Life: A Cat’s Perspective

I recently did a post called “Life with God: a Dog’s Perspective”. In it, I shared some of the ways my dog has taught me a little about God and life. Afterwards, I started thinking about our cat Lyla and if she has any similar insights to share. So I’ve been watching her carefully for a week now and this is what I’ve come up with:
Some days you’ll be feeling really great and secure and happy. Then life will come and knock you off the table for no reason.

Life will get your attention if it wants it. Otherwise it’s best to just go about your business.

Just because life is sitting on your lap purring, it doesn’t mean life has suddenly decided to start being nice to you.

Life enjoys making messes. Especially after you just swept up all the litter.

Someone will always love you no matter how much of a jerk you are. 

Life will always throw up hairballs in the most inconvenient places.

You will never find life’s hairballs at a good time to clean them up.

Just because you’re tired and want to sleep doesn’t mean life won’t come and sit on your face.

Life probably wants to kill you.

If life starts twitching its tail you should immediately stop what you’re doing and proceed with caution.

The ways you got through life yesterday probably won’t work today. New strategies are required.

Some days life will bring you unexpected gifts. Be grateful for what you get (even if it’s a dead mouse).

Life is the one in charge, not you and definitely not the dog.

Life requires routine. For instance, if you feed life everyday at 7am it will expect to be fed tomorrow at the same time even on the weekends.

In life, it’s easy to get fat. Even if you run laps around the house every night at 3 in the morning.

Life is chaotic, but also cute and fluffy.

Grabbing life by its tail is always a bad idea. Who came up with that saying? 

When life meows at you, you’d better listen.

In life, you’ll find yourself in unexpected places. Like on the top of the bookshelf.

If you act like you’re the boss for long enough, everyone will eventually agree with you.

You can never be too cautious in life. When confronted with new situations, hiding under the couch is always a good start.

Don’t go to the bathroom alone, it can be dangerous. Always remember to bring a friend who can sit on your lap and keep watch.

Red dots are always the enemy. Eliminate immediately.

Bite others before they can bite you. Even if they’re just scratching your ears.

Life always enjoys head rubs. Until it doesn’t.

Life can be confusing, but it’s best to just go with it.

Drinking water out of a container is never as much fun as splashing it all over the floor first.

If someone tells you not to go somewhere, that’s the first place you should go.

Life will always find a way to sneak through your boundaries regardless of how fat life is.

Sometimes the law of gravity just needs a little help.

When falling, it’s best to land on your feet.

Repeatedly kneading someone’s belly fat is a great way to make friends.

When someone displease you, rather than talking it out, be sure to screech at the top of your lungs.

You are God’s perfect gift to the world, don’t forget it.

If someone has closed the door, it doesn’t mean they want privacy. Be sure to meow and put your hands under the door until they let you in.

Dirty laundry is surprisingly comfortable.
So is clean laundry, but be sure to shed extra hair in this batch.

Life is kind of an asshole.

If someone is about to feed you, be sure to hit their hand with your head so they spill your food everywhere.

If you scratch life’s belly, it will kill you.

A Place to Rest

Reading:

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)

Reflection:

Many beautiful sermons have arisen from the story of the anointing of Jesus. While I hope to dive into some of the other lessons this passage of scripture has to offer, today I mainly want to focus on this question: what was Jesus doing here? We are told it’s six days before the Passover; six days before Jesus dies on a cross. It’s getting to be crunch time. We know that Jesus is aware of what will happen to him once he enters Jerusalem. With that in mind, why has he come to Bethany; to the house of Lazarus and Martha and Mary? Is that really the best thing he could be doing at this time? He could be teaching his disciples some more important lessons or speaking to the crowds or healing the blind, the lame, the sick. Instead we find Jesus here. At a feast given in his honor, being anointed with expensive perfume. Is Jesus being just a little selfish? This isn’t even a safe hideout ahead of time. The pharisees are also looking for an excuse to kill Lazarus (John 12:10). Wouldn’t having Jesus and Lazarus together make a tempting target?

Earlier in the gospel of John, we are told that Jesus loves Lazarus, Martha, and Mary (John 11:5). And when the Bible says that Jesus loves someone, we should take note of it, because it doesn’t happen often. Jesus is six days out from his torture and death, and he has surrounded himself by people he loves. He didn’t come to their home to teach or to perform a miracle. Jesus came to have dinner with them. It really looks as if Jesus was taking a break before the difficult week that was to come. He was taking his last real opportunity to rest, surrounded by people he loved and whom he felt safe with.

Now you might be thinking, ‘that can’t be right, Jesus is the son of God. He doesn’t need to rest.’ But we frequently see Jesus going off on his own to pray and spend time with God: to rest. The part of this particular story that is so unique is that Jesus doesn’t just seek out God’s company to rest this time, but the company of human friends and companions. I wonder, if when people were spitting in his face, cursing and beating him less than a week later, that Jesus was holding tightly to this memory. If maybe he was remembering the love of Lazarus and Martha and Mary and if that helped him endure his trial and crucifixion.

Of course this is just speculation, but some of it rings true. At the very least we know this easy to forget truth: even Jesus needed a place to rest. Especially when life was getting really really hard. And if that’s true for the son of God, how much more true must it be for us? Yet we continue to insist that everything’s fine, that we can do this on our own, that we don’t need anyone else. Much of this is a cultural byproduct; a message we have been taught that if we can’t handle it ourselves then we aren’t good enough. But that isn’t what the Bible teaches and that isn’t what Jesus teaches. One of Jesus’ most potent calls is: ‘come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I shall give you rest.’

We are actually called to rest. How cool is that? If you’re like me, you might be thinking, ‘no, that isn’t cool. I don’t have time to rest, I have so much I have to do and you don’t understand-‘ Hush, quiet down for a moment. You have been so tired for so long and Jesus is waiting with open arms for you to find your rest in him. Because that is the first place we should seek our rest: in the God of peace.

