Aug
29

Headless prophet

saint-john-baptistHow many times have you told your kids to do something and they do the wrong thing and you correct them and they respond by saying, “I know.” Please turn the lights off when you leave the room.  I know.  Please put your shoes in the closet instead of leaving them on the stairs where people can trip and die.  I know.  Please do not hang your sister over the banister and pretend she is an astronaut landing on Mars.  I can do that? No.

Saying, “I know,” to something seems to have lost its value.  Knowledge is a gift from the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3).  This means it is a godly thing.  It is not something we inherently possess.  It is given to us.  But how many of us really take it, or worse yet, lie about having it.

Mark 6:17-29 is a crazy passage where John the Baptist gets beheaded because of a junior high dance and the false promise of a neurotic king.  Did I get that right?  Pretty much.  I know.

Herod actually liked listening to John speak.  He feared the challenge of John’s message, like most people still do today.  But, he was stirred in his heart.  He didn’t like being called out about his moral decisions by a desert hippie prophet.  Who does? But he genuinely liked John.

Along comes the middle school girl dancing on his birthday.  Like most men, Herod speaks emotionally in the moment and loses sight of wisdom.  He offers the daughter anything she wants.  Like most pre-teens, she asks for John’s head…on a platter…for her birthday…gross.  I know.

There is a lot going on here.  The mom is ticked about being called out by John the Baptists and has clearly corrupted the daughter.  Herod is disturbed, but carries out his promise.  The result…a headless prophet.

Here is what is so amazing about this story for me…all of us are still subject to the pressures of the narrative’s main theme, namely, jealousy and contempt.  The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance it is contempt.  Not allowing information to help mold you into a person of truth is having contempt for truth.

Nobody likes to be mastered by another but we do like truth.  This is tough.

Truth changes us.  It flips us upside down and makes us do things we rarely will ourselves.  It builds our relationships and chisels them, sometimes painfully, into things we never expected.  Truth should make us silent.  It should also make us loud.  It should change our behavior.  It should always change our hearts.

Let truth master you today.  Teach it.  Invite it.  Witness it.  It is a hard way to go through life, but it is a worthy adventure.  I know.  You should see my power bill!

Aug
28

A passive aggressive lion?

LionI can shine it on.  I can make you think I am fine and in total control when inside there is total chaos.  I can say the right thing at the right time all the while believing something completely different.  I can appear calm in a tempest and I can be dramatic in the quiet tension.  So can you.

This is kind of our blessing and our curse.  Humans have these wonderful outward appearances that can be misleading.  A lion does not act passive aggressive towards its prey.  “You look like a tasty gazelle, but I am torn inside about the act of the pursuit of the hunt and its imminent outcome.” No. There are no indecisive fruit flies in your kitchen.  Elephants don’t appear to be doing just fine when really deep inside they are upset because they forgot something.  This is a human thing.

So, how do we be true to ourselves?

Matthew 23:27-32 is part of a wonderful rant by Jesus where he calls out the Pharisees and scribes.  “You appear righteous but inside are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”  They are shining it on.

The word ‘genuine’ is one of my favorite words.  It comes from the Latin genuinus, which means innate.  To be genuine is to be true to who we are. It is what is already inside of us.  Truth is already inside of us. It is about being who we were made to be.

The Pharisees and scribes were not made to be self-righteous jerks.  They were made to be teachers of truth and recorders of wisdom.  They had become people obsessed with appearance and dismissive of their mission.  Their very make up was at war with itself.  Their relationships with their hearts was putrid at best. Sound familiar.  Me too.

Jesus teaches clearly the need to be true to ourselves.  He made us perfect.  Stick with that.  His perfection still permeates within us.  When our sins derail our mission, be sure to return to him for healing.  Build a relationship with your own heart.  God put it there for a reason.  Listen to it. This is the genuine life of the believer.  This is the challenge of every disciple.

Be honest with yourself today.  If you are a good-looking tomb that is really just full of dead stuff, let the resurrected king bring dead things back to life.  Now.

Aug
23

Don’t throw out the manual.

Instruction manualI bought a retractable hose cart yesterday.  I have a big yard and about 300 feet of hose lying around my house.  Time to get a bit organized.

The device arrived in a box in a million pieces.  I grabbed the instruction manual and begin to slowly identify all the components necessary to make this incredibly simple mechanism work properly. An hour later (and after a few curse words) the hose was spooled and I was laughing at how complicated it was to assemble the darn thing.

If you are like most men, instruction manuals can be optional.  They certainly serve a purpose, but they can also seem to slow you down.  I wonder what the author of an instruction manual thinks about his or her readers? At the heart of assembling anything are the many parts that must be properly placed or assembled in sequence for the final product to even function.  The author must see the end product.  All the while, they must break down the necessary steps to achieve it.

So, in Matthew 22:34-40 when Jesus corrects scholars of the scriptures and tells them that the sum of all their study and research can be understood in two simple commandments, you can imaging there was probably a bit of resentment.  These were men that loved their manuals.  Every word was sacred.  Every idea was slowly digested and described in excessive detail over many years of study and exposition.  Sadducees like the law. This is an understatement.

