Thursday, September 29, 2011

1st John: Persuading Our Hearts

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/25/2011

19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who keep his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:19–24

Letter written to a church in crisis. The chaos of division, relational strife, theological debate. They’d had a mission and a purpose, new life was springing up, the Spirit of God at work in heartwarming ways, new friendship bonds being formed, hope in a hopeless world. And then some kind of conflict. Some people believing one thing and others another. Harsh words said. Relationships breaking down. Trust leaking out ever widening and fraying seams. Accusations flying. Mission on hold because anxiety and anger and fear has gotten in the way. Some starting to question what the point of all of this had ever been, anyway, because the baby has started to drown in all the murky bathwater.

John’s purpose seems to be less about sorting out the crisis and weighing in on the debates (although he does make his position clear), and mostly about helping his brothers and sisters keep on keeping on. Reminding them of what has not changed, of what they have lost sight of that is of far greater importance than all of the sensational chaos that has been preoccupying them, so that they will be faithful to Jesus’ first call: “Follow me.”

Because that’s what’s most at risk in the face of crises of every kind, isn’t it? That we might quit trusting Jesus and the good news of his kingdom. That we might just stop putting one foot in front of the other on the way of Jesus, giving in to despair. Or, Lord have mercy, that we might start putting our feet on a different path, giving in to anger and hatred and bitterness.

We know what that’s like, even if we’ve never experienced the things the people in this particular church experienced. Each of us knows what it’s like to be a human being when, seemingly out of nowhere, the chaos of things going wrong appears. When, just when things seemed to be looking good going forward, the sky between here and the future is suddenly cloudy and dark, threatening lightning and thunder and torrential downpours. When circumstances seem to be conspiring against us, nothing coming together in our favor. When the things we’ve come to rely on are suddenly shaky and unreliable. When even some of the people we love seem to be against us.

How easy it is to despair. To want to throw in the towel. To want to crawl into a safe dry cave and hibernate until it’s all done.

How tempting it is to try to exert some measure of control over the uncontrollable by embracing anger, contempt, frustration. Even if we know it’s fruitless, it feels good to feel the sense of power that comes from those powerful emotions. [Sort of like getting off the highway in a traffic jam and taking winding and treacherous back roads, even though you know you’d probably get there faster and more reliably waiting for the jam to clear. At least you’re moving! Except this is like exiting the highway and taking back roads to nowhere, driving until you run out of gas.]

John writes deep deep encouragement to this church, and he writes it to us. Trust Jesus! Love one another! We’ve tasted a life that run deeper than the chaos, like a subterranean well beneath the desert. It comes from Jesus – he’s bigger than all of this that’s going on. And he hasn’t left you. You’re strong. You know God. The word of God lives in you. Your sins are forgiven. You’ve overcome the evil one. You’re anointed with God’s Spirit, just as Jesus is. Keep loving one another! Do that, and you will know the life God has for you. Don’t stop, and you will abide with God. And God will abide with you.

This paragraph at the end of chapter 3 brings all of this together, and adds an important wrinkle in light of what John knows about what happens inside of us as we resolve to stay on the way of Jesus, despite the chaos around us.

Remember last week we talked about how the key to the life of the ages – the aeon zoe, eternal life – is for the good news of God’s kingdom to move beyond our skulls and brains and thoughts and beliefs and into the deepest parts of us, into our guts. So that we don’t just “know” the gospel, but we know it.

Let’s remind ourselves briefly about this idea of “knowing” something, which shows up throughout this paragraph, and indeed throughout this letter. Ginosko is the Greek root translated know in this passage, and it’s the kind of knowing that’s way deeper than head knowledge. It’s experiential, participatory knowing. Like the way you know your mother’s voice, or how you know how to speak or ride a bike or swim. Or how you know you love someone. Or how you know if you drop something it will fall to the ground, unassisted.

19This is how we ginosko that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who keep his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we ginosko that he lives in us: We ginosko it by the Spirit he gave us.

John understands that when chaos is swirling, one of the first things that happens is that we lose confidence in who we are and what God is up to in us, through us, in our lives, in our world. The first areas that come under assault from the enemy are the parts of us that don’t yet know what we are just learning about the good news of God’s kingdom and its implications. And so John says, look, here’s how we come to know deep down all the things I’ve been reminding you about who you are and who Jesus is and what he’s doing in your life and in our world: keep trusting Jesus, and keep loving one another. Do that, and you will increasingly come to know in an experiential and participatory way everything that I’ve been telling you is true. You will know it know it. It takes time, and patience, and practice. But keep trusting Jesus, practice loving one another, and God’s spirit, which you are anointed with, will take the good news and plant it deep, deep within you.

Now here’s where we come to the interesting wrinkle. It has to do with our hearts. Kardia, in Greek, the word from which we get cardiac, as in cardiac arrest or cardiac care or cardiaology. Meaning the part of us where our feelings and will swirl together, out of which we decide and intend and resolve and experience strong emotional responses and even process anxieties and fear.

So we might say we decided in our hearts to do such and such. We talk about someone’s heart being pure. Or that our heart was gripped with fear. Or that so and so was heartless. Or that our hearts were torn. Or that our heart felt peace. Or that our hearts were broken. Or that something was heartwrenching. Or that we gave our hearts to someone. Or that we let someone into our hearts.

This is how we ginosko that we belong to the truth and “set our hearts at rest” in his presence. If our hearts “condemn” us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not “condemn” us, we have confidence before God…

We’ll talk about some of those “quote marks” in a moment, but first, consider how our hearts sit between our thoughts and our guts. Which of course they do literally (head / heart / bowels), but also in this process of God working deeply in us, so that we can have peace and confidence in the midst of chaos, so that the good news of God’s kingdom is completely integrated with our selves and actions.