But that’s the other cool thing about God: he has given us other places we can find rest in. Namely, he has given us the Church. Rest isn’t a one on one relationship between ourselves and God, even if it starts out that way. We also find rest in the community God has surrounded us with: the body of Christ. This might be the last straw for a lot of you: ‘not the Church, anything but that. It’s messy and judgemental and the only rest I get there is sleeping through sermons on Sunday mornings’. But we are called into this messy place that God is somehow using for his purpose. You cannot be a Christian and not be part of the Church because being a Christian is defined as membership in the body of Christ.

So there are two things to take from this. The first is that the church is meant to be a place of rest. It is a place where we suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice. If people are coming to our church and cannot find in it individuals like Lazarus, Martha, and Mary; people who love them and whom they would seek out at the darkest times in their lives, then that is a failing on our part. If we cannot provide a place of rest for a weary world, then we are not doing our job. And we can only be a place of rest for others if we are resting in God ourselves. Key point: we never do any of this on our own. We have to seek out God for rest and we also have to seek rest in the Church, not just snub our nose at it and try to rest on our own.

The second thing to take from this is on the individual level. It’s a challenge to ask yourself and to consider deeply and prayerfully: am I a place of rest to others? Do people come to me when they are weary with their own burdens? Am I someone who loves so deeply that when others come to me they leave feeling refreshed and lightened? Am I so focused on my own problems that I don’t notice my brothers and sisters that could use my love and companionship right now? Am I so focused on giving advice and fixing the problems of the world that others feel I am unable to listen and really hear them?

Am I a place of rest?

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. We give praise to you, O God, that you came to give rest and peace to a weary and burdened world. We look around at the chaos, the legitimate fears and worries, the pain and darkness of this world and are overwhelmed. Holy Spirit, guide our way, shine light in this darkness and remind us to look to Jesus: our resting place. Shine out from us, that we may be places of rest for our brothers and sisters. Teach us how to love those who are struggling and reaching out in the blackest days of their lives. Teach us how to act as your body and to be led by your Spirit. Amen.

Revere:

All Sons and Daughters – Rest in You

Living as God’s Chosen People

Reading:

​12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

Reflection:

Today, the Western Church is facing a crisis. For the first time in centuries, Christianity is no longer growing in the West. What used to be the spiritual center of Christianity is now on the fringes of the modern Christian world. Today, more than 60% of Christians live outside of the West and that number continues to increase. But, for those of us living in western countries, that doesn’t mean Christianity is dying. No, Christianity is thriving in fact. Its center is simply moving south and east. Countries in Africa, South America, and Asia are experiencing incredible church growth. The Gospel is being spread and celebrated, but not in the West.

More and more people continue to leave the church in Europe and North America. Young people look at Christianity and simply aren’t attracted to it anymore. And that isn’t because there’s something wrong with the current generation, and it isn’t because there’s something wrong with Christ. No, people see the church and they see the world reflected back at them. There’s nothing different there. People in the church are just as hypocritical and unloving as people outside of it–if not more so. And I think, in the West, we’ve simply forgotten how to be a church: the living body of Christ.

So let’s get back to the basics and talk about what a church is supposed to look like today. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that Christians are messy, sinful people just like everyone else, and the church is meant to be the home for all of us no matter how many times we mess up. However, in between the times we’re messing up and even during those times, we are given some goals to strive towards. No church, this side of the new creation, will ever look exactly the way we’re going to talk about today, but God is great and merciful and if we spend enough time at the feet of Jesus, the Holy Spirit may just help shape us to look a little more like the Kingdom of God. And I think this passage in Colossians is one of the best to look at when trying to get a better grasp on what a church is.

We have to begin this talk about church exactly at the beginning of this passage. Everything we read and try to do is because we are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” If you forget everything else in this post, remember this part. It is only because God chose us as his people and loves us, that we are able to attempt any of this. And it is only out of being God’s chosen people and from his love that we are able to attempt any of this.

A lot of people get tripped up here by the word ‘holy’ and think this means they were chosen based on how good they were or that they have to be perfectly good now that they have been chosen. Don’t panic. Being a holy people simply means we have been ‘set apart’ by God. We are holy because he set us apart to be his people and we will continue to be holy because of his choice, not our actions. And he set us apart, not because of the good deeds we had done (we hadn’t any), but because he deeply deeply loves us and he came and died on the cross as Jesus Christ to save us. That is our identity as a church, it’s what allows us to be a church, and as soon as we forget that, we aren’t a church anymore. We’re just a bunch of people in a fancy building.

Now, out of God’s love for us we can take a stab at this next part:

clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I love Paul’s use of the word “clothe” here. If you need an example of what a master wordsmith Paul is, this is it. Almost the first thing we do in the morning is put on clothes. We wouldn’t imagine going out and starting our daily activities without them. And it is something we have to do every day, not an act we do just once and never come back to. At first, as children we’re not very good at getting dressed, we put our shirt on backwards and forget to tie our shoes. But over time we learn and getting dressed becomes second nature to us. Putting these virtues on is just like getting dressed in the morning. Even if we’re tired or running late, these are things we cannot do without: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Seeing Christians walking around without these things is like seeing a man or woman running around naked.

Have you had that dream where you’re doing something important and then look down and realize your pants are missing? You feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed and your deepest desire is to quickly go put your pants on. This is what forgetting to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, or loving should feel like to us who follow Christ. And when we forget those things, because there will be days we will, we have to go back to our Father and ask him to show us how to tie our shoes again because we’ve forgotten how.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

What is the peace of Christ? While Paul is using the Greek word ‘eirene’ here, he is certainly thinking of the Hebraic ‘shalom’. In Hebrew, peace is more than just a lack of conflict, it is universal flourishing and harmony. That is what peace is supposed to look like in Christ and in the church that is his living body. And we are called to flourishing peace through sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, teaching and admonishing one another in wisdom, and worshiping God in gratitude. And we must remember to do all these things, especially the admonishing part, in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

What if, every time we did or said something we did it in the name of Jesus Christ? Would we curse a brother or sister in the name of Jesus? Would we gossip and spread lies and rumors in the name of Jesus? Would we hold a grudge against our spiritual siblings in the name of Jesus? May it never be so. This is the real kicker when it comes to being a church: that when we realize we are doing every act in Christ’s name and in his presence, we are much more likely to treat our neighbors the way he treated us. Because we know that he loved us when we were unlovable and forgave our sins when we had nothing to offer. So, if we can only start doing and saying in Jesus’ name, we might start looking more like a living church than an empty building.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Father, we praise you that the Good News of Jesus Christ continues to spread throughout the world. We are excited by the growing diversity and beauty of your people and the new ways of worship and thought this diversity brings to your Church. Help us to always remember what it means to be your chosen people. Holy Spirit, fill us with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Bring a flourishing peace to your church that people look at and are attracted to like a moth to the light on a dark cold night. Jesus, may we do every act and speak every word in your name and with an awareness of your presence. Let us remember that as a church we are part of your living body and that our lives are not our own. Amen. 

