Jesus Said: More Jesus, Less You

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comThe bus’ tires left the smooth pavement and hit dirt and rocks. As the bus jolted down the road, the road got narrower and narrower. After turning tight corners and dodging huge rocks, we arrived at our destination. The small, leaning building was a church in the midst of a shantytown in Costa Rica.

As we drove past the homes that were constructed with random pieces of lumber and corrugated tin, I realized that I was not in Kansas (or Virginia) anymore. As the children ran barefoot along side the bus to welcome us and out of curiosity, I knew that whatever my first world problems were, they didn’t compare to the lives of these in the third world.

I imagined the words of Mother Teresa as she escorted people down her streets of Calcutta:

“I will show you our people.”

Costa Rica - jasoncstanley.comMaria, the wife of the church’s pastor and one of the church’s leaders, led us through the shantytown, taking us to our people. We met a grandmother who was raising up to ten grandchildren. We met a single mother who walked into town, took a thirty minute bus ride to another major city, only to walk more to the coffee fields where she picked coffee beans. Her four sons were left home along in their shack. We met a group of sisters, the oldest was maybe twelve, who stayed home all day by themselves in fear. While their mother was at work, they worried that their abusive father would show up.

You could not look at these faces, these scars, these wounds, these swollen feet, these bleeding toes, these leaning houses, these unattached roofs, without putting your own life into perspective.

Here are people who were hanging on to the end of their ropes. Poverty. Hunger. Abuse. Neglect. Addictions.

End of the rope.

And yet, Jesus says that when you are at the end of your rope, you are blessed. We tend to think that when we have our act together, our home organized, our children in bed, bills paid, we are blessed. Jesus does what Jesus does so well, he says the unexpected. He turns the norm upside down. He shakes it up a little bit.

When we are at the end of our ropes – when we have had enough – that is when we are our weakest. And when we are weak, Jesus is strong – I heard that in a song once. When we are weak, Christ is strong. When we are in that vulnerable place, is it a prime time to have an encounter with the Christ who in his weakest moment was his strongest. When there is less of us, there is more Jesus, and when there is more Jesus, we experience God’s Kingdom.

What this means is that when we are the end of our ropes, it doesn’t make us any less righteous. Think of it as making room for Jesus.  The question then becomes, will you let Jesus in?

Jesus Said: To Die For

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. (Matthew 5:10-11, The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comMartin Luther King, Jr., in a speech in 1965, said, “If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for.”  As 21st century Americans we live for our careers, we live for our educations, we live for our families, we live for our nation, but do we live for our God?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3) willingly went into the fiery furnace, not with a certainty that God would save them, but because of their zeal to live their lives for their God.  They refused to bow to the idol made of gold, and they were persecuted for it.  They were tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace. We are taught—maybe even expected—to bow at the altar of the media, the altar of the shopping mall, the altar of the self.

Fiery FurnaceWe might call Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego countercultural. While the rest of society was bowing before the golden statue of the King, these three men did not. King would reference this Hebrew story often during the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps because they represented so well what was happening to African-Americans across the South. If you have seen the film The Butler (and other films like it), you see graphic images of what persecution looked like during that era.

In his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King writes in response to a letter written by other clergy men that appeared in the Birmingham newspaper. King and his non-violent movement was countercultural. These clergy men who wrote in were asking King and his movement to slow down. In essence to bow before the golden statue to society’s norms. The Church can be a greenhouse of countercultural thinking. Instead of bowing before the idols of fill-in-the-blank, we bow before the One True God.

Being countercultural, however, has become a kind of buzz word. Christians like to use it to justify their standing up on a particular moral or even political issue. Unfortunately, in the midst of being countercultural, there is a very delicate line between being countercultural and being mean. Yep, mean. It is possible for someone to stand up for their morals and stand up for their beliefs without being mean. Without being a bully. Without persecuting others. Jesus’ blessing to those who are persecuted does not give the rest of us a license to persecute.

Jesus is up front and clear. If we follow Him, we will be persecuted. Following Jesus is not a Country Club Membership. It is not going to be easy. And when you are persecuted – when are treated poorly because you are countercultural – you are blessed.

By climbing the ladder of the beatitudes, we can live a committed life to God.  A life filled with persecution because our lives are filled with bowing down to the one true God.   This life brings with it joy and gladness.  Isaiah and Jeremiah knew this joy and gladness.  Peter and Paul knew this joy and gladness.   When we live our lives for Christ, we live in a joy and gladness that the world cannot give us.  And we live as Easter people, filled with a hope that can only come through the Risen Christ.

Are you in a place in your spiritual life where you can rejoice in the midst of your suffering?  

 Pray:  Lord, may your Holy Spirit dwell within us so that we can live each day for you.  Help us to put aside our selfish needs and desires and to stop putting them first.  You are first in our lives.  Amen.

Jesus Said: Open Your Eyes

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8, The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comIn the film, The Ron Clark Story (2006), Matthew Perry plays native North Carolinian teacher Ron Clark who moves to New York City to teach elementary school.  Clark learns quickly that the inner city school system is very different from the school system in small town North Carolina.  But Clark also learns that the inner city kids need the same love that the small town kids do.

