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“Kelly, can you handle this?
Michelle, can you handle this?
Beyoncé, can you handle this?
I don’t think they can handle this!”  

Bootylicious?!

It’s too bootylicious.

Guilty pleasure.  What can I say?  I’ll tell you something else while I’m revealing secrets- I like Justin Timberlake too.

Who’s next?  Anybody?  Guilty pleasures confession time in the comment box, please.  BTW, save yourself: Don’t do an image search for “bootylicious.”

* * *

This year my wife expanded her repertoire once again by making blueberry jam/fruit preserves.  We’ve enjoyed it, but I have a feeling it won’t last long. I mean- it WOULD last.  But it won’t.

* * *

11The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses.
13Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of the one who lacks sense.
14The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.
I’m going through Proverbs right now with my oldest son.  I really want to instill the value of reading the bible into my children.  Not just running their eyes over the text, and patting them down into the flesh of my heart.  I want them to pound it in, like the old type set keys punch through a ribbon and impressed themselves into the roller through paper.  I feel like I almost killed myself by only sort of reading scripture.  Sort of like a vaccination.  I had just enough “word” in my system to build anti-bodies, but not enough for it to really make me sick.  Sick meaning different, changed.
So we read one verse in proverbs, each day.  And we talk about it.  And then we pray about it.  Like, literally- about the contents of that proverb.  Which can be kind of challenging, because I have to come up with something and do it for myself before I can offer anything to my son.  We read verse 14 today, “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.”
So I asked him- how do you “store” something?  You just put it away, right?  Let’s look in the closet pantry.  Ketchup, baked beans, noodles, cereal.  I asked him, what’s in the jelly your mom made the other day?
“Uh…. blueberries?”
“Yeah!”  But how is it that we have to keep the blueberries cold before they’re made into jam, but after they’re made into jam and they’re all in jars, they just sit on a shelf?
Well, the answer is obvious if you’ve ever looked in the back of the fridge before.  It’ll rot.  Even if you keep it cold.
So to make it last, you have to do something to it.  It needs to be cooked, processed, canned- in short, before we can “store” the blueberries to be enjoyed later, it needs to be prepared and worked over a little bit.  You can’t just throw it in a jar and start stocking up.
 So the “wise” stores knowledge, and wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning.  And the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.
What makes one wise?  How does one be found “discerning”?  Or how does my mouth become a “fountain of life”?
Proverbs 2 says that God gives all wisdom, and that from his mouth come understanding and knowledge.  So there’s two kinds of knowledge: the kind that comes from God, and then there’s the “other kind.”  One kind is a “fountain of life.”  Then there’s the “other kind.”  Anything you’ve learned that wasn’t the wisdom of God, that wasn’t from his mouth- has no power to save you.  It has no power to lend life- to give life to others.   And if I read this right, if you aren’t a fountain of life, you’re actually a fount of the “other kind.”  And in an unfortunate twist, that “other kind” happens to be our default setting.
It says the mouth of the wicked conceals violence, and the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.  Dude.  It’s coming.  Destruction, the opposite of life.  I’m not really saying it’s coming.  It’s here.  It’s our present reality.  Order becomes chaotic.  What is born begins to die.  And selfishness reigns in our spirits.
But there’s a gem hidden in all that.
“Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses…”
and
“…but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense…”
Encouraged?  GOOD!  I thought it would be good to end with some uplifting news.
What’s the good news?  Rod’s aren’t for *killing*.  Rod’s are for correcting.  For re-purposing, re-directing.  They’re for 2nd chances.  Shepherd’s use rods to poke the sheep back onto a safe path.  God says the rod is to make bodily the unbreakable association between sin and death.  If the question is Sin?  Then the inescapable answer is always Death.  Sin = death.  No point in correcting something that is doomed.  It’s only good to correct if the intent is to see the undesired action erased, forgotten, not to be repeated.  That’s the GOOD NEWS!  God’s correction is evidence of his love.  And his intent to repair what is broken.  Even if it’s us.
So I tell him (the boy, not God) that if we desire to experience life- if we desire to have discernment, and wisdom, and knowledge- the source will always be in God’s word.  It may not end there, but it will begin there.  And it’s not enough to trot through.  It’s best to crawl- army style.  It’s only as powerful as we understand it to be.  So I want to teach them as I myself learn to take small bites, and chew till it’s mash.  Just absorb it.  And LIVE!
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Scairdycats…

Posted: August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them,“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I’ve been reading the gospel of Mark lately.  You should too.  I love all the kittens.  Like these:

but u sed

You too?!  I know.  Why?  Because, kittens.

