When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. Matthew 9:36 (MSG)
The prophet Ezekiel said that God would take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. I thought about that as I read the verse above this morning. The further I get in the journey I find my heart getting softer. My family will tell you that I’ve always been a softy, but sometimes I think it gets a bit ridiculous. Thankfully, I have a wife who doesn’t seem to mind that her husband cries right along with her in movies, who rarely gets through a worship service without shedding a tear, and who feels things with increasing depth.
I’ve never forgotten my friend, Mike, who said he had to give up being an EMT after he started following Jesus. When God took away his heart of stone and gave him a heart of flesh, he suddenly began to feel the pain of the broken people he was called on to serve in emergencies. “I couldn’t do the work through my tears,” he said.
And yet, what is it to feel empathy and compassion if it doesn’t motivate me to act? And what should that action be? How interesting that Jesus didn’t say, “Look at the confused and aimless crowd, like sheep without a shepherd. I MUST SHEPHERD THEM ALL!” He said, “Listen up boys, we need to pray for reinforcements.”
Today, I’m praying for depth of discernment to accompany my depth of feeling. I want my emotions to motivate appropriate actions.
“Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” Matthew 8:12 (MSG)
After reading through the chapter today, I took a step back from the text and mentally outlined the events that are described. There are several brief exchanges between Jesus and various people:
A leper: (social outcast, diseased, unwanted) Jesus touches and heals him.
A Roman Officer: (oppressor, enemy, invader, outsider) Jesus compliment him on his faith and heals his servant.
A religious scholar & follower: Jesus offers a “curt” rebuke and questions the man’s motivation.
A “follower”: Jesus reprimands him for his excuses
Disciples: Jesus reprimands them for their lack of faith
Demons: (enemy, dark, evil) Jesus graciously grants them their request to embody the pigs, to the ire (and expense) of the locals
What struck me as I went through the list is that Jesus’ exchanges were the exact opposite of what I must honestly say I see myself doing. Jesus was gracious and kind to the people I would have avoided or to whom I would have been harsh. He was gracious even with demons. The people to whom I would have catered and tread lightly so as to not hurt their feelings or create a stir were the very people he was tough with. He got in the face of “his” people, the people that were following Him.
Ouch. As I think about it, my life seems to exemplify the exact opposite of Jesus’ example. Today, I’m thinking hard about how I relate and respond to those around me. I say I want to be like Jesus, but I have a long way to go. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.”Matthew 7:24-25 (MSG)
Is God the bedrock of my life, or simply an incidental addition? It seems like an easy question when I answer from my own perspective. It’s when I imagine what others see when they look at my life, that the question bristles. Is God the foundation of Tom’s life? What evidence is there? What do others see when they interact with me or quietly watch me from afar?
In recent months I’ve been struck by the concept that this journey is simply about life and death. As I read the conclusion of Jesus’ famous mountainside message today, I find a thread of this concept once again woven into the very fabric of Jesus teaching. After going through a veritable plethora of detailed instructions for living, Jesus brings it all back to conclude with one central life and death question: What is the foundation on which you are building your life?
Today, as I make my way, I’m simply seeking ways to make Jesus the foundation of all that I say, do or think. I want this day to be about Life.
“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Matthew 6:22-23 (MSG)
One of the things that I love about my wife is the way we both enjoy seeing, experiencing and living with wide eyed wonder. The other week we went to the opera. It was not something I foresee us doing on a regular basis, but we were both awed by the experience which was unique for both of us. We sat in wide-eyed wonder at the entire experience, and then enjoyed sharing our wonder and the lessons learned.
Over this past weekend we watched two fascinating movies. One produced a wonderful conversation about reality and dreams. The other prompted an interesting conversation about, and appreciation for, community.
I don’t understand squinty-eyed living. God is so vast. His works are so infinite. Each day’s journey can be a glorious, wide-eyed exploration of Life that produces light, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and love in increasing measure.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”Matthew 5:6 (MSG)
I have never heard a message delivered about appetites. Someday, when God gives the opportunity, I’m going to do so. Over the last several years of my own journey I’ve come to understand that my life reveals my appetites, and my appetites reveal the condition of my heart.
I can draw a dotted line between those things with which I struggle and appetites out of control. The first bite of forbidden fruit was rooted in Adam and Eve’s appetites. The fruit was pleasing to the eye and they wanted to possess it. It was so juicy, looked so scrumptious that they wanted to taste it. It would make them like God and they wanted to experience it. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are appetites without a governor. Every one of the seven deadly sins (greed, lust, sloth, envy, pride, gluttony, and wrath) are unbridled appetites.
Today, I’m asking myself: For what do I truly hunger? For what do I truly thirst?
Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. Matthew 4:2 (MSG)
In the wee hours of the morning, in the twilight between sleeping and waking, it struck me that we are in the season of Lent, when followers of Jesus prepare their hearts for the celebration of His death and resurrection. I hadn’t given Lent much thought.
I don’t know why that thought would rise out of my half-conscious brain, and I found it a moment of synchronicity that today’s chapter was about Jesus’ preparation for an hour temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry was bookended by tests: His testing in the wilderness and His testing in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prepared for this spiritual test with physical deprivation.
In a culture of abundance, willful deprivation is a strange concept to most of us. My experience, however, is that there is a relationship between physical appetites and spiritual power. There is something about the satiation of our physical wants and needs that dulls our spiritual awareness. When we stuff our physical appetites, our spirit is buried under a blanket of momentary, false contentment.
Today, I’m thinking about the condition of my heart in relation to Lent, and the current state of my own physical appetites. I’m meditating on what I need to do about either, about both.
“What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”Matthew 3:10 (MSG)
I’ve been fascinated by the reports of radioactivity coming out of Japan. Just the other day a plane load of passengers from Tokyo arrived at Chicago’sO’Hare International Airport and set off the TSA‘s radiation detectors. How interesting radioactivity is. We can’t see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, or taste it. But, it’s there. I wasn’t even aware that airports had detectors for those things.
Imagine a hand-held device like a Geiger Counter. It also detects an energy that can’t be seen, felt, smelt, heard or tasted. It’s a Life Detector, and measures the amount of Life welling up inside our spirit and radiating out of our life. What would this Life Detector reveal about me? Would it show Life radiating from me in increasing measure and pegging out the needle? Would the needle barely register a blip on the screen as my soul slowly becomes dead wood?
The further I get in the journey the more I realize that the needle is moving each day for each one of us. Life is either growing more fully inside of us or it’s seeping slowly from our souls. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.