Why Bother with Jesus?

Eating lunch in a French cafe last week, Sam and I were playing a game called: You just won the lottery, what will you do with the money?

It’s a useful exercise because the question really asks: Without limitations, perceived or actual, what would you do with your life?

IMG_8737“Well, I’d have a nice ranch with cattle,” he said.

“You already have that.” I reminded him.

“I’d travel more.”

“What are you talking about, we just ordered lunch in French.”

“Ok, I’d buy a new truck.”

“Come on, you’re going to do that anyway.”

What we think we want is money. What we really want is joy.

It’s tempting to believe we could have better lives if we only had more money. Obviously in some cases that’s true, but in France I caught myself wishing I too could drink wine on my sparkly, white yacht before sailing to Villefranche or Monaco. Unfortunately, that craving threatened to eclipse the simple joy of watching the boats from my balcony in Nice.

Even though I know better, I still behave like money guarantees happiness. Please everybody, raise your hand if you know a wealthy person who is a howling, insufferable mess.

In my mind, that is best answer to the question: Why bother with Jesus?

When you get everything you want and it’s still not enough, crushing despair is often the bonus in the box. What do you do then? Go get more boxes? Buddha said that wouldn’t work. Jesus did too. He said over and over, don’t strive, don’t hoard, and he followed up with this advice:

“While you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and there is nothing that I need,’ you have no eyes to see that you are wretched, pitiable, poverty-stricken, blind and naked. My advice to you is to buy from me that gold which is refined in the furnace so that you may be rich… All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent.” Rev. 3:17-19

IMG_8430Before I was following Jesus I wasn’t greedy, I was complacent, which is a different and hard animal to break. So, how do you buy this gold from Jesus? What does that look like in practical terms? Here’s my hunch:

  • What matters to Jesus is usually opposite of what matters to us. So plan on that.
  • It’s going to involve doing things for people who won’t say thank you. Rinse, repeat.
  • It will cost something, probably a lot, maybe everything.

Wow, that sounds awesome sign me up!

But what if the return was joy? What if by buying this gold, rather than coveting and hoarding ours, we could live with unspeakable joy? What if  your joy bank was so full, overflowing so lavishly on other people, that they followed you asking your secret?

Would you do it?

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Are You Mad at God?

One of my favorite passages in The Bible comes from of the book of Job. I love it because it is a poetic and beautiful rejoinder to a man complaining to God.

Job had reason to complain. He was an uber-wealthy guy who served God well. For reasons he didn’t know, he lost everything: His family, his home, his vast wealth and was left sifting through the ashes of his life, his body covered in weeping sores. His friends came over and tried to help, probing the scriptures, trying to sort out what Job had done wrong.

Job never cursed God, but for 36 chapters, he and his friends speculated.

Finally, out of a whirlwind, God spoke to Job.

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

Pleiades (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man and I will demand of you, and you declare to Me. 

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? …Have you entered the treasuries of the snow, or have you seen the treasuries of the hail…Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the signs of the zodiac in their season? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule upon the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds so that an abundance of waters may cover you? Can you send lightnings, that they may go and say to you, Here we are? (excerpted from Job 38)

Then Job replied to the Lord: Behold I am of small account and vile! What shall I answer You? I lay my hand upon my mouth. Job 40:3-4

Whoa!

IMG_0018Ummmm frankly, I expect a little more coddling than that when I have a problem. But why should I? We’re talking about the creator of hoar frost, the aurora borealis and lightning. I hurled insult at Him all the years I refused to serve Him, taking credit for the success in my life, and blaming Him for the suffering.

Either God is sovereign over all of it or he isn’t. Gird up your loins little girl, and choose!

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Proverbs 9:10 says and that’s the message I get from Job. If we plan to cultivate a life of faith that radiates love, kindness, courage, justice, peace and confidence, we must get comfortable with the mystery and respect it, accepting joy and suffering as parts of the human equation. Clinging to God through both is the key.

Happily, the Bible is littered with promises to encourage us.

  • For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
  • Come to me all you who are heavy laden and weary and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
  • But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Job did that and his story ends like this:

And the Lord turned the captivity of Job and restored his fortunes, when he prayed for his friends; also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10

What Do You Do With Suffering?

With all my recent chatter about contentment, it seems wise to tiptoe up to that bloated, hateful beast called suffering.

calla lillies in the window light

(Photo credit: shannylynne)

Because I can hear you saying, “Oh yes following Jesus is all hearts and rainbows for you, but I have cancer, or the bank just repossessed my house or my country is beset by civil war. I mean, would a good God really allow all this suffering?”

First of all, I am so sorry. I am. Suffering sucks. However, the question of suffering has vexed religious scholars forever, so my answer to why God allows it is:

I DON’T KNOW.

But I’ve got a few hunches gleaned from The Bible and some bathroom mirror posts to help you through it. If you don’t happen to be suffering right now, read on anyway. It’s good to be prepared.

1. The Bible says the world’s rent is paid by the father of sin and death, and he roams like a lion seeking people to destroy. A lot of people are following that lion, by choice or default, therefore we ought to expect destruction. Why doesn’t God step in? He did. He sent Jesus who demonstrated how we are to live here – forgive your enemies, take care of the poor, love and obey God – then he died for our inability to do it.

2. There is an epic misunderstanding about the price of following Christ. Jesus told his disciples it would cost them everything, but it would be worth it. I don’t know who started the Christianity = hearts and rainbows rumor, maybe that’s just American zeitgeist, but take a note from the Apostle Paul.

I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once…I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by the desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers…And that’s not the half of it. II Corinthians 11:23-27 MSG

Paul suffered mightily but he believed Jesus won, so he could handle it. I believe the same thing so, when the lion attacks me, I can appropriate this promise in Psalm 91.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty (Whose power no foe can withstand). I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely on and in Him I (confidently) trust.

3. Sometimes God doesn’t remove our suffering because he’s using it to make us stronger and more compassionate. We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, Paul said in Romans 5:3-5. So while we’re groaning under the weight of that process, here’s another for the  mirror.

…be satisfied with your present; for He (God) Himself has said, he will not in any way fail you, nor give you up, nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down. Hebrews 13:5

I struggled hard with that scripture because for many people, like women and children sold into sexual slavery, it seems patently untrue. But faith only works if you know God’s word and trust it. So when I posted Hebrews 13:5 and read it every day, I began seeing evidence of it in places I had overlooked. That made me trust it more. The more I trusted it, the more active I became in fighting those ____fill in the blank____ who buy and sell helpless women. I only cared about that theoretically before. Now, it inflames me so much I financially support those on the front lines; and from time to time my unholy, potty mouth runs away with me – sorry.

Do you see? God works through people who trust Him with their own lives first – especially in the suffering.

We are assured and know that all things work together and are (fitting into a plan) for good to and for those who love God and are called according to His design and purpose. Romans 8:28.

You are not alone. Hang in there.