Right?  Of course.

Okay.  That’s fun.  But really, there’s no kittens in the gospel of Mark.  I think they’re pretty much limited totally to the gospel of John- because he’s all about Love and stuff.  Mark’s kind of in too big a hurry all the time to be snappin pics of kittens.

But seriously though.  I read this passage this morning and it was like a brand new experience.  I’d read it before of course.  Everyone knows the story about Jesus telling the wind and the sea to simmer down.  Do you ever read the bible, store the data, and totally not really get the point?  Like, you’re take away is… “uh, because…. Jesus?”

But I think this time was different.

We’ve got these “experienced” fishermen out on the lake, going to the other side.  I can’t help but mention that they left at dusk.  You know, when EVERYBODY gets in their boat and shoves off.  Course, maybe it’s not THAT weird, being fishermen and stuff.  But I also noticed that they’ve just had an encounter with “the crowd,” who keeps following them everywhere.  And I can’t help but wonder if they were looking to make a discreet exit under the cover of darkness.  But anyway, there.  I’ve mentioned that.

So, they’re working their way across the lake, and a huge storm comes up, so huge that the size of the waves is such that they are cresting over the top of the boatside.  But meanwhile Jesus, tired from a big day of miracles, and exasperating encounters with dull disciples, is … fast asleep in the bottom of the boat.  Where all that cold water is sloshing around.  Weird.

So, cut to the guys at the oar, and panic abounds.  They decide that they might be in over their heads, and decide they better get the honcho on the case.

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He wakes up, and gets right to the business of settling down the storm.  “Peace!”

And there was a great calm. . .

Sounds like a nice night to be on the water.  NOW.  And Jesus turns to his shipmates, and proceeds to rail.

Have you ever asked yourself what he was so upset about?  I just did.

It seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  I mean, big storm, big waves, water in the bottom of the boat.  Middle of the night.  Death.  Yeah, I’d be a little freaked out.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to agree.  I mean, what does he expect?  That since we’re in the boat with Jesus we’re safe?  Nothing bad can happen?

I don’t really think so.

Here’s what I think: I think that Jesus wasn’t rebuking the concern they had for the danger they were in.  They were in legitimate danger.  He rebuked the fear that made them totally freak out.

In John’s gospel, Jesus promises that the world will hate us if we follow him, because it hated him first.  He says that “you will have trouble in the world.” But then he says: “TAKE HEART!  I have conquered the world!”  I think *that* is what was irritating him in the boat.  The disciples were afraid.

* * *

I love the 23rd Psalm.  It’s beautiful and poetic.  It’s tranquil and yet conquering.  But my favorite part slides by almost without being noticed.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Can you guess which part is my favorite?

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Jesus says earlier in John that he is the good shepherd.  I’m sure that this Psalm of David wasn’t far from his mind, nor the minds of his listeners.  The comfort for me is in the fact that God leads us along paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  I think Jesus was rebuking the disciples not for responding to the storm- it WAS dangerous.  But they doubted their wellness.  They were panicked.  WHY?  Jesus asks, “where is your FAITH?”  But the object of their faith is God.  The very best shepherd.

And the really good news isn’t that He’s a good shepherd either.  Nope.  It’s that he will always BE OUR good shepherd BECAUSE IT’S HIS REPUTATION THAT’S ON THE LINE.  Not because we’re great sheep.  Even if we are.  And even if we’re not.  But because if he didn’t lead us in paths of righteousness, he wouldn’t BE a good a shepherd, and that’s just not who he is.

Hopefully, next time I’m in a storm, and the waves have my whiskers all wet, I can go to Jesus, and tell him I need him.  And I won’t be scared.  I won’t be, as James says, double-minded, being tossed about this way and that way like a wave on the ocean.  Hmm.  I wonder if James ever went on a three-hour tour with his older brother, the wind-whisperer?

Live: Six Days…

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20

***

3 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time ofAbiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Mark 2

***

How do you know I’m a Christian?  Better yet, how do you know if I’m a *good* Christian?  You can tell because I go to church every week, (TWICE), and my wife and I give our money to the church, and we try to be nice to people.  And I NEVER give people the bird when I’m driving.   I keep the rules.

