Offended by Jesus…

Offended by Jesus…

Today, in most Christian traditions, is “Maundy Thursday.”  Many Christians will gather today, to remember the Lord’s “Last Supper” before his death, and to celebrate the Eucharist.

In my morning devotions, I was reminded of a very strange saying of Jesus, in the Gospel of John.  Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

Talking about eating Jesus’ body and drinking Jesus’ blood has lost its shock for most Christians.  Whether we’re Roman Catholics, who literally believe the bread and wine of communion becomes Jesus’ literal flesh and blood, or Baptists, who believe the communion elements are merely symbolic, or Methodists, who believe the point is the “spiritual/sacramental” presence of Christ in the entire ritual, we all use the language of eating Jesus’ flesh and blood.

But, those who heard those words first, were shocked, and some were offended.  Eat a man’s flesh?  Drink a man’s blood?  It was more than most could “stomach.”

“At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” (John 6:66)

Who can blame them?  I probably would have left too!

Though Jesus was clearly speaking metaphorically, there are numerous examples in the Gospel of John where Jesus meant something spiritually, but was understood literally.

Was Jesus talking about literal blindness, or spiritual blindness?

Was Jesus talking about physical water, from a well, or spiritual water?

Was Jesus talking about a second physical birth, or a spiritual rebirth?

Was Jesus actually offering his body as food, or as a sacrifice?

Those who heard him more literally – who were the majority – were apparently offended by the idea of eating flesh and blood, and turned away.  The only ones remaining, after the crowds dispersed in disgust, were the twelve.

Jesus asked them, “Are you also going to leave?” (John 6:67)

On behalf of the twelve, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

I love that response!  Peter doesn’t say, “We’re staying!  We love eating flesh and drinking blood!  Great idea!  We’re all in!”  Instead, I think Peter was saying something like, We’re grossed-out too.  This is disgusting, and ‘hard to swallow.’ We don’t like the sound of eating flesh and drinking blood, either.  But, we know who you are.  Where else can we go?  We don’t have any other options!”

Thomas H. Green, S.J., observes, in his book, When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings, “Peter finds the demands of Jesus as difficult as any of those who walked with him no longer.  He stays with Jesus not because he has found his words reasonable, but because he has found God in him.”

Peter and the disciples could be just as thick-headed and literal as the masses.  They knew how “unreasonable” Jesus could be, better than anyone!  They didn’t find the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh any more appealing than the rest.  How relieved they must have been, at the Last Supper, when Jesus handed them bread and wine instead!

But, despite their ignorance, they knew who Jesus was (and is!) – “The Holy One of God.”

Let’s be honest, Jesus doesn’t make following him easy.  If we think otherwise, we really aren’t paying very close attention to his requirements…

  • Forgive, 70 x 7 times…
  • Give all you have to the poor…
  • Be glad when you are persecuted…
  • Cut off your hand, if it causes you to sin…
  • Love your enemy…
  • Wash each other’s feet…
  • Take up your cross, and follow me…
  • Be perfect…
  • Have faith…
  • Eat my flesh, drink my blood…

If we follow Jesus because it’s logical, or reasonable, or easy, we aren’t really following Jesus.  If we aren’t offended by Jesus, even as we follow him, then we might not be paying attention to what he has said.

But, if we turn away, like most do, where else shall we go to find eternal life?

“Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

The journey toward greater health & wholeness…

The journey toward greater health & wholeness…

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve recently become fascinated with a personality assessment called the “enneagram.”  The enneagram is based on a theory that there are 9 basic personality types, with some variations based on “wings” and whether one is operating in health or in “dis-integration.”  Any further attempt to explain the enneagram, in one blog post, would be futile, and would likely mis-represent what the enneagram is and how it works.  For further information on the enneagram, I would encourage you to visit www.suzannestabile.com, www.iancron.com, www.theroadbacktoyou.com, www.cac.org/the-enneagram-an-introduction, and www.typologypodcast.com

I’ve also previously shared, I am a 9 on the enneagram – the “Peacemaker.”  That means, when I’m healthy and fully-functioning, I can be flexible, open, agreeable, and comfortable grappling with diverse people, perspectives, opinions and views.  But, when I’m unhealthy, particularly if I’m not dealing with my anger constructively, as a 9, I tend to avoid conflict, become passive (maybe passive aggressive?), indecisive, and will likely withdraw and hide.  At my worst, 9’s tend to become increasingly lethargic, and look for ways to numb their growing discomfort.  If you know me, I hope you’ve experienced more of the healthy side of my nine-ness, than the unhealthy.  But, I’m also realistic.

