Tag Archives: Expectation

Do I Want Him to Come, or Go?

Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. Luke 8:37 (NIV)

Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Luke 8:40 (NIV)

Life is filled with mysterious paradoxes. As a follower of Jesus for almost 40 years, I have witnessed many debates and intense conversation spring up over the years among theologians, zealous followers, and various boxes of institutional Christianity who argue perpetual questions of faith and life. There are those questions that produce endless debates which are endlessly renewed and rehashed with every subsequent generation.

At the top of the list of these perpetual debates is a simple question. Does God choose us, or do we choose God? In theological terms it is worded: Are our lives predestined, or do we have free will to make our own choices?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to jump into the deep end of theology on you here to renew and rehash the question in this post. You’ll have to buy me a pint if you want me to discuss my thoughts on the matter. I simply raise the matter because of an observation in today’s chapter.

As Dr. Luke continues his biography of Jesus, he continues in today’s chapter to relate stories from Jesus’ miraculous ministry tour. He’s in one region along the shores of Galilee. There’s a local in the area who has been a lunatic his whole life and everyone in the town knew it. The man’s insanity was rooted in things spiritual. He was possessed by numerous demons. Jesus casts out the demons. The people of the town, rather than being impressed, are freaked out completely. They beg Jesus to leave them.

Jesus and his entourage get in their boat and sail back across the Sea of Galilee, returning to a town that had become a sort of base of operations for Jesus’ tour. When they arrive, a crowd is there at the dock waiting expectantly for Jesus to arrive.

Here is my simple observation from within the quiet this morning:t my spirit’s attitude towards God matters. The people in the region of the Gerasenes were afraid and freaked out. They asked Jesus to leave, and He did. The people on the dock, in contrast, were eager, expectant, seeking, desiring, and waiting for Jesus’ return. Immediately a woman is healed and a girl is raised from the dead.

Followers of Jesus around the world are in the middle of a five week ancient tradition called the season of Advent. In simple terms, it is about the attitude of one’s heart toward Jesus. It is a time of heart preparation, expectation, seeking, and longing for Jesus’ arrival like the people at the dock. We celebrate His first arrival at Christmas, and we look expectantly towards His second arrival which He promised on a day and hour that is, itself, one of this earthly life’s perpetual mysteries.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve discovered that under the weight of endless theological debate I often find a very simple spiritual truth.

I can ask Jesus to leave and stay away.

I can seek, desire, and expectantly welcome Jesus in.

Jesus responds accordingly.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Finding God Inside and Outside the Box

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

Luke 7:31-32 (NIV)

Recently I was having a conversation with a leader in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. He shared with me that it is quite common for locals to come to him, give witness to immoral, hypocritical, and evil words and actions done by members of our gathering, and then proceed to state that if this is the way followers of Jesus behave, then they want nothing to do with it.

Welcome to humanity.

Along my life journey, I have encountered individuals who would in no way fit inside the box of the particular brand of Christianity in which I find myself. In fact, they would eschew any notion of wearing that label. That said, I can see in these individuals’ lives and actions that they understand and embrace the things of God far more than many who live and operate inside the box and proudly advertise our brand on the bumpers of their cars.

In today’s chapter, Dr. Luke shares two stories that highlight the reality of non-religious people who “get” the things of God and religious people who don’t. It has always been a part of humanity, and Jesus encountered it regularly.

In the first encounter, Jesus is blown away by the faith of an ungodly, foreign leader whom most (if not all) of His followers would label their enemy. Jesus never even sees or meets this Roman Centurion in person. His exchange is completely done by intermediaries. First, Jesus is petitioned by leaders of his own religious box to heal a Roman Centurion’s servant. This, in and of itself, was way out of the ordinary. The Jews hated the Romans who militarily occupied their homeland, and the average Roman soldier treated the local Jewish population with natural distrust and contempt. The Jews and Romans were bitter enemies. When the Jewish leaders to speak highly of this Centurion’s kindness and generosity to Jesus’ people, it captured Jesus’ attention.

On the way to meet with the Centurion, Jesus is met by servants of the Centurion. In the Jewish tradition of the day, it would be unlawful for Jesus to enter the Centurion’s house. The Centurion knew this and humbly sends his servants to give a message to Jesus. The Roman’s message was to tell Jesus that He doesn’t have to take the risk religiously “dirtying” Himself by entering the Centurion’s home and the social criticism Jesus would receive from His own people by doing so. He trusted that if Jesus simply gave the word, his servant would be healed.

