it, and follow him.

Peter was a passionate guy. Enough so he stripped his clothes off and swam to shore when he heard Jesus was there. His boldness was shown in many places like his sermon in Acts where he defied the religious leaders of his day saying, “We must serve God rather than men.” He was willing to face—like Jesus—death on a cross.

Are we inspired by Peter’s passion? Do we have the courage, the passion, to bear witness for Jesus,
not dramatically in our death but today in our life? People follow other people with passion… Do we have passion? Are we passionate about Jesus? Are people following us to Jesus? God may not ask us to die for Him, but he does ask us to live for him. He asks us to suffer for Him; to serve with Him. He promises we will reign with Him.

Some of us might be a bit gun shy. Some of us need some restoration. God knows what we need, whether that is hospitality and patience, or a swift kick in the pants to now and then to fire up our passion. But either way God is still searching us out, still trying to show us the depth of His love, still getting us to see we can trust God to provide for us as we walk with him. That he could fill our nets so full they might break, or call us to a cross, and that either way we can trust Him. Sometimes it takes a second chance to get things right, and God—in my experience—has always been faithful to provide one. But often we do not see that opportunity until we have come full circle and notice that Jesus is there, calling us once again to follow Him.

Agape,
James


Resolving for More

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It has become traditional for many of us to reflect on our lives in the twilight of one year fading and the next approaching. Often most of what guides that thinking is regrets we want to learn from, or goals we want to strive for. Unfortunately for many who have reflected on their lives, despite the best of intentions, New Years resolutions often burn out before winter even begins to thaw. The Quaker view of simplicity as I understand it has a lot to say about how one might approach this time of reflection. At its core it is about evaluating what produces addiction in us; what controls us. Often we find that we can bend who we are around how we want others to see us, or what pleasures we might lose ourselves in. But the goal of simplicity is not merely sin management, pleasure seeking, or knocking things off our “bucket list,” in short it is more about getting in touch with our truest convictions, and living from them, than it is about “resolving” to add something new to our lives.

One of my growing convictions is that I was made to tinker and create. This does not mean I am not called to be a pastor, but it does profoundly shape how I approach serving as a pastor and how I spend healthy time at play. When I say creativity is one of my convictions, I am not saying creativity is something I value as much as I am saying that I “cannot not” create. The way my mind works and my passions are orientated necessitates I do the life giving work of creating, whether than means writing, building a project in the garage, or developing new skills that help me grow to my potential. Lately I have been playing with metal casting, building a forge, designing an anvil, and learning French. But none of these endeavors have anything to do with resolutions for a new year. They each in their own way, fit into my convictions about living a simple life, as surprising as that might be to hear.

My hope and prayer is that each of you makes space in your life for your convictions to thrive. So much of our lives can easily become more like slavery to a multitude of obligations than growing into who God is calling us to be. As Christians, we have a robust theological understanding of being the body of Christ, and this understanding means our strengths come from our unity and diversity. Indeed we were created to be different on purpose, and yet were each made to work in unison to the glory of God. As our lives lose touch with the wisdom of simplicity, instead of saying no to some things in order to say yes to the right things, we often say yes to too many things and only say no when we are drowning. Yet God has a much saner and life giving way for those who would take on the yoke of Christ. If we are hoping to attract others to the way of Jesus we must first demonstrate that the way of Jesus has something more to offer than the hurry and stress of a secular life! As Jesus said, we must examine the plank in our own eye….

While I find myself disagreeing with John Piper about a great number of things, he has an interesting understanding of doing what we were made for he confusingly calls “Christian Hedonism.” Piper defines that as briefly in his statement “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What Piper means is that as we grow into who God is calling us to be and take on the mind of Christ we will naturally enjoy good Christian things. These things are not limited to prayer and bible study or regularly attending worship, though those are all good things. What I mean is that God will create in us desires for good things, and also a deep satisfaction in doing the things we were made to do. At its core, I think this speaks to the heart of simplicity.

As we approach a new year, let us do more than settle for fleeting convictions fast forgotten. Let us go deeper into the lessons this last year has been trying to teach us about how to be satisfied, not as an end to itself, but as a byproduct of living out our calling and finding the freedom of desiring the will of God to reign in our hearts and minds. A simple life is a life seeking righteousness, earnest faithfulness, and the Holy Spirit convicting us not only of our sins, but of about righteousness (John 16:8). While it may not be the soundest argument about the overall thrust of that verse, I do believe God brings convictions into our lives about how we are to live free from sin, but also how we are to let the righteousness of Christ shape how we live our lives. Paul describes his way of living out the gospel among the Thessalonians as one stemming not “simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5). May we strive to live out our faith to those around us in touch with God’s leadings, and in touch with the truest things God is creating in our hearts.

