Mark chapter 10, verse 51, from the New Living Translation
So, Jesus asks that question to a blind man. And you know what? He’s still asking that question; not to just the blind–but to everyone. Everyone includes you and me! In fact, it’s a question that He is asking every nano-second of our lives here on this third rock from the sun. So, exactly what do YOU wantfrom Jesus?
Ever heard the expression, “I want my cake and eat it too!”? It’s about wanting what WE want. I would exhort you to be careful about what you want! Not everything we want is worthwhile; neither does it give us the deepest desire of the heart: Life at its richest! I looked up that word translated want and found out it means “to will, have in mind, intend”. Oh, and there’s another meaning: “to take delight in, have pleasure”.
So many today are wanting a life that doesn’t really give any lasting delight. And in the arena of religion, many are wanting Jesus AND! Jesus and their stuff. Honestly, I can’t remember if it was from one of Andrew Murray’s books or Watchman Nee’s books. But I remember the lesson: Jesus AND anything else leaves us with nothing. We can’t have Jesus AND our stuff. Be it traditions, bad habits, sexual desires, property, power, money. . .you name it! We can’t have Jesus and anything else.
When Jesus asks us, “What do you want?”, He isn’t offering Himself along with our preference of cake. He’s offering us life–life where we surrender and submit to Him and His plan and purpose for our life. Don’t forget that the life Jesus offers us stands in direct opposition to what the world offers. So, be careful what you want. Because if you want Jesus AND anything else, you miss out on Jesus and what He offers us!
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.
Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 7, from the New Living Translation
All means all, doesn’t it? At least that’s the way I think; and it’s very apparent that God feels the same way. In this season where the Orthodox faith has been thrown away like last week’s leftovers, this is even more true. Within many churches here in the good old U.S. of A., they are demoting their churches to a way that looks more like the culture, rather than the Kingdom of God. How can they expect to see God’s Kingdom here when they look, think, and act like the kingdoms of this world? They say it’s because they love God and love others. But then there’s this word ALL!
In the world of Poker there’s a phrase and an act called “All-In”! The player thinks and believes that their hand is better than all the other hands, so they put everything they have on the table; nothing is held back. Not one single chip is held back. Now that’s what you would call “high-risk” living! Without sounding blasphemous or irreligious, that’s what it means to love God and to live in His Kingdom. We don’t obey God in order to love Him. We love God and thus we obey Him. So we put everything on the line–with nothing held back.
Progressives think that we can love God and love our culture. And because they love God, that changes what is wrong and what is right. Love transforms the mess into perfection. By choosing to form their values around pop culture rather than The Bible, they cannot and have not loved God with their All! One of the places Moses reminds us to love God is with All of our “soul”. But one of the meanings of that Hebrew word translated “soul” is “appetite”! When one’s appetite is being fed by feelings and yes, even lies, then they are not loving God with their All!
And even many Orthodox folks who claim to love God with their All have another appetite. It’s for the property, buildings, and bank accounts. They are looking for a way out and at the same time wanting to keep those said assests. Now, I want to talk to my sister and brother Orthodox family. Is your church property and assests absolutely essential in order to break free of this hot-mess culture and get in on what God is doing? Are you afraid to leave the UMC because you are afraid of losing a building and checking account to your Annual Conference? If so, then you are NOT loving God with your ALL!
Does God really need our buildings in order to bring people into His Kingdom? Sure, many of us have an emotional attachment to that place. But if that emotional attachment is keeping us from stepping out of this hot-mess and stepping into what God is doing, then obviously our appetite isn’t All-In for God. What I am about to suggest that we need to do is indeed frightening and daunting. But it is also exhilerating, if you think about it. We are being led by the Holy Spirit to step out of the old and into something new; IF our appetite is All-In for God!
If we lose our assests of property and banks accounts, what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s left! What’s left is the God who delivered the Hebrews out of slavery. What’s left is the God who answered Elijah’s prayer with fire! What’s left is the words of the angel to the women: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He’s not here! He’s going ahead of you, waiting for you!” What’s left is Peter’s message at that Feast of Pentecost: “This is what the prophet Joel was talking about! The Holy Spirit is here! He’s giving dreams to young and old. He’s giving His message to men and women!” If we should lose everything we associate with our local church to an Annual Conference (meaning property and money), folks, we still have The Kingdom of God and the Presence of The Holy Spirit within us! And to be a part of another Great Awakening, isn’t that more than enough? Don’t allow your “love” for emotional attachments, get in the way of loving God with your All! If we love God with our All, then He is going to provide for us what we need! Trust Him because He’s proven that He is ALWAYS Trustworthy. Get rid of that anxiousness and embrace God with your All!