In the second story, Jesus is having dinner with one of the good, upstanding leaders of his own religious box. A woman enters and approaches Jesus. In that town, this was that woman. Everyone knew who she was by her reputation. It doesn’t take much imagination to fill in the blanks: wanton, loose, used, cheap, pitiful, tragic. Not only did she not belong inside any kind of religious box, but no one inside the box wanted her there. But, like the foreign Centurion, this local social skank gets who Jesus is, and what God is doing through Him. She falls at Jesus’ feet blesses Him with all that she has: her contrite tears, her loving kisses, and some perfume.

Jesus immediately perceives the religious contempt of his host toward the local woman. This upstanding church elder had likely known who this woman was for her entire life and had probably ignored her and held her in self-righteous contempt. Jesus makes it clear to His host that she gets the things of God more than he.

In the midst of these stories, Jesus describes religious people:

They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

In other words, we who are religious tend to expect everyone to fit inside our religious boxes and do what we prescribe. Inside of our religious boxes, we expect people to look like us, speak our lingo fluently, know our traditions, and behave in a way we deem acceptable.

Of course, the look, the lingo, the traditions, and the expected behaviors may have little or nothing to do with truly getting the things that God actually cares about.

I am reminded this morning that Jesus faithfully lived and operated inside the religious box of His people. He went to the Temple. He taught in the synagogues. He dined, socialized, and befriended the religious leaders. He followed the religious customs and traditions. Jesus’ example tells me that the things of God can be surely found, learned, and embraced inside of my religious box.

But Jesus’ example in today’s chapter also reminds me of this truth: There will always be individuals inside my religious box who don’t get the things of God, and there will always be individuals outside of my religious box who do.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Destined for Tough Terrain

We sent Timothy,who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV)

This past week was a bit of a whirlwind for Wendy and me. It began with the unexpected death of a friend. She and her husband had been in a small group with us during a particularly turbulent time of our lives, and her death rocked our world a bit. The morning of the funeral we received news that another friend had suffered a heart attack in the night and had been flown to Des Moines for a hastily performed cardiac procedure.

We visited our friend in the hospital and were encouraged to find him alive and well. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that we knew he’d just been through a life-threatening trauma earlier that day, I’d have told you everything was perfectly normal.

As we spoke with our friend and his wife there in the CCU she shared about their life journey and the fact that the two of them had just entered a particularly enjoyable stretch. Retirement, time together, and the opportunity to enjoy large parts of each day in conversation and shared activity had been brining them both tremendous joy. She told us of her emotions and prayers the previous night as she faced the potential reality that it might be coming to a tragic end.

I thought about these two experiences, with two very different outcomes, as I read today’s chapter in Paul’s letter to believers in Thessalonica. Paul fled the city when his life was threatened. He knew that the fledgling believers he left behind continued to face opposition and persecution. Paul was worried about them, which was why he sent his protege, Timothy, to check on them, and why he was writing them this letter after Timothy’s return and report. Addressing the trials they were facing, Paul states quite bluntly: “You know quite well we are destined for them.”

Along my faith journey I’ve observed many who seem to have approached their life and/or faith journey with the expectation that it should always be a cake walk. In the quiet this morning I’m pondering the various reasons we might come to that conclusion. Is it somehow that the “prosperity gospel” that falsely teaches God wants us all to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise” has permeated our culture more than we care to admit? Is it somehow, for those of us living in America, some kind of bleeding over of the American Dream into our faith? Why is it that I am shocked and feel somehow cheated when life’s road unexpectedly becomes rough terrain?

My journey through God’s Message has taught me that I should expect rough terrain on life’s road. All of the early father’s of the faith said so. Here’s just a small sample of reminders:

Jesus:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Mt 10:16)

Paul:
We glory in our sufferings.” (Rom 3:5)

James:
Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials….” (Jam 1:2)

Peter:
“…rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Pet 1:6)

I find myself looking back this morning at Wendy’s and my journey over the past 13 years. Like our friend we visited in the hospital we’ve recently been experiencing a sense that we’re coming out of a valley and into a stretch of smoother terrain. It’s a good feeling, and we’re enjoying the lift. Nevertheless, this past week has been a reminder that I can never know what’s waiting for us up ahead.

As I start this week I’m reminded that with each warning of trouble, suffering, trials, and grief, Jesus and the early followers connected the inevitable hard stretches of life’s journey to heart, overcoming, glory, joy, and rejoicing. This journey will include both good times and unexpected bad times. It’s a natural part of the journey. Paul told the Thessalonians believers “we’re destined for them.” I shouldn’t be thrown for a loop when they happen as though I hadn’t been warned that they will come, or like I hadn’t observed that everyone I know experiences tough stretches along the way. There’s always purpose in the pain.