The laws were the life of the Israelite people.  They were God’s gifts of assured process and ordered care.  They were an extension of him to them.

They still are.

Love God.  Love neighbor.

Love.

Our creator wants us to revel in his creation…both the earth and humanity.  Getting caught up in the instructions can lead us away from the vision of the final product…love.

As believers we should deeply invest into knowledge of scripture and tradition but we should never lose sight of the vision for creation Love.  As Christ teaches, the whole law and the prophets depend on it.

Love today.  Invest in understanding the instruction that is scripture.  Get to know your neighbor.  Emphasize the final product.  Put the pieces together and be mastered by the father’s vision for you and all of humanity.

 

Aug
22

Feasting on college freshman.

freshman-year-logoWhen I was in college, my roommates and I threw a formal Christmas party.  It was fantastic.  We insisted that all of our friends dress in their formal attire.  We had a gift exchange and toasted some kind of expensive beverage.  Not your typical college party.

Around 10 PM a handful of college students (mostly freshman) showed up on our doorstep wearing t-shirts and jeans.  Thinking our gathering was just another thrown together affair, they presumed they would waltz right in and participate.  Not wanting to dismiss them from the joy of the evening, my roommate asked them to return home and change their clothes.  “This is a formal gathering,” he said.  “You are more than welcome to come to the party, but you ought to look your best!”  Some of the students laughed and dismissed the invitation.  But, some of them rushed home. They changed their clothes and came back only to enter into the festivities whereupon a few new friendships were made and a whole lot of holiday joy was consumed.  I mean shared.  I mean celebrated.  It was college. Give me a break!

Have you ever been invited to something and you showed up completely underdressed?  Maybe this is a completely foreign idea to you.  You are a fashion connoisseur and you do not dare leave the house without looking like the cover of Vogue or GQ.  Or, maybe you have only burlap sacks and flip-flops in your closet. Maybe this is your daily reality.

Events like weddings, dinner parties, funerals, reunions, sacramental celebrations and holiday dinners are generally heart felt gatherings.  We invite guests because we want to be with them.  We want them to share in the joy of the moment.  We want their best self.

When someone shows up to our gathering angry or depressed, everyone gathered has little choice but to share in the guest’s anger or depression.  When someone doesn’t show up at all, their best is absent and the gathering is simply less of a community.

This is the premise at the nature of Matthew 22:1-14.  At the heart of the parable is the awkward social narrative describing a king that gets ignored.  His guests don’t show up.  The king then invites people from all over and many come, but some attend in a horribly inappropriate way.

Bottom line…we are all invited to a banquet…a heavenly banquet…thee divine banquet.  This is the celebration of celebrations.  To ignore it is hurtful.  And, to attend it with a half ass effort is equally hurtful to the host.  He wants us.  He wants our best self.

Bring your best to the king today.  Present yourself as a servant and be intentional about your dedication to his kingdom.  If you are broken, come to him and be healed.  If you are healthy, share your joy.  Most importantly, never stop inviting others to the feast.

Aug
21

Running sucks.

Running sucksThe problem with last place is that it is a total drag to be in last place.  Who sets out in a race to finish last?

I am not a good runner.  Some how in my adolescence my body decided to detest the act of pounding my feet onto the ground repeatedly.  It seems, no matter what I do, I can’t get through the “tough” phase of running.  This is the part where all of your body hurts every time you run, your shins burst into flames and you decide you are just better built to spend your life on the elliptical or rowing machine at the health club.  Yup, that’s me.

We love the idea of racing.  We like when Paul references running races in 2 Timothy 4 or 1 Corinthians 9.  He has run well and finished well.  Paul clearly did not get shin splints.  He probably had those trendy five toed shoes I hear so much about.

The challenge for all believers is that the spiritual life is not a race.  It is not a competition.

We are not trying to beat anyone to heaven or burst through the tape by our own efforts.  Very little of when we begin or end our journey of discipleship has anything to do with our salvation.  I know, not nearly as cool of a way to describe a faith life huh?

Life is not a race it is a pilgrimage.

Matthew 20:1-16 tells the story of the workers in the vineyard.  They are hired at different times throughout the day and then all paid the same wage.  This feels counter cultural to all of us!  We want to earn our wage by our hard work.  This is a principle of American culture.

With faith, however, it simply is not the way of things.  The parable ends with the landowner explaining, “…Did you not agree to receive a daily wage?  Take what is yours and go.”

Here is the real challenge.  Do we agree to take what is ours?  Ours is the life we are given.  It is the hand we are dealt.  Rather than compare and contrast our reality to others, do we simply accept it and celebrate its richness?

A pilgrimage is a journey with a destination placed loosely in the middle.  One must always return home.  A pilgrim helps others along the way and cares little for time.  The journey is part of the reward.

Matthew ends his parable with the line, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”  We have heard this before.  It is not challenging because we hate to be last.  It rocks us to our souls because we are built to be a pilgrim people yet we continually run races.

Slow down today.  Enjoy the journey.  Nourish others along the way.