Today can be just another day in your life or. . . it can become the beginning of a journey into an adventure. This adventure is not for the weak or faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for those who choose the predictability of their current misery over the adventure that is anything but predictable. I’m speaking now to those who are willing to admit that the life they have been living is boring, painful and certainly unfulfilling.
Ash Wednesday is God’s invitation to leave behind everything in order to be filled with His Life. Jesus left behind everything in Heaven so that we could be set free. And face it, all of us are in some type of prison. An addiction. Fear. Anger. Disappointment. Despair. Frustrations. These are just a few of the names of our jailers. The Ashes of Ash Wednesday holds the key to be released from our jail cells.
For the last several days I have been praying the Scriptures and one verse has captivated my attention. Isaiah 61:3 says–“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Do you know what ashes are? One definition of ashes is “the remains of something destroyed”. We can never have the life God intends for us until the old life–those old ways–are completely destroyed in us.
We cannot have a crown of beauty, a joyous blessing, and festive praise until the things that imprison us are turned into ashes. This process of turning our old life into ashes can be painful–but it’s not all that complicated either. Do what Paul did when he turn away from his old life and began his adventure with Jesus: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NLT)
I want to challenge you today to reflect on two things: 1. Are the things I’m holding on really creating beauty, blessing and praise? 2. Have I given up everything, considered it garbage, so that I might have Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Learn the lesson from the ashes of Ash Wednesday. Then go and receive the sign of those ashes–at a church service, or with a friend, or if you’re alone, do it to yourself. You don’t need a seminary degree to impose the sign of The Ashes. Just a willingness to give up that old life in order to begin the journey into an adventure.
This Saturday’s story goes back to 1996. I remember it because of 2 unforgettable things happened. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my son said, “Daddy you were right.” I had been trying to help him understand you could work hard or you could work smart. I was right; he said it and even if he doesn’t remember that moment, I always will. The other thing that happened that led to that utterance of Matthew was when he graduated Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Here’s the story.
KEEPING WITH THE CADENCE
When my son Matthew graduated from the Army’s Basic Training, I made the trip to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to see his great accomplishment. One of the many images that was engraved on my mind was the way they walked as a unit. Each member, each soldier was in step with the other. Their lines were sharp and crisp because only ONE was calling the cadence. Their Drill Sergeant was the only voice heard. Their ears were in tune with only their Drill Sergeant.
I don’t remember the exact cadences they used. I remember some of them were…well it was 1996 before political correctness was fully operational…some couldn’t be repeated. But I do remember part of one of those cadences. It was something like this: “My buddy’s in a foxhole, a bullet in his head. The medic says he is wounded, but I know that he is dead.”
Then their Drill Sargent would start a new cadence call; and they never missed a step. And not far away you could hear other Drill Sergeants calling cadence, but their platoon did not heed the other voices, only the voice of one kept their focus and attention. They were not distracted by any other voices. It was impressive, to say the least. Many cadences, many voices–but he and his platoon were in tune to only one voice. And they moved as if they were one person.
MORAL OF THE STORY
We need someone to call cadence for us. But not just anyone–The ONE who is been given that responsibility–for us as individuals and us collectively as the Body of Christ. That’s Jesus. And He does give us the cadence call through the Holy Spirit. It’s like Paul wrote in Galatians 5:26–
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
In real life, there are a lot of things that demand our attention: family, jobs, appointments, and activities. It is easy to find ourselves frustrated or disappointed at the end of the day because of the busyness with which we are seemingly perpetually engaged in. And this is where the stress comes in and often overwhelms us.
I’m glad Jesus taught us to pray saying “Our Father” rather than “Our Drill Sergeant.” So, if you find yourself out of step and full of stress, remember my lesson. Let God lead the parade called life. Listen to His voice as He calls out the cadence. Life flows much better when we cooperate with God, much like that platoon that followed only one Drill Sergeant’s cadence.
Wednesday is the day I’ve chosen to wonder about. . .well about life and God. And today I’m adding another point to wonder about–people. Oh, yeah, I know I’ve wondered about people before, but usually in the context of my gifts of sarcasm and snarkiness. But this morning I’m setting aside those gifts. . .because my heart is breaking for a group of people.
