Thursday, October 28, 2021

These Things Will Be Provided

“And all these things will be provided to you as well” (Matthew 6:33)

The Father cares for the wildflowers in the field. Jesus tells us so. He gives them soil to grow in. He waters them and shines on them. He fills them with life and makes them beautiful.

He cares for the sparrows, even as they fall. He does not give them up to death, but holds them in life.

God cares for them, and he cares for us even more.

All suffering is an encounter with death. When a friend ghosts us, that is death. When we lose a job, that is death. When we hate ourselves, that is death.

All loss is death. All pain is death. All evil is death.

Just as the Father remains with the sparrow, he remains with us in every encounter with death. He is present, infusing us with life.

However bad external reality is, there is an internal reality just as real and more real—the reality of God’s presence and our ability to turn to him.

But what makes this real? What makes internal reality real is that it transforms external reality. Jesus promises that if we turn to life inwardly, our external necessities will be provided. Anyone can put this into practice and find out for themselves whether it is true.

Does that mean a godly person will never die, suffer, or experience injustice? No. The sparrow falls. The flowers of the field are thrown into the furnace. Jesus was crucified. We too inevitably will meet our end. Death will have its seeming victory. The external conditions of life will run out.

That is all the more reason to turn to life. Those who turn to life have their necessities provided for not only here in the midst of death, but also there, on the other side of death’s hollow victory.

Monday, October 25, 2021

I Am the Life

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

What does it mean that Jesus is the life?

I can only find the meaning of what Jesus says in my own experience.

I notice there is a fear in me about what might happen when I’m older. I want to retire comfortably. I don’t want to worry about paying my bills.

When I observe this fear, I find what I’m really afraid of is incapacity—the loss of control over my body, feelings, and thoughts.

Incapacity seems to me like death itself overtaking me by slow degrees.

The terror of this creeping death is never far away. I’m not always conscious of it, but it’s there. It’s like a dark emptiness in my heart.

But what is this emptiness? Isn’t it the recognition that I have a need for life that the universe cannot satisfy? Everything in the universe is by nature perishable. There is nothing in this cosmos to hold onto. I need to live, but I don’t see how I can live, and so I’m afraid.

Jesus says he is the life. What a thing to say! Either it is nonsense, or the essential truth of reality. But is it true? Is it true that where life is, Jesus is, and where Jesus is, life is?

If it is true, and if it is true that Jesus is with us always, then even in death there is life.

Jesus’s presence changes the quality of emptiness. It does not change the perishable nature of the universe, but it imports something imperishable into the perishable.

And this is how Jesus could say to the rich young man, forget about financial security, take me instead.

Why not go to Jesus and see for yourself whether he is the life you need?

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Good Teacher

 And a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what, when I’ve done it, will result in my inheriting the life of the Age?” (Luke 18:18)

There was a young man, powerful by the standards of this world, who was wise enough to know that the standards of this world are not the final and ultimate standards.

He learned about a teacher who, by all accounts, could speak about that other world, that other age. Having mastered the standards of the present age, he wanted to master the standards of that other one as well. That way he could be rich and secure there and then as well as here and now.

He approached the teacher, addressing him as “good teacher.” Why was he a good teacher? Because surely he could explain how to enter into the ownership of the good things of that other age without giving up the good things he already had.

He asked that teacher, “I know the age to come will involve an enhanced kind of life. What do I need to do to achieve that enhanced life?”

The teacher said, “It’s a great start that you’ve observed the commandments. But this is not yet perfection. You are still clinging to your money and possessions as if they can offer you real security and happiness. You must give them up and be with me from now on. Being with me will be your security and happiness.”

And the young man was not willing to hear it. It was altogether too great a demand to place on him. Of course he needed his money. Of course he needed his possessions. He would keep them, and also serve God.

And so, having been offered the opportunity to be in Jesus’s bodily presence day and night, he turned away and went home to his things.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Smallest of All Seeds

 "Like a grain of mustard, which when sown on the earth, is the smallest of all seeds..." (Mark 4:31)

What is new about the good news? We read in Mark that Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). What is new is that the time has come and the Kingdom is near.

How is this news good? It is God's Kingdom that is near--as opposed to the Kingdom of a human tyrant like Caesar or an angelic tyrant like Satan.

Who is king? It is the Father's kingdom, but the one serving as king is Jesus. Jesus says after his resurrection, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).

His kingdom is not like others. Jesus is at pains to explain these differences with parables that seem simple but are hard to understand.

One difference is that the Kingdom is not organized as a country, government, or institution. Rather, the Kingdom is a seed sown in the soil of a human heart.

As such, it begins tiny, like a mustard seed, and grows large, like a mustard plant. In neither case is the Kingdom overwhelming in size or power. It is manageable enough that an ordinary person can meaningfully relate to it. We can nurture the Kingdom just as we can water a seed. And we can make it grow like we grow a plant.

Jesus says the Kingdom will come in power--which sounds dramatic--but this power turns out to be the power that a leafy shrub has to provide protective shade to the birds of the air.

Jesus teaches in order to plant this seed in the good soil of our hearts, where it might be met with understanding and joy and where it might bear fruit.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Treasure in Heaven

"Do not accumulate treasures for yourself on earth." (Matthew 6:19)

Whether in this life or in the next, we will have the experience of everything we have worked for in this world being taken from us. We will be left with nothing but our treasure in heaven.

What is this heavenly treasure?

I'm sure you already know--the good heart we have cultivated, the relationships we have nurtured--our honesty and kindness and responsibility and faithfulness. All the ways God is reflected in our lives--this is the treasure we can keep forever.

Jesus has heavenly treasure and shares it. That is probably the best thing about heavenly treasure--when you have it, you can give it away freely without losing it.

It does not seem to me that Jesus despises the things of the world--he himself was a carpenter and worked for money and provided for his family. He sees some value in the world and its ways. But he knows it is something outside this world that is the real source of his security.

When I read about Jesus, I recognize that he is different from other people. Part of this difference is that he is willing to lose all the things this world offers--reputation, respect, even physical safety--for the sake of his continued close relationship with his Father.

And strangely, in giving up the world, Jesus inherits the earth. All the things around us belong to the Father, and as a faithful child, Jesus is heir to them. As faithful children of our Father, we too can inherit the earth.

We are told--start a side hustle to make more money. But how about this instead?--start a side hustle to heap up treasure in heaven.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Nothing for the Journey

And he instructed them that they should take nothing for the journey except a walking stick, neither bread, nor knapsack, nor money for their money belt.  (Mark 6:8)

Jesus knew how to begin things--with simplicity, with lowliness, with the barest immediate necessities.

Is there something you want to begin? Sometimes people decide they will begin exercising and buy expensive exercise equipment or an expensive gym membership. Then often enough, they use them a few times and give up.

Anything worth doing has some simple, humble way to begin.

Do you want a relationship with God? What is the simplest way to begin? Is it not to go into your room, sit down, and start talking to God?

You don't need money to talk to God. You don't need a fancy Bible. You don't need to understand theology. You don't need guidance from a priest, minister, or spiritual director. You just need a little privacy, and a little humility.

All true beginnings have this character of simplicity, humility, and directness. Trust that if you make a beginning, God will provide what is lacking.