Monday, September 16, 2013

Matthew 19 - A Story of Control

“What do I need to do to get eternal life?” the rich man asked.

The question itself was proof that the man didn’t understand grace. And Jesus said, “Brother, you know the commandments, right?”

“Indeed I do,” replied the man, “and I follow them religiously.”

So Jesus, realizing that there was something else going on with this guy, went a bit deeper. “Let’s see what exactly is in charge of his life,” he thought. To the man he said, “Okay, my friend, here’s all you have to do now. Go and sell all your stuff and then give the money away to people who need it. Then come and follow me.”

The rich man’s jaw dropped, his eyes opened wide as he stared in stunned disbelief at Jesus. And then he just turned away and walked off, because he could think of nothing to say. Whatever it was that was in charge of his life, it sure wasn’t him. It sure wasn’t God. Truth be told, it was his wealth.

In that moment, he realized that his wealth controlled him. The thought of giving it all away immobilized him. Any power he had ever had, he had given up to his material possessions, and that idea hurt him deeply. Before his encounter with Jesus, he was living under the illusion that he was in charge of his own life. Afterwards, he understood that he still had a lot of work to do.

Before meeting Jesus, he bought into the myth that he was worth something at all because he was worth something on his balance sheet. Through his challenge to generosity, Jesus was trying to teach him that people aren’t defined by wealth, but by the unconditional love of God. It seems it was a difficult lesson for the man to learn.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any easier.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gentleness and Joy

Images of horrific, gratuitous violence and suffering permeate our world. At the same time, images of inane, “anything goes” euphoria suck our collective attention spans. It is almost as if we feel like we need to counter the negative stuff all around us with equally extreme ecstasy in order to balance it out.

There is a more excellent way.

The “church’s marching orders” listed in Galatians 5 include “gentleness” and “joy.” The two ideas intertwine quite well, for joy is not a shallow, chipper glee but rather a deep, abiding gentle satisfaction of the soul.

For example, consider sports. I am a fanatic of the Kansas City Royals. (You probably didn’t know that about me; I try to keep it a secret.) Rooting for the Royals is fun this year. It can bring a smile to my lips and a cheer to my throat. It brings me glee, but it does not bring me joy.

Playing with our two-year-old so that he gets to giggling uncontrollably with his big belly laugh, dimples on full display, eyes twinkling … now THAT brings me joy. Watching our daughter perform on stage; listening to our son describe the world he is creating in his imagination; hearing my wife sing … joy, joy, joy!

Experiencing the grace of God made known through the selfless love of others ... JOY!

The way to counteract the horrific suffering and violence that permeates the world is not via shallow, frivolous escape into silliness. Rather, the way is Christ’s way. The way is Christ. Christ who calls, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Gentless. Joy. Forward, march!