Life with God: a Dog’s Perspective

Today’s post will be a little different from my previous ones. I plan on returning to that format, but have been thinking about doing this post for a bit and have felt prompted to write it during prayer. So here it goes.

The first thing you have to understand is my husband and I have the best dog in the entire world. I know you thought you had that one, but you were mistaken. We adopted Shiro a year and a half ago from a pitbull rescue agency. Yes, the picture is actually her; what a cutie!! While I thought we were only rescuing a dog, I discovered that God was also putting someone in my life to reveal some important truths to me. Below are some of them.

In Training

Because Shiro was a rescue, she needed to be trained all over again from the start even though she’s almost three years old. While she’s become much better at listening, she tends to forget her training when we go to new places. Lately, we’ve been bringing her to my parent’s house, and I know that as soon as she gets out of my sight she will poop on the floor or get in the trash. When she wanders off I call to her to come back. Most of the time she does, although usually after a couple calls in a stern voice. And whenever she comes back on her own, even if I’m annoyed by how long it’s taken, I always praise her. You have to do that with dogs or they won’t come back to you when you call them. She’s gotten a lot better at listening, but sometimes she still wanders off and I have to go find her. I always remind myself that she’s still in training, that she’s learning to trust me and listen to my voice.

It’s easy to get distracted from God when we find ourselves in new situations. Sometimes these situations can be scary or fun or just make us curious. Sometimes when we hear God calling to us to return, we ignore him in order to explore new places or because we’re afraid he’ll be mad at us when we come back. But even if we’ve pooped on the floor or torn the trash open, God is still calling us to come home. God doesn’t give up on us just because we’ve rolled around in a mud puddle. And when we come back to him on our own, we don’t have to fear that he will rebuke us and condemn us. God is filled with joy every time we choose to return to him. And even during times in our lives that we don’t come back, God will come and find us, clean up our mess, and keep on loving us.

We have to remember that we’re still in training. Some of us have just started, and some of us have been in it for a long time. Either way, there will still be times we mess up or wander off or don’t trust our master. And that’s okay. We aren’t supposed to be perfect yet, we’re still in training. And God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, he knows we’re in training and he loves us and he isn’t angry at us when we mess up, he just wants us to come back again.

A Lap Dog

Shiro is a lap dog, and I don’t mean she’s a dog who will sit in your lap when you call them and then get down after a few minutes. And she’s not a dog who just sits next to you and puts her head in your lap. No, my fourty pound pitbull is a lap dog. Her favorite place to be is right in the middle of your lap, curled up in a circle or trying to bathe your face with her kisses. She’s been sleeping on my lap while I’ve been writing this (which adds a whole new challenge to blogging). One of the reasons she needs to be in someone’s lap is because she has separation anxiety, and I mean she’s had to be on anti-anxiety medication before for it. My lap is where she feels safe and secure and loved. She knows she’s protected here and that I’m not going to leave her. When she starts feeling brave again she’ll go off and explore our yard or run around with my mom’s dog Merlin. But she always knows where to come back to when she starts feeling worried or scared.

I wish we knew that God’s lap is the safest and best place for us to be. Unlike Shiro, wandering off can be dangerous and scary. But we like our independence, we like to think we can do this ourselves, so we start getting brave and get out of God’s lap. And hopefully, like Shiro, we always run back to God and jump in his lap again. Mary knew that sitting at the feet of Jesus was the best place she could be. It’s a place we are safe and secure and loved. When we are there we can listen to God, build a relationship with him, and learn to trust him more.

Baggage

Shiro has a lot of baggage coming from a rescue agency. We don’t know the full story, but she was an owner surrender, looks like she may have had puppies at a very young age, may have had her rib broken in the past, and was returned four days after being adopted by the previous family. As previously mentioned, this has manifested in severe separation anxiety. When we first got her and didn’t have a cage she tore up the linoleum in our bathroom and almost burrowed through the door when we left her alone for half an hour. She has escaped from regular cages, the kind you get at Petco, covering herself in cuts and bruises in the process. She has a perpetual bruise on her leg from repeatedly licking herself when we’re gone. I cannot even describe how much better she’s doing a year and a half into a stable home.

Shiro has baggage, and so do we. We don’t come before God squeaky clean, and accepting Christ as our saviour doesn’t magically remove our baggage. We all act out of our experiences and we have fears and anxieties because of our past and the way we’ve been treated. And God knows that. He was with us then and he will be with us every day going forward. Being with Jesus means that we finally have a safe home and a place where we can start working through all of the baggage we have to become more and more free. And we don’t have to work through it alone. 

Annoying Little Sister

My family dog, Merlin, is my baby, despite being eight years old. When I would come home from college he would sleep in my room. I run him around the yard and he snuggles in my lap. So he is quite confused and dismayed by this new, young, overly-energetic creature I keep bringing into his domain. Sure, Merlin enjoys running around the yard with Shiro, but after that he wants her to leave. He gets jealous when she gets the attention, and annoyed that she has so much energy. He frequently tries to get away from her so he can have some peace and quiet. I call it the ‘only child syndrome’. He hates sharing my love and attention.

Believe it or not, many of us in the church have the only child syndrome. We’ve been attending for a long time, we know the ropes, this is our church home, and we have this God and Jesus thing pretty much figured out. Then these new people start coming in, they’re different and overly-energetic, they take up the attention and start doing things in new and wrong ways. They have dirt under their fingernails and ask questions that clearly show that they don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re talking about. It would be much better if they would quiet down and chill out or better yet, just leave and let things go back to the way they’ve always been.