Agape,
James


Lenten Journey Of Justice: Maundy Thursday

Lenten Journey of Justice facebook 2Read: John 13:1-34

Devotion

Many of us feel a special kinship to Peter, a man who both shined brilliantly and failed mightily. His example give us who stumble hope, and us who are a bit cocky a needed does of humility. As Peter comes before Jesus with all his pride and frailty, it reminds us of how we all are before God; well intentioned, and yet ignorant of even what we do not know. Peter was oblivious to the work of the devil, oblivious to the ways his pride had shut up his ears and eyes to the call of Jesus to the mutual submission and annihilation of hubris that is taking the role of the servant.

Jesus would show a radically new way of being King in washing the disciple’s feet. It was a way of kinship that showed love through service, forgiveness and grace. It was a way of kingship that involved mercy, humility, and submission. Peter speaks for many of us with his gut response “No, you shall never wash my feet.” And then again, after realizing he has shot his mouth off with, “Then Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” We struggle to recognize our need for cleansing; our need for a savior. Like a dirty kid we are comfortable in our filth, and at first unwilling wash our filthy hands before supper. Next Peter overcompensates, asking Jesus for an entire bath, and Jesus points out that this is not what is needed.

At times dramatic cleansing is needed, but sometimes we just need to be freshened up by God’s forgiveness for small things. I think this speaks to relationship. There are times for radical redefinitions in a relationship, such as a proposal, but other times it actually undermines commitment and faith in the relationship to behave as if every day would result in a monumental change. If one proposed say every day, especially if one was unfaithful the next, this would not be a healthy relationship. Yet some of us come to God thinking everyday will be a radical transformation, like every day we should experience radical forgiveness and grace. At times we should trust in the grace we have already received, and we should submit to the routine opportunities for cleansing God sends our way. To do otherwise is to pretend to be greater than our Master.

We each come to God in need of cleansing, reluctant to receive it, and reluctant to offer service to others in humility. Obedience is a struggle for all of us, but it is through obedience that we demonstrate our faith in and love for God. Peter looked disobedient but came to be realigned with obedience, Judas looked obedient but was not where it counted the most. Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin biblical text where Jesus say “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Faith, love, and obedience intertwine in us, yet the example of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet shows us that these things intertwine around service and humility, the service and humility in following the example of our Servant King.

Fast, Read and Pray:

As you fast one meal today, reread John 13:1-34. Consider how Jesus’ Royal Law of Love works itself out in obedience, service and humility in your life today, or how God might want it to look anew with a bit of washing.


Tuesday Lenten Journey of Justice: “Fear in the Fields”

Lenten Journey of Justice facebook 2

Reread Mt 20:1-16

Devotion:

Generosity and jealousy go hand in hand. When work is scarce; animosity and fierce competition can rear its ugly head. As desperate circumstances mount, dehumanizing hatred can set in. Yet in Jesus’ common story with an uncommon ending, it is the pecking order of status that is challenged. Economics and the bottom line matter far less than the Vinedresser’s care for the workers of his fields. We are a people steeped in economic fears and worries. We have become a people who have no idea what Jesus talked about when he taught us to pray for “daily” bread. It is easy to let fears fuel the oppression of people, to let economic power bring about exploitation of people who are in desperate need. Yet in the kingdom of God one sees generosity to all, equality of all, regardless of merits earned. Is this socialism? Trickle down economics? Trickle up economics? No, it is generosity.

Jesus said we should make sure we pull the log out of our own eye before we help our neighbor pull the speck from their eye. It is a log in our eye that would have us see generosity as no longer a virtue. It is a log in our own eye that would have use look down on a person because of their ethnicity, their skin color, even their country of origin. In God’s economy there is enough for everyone’s need. There is plenty of meaningful work to be done, and there are enough resources that generosity and equality can be the experience of all.