Haven’t we all had the experience of “knowing” something in our heads, even feeling it in our guts, and yet our hearts get in the way of graceful action?

For example, maybe you know in your head God is going to provide for you, because you’ve read the scriptures and heard what Jesus has to say about it, and it makes sense to you. And you know it in your gut, too. Deep, deep down, if you had to bet money on it, you’d bank on the fact that God was going to provide for you. But your heart is doing cartwheels. It’s not peaceful at all. It’s churning with anxiety. It’s getting your brain going with worry in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, setting your brain to the task of finding new sources of money, tempting you to abandon the things you’ve felt God call you to, distracting you from the promises you’ve heard God say. It’s checking your gut when you’re moved with compassion to be generous towards someone hurting more than you, because it’s saying, “hey, wait a minute, I’m not feeling very restful about all God provision stuff. And are you so sure God’s going to provide? After all, you haven’t been tithing like you should. And you know you did this wrong and that wrong – he may have provided if you’d gotten everything right, but why would he reward your behavior.” This is the same heart that surrendered to Jesus. The same heart that decided to follow him, to trust him. It’s like your heart has gone crazy. What’s going on!?

What’s going on is that our hearts need to be set at rest in God’s presence, and although they are the first part of us to embrace his presence, they might also be the last part of us to become fully his. The Greek word that gets translated “set at rest” is more literally translated “persuaded.” Our hearts need to be persuaded in God’s presence before all this ginosko knowing business is completed, through and through.

And it takes a lot of experience before our hearts are persuaded of anything, doesn’t it? You can come to the conclusion in your brain that someone is trustworthy. You can feel it in your gut that you can trust someone. You can even make the decision in your heart to trust them. But your heart is going to keep on needing persuading, for quite some time, before it’s truly at rest in their presence. Especially in the midst of chaos or fear or confusing circumstances. [Taylor Dayne, “Tell It To My Heart” - “tell it to my heart, tell me I’m the only one. Is this love or just a game?”]

It’s the same with the good news of God’s kingdom. Which is why John says, trust Jesus. Love one another. In other words, keep on keeping on the way of Jesus, the way of love. Your hearts will come to be fully persuaded and at rest with enough experience and with enough opportunity for God’s spirit within you to do his work. Just don’t quit. And don’t take a fork in the road.

Now there’s another fold to this wrinkle. And that has to do with this word “condemn”. The Greek word is kataginosko. Kata – against, or opposed to and ginosko – knowing.

If our hearts kataginosko us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything…

It’s translated “condemn” or sometimes “blame” because our hearts know something that goes against us. Our hearts know, ginosko – at an experiential, participatory level – all sorts of stuff that goes against us. Our hearts know how sinful we are. They know how weak and broken we are. They know how much hate and bitterness and fear and mistrust and lust and selfishness and all other kinds of ugliness we have inside of us.

And so no matter what we know in our heads or know in our guts, our hearts can short circuit graceful living by bringing that kataginosko into the mix. We might even think of kataginosko as our hearts being confused. Don’t our hearts feel that way sometimes? Like we know how God wants us to act, and how he wants us to experience trials, and we know how he feels about us, and who we are in him, and yet our hearts don’t ginosko it yet, and so we are perpetually right on the borders of despair or anger.

Take heart, John says to our hearts. Don’t be discouraged. God is greater (mega!) than our hearts, and he knows everything. Our hearts may know some things against us. But God knows all of those things against us, and he knows them better and more truly than our hearts, and he knows everything else. Everything about what Jesus has done on the cross, and about the resurrection, and about the good news, and about grace and about mercy and about what true justice and the setting right of all things actually looks like. God is in the process of persuading our hearts the truth that is deeper than the mostly true but not true enough things our hearts think they know.

After all, isn’t that the truth about the new and fully complete humanity we see present in Jesus of Nazareth? A man who knew the good news of God’s kingdom in his head. Who knew the good news in his guts. And who knew the good news in his heart. A man whose heart was never confused, but rested in God’s presence, no matter the chaos surrounding him. A man who had confidence to ask God whatever he desired – because his desires and God’s desires were in unity with one another – and who received anything he asked, because he kept God’s commands and did what pleased him.

This is also the truth that is becoming true about all of us anointed ones, in whom the Spirit of God is at work, as we take John’s encouragement to continue trusting Jesus and loving one another.

Final note before practical tips. Notice John’s simple instruction – to believe in the name of Jesus. Believe vs. know (believe about 100 times in gospel of John, but in 1st John the emphasis is knowing) – the journey to knowing starts with believing (trust, faith). But the destination is knowing. That’s where God is taking us. He’ll even let things get difficult enough that we are forced to flex our belief until it becomes knowing. Faith becomes actions which open the door to experiences of God’s kingdom which leads to experiential, participatory knowing of the things (and God himself) that before we only believed by faith.

Practical Tips… (for the not quite quitters)

1. Don’t quit. Don’t quit when your heart is confused and/or has knowledge against you persevering. Especially when what you know in your head and in your gut about the good news says that the story isn’t done being written yet. Don’t despair. And don’t embrace anger.

2. Tell it to your heart. You don’t know enough. God’s bigger than you, and he knows everything. Say it out loud sometime. To your heart.

3. Try a little TLC. Trust, Love, Continue. Trust Jesus, keep loving one another and continue doing that unitl you’ve made space for your heart to be persuaded. Do something loving for someone else. Almost anything will do. And then do something else. Keep doing that until your heart’s kataginoskoing gets quieter and God’s ginoskoing gets louder. It will be a sign that God lives in you as the Spirit he gave you quiets your heart.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

1st John: A Gutsy Life

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/18/2011

28And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

29If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

7Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9Those who are born of God will not continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Those who do not do what is right are not God’s children; nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

1 John 2:28–3:18

Language of seed, has no pity (closes his bowels), word of God lives in you, abide in him, love of God is in him, etc. Language about words vs. actions, lies vs. truth. All getting at the same basic idea.