False.  (not about the bird- that part’s for real- pinky swear).

But that is what the popular mythology is- Christianity is a moral code.  Moral codes are a given set of rules to live by.  Do this, and this is your reward.  Do that, and THAT will be your reward.

That’s a totally normal way of thinking.  And honestly, it’s totally understandable.  It’s kind of just- how we’re wired.

Rules, boundaries, rewards.

Except for one little thing.  Rules, boundaries and rewards assume that we *need* rules, that we need boundaries, and that we need rewards to keep them.  And that’s not the way we were made.  It’s the way we’ve become.

The bible talks about a time when there were only two rules:  1) eat anything you want in the whole world- 2) except don’t touch those two trees over there.  You don’t need to be too familiar with the story to know what happened next.

Skip ahead, and the people of the world have pretty much totally lost track of God’s voice.  So he steps in to reintroduce himself.  And he has 10 “words” or commands.  Among them he commands, “Keep the Sabbath day holy.”

Skip ahead again, and hundreds of years later, this is now an elaborately detailed and nuanced law.  And the degree to which you keep it is the measure of your righteousness and devotion to God.  Keeping the Sabbath, tithing your produce and grain.  These were two biggies.  Rules, boundaries, rewards.

But Jesus comes along- and he doesn’t exactly see it the same.  He says, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”  And then, he invokes an Old Testament title of authority and says, “therefore the Son of Man is Lord- even of the Sabbath.”  Pop!  Mind b l o w n.

What does this all mean?  Is he saying we don’t have to keep the Sabbath?  Is he trying to VOID what we have kept for so long as God’s Words?!  His commandments?

No.  Jesus says he came to fulfill law, not to abolish it.  He says also that none of God’s law will ever disappear or vanish.  If he’s not voiding it, then he is affirming it.  But if he’s affirming something that’s contrary to how we’ve understood it, we can only infer that we’ve not yet understood it.  Right?

God’s law is more than a boundary or rule.  It’s not a *restriction*.  And that is the message that Jesus gives.  But it’s hard for us to understand, because we like rules, with boundaries and with rewards.  Rules tell us where to stop, where to cease, what to avoid.  These are all negatively stated.  For the Pharisees- these letter of the law lovers- the Sabbath was a time to not do this, and not do that, because God told us not to, and we have to do what God said to not get in trouble, and to earn his favor.

But Jesus turns that on it’s head.

Every step outside God’s Laws is a dilution of life.

The intent of God’s Word- it’s very NATURE, is to give LIFE.  It is not to restrict it.  In God’s Word is perfect righteousness,  perfect light, and life everlasting.  Since the fall, our ability to see that is dulled.  We’ve taken this attitude that rules are an imposition, a restriction.  God’s intent is to give life, to restore freedom, to establish righteousness.  Every step outside God’s Laws is a dilution of life.  A loss of clarity.  The introduction of death into a pool of life.

Do I keep rules in order to prove myself?  Do I keep them to appease and manipulate God’s favor?  I think the Pharisees saw fulfilling the commands of the Law as a way to control God, in a sense.

But again, Jesus is showing them how they’ve misunderstood and warped both the letter and the spirit of the Law.

God’s Word and commands, and his authority over our lives is meant not to squish into a little “Christian” sized cookie cutter shape.  It’s meant to show us how Life works in the world He created for us to live and prosper in- because we’re NOT DOING IT RIGHT.  In fact, we tend to DO IT WRONG.   Jesus isn’t interested in you obeying for the sake of obeying- He already KNOWS He’s in charge.  He is interested in obedience, yes- but he is after FRUIT.  It says that for the joy of what lies ahead, he endured the pain and suffering of the cross.  Is it the joy of being the ultimate authority, the highest name, the greatest King among kings?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s the joy of seeing his Father’s world restored to communion, shalom, and Life everlasting.  As it was in the beginning, and as it shall be forevermore.

Live.

Have you ever seen a cultivator?

hand cultivator

It’s pretty wicked looking.  To me, anyway.  If I’m dirt, that’s a pretty intimidating device.  Not sure why, but it reminds me of the life-sucker from Princess Bride- you know, the thing they hook up to Wesley to suck life out of him.  All the way till he’s *mostly* dead.

