Sunday, July 9, 2017

Line of Best Fit


Our text today is James 3:13-18

James 3:13-18New International Version (NIV) Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.


James lays out for us here two kinds of wisdom: one is earthly, unspiritual, demonic even and the other is a wisdom that comes from heaven. Last week, when we talked about the tongue - there was a similar contrast. David Kersten talked about the fire of the Holy Spirit vs. the fire that is ignited by the fires of hell also of the spring of Living Water vs. the well of brackish water from which we can choose our words.


In the dictionary, wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” And this isn’t a bad starting point, but what experience? What knowledge? What is good judgment vs. bad judgment? In order for this definition to make sense, we have to have some parameters - a way to further define the terms.


As James says there is a wisdom that is earthly and this wisdom is characterized by selfish ambition and bitter envy. Now that doesn’t sound very wise to me - but if your goal is to be a billionaire or the top in your field or first chair in the orchestra - then these two “virtues” can get you far. Our society looks favorably on people who exhibit these qualities and although we might not consider them wise, they live close to their principles and accomplish their goals. If you want to be an olympic gold-medalist, you have to think primarily of yourself, and you also have to know how you are doing compared to others - the definition for the Greek word translated envy in this passage includes the idea of a contentious rivalry - something that is highlighted regularly in our competitive society. Jeremy talked about this two weeks ago when he was pointing out the ways scholars for centuries have pitted James against Paul.


David Brooks, in his article entitled “The Moral Bucket List”, says that there are “two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues” A eulogy is what someone says about you after you die whereas a resume is written, usually by yourself, to make your accomplishments sound good enough to get the job. Sounds a little like our two types of wisdom. The article goes on to say, “We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”


But even these “eulogy values” can be selfish - if we value what people say about us or how we compare to others - we are still living according to earthly wisdom.


So how do we tap into heavenly wisdom?


Looking to the Old Testament, we find written several times this phrase or a variation of this phrase, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Daniel Goleman, author of the book “Emotional Intelligence,” said, “One aspect of wisdom is having a very wide horizon which doesn’t center on ourselves,” or even on our group or organization. For us as Christians, the way that we find this wide horizon is to fear the Lord.


This might sound strange - to fear the Lord - but it doesn’t mean to be afraid of God, but to have a right picture of the power, majesty and magnitude of the God of the Universe. JB Phillips wrote a book many years ago entitled Your God is Too Small and I think this is the beginning of unwise decisions and actions - putting God in some comfortable box or diminishing Him to some good teacher or thinking of Him primarily as our Friend.


One practical way to fear God was introduced by Benedict in the 6th century in his rule for living: “Keep death always before your eyes.” This isn’t meant to be morbid or taken out of the context of a life of faith.  Death is a perspective giver, we have to think about what happens next - will we stand before the God of the universe? This gives us a healthy “fear” or awe of Him. Jesus invites us to die every day - “take up [your] cross daily and follow Me.” We see this same idea over and over in Paul’s letters, one example is found in Colossians 3:3  “ For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”


We are invited to live an eternal life - this eternal life starts NOW not when we physically die - we are invited to die daily to this earthly existence and live a new life, a different life, a life hidden with Christ in God.


Sometimes taking up our cross daily doesn’t seem often enough. We are bombarded with choices constantly to live as good-newsers or bad-newsers, to live into the reality of the gospel or to give in to the value system of the world. Paul has a further exhortation to “take hold of each and every thought and make it obey Christ.”


C.S. Lewis gives us this illustration: “[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”


I’m gonna get a little mathy on you now. Please don’t panic. I promise to take it slow and explain it so that even if you hate math you can see the connection I am trying to draw.

Let’s say you flip a coin. What are the chances that you get tails? 50/50 - right! So, in theory, if I flip a coin 100 times, how many times will I get tails? 50, correct. What about if I flip it 40 times, how many tails? 20, right! So, what if I flip it 15 times? Not so easy to answer now is it? There is no such thing as 7.5 tails. So what happens in reality, doesn’t always match what the ideal. 

This graph shows in orange, the theoretic perfection of half - the 50/50 chance of getting tails when you flip the coin. The blue dots represent what actually happened when I flipped a coin 18 times. Sometimes I hit the mark and sometimes I didn’t - in fact it was impossible half of the time. 


