Tag Archives: Follow

Puritans, Relationships and Moral By-Products

See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Zechariah 3:9-10 (NIV)

The further I get in my life journey the more I’ve come to understand and appreciate just how much of American culture has been framed by our Puritan roots. For the most part, I don’t think this is a bad thing. From our Puritan forerunners we inherited a great number of basic virtues such as honesty, integrity, charity and a strong work ethic. These virtues have served us remarkably well as a society.

From our Puritan forerunners we also inherited a very strong sense of morality that comes packaged in black and white. The “Puritans” were so-called because they believed the Church of England was not reformed enough from Catholic doctrine and practices. They were willing to start a bloody civil war and behead a king to “purify” England of her perceived sins. When the purification didn’t go as planned, a good many fled to America to carve out life in the “new world.”

Growing up in an evangelical protestant tradition, I was taught that purity and a conservative set of moral behaviors were the pinnacle goals for me as a follower of Jesus. As I have progressed in my spiritual journey and in my study of God’s Message, I find God to be more concerned with relationship than anything else. If you get relationships right as a priority, with God and with others, then doing the right things becomes a natural consequence. Intent on maintaining a strong, healthy relationship I naturally choose to do things that will enhance relationships and cease to do things that will disturb shalom.

I see this in today’s chapter. Zechariah has a vision of the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing beside as prosecutor and accuser. God prophetically declares that He will send his “Branch” who will “remove the sin of this land in a single day.” He then describes what the outcome of this carte blanche grace and forgiveness will be: “you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree.”

Isn’t that fascinating?! God says nothing about morality, purity, righteousness, or remaining untainted by the world. The outcome of sin being washed away is right relationship with others: reaching out, being hospitable, sharing the shade, and loving one another.

This morning I’m thinking about my relationships with God and with others. As a follower of Jesus I want to truly follow His example. I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that when encountering those whom the orthodox establishment had branded and rejected as immoral, Jesus chose to join them for a meal and share some stories. Funny thing: When these “immoral” people (e.g. Matthew, Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene, and etc.) entered into relationship with Jesus, their lives were subsequently marked by radical life changes. These changes weren’t about adhering to some legalistic moral code Jesus maintained to judge who “made the cut.” The live changes were motivated by being in relationship with Jesus, and a desire for that relationship to grow; They chose, quite naturally, to eliminate behaviors that might hinder their relationship with Jesus.

With God, the goal was never morality. The goal has always been relationship. When you get relationship right, then making good life choices to maintain and grow those relationships is a by-product.

The (Other) Love Chapter

“…abide in my love.”
John 15:9b (NRSV)

There is a chapter in Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in the city of Corinth that has been forever known as “The Love Chapter.” It is probably the most recited words of God’s Message read at weddings. It is most certainly on the top ten list of beloved scriptures by most people who have such a list. The passage provides a definition of what love looks like.

As I read Jesus’ words to His followers on the night before His crucifixion, I found myself realizing the number of references Jesus made to love. This morning I find myself pondering all that Jesus had to say about love, and it was a lot:

  • Jesus’ love was modeled for him by God, the Father.
  • We are to abide in Jesus’ love.
  • Obedience to Jesus’ command is the gateway to abiding in Jesus’ love, which Jesus’ modeled in obeying God, the Father and abiding in the Father’s love.
  • The command is this: love one another, as modeled by Jesus
  • The greatest love is sacrificial, giving my life away for the benefit of my friends and loved ones
  • Jesus gave the command to motivate the action. He desires and expects us to love one another.

Wow. That’s a lot to chew on. Paul may have described love in his letter to the believers in Corinth, but Jesus gives clarity to where that love comes from, where to look for a model, and what I am expected to do with that love. This is the “other” love chapter.

I leave this morning’s post pondering this one thing:

May it ever be said of me: The dude abides.

 

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featured image by R. Cogswell via Flickr

Today…Choose

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.
Deuteronomy 26:17 (NRSV)

It was a cold February night in 1981, but I still remember it vividly. I had been born and raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to Sunday School and each summer I went to Vacation Bible School. Just a year or so before I had gone through confirmation class and was confirmed as a member of the church at the age of 13.

But, all of that had largely been going through the religious motions. It had been doing what my parents told me to do. It had been doing that which was expected of me. What happened on that February night had been unexpected, at least to me.

On that I night, I heard God in my spirit ask me to make my own choice and my own commitment to follow. It was spiritual and intimate and profound. It was powerful in a way that changed the map of my life journey, and that of others, in incalculable ways.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that at the end of all the laws and regulations God brought the people to make a choice and a commitment to enter into an agreement. “Today,” God said. “Make a choice. Make a commitment.” It’s one thing to hang around God in a noncommittal sense and go along with familial or societal expectations of going to church or loosely identifying with religion. It’s another thing altogether to go all in; to make a choice to follow Jesus, and obey.

Today, I’m reminded of a choice and a commitment that I, myself, made nearly 35 years ago which, to this day, intimately shapes my life journey moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. Today, I’m reminded of the words to the simple song that was playing on a cold February night in 1981:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.

No turning back.

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Angry-Crowd

But with loud shouts [the crowd] insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. Luke 23:23 (NIV)

When I read this verse this morning, two other verses instantly popped into my head. The first was from just a few chapters ago, and from just a few days earlier in Jesus’ own life journey:

As [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a difference a week makes. At the beginning of the week crowds were hailing Jesus as the new king coming to Jerusalem. By the end of the week crowds were shouting for his death so insistently that Pilate was forced to go against his better judgement and have Jesus crucified.

