Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Are you listening? Really listening?

My ears sometimes get tired. Do yours? Our world is so full of sounds that sometimes I think I don’t really hear anything clearly. When there is true silence, it almost scares me. No music, no background noises, no machines humming and ticking and beeping. I love to walk along the bay either early in the morning or late in the evening and just listen to the sounds of nature – minus all our distracting noises. Our ears are mostly over-stimulated. And, of course, we defend ourselves against all the noise.
Into a storm of conflicting voices, Jesus speaks truth. Jesus does not scream; he is not deafening. In fact, Jesus often whispers in tones so low that we do not pay any attention to him because of all the other voices vying for our attention. Yet Jesus continues to speak. The problem is that while Jesus is speaking few seem to be listening. Jesus’ first parable was about our need to listen. Give attention to the following exposition of that parable by Eugene Peterson.

Ears to Hear

St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke agree in placing Jesus’ parable about hearing, with its staccato conclusion, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” as the first of the parables. If the divine word is primary, then human hearing is essential: that we hear is required; the way we hear is significant. The parable, with its metaphor of soil for ears, provides an ingenious tool for a self-administered hearing test: What is the quality of my hearing? Are my ears thick with callouses, impenetrable like a heavily trafficked path? Are my ears only superficially attentive like rocky ground in which everything germinates but nothing takes root? Are my ears like an indiscriminate weed patch in which the noisy and repetitive take up all the space without regard for truth, quality, beauty, or fruitfulness? Or are my ears good soil which readily receives God’s word, well-tilled to welcome deep roots, to discriminately choose God’s word and reject the lies of the world, to accept high responsibility for protecting and practicing the gift of hearing in silence, reverence, and attentiveness so that God’s word will be heard, understood, and believed?

“Are you listening to this?
Really listening?” - Mark 4:9

In our world the cacophony of voices is unlikely to subside. Each day we will be overwhelmed with voices demanding our attention. And into each of our lives Jesus will gently speak truth – words of grace and peace. The only question is, will we be listening for them or will they simply be lost in the noise?
The quality of our lives is determined by the voices we allow to enter our ears…

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Of Lions and Lambs

Isaiah tells of a wonderful time when our world will be changed dramatically from what it is now. Some think that the only way possible for this to happen is for our physical bodies to be discarded and we are "pure" spirits, as if spirits have it any easier living a godly existence! Isaiah pictures everything as it was, but with a crucial difference - we are all able to get along and be safe and even comfortable in each other's presence. We are no longer fighting for resources or trying to perform the wide varieties of "cleansings" that have dogged our steps for so many centuries. Listen to his words...
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 power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
What a powerful and compelling vision of what creation was designed to be, and what it can yet become. I think this is what Jesus referred to as "the renewal of all things." Not God wiping the original creation out and starting from scratch, but God redeeming and sanctifying the creation he already claimed was "very good."
Jesus calls us to live out our faith in the world as it is today with the constant knowledge that we are heading towards the renewal of all things. Martin Luther noted that "When the lion lies down with the lamb, the lamb must be replaced frequently." The willingness of disciples to be the lamb in the presence of the lions and wolves is the best evidence that the renewal of all things will in fact become the dominant reality.
Are you willing to be the lamb, or would you rather be the lion?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Transformation: Gradual Outpouring

Almost all of life is about emptying and filling. Hundreds of times each day we fill our lungs with air, then exhale the oxygen depleted breath. We fill our gas tanks only to deplete them and refill them another day. The washing machine runs constantly. And who doesn’t have more month than income?
This principle of emptying and filling is also true of our spiritual walk. God is seeking to fill us with his Spirit, but until we are empty we cannot receive the Spirit as a gift. So one of our tasks as disciples is to create empty spaces in our lives for the Holy Spirit to fill up and live in. The more effective we are at creating these empty spaces, the greater the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I have noticed in scripture, as well as in life, that this emptying process happens in one of two ways – either gradually or suddenly. (We will talk about suddenly next week.) Emptying through “gradual outpouring” is the normal experience for many Christian people. It is a slow but steady process of spiritual maturity that over time produces remarkable results.
Two biblical examples will suffice. The first is Peter. Actually his name is Simon, but Jesus called him a “rock” (Peter means Rock in Greek). Can you hear the other disciples laughing in their minds when Jesus said this? They knew Peter well and he was certainly anything but a rock! And yet the spiritual interest that Jesus created in Peter continued to grow – ever so slowly, but at the end of his life Peter was exactly the rock that Jesus saw so many years earlier. His growth was measured in small doses with almost a “three steps forward, two steps back approach.” But he did manage to keep moving forward in faith and the Spirit found a good home in his life.
A second example is John. Although John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he was not always very loving – or patient, for that matter. Remember the incident when Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria and they wanted to stay the night in a town. The locals refused to let them stay for they knew they were headed for Jerusalem. When James and John returned they told Jesus of the refusal and suggested a plan of action. Do you remember it? “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven and destroy them?” (Luke 9:54) They were feeling a lot like Elijah, but not much like Jesus! And yet, years later John wrote some letters that earned him the nickname “the apostle of love.” Some of the most eloquent words in scripture about love come from the pen of John. His gradual outpouring produced amazing changes.
If your growth is “nothing remarkable” and you wonder if you are actually making any progress in discipleship, remember that gradual outpouring takes a long time, but it does produce startling results.

Transformation: Catastrophic Drainage

Catastrophic drainage stands in direct contrast to gradual outpouring. While gradual outpouring is a slow almost imperceptible process best observed by looking over your shoulder, catastrophic drainage is like a train wreck! It creates serious issues and burning questions in your life. You are confronted with the terrible knowledge that you are wrong—sinful! It is a very painful time and most people avoid it at all costs.
And yet, it is a great opportunity for spiritual breakthrough. Notice the life of Saul, persecutor of the early church. His self-identity was built upon his embrace of the Pharisee’s version of Jewish faith. He was full of great zeal, and yet his zeal lacked knowledge. When Jesus confronted Saul it shook his identity to the core. If Jesus was not a blasphemer, but Lord, then everything in Saul’s life had to be reconsidered. Jesus leaves Saul blind for three days to do this painful work of reconsideration. Saul knew what he had done to Christians in God’s name. Did Saul also know at that point that “You reap what you sow?” If so, then he must have been preparing for the worst!
But when Ananias came, he came not with judgment but with an amazing offer of grace. “You will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And he was. This began the transformation of Saul the Persecutor into Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. This time of catastrophic drainage was followed, of course, by years of gradual outpouring, leading to the mature Paul who could write such amazing letters. The grace of God always produces great fruit in lives where it is accepted.
The result of catastrophic drainage in Paul’s life was to orient him from keeping rules to valuing relationships. His understanding of faith shifted from “his performance” to “God’s empowerment.” He valued people more than anything. No longer were people to be beaten into submission, rather they were to be loved and served into discipleship!
Saul died because of catastrophic drainage, but Paul was resurrected from the grave. And Paul “got it.” He knew that salvation is by grace through faith. He knew that love is greater even than hope and faith. He knew that without Jesus no one has a chance. He knew that by allowing Jesus free reign in your life, you will be more than you ever thought possible—your potential will be reached by becoming everything God dreamed you would be on the day you were created.