Tag Archives: Jesus

Kingdom Economics 101: Paying it Forward

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (MSG)

I’ve always loved the movie Pay it Forward. It’s a bittersweet story, but the reality of life is bittersweet. Along our life journeys we all slog through deep valleys and we all have our mountain top moments. The story of Pay it Forward is predicated on the notion of people simply going out of their way to perform a random act of kindness for others, asking only that the recipient of their kindness “Pay it forward.” The whole idea is beautifully void of organization, legalism, regulation, or institutional systemization. It is organic and relational and personal and spiritual.

One of the deepest valleys of my own life journey was the period of time that I was going through the end of my first marriage and subsequent divorce. I’ll never forget meeting with a wise counselor, who also has a prophetic gift. I remember meeting with him expecting condemnation and judgment, as I’d experienced a generous dose of both during that time. This wise counselor, however, extended grace and kindness I didn’t expect.

He acknowledged the difficulty of the situation and then said, “Some day, you are going to walk along the side of another who will find themselves walking this same path. You will help them, and give them comfort.” In other words, “You will take what wisdom and comfort you experienced while traversing this valley, and you will pay it forward.”

I have been able to pay it forward more than once. In the Kingdom of God, paying it forward is Kingdom Economics 101. It’s how God operates and it underlies all of Jesus’ teaching. He gave to me so that I might give to others. He laid down for me so that I might lay down my life for others. He comforts us so that we might pay it forward.

That’s exactly what Paul is getting at with the followers of Jesus in the ancient city of Corinth in this morning’s chapter:

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

This morning I’m thinking simply about how I might pay it forward today. I realized long ago, but need continuous reminders, that being focused on myself and my momentary difficulties blinds me to the many opportunities I have to show random acts of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness each day. I have to stop looking inward (at my I-phone, I-pad, I-mac, and I-everything) and looking around at others if I truly and consistently want to pay it forward.

Called Still Deeper

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)

I have a confession to make this morning. I’ve been aggravated recently with a particular relational scar. It’s a past injury. Call it near ancient history. I forgave. We moved on and our paths led different places in life. It’s easy to forget past injuries when you don’t really have to continue in relationship with the person you’ve forgiven. Now,  years later I look to the horizon and our paths appear to once again be converging.

My scar itches.

I was struck this morning by Peter’s command, not just to love but to love deeply. And the reason for the call to this deep love is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a tough one, and Jesus certainly addressed it head on. Peter knew this only too well, because it was his question that prompted Jesus to address the matter:

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Ironic that Peter would ask about forgiveness when it would be he who three times denied that he even knew Jesus, who heard the rooster crow, who looked into the eyes of his Lord at that very moment and experienced the need of seventy-times-seven forgiveness. Peter knows all about deep love and forgiveness.

Some other words of Jesus come to mind this morning as I ponder:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I sit in the quiet this morning with my itchy scar, and I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others was never just about loving those who are easy for me to love and those with whom I don’t have to be in relationship. Jesus calls me to follow deeper on the path of love. To follow Jesus is to push into the deep waters of Love that He waded into when He forgave my heaping helpings of weakness, foolishness, and failings. That was the whole point of His parable of the indebted servant. I have been forgiven for so much, how can I not forgive another for so much less even if I have to keep forgiving in exponential measure.

I’m seeing myself in Jesus parable this morning. If my love is not deep enough to salve itchy old relational scars of an already forgiven issue in the past then it is, plain and simple, not deep enough.

Today, I’m pushing deeper.

Fahrenheit 451 and a Famine of Words

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11 (NIV)

Twenty-four years ago, in the summer of 1993, the City of Des Moines was hit with a terrible flood. No one living in Iowa had seen anything like it in our lifetime. The city’s water works facility was flooded and was unable to generate clean water for ten days. I will never forget those days of having to chug five gallon buckets of water from our apartment building’s swimming pool to use for flushing toilets. Walking to watering stations where tanker trucks would fill whatever receptacles you could find with fresh water to use for cooking. The mindless daily routine of showering took on new meaning.

We don’ t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

The same can be said for spiritual things. The first chapter of John’s biography of Jesus is one of the most beautiful passages ever penned. John introduces us to Jesus, the “Word.”

Food provides for our physical daily nourishment. In the same way God tells us that the Word provides us with spiritual daily nourishment. In our day and culture, this resource is ours in abundance and I know that I take it for granted. I have access to God’s Message on my bookshelves, library, cell phone, tablet, and computer. We don’t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

In today’s chapter God gives the ancient prophet Amos a vision of what’s to come. A spiritual famine was coming to Israel: “A famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” The famine did come generations later. The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi who died in 430 B.C. For over 400 years there was spiritual silence. There was a famine of the words of the Lord. Until a deeper and far older prophecy was fulfilled when, as John wrote, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

This morning I’m pondering the incredible luxury I have of enjoying such unfettered access to the Word. I have such rich spiritual nourishment so readily available to me 24/7/365 from countless sources. Such a thing was unthinkable just a few generations ago, and I wonder what happens when we begin to take such a thing for granted.