I’ve been reading the Gospel according to Mark lately, and the last couple of weeks have been focused on the parable of the Sower and the Seeds.  Or, more to the point, the Parable of the Seed and the Four soils.

Allow me to summarize if it’s unfamiliar by name.  Jesus is telling a story about people.  He says, a sower goes out and sows his seed.  Some falls along the path, but the ground is hard, and the birds come and take it away so that it doesn’t take root.  And then some falls on rocky soil.  It takes root, but when the heat of the day is on it, it withers and dies, because the soil is shallow.  Then some of the seed falls amongst thorns.  It grows, but the thorns quickly choke it out, and it does not bear any fruit.  Then there is the seed that falls in good soil.  It takes root, grows, and in due time, produces fruit, 30, 60 and even 100 times what was sown.

So we’ve differentiated between 4 different landing zones for the seed.  The Sower is not really discussed in any particular detail, nor the seed.  Jesus goes on to explain to his dullard friends what he *really* meant.  He says the seed is the word of God, and the different soils represent the different kids of hearts that receive the word sown by the Sower.  The Path represents those for whom sin has so hardened their hearts that they turn from the word immediately- Satan snatches it up before it can grow.

This makes me sad.  Sometimes when I hear a word of truth- a word that is convicting me directly I squirm and sweat a little.  I get that icky feeling that I know I have to confront this.  I know that there have been seasons of my life where I had given myself permission to feel like this, talk like that, act in this way to such a degree that I honestly didn’t really feel that bad about it.  I know that this dimension, affected so deeply and radically by sin, which is simply alienation from God and from perfection (or as the bible calls it, Shalom)- that this dimension is so filled with the power of sin that God’s spirit REALLY does have to struggle to crack through the stone heart.  It’s amazing to think about- that the God of the universe has to exert the same force that created black holes to penetrate the human spirit and win his heart!

…the God of the universe has to exert the same force that created black holes to penetrate the human spirit and win his heart!

Imagine the sadness God must experience- the profound sadness of a child not simply turning away from a parent, but disowning and rejecting him.  Calling him evil.  This is the timelessly unending and yet immediate daily reality for the sovereign God of the universe.

Then there’s the rocky soil- a place where the seed takes root, but is shallow, and is burned by the sun.  It’s a simple, skin deep kind of root.  The kind that burns off like the fuel I drown my charcoal briquettes in.  Apply a little bit of fire, and poof.  It’s gone.  Maybe this person’s heart experiences a little ribbing when his friends find out that he’s giving Jesus a try.  Little bit of fire- poof.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And the thorns.  We all know about thorns, don’t we.  I mean, lets face it, Christian or not, anybody who’s ever had a goal has faced thorns.  Maybe you wanted to overload in college.  Or lose weight before spring break.  Or learn how to play an instrument, speak a foreign language.  Pray.  Submit to authority.

But the worries of life, and the desire for things crowded out the seed, and it never produced any fruit.

This person never got to experience the “now” aspect of God’s kingdom.  They never experienced the pure joy of brotherhood, of accountability, of sharing the serenity of God’s faithfulness and how good He is.  They never experienced the nearness of God’s kingdom.  And, frankly, some would say they never really knew who Jesus was to them, and will be for all of us.  I don’t know.  That’s not for me.  Then, finally, the good soil.

Which brings me back to the cultivator.  Take another look at that thing.  Teeth.  Spikes.  A really crazy mad looking rake.  Guess what the big difference between the good soil, and all the others?  You got it.

Is the seed different?  Nope.  Sower?  Nope.  Just the ground.  The path has never seen a cultivator in it’s life.  The rocky soil?  Nope.  That rake in the back is for picking up rocks and whatnot.  The tines on the wheel are for the thorns and weeds.  All in all, I’d say it looks like an altogether unpleasantly, disturbing instrument.  And I think that’s the thing.  The ground needs the tiller to cultivate the soil to prepare it for the seed.  It’s worth mentioning that the process of cultivation is ongoing.  Ain’t no “one and done” kind of deal.  That ugly, spiky wheel rolls over the good soil over and over again, constantly pulling up the weeds and rocks, constantly turning the rain-soaked soil into loose, workable dirt.

