Tag Archives: Spirit

The Opposite Way

But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)

I grew up on Volkswagens. My first car was my parents 1973 Super Beetle, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for the old “bugs.” One of the things that made Volkswagens popular back in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a marketing campaign that was completely contrary to the mainstream. American car companies boasted their huge boats, and counter-cultural Volkswagen made fun of how small their cars were. American car companies were all serious about greatness, and Volkswagen marketed humor and poked fun at itself instead. It worked.

There is a lesson in there for me. The further I get in my life journey the more deeply I understand how counter-cultural and contrary the path of Christ is from the ways of this temporal world. Jesus said that “broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” 

The path of this world leads to strength and power, but Jesus said God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

The path of this world values wealth, but Jesus told a rich man he would only discover true wealth by selling and giving away everything he had.

The path of this world is all about health, fitness and longevity, but Jesus said I had to lose my life to truly find it.

The path of this world is all about self-help, self-acualization, and self-promotion, but Jesus said the path of Life is found when I love others more than my self.

The path of this world is all about the squirrel wheel of more and faster on our plethora of screens. The path of God leads me to less, rest, and human interaction.

In today’s chapter Paul is once again making one of these core distinctions in the context of his personal situation. The Corinthians, Paul argued, were being duped by slick, good looking, fast talking “super apostles” who were seemingly impressive with regard to all the world values. Against their impressive marketing campaign Paul submits his resume of humility, weakness, and struggle.

This morning I am thinking about the ways that I mindlessly follow culture (like a runaway train) and the ways Jesus calls me to swim against the current. I’m still learning.

Which reminds my of my Volkswagen Beetle. If I’m moving against the current (or a snow drift), it really was an easy push!

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.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Matthew 15:16-20 (NIV)

Religion has always been good at making a lot of rules. This was certainly true in Jesus’ day and we read about it in today’s chapter. Jesus’ followers didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate. The religious leaders were appalled that Jesus’ followers didn’t follow their rules. Jesus rolled His eyes. This was one of many religious rules that Jesus and His followers broke from not picking grain on the Sabbath day of rest, to healing on the Sabbath, to fraternizing with sinners, and on and on and on.

Rules aren’t necessarily a bad thing. God gave the initial set of rules through Moses, and they were a guide for life lived decently and in order. Of course, over time the religious people took the basic rules and made even more rules to clarify the original rules. Then they added more rules labeled “traditions.” Rules, upon, rules, upon rules that moved things away from the heart of the matter until rule keeping became a religious, behavioral litmus test. But, at the core the original rules meant to guide life still hold true. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

In today’s chapter, Jesus makes it very clear where He is coming from on the subject of rules. He tells us that it all comes down to the spiritual condition of our hearts. If my spirit is diseased with pride, anger, hatred, grudges, greed, lust, prejudice, bitterness, envy, malice, jealousy, impurity, et al than it doesn’t matter how well I follow the religious rules about propriety and what to eat, what to wear, or what not to do. And, simply following a labyrinth of religious rules is not going to change the spiritual condition of my heart.

Jesus came to do heart surgery for humanity. He came to change our hearts, knowing that a heart that is spiritually healthy and connected to God’s Spirit will continually beat with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. It will be motivated to naturally fulfill the only important rules. Out of that healthy, Spirit-connected heart will flow thoughts, words, and actions marked by that same love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, consideration, faithfulness, and self-discipline.

This morning I’m reminded that rules of behavior are impotent to change the condition of my heart, but my heart, transformed by Jesus, will powerfully and perpetually change my behaviors and relationships for the betterment of myself and others.

Judgment, Fruit Inspection, and Mixing Metaphors

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

For over 25 years I have been in the business of the behavioral analysis of human interactions (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training and quality assurance purposes“). One time the Quality Assurance (QA) manager of a client told me that she gave an agent a score of “0” on her call. There were about 30 behavioral criteria analyzed in a given call so that the score reflected a generally accurate picture of what the customer did and didn’t experience in the interaction. To get a “0” an agent would almost have to pick up the phone and immediately stroke out, but even then the agent would be credited for not rushing the caller off the phone. Getting a zero is practically impossible if the agent had blood pressure and a pulse.

As I asked a few questions I soon discovered that the manager didn’t particularly like the agent who took the call she scored “0.” I suspect there were other employment or personality issues between the two. When the agent did something the manager didn’t like on the call, the manager took the opportunity to exercise her power and dismiss the agent and her performance as utterly worthless.