It’s the trials and the overcoming that make our favorite stories “epic.”

Have a great week my friend.

When to Close Up the Filet-O-Fish Stand

source: roslyn via flickr
source: roslyn via flickr

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV)

I recently had several conversations with a friend who is on the leadership team for a local group of Jesus’ followers. They were having issues with a particular individual who has established a pattern of expecting the group to pay for things. A month’s rent, a tank of gas, or a new piece of furniture were common expectations from this person. The individual doesn’t ask for help, it is just an expectation. Ironically, this same person appears to have no expectation to actually work to provide for their own needs or to contribute to the group in any meaningful or tangible way.

Jesus was a giver, and I get that. We are called to give and to help those who need it, and I am continually challenged and convicted to do more in that department. I find, however, that we often fail to remember that after a couple of instances of miraculously providing fish sandwiches  to the crowds, Jesus stopped the welfare program with a blistering tirade. Jesus chided the crowds for following him simply because he filled their stomachs while they had no intention or hunger to fill their souls.

Today I’m reminded that even in the early days of the faith, a period of time I often find idealized by Jesus’ followers today, there were some of the same nagging, human issues we grapple with today. People are people. Wherever there is generosity, there will be those who seek to take advantage of that generosity. I find it interesting that in today’s chapter the leaders in Thessalonica were commanded to take a strong stand with such individuals. If those who were able didn’t develop an industrious work ethic, then the generosity had to end.

These are difficult issues, especially when it’s not just a debate of principles but becomes a real person you have to confront, encourage, and admonish. It gets messy. There is inevitable conflict. If there is to be real spiritual growth in human hearts and lives then sometimes conflict is necessary. Iron sharpens iron and it is not a gentle process. Jesus not only drove the crowds away when he effectively closed up his filet-o-fish stand, but even had his inner circle scratching their heads.

I think of wise King Solomon and his reminder that there is a time for everything. I guess there is a time for giving, and a time for withholding generosity. Today, I’m praying for wisdom to know the difference.

Outside the Box

NebuchadnezzarI will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a mortally wounded man. Ezekiel 30:24 (NIV)

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was not a particularly nice guy. He was proud and given to delusions and radical decisions. Yet, for all of this God was clearly at work in and through the gentile ruler. In the book of Daniel we see God working to teach Nebuchadnezzar humility. In Ezekiel’s prophesies there is clear attribution given to Neb being appointed to accomplish God’s plan.

This morning of Holy Week I am reminded that Jesus’ mission did not look like people expected. Instead of conquering warrior, God’s Son became suffering servant. I am simply reminded this morning that God does not always work inside the box of our prescriptive designs. In fact, God seems to often work outside the box of our expectations. At some point, I’d think we would stop being surprised by this.

The Night Watch

the office of dawnI wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:6 (NIV)

I have, in other blog posts, chronicled my adventures in sleeplessness. From childhood I’ve been a morning person. It’s in my DNA, I’m afraid. Especially in the depths of the winter, as we are in now, my day usually begins in the deep dark before dawn.

As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up.  As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.

As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.

As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.

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Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 3

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...
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Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
      do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
      and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

I was inspired back in my college days when I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which tells of his days starting out as a writer in Paris. “All you have to do is write one true sentence,” he wrote. “Write the truest sentence you know.” When preparing a message of any kind, whether it’s a sermon or a corporate training session, I start by trying to define the one thing I want to say. If there’s one thing I want people to know and remember when they leave, what would it be in one short phrase or sentence.

As I wrote in my post yesterday, New Year’s Eve was a late night – well, early morning – for Wendy and me. Thus, I confess I didn’t make it to church on Sunday morning. My friend, Matthew, called on Sunday evening and I asked him what the message was about that morning. He was able to quickly sum it up in one sentence: “Approach 2012 with expectancy of what God’s going to do, but with no expectations of what that is.”

It must have been a great message. Matthew walked away with the one true thing planted firmly in his mind, and was able to communicate it clearly and concisely. In once sentence he gave me the message and it’s still rattling around in my brain three days later as I read this morning’s chapter.

The verses above are ones I memorized as a young man. I’ve never forgotten them and they’ve provided me with encouragement throughout the journey. Here at the beginning of a new year I read them again and immediately thought of the message Matthew gave me. Trust God with your whole heart, acknowledge Him in all things, but don’t try to pretend to know what He’s going to do. No worries. He’ll direct the path.

One true thing.