There are two ways of looking at what drives our lives. What’s up here (head) or what’s in here (heart). Our heads, minds, thoughts, beliefs. Or our gut, our insides, what we know deep down. (Sometimes we might call this our hearts, but that can be confusing because we also use heart language to talk about our emotions or desires, but John is talking about something even deeper than that.)

[Dakota Meyer… “It might sound crazy, but it was just, you don’t really think about it, you don’t comprehend it, you don’t really comprehend what you did until looking back on it”…]

And at the end of the day, what’s truest about us is what’s deep inside of us. Because eventually, what’s deep inside of us will shape our actions, and the quality of our lives, more powerfully than those things that have only gotten into our heads.

And what the writer of this letter wants to communicate is that what God has done, and is doing, and wants to do more of, is going past the surface with us. Something that first touches our senses – our ears, our eyes, our skin, our noses, our tastebuds – and finds a home in the frontal cortex of our brains, where we consider it and test it and evaluate it and decide to trust it and pursue it and begin to understand, and then eventually it works its way all the way down to our bowels, to our soul, to our hearts, transforming us from the inside out. And the writer wants us to realize this because we’ve got a role to play in allowing this to happen. It doesn’t happen auto-magically; it happens as we invite God in, and make room for him, and cooperate with him and the work of his Spirit, deeper and deeper into the central place in us. More on that in a bit.

John writes this letter not in a vacuum, but in the context of a big story that shapes all of history, a story that has taken an extraordinary turn with the death and resurrection of Jesus, a story that is writing a whole new ending in the lives of these gathered disciples of Jesus. And so when John writes about seeds and sin and Cain murdering his brother Abel, he’s wanting us to see how what he’s writing fits in with the big picture story, because only then will what he’s writing have its full impact.

Big picture story of the scriptures is a story of 2 seeds, mistrust vs. love.

A corrupting seed of mistrust planted in us, leading to sin, leading to no longer abiding in God, leading to murder, jealousy, hatred, enmity, etc.

Insidiousness of the evil seed is that it’s invasive, coercive, deceptive, a violation of our inmost being. Makes us less than we were before, since it’s a destructive seed. Doesn’t take much effort to move from external to internal.

But the ray of hope is that that malevolent seed of mistrust is illegitimate, subject to a higher authority, only has a temporary residency visa, can be deported, extracted, crushed, burned in the fire.

Jesus arriving with good news, a new seed to plant in us, a seed of love, the words of God who is love, meant to grow into a harvest of righteousness, leading to us abiding in God, God abiding in us, joy, peace, love abounding.

Graciousness of God’s seed is that it only comes in as much as we choose to allow it. And only comes in deeply when welcomed whole-heartedly, intentionally, thankfully, with faith. It’s there on the highest authority in the universe, and is capable of displacing every illegal alien, as a result of the fact that the seed comes from the Word of God made flesh, Jesus the anointed one, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and as a result of the fact that it only enters by our holy, God-breathed permission.

Now, it takes effort on our part for this seed to move from external to internal, because part of its purpose is to turn us from people who are enslaved by sin to people who are set free by love, and since love is the realest thing in existence, it never takes shortcuts. But once it’s inside of us it becomes integrated with us, makes us more of who we are, not less. And it cannot be taken from us, threatened, deported. This seed is more unstoppable than zucchini, its root system more robust than an oak’s.

That’s what “passing from death to life” is all about. The enemy’s seed of mistrust, hate, fear, judgment replaced by God’s seed of love. With the seed of mistrust, even if we are physically alive, we experience death. With God’s seed of love in us, no matter the state of our physical life, we experience God’s zoe life, the deeper kind of life that never ends and doesn’t run out or fade away.

So back to this idea of two ways of looking at what drives us. Our heads, minds, thoughts, beliefs. Or our gut, our insides, our hearts, what we know deep down.

That’s what the part of the passage that talks about seeing someone in need and having pity on them is all about. The phrase “have pity,” in translated from greek phrase meaning literally “not closing one’s bowels.” In other words, when the love of God is in us, we see someone in need, we are aware of the provision God has given us, and something deep inside of us is moved to help. Something that goes beyond us just thinking: “I have been given great blessing by God. This person doesn’t seem to be experiencing the same blessing. Aha, I have been given this blessing precisely so that I might be an agent of God’s blessing to this person. If I don’t, then the blessing I have been given loses its capacity even to bless me, because then it becomes all about me, and not about the generous God who never stops giving blessings away. But if I do, I will be learning to imitate a God who is always generously giving, which will enable me to trust him even more deeply in my own life, because I will see how naturally that fits with how the world actually works, which in the end will allow me to know more peace. Plus, this person will be blessed by my generosity, which will in turn have an impact on how they can see the truth of God’s generosity in the universe, which, if they start to live in that truth will only encourage me to live more deeply in it, which will also increase my capacity to trust this good news. Wow, it’s a win – win. I’m in!”

All of that is in fact true, but it’s not truly how we actually live, is it?

Because it’s entirely possible to go through that whole thought process and then say, “yeah, but I’m kind of tired.” Or, “Yeah, but I don’t feel like it.” Or, “yeah, but I can’t help everybody, can I?” And so on.

And it’s entirely possible to see somebody in need and never go through that thought process, because the first thing we think is, “sheesh, what a loser, I’m not helping them” Or, “Oops, I just remembered I have to order Tigers playoff tickets – when do they go on sale again?” And so on.

