With Him (Matthew 12:30)

“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

Matthew 12:30

Jesus has never been One to mince words.

There are folks out there who want to say that God is this inclusive type Who is going to make sure that everyone gets into Heaven. Based on the statements Jesus makes in the gospels, I find that unlikely. Jesus is divisive and exclusive. To follow Him is to renounce much of what we are taught to hold dear and to hold on to things that we are often taught to ignore. The world teaches that there is only the here and now and that we should, as the old song puts it, live for today. While there is truth in what is taught — I am only guaranteed here and now; later is by no means assured — it is not the truth in its entirety. God tells me that I should lay up treasures in Heaven and that process begins by being for Jesus and gathering with Him.

This statement of Jesus is rather exclusive. It makes people uncomfortable to think that Jesus would turn anyone away. The fact of the matter is this: if I am not for Jesus, I will be for something or someone else. And, as Jesus makes clear elsewhere, I cannot serve two masters. If I am for myself, then there will be conflicts of interest between what Jesus commands and what I am willing to do — love my neighbor as myself, for example. If, on the other hand, I am for Jesus, then I will do as He commands and let the cards fall where they may with regard to myself. If, like David, I recognize that the LORD is my Shepherd and cares for me and watches over me and provides for me and so on, then I can rest easy in being for Jesus knowing that He is for me in ways I cannot understand.

The second statement is fascinating. The root word used is the same as the Greek root by which we get the word synagogue. The idea is to gather together with others or to walk beside toward a destination. My favorite meaning listed in the concordance is to lead one toward one’s home. We can walk with Jesus as He leads us to His home or we can go elsewhere. The notion is that those who walk with Jesus will be in lockstep, heading toward the same destination. We may be straggling along the road, but we will all be going to the same place. By contrast, those who do not walk with Christ wander around aimlessly, like people fleeing for their lives. And, in a very real sense, that is precisely what everyone who is not walking with Christ is doing: fleeing for their eternal life. The trouble with fleeing in any way but walking with Christ is that the destination is by no means certain to be where we want to go.

The end is this: I must walk with Christ. He is leading to His home — Heaven — and the only way I will be able to walk that path is beside Him. Either I walk beside Him or I lose my way. Either I place myself on His side or I am on the side of someone or something else that may or may not have my best interests at heart. My choice. Walk with Him and place myself on His side or not.

Ears to Hear (Matthew 11:15)

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Matthew 11:15

The simple fact of anatomy is that the overwhelming majority of people have ears. The fact is so prevalent that a cliché cropped up saying that we have two ears and one mouth as an indicator that we should listen twice as much as we speak. I think the ratio is off and that still more listening should be done, but that is not to the point. The point is this: the overwhelming majority of people have ears, but it is a small minority who actually hear.

The stereotypes persist. Wives complain that their husbands do not listen. Mothers complain that their children do not listen. Husbands (if they bother to speak) complain that their wives do not listen. We are so eager to be heard and so unwilling to hear.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the realities of listening and hearing. I listen to music and to the leaves being rustled by winds. I listen to my son’s babble and my daughter’s sometimes incomprehensible songs and monologues. These are not things that I need to understand. I can passively absorb the sounds and bask in the feeling of them without needing to comprehend anything. But hearing … hearing is another thing entirely. I hear when my daughter wakes in the middle of the night. I hear when my boss delivers an assignment. I hear when my goal is comprehension and the ability to act on what I hear.

That is what we lack. That is what, too often, I find myself lacking. God speaks and we listen, but we do not hear. We listen to the sound of God’s voice and soothe our souls to sleep. We listen to His commands and nod our agreement with their justice and rightness, but we have no intention of doing anything about it. We have ears to listen, but not ears to hear.

What I need — in all areas of life where what I do matters — is ears to hear. I need ears to hear what God would say to me — to hear and to do what He says. I need ears to hear my wife when she speaks — to hear and to take actions that will correct errors and heal hurts and remind her that she is loved. I need ears to hear my children — to hear what they say and what those thing reveal about the character being formed in my children and what actions I need to take as a father to guide my children to the right path. I need to hear in all of these circumstances and in more.

Lord God, please touch my ears that I might hear. Make the connection between ears and mind and heart and limbs that what is heard would impact the way I think and what I determine to do and what actually is lived out by my actions.

Lost and Found (Matthew 10:39)

He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 10:39

I am a word nerd. So the fact that life warranted a footnote while find and lose did not caused me to wonder what was going on with those verbs.

The verb used for find can also mean seek out, discover, find by examination or scrutiny, and obtain. Essentially, the verb communicates a prolonged search for a thing. It can mean that one simply happens upon a thing — “Hey, look! I have a soul!” — but I suspect that the almost compulsive search is more likely what was meant. In context, Jesus is talking about discipleship and how anyone who loves anyone more than they love Christ is not worthy of Him. With that as the backdrop, I think that the compulsive hunting for one’s soul is more likely what Jesus had in mind. It is a theory, but there is textual support for it.