In today’s chapter Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount with a direct command not to be judgmental of others. He goes on to illustrate what he means by describing those who will find a “speck” of something wrong about someone else which they use to justify their judgment, grudge or dismissive attitude towards that person. The judgmental person is, of course, ignoring the glaring 2x4s of their own personal flaws as they do this.

Later in the chapter Jesus is speaks specifically about “false prophets.” In Jesus day there were all sorts of religious teachers, cult leaders, and false prophets making all sorts of religious claims. One of the things we fail to realize is that teachers and preachers claiming to be the Messiah were quite common in Jesus’ day. Just like televangelists and cult leaders in our current era, it was a lucrative gig to convince the crowds you’re the Messiah.

Jesus then gives a word picture to help his listeners be discerning and objective in their Quality Assurance assessment of these “false prophets.” Look at the fruit of their teaching and ministry. Is it the things of God? Goodness? Humility? Generosity? Repentance? Reconciliation? Changed lives? Or is it the things of this world? Wealth? Arrogance? Pride? Power? Control? Hatred? Look at the outcomes and results of these prophets and teachers. That’s the way to know if they are servants of God or servants of themselves.

Along my life’s journey I’ve run into many of my fellow followers of Jesus who will proudly and loudly proclaim: “I’m not supposed to judge other people, but I am called to be a fruit inspector!” These individuals then quickly find a “speck” on the “fruit” of another person’s life and feel perfectly justified in claiming the power and authority to dismiss or condemn the whole tree for quality issues. They use Jesus’ call to be “fruit inspectors” of false prophets to justify their judgement of anyone and everyone’s “specks.”

This morning I’m thinking about the ways we mix up Jesus’ metaphors and twist His teaching to justify the very things he commands us not to do. Even as I write this I’ve got my own 2x4s staring me square in the face. I’m praying for mercy this morning, and confessing my own critical and judgmental attitude towards others. God’s Message tells us that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. In order to consistently produce a good crop there is regular regimen of cultivating, watering, tending, and pruning. I’ve been following Jesus a long time, but I constantly have some pruning to do.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

Temptation’s Basic Appetites Playbook

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
Matthew 4:1-3 (MSG)

Wendy and I spent a few days at the lake this week opening the place up in preparation for summer fun with family and friends. I keep the basics I need at the lake so that I don’t have to pack clothes back and forth each time. So it was that I went to put on a pair of “summer” jeans for a trip into town and had to face an undeniable fact. Ugh. Once again my winter appetite has gotten the best of me.

Oh it’s the holidays. Just a little bit more.

Family potluck. Haven’t had that in ages. I’ll have another helping.

Man that’s tasty. I’ll take two. They’re small.”

One thing I’ve learned along my life journey is that our spiritual enemy has a very thin playbook for tripping us up, and it begins with turning our own basic appetites against us. It has been that way from the beginning:

When the woman  [Eve] saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food (appetite of indulging our flesh) and pleasing to the eye (appetite for acquiring shiny things that strike our fancy), and also desirable for gaining wisdom (appetite for feeling superior), she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

In today’s chapter Jesus has arrived on the scene to address messy at its core, and the first thing He must do is face the same spiritual test as Adam and Eve, who started the mess in the first place.

You’re hungry. Turn these stones to bread and indulge the natural appetite of your flesh.”

Throw yourself off the pinnacle and let your angels catch you. Indulge your appetite to proudly prove yourself and your power to me.”

See the kingdoms of the world? I can give them to you, and indulge your appetite to acquire all the shiny new things you could possibly desire.”

Each time, Jesus responded to the temptations of appetite with God’s Words spoken, as we like to say, by heart. His appetite for the Word and for relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit had been fed and nurtured so that when the enemy opened his basic temptation playbook, Jesus’ appetites of flesh were checked by His willful obedience to the appetites of the Spirit.

This morning I have to confess that I have indulged my basic appetites for food (meaning I have regularly eaten too much) and sloth (meaning I haven’t exercised) more than I care to admit over the past several months. As Wendy and I discussed this on our drive home from the lake yesterday we acknowledged that this happens time and time again because I simply want to do what I want to do. I want to eat what I want eat, as much as I want to eat it, whenever I feel like it eating it. Add the appetite of willful pride to my appetite for food and drink. Welcome back to the Garden. As I said, the enemy’s playbook is pretty thin.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m also reminded this morning of my need to follow Jesus’ example in the most basic of things. Time for me to feed and nurture my appetite for communion with Christ, my appetite for consuming His Word and seeking after the things of the Spirit. When I do that, I know that I am better able to face the temptation of all the other appetites.