We like to imagine that we live from this place of consciousness and intentionality. But we don’t. Not over the long haul. And not when it gets hard. Or when we are run down. Or distracted.

Try this…

Memorize: “Dear children, let us love not with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”


Have them try it.


Now try this…

“Hail to the victors…”

“Amazing grace…”

“2 all beef patties…”


What we know by heart is part of us much more deeply than what we know in our head. And it’s what’s deep in us, in our guts, that moves us, for example, to love in action and in truth.

We may know all that truth about generosity, needs, etc. in our heads. But until it gets deep inside of us, into our hearts, we won’t be moved in our guts with compassion when see someone in need.

[frontal cortex vs. amygdala – under stress and anxiety, our amagdyla, the part of our brain directly connected to our guts, takes over and uses the frontal cortex for its own purposes…uses it to justify its desires, execute its wishes, etc.]

We may know in our head that it’s good to forgive everyone. Or trust God for provision. Or serve the poor. Or speak well of those whom we dislike. We might affirm those truths. Heck, even be able to quote passages about it. We could even teach and preach about it.

But unless we know it deep in our hearts, we won’t live it out in actions and in truth. Unless we know it deep in our hearts, we won’t be moved in our guts to do it.

Good news gets in our head by knocking on our door, and we open the door. Good news gets in our guts from our invitation to stay, from welcoming, from rearranging and making room.

Which leads us to the singular thing I want to encourage us about today. Let’s invite God to go deeper in us. Let’s give him permission to bury his seeds of love all the way in the pit of our stomachs. Let’s ask him to do it. Let’s not be satisfied with anything short of having hearts and guts that are moved by his love.

We’ll talk next week about what we can do to cooperate as he answers that prayer – it’s not super complicated – but it all begins with that heartfelt prayer, that surrender of the deepest parts of our selves to him.

[my story of this prayer and the shaping up of an answer…]

Practical Tips:

1. Find out where you’re top heavy. What do you know that you don’t know? Identify one thing you “know” in your head that you’re not sure you “know” in your heart. Something about the God who is love.

2. Give Permission (for God to make you a Weeble). Very simply, tell God you want that to change in you. Invite him to do whatever it takes.

3. Make a gutsy move. Get your body and emotions and soul involved in the invitation. Come up for prayer. Talk to a trusted friend / mentor. Make a reminder to ask God weekly. Out loud.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9-11 Compassion

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/11/2011

Our world is full of overwhelming floods, chaotic, furious, indiscriminate, devastating. The world around us shaken to its very foundations.

10th anniversary of 9/11.

This past month, earthquakes. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Floods that sometimes seem to come from God or at least be allowed by God.

Some floods are much more personal: job loss, health crisis, tragedy strikes, relationship breakdown with someone important in your life.

Our natural responses tend to range from despair on one end of the continuum to anger on the other. But as students of Jesus, we have a new work of God at work within us, compassion’s rising tide. [tide as water’s response to the gravitational pull of moon, etc.] The world within us responding to the pull of Jesus’ Spirit on our hearts. It’s beautiful, furiously intent on love, deeply personal, and in God’s grand scheme, unstoppably engaged in the restoration of all things.

So, today we are going to talk about how we join in with God’s response to overwhelming floods in our world.

One thing the scripture teaches over and over is that God himself enters our floods. In particular we see this in Jesus, crucified on the cross. Through Jesus, God himself becomes the victim of the flood with us.

Which means that it’s often in floods in which Jesus meets us, or it’s into floods that we can go to join with him. Floods in which mercy and justice are resolved as salvation emerges victorious over judgment.

So whenever there is a flood, if we are students of Jesus, our job is to look for God, to develop eyes to see him coming, or eyes to see him inviting us to come join him. To find him running compassionately into the flood to meet us, or to wade ourselves into compassion’s rising tide, so that others can find him present in the flood through us.

To explore this, let’s look at one of Jesus’ simple but brilliant stories, in Luke 10, starting in verse 25.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

The thing about the half dead is they appear to be dead but you can only tell if they are half or whole dead by touching them. The priest and the Levite (someone who was from the priestly tribe of Levi but not a direct descendant of Aaron – someone who would have had lower level responsibilities in the Temple) knew that by touching the dead, they would be incurring a condition called “ritual uncleanness” meaning they would have to go through the inconvenience and expense of a cleansing ritual before being able to resume their priestly or Levitical duties. So they played it safe, as the wrong kind of religion always advises—safety first! Don’t take any risks!—and walked on by.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that if you’re the half-dead man, or even an outside observer, it might be tempting to think that the priest and the Levite represent God’s response to the flood. After all, they are meant to be God’s representatives, aren’t they?

But the true God never plays it safe, does he? Think about Jesus hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners. Think about Jesus touching the lepers, receiving the worship of the prostitute, spending time alone with the Samaritan woman at the well, healing the centurion’s son. Jesus arrested, beaten, nailed to the cross.

So take heart, if you’re in a flood, and you see people not taking any risks to come close, those people aren’t where God is in relation to your flood. Keep looking, maybe in less likely places. Because he’s coming.

And here’s where Jesus throws in a twist. The third guy to come by is a Samaritan.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

The Samaritans to the Jews were like the Mormons are to historically orthodox Christians. They took the basics of the faith, added a twist here and there that just threw the whole thing out of whack. The Jews reserved special contempt for the Samaritans; the same contempt we reserve for people who claim to be what we are, but aren’t so far as we can tell.

