A few words on saying thanks in the midst of blessing and heartache.
2000 years ago the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “What’s the point of having countless books and libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through in a lifetime?”
Oh, Seneca, what would you think of Google?
We live in the golden age of answers, but what do we really know? Do you have answers to the deepest questions of your life, the ones you can’t find on Google?
Questions like this one: What does God want?
People get mired in this question. “If only I knew God’s will,” they say, “then I’d know what to do with my life.”
But what in the world does God want? A big check? A guilty conscience? Prayer? Love? Obedience? Sacrifice? What?
Run the question backward. If God asked about your will, what would you say? What do you want?
I don’t know what you want, but I know something about it. It’s not one thing.
We want health and safety and intimacy and adventure and success. Our wills are complex and varied. And I think God’s is too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say something about it.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus enters the home of a woman named Martha who leaps into action, putting the house in order for him. But Martha’s sister, Mary, doesn’t. Instead, she sits down at the feet of Jesus and listens.
Martha carries on, filling drink orders, working the room. But not Mary. She just listens.
Preachers like to praise Mary and beat the hell out of Martha.
But I like Martha. I like workers.
She pokes her head out of the kitchen and yells at Jesus (which is kind of awesome), “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to get up.”
“Martha,” Jesus replies, “Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken from her.”
One thing is needful.
Notice Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha’s work. He doesn’t say get out of the kitchen and come sit down. He says, “You’re so anxious. You’re so distracted that you’re missing the one thing you actually need. Me.”
Are you distracted and anxious in the golden age of answers? Are you drowning in the never-ending river of information?
How often do you listen for answers instead of search for them?
I think that’s what God wants.
He wants us to listen.
It was’t Martha’s work that was wrong. It was that she had stopped listening because of it.
But would it be like to listen for Jesus’ voice in your customers this week? What if you saw His face in that co-worker you can’t stand to be around? What if you asked Jesus to be present with you during your sales pitch?
Work can be work. Or it can be something entirely God infused.
I think Mary knew that. That’s why she listened before she worked. She wanted to know what God wanted so she could then know how to work.
Be honest. When was the last time you sat still and did nothing? When did you last pray and wait for God to speak first? When did you last listen — really listen?
I know it’s awesome that we have Google to answer our every query.
But I’m drowning in information, desperate for that one needful thing, and missing it.
I want to know God’s will, but I hardly listen.
In Kindergarten, I made a pledge with a kid named Cameron to be best friends. We shook on it.
Over the years we have shared a lot. He sees me for who I am. He knows my good and my very bad. Today we’re 33 and still the best of friends. How?
I’ll tell you.
He listens to me. He always has. Because of that, he knows me. He knows my hopes, my fears, my dreams. That kind of knowing produces a deep, deep bond.
It’s been said that we have to know someone before we can love them. I say we have to listen before we can know.
Do you want to know what God wants for your life?
Church can be awkward.
One Easter Sunday a woman behind me started screaming, “It’s about forgiveness! It’s about new life! Today!” And then, as if that were normal, she sat back down.
I’ve never forgotten that, just like the folks in the Gospel never forgot the day a man with an unclean spirit burst into their worship service.
Jesus is teaching when the man cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?”
Can you imagine? This isn’t awkward. It’s frightening.
Demon talk makes us squirm. Maybe the Gospel writers didn’t understand mental illness? Maybe when they said “possessed” they were describing something they didn’t understand?
No doubt there was confusion in the ancient world about mental health, just like there is today. We have a long way to go until we understand that anxiety and depression are just like diabetes and cancer. Some of us have it. Some of us don’t. And this has nothing to do with character.
If you’re dealing with any of that, I want you to know something. God is with you. And the church, while flawed, is behind you and for you.
The trouble with explaining demon scenes away is there are too many of them.
What’s interesting about this scene is that we don’t know what Jesus is saying, only that people are astonished, for he taught with authority and not as the scribes. The scribes were teachers who interpreted scripture. What Jesus is doing is different. He isn’t appealing to authority; he’s being authority.
“I know who you are,” says the demon. “Have you come to destroy us?”
“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus replies.
And it did. That’s authority.
I wore a uniform in high school, but there were special days when I was allowed to wear my own clothes, even hats. On one of those days I walked into the chapel with a hat on. A teacher told me to take it off. Without missing a beat I said, “Jews wear hats to pray.”
(I would have slapped teenage me.)
I don’t love being told what to do. But the older I get the more I realize I need to be told, because I don’t always know what’s best.
In the ordination process you get asked lots of questions. Somebody asked me this one: What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord and Savior of your life?
“He’s my Savior,” I said, “because he saves me. Not just from sin and death but daily. He comes to me and rescues me. Every single day.”
That part came easy.
“He’s my Lord,” I continued, “because I do things for him I don’t want to do. But I trust He knows what’s best.”
And I felt like a fraud. Because for all my talk, I want to be my own Lord.
But I need a Lord.
Here’s the deal. We’ll never make Jesus our Lord unless we believe he knows more than we do. Because, as Dallas Willard used to say, “it’s not possible to trust Jesus, or anyone else, in matters we don’t believe him to be competent.”
Would you fly with an incompetent pilot? Let an incompetent surgeon cut your chest open? Do you give authority to anyone you don’t believe is smart?
I doubt it. Do you believe Jesus is smart?
We talk a lot about Jesus’ love, but what about his competence? Does he know how to help us be good engineers or good parents? Does he know what it takes to run run a business or keep a marriage alive?
The earliest Christians believed He did. He was divine, which meant he couldn’t be dumb.
I think it’s tough to claim Jesus as Lord until we’re ready to claim he’s smart. And not just smart, but the smartest man who ever lived.
I was in a doctor’s office some time ago getting a physical. I was going through a rough time and really stressed. As the doctor examined me my blood pressure shot up.
“Do you smoke?” he said.
(I told him, but I’m not telling you.)
He took the reading again. Still high.
He took the cuff off my arm. “Your father tells me you like to read.”
I told him and we talked about books and life for an hour. Then he took the reading again. “You don’t have a blood pressure problem,” he said. “You’re stressed.” He smiled. “Relax.”
And I did, not just then but in the days that followed. His words had power because I trusted his authority. I believed him to be competent.
We may not be demon possessed, but all of us — from time to time — get possessed by something.
Anxiety. Money. Regret.
When this happens, we need a Lord to cast it out.
Don’t be afraid to make Jesus your Lord. He won’t abuse the position; he’ll use it to set you free. From sin. From death. From yourself.
“I know who you are,” says the demon. “ Have you come to destroy us?”
“Oh no,” Jesus says. “Just the opposite.”
I remember being in church once and really sensing the presence of God. You know that feeling? Your singing a song, or saying a prayer, and you know in your bones—God is here. I felt that and thought, “If I could just bottle this, and take it with me, I’d be a much better Christian.”
Because the reality is that most of life isn’t mountaintop moments. It’s waiting in line at the grocery store, it’s being told I don’t have a job, that my blood work doesn’t look right, that my expenses are exceeding my income.
And what I’ve found is that if God isn’t with me in those moments, the church stuff doesn’t really matter. Pump me up on Sunday, but if I can’t find God come Thursday, I’m in trouble.
What I’ve been learning is that I didn’t need to bottle up God in church so I could take Him into the world. What I needed to do was open my eyes and see that He was already there.