The word rendered lost or lose in English can also mean destroy, render useless, kill, put out of the way entirely,  and, yes, lose. I think that there were two ways that the verb was meant — one for each time it was used.

Last, that pesky life thing. The Greek word used is psyche, a term that is probably familiar to most English-speaking folks. The concordance gives meanings as various as mind, heart, breath, and life. It might best be understood, I think, as the person in totality.

Armed with those meanings, I think the verse might be rendered:

He who has made a careful search for his self will destroy it, and he who has put aside entirely his self for My sake will obtain it.

The application is, to my mind, pretty clear. If I want to “be myself,” as so many advertising campaigns and motivational claptrap would have me, then I will ultimately destroy that self. If, on the other hand, I put aside the notion of “self” in favor of following Christ, He will redeem that self and give it back to me, holy and fit for His use. Not only will I get to “be myself,” but it will be a self sanctified and sanctioned by my Savior. The trick of it, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity is that I cannot come to Christ just looking for myself. I have to come looking for Him. The verse, as I read it, tells me that I must myself aside entirely. Get my self out of the way for the sake of Christ. I must seek Him. And, as promised elsewhere, as I seek Him and His righteousness, then all the other things will be added to me. As I put aside my self in pursuit of Christ and His holiness, I will receive my self back on terms that allow me to keep it.

Let me put my self aside today and seek Christ and His glory and holiness. Let me lose my life and gain Christ. Let the rest fall where it may.

The Ten Week Positive Adjective Challenge, Week One

A friend posted on his blog about the Ten Week Positive Adjective Challenge.

The challenge: Once a week, for 10 weeks, choose one emotionally descriptive word that positively describes my wife.

The intent:

  1. As a man, I broke through the boundaries of emotional simplicity and began to explore emotional complexity.
  2. This challenge forces me to positively define my wife.  By doing this, I have to accept what I positively say to be true.  Thus, it being written in black and white, the things I write become a permanent fixture here and most likely in the minds of the readers – including her.
  3. Growth.  Always growth.

Since things are difficult in the wake of having one’s second child, I decided to take up his gauntlet and make the attempt. Here is week one.

Caring

Lots of people say that their wife is caring — if they think about it at all — but I am talking about something an order of magnitude removed from what most are thinking. A person who is caring can be thought of as one who shows care or compassion. I hate it when the dictionary uses a word to define the word, so care, as used in this definition, could mean worry, anxiety, concern, solicitude, heed, protection, keeping, or sorrow. This is the most apt description of my wife that I can think of.

My wife cares in the sense of being mindful (heed) of others. She thinks about our children and about her friends and about people in general. She is concerned for their well-being — physical (as one would expect of a nurse), but also mental and emotional and spiritual. And she is mindful of me.

My wife is also protective. If she is able to prevent harm to those about whom she cares, then she will. If there is a chance that she can have an impact, she will do whatever she is able in order to protect others.

My wife also mourns for others’ pain. It would be expected that a nurse would be adversely impacted by another’s physical suffering, but all suffering of every variety impacts my wife. She mourns for the suffering of those who come to emotional harm and spiritual harm, even when the wounds are self-inflicted. This will, I suspect, lead me into other descriptions of her, but I will leave it here for now.

None of the above gives any idea of why those qualities would draw me or be desirable in any fashion. Men, despite the common misconception, are fairly fragile things under all the bluster. Unconsidered words and ill-conceived remarks wound us more deeply than we want to admit — even to ourselves. That my wife is mindful of me is attractive. It means that she thinks about the potential impact before she lets fly her words. She is also protective. She has already demonstrated to me in many ways that she is protective of my well-being and she jealously guards our time — both as a couple and as a family. That she mourns other’s suffering is something that calls me to compassion — a thing to which I am too often insensate. She sees the suffering of others and is moved by it. I see it and too often wonder how it came to be. Her compassion reminds me that there is time enough to sort out how it happened once it has been dealt with.

Easier (Matthew 9:5)

“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?”

Matthew 9:5

Jesus’ question is obviously rhetorical. It is easier to say that a person’s sins are forgiven, because there is no physical way to prove that what you have said has taken place. On the other hand, telling a paralyzed person to get up and walk requires that something physical transpire afterward. There is something else happening here, though.

Making a paralytic walk was merely physically impossible. The man had legs and all the other necessary biological hardware required to walk. The hardware was not, however, in working order. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been articles written about medical science finding ways to repair broken spines and give paralyzed people the ability to walk. Repairing the biological hardware is possible.

Forgiving sins is a spiritual transaction and can only be done by the person who has been wronged. Since I did not make the rules — i.e. the Ten Commandments — it is not my rules that are broken when someone wrongs me. It is God’s rules that have been broken. This means that all sin ultimately traces back to God. He is always the wronged party. This means that He is also the only One Who can truly forgive sins. And forgiveness requires something, viz. atonement. The Law had established that sin can only be forgiven by the shedding of blood and Jesus was here establishing that He had the authority to forgive sins, because His own blood would be poured out to accomplish it.