Workers out in the field, especially migrant workers, face a tough life of few opportunities. Before a man name Caesar Chavez began to fight for equality and justice for these neglected people few thought deserved much of anything, the civil rights of those who do some of the most backbreaking labor of our country were not even on the radar. Like Jesus, Caesar Chavez walked among and lifted up the poor, the least, the lost and the last. It is only when we see a person as an equal that we can fully see the injustices they face. It is only when we can put people over profits that generosity can even be an option for us. But the generosity needed the most is not the sharing of coins or bits of paper with dead presidents printed on them, it is the generosity of love kept dammed up in the human heart; dammed up by the blindness of logjam. May the Lord unplug our eyes that justice can be done.

Watch: The Life of Caesar Chavez

Pray for eyes that see opportunities for generosity. Eyes that see the unseen with love. Eyes that are more concerned with the status of our own inward condition than with the arrogant eye of a fault finder, looking for reasons we are better than another, looking for reasons to not to love a person made equally in the image of God as we are.


Thursday Lenten Journey of Justice: “Releasing with Joy”

Lenten Journey of Justice facebook 2Read John 3:22-36

Devotion:

John the Baptist was considered by Jesus to be the greatest man “born of women.” This would be quite radical to a Jewish ear for whom patriarchs like Abraham, or the great receiver of the Torah himself, Moses, would have been the heavyweights of obedience to God. No doubt, despite our mental picture of John the Baptist as a wild eyed firebrand, this scripture points us toward a person who was also tempered by a great humility. John knew his place, he was the forerunner who prepared the way for the one who would now be eclipsing his work and ministry. Yet John also rejoiced in fulfilling his God given purpose. He was not sad when Jesus came on the scene, he was elated. But he also understood the nature of this new epoch. John knew that he must get himself out of the way of what God was doing. As he wrote,  “He must become greater; I must become less.”

To work toward justice with God is not even a remote possibility without humility and boldness, just as John exemplified. It takes boldness to speak truth to power and call out hypocrisy. It takes boldness to to do new works of ministry like preaching and baptizing. Especially work that departs from the traditionalism of religious practice. But while many would see arrogance as a shadow side of the prophetic role, there is a certain humility to being a herald of the gospel, and there is humility to holding  loosely the momentum of a nascent movement, and even letting Jesus take over your role as the discipler of the best and brightest God has brought your way. The reason John the baptist was so great is because he did not mind being made small. He let the plans and purposes of God have their way in his life so completely that he fully lived into his role as coming in the spirit of Elijah. He was more than ready to simply accept the testimony of Jesus; he was ready to let the Spirit work unencumbered. This is justice is to be sought in the Kingdom of God. It is a justice in tune with the Spirit of God whose ministry is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It is a justice that is only possible if one follows the example of God of  loving the Son and placing everything in his hands.

Instructions for Fasting:
Fast one meal. Let your emptiness or even boredom be reasons to connect with rather than disconnect with God. During the time of the meal 3:22-36 considering John’s example with your own struggle navigating the tension of boldness and humility, truth telling and telling the truth in love. Close in a prayer asking God for help in one area of your live you need to decrees so that Christ may increase.


Wednesday Lenten Journey of Justice: “Breaking the ‘Found’ Barrier”

Lenten Journey of Justice facebook 2Wednesday Gathering Instructions:
This exercise is best done in a group, but since many of you are following this as individuals it is designed to be accessible in either context.

Read Luke 3:1-21

Devotion

The two most important bridge people between the Old Testament story and the New are Mary and John the Baptist. John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, a voice –like many of Israel’s former prophets– that called the people to repent and come before God ready for a fresh start. Repentance is where the rubber meets the road between those who are serious about letting God’s will be done in their heart, and those who only like to tell others what they want to hear. Metanoia, the Greek word for repentance, surprisingly had its start as a money changing term. When a person left one kingdom and entered another, money needed to be converted to the currency of the new kingdom, it needed to be exchanged. Repentance has the idea then of “turning” one thing into another–one thing that no longer works for one that does– and in light of Jesus’ proclamation  about the kingdom of God this speaks of exchanging the “currency” in our lives for what works in the economy of his kingdom.

Repentance and forgiveness are not exactly the same thing. Forgiveness could be envisioned in light of the previous example, as granting someone’s request to help make this exchange happen. When someone does wrong, damage is done. And just as if someone came from a rival kingdom that had been an enemy of our own, if they came into our bank where we hold all the rights to all the legal tender contained there, and where we hold all the cards–when someone wrongs us we have the choice before us as to whether we will let them complete the transaction they seek, or whether we will take advantage or refuse to help.