How does cultivation happen?  Abide.  Jesus shares in John 15.  He says that the one who abides in Him will bear much fruit.  How much?  Like 30, or 60, or 100 times what was sown?  Maybe?  Maybe.  So the time we spend with Jesus is the time He spends picking weeds, plucking the rocks and stones from the flesh of our souls.  The torments and worries- he plucks them away.  And he nurtures the soil- painful at times, but rewarding, as the sun is able to warm us, and the rain to water us, with nothing to steal away our joy.  Our joy being the pleasure of experiencing God’s kingdom and salvation now, and forever.  This isn’t to say really that Jesus is a torture device.  If that’s what you read- I humbly apologize.  But God is a farmer- he plants a vineyard, he cares for it, builds a threshing floor and digs the winepress, and builds a wall around it.  Why?  To keep the soil good and workable.  And he uses tools and time to do the job of making rocky, thorny, packed down soil into loose, clean, workable soil.  Are you ready to receive the seed?  Are you submitting to the plough blade?  Or the tines of the cultivator?

If you are experiencing pain outside of the context of salvation- if you are not a follower of Jesus, and are experiencing deep, chronic pain- spiritual pain- you are in Hell.  Right now.  This is the foyer of the kingdom of dark.  But God desires to grow you!  He will even spread the seed of his word on you!  Farmers don’t drop seed on the road, friend!  It’s a waste!  But God- He will sow anywhere and everywhere.  Receive his word-  the Kingdom of God is near you!  He will faithfully tend you and make you to grow and produce a harvest!  The soil needs to be broken though.

Maybe you are a believer, and like me, you have experienced drought.  The ground is cracked and stiff. Rocks poke up from the frosts, and the thorns are the ONLY thing that seem to grow under this sun.  Submit to the rake and cultivator.  You will loosen up, and the seed will sprout.  He is faithful, and he’s got a bit of a green thumb.

EAT MY BODY.

How’s that grab ya?  Yeah.  I kinda get that too.  

Roman Catholicism holds to a stream of orthodoxy that maintains that a physical transformation happens to bread and to wine when used and blessed as a sacrament of worship.  Small wafers literally become the physical body of Jesus, and the wine literally becomes the blood in his veins. 

Other lines of thinking, like the Lutheran tradition, hold that a spiritual transformation happens- that somehow in the spiritual dimension of existence, the bread somehow, mystically, becomes the body and blood of Jesus.  That it’s spiritually imbued with the manifest body and blood.  

There is another, third line of thinking that has been popular for some six hundred years- that much as God instructed to take the Passover feast every year to remember the Exodus from Egypt, and God’s display of power over Pharaoh- that Jesus instituted a new kind of feast for the purposes of communal memory.  

 

 

Over the years, since the advent of my faith in Jesus, I’ve felt an odd sort of relationship with the feast of remembrance.  There’s a lingering mysticism that I felt inadequate about.  Maybe you’ve shared that experience too.  Like, you’re supposed to have some kind of visceral, spiritual experience that is just beyond what can be described.  Like there’s some kind of holy visitation that should happen every time I take part in the sacrament of communion.  

 

If I’m being honest, I’d say that is not typically my experience.  

 

You hear the story read from a liturgical device- the story of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples on the night of his betrayal, the teaching that Jesus was preparing us for his crucifixion, and how we should understand it.  That we must eat of his body, and drink of his blood to be part of this new kingdom- if we are to be reckoned as one of “his.”

 

Then you get up, shuffling through the too-thin aisles and move slowly through a que, until you arrive at a station of sorts, where you are given a small, small piece of “bread” and a small, plastic cup, filled with grape juice- “this is the body of Christ, broken for you, Sean,” and “This is the blood of Christ, poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”  Do you look them in the eye?  Do you stare at the elements?  

 

Too late- people are waiting behind you.  You grab your little piece of “bread” and your itty bitty cup.  You follow the person in front of you and shuffle your way back to your place in the hall.  And… what?  Do you pause, and reflect?  Do you toss it all back?  

It’s awkward.  Sorry, it is.  Maybe that’s the introvert in me.  Maybe it’s “sin”.  I don’t know.  But it’s always felt strange to me.  

 

But yesterday, something occurred to me. 

It occurred to me that maybe the depth and hallow of the experience isn’t really the point.  I realized that when I reach into that plate, when I pull up my little cup- I can’t help but remember.  I know that will never be “just another piece of bread.”  Everytime I put my hand in that dish, I am making a public declaration: The Gospel is true.