Crowds are fickle. Ask any celebrity or politician (is there a difference?) who surfs the waves of popularity. One day the public adores you, but in a moment they will turn. And, it doesn’t even take being guilty of something. It only takes gossip, rumor, and innuendo to quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against you.

Which brings me to another observation John makes in his biography of Jesus:

During the time [Jesus] was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.

Jesus knew not to trust in His trending popularity. He knew that He was ultimately be rejected. He knew the prophecies. He realized from the beginning that the crowds would ultimately turn against Him. More often than not He was trying to escape the crowds get away by Himself or with His inner circle.

I find it fascinating that in all of His teaching Jesus never made any public plea for followers. There were no membership drives. No information cards in the back of the synagogue to fill out, and no mailing lists. The truth is that there is as much, in not more, evidence of Jesus discouraging those who asked to follow Him than the opposite.

What I’ve come to realize in my own experience is that being a follower of Jesus is not about fame, it’s about faith. It’s not about celebrity, it’s about service. It’s never about recognition, but about repentance. It’s never about being lauded, but about loving sacrificially as we’ve been sacrificially loved.

24/7/365 Worship

Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit-Jihlava2011
This building is called Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit, but the real church of the Holy Spirit is what every believer sees when he/she looks in  a mirror. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.
1 Chronicles 9:33 (NIV)

For many of us, worship is something that happens one hour on Sunday each week. If you or your local gathering of believers is really whacky, you might add another hour or two by way of a Sunday night, Saturday night, or mid-week worship.

It struck me this morning reading about the host of singers and musicians who literally lived in the temple because they were needed day and night for the continuous worship that took place. The idea of “continuous worship” is foreign to most of us because our brains, experience, and tradition has been to compartmentalize worship into a one or two hour time slot in our week. The threat of this, of course, is that we think of God and/or our faith as something we put into a compartment of time. We take it out once or twice a week, then put it back and forget about it until the calendar and clock tell us it’s time to pull it back out again.

I am reminded this morning of the radical concept that Jesus introduced and which Jesus followers celebrated around the globe just over a week ago on the Sunday we call Pentecost. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts of believers. The temple stopped being bricks and mortar and became flesh and blood in the form of any and all who believe. Church was never supposed to be a building we go to once or twice a week. Church was to be the living, breathing, touching, loving, feeling, serving people who believe and follow Jesus. Worship can happen anywhere, anytime, day or night because God isn’t at the church building, God is in me. My body is the temple and I take it with me wherever I go.

Today, I’m reminded once again that my body is a temple of God open for worship 24/7/365.

 

We All Follow Footsteps…Choose Well

Footsteps
Footsteps (Photo credit: courosa)

Follow the steps of good men instead,
    and stay on the paths of the righteous. Proverbs 2:20 (NLT)

As I walk this life journey, I travel in the footsteps of good men and women. I have been blessed with a host of mentors who made a positive difference in my life:

  • Parents who love God and taught their children the values of honesty, hospitality, hard work, loving your neighbors well and serving others the way they’d want to be served.
  • Grandparents who laid their own set of footprints for my parents and siblings.
  • Siblings who loved their little brother, protected him, and let him hang around.
  • Primary teachers who cared about me as a person, who prayed for me without my knowing it and encouraged me to develop my talents and abilities.
  • Friends who encouraged me to do the right things.
  • Spiritual mentors who took me under their wing, taught my by example, and poured more time and energy into me than I deserved.
  • College professors who put up with a young man’s maddening mix of pride and insecurity while patiently pushing and pruning.
  • Business mentors who led me by their every day example.

We all follow in the footsteps of others. Choose well.

If you haven’t chosen well, today is a good day to find different footsteps to follow.

Life: Struggle Required

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 32

Two U.S. Air Force members wrestling in a Grec...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Genesis 32:28 (MSG)

When you grow up in Iowa, wrestling has a significance you don’t find in most other places. The sport of wrestling is huge in Iowa. The annual wrestling match between Iowa and Iowa State “grapplers” will pack in record crowds. When I was in junior high, there was a mandatory P.E. class on wrestling that every guy had to take. Wrestlers like Dan Gable are elevated to near deity status in this state. It’s part of the charm of growing up and living in Iowa. It’s a quirky place.

I mention this because, as I read this morning’s chapter, I realized that I might have a layer of understanding that comes from growing up in Iowa. I was never a great wrestler and never had any interest in the sport, but growing up here required that I at least learn how to grapple in that wrestling ring and experience it on numerous occasions. There is  something to be said for facing your fear, staring at an opponent face-to-face, and going at it. You quickly realize that the struggle is both with your opponent and with yourself.

There is a spiritual lesson here because I’ve come to understand that being a follower of Jesus is not something you can do on the sidelines. You cannot sit along the side of the road and watch others’ journeys and expect it to make a difference in your own life. The lesson of Jacob/Israel is that at some point you have to look God face to face and be willing to struggle. You have to hear Jesus’ call to follow and take that step of faith to leave an old way of life to begin a new. Talk about wrestling with a decision.

I’ve come to believe that until we are willing to wrestle with God we are all Jacobs; We are all just deceivers deceiving ourselves. To truly learn how to come through this journey in spiritual wholeness, full of life and in relationship with God, we have to be willing to step in the ring and grapple with both God and with ourselves.