 

Deaf Amidst the Din

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Isaiah 35:5 (NIV)

This past weekend was the close of our local community theatre’s holiday show. After the final performance on Saturday afternoon the entire cast and crew worked diligently to strike the set, clean up the stage and dressing rooms, put away all the props, and return the costumes to the costume shop. Then it was time for the requisite cast party and celebration.

Between cast, crew and family there were over sixty people gathered in our friend’s home for the cast party. As a hearing impaired person this can be a challenge. Even with hearing aids, the loud din made by a celebratory crowd in a small space makes distinguishing words in conversation a challenge. I can hear the sounds and I try my best to read the lips, but distinguishing the actual words being said to me is sometimes impossible.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah foresees that one day the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the dears of the deaf. In fact, Jesus alluded to Isaiah’s prophetic words when He told the followers of his cousin, John the Baptist:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Yet while the miraculous physical healing of the blind and deaf was witnessed and well-chronicled by Jesus’ followers, the healing of the physical body was just the surface of Jesus’ intention. He made it clear that His mission was clearly focused on infirmities of the spirit. Those who physically see and hear perfectly well can, at the same time, be spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus quoted another one of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He described the crowds following him:

Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

That’s a concept I increasingly understand as I sit amidst the loud din of a cast party or a crowded restaurant. I can hear the sounds all around, but I am deaf to the messages being spoken directly to me by a friend. Though hearing, I am deaf.

This morning I am thinking about being blind and deaf. I wonder if there isn’t, for some, a reciprocal relationship between the physical and spiritual; As my eyes fail my spiritual sight becomes more acute, and as my ears become increasingly deaf my spiritual hearing reaches new levels of clarity. This is my hope. I can manage relatively well if my ears and eyes fail along my journey. The circumstances are more dire if the eyes and ears of my heart remain blind and deaf.

Reason, Creativity & Metaphor

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-2 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor. Throughout God’s Message He speaks through word pictures: poetic word pictures, word pictures in parables, typology, foreshadowing, metaphorical names, dreams, visions, and prophecies. God is a creative artist. God is the Creator Artist. The intricate, mathematical design of all creation is balanced by the Creator’s artistic flair in communication and story telling. We are made in God’s image. Left brain and right brain. Reason and creativity.

I have found that many people get perplexed and confused when approaching the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Reading the prophets can be a head scratcher. There is no doubt. This is especially true considering that we are reading an English translation of the original Hebrew text. The original Hebrew is much like the balanced reason and creativity of Creation. It can be very left-brained in its intricate (even mathematical) poetic structure and very right-brained in its metaphorical content.

This morning’s chapter begins with a Messianic prophecy. If you delve into the word pictures, you begin to unlock the full meaning.

Jesse was the father of King David. King David was told by God that his throne would be established forever (e.g. the Messiah would come from the line of David). During the time of Isaiah’s writing, the line of David was still sitting on the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. Alive and bearing generational fruit. But, within a couple of hundred years of the writing the monarchy of Judah would be cut-off by a series of occupational empires (Babylonian, Persian, Roman). There would be no king in Jerusalem. The family tree of Jesse’s royal lineage would become a lifeless stump.

From that dead, life-less stump comes a shoot, that will develop into a branch which will bear fruit. Life will spring out of the seemingly dead line of Jesse. That’s why Matthew and Luke are both careful to record the family tree of Jesus in the telling of the Jesus story. Jesus was a descendent of Jesse, born in the town of David, the town of Bethlehem.

And what does Isaiah’s prophecy communicate about this new shoot of life?

Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ own words:

“No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of both water and spirit.”

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and truth.”

“The Spirit gives life. The flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of Spirit and life.”

Jesus even took this same word picture of trunk, branch and fruit and passed it on to His followers (see John 15). How cool is that to see the manifestation of the word picture the Creator planted in the design of creation: Trunk give birth to branch which bears fruit that falls to Earth and “dies” and is buried, which then gives birth of Life to a new tree which develops branches and bears fruit. God’s intricate, creative design speaks God’s language: metaphor.

This morning I’m inspired thinking about the depth and layers of meaning in Isaiah’s prophetic writing. There were layers of meaning Isaiah himself could not possibly comprehend as he wrote the verses 700 years before the “Shoot of Jesse” would spring to Life. I am thinking about design and creativity. Words and word pictures. Spirit and Life. I’m praying that I perpetuate the word picture; praying that Spirit and Life is bearing fruit in and through me today.