My heart always breaks for the least, the last and the lost–people hurting, struggling, and doubting that there’s enough grace with God for them. The group my heart breaks for this morning is. . .well, look at how God describes them:
Most preachers, myself including myself, quote this passage with the sense that God is angry. That God is criticizing these people of lips without hearts. Even Jesus quoted this passage and we envision Jesus full of anger and foaming at the mouth. So we point out with criticism and anger these people who’s lips say one thing about God, but there hearts are far from God. Could it be, that when God said that to Isaiah, and when Jesus quoted this passage that there was sadness in His heart? Could He have been crying for them?
Many times I have questioned…scratch that…criticized Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Progressives for their attitudes and ways of thinking. But this morning…my wondering has my heart breaking for them. I’m grieving because they are missing so much of who God is and what God wants to do in their day to day life.
Lips say one thing but the heart says something different. It’s not just the aforementioned Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Progressives who are herein described. I’ve seen Conservative and Orthodox folks who fit the bill of what God is saying through Isaiah. And even yours truly has been guilty of this. Seeing and believing only what we want to see and believe, and then say it’s God.
Why have we limited God? It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s the Devil! That’s what he does!” No doubt, that IS his job. But right now I’m remembering a sign on President Harry Truman’s desk:
WE have a choice; sadly many of us have chosen poorly. So today, I choose to accept responsibility for my lips; and My Heart! I choose to wonder about the Wonder Of God! I choose to remove the fences and walls that keeps me knowing ABOUT God to KNOWING GOD! I set aside whatever I’ve thought about God. I set aside everything others have said about God. And I open MY heart to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the mysteries of God. I long for this, and so I choose to start with a clean sheet of paper and let God write what I need so that His Image becomes more clearer and brighter in me.
And thus I wonder: “How could I even think that MY understanding of God (which is spoken by my lips) is the ultimate expression of God?” Yes, we need to fight Satan in this world. But before we go to battle, let’s make sure that we honor God With Our Hearts. And the best way to do this is to quit pretending we’re the experts and surrender our heart to the wonders of God. Only as we give up our concepts can the heart be cleansed–and be drawn closer to God.
He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. (Mark 6:1-3, The Message)
Going Out Of Business Sale! We see such signs so often that we don’t pay much attention to them (until it says “75-90% Off!”). But in an obscure dot on the map town like Nazareth, it was probably very noticeable. There on the corner of Jezreel Street and Cedars of Lebanon Lane was the Carpenter Shop. They always thought it would be there. His father ran it before him, as did his father. All assumed he would eventually get married (if Mary was any kind of a mother, he would) and his son would continue the family business. Need a new platter for Passover this year? Go to the Carpenter’s Shop. Chair broken because Uncle Jethro has a tendency to eat way too much charoset? Go to the Carpenter’s Shop. Need a new dining room suite? Well, you get the idea.
But then there is that sign: Going Out Of Business Sale! They wonder what could be more important than being a carpenter? But He knows! He knows his purpose is not to make oxen yokes, but to show humanity that His yoke is easy and his burden light. He knows his purpose is not to repair plow handles, but to show the world you don’t need to look back, but look forward to be a part of God’s Kingdom. He knew His purpose wasn’t to make dining room tables, but to build a table where all kinds of people are made to feel welcome, especially broken people; it is broken people who need the broken bread.
His purpose was not to make another platter for the roasted lamb at Passover, but to become the Passover Lamb and in one single act for all time and eternity to pay the penalty for our sin and folly. His purpose wasn’t found in the wood pile at the Carpenter’s Shop in Nazareth, but on two rough beams of wood on a hillside outside Jerusalem! He knew His purpose! And when he went to His home synagogue and those with whom He had lived with for nearly 30 years rejected His “new” vocation, He refused to give up.
And what about us? Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life? Any vocation becomes a holy vocation when we do it with only one objective in mind: To make the love of Jesus known! Whether we are a cashier or construction worker, sales associate or security guard, a C.E.O. or a PTA Mom—each of us has the wonderful opportunity to make our vocations holy. It happens when we live our ordinary daily lives with the sense that God is with us and that He wants to use our ordinary life to express His love and grace in extraordinary ways. Go about your Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and…) not with a sense of dread (Oh Lord, it’s Monday) but with the sense of power that comes from purpose.
Now go and love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!