Monday, November 29, 2021

Invite the Poor

 “When you give a lunch or a supper, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours, in case they also invite you in return, and then you have your repayment. But when you make a big meal, invite the poor, the injured, the disabled, the blind, and you will be blessed that they can’t repay you, because you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

There is a commanding quality in Jesus’s words. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know this might not make total sense to you now, but trust me this is important. Do what I say, and you will see what I mean.”

Jesus is recommending that we throw parties for those in need rather than our friends and family.

When we do anything with the expectation of being repaid in the forseeable future, we are working to advance ourselves in this world. That means we are accumulating perishable rewards. But Jesus tells us to accumulate only imperishable rewards.

He never tells us not to seek rewards. He says what matters is the kind of reward our heart is set on.

Sometimes we are told we should be selfless and give up wanting any reward.

But Jesus tells us to accumulate treasure in heaven—and to seek the blessing that comes from being repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Jesus himself is fully alive because he does what’s right. Being fully alive is the natural reward for doing what’s right. And so, we can expect a reward for every act of justice.

And for Jesus, giving to those in need is justice.

Jesus wants us to give freely—meeting someone’s need because that need matters to us—without any expectation or demand that they will repay us.

Jesus wants us to give as God gives.

One of the rewards for generosity is learning to care for others in a pure and simple way. Being able to truly care for others is an imperishable reward, and I cannot imagine a better one in this life or the next.

I’ll be happy to spend quality time this Christmas with friends, family, and acquaintances, including some who I know are especially in need of connection and belonging.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

No One Could Bind Him

“And when [Jesus] had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an impure spirit, who lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any longer with a chain since he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains had been torn apart by him, and the fetters broken in pieces. And no one had the strength to control him.” (Mark 5:2-4)

I was once in a foreign city, walking along a lonely street. Through a door across the way, a man came out. He was in a violent rage. He kept up with me as I walked. Some woman had done something, and the man was spitting out angry judgements about her and all women. Even as a man, I was scared.

We don’t talk about demon-possession any longer, except when we do. We say things like, “that man has his demons,” and everybody knows what it means.

The Gerasenes lived with such a man, and they tried to control him. Repeatedly they put him in chains, and repeatedly he tore the chains apart. He was strong and violent and terrifying.

Imagine what it would be like to live around such a man every day.

What did Jesus do differently? Did he bring a bigger chain?

No, he saw the poor man, and being unafraid, he helped him. Jesus commanded the unclean things inside the man to come out, and they came out. The man was restored first to his right mind and then to his family.

How do we imitate Jesus, cleansing ourselves and others of the unclean things that invade our hearts and minds?

I’m not talking about exorcism. There are ordinary, non-miraculous ways of freeing people from impure spirits. How can we learn these ways?

The world has its demons. Few tasks are more urgent than training ourselves to cast them out.

Let’s start with our own impure spirits.

With trust in God, with prayer and reflection, some small meaningful step is always possible.

It’s not about chains and fetters. It’s not about force and condemnation. One day, we’ll have the compassion, clarity, and power, and we will tell our impure things to leave, and they will go.


Monday, November 22, 2021

I Will Give You Rest

 “Come to me, all who are worn out and weighed down, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I burnt out three times before I was forty. I worked harder than I could sustain, I accumulated unhealed emotional wounds, and I didn’t take proper care of myself.

After my last burnout, I made a solemn commitment to attend to my heart. And what my heart needed was rest.

Putting into practice Jesus’s teachings gave me that rest.

The work Jesus sets us to do is a light burden. It is restful work. It is good for the heart.

And the rest Jesus offers is something we can enjoy right away. We don’t have to wait. Even now, we have access to this rest—rest that renews our strength, that lifts our spirits, and that heals our wounds.

That this rest is already available means we don’t have to always be struggling and toiling. There is already a beautiful goodness in the world. We can just relax and let it in.

Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Have you learned yet how to go to Jesus? Being quiet helps. Solitude helps.

I like to go out for a walk, leaving my phone and all distractions behind.

And as I go out my front door, I greet Jesus, acknowledging his presence. There is no need for many words. I just say, “Hello, Jesus, thank you for being here with me. I am worn out, and I’m coming to you. Please give me rest. I need it.”