In fact, earlier on this same road trip, Jesus’ own disciples had wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy some Samaritans who weren’t being hospitable to Jesus; only to be rebuked by Jesus [isn’t that so like us? Someone doesn’t want the love we offer, and we want to say “to hell with you, then.” Not Jesus, thankfully. How often have we been inhospitable to his love? Thank God we haven’t gotten a “to hell with you, then” from Jesus]

The Samaritan “came where the man was” –he approached the half dead man to see how dead he really was. When he saw him, he took pity on him. The Greek for “took pity” means “moved in the gut with compassion” (the Greek word being related to our word for the spleen). In English, take pity implies “there, there”: a patronizing, distancing response. But compassion is “here, here” as in “Here, here, let me get close and help.” Compassion begins as a passion, a feeling in the gut. An emotion, like all emotions, designed to cause “motion”, action.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The Samaritan dipped into his own resources, supplies he needed for the journey and bandaged the man’s wounds, pouring oil and wine (used to soothe and cleanse wounds). He didn’t just draw from his rainy day fund but his traveling necessities—his suitcase and carry on. [Didn’t as a habit carry extra money – no travelers checks, credit cards. Extra cash was just more money that could be stolen on a journey. Any first aid supplies he might have had were packed for his own potential use – not like there was a Rite Aid to stop at to replenish it on the rest of his journey.] Put him on his own donkey, slowing his progress through dangerous country. Then he made sure the man had enough to recover, working together with the innkeeper.

He did what he could, not what he couldn’t. But he did do what he could.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Do you see it costing somebody something to be with you in your flood? Do you see somebody having mercy on you? You’ve found the first signs of God present with you.

Do we satisfy ourselves that we have all the right answers to the floods that we encounter, or do we “go and do likewise,” joining with the Answer and wading into the floods along with Him, transforming them into Compassion’s tide?

Have we made homes for ourselves close enough to the gravity of God’s compassion that it pulls on the tender parts inside of us when we come across Jesus in one of his disguises? Will we respond to the tidal pull of compassion that we feel in our guts when we see the suffering along our journey? Will we get close enough to feel the shallow breath of the half dead, the faint pulse, to see the smallest of movements? Will we slow our pace and give up our donkey for a time, dip into our traveling funds and carry on luggage?

Do you notice that floods always seem to come at the worst time? Of course when the floods hit us it’s always bad timing – no one is ever ready for a flood. But also when they hit someone else God wants to move us to have compassion towards. It seems that so often it happens just when we feel like we have the least to give.

[can’t think of the last time I thought, ah, perfect – this is happening just when I had some extra time, some extra resources, etc. I often discover later that the timing was perfect, but it hardly ever feels like that in the moment – Joe’s motorcycle accident story…]

I imagine the Samaritan in the story had similar thoughts as he approached his half-dead neighbor. Bad timing! I was making good progress on the journey, and now this. What if the guy is still alive? The kind of shape he’s in, it’s going to take a lot to just give him a shot to live. Maybe if I don’t get too close, I won’t know for sure, and I can move on without my conscience bothering me too much.

But those stingy thoughts were just that, thoughts. He put one foot in front of another and approached his neighbor. When he saw the man, it didn’t matter that he was Jew, it only mattered that he was a fellow sufferer, and he was moved with compassion. And that compassion moved him to go back to his own provisions and draw down his supply of necessities.

Later, Jesus’ students could remember this story and see Jesus in it. The Samaritan as a picture of Jesus—an outcast who gives of himself to restore the half dead to full life. We can do the same, and recognize that every time we come across people who have been tossed about by overwhelming floods, we have a chance to join with Jesus to become part of Compassion’s rising tide. A tide that is sweeping over the whole of the earth, eventually to overwhelm every overwhelming flood, eventually to create breathing room for every fellow sufferer who has been beneath the waters of the overwhelming flood. Let’s surrender ourselves to Love, and discover who love leads us to carry, and discover most of all where love carries us together.

Practical Tips:

1. Don’t buy anything for 3 days.

2. Travel on roads where half-dead people sometimes lay. Compassion Ministry. Children’s Ministry. Youth Ministry.

3. Do a daily gut check.

4. And then do what you can. Something. Anything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

1st John: Catch Fire

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/04/2011

18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him

Memories of Papa taking me to my first Detroit Tigers’ game. Getting in car that smelled a little like cigarette smoke. Singing “Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet” on the way. The concrete overpasses as we headed into the city. The looming buildings and dirty streets. The parking lots and attendants trying to flag us down. The guys scalping tickets outside, people hawking pennants and programs. The stadium itself, epic, staggering in size and legend. Going out from the bright sun into the dark hallways, bustling with tall people, stopping in the bathroom, overwhelmed by the trough-style urinals, then the smells of hotdogs and nachos, Jerseys, caps, bats. (It’s even more enticing now, with Ferris wheels and carousels and pitching contests and shops and restaurants.) I had nearly forgotten why we were there, when my Grandpa, said, OK, enough of that Jesse, come with me. And he took me through the tunnel to our seats. It got bright again, and quieter, calmer. Not much seemed to be happening out there. But we sat down, and opened the program he’d bought, and he began to point the players out to me, and explain the game, and soon enough, what we’d passed through to get there didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered except what was happening on that field. Well, that, and the hot dogs.

This passage is a little like that.

It starts with so much excitement and drama. Anti-Christs and last hours. Deniers and liars. But once you get past that to heart of it all, the real excitement, the real drama, is in the last couple of sentences about anointing. Which at first glance seems a lot quieter, and calmer. But once we begin to appreciate it, all the rest seems to matter less and less.

Some explanation is in order.

