Poetry That Touches My Soul: “Convenience Store” – Buddy Wakefield

I’m not the type of person who would say that I am a lover of poetry. I only own two books of poems and they are both by the same author. I can talk to you about maybe a handful of poems that I love, and I might even be able to tell you who wrote them. I can recite three poems from memory. I’ve written maybe twenty poems in my life, and I’ve only held onto four of them. All of this is just to say that my knowledge of poetry is unremarkable.

Still there is something about certain poems that really grips my soul. The one poet who has been able to do this more than any other is Buddy Wakefield. The two books of poetry I mentioned earlier are “Gentleman Practice” and “Live for A Living” and both of them are collections of Buddy’s work. The poem I wanted to share is definitely a contender for my favorite poem. It might not really hold a candle to Keats or Shakespeare, but it speaks to me and I think that is what poetry is supposed to do.

I have to warn you, This video contains some strong language:

I can’t hear or read this poem and not be moved. I have no idea if this poem is based on true events, but coming from someone who has lived in plenty of small do-nothing towns, I can tell you that this story is very much true for very many people. It really humanizes the person that I know I have passed by hundreds of times without taking notice. It forces me to stop and realize that that lady behind the gas station counter is a real person. It forces me to stop and realize that that lady at waffle house, or that man on the street corner, or that mean junkie who yelled at me under a bridge…. that these are all people.

These are human beings that for whatever reason, be it their fault or by circumstances they can’t control, have found themselves at the short end of the stick. It reminds me that underneath all the ugliness of life and sin there are human beings that were created by God and loved by God.

It also reminds me that each person I come across is more than what I make them out to be. In one of the most sobering passages of scripture Jesus tells his fellow men that the way they treat others has real and eternal significance. He reminds them that they are to love their fellow human beings as if it were Christ himself in need of help.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

– Matthew 25:31-46

Let’s try to remember this as we go about those day to day interactions with people who we so rarely give a second thought to. They are love children of God and they are to be loved and honored as if they were Christ himself.

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The Faith of Mary and the Doubt of Zechariah

This is going to be a short post, but I thought it was worth sharing.  Today I started re-reading the “Gospel of Luke” and something stood out to me in the first few pages.

The account begins with two big announcements. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah first and tells him that he will have a son to be named John. After Zechariah manages to calm his nerves from the shock of seeing an Angel in the temple he says the following:

“How can I be sure of this? I am and old man and my wife is well along in years?” – Luke 1:18

The answer he got is kind of humorous:

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” – Luke 1:19

zechariah

“I’m a freakin’ Angel Zechariah, what more proof do you need?”

Because Zechariah doubted he was not allowed to speak words until the time the baby was born.

The next big event is almost exactly the same situation, but with totally different results. Gabriel appears again, this time to a young virgin named Mary, and tells her she too will have a son. Gabriel reveals many wondrous things that will be said and done by this child and he instructs Mary that his name is to be Jesus.

Mary responds in a way that at first glance seems a lot like Zachariah’s reaction. After overcoming the fright that angels seem to cause in people she responds by saying:

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34

Mary’s question, however isn’t met with any punishment or penance. She just get’s a pretty straight to the point answer.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

So what is the big deal? Why does Zechariah get the punished and Mary just has her question answered? Well I think there is a subtle, but important difference to note in the two questions.  Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure God would act. Mary knew God would keep his word, she only wished to know how he would keep his promises.

Zechariah, though he was a high priest, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered if God could move it. Mary, though she was young, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered how god would move it.

We should all strive to be more like Mary in our faith.

God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life Might Not Be Comfortable

jeremiah

Jeremiah

It’s getting to be that time of year again when high school and college seniors are graduating from their respected levels of education. It’s a time to to reflect on the past years, to look forward to the times ahead, and to take Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

I feel like I almost didn’t even need to include Jeremiah  29:11 in this passage. Modern Christianity has made it one of the most popularly quoted passages of scripture of all time. I get the appeal. This verse is a guarantee that someone up there is looking out for us. It comes with a promise of prosperity, a higher plan, and hope that all things will work out for good. The verse doesn’t ask for much of us when read by itself and it creates this image of a vague benevolent force that’s got your back.

I do believe that God does have a plan for you, and that he has given you hope and a future. I also believe that God’s amazing and wonderful plan for your life is probably not going to be the wish-fulfilling prosperity and comfortable life we tend to imagine.