Sorry.

For those who are curious, I’m a 9 with a 1 (Perfectionist) wing, whether I’m healthy, or not.

The thing I appreciate most about the enneagram is that it reveals both your unhealthy tendencies, AND offers a path to growth, integration, and maturity.   Rather than just revealing who I am, like it or not, the enneagram points me down a road toward potentially becoming my very best me!

This morning, I’ve been spending some time studying what my particular pathway to optimal health might be.  As 9s become healthier, they tend to take on characteristics of healthy 3s, The Performers.  My wife is a healthy 3, so I have a great example to emulate!  Healthy 3s are energetic, healthy and motivated.  Healthy 3s are optimistic and enthusiastic.   They set goals worth pursuing, and do so to completion.  Healthy 3s are dependable, and get a lot of great things accomplished!

There have been seasons of my life when I might have been described more as 3 than a 9.  Though I’ve always had 9 tendencies – especially by avoiding conflict – setting and pursuing goals, and taking on big projects, has been a defining part of much of my life.

But, not always.  Maybe not as much, recently.

As I’ve been reading and reflecting this morning, I’m wondering what new, worth-while goals I need to pursue.  I certainly need to work on my physical health, and have already started – I have a pretty big goal to pursue and attain by the end of 2018!  I have some ministry-related goals I’m working on, and a few more brewing.  There are a few others I’m actively considering, which I may share as they become more clearly defined.

But, my point of sharing this is really less about me, my nine-ness, and the ways I personally need to grow, or even the goals I’m going to pursue, and more about the opportunity we all have, at every stage of life, to become better than we currently are.  We each can, and dare I say must, strive to become our best, healthy, whole, mature selves.  After all, isn’t that who God created us to be?

As Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile write, in The Road Back to You: an Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, “We owe it to the God who created us, to ourselves, to the people we love and to all with whom we share this troubled planet to become ‘saints (our true selves).’ How else can we run and complete the errand on which God sent us here?”

Whether you like the enneagram, or not; whether you know your type number, or not; there is a path for all of us to take toward becoming healthier than we are.  It doesn’t have to be the enneagram.  There are plenty of other paths to self-discovery and development.

I’ve shared mine, in part.

What’s yours

Perspective via Gratitude

Perspective via Gratitude

Last night, I watched Ben Stiller’s latest movie, “Brad’s Status.”  Stiller plays the role of a middle-aged dad, touring colleges (Harvard, Tufts) with his high-school-aged son, Brad.

Stiller’s character is in full-blown mid-life existential crisis.  His career doesn’t provide the status he longs for.  His college friends are, seemingly, far more successful and happy.  He feels forgotten.  His son might surpass his own achievements.  He believes he’s “plateaued.”  Throughout the movie, his thoughts are filled with compliant, blame, jealousy, fantasy, and dissatisfaction.

During a conversation with a female Harvard student, of Indian descent, complaining about his life, and acknowledging his own jadedness, the student replies, “You’re fifty years-old and you still think that the world was made for you.”  She goes on to accuse him of having “white, middle-aged male, first-world problems,” compared to the majority-world population that lives in poverty, where women have no rights.  Though he runs a non-profit, to help fund service organizations, she asks if he knows a single poor person.  She concludes by saying, “You’re doing fine.  You have everything you need.  You’re fine.”

Perspective.  We all need perspective.

Stuck in his own internal, repetitive, negative thoughts and angst, Stiller’s character can’t see beyond what his life isn’t.  An outside perspective reveals the shallowness of his complaints, and his failure to see his life for what it actually is – privileged.

Don’t we all do that?  Isn’t it easy to lose perspective, fixating on our deficiencies and dissatisfactions, rather than all that we have to be thankful for.

Many spiritual teachers suggest the key to maintaining proper perspective is practicing gratitude.  G. K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

What are you grateful for, this day?

