Monday, January 28, 2013

Carry the load of sin

In Luke 11:37-54, Luke records the words of Jesus while he is attending dinner at the house of a Jewish expert in the law. It is a harshly beautiful passage, where Jesus reminds these leaders and experts in law about the very heart of God and his utmost desires for his people.
It is harsh, because Jesus condemns and insults these elders for their hypocrisy, and it is beautiful, because he reveals just a little of God's unfathomable love and heart for his people.

Let me highlight some of the verses:
(v. 40-41) "Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you."
(v. 42) "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God."
(v. 46) "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not life one finger to help them."
(v. 52) "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."

I read this passage, and I question first myself, because I wonder how many times I have cast judgment on someone else, thought myself superior to someone else, or in some way, made someone feel like they should feel guilty about something they've done, when I deal with the sins of pride, greed and selfishness just by doing so. I am like the Pharisees in this way.

When Christ asks us to take up our cross and follow him, he's asking us to die to ourselves. To take on the burden of the world's sin, to bear it and journey alongside Christ in such a way that the world can know the very love of God through our actions.

We can do a whole bunch of really good things and never actually know God. We can seem like great, wonderful, nice people in the eyes of the world, and be the worst of sinners in the eyes of Christ, if we refuse to recognize that we are all at the mercy of the cross, first carried for us, and which Christ asks us to carry for others.

We cannot demand perfection in others, because it is something that none of us can ever live up to. And if Christ, the only perfect one to ever live, died for the imperfect outcasts, the neglected, the sinful, the hypocrites, the criminals, the enslaved, the poor, the ones that were never accepted by the church but beloved by him, how much more should we be willing to carry the burdens of sinners in reciprocation of a mercy that can never be deserved nor repaid! This is, perhaps, the very definition of compassion, and it is a higher calling than any form of charity or fundraiser you could ever put together.

Here is the perhaps the greatest purpose of the church. To carry the burden's of the lost, of the sin-full, of the poor, of the wanting, of the questioning, in humility and in love for the ones that God refuses to give up on. We can never fall into the belief that somehow, Christ loves us more than anyone else on this planet. He is filled with overflowing love for each and every person on this Earth - there is an unending, abounding love that is indescribable and uncontainable within the bounds of our human lives.

God is in endless pursuit of the lost. As he describes in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, we see a God who never fails to seek us out, to pursue us, to shout our names in the hopes that we hear him and come to see His radiant face. And is he ever excited when we finally find him. What love is found in Him that day!

Can you feel it?! It makes me so excited. And moreso to make sure that each and every person is so aware of his unfailing love. Of his pursuit. Of his desire for them to know Him.

Yet we must all rid ourselves of the Pharisee within us. We are only a hindrance when we refuse to recognize the people around us for the immense worth they have in God's sight. When we treat them as anything less than the most precious possessions, then we are not loving them with God's love. We must die to this selfishness, to the worldly values and perspectives, and let God's love radiate throughout our bodies into every aspect of our lives. His Holy Spirit will abound in every word you say and every deed you do. Let God's compassion and love guide you in your week. 

Christ in this church can do it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Where two or three are gathered...

Matthew 18:30 (ESV) "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote one of my all-time favourite passages, "You were made for this." In it, she compares each person to a great ship, and life to the lakes and oceans upon which we travel. 

We face many storms and gales, she writes. The winds of life catch and shake our sails, weakening our will to move forward. The lumber composing the prow and rudder are worn down with the thrush of the sea's mighty waters. 

Yet, she says, we are not alone. 

There are other ships out on the sea with us, and they are signalling to us. The trees that built the ship come from a larger forest. We, together, are built from these, and we cannot give up in the tenth or the hundredth gale.

Estes passage reminds me of this beautiful - and very often told - story in the gospel of Luke, where the disciples are sailing across a lake to Gerasenes, and they run into this massive storm.

Let's all think of a movie with an epic shipwreck storm scene. Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind, although I'm not quite sure why. I think there is a storm during the scene with the Kraken.. 

Nonetheless, there's some serious rain, some serious wind, some serious stormage going on, to the point that the disciples think they're on their death beds. They run downstairs and shout, "Master! Master! We're going to drown!" I can just imagine these men, drenched to the bone, hair in all directions, coming down to figure out an escape route to abandon ship. 

It's makes for an even funnier scene because they had to wake up Jesus. Whether he was startled, yawning, or stretching as he awoke, he simply responds to their panicked pleas, "Where is your faith?" 

And he commands the water and winds to stop, and they do. 

I don't know how many times you've seen someone do that, but I've seen it a grand total of four times. 

I'm kidding.

But it does show the true character and persona of Jesus. Only the creator of the universe could control the elements.  And the apostles must have realized this, for they say, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?"

I think it's a good lesson for us though. Just like that storm the disciples went through on the lake, we have a whole bunch of difficulties and hardships that we face throughout our life. We feel overwhelmed, we feel burnt out, we feel alone and scared and helpless. 

But here's the catch: God is with you. You are not alone, and he will help you through the challenges of life. All we need to do is have faith. 

This is not to say that everything will always work out or that we will always have a perfect happy ending. Only that you are not alone while you go through it. And I could ask for little more than that.

Estes ends her piece on a particularly poignant note that I think concludes much better than I could ever have:
"In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for."

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year Resolutions

I am adopting Shane Claiborne's New Year's resolutions again. I've changed them to reflect the changes I need most in my own life right now too, but I credit him for the heart behind each of these. Here's to 2013, a year to put others before myself. I tried to do these last year, but am actively going to pursue each of these during each of the twelve months of the year.

12. Do something nice that no one knows about.

11. Spend more money on other people than I spend on myself.

10. Love my enemies. Do good to those who hate me, bless those who curse me, pray for those who mistreat me. Actively pursue what is true, honourable, just, pure, noble, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy in my relationships with "enemies," family, and friends. Remember that we all stand under Christ's grace. Love others as I would like them to love me.

9. Get involved with an organization that is actively working to empower the most vulnerable in my community.

8. Love a few people well, remembering that what is important is not how much we do but how much love we put into doing it.

7. Write a letter to someone to whom I need to say thank you. Write another letter to someone I need to ask to forgive me.

6. Track down someone I disagree with and take them for coffee or have them for a meal. Listen to them.

5. Compliment someone I have a hard time complimenting, and mean it.

4. Learn a new life skill with a friend - pottery, canning vegetables, etc.

3. Pause before every potential crisis and ask “will this matter in 5 years?”

2. Get outside often and marvel at things like fireflies, snowflakes, shooting stars and seeing my breath in the cold.

1. Believe in miracles. And live in a way that might necessitate one.