But this is not our house. It is God’s house. And God has brought these people in just like he brought us. God loves them, just as he loves us, and he has given us new little siblings to love. They are here to receive God’s love with us, to learn with us, and also to teach us. Our job is not to parent them, correct or scold what we see as new and offensive. But instead we are to live together as one family in Christ; as one body.


Nothing
to Fear but Fear Itself

Shiro is a fearless dog. She tries to chase geese that would certainly attack her and she certainly tries to eat any big fuzzy bumble-bees flying by. She doesn’t realize these things will hurt her, she just thinks they’re fun. Likewise, she isn’t afraid of a lot of things other dogs get freaked out by. She’ll follow me around while I vacuum and thinks my hair dryer is a game she’s supposed to play.

So it was interesting when, after being around my family dog Merlin while I was vacuuming, she started acting afraid of the vacuum. Merlin will tuck his tail and go in another room as soon as he sees me take the vacuum out. Suddenly, Shiro started copying him. She had learned from Merlin that vacuums were things to be wary and to steer clear of.

Just like dogs, we have a skewed understanding of what is bad and what is good for us. Because of our sin, many of the things we should fear and avoid seem attractive to us. We chase after pursuits and act in ways that can bring us deep and lasting harm. Likewise, the things that are harmless or even beneficial, are things we avoid out of worry or fear. And frequently, we learn how to differentiate between the good and bad by watching and listening to others just as sinful and just as confused as we are.

As Christians, we learn that we discover the right and wrong through God. That’s why it’s so imperative that we keep coming back to him, his word, and his community. When we try to discern between right and wrong on our own, we tend to be irresistibly drawn in the wrong direction. Even when we look to others we admire and respect, who have more experience than us, there’s no guarantee they’re in the right either. All of us have to learn these things from God and trust him when he tells us to avoid something and listen when he says to do something.

Request

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Thank you for using the weak things, the foolish things, to shame the strong and instruct the wise. May we always be open to the teachings of the Holy Spirit in our lives and continue to return to your word to discern their truth. Father, help us to trust you and love you and keep coming back to you. We praise you for sending your son Jesus to rescue us and bring us to a new and safe home where we can begin to learn and grow. May we continue in our training throughout our lives as we spend every moment at your side. And when we wander may we always come back to the God who loves us and has given us a home and a family. Amen.

Being Humble… do I have to?

Reading:

“7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)

Reflection:

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be humble lately. Enough that I can tell God is putting it on my mind intentionally. Which really sucks for me because I do not like the subject of humility at all. I like myself quite a bit, I’m pretty much the coolest person out there, and of course I’m always right, thank you very much. You might be picking up on why God’s been nudging me with the topic of humility. However, while I know I have a pride problem (and I can assure you that God’s working on it), that’s not really what I want to talk about. Instead, I would like to discuss a growing trend regarding how Christians are talking about humility and, if we’re lucky, get back to a more biblical and Christ-centered understanding of it.

First of all, it’s very hard to say anything new when it comes to Christian theology. Far greater minds have been saying an awful lot on that subject for the past 2,000 years. So it isn’t surprising that when one person says something we haven’t heard reiterated a hundred times we tend to nod along and go ‘ooooh, what a cool point’. In this way we tend to accept new ideas in theology faster than we should and with less skepticism than we ought. Remember, new is not always better, after all Jesus is pretty old.

The specific ‘new’ trend in how we talk about humility has been going on for the past couple decades. And it goes something like this:

‘We’ve gotten this whole understanding of humility wrong. Being humble doesn’t mean lowering yourself or puffing yourself up. It means having an accurate understanding of your worth and living in a way that reflects that.’

I have heard this in sermons and in theology classes. It certainly sounds like a much nicer option than beating yourself with ropes to remind you of just how worthless you are (yes, that was a thing). And that’s the part of this ‘humility’ that is a positive move. We are saying as a church that self-deprecation, self-loathing, and self-mutilation are not ways to achieve humility. As someone who has delt with all three of those problems, I can applaud and agree with this move. There will always be times when we loathe ourselves and see how truly filthy we are. These are times to turn to God in repentance for healing so that he can begin shaping us into the true humanity we are meant to be. These are not times that we should dwell in and try to cultivate in order to make ourselves humble.

So what is the problem? Well there are a couple things, the first is that God is the one who gives us worth, not us. As such, much of this attempt at humility becomes a one-sided conversation where we compare ourselves with others to try to get a better understanding of our worth. Since we can all think of at least one person we know we’re better than (I have a list), we tend to wind up with a still skewed understanding of our own worth. Instead of finding our value in God, we are finding it in appearing to be better than other people. But we are all sinners and without the blood of Christ we are inherently worthless. When our value depends on ‘appearing to be better than’, we cannot come to God or our fellow sinners in honest confession. We can never lay our hearts bare before Christ, because our humility and self-image relies on keeping those faults hidden.

Secondly, living in a way that reflects our (now distorted) understanding of self-worth is not biblical at all. And I’ll tell you another thing, even if we could accurately understand our value, even if we were precious perfect gems outside of the need of God’s mercy and grace, we still should not try to live in a way that reflects that. Not if we are hoping to (by the grace of God) be humble. And here’s why: we are told to be humble because Jesus is humble. Jesus describes himself as humble and gentle. If humility were about living in a way that reflected your value, Jesus would have stayed put in heaven as the God of the universe because that is who he is. Instead, we are told that, after leaving his glory in heaven and becoming a man, “he humbled himself to being obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

So can we please put this trendy, feel-good-about-yourself understanding of humility to rest. The next time I hear a well-meaning individual begin talking about humility like this I may scream. We can keep the part about humility not being self-loathing, self-depricating, or self-mutilating. Other than that, this understanding of humility is inherently damaging, unbiblical, and unChrist-like.

Dont worry, I’m not leaving you here. If we’re going to scrap one idea, it’s important to replace it with another. So let’s talk about what being humble does mean in a biblical and Christ-centered way. A lot of the time when we think of humility we just come up with ‘don’t be proud’. Then we sit in a dark corner repeatedly smashing our head into the wall trying to cultivate a feeling of ‘not-pride’. This will always be unhelpful. The reason being is that humility isn’t a feeling: it’s an action. It can also only be done in relationship to others. We can’t be humble alone.