                 
When experiments are recorded on a graph, scientists look for a pattern to determine future events or to make a conclusion about the success of the experiment. In both of these cases, there is a positive correlation, meaning that the trend is upward. One has a stronger correlation than the other. After the data points are on the graph, you find the “trend line” or the “line of best fit”
All of the points don’t hit the line, but you can see where it is trying to get to or what the trend is.


I just read a book called The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and in the book there is a despicable character. As much as I disliked this character, I had to respect him for one thing: his tenacity and determination to stick to his goals. Now, his goals were horrifying, but they determined his every action and he stayed very close to his own depraved principles.  His line of best fit and his actions were aligned but I think it was definitely a negative correlation.


You have to know where you are aiming so that you can know how well the “experiment” is measuring up. I am suggesting this morning that the life of Jesus is our line of best fit. J.B. Phillips, in his book Your God Is Too Small explains it this way: “The truth taught by Jesus Christ is the right way to live. It is ... God Himself explaining in terms that men can readily grasp how life is meant to be lived.” The trend line, the line of perfect fit! Jesus lived a perfect life manifesting all of the properties of wisdom found in our passage this morning. He was “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” And when we embody these characteristics, we come closer to that new life, that kingdom life, that eternal life that Jesus invites us into.


Norvene Vest puts it this way, “How odd that one small act of kindness or indifference has anything to do with eternal life? And yet, once I begin to see it that way, how comforting the sense that there is some continuity between the fact of charity here and whatever life is like there. My hunch grows that it is by these daily acts that I begin to build habits or dispositions which draw me closer to God or take me further away, till one day I shall realize that the Kingdom has already come and I did not know it.”


Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God has come! We can live in it even now and bring it close to those around us.


This seems impossible. And it is! Just like you can’t have 22.5 tails with 50 coin tosses, we cannot live a perfect life. God knows this and He wants to help us! In the beginning of James we were promised “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” And now we know what wisdom is - you can substitute any of these parts of heavenly wisdom: If any of you lacks purity, If any of you lacks peace-loving-ness, if any of you lacks submission, mercy, impartiality, sincerity - ask God and He’ll give it to you without finding fault.


But thinking of Jesus as our line of best fit makes Him into this impossible ideal that we are trying to reach and that’s not good news. So I have another analogy that shows that the power comes from Him and not from us: a tow rope!


If you have never had to use a tow rope on a ski or sledding hill - let me tell you about the first time that I ever used one. Heather Stahnke and I were on a ski trip together when she was a student, so we’re talking over 20 years ago and we were going sledding on a hill that was built as a ski hill, but was just not tall enough and so was converted to a sledding hill. In order to get to the top of this almost ski hill, there was a tow rope. You were supposed to sit in your sled and then grab a hold of the already in motion tow rope just above your shoulders. So we did this, but we were sharing a sled and I’m not sure how, but all of sudden we were being dragged up the hill on our coats and snow-pants while trying to hold on to the sled with our boots. It was quite the sight. I have this short video to show you a tow rope in action.




Which calls to mind the verse that says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” but that’s a whole different sermon.


The tow rope is like the line best fit, but it pulls us along with it! If we stay connected to the source, then we’ll stay on the right track. Even if we fall, we just pick ourselves up and take hold again. The end of the rope holds secure, anchored within the veil and Jesus ever moves us heavenward. Crazy thing is, if we stay connected to the vine, the tow rope, the trend line, the source, we will realize that the kingdom has arrived and we have already started living eternally with God.


Let’s go back to the line of best fit illustration one more time. Here are 3 different experiments, one with positive, one with negative and one with no discernible correlation. What does your life look like? Are your wisdom, decisions, actions and thoughts lining up with the line of best fit life we see demonstrated in the life of Jesus? If so, then you are probably tapping into that eternal life more and more and living into the kingdom. If not, you are probably experiencing a lot of cognitive dissonance and pain. If you are all over the map, it might be time to choose. Philippians 1:6 assures us that God, who began the good work within us, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.


I have a couple of humorous illustrations to reinforce this idea:


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click here for the video clip (I muted in church!)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWnkH7tcnTk


Just hold on! No amount of falls will undo us if we keep getting up. Jesus, ready, stands to rescue you, full of empathy, love and power.


None of us can live a life perfectly pleasing to God - and no matter what our life looks like or has looked like, we can tap into the Holy Spirit power that is transforming us - 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it this way: “... we all, with unveiled faces, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from one degree of glory to even more glory...”


