On our own, this is impossible...

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them ! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. Bible.com/app

Conversations on Death

This morning I attended a bioethics lecture where representatives from Carle Hospital, Urbana Theological Seminary and guest lecturer of moral philosophy from Union University addressed some of the questions facing our society today regarding aging and end-of-life care for medical and religious professionals as well as a more potent perspective for us each as humans who will face our own and family member's deaths. 

In the midst of the research, surveys, data and trends discussed, a common thread stood out like a scarlet strand amid a complex tapestry of medical, economic, social, spiritual and familial concerns: a growing expression of desire to provide & receive care in a manner which is more compassionate and humanizing and attends to the spiritual, relational and emotional needs of those who are facing death. 

Dr. Cranston, a neurologist, shared that elimination of pain is actually not at the top of the list of why patients seek assisted-suicide: it's because they are lonely, abandoned, depressed, hopeless, conflicted and don't want to be a burden on others. The panel spoke of the curious trend in which sons and daughters want medical professionals to "do everything" to save their parents from pain and death. What is "everything" possible? Do we really want that? Rather, would we do well to give attention to how to die well. 

Dr. Mitchells shared the ancient Latin prayer, "From sudden and unprovided death deliver us, Lord" which stands as a bullwark against the cultural tide - both within the church and without - where the conversation of death and preparing for its arrival has become concealed amid other more seemingly pressing concerns. All three representatives let their sleeves down in the Q&A and spoke frankly about the pressing need for us to break the cycle of silence regarding illness and death in our communities. Medical professionals can only go so far in the process of care. Remember the early church who was known for putting her own life at risk in order to remain behind in plague-ravaged cities. The ministry of simply being with people as they near the end of this physical life seems to be forgotten. Perhaps my generation needs to remember that our faith - one firmly planted in the death and resurrection of our Lord - is a faith which is not shy about death. We can speak boldly of our hope and do not need to be afraid of death, nor of sitting closely and compassionately with those who nearing the end of this earthly sojourn.

As one who lives and works among many who are young and vibrant - "far" from death it is believed - this conversation on death could seem marginal, but I am reminded of the faith of Christ-followers who have been martyred. It was not at the point of martyrdom that they prepared to die, for they had prepared much earlier. For when Christ calls a man to come and follow him, He calls him to come and die. The tragedy for our generation, for our society, would be to pretend that death is not coming for those around us and that it is not coming for us. Our earthly life is vaporous. In Christ alone, we have a victorious hope in the face of earthly death and we are called to come along side our neighbors, our families, our communities, and show them the compassion we received while we were still dead in our sins, as well as share the good news of hope which is theirs in Christ alone.

Teach us to number our days, O LORD, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Autumnal Splendor on this Misty October Morn

Thankful I snagged my camera this morning as I biked into campus. Couldn't resist snapping a few shots of this idyllic end-of-October morning.

7 Words that changed a Party and History

As students of Jesus, unfortunately we can easily drift from regularly and consistently looking closely at the actual stories of the days when Jesus feet strode the streets of Palestine, found in the four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). At least I can. By God's grace, the Spirit has drawn me back to John's biographical telling of Jesus' life (the narrative which I most personally connect with.).

As I re-read the story of the wedding at Cana, I closed my eyes and visualized the encounter. I tried to hear the festive wedding sounds, see the celebratory atmosphere (difficult, admittedly, for my 21st century eyes). I meditated on the words found in John 2 and tried to open up my spirit to receive the story, to let it shape me. Rather than analyzing it, I tried to let it rule my heart and mind. This is the difference in Christian meditation: we let God's words - his voice, his Scripture - fill us and form us into the likeness of Messiah Jesus. Yes, we empty our flesh, but we seek to simultaneously receive the life of the Spirit, lest we be like the man who wound up with a new host of evil spirits in the chambers of his heart. 

John recounts the story like this (with my reactions written in line):

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 

(The humanity of Jesus confronts our sensibilities about the transcendent YHWH God mixing himself in with this party. It is so important that John tells us this story.)

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

(Mary's faith is matter of fact. This party is going to go downhill and the bridegroom/host is going to look bad if the wine runs out!)