How do we act humble? According to Jesus, it’s really quite simple. Rather than rewarding ourselves with the honors we think we deserve, we should always take the least honorable seat. Even if we know our value, we do not grasp at it, but like Jesus, take the option of service to others. Even if we know we deserve better than them. This type of ‘lowering’ (because the Greek word for humility is literally lowliness of mind) is not a self hatred, but a love for other people. Paul describes what this humility looks like in Philippians 2:

“But in humility, esteem one another as more important than yourself. Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Being humble means not esteeming ourselves, not taking the seat of honor at a banquet we think we’re owed. Instead, we intentionally act in ways that place others above us. Not because we hate ourselves, but because we love them. Like Jesus, we love them, even if they don’t deserve it, because Jesus loved us when we didn’t deserve it. We focus on their needs above our own. This is an intensely self-emptying act, a kind of self-death. And it will only work if we keep coming back to God, the God of love and life and resurrection, to keep getting filled back up again.

Humility is a scary thing, and there’s a reason it’s a virtue that only people of faith uphold; you have to have faith that God will take care of your needs for humility to work. It’s easy to worry that while we’re busy putting others needs ahead of our own that none of our own needs will ever be met. And your needs matter, they are important, and they do deserve consideration. So here’s the coolest thing about humility: if we all get humble together, there will always be someone who makes your needs their top priority.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Father we confess our obsession with finding our worth through depreciating others; you have given us infinite value as your children through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus, may we learn your humility, that you placed our needs above your own. You came and took the least position and were exalted above all others. Holy Spirit fill us daily with the love of God and with faith that our needs will be met. May we continuously return to you in order that we can go out into the world and be humble. May we esteem others above ourselves and care for their needs before our own. And may we do this out of love; a love you have taught us. Amen.

Why Can’t I Get Better?

Reading:

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.(Galatians 2:11-13)

Reflection:

Although I grew up in the church, I did not accept Christ as my saviour until I was sixteen years old. I remember the complete joy of that moment, my readiness to follow Christ. I would have sold all I had and followed him if he had asked me. And not only was I full of joy and excitement, but I crowded my mind with expectations of what my new life in Christ would look like. When I looked into my own future I saw my perfect, sinless self that God had sanctified doing amazing things for Jesus. I would follow Christ faithfully and be a light to those who stumbled. Every day I would be made holier and holier until I at last reached perfect Christ-likeness.

Many years later and I am still far from this goal, far more sinful and broken than I had imagined myself this far along in my faith journey. I look back at times years ago when I was far better at being good than I am right now. And for a long time this was a problem for me, and I have heard it over and over again from other Christians. We are surrounded by language about becoming perfect, doing good, becoming ‘sanctified’, and we look down at our still blemished selves and a sense of hopelessness wells up in our chest. ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just figure this thing out? Why am I still not good enough?’ And the worst part about this is that many Christians turn away at this point, thinking they aren’t good enough to follow Christ.

This is a tragedy.

Before I tell you why, I want to talk about Peter in our reading. Yes, this Peter is the same apostle who followed Jesus around for three years, who spent the rest of his life dedicated to building the church, and was finally crucified as a martyr upside down because he didn’t think himself worthy to die in the same way Jesus did. The letter to the Galatians, in which our reading is contained, was written somewhere between 50 and 60 AD, making Peter in his fourties or fifties: near the end of his life. If anyone was going to reach spiritual perfection, we would expect Peter to do so. After all, he was described by Christ in Matthew 16:18 as the rock upon which Jesus would build his church.

And yet, in Paul’s account, he describes Peter as one who needed to be rebuked; as one who stood condemned! Peter!? What are you doing?! Why are you still sinning, still messing up, still not good enough? Some read this passage and look down their nose at Peter, thinking the moral of the story is to just be Paul instead. I know I’ve thought that way. People read accounts of Peter and shake their head at him. We don’t understand why God uses this thick-headed man who keeps messing up.

But what if we’re all Peter? What if we never ‘get better’? (Stay with me for a minute before you smash me over the head with the Bible.)

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” But none of us ever really believes that do we? We say, ‘yeah, yeah God, but imagine what your power could do with my strength?’ Like Peter, we are afraid and draw back. In Galatians, Peter is drawing back into religious legalism represented by the “circumcision group”. This group is telling people that in order for God to love them, in order to receive God’s grace, they have to do something to deserve it. They have to be made better and be justified by the works of their hands. They are the same people who tell us we need to be better today if we’re serious about being Christians. And we are them when we walk away from God because we’re ‘not good enough’. But this isn’t what God tells us we have to do.

He says his grace is sufficient. And grace is all about getting what we do not deserve. We are living under grace all of our lives because we are weak. And God is not here to make us stronger. God is here to be strong despite our weakness and in our weakness. When we walk away from God because we are not strong enough, or when we are convinced we have to be better, we are saying God’s strength isn’t enough for us; that his grace is not sufficient.

I think I know why Jesus loved Peter so much and trusted him with his church. It’s because Peter never walked away, no matter how many times he messed up or how imperfect he was. Peter is rebuked by Jesus over and over again. Peter denies Jesus three times, in Luke we are told that immediately after Peter denied Jesus the third time: “The Lord turned and looked at Peter… and he [Peter] went out and wept bitterly”. And yet, the very next time Peter sees Jesus, after he has denied him, after Jesus has died on the cross, Peter dives into the water one hundred yards from shore and swims to Jesus. (John 21)

Peter doesn’t hide in the back of the boat, trying to make himself better after denying Christ. Peter is overwhelmed with joy at seeing him, and I think with sadness and guilt too. I can imagine Peter swimming thinking Lord I love you and I messed up and I’m so sorry and I love you, please let me stay right by your side. We know from the story of Mary and Martha that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the very best place we can be. And Peter knew that too.