I’m reminded this morning of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. It was required reading back when I was a kid, but I’m not sure younger generations know it or study it today. In Bradbury’s dystopian vision parallels Amos’ vision of a famine of words. Society is given wholly to quick and efficient media entertainment. Books are first abridged then completely outlawed, burned, and forgotten as needless and having no value to society. The Bible and all great works of literature are tossed aside for easier, shorter, and more entertaining media. I’ve never forgotten Bradbury’s vision of a small group of people living in the wilderness and committing great works to memory to pass down to future generations.

I know there are some who regularly read these blog posts that I scatter like seed across the internet, and I’m grateful for those who care to read my thought and words. At the same time, I hope that readers click on the chapter and verse link at the top of each post and read the very chapter themselves. It’s one thing to read my thoughts about a chapter, but there’s nothing as spiritually nourishing as tapping directly into the Source.

Power in the System

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Amos 7:14-15 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked for an old and well structured organization. There was an organizational chart and rules of governance for the organization. It had operated successfully for well over a hundred years. I had a position of leadership on the staff of the organization, so when our long-time executive director decided to retire I, along with the other staff, were concerned about the choice of an interim director to lead while we searched for a permanent successor.

A potential interim came in to interview. It was a nice person with all the right qualifications, but there was a general consensus among the leadership team that this person was not the right fit for us. A vote of the organization agreed and the candidate was informed that we were going to move a different direction.

The following morning when I arrived at work I was called into a hastily arranged meeting that became one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The chair of the organization’s Board, who just the previous day had agreed that the interim candidate was not right for our organization now blasted the staff’s leadership team for embarrassing the organization and denying the interim the position. We were criticized, chastised and reprimanded for actively conspiring to sway the vote of the organization.

I remember leaving the meeting utterly confused by what I’d just experienced. I couldn’t figure out the 180 degree turn the Board chair made overnight. I felt blind-sided, wrongfully convicted, and punished by a kangaroo court. It was not long afterwards that I came to realize what had really happened.

In this organization was a long-time member who had been active and in leadership for many, many years. This person was also a successful local business owner who had donated a lot of time, energy, and money to the organization over the years. When the vote on the interim did not go the way this person wanted calls were made. Commands were given, pressure was applied, and power was leveraged. Despite the fact that it went against the organizational structure and by-laws of our group, the Board chair buckled and obeyed the demands of this one power-broker who remained hidden behind the scenes.

Human systems naturally develop centers of power. Governments, businesses, organizations, churches, and even families develop systemically around those who develop and wield power to drive the will of the system. It was a hard lesson for me to learn that the organization I worked for was not really governed as organized. The real power in the organization was a power-broker hidden behind the curtain pressuring the organization to do their will even if their individual will ran contrary to the will of the organization as a whole.

In today’s chapter, the backwoods prophet Amos runs into a similar situation with the power brokers of his day. Amaziah was a powerful priest and the religious right-hand of King Jeroboam. Amaziah ran the idolatrous religious center of Israel’s northern kingdom and helped Jeroboam maintain control over the people. When the poems of Amos (critical of the northern kingdom and predicting the nation’s downfall) grew in popularity , the small-town prophet suddenly became a target of Amaziah’s political power. Amos refused to back down, and gave Amaziah a prophetic vision of the down fall of his own house and family.

This morning I’m struck by Amos, the shepherd and fig farmer from a backwoods town whom God used to shake up the powerful systems of government and religion in his day. “My ways are not your ways,” God tells us through the prophet Isaiah. Human systems tend to favor the powerful, the wealthy, the beautiful, the well-connected, and those willing to step on others to gather and cling to worldly power. Again and again in the Great Story God chooses the weak, the broken, the least, the marginalized, the outcast, and the youngest to accomplish His purposes. Jesus teaches that real power, spiritual power, is found when you let go of power and give it away for the benefit of others. Jesus exemplified this Himself when He…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

Today, I’m thinking about my early experiences in that organization and the power-broker who used threats, pressure, and power to pull the organizational strings from behind the scenes. As I have progressed in my journey I hope that I have learned to follow a very different example with what little power and authority I’ve been given. I hope that I can increasingly follow the example of Jesus, who didn’t grasp and cling to power for His own advantage, but let go of it for the advantage of us all.