United Methodist minister James Howell reminds us that “many great teachers and heroes, from Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century to Mother Teresa in the twentieth have taught us that we ‘see God’ in what is not at all invisible: in our neighbor.”

In various ways Mr. Clark becomes a Christ-figure for us all.  No matter the kid, no matter the situation, Mr. Clark shows the same love to everyone.  It is a pure love.  A love that we are all called to show to everyone!  For in loving each other, we love God.

Jim Palmer, in his book Divine Nobodies, he writes about meeting Jesus in the Waffle House waitress, the tire salesman, and the swim teacher, among others. Palmer’s thesis is that when we open our eyes to those around us – children in our classrooms; those serving us at restaurants; those fixing our cars; those sitting in pews next to us – we see a glimpse of Christ. And we called, if not commanded, to love as Christ loved. Because we have been loved, we can love.

This is a pure love that comes through holy transformation.  Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, NRSV).  We should heed Paul’s words, and not be conformed to seeing others around us as the world, society, community, others want us to see them. When we open our eyes to see others as Christ sees them, we are transformed.

In what ways do you need Christ to transform your mind and heart? 

 Pray:  Lord, thank you for being with us each and every day.  Thank you for giving us eyes to see others as you would.  Continue to be with us as we get closer to each other, and to you.  Amen.

Jesus Said: Full of Care

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”  (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comMy NaNa & PaPa (my grandparents) have always been formative to my faith.  I have watched them over the years take in sick friends or family/church members and take care of them until they were well; take meals to those who just got home from the hospital; visit with neighbors who can’t get out of their own homes; invite those who aren’t able to be with family for Christmas to our family Christmas breakfast.  And the list could go on. It would be nothing to show up at their house one day and find someone there, being taken care of. It instilled in us the importance of looking out for each other. They have always been full of care for others.

I like how “The Message” equates mercy with one who is being “care-full”.  Mercy is more than just a feeling or a sentiment.  It is a practice.  It is a way of life.  Perhaps this is why John Wesley referred to acts of kindness and service as works of mercy. It is an expression of the grace we have so freely received from Christ.

Emily has walked with young women in India and Sudan whose lives are on a delicate line between being full of care and full of despair. Emily has walked with these young women, filling them with her care and love. As Emily writes on her blog SixEight Life:

My sweet friends Nancy, Parumsheela, and Nurul are a mere step away from becoming victims. They walk a delicate line in their communities of relative safety and extreme exploitation and victimization. Their families may be one small loan away from complete slavery. They could be one short walk to a well away from being raped.

Emily is full of care. These young women, and others like them, may be millions of steps away or simply seconds away. The reality is that they are in need of care. Being full of care, we can take the risks and boldly step out to care and nurture others.

Christ embodied this way of life.  When you read any of the four Gospels, you’ll see how Christ took the cross willingly because he was so “care-full” for all of humanity. Because Christ has given so freely, so we too can give.

How are you “care-full”? How do you express God’s grace?

Pray:  Lord, thank you for those in our lives who serve as faith mentors teaching us by their actions to be “care-full” for others.  Amen.

Jesus Said: Cloudy Vision

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9; The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comAbout a year ago I got new glasses.  When the nurse gave me the new frames, and I put them on, I was surprised at how well I could see!  It was only then that I realized how cloudy my vision had gotten. At first it was hard to imagine that my eye sight had changed so much. It was crazy to think that before the new glasses, my vision was cloudy at best.

The Greek word used for peacemakers means something like “doers of peace.”  Peace—this spirit of not competing or fighting with one another—whether that be among nations, among siblings, or among church members—is something we “do” rather than “possess.”

Scholar Douglas R. A. Hare reminds us that being a peacemaker does mean one lives in peace or dwells in the fruits of peace, but rather means that one is about “the hard work of reconciling hostile individuals, families, groups, and nations.” There is a difference between those who are peacemakers and those who are peacekeepers. Keeping the peace is keeping everyone happy. Keeping the peace is walking on eggshells, being careful not to offend anyone. Peacekeeping is not speaking up and standing up for what you believe it.

Peacemaking is hard work. It is the work of standing up for what is right. It is the work of being courageous and bold to stand up and speak for the voiceless. Peacemaking is about truth-speaking for the sake of reconciliation.

Cloudy Vision - jasoncstanley.comBut, cloudy vision prevents us from being peacemakers.  We must learn to look at others through the eyes of God.  This is the lesson which Bruce in the comedy Bruce Almighty (2003) learns.  In order to make peace with his girlfriend Grace, he has to learn to look at her through the eyes of God. Instead of building a wall between himself and Grace, Bruce is able to build a bridge where reconciliation could be possible.

Martin Luther King, Jr. longed for a day when children of all colors would join hands—a day when we look at each other through the eyes of God and see each other as members of the same family. And through that vision, we will be willing to do the hard work of peacemaking.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon said, “The forgiveness of sins still remains the sole ground of all peace.”  Forgiveness is hard work.  How is forgiveness needed to make peace in your life? 

Pray:  Open our eyes, Lord, to see as You see.  And, Lord, give us a forgiving heart.  Amen.

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