Peter, an apostle of God, kept messing up his whole life and kept coming back to Jesus. And that’s because he understood something we often forget: the church is full of sinners, and that’s the best place we sinners can be. I can promise you that there will be times when you will do better than you are doing now, and there will be times you do worse than you are doing now.

We need to start teaching each other that being weak is the best thing we can be. Because when we are weak, God is our strength. Paul tells us to boast in our weakness! So don’t hide your mistakes, don’t try to make the church out to be something it isn’t. We should be crying out that we are sinners, but God loves us anyways. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus and dive into the water and weep and crawl up onto shore at his feet regardless of how good or bad we are doing. And we have to do this every day of our lives. Because when we do that, we are boasting in the indomitable strength of Jesus Christ.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Father, we are weak beyond our own understanding, and we praise you because you use the weak to shame the strong. Jesus, may we always sit at your feet and run back to you, just as Peter did, no matter how many times we go astray. Help us to remember that in our sin, being at your feet in your church is the best place we can be. Keep us from the snares of religious legalism that would trick us into thinking we are something we aren’t and capable of making ourselves good. Holy Spirit, fill us with your strength and teach us to rely on it and boast in our weakness that the power of Christ may rest on us. Amen.

Entering the Kingdom of God

Reading:

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Reflection:

Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” If you’re like me you just might be a bit shaken right now. We read this passage about Jesus blessing sweet children and think, ‘I’m not like that, how could I ever become that?’ In our society children are upheld as an icon of what it means to be innocent. As such, innocence is the first thing we think Jesus means when he says we must receive the kingdom of God like little children. We could easily replace little children with the word ‘innocent’ and get a better picture of what we think when we read this verse: ‘Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God as an innocent will never enter it.’

I’m here to tell you that we had all better hope that isn’t what Jesus had in mind or we are completely screwed. None of us even comes close to innocent. Even if we were to live perfect blameless lives from here on out we still wouldn’t be innocent. Is Jesus really giving us an impossible standard? Is it really impossible for us to enter the kingdom of God? While the short answer might be ‘yes, without God’s help’, we know that God did help us. God sent his son Jesus to take the penalty for our sins so that by believing in him he might credit his righteousness to our account. This is the point we get with the story of the rich young ruler, but is that what Jesus is getting at here as well?

If Jesus was only reminding us that all of us are incapable of entering God’s kingdom without God’s help, why did he say we had to accept it like a little child? If he was only making the point that we had to be innocent like children, he could have found a better parallel. Jesus isn’t talking about babies here, the Bible uses the Greek word paidion which refers to children seven years old and younger. Adding the word little in front of paidion might imply children on the lower end of that spectrum: possibly one to four years old. If he were speaking about babies, whom we might credit with innocence, the Bible would have used the word brephos instead. No, we are clearly talking about children, not infants. And if you have ever worked with children or have some of your own you will be sure of one thing: they are not innocent.

I love kids, but I can assure you that children are capable of being downright mean little monsters at times. They willfully do what is wrong without the slightest sign of remorse. They can suddenly explode into tantrums at the slightest provocation or for no reason at all. They can say the cruelest things like ‘I hate you, mommy’, without even thinking about it and cut you to the heart. And the little children, the ones we call toddlers, can be the most guilty of doing this and the most frustrating to care for. The terrible twos are terrible for a reason. How can little children receive God’s kingdom when they are too preoccupied throwing a fit over their shoelaces being the wrong color? Or sticking gum in their sister’s hair because she wouldn’t share her ice cream?

So, Jesus isn’t talking about receiving God’s kingdom like an innocent child. What is it about little children then that we should try to emulate in order to enter the kingdom of God? I have three qualities I’m going to suggest:

1. Children are radically dependent. They need help eating, walking, using the bathroom, getting dressed, and generally surviving. Little children cannot take care of themselves but instead rely completely on their parents every day. Not only are they dependent, but they are dependent without shame. If you’ve ever had a child demand that you make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know that they barely give a second thought to their dependence. No little child has ever thought, it is bad that I have to rely on my mom to make money or on my dad to feed me. They don’t go out and try to get a job  at three years old and do it all themselves because they know they can’t. And that doesn’t bother them. They aren’t worried that if they make their parents angry the parents will suddenly stop taking care of them. That is radical dependence; leaning fully and completely on someone and trusting that they will always be there no matter what we might do and without having anything to offer.

2. They are radically trusting that you love them. A child can melt down and tell their mom or dad that they hate them and ten minutes later fall asleep in their arms. When their mom or dad tucks them into bed, kisses them on the head, and says ‘I love you’, little children don’t think: ‘but do you really?’ Even if they have spent the day being the most absolutely awful creatures, little children will always believe you when you say that you love them.

3. Little children have radical love. They always come back to loving you. Even after sticking gum in their brother’s hair, even after being put in time-out or getting an earfull from mom and dad, they still love them. This has to do with both their radical dependence and radical trust. They love without shame or fear of being loved back and without any illusions about their ability to earn that love. Little children expect to be loved by their parents because they are their children, and they love their parents because they are their parents.

Jesus is commanding us to be radically dependent on him. Like little children, we must accept that there is nothing we bring to the table. And that is okay. Like a little child we must throw ourselves completely on God to provide his Kingdom for us and know that there is no reason for us to be ashamed of that. Our radical dependence on God is not something we need to feel embarrassed by or fear, instead it is a blessing of God’s love for us.

As such, we are also called to radical trust. We need never fear our dependence on God because we trust that he means it when he says he loves us. Even when we mess up, which we will over and over and over again, God will not withhold his love from us. God loves us simply because we are his children and for no other reason. Not for what we do or don’t do, in fact, we spend much of our time being downright unlovable, but God loves us anyways. The next time we sin, instead of trying to get clean before we come to God, Jesus is telling us to bring our scraped knees and dirty faces and tangled hair and come sit in his arms right in the center of his love.

Finally, we are called to a radical love of the God who loves us and upon whom we depend. There may be days we’re too ashamed to bask in God’s love. There may be times we are angry at God and don’t want his love or his providence. But, like little children, we are told to keep coming back to God and loving the one who loves us because he is our Father. And it is out of this love God has for us, even when we are unlovable, that we can turn to our just as unlovable neighbors and love them too.

“Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Jesus is not telling us we have to become innocent or virtuous to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus is saying that in order to enter the kingdom of God, just like a little child, we must depend completely on him, trusting in his unconditional love for us, and respond back with love. And this isn’t something we do once, but something that we are doing every day for the rest of our lives. We are little children, it’s time to act like one and run to Jesus.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. We call out to you today as Jesus did, abba, Daddy. Daddy, we have been so lost for such a long time. We forget that we are children completely dependent on you. We forget that you love us unconditionally and sent your son Jesus to show us that love. And worst of all we forget to love you after everything you have sacrificed for us. Holy Spirit, bring us back into dependence on God, lift us onto the lap of Jesus and let us receive his blessing and his kingdom. Remind us that the gate of God’s kingdom lays open for us who call on the name of God as our Father and on Jesus as our saviour. When we try to bring our deeds to you and say: ‘look at what we’ve done to deserve your kingdom’, please forgive us. Remind us that we bring nothing, only radical dependence on you and on your son who loved us enough to die for us. Amen.

The Absurd Love of God

Reading:

​3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:3-8)

Reflection:

I have heard plenty of sermons on these verses used to show us how we should love one another. Frankly, they make no sense to me. Whenever these parables are read in church, it is funny to me to see people nodding in agreement with the pastor. I can’t help glancing around and thinking, ‘really? This passage makes sense to you guys?’ I wonder if you’ve ever had the same reaction I have to this passage: just shrugged your shoulders and said this makes no sense (you’re allowed to do that by the way). I like to imagine that while Jesus was first telling these parables, his audience was glancing around at one another in confusion. ‘Jesus’, they must have thought, ‘you’re crazy’.

Who would leave the 99 sheep to go search for a single lost one? What happens if the wolves and lions come to prey on the 99 while the shepherd is gone? Doesn’t it make more sense to just cut your losses and not risk losing anymore? And, imagining for a moment the shepherd does leave, once he finds it, wouldn’t he be at least a little irritated? After all, he just had to scour dangerous terrain in the hot sun with no help, fending off wild beasts or even robbers just to find this stupid little sheep that couldn’t stay put.

And don’t even get me started on the woman and her lost coin. If my neighbor ran out onto her front porch in the middle of the night and started shouting for me to come celebrate with her because she found a coin, I’d tell her to shut-up and go back to sleep. This crazy lady wants to throw a party that probably costs more than her coin is worth just because she found it again. No one does that, no one with any amount of sanity anyways.

What are you talking about Jesus? These parables don’t make any sense. ‘Who wouldn’t do these things’, you ask? No one. That’s who.

There’s a very good reason these parables don’t make sense to us: they aren’t about us. When we hear these stories that sound so outrageous, so utterly absurd, it’s because they are describing a love radically different from our own. In the parable of the lost sheep and coin, Jesus is giving us an image of God’s love.

God is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out his lost sheep. He’s a God who crosses all difficulties and dangers to find us, set us on his shoulders, and bring us home. God is the crazy lady waking up all the angels in the middle of the night to throw an enormous party because one of us who was lost has once again been found. This is God’s absurd love: that instead of giving us up for lost, he sent his only son Jesus Christ to come and seek us out. Jesus left his comfortable throne in heaven to come and show us God’s love, to brave the dangers of the cross and take our sins upon himself, so that we, who are lost, might be found again.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. We praise you, Father, that your love is not like ours. There are not words to describe the gratitude we feel for the sacrifice of your son. Jesus, you came and searched for us, even though we were lost. You did not give up on us but showed us the absurd love of God. Holy Spirit, fill us daily with that love lest we begin to go astray once more. Amen.

Look Who Jesus Brought Home for Dinner

Reading:

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Phariseesf saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”g

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”h

Reflection:

I started today by reading Mark 2:13-17 where Jesus calls Levi, the tax collector, to follow him. Jesus then proceeds to eat dinner with Levi and other “sinners” at Levi’s house. In my Bible, the word sinners is put in quotation marks three times to describe the people Jesus is eating with. Having studied Greek, I can assure you that all punctuation is put in the Bible based on stylistic decisions of translators. In this translation they choose to use the word “sinners” instead of sinners, and I can’t help but pause and wonder: why?

You may be thinking at this point: so what? Your Bible put quotes around the word sinners, but lots of others don’t. Who cares if one translation has a few extra quotation marks? Well, you may be right, but consider hearing me out. The reason I’m taking the time to write about these quotation marks is because, even when these quotes aren’t there, I think many of us read this passage as if they were.

Be honest, we read this passage as if “sinners” is a title unfairly bestowed on these people by the self-righteous mean old Pharisees. Sure, these people might not be the crust of society, but they’re not as bad as the Pharisees want you to believe. The “sinners” are the well meaning underdogs who have been oppressed by the authoritative and out of touch religious elite. Jesus is giving them a voice at last and showing the Pharisees whose side he’s really on. In other words, we see the term sinners and ignore the word’s significance. The Pharisees, we conclude, are wrong to be outraged and shocked by what Jesus is doing. After all, we understand Christ better than that….

For a moment, let’s take away those quotes around the word “sinners” and imagine that the text really means what it’s saying. These people are sinners. Real live, authentic, true blue sinners. These people Jesus is sitting with have lied and cheated others out of their money and homes. They are murderers, rapists, and theives. They are the people you fear to be alone with and cross the street to avoid, the ones you never make eye contact with because they are looking for an excuse to hurt you. They are outcasts who have been given chance after chance to amend their ways and time and time again they have shown themselves for what they are: sinners.

Imagine that you are hearing these rumors about a man. A man who does miracles. A man who is healing the sick and bringing sight to the blind. Could this be him? Could this be the Messiah the scriptures foretold? The saviour of Jerusalem, an oppressed and limping nation? The man you’ve read about in the prophets and studied and awaited for so long? You dare to hope, trembling with excitement. Here is the one who will right the wrongs, uphold God’s law, bring justice to those who dare to hurt God’s people! You rush to meet this Jesus. Your hands are sweaty and your knees tremble. And when you see him… your world comes crashing down.

