Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This week's lesson: the cost of discipleship

It's amazing how often green pastures and white knuckles go together.

One of my earliest memories, for instance, is of riding in the car my Dad was driving through the Rockies. We were on one of those high, narrow, winding, mountain roads -- the kind that don't have guardrails because the tourists keep knocking them down . . .
  • And it was night.
  • And it was snowing.
  • And far down in the valley below, I could see the glimmer of lights from somebody's ranch.
I was enchanted; I felt I was the luckiest person in the world to see something so beautiful . . . 
Though I realize now that my Dad may not have felt the same way.
But that's the way life is: our greatest joys often come in the midst of danger; our most treasured memories often come from those times we were winding our way through the slippery curves of something that could have gone horribly wrong. 
And if you ask people to make two lists: one of things that make them happy, and one of things that make them sad . . . then you'll find that most of the things on those two lists are the same -- things such as family, friends, work, and church.
Yes, the "green pastures" of our lives are often one and the same as our "valleys of the shadow of death" -- and that was true in the days David too.
Both "green pastures" and "still waters" were contested ground, after all; they were sought by every shepherd, claimed by every shepherd, and defended by every shepherd against their rivals. It was only in "the presence of your enemies," in other words, that you could enjoy these things . . . 
Just as that snowy, mountain road was the best place to enjoy the view.
Sounds dangerous?
It is.
But remember who's driving the car.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This week's lesson: the harvest and the harvesters

There's nothing more dangerous than someday.

As in: "Someday, I'll get my act together. Someday, I'll follow God. Yes, someday, I'll find a way to bless my neighbor . . .

"But not today."

And if anybody had the right to say, "someday," then it would be Jesus.

You'll find the story in John 4: Jesus is on the run from the Pharisees -- and this has led him through the kind of neighborhood where you roll-up your car's windows and lock the doors. Even his request for a drink of water is met with scorn; "I thought people like you," he's told, "don't have anything to do with people like us."

Yes, if there was ever a place where things right now weren't looking so good, it was the town of Sychar in Samaria -- and if I'd been Jesus, then I'd have said this was the kind of place that someday else should try to reach . . .

Someday.

But Jesus doesn't wait for someday; instead, he finds a way to reach people right now. That's why the people who'd been so hostile in Sychar end up begging him to stay.


And that's why, even there in Samaria, Jesus could tell his followers

Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest (John 4:35, NIV).
There's no need to wait, in other words; there's no need for delay. No, when it comes to sharing God's love . . . 

Now would be a good time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling spiritual leaders

There's more to spiritual leadership than being spiritual. 

Take Paul's criteria for bishops (or "overseers") in I Timothy 3:2-7 (NIV): 
Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
And no, Paul doesn't say the overseer should be a mighty prayer-warrior (though that may be assumed).

Paul doesn't say the overseer should be a spell-binding preacher (though that's always nice).

Paul doesn't say anything about miracles, musical-ability, or advanced degrees (which may be just as well, since nobody has ever found a correlation between pastoral-effectiveness and a D.Min.).

Instead, he talks about simple, everyday, commonplace stuff -- stuff such as how the potential leader actually treats their family, handles money, and gets along with outsiders.

And maybe it's because we can fake spirituality more easily than we can human decency.

Maybe it's because the simplest test of our spirituality is just how we treat other people.

And maybe we should get a little nervous when a large number of people -- teachers, administrators, and TV preachers -- look like spiritual leaders, and act like spiritual leaders, but have little or no accountability when it comes to the way they treat others . . . 

But if nothing else, it's clear that "spiritual leaders" should be known for more than their spirituality.

No, they should also be known for their humanity.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling the nations

It's not easy "to make disciples of all nations."

And sometimes, it's tougher for us than it is for them.

Read the first few chapters of Acts, for instance, and you'll notice how slooooooowly the Church included those uncircumcised Gentiles.
  • The first believers, remember, were all Palestinian Jews -- Palestinian Jews whose men were all circumcised.
  • But with Pentecost came Hellenistic Jews -- and while this created all kinds of trouble about money and leadership, at least circumcision wasn't an issue.
  • Next came Samaritans -- foreign scum, to be sure, but foreign scum who were circumcised.
  • Then came an Ethiopian eunuch -- a man for whom the whole question of circumcision was . . . academic.
  • And only after all this did Peter finally baptized a God-fearing Gentile by the name of Cornelius -- and even then, it took a vision, a command from God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a meeting with leaders in Jerusalem, and a church council (not to mention a number of letters from Paul) before the church finally decided it was okay to make disciples of people like . . . you know, people like him.
To be sure, we shouldn't be too hard on the early church. It's safer to stick with your own kind, after all -- safer, easier, and much more enjoyable.

That's why "the nations" aren't the only ones who need change.

No, if we want to change them, then we need to change ourselves.