And then I walk without thinking much about anything, letting my mind wander, and letting it also return from time to time to Jesus, remembering his presence and his compassion and his kindness to me.

The prince of this world wants us to work to exhaustion.

But Jesus gives us both good work and good rest, knowing we need both.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

My Father Works

“Jesus answered them, 'My Father works even up to the present, and I also work.'” (John 5:17)

Jesus is telling us about his Father. He wants us to know about his Father. If we understand the Father, we understand Jesus.

The Father works. He engages in purposeful action.

Is this just a personal preference? Does the Father just enjoy keeping himself busy? No, it is part of God’s nature to be purposefully, faithfully active.

Reality seems to be such that purposeful activity is a necessity—at least for human beings and other living things. Life and work go together.

And our God is a living God. And so God has work to do.

Some devout people have found a stillness in God’s heart. I suspect this stillness is not stationary, like a boulder sitting on the ground. Rather, it is the stillness of a deep river flowing smoothly, quietly. Always flowing.

God’s being is in purposeful action. His existence is that he works. His power is his movement. He is God because he does what a faithful and worthy God does, unceasingly, inexorably.

Jesus knows God in both time and eternity, and knows God to be the same in both realms.

God works in eternity as he works in time. He acts as the source, maintainer, and perfecter of all that is and all that could possibly be.

This sounds abstract, but it is simple to Jesus. Jesus sees his Father working and so works also. He does this because he wants nothing more than to remain united to his Father.

I see Jesus working, and so I work too—because I want to be united to Jesus and, through him, to the Father.

Like Jesus, do good work. What work did Jesus do? He healed, spoke truth, forgave, ate, slept, and a thousand other things. Go and do likewise.

All genuine work is a participation in God’s work.


Monday, November 15, 2021

Like His Teacher

 “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

I try to always look at Jesus with fresh eyes, aware that I have something important to learn from him.

What can Jesus do for me if I already know everything he might teach me, or think I do?

Everything I’ve learned from Jesus has been rewarding. It’s made me more human. It’s made me more real. And I think I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the things Jesus can teach me.

I’m convinced that what Jesus still has to teach me is more wonderful than anything I can imagine.

I am the student and he is the teacher. And this relationship makes me happy.

There is an inequality between us, but it’s not because Jesus wants me to be lower than him. Quite the opposite. Jesus wants me to be like him. He wants to teach me what he knows. He wants me to understand what he understands. He wants me to be able to do what he can do. His goal—and my goal—is a more equal relationship.

If a teacher wants to transmit her skills and knowledge to her students, she doesn’t tell them, “Your understanding is already perfectly fine and just as good as mine.” That would not be true. The teacher knows what her students don’t. She acknowledges this difference because she wants to raise her students up to her same level of attainment.

To receive what our teacher has to share, we must be willing to learn. Being willing to learn requires a kind of trust, or rather two kinds.

The easier kind is trusting that the teacher has something to teach us. The harder kind is trusting that we need the understanding that our teacher can provide.

Jesus wants us to be teachable. He knows learning to become like him will make us happy.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Every Good Tree

 “Every good tree produces beautiful fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:17)

How do you know whether to trust someone?

I was once in a bad situation beyond anything I could deal with myself. A woman—not someone I knew well—helped me. She gave me support, understanding, and good advice.

To this day, I trust her. I know her actions come from a good place.

Another time, I was talking privately to an acquaintance, and he spoke about a mutual friend with a viciousness that stunned me. After that, I knew to be wary of him.

People show you whether they are coming from a place of goodwill or a place of malice—a place of truth or a place of untruth. Just pay attention to what they say and do.

This is especially important in religion. Not everyone who speaks of God is godly.

Far from calling for blind faith, Jesus wants you to use your innate capacity for discernment.

It shouldn’t be hard. Just as we can easily tell a fresh orange from a rotten orange, we can tell the difference between beautiful actions and ugly actions. It is the beautiful actions that reflect God’s presence in a person’s heart.

We are not to judge others, but we are to judge whether to place our trust in them.

When I was in my early twenties, I heard about a spiritual teacher. Though I had never met her, I thought she could help me. I sent her a foolish email expressing my desire to be guided by her. I knew almost nothing about her. Thankfully, she never replied.

So, instead of handing over my spiritual life to a stranger, I began to develop trust in that inner sense that knows the difference between good fruit and bad.