God’s example, as demonstrated in John the Baptist’s ministry, is to take all sincere comers and give them the fresh start they desire. John takes them down to the river and helps their outsides become clean to match the new work God is doing within them. In Jewish culture, this would be the opposite of say someone tearing their outer garments and putting on sackcloth and ashes to show the world how they were feeling by making their outsides match the brokenness in their hearts. John helped the crowds that came seeking a fresh start to realize physically and externally what God was doing with them spiritually and internally. And John’s baptism was one that looked forward to Jesus and the ultimate baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit to come at Pentacost. Wherever God’s Spirit is at work walls of division are broken down, whether that means socio-cultural and language barriers as was realized at Pentecost, or the barriers of repentance and forgiveness that were crossed on the banks of the Jordan.

At the last group activity we broke some ground on the importance of repentance. Repentance is important for justice to be realized, but so is its counterpart: forgiveness. Sin causes relational damage to the individual and to the individuals relationship with God, but also the direct recipients of our wrongs and even echoes out into the community. Forgiveness is often accepting this exchange and letting it happen, but it is also about providing the grace of a way back to restoration. Repentance without forgiveness by the community is not what God desires, nor is forgiveness without repentance that undermines justice and cheapens grace. Yet no one can force forgiveness. We have the choice to cling to our unforgiveness, or let go of our claims for bounty in the currency of another kingdom. As we stand, like a banker before a person from a former rival kingdom seeking refuge, by God’s grace we can learn to see them as human and accept their “exchange” with humility, fairness, and grace. We can choose like John the Baptist, to aid God’s work that had led them this far, and give them helpful advice about how to live in the Kingdom of God. Some damages cannot be undone, but as those who walk the path of restoration through the 12 steps know, sometimes the only way you can make amends for the past is to break the cycles of the past, and walk a new direction in freedom with God’s help.

In your group of on your own, share/reflect on a time you received forgiveness after coming to that place of repentance. If you can, share briefly one story of your experiencing mercy and grace from another. Afterwards, if you have time, share one experience of forgiving someone who has wronged you. If anyone is still resistant to choosing forgiveness in some are of their life, pray for the Holy Spirit to break down this barrier and bring about restoration. Close in prayer.


Tuesday Lenten Journey of Justice “Hearing the Minority Voice”

Lenten Journey of Justice facebook 2

Read Luke Chapter 2

Devotion:

Women play many vital roles in the gospels. It is Mary who is seen as essentially the first believer in the Messiah as we just read yesterday. And it is Anna the prophetess who waited patiently and prayed night and day to see the savior of Israel come, and even understood that his ministry would be outward focused. As Jesus grew in stature and understanding, likely other women shaped and formed the experiences he had that lead to the example we find in the gospels of a man who  would include women in his circle, teaching them at his feet as a rabbi would teach a disciple. Jesus spoke to women across cultural and ethnic lines as we see at the well in Samaria, and more than that released that woman to bring the gospel to her village. It was women who discovered the tomb was empty and it was women who brought word of the resurrection back to the male disciples.

Jesus had great compassion for the lived reality of women. He stood up to the teachers of his day who taught it was acceptable to take advantage of vulnerable women by marrying them and then looking for a fault somewhere where they might send them away disgraced and deflowered, rather than honor the responsibilities and good faith in marriage. Jesus even stood up to those who brought a women caught in the act of adultery, people who were quick to stone the woman but not name the man in their midst who was equally guilty of the crime.

Despite the equality with God seen in the act of creation at the beginning of the bible, despite the prophecy of Joel being fulfilled in Peter’s early speeches in Acts, and despite Paul’s teaching about how there is now no longer male and female in Christ: the church still struggles at times to grant women equal status. Men, often ignorant of their positions of privilege, can unfairly dismiss and tune out the contributions of women, devalue their work, and limit their opportunities to do the things we see so readily in the scriptural example of Jesus radically including women in his traveling ministry. Jesus had deep spiritual friendships with women; he used his power to heal them physically, and to advocate for them socially.

The video  following this devotion might be somewhat controversial due to its language and explosive subject matter, but its ability to help men and women understand the different realities women face are unique and worth the risk in my opinion. It is truly a powerful and unflinching look at the world women inhabit, and I believe one that unmasks privilege and gives us a chance to see the world from a gender reverse perspective. But be warned, you might be offended at some of the language and content. The short video below is in French and its title in English translates as Oppressed Majority.

Query: Where does your striving for humility and Christ-likeness give room for the minority voice? How do you challenge the ways the world receives or rejects you that stand against the God given equality of others as children on God?


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