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

(Jesus thinks about kairos time, not chronos time. He is testing her, too, probably)

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

(Mary's faith and stubbornness persist. What I hear from her: "Look at Jesus and listen to him." Those seven words will change the face of this wedding, the bridegroom, the bride, the party, history and your and my life.)

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

(In case you missed it, that's a LOT of wine.)

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.
10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

(Jesus is a lavish host. We can put faith in the one who brings better wine. The advent of Christ was the better wine. How much more will be the second advent and consummation to come!)

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

(The glory of God has come to us!)

12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

7 Words to change us...''Look at Jesus and listen to him.''

Everyday on Our Campus

The advent of each Fall semester never ceases to shoot an arrow of wonder into my perspective as I watch the campus fill to the brim with 44,000 students from around the world. Hundreds of student organizations litter the campus, representing a mosaic of sub-cultures which make erase any notions of homogeneous UIUC persona. Point in case: this year, 9,400 international students from 115 different nations call UIUC home, pushing the campus to the top of the list of international student enrollments.

Tucked here in the cornfields of east-central Illinois is a crowded campus where young travelers roam, each whom is deeply loved by our Father, each who needs the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ.

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing a message at our Saturday worship meeting about an "everyday radical" perspective on the subject of mission (We did a five-part Everyday Radical series on sex, money, Sabbath, emotions and mission - you can find the messages online at illinilife.org/#/media ).

Are you just waiting for your ideal "GPS coordinates" for where you'll live on mission someday, I asked? Are you focusing too much on the destination and not enough on a missional orientation each day?

Pulling out a somewhat dated piece of technology, I encouraged students to take out their "compass" and let that be an image of what it means to have a missional orientation everyday as a follower of Christ in college. Begin with abiding in Christ everyday, listening to his voice, meditating on his words from Scripture, and opening your eyes to the needs and desires of those right around you here in the hem and haw of collegiate life.

Here amid the countless subcultures of the University of Illinois we pray that we, as the body of Jesus Christ, might make manifest the gospel of Christ among the thousands of "people groups" right here on our campus.


Tuesdays at Our House

Sitting on couches, chairs, stools and on the floor, we gather around one another. Having just finished up another homemade meal, our home fellowship continues a semester-long conversation on the subject of "getting to know the God whom Jesus reveals."

This night, we’re discussing: "What are the significant words, images, relationships and experiences which have shaped your beliefs about who God is? What are the words of Scripture which dominate your thinking about who God is?" Whether seasoned disciples, baby Christians or spiritual investigators, these questions compel each of us to evaluate our thinking, beliefs and actions about the fundamental question: "Who is God?"

One student talks about his history with his dad and how he is tempted to think of God as a demanding judge who is never satisfied. Another talks about the way media has unhelpfully shaped her thinking about God. We open Scripture and reflect on passages which students suggest. Feeling prompted to share from one of my favorite sections of Scripture - chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel - I begin reading in John 14:1 and we let the words of Jesus instruct us. Significantly, this night, two international students are visiting. Both are far from Jesus and are curious about this Jesus they encounter in the words of Scripture.

At the end of the evening, as I stand at the door and thank everyone for coming, I am freshly struck by the peculiar nature of what get to do so regularly: to create a crowded house where college students from near and far can encounter the hospitality, grace and truth of Christ and his Spirit-filled community. Some nights, as students arrive, I feel exhausted and don’t really want to do it again. But after the last person exits the front door, I consistently turn to Amber and give thanks that we get to do this.

Who is with me?

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Who is with me?