1st John is a pastoral letter to a church in crisis. A couple of decades earlier, this group of people had heard the gospel of John and become students of Jesus, disciples who gave their allegiance to the Jesus the Christ over the Roman Caesar. They’d formed a community together, an ecclesia, a church. And as happens with people in community, some kind of crisis was brewing – in this case it seems to be centered around some theological debate about who Jesus is and why he matters. So John writes this letter to this church to say to them what he wants them to hear in the midst of this crisis. And it’s at this point in the letter that he begins to address that crisis specifically.

However, given our distance from the particulars of the crises, it’s a little difficult to sort out exactly what was going on. We only have this one perspective on it, and, as we’ll see, John doesn’t take a point by point approach to sorting it all out. He’s got a different strategy.

And it’s extra confusing because we’ve got all these ideas about phrases like “the last hour” – we assume John is talking about the end of the world – and “the antichrist,” – again, language we associate in our popular Christian imagination with the end of the world.

But is he really? Probably not. Our assumptions are actually pretty far off.

The phrase “last hour” – “eschate hora” – is only used here. Nowhere else in the Bible. And clearly, the world doesn’t end just then. So maybe John is saying, this is an extreme, or climactic, moment for this church. It would be an equally valid translation.

And “anti-christ” doesn’t show up anywhere else either, except in here and in 2nd John. Nope, not even in Revelation. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.) So we aren’t sure exactly what John was getting on about, except that there were people either in opposition to Jesus himself, or more specifically to the idea of Jesus as the Christ, or anointed one.

And that’s why I want to zero in on to this idea of anointing. Because everything in this passage is pointing there. Anointing is where the ballgame is at, it’s the true reason for all the commotion.

18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichristos (anti-annointed one) is coming, even now many antichristoi (anti-annointed ones) have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20But you have a chrisma (anointing) from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christos (Anointed One). Such a person is the antichristos (anti-anointed one)—denying the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As for you, the chrisma (anointing) you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his chrisma (anointing) teaches you about all things and as that chrisma (anointing) is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Something epic and disruptive is happening here. But it might totally pass us by if we miss the context.

There has been a central question throughout the Bible that the scriptures are speaking to, in various ways, at various times. Where is God? Where can you find him?

Exodus 25v8

8“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.

Exodus 28v41

41After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.

1 Samuel 16v12-13

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power.

Luke 4v18

18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me…

John 14v15-17

15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.


25“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you


26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.


13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.


22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Where is God? Temple, Priests, Kings and prophets, in Jesus, and in you

27As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

So what does this mean? It means everything has changed.

One night in the spring of 1990, while I was living in Belfast, the shockwave from a bomb blast shook our house, rattling windows, knocking things off of walls and shelves. Never found out where, why, who, what happened. Nothing on the news, in the papers. Unless you knew someone personally in the know, if the media didn’t cover it, it’s as if it didn’t happen.

Flash forward to a week ago Tuesday and the earthquake that happened in Virginia. My sister was practicing with her field hockey team at American University in D.C. when they were all fell to the ground for 30 seconds while the earth shook. My sister grabbed her cell phone from the bench and texted the whole family: THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE DURING PRATICE!!!

People throughout the area were grabbing phones and tweeting, snapping photos of damage and uploading them to facebook, calling, texting. News organizations were among the last to have the story. [show Twitter QuakeMap] Between 1990 and 2011, a seismic shift has happened because everyone has a camera phone connected to the internet. Imagine that bomb going off in Belfast today. Twitter and facebook would be flooded with reports while the TV stations were still sending news crews to the scene.

Think about Egypt. Iran. Libya. Yemen. This new power in people’s hands is disruptive. It makes the existing power structures and powerful interests quake. The Arab spring, people clamoring for freedom, for democracy. Everything is changing.

Anointing changes everything. Where is God? Not just in the temple. Not just in the priests. Not just in the kings and the powerful and the prophets. Not just in Jesus, the Messiah. But in you, and you, and you, and you…

An Arab spring is nothing compared to Humanity’s spring, where resurrection life is spreading like wildfire.

Any John Legend fans? [Play John Legend’s “Our Generation”…] We can go to a concert. Put him on our MP3 players. Maybe subscribe to his twitter feed. What if you were a friend, a family member, part of his band? You’d be closer and closer to his presence. Which would be cool.

But I played John Legend because I think, forget being near John Legend; what if I could sing like he sings? What if, when I opened up my mouth to sing, it was as if I were inhabited by John Legend’s voice, as if his voice was in me….? How cool would that be?

Jesus’ disciples have been in his presence, but now he says he is leaving, so that his presence will be in them. And they will then do what he does.

Jesus is telling them, everything you saw me do while in my presence, you will do with my presence in you.

But more than that, even.

John 14v12

Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

The anointing of the Holy Spirit opens the door to even more resurrection life, even more of God’s Kingdom, than if the Anointed One walks the earth doing it himself.

The anointing changes everything.

When Christianity feels dead, boring, unalive, it’s because we are not living as anointed ones. It’s like we are a body lying a in a coffin. It looks like a person. But there is no lifegiving spirit within it, and so maybe mourning is the proper response.

We can go to church, and tithe, and listen to sermons, and have the right doctrine but we are like a lifeless body. Like a wax figurine.

There is spiritual power available from all sorts of sources. But this is different. It is God himself in you, and God is not something to be used, but someone with whom we cooperate. He is untamed and untamable. There is a wildness to life with the Spirit of God alive in us. He’s got his own agenda – his own desires, thelema will. And so it is a completely different dance. But it is filled with the joy and exhilaration that the best dances are filled with.

Perhaps we need a reminder. Perhaps we need a refill. Perhaps we need to receive for the first time.

Practical Tips:

1. Don’t get worked up until it’s working out. Stop investing all kinds of energy in other debates that should be going to learning to live as an anointed student of Jesus, set on a course of doing the things he did. Make a promise to not get worked up about an issue until you’ve seen Jesus use you to heal someone or cast out a demon or forgive someone or welcome someone who has been in exile from you in his name. And then see if you even care about the issue after that.

