Monthly Archives: January 2017

Letting The Law Lead Us

If we are to “let the law lead us” as Jarrod suggests, we must begin by considering the way we relate to the Bible. The reality is plenty of other folks in Jesus’s day were taking the Bible just as seriously as he was; that wasn’t the issue. No Jesus’s issue with the religious leaders of his day, and his challenge in the Sermon on the Mount, revolved around the manner in which people were taking the scriptures seriously. The most important question for students of the scriptures, for people of the book that were gathering around Jesus was this: were they courageous enough to be honest about the agendas, fear, self-interest, and other concerns that colored the way they read the sacred words and then daring enough to try to set those things aside? That question continues to beg an answer from followers of Jesus to this day.

Richard Rohr briefly describes how these “distorted filters” cause problems for us when we engage the Bible.

So what would it mean to “let the law lead us?” Well, it begins with an admission that all of us bring a lot with us when we sit down to read the scriptures, so much so that it’s no unfair to ask whether we’re really interest in “letting the law lead us” or whether we’re really attempting to lead the law. Then it’s a matter of trying to pursue with everything we’ve got the spirit of the law, the heart of the scriptures, and praying that the Holy Spirit would guide us in that pursuit, that the scriptures and the Spirit in concert would shape us into righteous followers of Jesus.

To that end, this song is a helpful reminder of the spirit of the law and the heart of the scriptures, and a call to pursue it with all we’ve got.

Questions for Reflection

1. How have you understood “the law” at various points in your faith journey? How has your understanding remained the same? How has it changed?

2. Do you tend more toward being a “letter of the law” person or a “spirit of the law” person? What factors do you think have contributed to this tendency?

3. In what area of your life do you feel most faithful to the spirit of the law? Why do you think this is?

4. In what area of your life do you feel you struggle most to be faithful to the spirit of the law? Why do you think this is?

5. Are there any areas of your life you’ve made off limits, so that the law cannot lead you toward righteousness? If so, what are they? What would it take for you to open up these closed off areas?

The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Offering Tastes and Glimpses of God

Salt of the earth. Light of the world. When I hear these phrases this is what comes to mind:

For a few brief moments several years ago, it was as if time were standing still. It was lunchtime, and I was excited a friend and I were going to be able to share a fantastic meal at Harold’s Pit Bar-B-Q (little did I know it would be the last meal I would ever eat there).

But it wasn’t the smell of the mesquite-smoked beef brisket as we walked through the door that seemed to cause time to stand still. Rather, it was the sound of owner Harold Christian’s voice stopping all conversations in their tracks by inviting everyone in the room to join him in a song and then launching into the familiar refrain of the gospel spiritual, “Amen.”

For a few moments, in the unlikeliest of places, it was as if we were standing on holy ground. The line stopped moving. Customers set their sandwiches down. Conversations ceased. Here’s what it looked like that day.

Sure there were some who didn’t sing along. To my knowledge there were no conversion experiences. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that for a moment, in that most ordinary place and time, Harold sacrificed efficiency during the lunch rush, in order to share his faith with all who would listen, in the way most natural for him: by using the beautiful, baritone voice God gave him.

Even when he didn’t sing–I ate there dozens of times during my years at ACU and that was the only time I heard him sing–there was something about the way he carried himself, something about the way he interacted with his customers, that was different than the average restaurateur. And virtually everyone who stepped foot inside that building recognized it, as evidenced by the response when Harold passed away last year. I think what made Harold unique was that he knew deep down that being salt and light was just as important as serving a great brisket sandwich.

Most of us aren’t going to interrupt a crowded restaurant by launching into songs. Indeed, most of us shouldn’t; God hasn’t placed us in a position like Harold’s or gifted us with that kind of voice. But all of us have opportunities to offer tastes and glimpses of God. The only question is whether we’ll seize them.

I invite you to let this video guide you into a time of reflection on how you might live out Jesus’s call to be salt and light, to offer tastes and glimpses of God.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who comes to mind for you when you hear the phrases “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”? Why do you think it is that this person comes to mind?

2. Think about your daily rhythms and weekly routines. In what ways can you be intentional about making sure that as you go about these rhythms and routines you are being salt and light?

The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Receiving Hard-To-Accept Promises

As a child growing up in church, I encountered the Beatitudes relatively early. I remember well the words of a sweet Sunday school teacher explaining to us that these words of Jesus were “be attitudes”–ways we were supposed to be. Often the Beatitudes were treated like a sort of New Testament complement to or improvement on the Ten Commandments. I even remember reading a series of cheesy children’s novels in which each book was based on a single commandment from the Ten Commandments and when the author ran out of commandments to write about, he or she began writing books based on each of the Beatitudes. All that to say, as a child the Beatitudes were little more than another set of instructions to be followed, rules to be obeyed. The Beatitudes-as-rules never made much sense to me. What virtue is there, after all, in seeking to be poor in spirit (whatever that means) or setting out to be persecuted? I thought.