The LORD who made the cosmos ex nihilo..
The LORD who walked with Adam in the garden.
The LORD who made a covenant with Noah to never again bring chaos to the earth with a flood.
The LORD who made a covenant with Abraham to give him a son, a good land and to make him a blessing to all peoples on earth.
The LORD who spoke with Moses.
The LORD who spared his people at Passover, liberated them from slavery and carried them through the Red Sea on dry land.
The LORD who revealed his glory to Moses on Sinai.
The LORD who graciously gave his covenant people a good body of law.
The LORD who provided manna, quail and water for 40 years in the barren Sinai wilderness.
The LORD who fulfilled his covenant and led Joshua in a conquest of rebellious inhabitants of Canaan.
The LORD who spoke to Samuel.
The LORD who chose the weakest and least son of Jesse to be a king over his people.
The LORD who revealed his glory to Isaiah in the temple.
The LORD who inspired Isaiah to prophesy of a Messiah who would be named Immanuel, "God with us."
The LORD who chose Jeremiah and didn't reject him amid his conflicted calling.
The LORD who inspired Jeremiah to prophesy of a new covenant by which God would write his glory upon hearts and minds.
The LORD who remained faithful to his covenant people throughout exile in Assyria and Babylon.
The LORD who raised up Ezra and Nehemiah to call the people of God back to the city of God and the law of God.
The LORD who showed his furious, radical love for a prostituting people by calling Hosea to marry an adulterous woman.
The LORD who revealed himself to a young girl named Mary and a young man named Joseph.
The LORD who made his dwelling among us in the radiant presence of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.
The LORD who showed the unimaginable extent of his mercy and justice on the cross where the Lamb of God gave his life as a sacrifice.
The LORD who raised Messiah Jesus from the grave.
The LORD who brought his presence even closer to his new covenant people by giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The LORD who continues to pursue men and women from every people group on earth to faith and obedience to the supreme Prophet, Priest & King Jesus Christ.
The LORD who fills his new covenant people - his called out ones, the church - and causes the Body of Christ on earth to prevail against the forces of hell.

...and surely I am with you until the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20

Are grace and law oxymorons?

 It is common for new testament believers in Jesus Christ to hold a muddled view of the "old testament God." Was God full of grace before the incarnation? Was God less loving and more harsh before the advent of the Messiah? Was God all "law" in the OT and only warm fuzzy grace in the NT?

While it is true that history is a story of God's self-revelation and we have most graciously and clearly seen the radiance of God's glory in Christ Jesus, God is consistent and was compassionate and gracious before the incarnation.

I like what Hill & Walton say in their Survey of the Old Testament on their discussion of Deuteronomy:

"We are used to drawing a sharp contast between law and grace. This would have puzzled the ancient Israelite for whom there was hardly any greater display of God's grace than that demonstrated in his giving of the law. In the ancient Near East, gods were not known for their consistency. Worshipers were left to guess what might please their god or displease him, and this could change rom day to day. That doubt nd uncertainty led to constant confusion, and one could only guess whether he or she was in favor or out of favor by evaluating one's daily fortunte. The law changed all that for the Israelites. Their God had chosen to reveal himself and to tell them plainly what he expected of them...there are striking constrasts between [the laws in the Bible and the ancient Near East]...One result of this perspective is that in the Old Testament the Israelites are not heard complaing about the burdensomness of the law. It was a great example of God's love for them...the law was viewed as a delight rather than drudgery, as freedom of revelation rather than fetters of restriction."

When Moses asked to see God's glory, Yahweh agreed, albeit he couldn't do so face to face or else Moses would have melted in the radiance of God's majesty. But he did reveal his glory - with words: "The LORD, the LORD, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands of generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

Students of Jesus

I want to learn to live well. In response to that thought, I know of no other response than to echo the words of Peter who said to Messiah Jesus: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

You alone, Jesus. We turn to you for life. We sit at your feet to learn to live this earthly sojourn. 

With this in mind, I was freshly bitten with wonder at the words of my Lord, spoken during his trial, as recorded by the apostle John:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?
 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

Jesus responds with questions. He provokes thought. He doesn't shy away. He gets to the heart of the matter. Pilate finds himself at the question which echoes familiar in 2013: What is truth?

Rightifying the Wrong in this World

It was a bustling Friday afternoon at the local Starbucks. I sat in my static perch upon a street side bar stool from which I watched the dynamism of the streetscape move to and fro before me. Given that I was already in a state of contemplation in order to gather my thoughts for an upcoming teaching at Illini Life's large group campus meeting, I was well-positioned to carefully observe the scene which was about to play out before my eyes.

