Sidestepping Suffering

We do our best as parents wrestling with our schedules to make the time we want and need with our families. I always seem to hit stretches that are just insanely draining and busy that keep me distracted and feeling like a planet on the outer orbit of the Sun – part of the whole but out of the warmth and company of others.

For some reason, it seems that in those times, I have to step and discipline. We have to do it – distant and removed though we maybe. Of course, the greater than average response is something along the lines of, “Dad - I hate you!” Nothing like feeling more connected to family.

To avoid it is to hold back what our kids need and we know it. We don't want to (and a good many parents choose not to for fear of the “hate” word) but to do so is to fail correct an error, one that could ruin a child.

The truth is, I think, we do not like to deal with pain. My good friend and chiropractor, Dr. George Tomes, likes to point out, “When we step on the tail of a dog and he barks, we don't say something is wrong with his mouth.” More to the point, when it comes to the spiritual journey, we cannot imagine WHY would God let me hurt?! Why would God allow ME to feel this way?!

We're scared of going deeper and addressing what we fear about God. Our modern Christianity is second rate and hides behind a cursory understanding of the Bible and theology. We say we want more of God but we fail to account for what that might look like.

OR we fail to peal away what we think is a “spiritual question” and ask what the real question might be because if we did it would come closer to one of these: Why is God acting like a parent and not a vending machine? Why is God acting like a parent and not Santa Claus? Why is God acting like a parent and not my best friend?

The writer of Hebrews sees most clearly what takes place in our journey of faith and God's instructions when he writes,

(4) You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; (5) and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; (6) FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." (7) It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (8) But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (9) Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (10) For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (11) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (12:4-11 NASB)

When was the last time you shed blood striving against sin? Yeah, me either – can't remember. The moment we hurt, we Christians tend to run and hide behind our pretty baubles at the book store and our perfect padded pews. I fear we revel in acedia. Martin Luther condemned the Roman Catholic Church for it's selling of indulgences and today's protestants sell our souls for a comfortable hovel. We have turned spiritual boredom into a spiritual gift.

St. John of the Cross (known for “The dark night of soul”) wrote centuries ago, “Nothing in this life can offer the secure hope, the limitless love our soul needs...It is because He [God] loves you that He refuses to let you rest your soul in this corrupt, dying world.” (Living Flame of Love: Stanza 1)

I can only see what I found in the mirror. I have taken measure of myself and found myself wanting and with good reason, God's work isn't finished. I dread the journey as much as I long for the results. Staying put is more often the road less traveled on a religious road use to sidestepping suffering.

Images from
1. Rotorhead
2. Lusi

A Dangerous Endeavor: Lost Week 2

The sermon today comes from Luke 15:1-10

H.H. Staton in his book, "A Guide to the Parables of Jesus" tells the story of having been on an ocean liner headed to the Middle East.

Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the liner drew closer, the passengers saw that the boat - a small sloop flying a Turkish flag - had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer or immature navigation the small vessel had become lost. For nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place remarked aloud to himself - "It's a big ocean to be lost in."

Hearing that story reminded me of one of my favorite quotes of all time, “A ship in the harbor is safe but that is not what a ship is built for.” This world is a difficult place to be lost in but we were not created to simply tie up on the dock and set by.

Luke introduces us to two types of people here: the “holy” and the “heathen.” The holy are the pharisees and the scribes. The heathen are the tax collectors and sinners. Both are up to their eyeballs in what matters most. One group is focused on being perfect the other is focused perfectly on being. (Can't help thinking of Billy Currington's song - “I'm not known for doin' a lot, But I do my best work when the weather's hot, I'm pretty good at drinkin' beer.”)

Jesus could have easily aligned himself with the “holy.” In fact, this was what that group had been trying to do. But lost in translation is the word “Receive” - prosdechomai; a word we know well at Crossroads – Jesus was offering HOSPITALITY. Jesus was admitting heathens into his group – into the family.

And so in the midst of the griping and moaning of the holy people Jesus pulls out a story of a lost sheep and a lost coin. What is lost for us, is how much these two stories are influenced by their setting of home and community. Let's stop for a moment and consider this. In the USA we are an individualist society. We identify ourselves by our job, sports team, denomination, etc. But the Jews of Jesus' day had a community identity. Jesus OF Nazareth – Judas OF Iscariot / Simon Bar Jonah = 'son of' Jonah. The prayer of Jesus reflects this too: “OUR daily bread” and “forgive US.”

Jesus was not just building on this idea of community for the Kingdom BUT expanding it. Without searching a bit, this is lost to us. I had the chance a few years ago to listen to Dr. James Fleming who is an expert in first century Jewish culture. In his work on Jesus Parables, he notes that these parables are built on this important detail of culture – namely the Jewish home.

The Latin word for a Jewish home was “insula.” It is the root for the word “island.” These insulas are very much unlike our homes of today. Insulas contained more than one related families. Poorer families contained more holding upwards of 40-50 people. When the family grows, more walls/rooms are added. (1)

So think for a moment on the parable of the lost sheep. This lost shape endangers the livelyhood of the shepherd and the ability to provide for his family in the insula. Shepherds were considered unclean and the lowest of society. The family rejoices when the sheep is found because it is 'their' sheep too. And consider the coin of the woman. It is likely this is part of the woman's dowry, a gift from her father. It would be part of a group of ten such coins. So in essence she has lost one-tenth of her life insurance. Everyone has joined in the search AND celebration because they are in it together.