 

Because it’s been so deeply entrenched, by years of repetition, I will never reach into that plate wondering what I’m doing.  Whatever happens, whatever the bread looks like, tastes like, feels like- I know that I am admitting to every person in the room, and to myself, that the man named Jesus of Nazareth was everything He said he was.  Is.  Whatever.  

 

I am standing in a great throng of people, bridging across centuries, and admitting that the world needs a miracle.  

 

That’s all.  I don’t believe the bread performs a miracle.  I don’t believe that the bread somehow works it’s way through my body with glitter and wind-chime sounds and little sparkles, performing magic or something.  I believe that if nothing else happens but me remembering everything I’ve learned about Jesus: that he walked the earth, spoke with people, washed feet, healed illness, and rose from death, then it has likely done everything it was ever intended to do. 

He didn’t say that you had to do this to get to heaven.  He didn’t say that you had to do this to be saved, or healed.  He didn’t say “do this, and I’ll speak amazing, unspeakable, unsearchable truths into your heart…” He just said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  

1 John 2

 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.

John 13

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John 14

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.

John 14

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

This weekend I heard a message on the letter 1st John, chapter 2.  The gist of the message was to offer confidence in our salvation.  How do you know you are saved?  What tangible evidence is there available to us that our commitment to Christ is genuine and firm?  The answer given in this weekends was that we can have confidence in our salvation and commitment by the evidence of our obedience to Jesus’ commands.

I think there’s more though.  A significant portion of what I heard this weekend was that we can know that we’re “saved” by the depth and consistency of our obedience- that our obedience is a sort of guarantee and proof.

I suppose that is true.  But I would say that doesn’t offer encouragement of salvation, as much as it offers encouragement to be attentive to the lives we are living- not a bad thing.

But if it’s encouragement you’re looking for- if you are truly questioning your salvation- let me ask this: what do you want to be saved from?

I want to be saved from meaningless-ness.  Oh God!  What if life is meaningless?  That is the very darkness that makes up my nightmare.

If all you care about is what happens after you die, you must have a pretty good thing going.  Or it’s been awful for so long that you’ve grown callous to it.  But let me suggest that evidence of salvation is found in your obedience to Jesus’ commands.  Not because it is proof of something that is coming, but because Jesus’ commands, Jesus very way of living IS our salvation- begun NOW.

An elderly John is writing from his memories of life on the road with Jesus.  He is the last one left, the last man on earth with memories and experience of God in the flesh, born of a woman.  And in his little letter he remembers the words of Jesus, preserved in the testimony of his life with Jesus, the Gospel of John; “Love one another.  As I have loved you so you must love one another.

Jesus commanded us to love one another.  This was the essence of Jesus’ message, year after year; the Kingdom of God is near!  When someone gave him the answer he was looking for what did he say?  “This person is not far from the kingdom!”

As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples on the eve of his betrayal, He told them, as I have served you, so you must serve each other.  This is the ultimate picture of life in the Kingdom of God!  This is salvation, fleshed and blooded!

So, what if the comfort we receive is more than a promise of better things?  What if the comfort is the beginning of the better things?

Here’s another thing- we confess the necessity of God’s Spirit for man to do anything greater than base evil.  If we are in obedience to Jesus’ command- THAT is evidence that the Spirit is active and living in our lives.  The Spirit of God Himself, living in your flesh and mine, doing the good works that Jesus commanded, that James said was evidence of living faith.  Any good that you perceive yourself as having done?  Evidence of God’s Spirit in your body.  Living itself.  Living the community of the Trinity in the flesh of your body.  The life of the Kingdom.  In you.  THAT is comfort that you can take even during a season of distance, dryness, even a season of willful disobedience.  You may have grieved the Spirit by harming the unity of Christ’s body, but that does not have the power to kill the Spirit.  He is still there.  Your salvation is still intact, because your salvation is based on the strength of God.  Not you.  Not your will or determination.  Not your works.

You can be comforted by the evidence and appearance of your obedience.  Not because you’ve accomplished or achieved your salvation.  Or even proved it.  Who are you proving it to?  God?  No.  You prove it to yourself.  Fine.  But it is not your strength achieving obedience.  It is in fact your submission to the strength of Spirit dwelling in you.  It is you falling back into God’s power.  It is the Spirit’s strength rising up clothed in your body, your person.  That is the power of salvation, the deposit of the Holy Spirit, the eternal life that you gained upon confession of Jesus as risen and the Son of God.  It is more than a promise of salvation- it is the beginning, the first steps in your new, saved, meaningful life.  Congratulations.  You will never, ever suffer meaninglessness.