Awash in the refreshing warmth of a beautiful autumn day, two girls with Starbucks in hand were wrapped up in each other's words about their latest college experiences. Separated only by a window pane and anonymity, I watched as a wheelchair slowed to a stop adjacent the girls' cozy table and the two girls' afternoon bliss plummeted from its lofty perch. A woman whose face and posture bore the marks of a somber numbness made acquaintance with these two young women and presumably requested some form of charity. Rarely does such a scene play out directly in front of me in such slow motion, but this day was different. I studied as each girl's body language shifted in her seat. Cups were clenched tightly. Fingernails were picked. Postures stiffened. Unease colored each face. The scene was thick with discomfort. Even through the glass, I could hear the girls' thoughts: "I don't know what to say or do right now. Can't this just go away?" No money changed hands. No food was shared. The woman flicked her fingers forward on the wheelchair lever and her chair propelled forward. The two girls exchanged uneasy glances with one another as they grasped for the elusive feeling of happiness they shared before their world was interrupted.

As I watched this scene unfold, everything in me wanted to wave a magic wand over these women. I wanted those two girls to feel free, to feel uninhibited, to give lavishly to this woman without fear of loss or exploitation. I wanted the woman of need to be free from her wheelchair, to be free from the pain and lack which wheeled her to that table. I wanted it all to be made right.

Groans, groans
All creation moans
Waiting, waiting
The song to sing
Of redemption, redemption
To Father, Spirit, Son
How long, how long
'Til right erases wrong?
-Inspired by Romans 8


adamah - Hebrew, noun, meaning "ground"

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the adamah,
because from it you were taken;
for you are dirt,
and to dirt you shall return.
Genesis 3:19, God speaking to Adam

"By the sweat of your face." This phrase has always painted an image of a farmer sweating profusely on a sweltering day while hovering over a lonely shovel struggling to break up the dry adamah. I learned today that this phrase is actually an ancient Near Eastern idiom which speaks of perspiration-inducing fear or anxiety. What the Genesis narrative is telling us is that "humanity will now live their lives in an adversarial world with a constant, gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will not be enough, that their labor will not meet the need." (Epic of Eden, p. 111)

Unlike Adam, I don't physically sweat much in my line of work, but I have been increasingly aware of the "gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will not be enough, that [my] labor will not meet the need." And, so the Scriptures once again illuminate the reality of my human experience, and the words point me to Author who alone has written the next chapter for humanity in which the leading role is the Second Adam. I thank God that the story doesn't have to end at adamah, but instead we are beckoned into a restored relationship with our Good Creator Father and his creation through the perfect obedience of our elder brother, God's Son - Jesus the Messiah!

Describing vs Explaining

Our daughter is quite verbal. With this affections for words, she likes to state what she observes when mommy or daddy leaves the house on certain occassions: "Daddy work." or "Mommy work." Were a stranger to hear her toddler-speak, rightfully, they would conclude that dad is indeed at work. Anna would have succeeded in describing my actions and locality. I went to work. But, has Anna really explained anything? No, she has merely described. And, here, we find a key lesson in observation. When a physicist tells you all about the interplay of mass and acceleration and gravity, he is describing gravity. If he's an honest physicist, he'll tell you that at the end of the day he can't truly explain it. Only when a scientist, or any human endeavoring to observe, embraces this mystery will he trod the less worn paths of humility towards truth, rather than the well-worn path of Sisyphean ascent.

Lewis on Prayer

"What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer? The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not folow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that compulsive empirical proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained."

We cannot prove the causality of prayers to God and what we see happen anymore than we can prove the cause and effect of our "prayers" to man, Lewis says. For example, just yesterday my wife and I thought it would be nice to end our Sunday evening with a trip to the ice cream shop. We considered inviting our neighbors, as we were sensing we needed the company of friends, but thought they had a long weekend and we ended up traveling alone. We arrived, got our ice cream and sat down, and then looking over, we saw our neighbors drive up! They came anyway and we enjoyed ice cream together, even though we failed to ask.

So, why pray if we can't really prove the causality of our prayers? Does prayer really work? This question "puts in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. 'Work': as if it were magic, or a machine - something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary - not necessarily the most important one - from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is."

Lewis on Excellence & Quality in Literature & Art

From Christianity and Literature, pp 1,2.

Lewis reflects on supposed "Christian" literature and art. He doesn't pontificate on the "literary value" that "written by Christians for Christians" but rather a "Christian approach to literature."

"The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general: success in sacred literature depends on the same qualitys of structure, suspense, variety, diction, and the like which secure success in secular literature.