2. It starts with Mouth to Mouth. Use your mouth to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one. Our anointing starts by recognizing in Jesus the anointing of God, and then he breathes on us his Holy Spirit. Because discipleship is essentially saying to Jesus, I want whatever you’ve got, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get it. And him saying, I want you to have everything I’ve got, and I’ll take whatever you’ve got to give it to you. And everything follows from there.

3. Loosen Your Lips. Practice praying in tongues regularly. It can be a helpful reminder that you aren’t alone. Ask for the gift of a prayer language if you don’t have one.

4. Catch Fire. Open your hands to receive…

Thursday, September 1, 2011

1st John: Unstuck / Plastic Couch Covers

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/28/2011

Just so I know who I am about to unintentionally offend: Does anyone have plastic covers on their couches…?

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people the flesh, the lust of their the eyes and their boasting about what they have and do one has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever abides in eternity.

Two ways to live – enslaved by desires that spring from our “love” for the “world” and the things of this world, or with the freedom and confidence that comes from practicing God’s desires.

One attaches you to things that pass away, and prevents you from being attached to the one who is eternal.

The other attaches you to God, and causes you to abide/rest/remain in eternity.

[the tale of Colin and his Nintendo DS…]

Do not love the world…if you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you…

All three “loves” are the same Greek word, agape. Note that there is a continuum of meanings of the word “agape,” just as there is for our English word “love”… we use the word “love” to describe all sorts of good feelings about all sorts of things. From pizza to iphones to Survivor to dual zone climate control to string theory to the beautiful game to late summer / early fall weather to JJ Abrams to MLK, jr. to our mothers. [car like a toddler / annoys you constantly, but you’d kill anyone who tried to take it from you]

[Show Lindt chocolate bar…confession of love exercise with volunteer… ]

We “love” things to different degrees, and all is well and good as long as it’s proportionate, but it’s possible for us to love some things to a disproportionate degree, isn’t it? John is getting at something related to that, which we’ll explore further in a bit.

Similarly, there is a continuum of meanings of the word translated “world” here. Kosmos in Greek. And the only way to get clarity is by looking at the context.

For example, consider how John uses it in the gospel of John, the third chapter, 16th verse.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Clearly speaking of the world as his whole creation, with his image-bearers first in mind. We join with God, as his image-bearers, in loving his creation. Caring for it. Giving thanks for it. Enjoying it as an expression of his provision and love and beauty. Setting aside our momentary desires for the sake of its blessing. This, of course, is especially true when it comes to loving our fellow image-bearers, as John has been talking about, powerfully and pointedly, at length.

But here in the letter of 1st John, “world” is clearly getting at a different sense. World as the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments (talents, gifts, lands, resources), riches, advantages, pleasures, etc. Everything, in other words, whose value is a function of how we relate to it and use it, as opposed to those things which have inherent value because of God’s love for them.

Let’s take a piece of chocolate cake baked by a mother for her child’s birthday. How do we know its value? It depends. To the mother that made it out love for her child’s birthday, it is a holy and good vessel of love. To the child who takes it for granted, or has decided that he or she doesn’t like the size of the piece he or she has been given, its true value as a vessel of love has been lost. To the hungry guest who loves chocolate cake, its value is a function of its taste and moistness and whether or not it has butter-cream frosting. To the mother-in-law who wasn’t invited to make the cake again this year, it’s slap in her face.

Compare the value of the cake to the value of the aforementioned mother and child. The mother, and the child, regardless of whether they are loved or unloved, regardless of how talented or emotionally healthy or rich or beautiful or strong they are, have inestimable value, inherently, because of God’s love for them.

To love the mother, or to love the child is always a holy response. It is doing God’s will. However, to love the cake the same way one loves the mother or the child is never a holy response.

Think if you are a brother-in-law to the mother and see the cake that afternoon, and love it in such a way that you decide to have just one small piece, because no one will mind, will they? Now your love for the cake has gotten in your way of your love for both the mother and the child, has it not?

Think if the mother loves it to such a degree that she allows no one to eat it, or gets offended if someone decides they don’t like it very much. It might lose its capacity to bring blessing to others, might it not? And in truth, it might lose its capacity to bring blessing to the mother; it instead becomes a source of anxiety.

Like plastic covers on the couches, right?

This world, and the things of this world, are sticky, and as a result, we must be careful not to love it, and them, or we will get stuck to this world and the things of this world. (Plastic couch covers, again!)

And this world and its desires are passing away.

Heaven help us if we are stuck to things passing away, or they must might take us with them.

Let’s unpack this idea of the stickiness of the cravings of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boasting of what we have and do.

Cravings of the flesh:

physiological cravings for a specific food or some other physical pleasure.

For adrenaline or endorphin rush from competition or athletic activity.

For a good emotional feeling that comes from a relationship.

Those things are sticky.

Lust of the eyes:

A thing that looks good to you, and even produces pleasure just by you looking at it and lusting after it.

Something you see and want, not for the blessing it can be to you or others, but because of how it makes you feel to look at it.

Pornography, of course, is the elephant in the room.

But what about our love of shopping, not to actually buy things, but just for the feeling we get?

Or magazines filled with your particular brand of eye candy (food, houses, fit bodies, cars, you name it). You escape the here and now and your brain can’t stop thinking about them.


Boasting of what we have and do:

The feeling that comes from having more things

or having better things

or having more tasteful things

or being better

or being more significant

or talented or successful or refined or whatever.


It’s only natural, right?

Or is it?