It is easy to say some things and more difficult to say others. It is easy to say that I believe in God and salvation and all the attendant things that come along with being a Christian. It is quite another to say that I am a Christian then to substantiate the statement with a life that backs it up. Saying that I believe is easy and requires no proof. Saying that I am a Christian must be accompanied by fruit that allows others to discern that my claim is true.

While it is easier to make claims and harder to substantiate them, it is the substantiation that really makes the claim more than wind. Let me examine myself and determine whether or not my life substantiates my claim of belief in Christ.

A Bold Approach (Matthew 8:8)

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Matthew 8:8

How do I approach God in my prayer life? I have requests and I have things that need to be set right in me and things for which I am grateful and things that make me want to shout. These are all good and acceptable and valid things about which to pray. It is not the what that I feel the need to focus on this morning, but the how.

The Bible tells me to approach the throne of grace with boldness. It would be a simple matter to confuse boldness with brazenness.

To be bold is to come with confidence in Who I am approaching and where I stand in relation to Him. This centurion came boldly. He knew Who Jesus was. He knew what Jesus could do. He also knew precisely who he was and what he could do. For all of his ability and authority and power, he could not make his servant well. But Jesus could. The centurion understood the nature of power and authority, but he also knew that he had no right to command Jesus to do anything. He came anyway. He knew that he was not a Jew and that Jesus was running around doing things for Jewish folks. He came anyway. He came with boldness; came knowing that Jesus could do what he wanted done. He also knew that he did not deserve it; had done nothing to earn it. He came in hope. He came knowing that Jesus could do this thing. Is this how I approach the throne of grace? In hope and confidence that God can accomplish what concerns me and in the full knowledge that I do not deserve to be admitted to the presence of God?

The centurion could have been brazen. He could have come and demanded that Jesus heal his servant. He was the face of Roman authority and had military power to back him. He had the ability to coerce nearly anyone to do nearly anything. He could have come that way. He had the backing of the Roman government and was authorized to force non-citizens to do all sorts of things. He could have come that way. I, too, can get caught up in what I think are my deserts. I can think that God owes me something because I am whatever good thing I flatter myself that I am. I am not that thing. I am not patient. I am not kind. I have not endured as long as I ought to under temptation or trial. I am not worthy and I am not in a position to make demands.

In the last 24 hours, I have heard 2 separate sermons on prayer. One emphasized coming in relationship; in love. The other emphasized coming in boldness. I submit that I cannot be bold until I am confident in the relationship. Until that time, I come brazenly. I come with bravado. When I an secure and confident in the relationship between God and me, then I come boldly; confidently; knowing that God will do the things I ask because the things I ask are in accord with what He wants to do anyway.

Relationship precedes and founds boldness. Jesus goes on to marvel at this centurion’s faith and it was faith that made Abraham righteous and founded his relationship with God and allowed him boldness. This centurion was bold because he had come to faith and the burgeoning relationship that man had with God knew that God was willing to heal his servant. Let me tend to my relationship with God and a bold approach to His throne will follow.

Narrow (Matthew 7:13-14)

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

As I read this verse this morning, I was struck by how different Jesus’ injunction is than what society pushes. Jesus tells me that there are two ways: broad and narrow. He further tells me that the broad way leads to destruction and the narrow way leads to life. Wide gate and broad avenue: destruction. Small gate and narrow lane: life. Pretty straightforward.

Society, on the other hand, adjures me to be “open minded” which means that society wants me to accept any bit of malarkey it attempts to foist on me. “Alternative lifestyles” and “identity” and “sexual liberation” and all manner of other things are pushed as perfectly valid and I am told that I must open my mind to these things; that I must accept these alleged truths. God, on the other hand, tells me that sin is utterly sinful and that the sinfulness of sin does not change because of some social fad. He does not tell me to go about condemning people for their sin — that is not my business — but He does tell me to call things as they are. Sin is sin. Holiness is holiness. Plain and simple. This means that the times I succumbed to the temptation of a thing are times wherein I sinned or transgressed. No excuses. No mitigation. This also means that the sin of others is still just as sinful today as it was yesterday.

If I take Jesus at His word and seek to walk the narrow path, then I will be seen as narrow-minded and parochial and have aspersions cast upon me. But how is that any different than my Savior?

The narrow way comes with a cross. The small gate comes with a Shepherd Who lays Himself across the portal and only allows through such as are His own. The narrow way and the small gate are exclusive in that the many who preferred the broad way and the wide gate are excluded.

The choice is mine. I choose to set my feet on the narrow way and follow in the nail-scarred footprints of He Who Loves me or to walk the hard-packed, oft-traveled broad way by the decisions I make every moment of every day. Father God, please let my choices be for the narrow way and the small gate. Every time. If I am seen as narrow-minded and have aspersions cast on me for following in Your footsteps, so be it. Only let me keep my feet in the nail-scarred footprints that lead to Life and that more abundant.