I want to leave you with these words from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga: “St. Benedict wasn’t asking us to be morbid when he told us to keep death daily before our eyes. Rather, he was asking us to be wise:  know your reality, cherish it, live it fruitfully right this minute, growing in your awareness that Christ is with you in this little here and now, making you ready, and through you making your world ready, for that day when “now” will open out into the “forever” we anticipate joyfully…”


BENEDICTION:
Jude 24-25 To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Exile

Our text for today comes from Jeremiah 29.
Starting in verse 4 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare."  

Skipping down to verse 10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised and I will bring you home again.  
Let us pray.

Eugene Peterson describes exile this way "The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we don't want to be. We are separated from home ... It is an experience of dislocation - everything is out of joint; nothing fits together.”

I just read a delightful book entitled Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman. In this book, Britt-Marie, a woman in her sixties, is looking for a job for the first time in decades because her marriage has ended and she is frankly a little lost. On the back of the book she is described as a "socially awkward, fussy busybody."

She gets a job as the caretaker of a soon to be closed recreation center in Borg, a run-down forgotten town. The book overview continues: “The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?”

The skills she had perfected in her marriage were hosting dinner parties, taking care of her plants and her husband’s children and cleaning. She also is supremely good at making and following lists - So when she finds herself in this new place, she does what she knows how to do.

And somehow, through it all, she endears herself to this little broken down town and they are all the better for it.  From the book, Britt-Marie “wonders how much space a person has left in her soul to change herself, once she gets older. What people does she still have to meet, what will they see in her and what will they make her see in herself?”

I am telling you this story in the context of exile, because I think her story gives us some great guidelines for the life of an exile - which is what we all are if we are Christians - aliens and strangers in the world. And I also think it echoes back to the message God gave through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon.

The first lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 4 "Build houses. Plan to stay." Make yourselves at home. Settle in.

At the beginning of the book, Britt-Marie is scared and lost and so so sad. Stripped of everything she knows and living alone in a room in a hostel - a place that “has an address, but it’s certainly not a place to live nor a home.”

It is devastating to find yourself in exile. Exile has many forms: a physical limitation, a difficult relationship, a tense work environment, a lost romance, having to move to an unknown place, dreams failing to come true.

Have you been there?  Are you there?  When you find yourself in exile somewhere in your life, what is your tendency?  Do you run away? escape into fantasies? numb with food or other substances?   Do you try to find someone to blame?  take it out on others?  Do you try to hurt someone so you won’t be hurting alone?

Eventually after getting the job at the rec center and settling in a bit, Britt-Marie finds a place to live.  She moves from being a visitor, an outsider, to being a resident, a part of the community.
Here you are. Far from where you thought you’d be. Build a house here. In your brokenness and your isolation. In the unfamiliar territory. Plant a garden. The only way through is through.

You didn't even know how much you needed God until you got here. Going along in your everyday routines and the busy-ness of life, you hardly noticed how much you were crowding out God's presence. Suddenly, seemingly without warning, you find yourself in exile. And it's a grace. Kathleen Norris explains this grace: “For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn't know we needed and take us places where we didn't know we didn't want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ”

God has our attention. now what?

The second lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 7: "work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you" roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Britt-Marie and her "unrivaled knowledge of cleaning products" gets to work. She cleans and cleans and runs the pizzeria slash grocery slash post office slash car repair workshop when the owner is hung-over or asleep or both. She washes soccer jerseys and cuts hair. She does whatever comes her way. She uses what she knows and applies it to her new circumstances.

She does the next right thing.

All through the books of the Law, God gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to live. From the clothes they wore to the way they prepared their food, God wanted to be present to His people. His instructions about how to care for the poor, the widow, the foreigner and the 7 year cycles of economic restoration showed them how to be good neighbors, filled with compassion and justice.  It can be summed up with this simple blueprint for living: "do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

In exile, the Israelites are expected to live this way in the midst of their captors so that they can bring about peace and prosperity to their enemies. Jesus echoes this in His sermon on the mount: "love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven."

Your exile might be intensifying your attentiveness to God – bringing about your salvation in a deeper way – but your salvation is not for you alone. It is for the welfare of the city – the peace and prosperity of the place in which you find yourself.

Through her care for her fellow residents and her attentiveness to their needs, Britt-Marie causes this small neglected community to dare to hope again.