None of this experience of this world or the things of this world comes from our Father in the heavens. It's not our birthright, not our inheritance, not in our image-bearing genes. God is not stuck to any of these things.

We know this because we saw Jesus live in this world without getting stuck

No, getting stuck comes from our broken relationship to this world, not from our heavenly father.

The pleasures of our flesh are meant to serve us, not master us. They help point us to God’s goodness and provision, which leads us to love and trust him. It is the same with our eyes capacity to appreciate and dream. It’s the same with our desire to build and accomplish and create and grow. They help point us to the good things God is calling us to work towards.

But once we start getting stuck to any of these things, we become mastered, enslaved by them.

So right on the heels of this idea, John tells us that the path to freedom is in doing God’s will.

17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Boule vs. thelema. Two Greek Words for Will.

Boule is the capital W Will of God – the kind of thing that cannot be resisted, where he will do what he says he is going to do. Like creating the world. Like setting Israel free from slavery in Egypt. Like defeating sin, death, evil on the cross. And so on. That is not the word used here.

Here, John is talking about the thelema of God. Thelema is more like the lowercase will. Like the things God desires for us, but that are also connected to our cooperation and receiving them. Like he desires for us to know his love and forgiveness, but he will not force it on us. Like he desires for us to love one another, but he will not force us to do it. Like he desires us to trust him in all things so that we can know freedom from worry and anxiety. He may invite us, he may strongly suggest to us, he may command us, he may conspire to ratchet up the heat when we resist, out of his love for us. But his thelema will won’t be done ultimately, apart from our willing participation in it.

And us doing his thelema looks a lot more like a soccer game than it does a chess match...

I tend towards the idea that often what God's thelema will for us is not primarily option A, B, or C, but rather that we learn how to choose option A,B, or C in creative cooperation with him, and that often he would rather have us learn what his desires for us and the world are like, than to be pre-occupied with figuring out the details of the grand plan.

To put it another way, I tend towards the idea that God is as much jazz improviser as he is classical composer.

(Incidentally, that’s where this idea of God’s blueprint for our lives isn’t such a theologically solid thing. The idea that every aspect of our lives is mapped out in advance, and any deviation from the blueprint is sinful. The idea that God has a particular will for when we brush our teeth, and how long, and so on. And that if we get it wrong, we’ll pay the price. What a nervous, and non-biblical way to live! Another topic, for another time – but for now, know at least that this is not what John is talking about here when he says to “do God’s will”.)

All that to say, when John juxtaposes our desires for the things of this world with doing God’s will, he’s suggesting there is an important relationship between our love for things and stuff and pleasures with God’s desire for us to love him and one another.

Remember when we spoke a couple of weeks ago about the demands of love? How love isn’t a fluffy weak thing, but a thing that placed demands on us? Well, it turns out that Love is always demanding that we get unstuck from the things of this world…

Here’s how it works:

We get attached to something in this world – a thing, a pleasure, a feeling, an achievement or social standing, hard earned respect, whatever – and then, because all that stuff is passing away – something threatens it. We get sick, or old. Someone decides to stop giving us what they were giving us before, for whatever reason. Someone takes something from us, or hurts us, or disrespects us, or is more successful than us. Whatever.

The particulars don’t matter, the result is the same. We get distressed. We get angry at God, or bitter, or resentful, or depressed because the thing we loved of this world is passing away. Or we get angry or bitter or resentful or desperately clingy toward the person who isn’t giving us what they once did. Or we begin to hate the person who takes something we’ve gotten too attached to from us, or who hurts us, or who disrespects us, or is more successful than us, and we can’t see straight anymore. We can’t see the good news anymore. The world is a dangerous place, and we’ve got to protect ourselves, or we just plain old want to give up.

How are we going to do God’s thelema will? How are we going to love and trust him? How are we going to love the people who have disappointed us or rejected us or just can’t or won’t give us what we want from them anymore? How are we going to forgive and bless those that appear to be our enemies?

We’ve got to get repent and get unstuck. We’ve got to get stuck to God and doing his thelema will. We’ve got to be much wiser going forward about the degrees of love that we give to things, and be careful to nurture the loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

To bring it all home, look at those last three words:

17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God abides in eternity

Aion (the word translated “eternity” is a qualitative word, generally speaking, rather than quantitative). Aion zoe the kind of life experienced by God in the heavens. So abiding in eternity means an experience of life where we are rooted solidly, living from, the place of security and grace and goodness that God dwells in.

If we do the desires of God (loving, forgiving, healing, serving, giving generously, etc.) we abide / dwell / remain / rest in the unchanging, incorruptible experience of God’s kingdom. Present with his presence and favor. A world apart from the uncertainty and haphazardness and passing-awayness of this world.

[image of child with Father at a carnival, holding his hand, riding on his shoulders, clinging in his arms…then running away do this or that, and then panicking when they realize they’ve lost him…and then trying it all again, this time asking, Dad, can we go do that together?]

Practical tips (just try 1 or 2):

The Give It Up Test: are you suspicious about whether or not you love something of this world, whether you have gotten stuck to something? Give it up for one week and see what happens.

The Demand of Love Test: Identify one person you are having difficulty loving, and not just because you don't like their personality. What of this world might you be stuck to that they threaten that love is demanding you get unstuck from?

The Time Test: Imagine giving 2-5 hours in service to God a week. What would you have to get unstuck from to do that?

The Money Test: Imagine tithing, if you don't yet, or adding 10% to your giving if you do. What emotions do you feel? "oh, I'd love to - how can I make that happen?". Or, "keep your hands off my money..." What are you stuck to that keeps you from being more generous with your money? Craving of flesh? Lust of eyes? Boasting of what you have and do? Get unstuck and get generous.