Here is this Jesus, sharing dinner with men and women who have hurt and oppressed your people and your loved ones. He is sitting with those you have begged God to punish and bring to justice. How dare he?! How could any Messiah, any prophet, any rabbi sit with these people, knowing who and what they are. Doesn’t he know the pain they have caused? The lives they have ruined and hearts they have broken? No one who does this could be a prophet, let alone a Messiah. If these are the people he is supporting and spending time with, he must be just as cruel, twisted, and evil as they are.

Jesus is having dinner with sinners. Now what, where do we go from here? Jesus says he has come to call, not the righteous, but the sinners. Did the Pharisees realize that Jesus, in that moment, was calling out to them as well? Jesus is not saying that there are those who do not need him, but that all are sinners and in need of his healing. Jesus was inviting the Pharisees to sit down with their fellow sinners and break bread together, not to draw a line and point and say: “but God you don’t understand what he has done! Jesus, you don’t know how she has hurt me!” Yes. Yes, my dear child, you have been hurt and you have been wronged and you are invited to come have dinner with Jesus, come have dinner with us.

‘But I’m not like them! I haven’t killed or cheated or hurt like they have!’

No matter how well you have done in your life, how good you think you have been, how much you have it all together. Answer the invitation of Jesus and sit down with us sinners, you might find you’re one of us. None of us is righteous, not one, and we are all in need of God’s healing grace.

You might be reading this and shaking your head and saying, that’s not me. ‘I’m not good and I don’t have it all together.’ I want you to know something. You too have been invited by Jesus, to sit down next to him and have dinner together.

‘No, no. You don’t know what I’ve done,  the people I’ve hurt, the pain I’ve caused.’

I’m here to tell you that I might not know all those things. The secrets you hide in the depths if your heart and only dare to remember at night. But Jesus does. And he loves you anyways. He knows all of that and he loves you. He wants to sit down with you and spend time with you and have dinner. He has invited you to be with him just as you are. Don’t go clean up first, don’t try to wipe the dirt off your face or put on your best shoes. Jesus is waiting for you for dinner.

Jesus is eating dinner and we are all invited, you are invited.

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. We praise you that you sent your son Jesus to save not the righteous, of which there are none, but the sinners. Some days we look at the people you break bread with and call us to eat with and, like the Pharisees, grumble with outrage. Other days we look at your table too afraid of how dirty we are to even dare approaching despite your outstretched hand. Holy Spirit, fill us with the knowledge that we are all sinners in need of saving. Fill us also with the faith that Jesus is that saviour and he is welcoming us to his table. May we always accept his invitation. Amen.

A Lamp Stand and a Basket

Reading:

“21 Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.” Mark 4:21

Reflection:

This verse has had an enormous impact on how Christians understand themselves. It is beautiful and encouraging, inspiring songs from classic ones like “This Little Light of Mine” to more contemporary ones like “Shine”. We imagine ourselves holding our light up for a dark world to see. We lead the way in the darkness with our little lights, showing others the way to Christ.

Yet this interpretation doesn’t ring quite true with what we are told in the Bible. It is nice to imagine that God is commanding us to shine brightly on our own, to be good and do well so that we may be praised by him. Instead, this verse is commanding us to do something both much simpler and much more difficult.

The first point we need to clarify is, what is this light and whose is it?

When reading this verse it is clear that for many, myself included, we have interpreted the light as being our own; a light springing from our good actions and deeds. Yet, time and time again when we read the Gospels we see Jesus described as the light shining in the darkness, saying to us “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). The psalmist proclaims “your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105), and we know from the Gospel of John that the word of God is Jesus Christ. These are only a few examples of a very prevelant theme throughout the Bible. The light in Mark 4:21 is certainly the light of Christ.

An objection might be raised here: ‘well fine, the light might be about Jesus, but how do we fit in? Is Jesus only telling us about himself, or are we supposed to do something?’ I believe this verse is commanding us to do something very important. This verse is showing us two ways we can respond to Jesus, it is a parable describing how we react to his light in our lives.

In this verse, we are given the option of being a basket or a lamp stand. This may not sound as glorious or encouraging as being a light, but bear with me. Every day when we wake up we have to pray and make the choice whether we are going to be a lamp stand or a basket. And it is very very easy to be a basket.

When we are a basket, we cover up the light of Jesus. We cover him with our own worries, concerns, desires, and wants. We cover him with our fears, insecurities, and expectations. We put this light in the back of our minds and focus on the things we think we need. Or we try to do (and usually fail at doing) the good deeds we think we are required to succeed at doing as good Christians.

Then, when the sun starts sinking and the darkness comes creeping in, we begin to shake and tremble. All is dark, we are shrouded in it and we look around desperately for our light to shine and as hard as we try we just can’t seem to make a spark….

Alternately, we are given the option of being lamp stands. And being a lamp stand does not mean we make our own light. The light isn’t something we can diminish or cause to burn more brightly. All we do is hold the light up to the world, just as it is, and bask in its glow. Instead of covering up the light with our worries, expectations, and fears, we should bring these things to the light and lay them at the feet of Jesus. 

When we refuse to let these things crowd out Jesus’ light in our lives and minds, we let his light shine clearly, without any coverings or distortion. Knowing that his light remains undiminished when we sin, encourages us to bring those sins back to the light of Jesus and let them be seen, rather than hiding them away and trying to deal with them ourselves. It can be scary to let the light of Jesus shine on us, laying us bare before God and revealing all we would keep hidden in the darkness. But it also means that when we find ourselves alone and lost in the darkest night, that the light of Jesus is there to help guide our way and be a beacon to others who are also stumbling in the dark.

So, today and every day we must ask ourselves, before God, this one question: will I live my life as a basket or as a lamp stand?

Request:

Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Too often we find us trying to be a light to ourselves. We forget to turn to you and receive the light of your son Jesus. And even when we do remember, we cover you up and turn ourselves into baskets; too afraid to let your light shine in our lives. Father, we confess our fears that distract us from your light and we praise you that nothing we do can make you shine any less. Holy Spirit, enter our hearts and minds and help us to learn to be lamp stands, even if our lamp stand is old and rickety. Shine in the darkness of our world and guide our way with your light. Amen.