It has been noted that "Jesus used parables and Jesus was put to death. The two facts are related." Jesus offered a vision of pushing out from the harbor – to follow Jesus meant then and means now, that we are setting off on what one person termed a “dangerous endeavor” = a life focused on transformation not conformation in merely ritual and beliefs. The focus, always for Jesus is people and that should NEVER CHANGE no matter how many centuries we are removed from Jesus' incarnation as a human. Jesus was who we were created to be. To that end, Jesus in these parables pushes off from the dock in search of those who are lost at sea.

Martin Luther, the monk who founded the Lutheran church described it this way: A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get so mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him...If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.  Why? They are family.

Tuesday this week I went home to my office to work. I walked in the door expecting to see our 6 month old kitten Zoe come bounding up to me, trying to sneak out of the house. Nothing. I called her. Nothing. I began looking in her napping spots. Nothing. I began a search through the house calling out her name, turning things over left and right. I went outside calling for her and her big brother hoping the two were together. Nothing. I was thinking the worst. When Heather arrived, she began retracing her steps from earlier and finally found Zoe in our daughter's closet.

I didn't want to be in a panic looking for our kitten but at the time, she became the focus – our home was incomplete. The fact is, we as a church, as THE CHURCH, are missing people. We are incomplete because we are missing people here that Jesus also has died for, we are being called to a dangerous endeavor of finding our missing family. It is a big ocean to be lost in out there.

What does that look like? It looks like we don't give up on people who've visited Crossroads. It looks like we don't give up on each other who are here at Crossroads. We keep inviting, we keep loving, we keep serving. We keep doing the simple things and avoid getting ourselves bogged down in miniscule things. We feed each other when we're sick. We help the poor. We teach our children. We focus a bit less on me and more on the we.

Until everyone turns to Jesus, the family isn't complete.

(1) referenced from Dr. J. Fleming's booklet: "The Parable of Jesus"

You Can't Do It!

Luke 14:25-33 NASB Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, (26) "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (27) "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (28) "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (29) "Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, (30) saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (31) "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (32) "Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (33) "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

A while back Will Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and now Bishop in Alabama, got a call from an upset parent, a VERY upset parent. "I hold you personally responsible for this," he said. "Me?" Will asked.

The father was hot, upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. "Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti."

"Well, I doubt that she's received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she's probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months," Will said.

"Look," said the father, "this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.

As the conversation went on, Dr. Wilimon pointed out that the well-meaning but obviously unprepared parents were the ones who had started this ball rolling. THEY were the ones who had her baptized, read Bible stories to her, took her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vail. Will said, "You're the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me."

"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," said the father, meekly. Hmm. (1)
I can recall a few of my own students from my youth ministry and their parents who had similar conversations with me.

It is almost a disservice to try and preach on these words of Jesus. It is almost arrogant of me to try and add anything to these words. We can say it is about counting the cost. We can talk about carrying our cross. BUT read between the lines – for I think it is in between the lines that Jesus is saying to us – get ready – you can't do it.

In Matthew's gospel we find the parallel where the words are just a bit different: Mat 10:37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. It is the same meaning – nothing comes between you and Jesus. But the truth is you can't do it.

Jesus isn't asking you to give up the worst things in life either. Revivals have loved to hear about those who gave up drugs or alcohol or promiscuity. But really, look at it, what is Jesus asking us to give up? The best things – the relationships and things that we say make life worth living. Do you understand? You can't do it.

Jesus is making people squirm. He isn't blessing the children right here. He isn't talking about feeding the poor. He isn't a consensus builder or a comforter. Jesus is thinning out the crowd. Follow me? You can't. You can't build the tower. You can't win the war.

When you know you can do it, then you obviously don't need Jesus.

When I began to follow Jesus, I left behind family – I would go where God sent. I left behind the ideas of “having it all.” My dad still worries about me.
What has it cost me to follow? It has cost me friends who are pastors. It has cost me friends who are Christians. It has cost me trust in my own denomination. It has cost me my health. It has cost me hair color for sure. BUT that is the point isn't it? What gets in the way has to go. It would all stop if I said I could do it.

Who is a successful Christian? What defines a successful follower of Jesus? Is it Hakuna Matata? Being in a mega-church? Is it being a pastor of a mega-church? Is it salary? Is it exemption from suffering? The truth of being a successful Christian? You get to die.

So just what is lost? I think in part it is this: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In these stories and parables – Jesus is on his way to the place where he will lose his own life for you and for me. He is on his way to do what we cannot do – save ourselves.

He takes fisherman and turns them into disciples
He takes Pharisees and turns them into authors of the Bible
He takes a monk and turns him into a Lutheran
He takes an Anglican and turns him into a Methodist
He take Duke Presbyterians and turns her into a missionary
He takes a youth pastor and turns him into Methodist pastor and then a new church start pastor

None of these changes took place because they could it but precisely because they couldn't or can't do it! As long as we tell God what we are to do then we can do it. If we can do it then we don't need Jesus. Oswald Chambers, author of the devotional “My Utmost for His Highest,” once said, "Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness.... When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time."

What is it you're not abandoning? What is it that God is calling you to do that you are saying, “I can't!” That is the place he is most likely calling you.

(1) (David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, Adapted from William Willimon, Pulpit Resources, September 10, 1995, p. 45.)

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