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Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

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The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 2

Read part 1 here.

So let’s say you’re like me.  You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.”  You are a DOer.

You are like Martha.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice how Martha responds to the situation.  She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations.  She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.

Martha goes straight to Jesus.  She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.

Notice how Jesus responds to Martha.  He does not condemn her.  He does not criticize her work.  He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for.  Here’s what he DOES say:

  1. You are worried.
  2. You are upset.
  3. Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED).  In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced.  In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
  4. Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.

Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.

This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.”  Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.

Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.

Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.

You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.

If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.

*Whew!*

You will always be the achiever.  You will always be responsible.

What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us.  We focus on the wrong things.  We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.

If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary.  You want to be a BEer.  You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.

You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are.  In reality, you are more like Martha.

You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day.  You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.

That’s okay.  God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability.  God loves that about you!

So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?

Find out tomorrow!

Why Jesus Taught In Parables

Yesterday we looked at how story can be used to share truth in a way that can be more easily received or just more beautifully and creatively shared.  Today, let’s look at the example Jesus gave us for sharing truth through story: parables.

There are a lot of scholarly arguments out there for why Jesus spoke in parables, and I encourage you to study up if you’re interested in further analysis.  For my purposes regarding holistic body theology and what we do with our bodies in the world, I have four reasons to share with you today.

Jesus spoke in parables…

1) so that only those whose hearts were ready would understand.  Part of Jesus’ reason for sharing truth in parables was to fulfill the Isaiah’s prophecy that some would hear and not understand (Is 6:9-10; Mt 13:13-15).  In fact, Jesus even used a parable to explain why he spoke in parables in Luke 8:4-15.  As he later explained to his disciples, the hearts that were ready to hear God’s truth would understand, and the seed of truth would take root in their hearts and grow (vs. 15).

Sometimes we’re not ready to hear a truth from God.  Maybe we’re locked in sinful behavior.  Maybe we’re overcome with guilt and shame.  Maybe we’re already wrestling with different truth from God, and adding one more would be too much all at once.  God knows us intimately, from the hairs on our heads to the deepest secrets we won’t even admit to ourselves.  God knows just when to reveal truth to us, when we’re finally ready to receive it and make use of it in our lives, and that revelation will never come too soon…or too late.

2) so that there would be more room for people to relate to the story in different ways.  Most of the time, when Jesus told a parable, he was speaking to a crowd of people.  These people were made up of both men and women, children and adults, poor and wealthy, religious leaders and laypeople.   Often when Jesus was teaching, he had a different message for each audience, but rather than address each group individually, which would have taken forever, Jesus told one story that would teach each group a different lesson.

Take, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37).  Now, Jesus is speaking to the “expert in the law,” so the most obvious meaning of the parable is directed at people who fit in that category.  But not everyone listening to the story was an expert in the law.  Should they have just watched a fly land on some bread or pick blades of grass while Jesus was teaching a lesson that didn’t apply to them?

Consider the characters in this story:
a traveler – the victim of multiple crimes
a group of robbers – the perpetrators, motivated by greed (maybe hatred or anger) but not brave enough to act alone
a priest – the “man of God” who was more concerned about keeping the letter of the law (blood was considered “unclean” and required purification rituals) than showing compassion
a Levite – the member of the “priestly” clan, see above, also a man of importance and influence in the community
a Samaritan – the member of a group hated by Jewish people for their conflicting beliefs on correct worship of God who provided sacrificially to help the traveler despite racisim
an inkeeper – the man who provided the means to help the traveler heal, but only because he was paid

Ask yourself, who would you be in the story?  Be honest. Maybe you take advantage of people when they’re vulnerable.  Maybe you feel working with victims is beneath you or too much trouble.  Maybe you are willing to help, but only if you get something back.

Jesus’ parables are multidimensional, multilayered, and designed with every member of the audience in mind–not just the people present on the hillside that day, but the people who have been reading the parables for centuries after.

3) so that he could get to the deeper truth behind the black-and-white Jewish law  in a short time.  For all his 33 years on earth, Jesus only spent 3 years in ministry.  In only three years, Jesus had to squeeze in all the truth and promise and love available to the community of God in the present time and in all the time to come.  Jesus had only three years to usher in the kingdom of God.  And that was before the Internet and Skype and media and blogs and all the technological advances of our day.  Jesus had only three years to bring the truth to the world, and he had to depend on human minds and hands to remember his teachings and write them down for future generations.

At the time that Jesus was teaching, Jewish law had expanded from the 10 Commandments of Moses’ time to hundreds of detailed, specific laws for every daily action, word, and thought.  If Jewish law were a funnel, the 10 Commandments would be at the broad end at the top, and the law in Jesus’ day would be the little tip at the bottom.  They had a law for everything, an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts that spanned a person’s entire existence from birth to death.  So when Jesus showed up in town and started teaching, the experts wanted to know what laws Jesus was upholding, what laws he was breaking, and why.

But Jesus reminded his listeners in Matthew 5:17 that he had come to fulfill the law, to bring God’s truth for righteous living to its fullest completion, in freedom.  That’s a tall order for only three years of ministry.  Jesus’ parables were a way to reach down into the deeper truth of God, cutting through the black-and-white theology of their day.  By refusing to engage in endless debate, Jesus was able to leave a timeless message of love, grace, and mercy through story.

4) so that human beings with human ears could through a human story relate to the divine truth in the human/divine Jesus. More than anything else, Jesus’ parables are a reflection of God’s choice to relate to us through the Incarnation.  God sent Jesus–the Truth–in human form to walk like us, talk like us, and be like us.  Jesus, the divine/human being, chose to speak to us in story, with human characters and a divine message.  Our Emmanuel, this God-with-us, chose to bridge the gap between divine truth and human understanding with stories that allow us to meditate, ruminate, debate, delve, dwell, and finally discover some kernel of the Truth that God loves us, knows us intimately, and designed us to love and know God and each other in just the same way.  The story of God is more than just written words in the Bible; the Word of God came as living flesh to live out the story of God among us.

If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.  Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how we can follow Jesus’ example to love and know intimately our brothers and sisters in the community of God, the body of Christ.

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