...I question whether the badness of a really bad hymn can ordinarily be so irrelevant to devotion as the badness of a bad devotional picture. Because the hymn uses words, its badness will, to some degree, consist in confused or erroneous thought or unworthy sentiment."

Lewis's Commentary on the Modern Debunking of True and Sensible Virtues

In Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis opens with a critique of "Gaius" and "Titius" who have written a book - "The Green Book" - on English composition. Lewis observes the authors performing a great disservice to the pupil, failing to teach him virtues and values which certain objects and circumstances in the universe necessarily merit.

 “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” Abolition of Man, p.37

The Certain Death of Meaning

In the hands of a certain gardener,
Denying God and bowing to the material,
Words once sown in soils of Meaning
Are uprooted from fertile ground
Discarded into a heap void of fecundity-
Left to bake under an unprotected sun,
'Til the words shrivel
And life ceases.

From the lips of a 20 month old

Three memorable quotations from the lips of our walking tape recorder, Anna, utter on this past Father's Day weekend:

1. While sitting in a time out, we hear Anna begin to whimper and then she stops and these words fall from her lips: "Daddy back soon. Patient."

2. Walking back into the kitchen to get herself some seconds from the stovetop, Amber asked me, "You want more, babe?" A few minutes later, while the three of us sat at the table, Anna decided to chime in, "Want more babe?" I interpreted first and when I let Amber know what she was saying, we erupted in laughter. This, of course, was a cue for Anna to basically put those three words on repeat for the next five minutes.

3. As we loaded into the Buick Sunday morning, from her car seat, Anna with her finger in her nose says, "Booger out." It didn't take long for mommy to confess as the culprit who accidentally taught our precious daughter these adorably gross words :)

Have you considered?

In a world hungry to accumulate more music,
Have you considered sitting under a tree
To listen to the wind rustling the leaves?

In a world hungry for visual stimulation,
Have you considered lying under a canopy of stars
Strung out like diamonds across an endless canvas?

In a world hungry to being entertained,
Have you considered being led by a little child
Into the joys of simple and wondrous new discoveries?

In a world hungry for stories both fantastical and feigned,
Have you considered entering into the Grand Narrative,
Penned with vibrant characters and crescendos of tragedy and victory?

In a world hungry to dine on delicacies,
Have you considered savoring the words of Christ:
"I have food to eat that you know nothing about."

Thank you, Eric Metaxas

Having now encountered a trifecta of Eric Metaxas' influences - first, my reading of Bonhoeffer, then following Socrates in the City lectures and most recently reading his own telling of his conversion in Christianity Today - I am growing in my gratitude for the influences of this man in our culture. As a respecter of thoughtful writing and engagement with the mind of contemporary culture, I see the "Christ-life" being lived and shared by Mr. Metaxas, and I am grateful for his example - albeit from afar.

Presently, I am in a survey course of C.S. Lewis, and I remarked to a friend, "Who will be the "Lewis" of our generation when we look back fifty years from now?" I am beginning to wonder if Eric Metaxas might be among that company.

Lewis on Meaning in the Universe

“If our universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that is has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Lewis on Time & Ownership

From the pen of Screwtape, a senior devil, addressing his junior, Wormwood:

"You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own'. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours....The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels."

"And all the time the joke is that the word 'Mine' in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say 'mine' of each thing that exists, and especially of each man...At present time the Enemy says 'mine' of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say 'mine' of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest."

Too Small A Thing, Part 2

One common question that I did not address in my talk last Saturday is: Do I have to sell my stuff and give to the poor in order to follow Christ?

Where does this question stem from?

In Luke 12, we find a provocative series of remarks from Jesus. First, addressing the crowd, he tells a story of a rich man who built bigger barns for himself, collecting more possessions that he might enjoy his life. Jesus calls the man a fool and the story ends with the rich man's life being suddenly taken from him in judgment of his greed.