Jesus tells us: "You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

The third lesson of Jeremiah 29 is also found in verse 7: "its welfare will determine your welfare" if the city thrives, you will thrive. In its peace, you will have peace.

This reminds me of what Jesus says about the sheep and the goats. You saw Me naked, lonely, hungry and you met My needs. When did we see You hungry, when did we visit You? they ask Him. They didn't know. They didn't do it because they thought it was Jesus. They didn't have a checklist of righteousness – they sought the welfare of those around them. Their faith and compassion in action reflected the condition of their hearts.

This is what happens when you choose to do the next right thing. You plant your tiny seed of faith that becomes branches where birds can nest. Work your little bit of yeast in the dough. Plant seeds in good soil. You bring the kingdom to earth.

The title of the book is Britt-Marie Was Here and – this isn't really a spoiler – the last sentence in the book is "Everyone will know that Britt-Marie was here." By being present, working for the prosperity of the place in which she was exiled, she makes a lasting impact.

The fourth and final lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 10: "I will bring you home again."  restoration. homecoming.

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world."

C.S. Lewis describes our homecoming this way: "No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard."

I am not going to tell you how the book ends for Britt-Marie. I will say this: restoration comes in a different form after exile. There are things you thought you needed that you no longer need. There are things you wouldn't have even dreamt to hope for. Near the end of the book, Britt-Marie comes to the conclusion:  "At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?”

Jesus assures us, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it." Eugene Peterson says in his book Run With the Horses “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible, but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, to discover truth, to create beauty, to act out of love”

I think some of you know what comes next in Jeremiah 29. Even if you didn't know it was the next verse, I think it will sound familiar to a lot of you.
Jeremiah 29:11 says: "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope; and then verses 12-13: In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you."

The "those days" that the Lord is referring to is the days of exile. While you are in exile, you will find what you are looking for.

Britt-Marie found restoration in soccer balls and window cleaner, whiskey and cutlery drawers, rats and snickers, prison and hospital waiting rooms, pizzerias and parking lots.

God is in the least of those around us, in the whirlwind and in the whisper. In the midst of your pain, in the midst of the wreckage, in the midst of the dislocation and isolation, if you look for God wholeheartedly, you will find Him. He will be found by you.

Benediction
a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
"You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody Me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Playing it Safe?



The text is Matthew 21:28-33 the Parable of the Two Sons: “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.” "Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.  For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins."

Let us pray.

no with your mouth and yes with your heart. or yes with your mouth and no with your heart.

What would cause someone to say yes with their mouth and no with their heart? I really like being the "yes" person. It feels good to tell people yes. They smile and look relieved and you get to be the hero of the moment. But the saying yes can be a cover up – Sometimes we say yes because we want to get someone off our back, or we want them to like us or we feel like we can't say no.

What does it say about the relationship between the two parties?  ‘Yes, sir, I will,’ but you have no intention of following through. It’s a “get off my back” kind of answer. An “if I answer you, will you leave me alone?” kind of answer. And worst of all, it’s a “I know better than you” kind of answer because you said yes but then you decided that it wasn’t important or that it didn’t really need doing and you didn’t even think it was worth arguing about. The attitude behind this betrays a broken relationship and disrespect for the authority of the asker.

What about the other son? What makes you say no with your mouth and yes with your heart? This happened to me last year around this time.  David was writing his licensing paper for the Covenant. He asked me if I would read over his answers to make sure they sounded ok (most of you know this, but English is not his first language and he sometimes words things or spells things incorrectly - like the word double - he thought it was spelled d-o-p-p-l-e for a long time) and I was so tired and didn’t want to read through them and so I whined a little and said “please don’t make me do that” and he said ok I guess they’ll just have to be good enough. And he didn’t pout or ask me again but as the evening wore on, I thought about how he never complains when I do things like spend time with friends or work on Saturdays and how he does the laundry and how he rarely asks for help and how insecure he feels about writing things and I couldn’t take it anymore - I said “OK, I WILL read it!”

I couldn’t bear to not do it. I was compelled by his love for me and mine for him and I couldn’t sit with the “no” any longer. He’s my best friend. You don’t say no to your friends.

Jesus wants to be your friend. In John 15:15 He says "I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."