Messengers of Warning

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
    without revealing his plan
    to his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7 (NIV)

Over the past 23 years I’ve been a business consultant specializing in customer satisfaction research and quality assessment. Some of the most enjoyable, long-term client relationships I’ve experienced are with companies who value the data and insight our team provides. When you see a client’s long-term improvement and success, it’s rewarding.

What is not as enjoyable in my profession is to watch good people and good companies ignore data that offers them a hint of trouble on the horizon. Often, the data from our research or assessments warn of changing customer attitudes or internal corporate issues that threaten to create larger (and costly) problems for the company if the issues aren’t strategically addressed. It’s never fun or easy being the bearer of bad news, and even less fun watching insecure executives and managers burying or denying the data in an effort to avoid the issue. On occasion, I have to defend a sharp attack on our data and methods when a client really doesn’t like what our data reveals.

The ancient prophets occupied a critical role in the Great Story that God is telling from Genesis to Revelation. Like spiritual consultants presenting a spiritual picture of what lay ahead, the prophets sounded the spiritual warning sirens of trouble on the horizon. When current circumstances had the government and public feeling good in the moment, the prophets often offered a bleaker picture of what was going to happen if certain issues were not addressed and strategic spiritual changes weren’t made. More often than not, the prophets had to watch as their message was ignored. They had to watch their warning of doom come to pass. They also endured sharp personal attacks from their audience. Some of them were even killed as scapegoats.

Jesus regularly mentioned the prophets in His teaching, pointing out to the religious leaders of the day that their ancestors ignored and killed the prophets who were sent to warn them. Because the priesthood and religious duties of the temple were passed down by family line, the religious leaders Jesus spoke to were the direct descendants of those who sometimes killed God’s messengers:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

“Woe to you [religious leaders], because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.”

“Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute. Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world'”

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

This morning I’m thinking about the role of being a truth teller. It’s not always easy being the bearer of difficult or bleak news. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to simply paint rosier pictures and ignore what we don’t wish to see or hear. But, we all need prophets in our lives. Sometimes we need someone to look us in the eye and tell us the truth we don’t want to hear. We’re better off when we find the wisdom and courage to heed the warning signs and make the necessary strategic decisions to avoid future problems.

The Crowd

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

I have read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution countless times along my journey. It is packed with so many fascinating and meaningful moments that it’s hard to focus on one thing for a blog post like this. As I read a chapter each day I try simply to have my heart and mind open to what resonates most deeply with me in this moment, and this morning what resonated with me was the crowd.

Perhaps it’s because of the preponderance of media that gets focused on crowd events and all that we’ve witnessed in recent months and years. I’m thinking of all the marches, riots, demonstrations, and protests I’ve seen reported on the news and in social media recently. Whenever a crowd gathers it gets attention. We seem to have a lot of crowds.

There is a entire branch of sociology and psychology dedicated to understanding crowd (or mob) mentality. Interestingly enough, consensus among scholars is as hard to come by. I was intrigued, however, by the theory of Gustave Le Bon who boiled it down to three things:

  • Submergence: In the anonymity of the crowd individuals lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility.
  • Contagion: Having lost their sense of self, individuals unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd.
  • Suggestion: Ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious, uncivilized in nature, and limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of its least capable members.

Three things came to mind as I thought about the crowd shouting for Jesus’ execution.

First is the fact that five days earlier the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” as praising Jesus as “king” as He entered Jerusalem. Now the crowd has been persuaded to shout for Jesus’ blood. Wow. That’s a major drop in approval rating in just five days. It’s amazing how fickle crowds can be.

Which leads me to remembering a passage from John’s biography of Jesus. In the second chapter we find that the crowd of people believing in Jesus and following Him was growing rapidly. Jesus was trending in all the major outlets. The crowds were growing and His popularity was skyrocketing, but John records that Jesus “would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.”

Which is why, perhaps, Jesus continued to remain silent as He stood by Pilate and witnessed the crowd that had turned on Him. Wednesday’s post about silence and spiritual authority comes back to mind. What a contrast we see in this picture. The lone figure of Jesus standing silent, bloodied, yet resolute in His mission against the submergence and contagion of the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the suggestion of Jesus’ enemies.

This morning I’m reminded of my desire to follow Jesus’ wisdom as it relates to crowds. I need to avoid entrusting my self to any crowd. This applies even to seemingly good crowds, for I’ve witnessed and been prey to crowd mentality even in nice neighborhoods, churches, social groups and communities.

I want my life, my beliefs, and my daily decisions to be guided by something more solid than the ever shifting mentality and emotion of a crowd. I want to be wise and discerning as I watch the crowd mentality emerge and “trend” in my social groups and in the media (including Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets). I want my life to be focused on my mission, my role, and my responsibilities. That’s hard to do if I am unwittingly submerging my thoughts, emotions and actions to the crowd around me.

 

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.