Jesus follows up this story with a personal address to his disciples, instructing them not to be anxious about material things, such as clothes and food, but rather to trust in the daily provision of their Father. He then instructs them, " “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

A second place we find this radical call to "sell your possessions and give to the poor" is found in Mark 10, where a young, rich man approaches Jesus and inquires as to what he must do to receive eternal life. He vouches for his own moral integrity, saying he has kept all of the commandments of Scripture (really??). Jesus, looks deeper inside the man, he "felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

There are two common extremes of response to Jesus' instructions found here for his disciples and this young, rich man. The first is to universalize the teaching and say that to be a true disciple of Christ, one must be completely obedient to sell everything. The second extreme is to entirely minimize and depersonalize these words of Scripture and say that it was a specific instruction for specific people at a specific time and we are not bound to Jesus words. The truth is, both of these extremes are incorrect applications of God's Word.

Now, as David Platt says in Radical, if you breathe a sigh of relief at this acknowledgement, thinking "Phew, good, I can keep my stuff," then perhaps Jesus' words here are for you personally. Ultimately, we each have a discipleship call from Christ. He knows the idols of our hearts, our motivations, our fleshly weaknesses. As his followers, it is not just righteousness by faith that is our gift from him, but we also "share in his sufferings" as Paul so clearly states. 

We must each look at Christ and his Word and ask: Am I willing to go as far as he asks me to? What is he saying to me?

Thankfully, our Father looks compassionately upon his children and is patient with us. But he is also so jealous for our undivided allegiance, that he is willing to ask us - require of us? - difficult endeavors. Greed and worldliness will kill us and he cares too much about us to let us get numbed and killed by them. For some, that will mean selling everything and giving to the poor. For some it will mean moving to the inner city. For some it will mean befriending very difficult people. For some it will mean risking getting fired at work or losing the affection of your co-workers because you had to stand on the side of integrity rather than greed.  

But, remember, we must each look at the cross and empty tomb, the only place we find the hope, grace and joy to willingly lay down our lives for the glory of God and the service of our neighbors. 

Is Jesus asking you to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Maybe. Just maybe. He cares more about our devotion than he does about us having lots of stuff and comfort. He says to each of us the same thing he said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid."

Too Small A Thing

For my Christian History course,  this week we are reading Martin Luther's letter to Pope Leo X in which he provides a powerful discussion of Christian Liberty. The timing of this assignment is significant and has incited many follow up thoughts for me from Saturday.

This past Saturday, I was called out of the bullpen to teach at our church's large group meeting on the University of Illinois campus - Saturday Night Grace. My assignment: take week two in a three part series taken from Prophet Isaiah's words in 49:6, where he shares a word from the LORD:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,   that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Israel's vision of God was and is doing in the world was too small and the people of God today are prone to similar small-mindedness. Specifically, we chose to highlight three ways in which God is sending Illini Life students: to campus (it is where we are, after all), to the urban poor and to all nations on earth. 

For me, I spoke on the ever-light subject of the poor. Specifically, we talked about 
Why are we concerned about the "urban" poor?
Who are the poor?
Who cares about them?
What are our emotions and motivations?
What can we do in response and how do we choose?

You can find the audio of my message at illinilife.org/#/media

So, what's the Luther connection? 

As we discussed on Saturday, faith in Christ alone is the necessary foundation and only enduring motivation for caring for those under the weight of poverty and injustice. 

Luther says: "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works. Bad works do not make a bad man, but a bad man does bad works. Thus it is always necessary that the substance or person should be good before any good works can be done, and that good works should follow and proceed from a good person." 

Who is this "good man"? Only the person who has realized there is nothing from within of his own  substance or merit that would make him whole, holy and at peace before our perfect, beautiful, supreme, Creator God, who has then accepted the free gift of adoption, forgiveness and wholeness that comes through faith alone in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus. 

Then, and only then, is a man or woman established as a new tree which can bear good fruit. The good tree must come before good and enduring fruit can be born!

What Love Is

According to St. Paul, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

P2PU School of Webcraft

Once upon a time there was a young boy who was amazed by the internet. He landed his first ever job with the University of Illinois extension and his task was to create their first website. He embarked on a journey to learn HTML and successfully completed his objective. Now, sixteen years later, after having lost the wonderment that accompanied his early days of web sojourning, he is embarking on a new mission: to brush up on over a decade's worth of web progress and create his own website where he can display his photography portfolio and other creative works. Yes, facebook, blogger and the like still serve their purpose, but the curious artist in me would like to rediscover the art of web design which surely has redefined how we interact with our world. Onward...I will be using P2PU's School of Webcraft for said project.