Before you say “yes! Of course! I want to Jesus to be my friend!” let’s look at what was happening when Jesus said this. In order to be friends, you have to trust each other so He’s letting them in on the plan. It’s the huddle before the big play. Dave Coleman preached on this last year, he paraphrased Jesus like this, “ok, you’re all gonna fail hard, Judas already did and Peter is going to mess up super bad, also, I’m going to die. trust Me.”

This is a huge test of trust. a test of friendship. Now all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a great idea to be Jesus’ friend. When we can’t see what God is doing or if it looks like things are getting darker, it is hard to trust. it is hard to believe that God is doing anything good. 

The disciples had just enough information to make them terrified. And then what happens next? Jesus is taken into custody, put on trial and killed.
Let’s sit there for a minute. In that moment. Those few days. What would that have felt like?

We get a glimpse from the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 - listen to what they say in the Message paraphrase “Jesus the Nazarene...He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

We had our hopes up. You see, this disappointment with God, this “I don’t understand what has happened, how could things have gotten so bad” moment is so painful. So painful that we don’t know what to do with it. My God, why have you forsaken me?
Joshua Dusk Peebles described it this way, “We have lost something that we think we need from God. We need an answer. We need information. We need to know how it is and He won’t give it to us or can’t give it to us or we can’t understand it and so we say Fine! Fine, God. I’m not rejecting You - I will do what You tell me to do. I’ll do it. I’ll go through the motions, but I’m going to keep you over here…” Yes with our mouth but no with our heart.

The truth is we don’t trust God. not really. as soon as there is a real price to pay or an unanswered question or a deep wound, we feel like God has betrayed us. and so we go through the motions. play by the rules. toe the line. all the while gritting our teeth and bearing it.

God came and lived here. as a human. a man. a baby first, then a man. And he showed us how to live. He isn’t the big general sitting in the air conditioned office sending the soldiers off to fight. He sent Himself to the front lines. And it was not safe. and people hated him. and even His closest friends turned their backs on Him when it really got bad. this reality is frightening to us. we’re not sure if we’re all in.

I think these two sons boil down to two attitudes: play it safe vs. go for broke! And let’s face it, prostitutes and tax collectors have a go for broke attitude in life. They’ve got nothing to lose - and they have no pretense left! They are what they are. Desperate. Graspers. misdirected, yes. but definitely going for broke.

Willing to sell out their neighbors or sell their bodies to get what they want or need. They've lost everything or lost enough to think that they've got nothing left to lose. They aren't caught up in what anyone thinks of them or what society's rules are – they are moral, religious, and cultural outsiders

They are definitely not playing it safe.

We can’t afford to either.

We have to stop playing it safe. Safety is the god of this age.  Just last Sunday, as I was getting ready for church, I prayed that God would bring David and Nolan home safe from their camp-out. That felt selfish, so then I asked that all the boy scouts would be safe. Why stop there, I thought and I laughed at myself a little. I thought of all the safety prayers God hears and that made me pause.

What if they don't come home safe? What am I asking God for? Do I think if I pray the right way or live the right way or ask enough times that God will do what I ask Him to do? This is how the Pharisees operated. Their legalistic way of living made them think that they had God figured out. That they had Him in their corner.  or maybe even in their pocket. But as Brennan Manning points out, "The tendency in legalistic religion is to mistrust God, to mistrust others, and consequently, to mistrust ourselves."

Taking a moment in silence, I realized that safety wasn't and isn't my strongest desire. I took a deep breath and prayed instead, "Whatever happens, help me to be faithful."

because sometimes people don’t make it home safe. sometimes the diagnosis is terminal. sometimes horrible unspeakable things happen to us or someone we love. sometimes the world around us is devastating and hopeless and terrifying.

Jesus isn’t promising us an easy life. He is just promising to be with us. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Let’s stand under the cross one more time. This time let’s stand there with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The redemption of the world is about to be accomplished but it will cost Mary the life of her son. God so loved the world that He gave His son – but He asked Mary to give her son, too.

There is no resurrection without death.

“The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” Jesus said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it."

Frederick Buechner says "…the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living. To bring this point home, God shows us a Man who gave His life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to His name. In terms of men’s wisdom, He was a perfect fool, and anybody who thinks he can follow Him without making something like the same kind of fool of himself is laboring not under a cross, but a delusion."

Mary was just an ordinary person willing to be used by God. And when God asked her, she said, “Yes”

What about you? What are you saying to God today?

I encourage you to go for broke! Say yes with your mouth AND with your heart.