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Archive for January, 2016

He went away grieving: A reflection on Mark 10:17-22

He was shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions. The Gospel of Matthew tells us this man was rich and the Gospel of Luke tells us he was a young ruler and so this man has traditionally been referred to as the rich young ruler.

It was custom in those days to seek a teacher who is both educated in the scriptures and draws in a crowd by their teaching to ask them what they might do to inherit eternal life. This wasn’t so much a reference to the future as to the here and now. A typical teacher would answer by giving their take on the law and in particular the commandments and would invite the inquirer to follow their sect (NT Wright).

This young man didn’t quietly seek Jesus. Instead he ran to him and knelt in front of him. Here is a man who understands that this Jesus is someone special. The rich young ruler was there to ask Jesus what he thought of the law and what kind of movement he was leading.

I can imagine Jesus playing with the rich young ruler to see how much he really understands when he calls Jesus “good”. Jesus replies by asking, “Why do you call me good? Only one is good and that is God.” This is more than about words. It is about Jesus’ divinity. By claiming that Jesus is good, did the rich young ruler realize he was claiming that Jesus was God?

Jesus then answers his question – you know the commandments:

You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother

The rich young ruler says that he has been keeping these commandments since he was young.

Jesus loved him. There is something admirable about someone who is trying to keep the 10 commandments and is seeking the truth. Then Jesus gazes deeply into the young man’s eyes with a piercing love that sees right into the soul. “You lack one thing”

Notice which of the 10 commandments Jesus did not mention:

  • Putting God first
  • No idols before God
  • Not taking God’s name in vain
  • The sabbath
  • and covetousness

Once again, Jesus gets at the heart of the matter. The rich young ruler was so attached to his wealth that he couldn’t sell everything to put God first and follow Jesus.

So the rich young ruler went away deeply sad.

He relied on his own wealth too much to rely on God.

Afterwards, Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” and that it will be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”

The problem here is not the wealth itself. I know many faithful and wealthy people who serve God and who use their wealth to generously fund God’s mission around the world. The problem is not what you have in your bank account.

The problem is the attachment to money. The problem may not even be related to money. The problem is relying on something other than God.

Probably searching their own hearts, the disciples ask Who can be saved then? If a rich young ruler who is following most of the commandments and seeking the Good teacher cannot be saved because of the wealth is there any hope for me?

Jesus replies: With people it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.”

So what about us? For some of us, this is our second worship service we are attending today. We try to live a good life, though we admittedly do not live a perfect life. We seek God in prayer and His word. If you and I sat down with Jesus today and asked what we must do to inherit eternal life, what would he say as he lovingly peers into our souls? What would he say to you that you need to hear so that you could trust him more?

Perhaps because I have been a perpetual student, I’ve been protected from the attachment to wealth. But I am not protected from doing things on my own strength.

Often in ministry, I am tempted to think and act as if it all depends on me and that I must care for the person out of my strength instead of looking to the God who cares for the person more than I ever could. I rely on myself, my gifts, my strengths, my skills and sometimes forget all together that really it is only God who can transform, heal and change a person. As I imagine Jesus lovingly peering into my soul as I reflect on this passage, I imagine him saying to trust him, to lean on him, to forget myself.

I might walk away deeply grieved and saddened for this often seems impossible for me.

But I know this is not the end of the story. For God is in the business of making the impossible possible. All we need to do is trust and to follow Jesus. We need to take that next step. For the rich young ruler, it was to sell his belongings. For me, it might be to remember that God is the only one who saves.

The sad thing is that the rich young ruler walked away. He just couldn’t do it. He didn’t ask for help. He just walked away in grief.

May we let Christ peer lovingly into our souls and speak to what we lack. May we also turn towards Christ in response instead of walking away. May we see that God takes what is impossible for us and makes it possible in him. Amen.

Giving All

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A group of kids taping their written prayers to the walls of a church in Toronto

The other day, I watched the documentary “Jesus Camp”. It’s about a radical group of Christian fundamentalists in the US and how they train up their children. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart – I had to watch it in two parts as there was much that was troublesome. There was also much that I know all to well. So I don’t recommend the film. But it’s made me think, which of course, is the purpose of documentary.

One of the key pastors looks at how radicalized muslim youth are trained from a young age and indoctrinated with values and ideas about the world as well as a belief system that leads them to want to sacrifice themselves in acts of violence for the sake of their pure radical vision. She looks at Christianity and how watered down it can become, how lazy we can be about our faith and points to the muslim example that we should be at least as radical as they are. That we should train our children that the Christian faith is worth dying for. That fasting and prayer are important.

Her tactics are wrong. But she has a point.

Did you know that one of my devout Muslim friends gets up at 5 in the morning to pray? I have trouble getting up early enough to pray before I have to go out of the house and I don’t have to get up nearly that early! And this isn’t the only time that she gets up to pray. Conversations with my Muslim (and for the record, a non-radicalized one), taught me about a religion that took prayer and fasting very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many Christians, including myself.

Another couple of Muslim friends have taught me about generosity. Even though I was an employee, they showered me with generosity, often topping up my pay check, offering me food, giving gifts. They also offered listening ears and encouragement in everything that I did – whether that be school work or Christian work.

Meanwhile, I am trying to finish up a course on Church history and have been reading about some of the great people of our faith. Some of them would give up everything they had to go and live lives of prayer in the desert. And some had a lot to give up!

I disagree with the methods of “Jesus Camp” and the theology that it tried to indoctrinate the children and youth with. But I wonder, in 2016, how do we be – and raise up – people who would give everything up for Jesus. People who love Him with their whole hearts, minds, soul and strength who would devote all that they are and all that they have to Jesus. People who would serve those who are abandoned, unloved, hungry, poor, alone. People who stand out and whose lives point to Jesus in all that they do.

Trusting God

It was one November night. I had a long day at school. I was tired. And I got a Facebook message: “Can you help us?”

I put my school work down, grabbed my phone and a book, and hopped onto the streetcar to meet with a family in crisis. And I entered a story that truly broke my heart. And as I have watched it unfold, I have shed many tears and had sleepless nights thinking about the people involved and wondering where the heck God was in all of this mess.

As my heart continued to break and I became more entrenched in the story, people who love me kept telling me that I need to entrust this family to God.

What?

Sorry, but I know all to well what that can look like. There is a reflection in the Celtic Daily Prayer (Book 2) that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I feel like a whole community gets it.

Once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help,
and go unanswered, nothing’s ever the same again.
Nothing. Even God changes.

But there is a healing hand at work
that cannot be deflected from its purpose.
I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry.
Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.

Out there, in the world, it can be very cold.
It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.

We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites.

William Brodrick

It’s true – once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help and that cry go unanswered, nothing’s the same.

And yet I am to entrust the people I am called to serve to God?

In the past week, I’ve felt God saying to me that I need to learn to trust him, really trust him, with the people who I care about – trusting that he loves them more than I ever could. Knowing that he sees the big picture and I only see a glimpse. That he knows what is infinitely good for them – and for me – which is something that I’ll never be able to see with the limits of my finite mind. And that I need to learn this if I want any hope of serving in ministry without burning out.

And so, with fear and trembling, I’m doing things a bit differently this semester. I’m taking a full slate of courses. There are details to figure out. Like how I’m going to pay for them! But God has always provided so I’m not that worried. But there are five awesome courses on scripture, prayer, preaching, integration and evangelism.

And I’m pulling back a little bit from full time ministry. I’ll still be heavily involved. I just won’t be as obsessively involved as I was last term. I won’t have the time to constantly check up on people (when it was needed or not). I will have to learn to entrust them to God.