The Beatitudes continued to seem strange to me until sometime during my freshman year of college when I heard someone describe the Beatitudes not as rules to be obeyed, but as promises to be received. Aha! That was it! Finally, these somewhat bizarre, sort of cryptic sayings of Jesus not only made sense, they were among the most meaningful words I’d ever heard. No longer were these words an oppressive burden, a reminder of my inability to live up to Jesus’s calling. Instead these words were a precious relief, a gushing stream of water for my thirsty soul. For from that moment on, I found grace dripping from every word of the Beatitudes, grace that completely changed my sense of myself, my view of others, my understanding of the world, and my relationship with God, grace like Rowan Williams describes in this video.

At different times in my life, I’ve found different Beatitudes to speak more meaningfully to my situation than others, filling my heart with a profound awareness of God’s unbelievable grace. That grace doesn’t always mean life is happy or pleasant or anything else. It doesn’t always explain the difficulties or the challenges. But that grace always renews my hope that in the end God’s loving kindness redeems even the worst life has to offer.

Brooke Fraser, in her song “Flags,” captures so beautifully what it’s like to trust in the vision of the Beatitudes in a world where they are far from fully realized. And yet it’s precisely in the messiness of life that these words take on their greatest meaning.

In his sermon Jarrod paraphrased the Beatitudes like this:

1. Blessed are the losers (or at least those who feel like losers).
2. Blessed are those who can’t seem to stop crying because their hearts are breaking.
3. Blessed are those who just can’t find the strength to fight back.
4. Blessed are those who are desperately hungry and thirsty, starving for something in life they don’t yet have.
5. Blessed are those who forgive quickly and easily even though others think they are weak push-overs.
6. Blessed are those who can’t believe in their hearts just how shattered the pure goodness of this world is.
7. Blessed are those who throw themselves into other people’s conflicts to make things better, and get attacked themselves for being in the middle.
8. Blessed are those who are gossiped about behind their backs and are threatened directly to their faces because of what they believe.
9. Blessed are those who get hurt because of how hard they try to do the right thing no matter what it costs them…

Look, I don’t know which beatitude belongs to you. I don’t know exactly what kind of blessing God wants to pour into your life. But I know this much: There is a blessing here at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount with your name on it.

•Total Belonging
•Deep Comfort
•Providential Care
•Complete Fulfillment
•Lasting Mercy
•A Vision of God
•Being Called God’s Child
•The Kingdom of Heaven

I wonder, as you mull over that list, which of these are you most holding onto for hope these days?

Which of these are the people around you most holding onto for hope?

I hope and pray that whichever one you’re holding onto, you’ll experience the blessing that you most need, and that through that blessing your hope will be renewed and your strength will be restored and you’ll know clearer than you’ve ever known before that you’re loved by a God whose love for you will never change and who will always be faithful.

The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Starting at the End: Why It All Matters

As a parent, one of the most frustrating things to hear from my children is the protest “I can’t do it!” It’s frustrating because they actually can clean their room or eat the vegetable on their plate or be quiet for a moment. The issue is not ability. I wouldn’t ask them to do something I knew they couldn’t do; that would just be cruel. No, the problem is my instruction to them in any given moment carries with it an expectation that they can and should do something that doesn’t come easily, that isn’t necessarily fun, but that is worthwhile even if they can’t quite understand how. Thus the impasse: “I can’t do it!”

Many people have responded to the Sermon on the Mount the way my kids sometimes respond to my instructions: “I can’t do it!” Some folks respond this way because they believe Jesus is asking them to do something he knows they can’t do, as if the point is to prove we’re all failures. If that’s true, though, Jesus is simply cruel. I’m not buying it. For others, whether or not we can do it is irrelevant; it’s just that Jesus repeatedly instructs us to do things that don’t come easily, that aren’t fun, and that, frankly, don’t seem to be worthwhile.

But like a parent who’s able to see a bigger picture–who knows that the room needs to be clean so the children can enjoy playing with the friends who will be coming over later or who knows that eating the vegetable on the plate will help the child grow healthily or who knows that a little quiet would help the child to calm down and rest–there’s a rhyme and a reason to everything Jesus says. The words of the Sermon on the Mount are words of life. More than that, they offer a framework for living The Good Life. If ever we’re able to summon up the courage to actually put these words into practice, I think we’d be amazed at the ways our lives would be transformed. Indeed, we might finally find what we’re looking for.

If the idea of putting these words into practice is daunting, don’t be discouraged. Jesus wouldn’t have spoken these words to the crowd that gathered around if he didn’t believe they were actionable. Not only that, but as you’ll hear in the following two videos, recent research by scientists and social scientists offers a compelling case that our ability to live out these words of Jesus isn’t a matter of whether we can or can’t do it, but a matter of whether we’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to fulfill this calling, not because we have to, but because we get to.

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways have you said “I can’t do it!” in response to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount?

2. How does it change your mindset when you begin to think of these words not as an impossible ideal meant to remind you of your failures but as an invitation to become fully human as God always intended you to be?

3. How might you begin to lean into Jesus’s vision, putting his words into practice them instead of brushing them off? What’s one specific action you can take this week?

The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.