Right now, I’m grateful for…

  • A beautiful, cool, leisurely Saturday morning…
  • The time and space to lounge in my bathrobe, this morning, and express my thoughts here
  • Twenty-seven happy years of marriage to my best friend
  • Two children, and a new daughter-in-law, whom I dearly love and feel immense pride in
  • The people who’ve loved me, parented me, mentored me, inspired me, and shaped me
  • The privilege of being a pastor for almost twenty-five years, and the great ministries and people I’ve been fortunate to serve
  • Knowing God
  • Opportunities, daily, to pursue my hopes and dreams
  • A beautiful home, a generous salary, and all of my needs – and most of my wants – provided
  • The many opportunities and advantages I’ve been afforded in life
  • Better friends than I deserve
  • The life I have, the life I’ve lived, and the life I still have before me
  • Opportunities to keep learning, growing, developing, and becoming
  • For all that is easy to say “thank you” for, and for all that took longer to be thankful for
  • For perspective

And, I’m deeply grateful to anyone reading these words, or anything else I write.  There are certainly many better, more insightful bloggers.  There are certainly better ways to spend your time.  That you would be interested, and take the time, to read my random thoughts honors and humbles me.

I’m grateful for you.

What are you grateful for?

 

Remember your baptism?

Remember your baptism?

Do you remember your baptism?  I do.

July 22, 1984 – around 11:00 pm.

I was at church camp, at Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year of High School, and my last year as a camper.

Earlier in the evening, I accepted Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, and was ready to be baptized.

After a night-time walk through the woods, the entire camp gathered by a mountain stream.  I stepped into the cold water, with a young pastor named Alex.  Alex asked me, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the only son of God.  Do you accept him as Lord and Savior?”  As I said “Yes!,” Alex pushed me back into the water, baptizing me in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

I remember a lot of the details of that night.  The cold water.  My friends, standing by the river.  A hundred, or so, flashlights shining on the water.  More than anything, I remember thinking, “This changes everything.”  

I didn’t make the decision to be baptized lightly.  No one pressured me.  It was entirely my decision.  In fact, I had wrestled with the decision for at least a year.  I wanted to believe.  I wanted to be a Christian.  I wanted to live like a Christian.  I wanted to be baptized.  But, before I could, I had to work through my feelings and thoughts of uncertainty.  When I made the decision, I wanted to be sure.

And, I was.  I can’t say, for certain, how or why I was sure.  But, I was.

I feel fortunate to have such strong memories of my baptism.  But, when I ask, “Do you remember your baptism?” and say, “I do,” I’m not just talking about the event itself.  Whether, or not, we can recall the details of how or when we were baptized, baptism is more than a moment.

In many traditions, baptism is considered a sacrament.  The traditional definition of a sacrament, from St. Augustine, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”   The “outward and visible” sign of baptism is water, of course.  An “inward and spiritual grace,” is also at work.

Baptism is more than a religious ceremony.  Baptism is spiritual change.  Baptism is transformation.  Baptism is new life.  Baptism is an altered identity.  Baptism is a new affiliation.  Baptism is a new way of being and living.

I think of baptism this way…  When I was born, I was born into a physical body – male, caucasian, flat-footed, brown-haired and blue-eyed.  I was born into a particular family called “Rains,” with a certain history, values, rules, and expectations. I was born into particular culture – in my case, “Southern,” where I learned to say, “y’all.”  And, by birth, I became a legal citizen of the United States of America, and became subject to its particular laws and obligations.

But, when I was baptized, I was spiritually ‘born again.”  I became a member of a different family (God’s), and I became part of a different culture (the Church), and I became a citizen of a different kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven).  And, my baptismal identity is my primary identity.  My baptismal allegiance is my primary allegiance.

Remembering your baptism isn’t about remembering the event.  Remembering your baptism is remembering who you are as a member of God’s family, as a member of the Church, and as a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been spiritually changed.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been called to be like Jesus.  Remembering your baptism ought to affect the way you treat people, the way you conduct business, the way you vote, the way you shop, the way you give, and the values you aspire to live by.  Remembering you baptism ought to affect EVERYTHING!

Pope Francis says, “We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ.”

Do you remember your baptism?

Timshel: “You may…”

Timshel:  “You may…”

My favorite novel is John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden.  East of Eden wrestles with questions of human nature, and good and evil.  Are we born good or evil, or are good and evil choices?

These questions find an answer in the biblical story of Cain and Abel.  Cain is outraged that God preferred his brother’s offering to his own.  In Genesis 4:6-7, God warns Cain,  “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (NIV)

“You must rule over it.”

Other translations say it differently…

“Do thou rule over it.” (ASV)

“Thou shalt rule over him.” (KJV)

“You must subdue it and be its master.” (NLT)

“Do thou,” “Thou shalt,” and “You must” are translations of the Hebrew word “timshel.”  Here’s where the genius of East of Eden shines…

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

There are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

Think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.

Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.”

“Thou mayest” or, simply, “You may.”

Timshel means we have a choice.  In every aspect of our lives, we have choices.  WE CHOOSE!

Will our choices serve ourselves or others?  Will our choices bless others or curse others?  What will the impact of our choices be on the world?  Are our choices God honoring, or not?  Regardless of how we answer these questions, our choices are our own.    And, the responsibility for my choices lies on me.

Timshel is both a gift and a responsibility.  I get to choose how I will use my day, who I will spend my day with, what I will accomplish, or not.  I choose.  But, I am also responsible for those choices.  Were they godly choices?  Were they wise?  Were they loving?

“Think of the glory of the choice.”

What will you choose today?

What if?

What if?

What if we were kinder, and more respectful of each other?

What if we prayed more?

What if we really loved each other?

What if we were less materialistic?

What if we laughed more?

What if we cried more?

What if we were more civil to each other?

What if we invested more in friendship?

What if we were less self-focused?

What if we talked to strangers?

What of we said “thank you” more?

What if we “judged people by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin?”

What if we sang and danced more?

What if we spent less time pursuing happiness, and more time pursuing joy?

What if we were more careful about what we say?

What if we doodled in the margins more?

What if we looked more deeply in each other’s eyes?

What if listened more than we talk?

What if we were less defensive?

What if were less critical?

What if we smiled more?

What if we were neighborly, and not just neighbors?

What if we dreamed bigger dreams?

What if we were more compassionate?

What if we were less picky?

What if we actually lived by faith?

What if we stopped complaining?

What if we stopped to smell the roses more?

What if we told more jokes?

What if we stopped cussing?

What if we gave more compliments?

What if we hugged more?

What if we asked for help more?

What if we could not be so opinionated?

What if we could be less critical?

What if we could be more vulnerable?

What if we did more “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty?”

What if we got more rest?

What if we practiced the Golden Rule?

What if we enjoyed every bite of food we eat?

What if we were more grateful, even for the little things?

What if we considered each and every day a gift?

What if we were more adventurous?

What if anything is possible?

What if…?

What’s your “What if…?”

 

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense. But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense.  But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

Last weekend, while out for a ride, my motorcycle battery died, requiring a long wait for a tow home.  I also had to buy a new battery.  As I’ve told my motorcycle buddies about my predicament, many have asked, “Don’t you have a tender?”

I have a tender, but I didn’t realize I needed it, as long as the battery had a sufficient charge to start the bike, which mine did, at least while I was still at home.  Since last weekend, I’ve learned that a tender should be used any time the bike isn’t in operation.

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For those not familiar, a tender is a small device that connects the bike’s battery to a wall outlet, that charges your battery when it’s low, and maintains the battery when it is fully-charged.  That’s the key – you want to keep your battery fully charged.

When I was growing up, I remember my Grandpa having a battery charger.  He had boats, motorcycles, a tractor, lawnmowers, all requiring batteries for operation.  Since he didn’t use all of them daily, or even weekly, when the batteries got low – or died – he would “re-charge” them.  There were always batteries being charged at Grandpa’s.  A battery might have fully lost it’s charge, but it could be “re-charged” by connecting it to the charger.

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The truth is, I hadn’t used a tender or a recharger when my battery died.  But, I’m learning, tending is far better for the battery than re-charging.  Both will re-charge the battery.  But, tending, by maintaining the charge is better for the overall life-span of the battery.

Maintaining the battery’s charge versus a cycle of dead battery, charged battery, dead battery, charged batter.  Hmmmmm.  The choice seems more obvious now.

Let’s apply this lesson spiritually.  I can maintain my spiritual batteries by staying connected to the “Source.”  Or, I can run my spiritual batteries until they lose their charge, or die between uses, and then attempt to hopefully recharge them.  I can maintain my spiritual charge, or cycle between having a dead spiritual battery, followed by spiritual recharging, followed by a dead battery, followed by recharging, and so on, and so forth.

If I’m honest, I’ve always been a “re-charge” kind of Christian.  I use up all of my spiritual charge, collapse, then desperately look for something to re-charge my battery.  And, then I do it again.  It’s like a roller-coaster of spiritual energy and utter depletion.

What would my spiritual life be like if I was regularly connected to a spiritual tender, that kept me connected to my power “Source,” all of the time?

Lesson learned – regarding my bike and my soul.  Both need tending.