Recently, my family underwent a pretty big change.  After months of seeking the Lord’s wisdom and direction, we arrived at the conclusion that God was done coddling the Covingtons (that’s us, by the way).  He was ready to take the drawer out of the cabinet, tenderly and carefully disengaging the drawer from the drawer guides, and then with great care and a watchful eye, flipping the drawer box upside down, and dumping out all of the contents onto the floor.  And then falling to the floor, like a toddler, He stuck his hand into the pile and with seeming random abandon, began moving stuff around.

 

So it would seem.  But I observe- there is simply nothing that is “random” about the actions of God.  I think that is part of what makes it so exciting.  And so acceptable.

 

My good friend and mentor, Jay, when I told him we’d reached a conclusion, told me

 

“That doesn’t make any sense…”

 

We just about had a moment there.  But he explained himself well enough.

 

“… unless you’re following Jesus.”

 

For eleven years, Laurie and I and our growing brood have been part of a family of believers at Westview Church.  Amazing years.  I won’t say much about it, mostly because where would it end?  And beyond that, I couldn’t do justice to the weight and significance of our time there adequately enough.  Let it simply be said that “family” is more than an apt description.  Even falls short.

 

But through many “signs and wonders” God answered spoken and unspoken prayers, leading us, and guiding us to a new beginning.  We have taken the first steps out of our home.  And they really don’t make much sense- unless we’re following Jesus.

 

We are following Him.  He has led a band of faithful followers to plant a new church on the southside of our town, and over the past three months, as we’ve gotten more and more acquainted with these dreamers, we’ve felt that growing kinship that causes you to  panic a little bit.  The kind that tells you somethings that you never really thought were going to change are about to go all pear-shaped on you.  It’s exciting and sinking all at the same time.

 

What’s been interesting is how thoroughly it doesn’t seem to make sense.  I keep saying that, don’t I?

 

I have no idea what I’ll be doing at Southside.  I’m not a small group leader.  I’m not the worship leader.  I’m not even on the stage as a musician.  It’s kind of weird.  For a long time, I thought I’d eventually end up in some kind of position of ministry at church.  But not today.  Today, everything seems to be covered.  Today, nobody there really seems to need me to do anything.  The only reason we’re there is because we have a strong sense that God wants us to be there.

I’ve been reading in the book of Acts recently.  Another friend mentioned that he has a theory that the whole book of Luke and Acts combined could well be a legal document, composed for the purposes of defending the Apostle Paul before his trial in Rome.  So I was reading through it.  At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus is with his disciples, eating and teaching “about the kingdom of God.”
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

Those dunces.  Still waiting for Jesus to kick those imperial Romans out.

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then he was taken up to heaven…

We always want to know the plan!  I was so struck by this passage- it was so fitting for me.  So comforting.  They were nowhere NEAR to getting what Jesus had been talking about.  All this discussion about the kingdom of God, five weeks of walking around in a daze after three years of being part of a revolution!  For five weeks, Jesus, whom they’d seen crucified on a cross, and dead in a burial shroud- for five weeks he’d been showing up in locked rooms, on distant roads, invisible to people who he’d been walking with for years, speaking and eating and … miracles.

And they still didn’t quite get the plan.  They were still looking in the wrong direction for the wrong kind of king.

And he reminds them of this.  “It’s not for you to know!”  That isn’t to say that no one does, though.  I am comforted by the reminder that I’m not going to know everything, but that doesn’t mean that nobody does.  The Father does know- the dates are set.  And they are known.  Just not by me.  I don’t need to know what I’m going to do at Southside, or what will become of all my ambitions.

And then there’s the “but.”  And it’s a preeeeeeeeeeeeeetty big but.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus says, do what I tell you- you won’t understand all the time, BUT- you will receive more than you need when the time is right.

I can work with that.  It’s good.  I know that even if I feel like I don’t have the mission and purpose that I once did- I probably had it wrong anyways.  And God is still on the right track.  And He gives me what I need, MORE than I need, no later than RIGHT when I need it.  Even if I am a dunce.  And THEN I will be exactly what He wants me to be, in all the right places.