Be honest and clear-headed. Use God’s gift of discernment. Who you trust determines who you become.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Proving the World Wrong

 “And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and about righteousness and about judgement.” (John 16:8)

When Jesus returned to the Father, he sent a Comforter and Advocate to us—the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit’s mission is to show us our mistakes concerning morality—about what is wrong, about what is right, and about how to tell the difference—sin, righteousness, and judgement.

The Comforter upends conventional morality.

Why? Because conventional morality is often not moral at all. For those harmed in the name of conventional morality, it is a comfort to have an advocate in God.

Conventional morality is sometimes right, of course. But when it is wrong, it is terribly wrong.

Slavery is one example of what the Holy Spirit has proven the world wrong about. In ancient times slavery was almost everywhere considered a perfectly respectable practice. Now it stands condemned.

And morality has improved in many other ways.

The work of the Holy Spirit is slow, but it is thorough.

We've all been wrong. We all have work to do. The Holy Spirit is working in all of us, bringing clarity and generosity to the extent we are willing to receive it.

Whether we are left or right, religious or secular, moderate or radical—there is almost always something in our moral code worth holding onto and something else worth scrutinizing carefully and rejecting.

Because, beyond our opinions and the opinions of all the world's moral authorities, there is righteousness that is genuinely lovely, and there is sin that is genuinely lamentable, and there is judgement that genuinely brings justice and mercy to all.

Holy Spirit, please help us to seek true righteousness.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Joy in the Presence of God's Angels

 “Thus, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner changing his heart.” (Luke 15:10)

A woman through hard work saves some money. Not a great fortune, but enough to give her some security in hard times.

One day she opens her purse, and something is wrong. She counts her money. A large bill is gone!

She goes through her whole house, first looking in the most likely places, and then more slowly, room by room, searching in every crack and corner. For a long time she cannot find it, and then finally there it is, the money she lost!

She is so relieved and so overjoyed that she goes out into her front yard and tells her neighbour all about it. Then she calls her mother, her sister, her friends, and tells them all about it. It was lost, and now it’s found!

God has lost something that is unspeakably precious to him. He searches for it doggedly, ceaselessly until it is found.

What is lost? We are lost.

Lost in complicated thinking. Lost in doing only what is easy. Lost in not knowing and not finding out. Lost in knowingly doing what is wrong. Lost in rage, fear, and resentment. Lost in stories that are not true, or only partly true. Lost in thoughts we can’t get rid of. Lost in inconsistency. Lost in shame. Lost in self-satisfaction.

Lost in trying to hold onto anything except the one solid thing a person can hold onto, namely the living God.

It is our nature to be simple, to do what is right because it is right.

And having lost this simplicity, we are lost both to ourselves and to God.

But when we do what is right—not because we are right, but because it is right—our primordial simplicity is recovered. God has found us.

And his angels jump around in their joy.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Not One Stone

 “There will not be left here one stone upon another.” (Mark 13:2)

The Roman army destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70. According to a contemporary account, more than a million people died during the conflict. Tens of thousands were enslaved. Jesus seems to predict this disaster in the gospels.

He also predicts wars and other catastrophes. These events, he says, will culminate in the coming of the Son of Man in power.

When the Roman army came, it established order through massive violence and destruction. When the Son of Man comes, he will establish peace through the power of peace.

The power of peace is not magical. It is the same power that holds the world together even now. Every healthy, enduring community exists by virtue of this power.

Until this power comes in force, violence remains a temporary necessity (Mark 13:7).

The world, with all it beauty and promise, is not now a safe place. Disasters will happen. Jesus is clear about this.

He is equally clear that his followers are not to participate in the violence of this world (Matthew 24:48-51). We are accountable before God for any violence we participate in.

These disasters are birth pangs. They don’t reflect the ultimate nature of existence. They are part of a process that needs to unfold before the true nature of existence can be revealed.

When we see injustice and violence, Jesus wants us to remember that a Kingdom of peace and justice is coming. And he wants us to prepare for it.

A follower of Jesus is not surprised when the world disintegrates in violence. Jesus warned us it would. But we look forward to the day it is put back together the way it was meant to be.

And while we look forward, we place our hope not in the future, but in the God who is eternally present.