Have you ever laughed at one of God's requests?! I know I have! I mean, sometimes they can seem so ridiculous, and borderline crazy. Not like bad crazy, but like the kind of crazy that means we run the risk of looking foolish to everyone else... I love when Jesus asked to borrow Simon's boat as a pulpit (Luke 5:1-11). Simon and his friends had just come in from their shift of fishing and were cleaning everything up to put it away for the day. Then Jesus comes along, climbs into Simon's boat, and then asks him to...
If I asked you what the most meaningful times in your life have been, what would you say? When was the last time you truly felt satisfied in that "I literally did something that made a difference in someone's life" kind of way? Those are usually the times when we feel like our life is the most meaningful, aren't they?
Jesus turned things around again when He said, "you're blessed when you're content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." (Matthew 5:5) This no doubt could say a lot to our consumeristic culture, but could it go deeper than that? When Jesus spoke these words, He was speaking to a smaller group of His committed followers. Some of them could have had money, but people didn't have money back then like we do today. Perhaps that made money even more of a thing to contend for, to strive after, to think about, to consume people. But let's set money aside for a minute and imagine that what Jesus was trying to get them, to get us, to see and understand, was that when we live out of our true selves, who God uniquely created us to be, we're blessed.
When we're little, it seems we have no problem loving the things we love, playing with the things we like, ignoring the things we don't... But then somewhere in our adolescent years all of that changes and we try to be like everyone else (there's a rare one of you, who, in your middle school photos doesn't look like all your other friends...for those of you who stay true to yourselves no matter the peer pressure around you, good on you!). And then sometime during or after college (hopefully not too long after that) most of us spend the next 20+ years trying to remember who we were again.
I don't know about you, but I find it tiring trying to be something I'm not. It takes so much extra time, energy, emotions, mental stamina, even money to be someone other than who we were created to be. Either because we're trying to add something to us that's just not there or trying to take away that part of our personality that we don't think belongs (any other loud people out there tried to live as a quiet person because that one time someone, whom you gave way too much power over you to, was embarrassed by how loud you were? It's so much unnecessary work, let's be real...everyone needs a loud person in their life...s/o to my other loud people!). And more than that, when we finally are content being who we are with our niche passions, odd hobbies, funny collections, it's not only the path of least resistance, that's also when Jesus says we're "proud owners of everything that can't be bought." Everything, really?! I don't know about you, but I'm beyond ready to experience all that Jesus meant by that!
For the past couple of days, I haven't been able to move beyond the first few sentences of Matthew 5. The Message puts it this way, "When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:" (Matthew 5:1-2). The NASB phrases it this way, "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying..." I can't help but wonder, "What are we willing to sacrifice to follow the best of the best; to follow Jesus?" Likely the climb Jesus made to get away from the crowd wasn't easy. I doubt He was popular for trying to get away from them either. Can't we just hear the crowds begging Him to stay with them, "Wait Jesus, where are You going? How are we supposed to get up there? Why don't you stay down here with us? More of us can hear You down here. Jesus, stay!" But Jesus didn't. He went somewhere where people had to figure out a way to follow Him.
The message Jesus wanted to preach He only wanted those who truly wanted to follow Him anywhere He went, to hear. It turned out to be one of the greatest messages of all time. Those who chose not to follow Him wouldn't have known what they missed at the time. Jesus didn't shame them, didn't chastise them, didn't rebuke them. Jesus did not make them feel bad for choosing not to follow Him. But those that followed Jesus wherever He went (we don't even know that Jesus invited them to follow, He just went and they went after Him…) got in on some of the most amazing life-changing teaching and miracles that would shape generations to come.
How far are we willing to go to follow Jesus? Are we hoping to stay in the comfortable places, like the crowd? Are we hoping Jesus will always come to us, where we are? (He will never leave us nor forsake us, but Jesus is also always on the move...) Or are we willing to follow Him to potentially uncomfortable places whether or not we know what's in store there?
And then WHAT IF Jesus intentionally leads us away from the crowds, the public spotlight where everyone can see us, to isolated places, will we still follow Him then? But what if no one else will get to know what Jesus wants to tell us, show us, reveal to us…is it worth it if no one else knows…? Is it worth following Jesus if He calls us away from the crowd?
What might it be like if we would be the kind of followers who are too afraid to miss what Jesus might say or do to stay behind…?
Only eight more days until our national elections are over for 2016. It feels like there is more contention this election year than there ever has been in the past, and perhaps it's because we know that above all things God looks at the heart. When the prophet Samuel was looking to anoint a new king because Israel's king, Saul, had gone mad, Samuel was looking for a leader in much the same way many of us have a tendency to do. But God taught us all something that day:
"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'" (1 Samuel 16:7).
Deep down inside, many of us know this to be true, which is why this election feels harder than most others have. The character issues of the top candidates have been glaring this election season. We haven't been able to read or watch the news for months (or years if we're really honest...) without some part of either candidate's character being on full display.
As I have wrestled with this tension for the past month or so, yesterday I was reminded that simultaneously Jesus tells us,
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
I don't know about you, but that just makes things murkier than they were before! Thank You, God. :) I was recently asked, "what do you do when you've studied the Bible and you're still unsure of what God is saying to us here, today, and how we're supposed to apply it?" There are a myriad of things one can do, until at the end of the day, prayer and humility are our best resources.
I'm thankful for a couple of things this election season: 1) God alone is judge, and 2) I have more important things in my own life to focus on getting right with God than I do judging others. So here's to humbly living in community for the next eight days until this election is over and we can all collectively return to the important realities of our everyday lives. I'm thankful governments still rest on Jesus' shoulders, and they always will.