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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Sunday, January 26, 2020

down is up

What a pivotal moment in the life of Simon Peter (Matthew 16:21-28).  He has just made his profession of Jesus as the Christ, and has been rewarded with a new name and a new identity.  From now on his true name is no longer Simon Bar-Jonah, but Peter—the rock.  On top of that, he has just been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, to bind and to loose.  What a huge responsibility!  Can you imagine being given such power and authority?  That’s probably why Jesus then began to tell Peter exactly what that meant, and exactly what it was supposed to look like. Because what it was supposed to look like was very different from what Peter imagined.

In fact, life with Jesus often leads in the exact opposite direction of what we might expect.  Life with Jesus is about self-sacrifice rather than self-actualization.  In the kingdom of God, we find our lives by losing them.  Life with Jesus is about dependence rather than independence, about powerlessness rather than power, about stepping down rather than climbing up.  Life with Jesus is about descending rather than ascending.  In the kingdom of God, down is up, and Peter needed to learn that.

That’s why Jesus immediately began to tell Peter, and the other disciples, about his suffering and death.  Almost as if to say, “Peter, this way you are on—this life of following me—always leads downward.”

But Peter had something very different in mind.  Peter was about moving up, ruling in power, and sitting on a throne.  He was like, “No Jesus, we are not going down, we are going up.  That’s the plan I signed up for.”

To which Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.  The “things of men” are all about trying to move up, but I am about moving down.  And if you want to follow me, that’s where this life will lead. For down is up in the kingdom of God.  Are you with me?”

Well, are you?

Lord Jesus, I get it backwards so often.  Forgive me.  Forgive me when I make this life about me rather than about you.  Forgive me when I pursue praise and acclaim and admiration more than I seek you.  Forgive me when I try to climb up rather than following you on the downward way.  Help me, Lord Jesus, to always have in mind the things of God rather than the things of men.  Amen. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

empty is full

Jesus emptied himself (Phil. 2:5-7), and calls on us to do the same.  The King of Kings stepped down out of the throne room of heaven and came to earth, becoming a mere man.  The Lord of Lords set aside divine privilege and took on the form of the lowliest servant.  The Immortal God took off his immortality and took on flesh and blood.  The Eternal One stepped into the limits of time and space and became a helpless baby.  It is an emptying that none of us can fully understand or appreciate, but one we are called to emulate.

But we must understand that this emptying is not merely for empty’s sake; it is an emptying that is intended to make room for a filling.  Jesus emptied himself of self—if it is even possible to say that—in order that God could exalt him to the highest place and give him the name that is above every name.

In the spiritual life, emptying is always meant to make room for a filling.  We empty ourselves of self, not just so we will be empty, but in order that we might be filled with the life and love of God.  Fullness is God’s ultimate desire for us—as it was for Jesus—but fullness can only be arrived at by way of empty.

So by all means let us have the same attitude that was also in Christ Jesus, and let us empty ourselves in order that we may be full of God.  So full, in fact, that we overflow—with his life and love—into the lives of all who cross our paths.  That’s what the kingdom is all about.

Friday, January 17, 2020

low is high

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” (Luke 14:7, NIV)  

Sort of grabs your attention right from the start, doesn’t it?  Definitely cringeworthy, probably because we each see that tendency in ourselves.  For in order to look down on someone else, you have to have raised yourself above them at some point.  The problem is that it’s usually a very subtle thing; we do it without even realizing it.  That is until we are confronted with it in story form, then it’s easier to see.

So Jesus tells us a story.  He wades into the dark places of the heart with the light of truth.  He sets up a contrast that’s sure to get our attention and shake us up a little, if not a lot.  On the one hand there is a Pharisee—religious, pious, wise, right, and sure—who challenges each of us to acknowledge and examine the state of our own hearts, minds, and souls.  And on the other hand is the tax collector. A tax collector!  Of all things!  Jesus might as well have selected a scammer, a computer hacker, or a telemarketer.  Tax collectors were the scum of the earth in those days, the lowest of the low, the lostest of the lost.  And yet in this story, as is often the case with Jesus, the outcast is set up as the hero—the one who sees things as they truly are, rather than through the lenses of his own self-importance and self-righteousness.

And the point of the story?  Simply that if you live your life trying to raise yourself up—trying to climb higher, in your own eyes or the eyes of others—you are setting yourself up for a fall.  But if you recognize your desperate need for Jesus, and your inability to make things (anything really) “right” on your own, then there is good space within you for God to come in and fill you with his love and mercy.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11, 18:14, NIV)  Did you get that?  Everyone who humbles himself.  Not just everyone who gets humbled by life’s circumstances, but the one who humbles himself.  Those two are very different.  Humbling yourself calls for an active, ongoing process—the process of continually lowering ourselves.

The Greek word for exalt (hypsoō) means to elevate.  Which is a wonderful and terrible word, especially in reference to something we are trying to do to ourselves.  Jesus wants us to know clearly that everyone who tries to elevate himself will be humbled.  And the Greek word translated humble in this passage (tapeinoō) means to bring low.  Thus, if your life is about elevating yourself, you are in for a wild ride, but if your life is about bringing yourself low, then you are right where God wants you.  There is actually room in your life for God to move and to work and to act.

So let us always remember that in the kingdom of God things are often backwards: less is more, small is big, low is high, and last is first.  Only when we empty ourselves of self, can we possibly be made full.  Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

small is big

In the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19), small is big.  What starts out tiny and hidden and insignificant and unrecognizable, often grows into something so big and so beautiful that it offers life and love to all who come in contact with it, in a ways that the big and the brash and the arrogant and the visible simply cannot.  I think that’s because the small and the quiet and the humble offers room for God to move and to work and to act.  Whereas the big and the loud and the boastful takes up all the space itself.

So let us be about the small things today: a kind word, a loving touch, a listening ear, a warm smile, an unseen act.  For these are the things the kingdom is made of.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are found in the small things.  Thank you that you came into this world as a baby, and you departed from it as a sacrifice.  There is so much we still need to learn from you.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

less is more

One of the great principles of leadership is that the best leaders don’t take up all the room, instead they create space for God, and others, to thrive and move and flourish.  John the Baptist (John 3:25-30) understood that, how else could he have stepped aside so readily and made space for Jesus to take his rightful place in God’s amazing plan of redemption?

You see, great leaders realize that they are not the point.  They fully embrace the fact that this life is not about them, but about God.  They willing cast the spotlight on God, and on others, because they realize that they are not the star of the show, they are not the center of attention, and they are not the bridegroom, but just the friend of the bridegroom.  Their job is simply to watch and wait and listen for the bridegroom, and when he arrives, to step aside.

Thus, they prefer being hidden to being seen, being silent to being heard, and being small to being big.  In fact they seek to be small, so that God and others might be big.  That’s what true leadership is all about.

"Make yourselves small.  Make yourselves very small." ~Angela of Foligno