For starters, let’s address the book this passage is taken from. Jeremiah was known as “The Weeping Prophet” and for a good reason. God sent Jeremiah to warn the people of Israel against the coming disaster that they were heading towards because of their abandonment of God. Jeremiah loved his people and devoted his life to winning them back to God, only to be hated, abused, and mistreated for most of his life. Jeremiah did his job by warned the people, but on this side of eternity he never received what we would call a “prosperous life.” Jeremiah put his heart and soul into his ministry, but at the end of the day he hardly saw any fruits from his labors.

martyr

The Death of an Early Christian In the Gladiator Games

He is far from the only person in the Bible to end up on the seeming short end of the stick. Jumping ahead to the New Testament church leaders, we see that Paul spent the majority of his life in prison while Peter, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, and Simon would all eventually be crucified for spreading the good news of Christ. Others were burned, speared, stabbed, stoned, tortured, and left for dead due to exposure. Does that sound like a prosperous life?

I guess what I’m getting at is when we use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context we can easily stray off into a border line prosperity gospel message, and that just isn’t Biblical. God’s wonderful plan for your life, if you choose to actually pursue it, will probably not be a comfortable one. We as Christians today are so big on comfort. We don’t want to inconvenience ourselves or others with sharing the gospel because it might get awkward.

Our wondrous and prosperous life is living in the reality that our sins have been forgiven and we get the honor and privilege of sharing that good news with the rest of the world. God doesn’t promise each of us riches, comfort, earthly pleasures, a nice house, or even a loving spouse. The american dream is not exactly what Jeremiah 29:11 was talking about.

We really have only two ways we can conduct our lives. We can either live our lives for something eternal or something fading. I don’t think we truly grasp just how amazing it is to consider the fact that we have a purpose at all. The universe certainly doesn’t owe us one, and if we approach reality form the view that we were nothing more than a chemical reaction and chance, then we really don’t have a purpose. Life outside of God is an empty and meaningless endeavor.

Instead God promises us that there is a plan and a purpose behind all of this. Our lives are not without meaning and we aren’t just random accidents in a chaotic universe, we have a plan and a purpose to our lives. Not only do we have a purpose, but we are promised prosperity. Our lives may not seem like successes by worldly standards, but even the “worst” life that follows God is better than the “best” life pursing fading, empty, and pointless passions that will never leave any eternal impact.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mourns the pointlessness of life. He was a man who had every pleasure and desire imaginable. He was prosperous and lived in excess by almost every human standard. He had any food he desired, more money and riches than could be spent, more wives than he could ever need, and anything his heart desired… and in the end he found it all empty and useless.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher.“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2

King Solomon needed a purpose. He needed a reason for everything, or else nothing he did or obtained seemed to matter.

God gives us a purpose, he gives us a plan, he lets us play a part in his redemptive story. He gives us a reason to live, a goal to strive for, and the guarantee that it is not all in vain. Nothing else on earth can guarantee that. There is no cause, fight, goal, or achievement apart from God that can give you the guarantee that in the end it will not be forgotten and made worthless by the ever ongoing annuls of time. Only God can give us a purpose, only God can help us truly prosper, and only God can give us something eternal.

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

– C.S. Lewis.

Breakfast With Jesus

Mcr-Fishes

One of my new favorite passages in the Bible is John 21. The power of this passage was always lost on me, and I want to take a moment to thank my good friend Timothy for helping me see this passage with new eyes. His insight inspired this post.

John 21 is a passage I never really gave a lot of thought or attention to. It always seemed to me like it was a really anti-climatic ending for the Gospel writings. It is a quiet conclusion to what I would consider the greatest story ever told. The gospel accounts end with a quiet breakfast on the beach.

John says it like this:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

I love the disciples. I see so much of myself in them. They are just so human. Remember that Christ had been crucified, buried, risen, and had appeared to the disciples resurrected. They had witnessed the risen son of God, and what did they do?  They went fishing.

Imagine if you had experienced all the disciples had experienced. Imagine if you had spent years at Christ’s side witnessing his miracles and hearing his teachings. Imagine if you had seen him crucified and buried only to see the risen and resurrected Lord three days later…. Now imagine what it must have been like going back to work after all that.  I’d imagine it would probably take a great deal of time to process everything that these men had just gone through, so I guess fishing seemed like as good a use of time as anything.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 

I love this passage. One of the guys on the boat recognizes Jesus and Peter is so overjoyed to see him that he can’t wait for the boat to reach shore. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach, but Peter decided that he was going to jump in and swim the distance rather than wait patiently on the boat to reach the shore. I’ve been very happy to see people in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy that I would leap out of a boat to get to the shore faster.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

“Come have breakfast” just makes me smile. Remember that Jesus had already accomplished everything he came to this world to do. The victory had been won, the chains of sin and death were shattered, a new day had dawned. So what does Christ do? He makes breakfast.

I love the fact that we worship a God of small things as well as big things. God does not always come with pearls of lightning, rolls of thunder, and a blinding flash of light. Sometimes he just wants to chat with you on the beach over breakfast.  Christ could have been seated at the right hand of God in glory. He could have been justly worshiped and exhausted by the heavenly host!  Instead he decided that, for the time being, he’d rather visit disciples and have a quick bite to eat. That is the love Christ has for us.

 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

This is yet another passage where I completely missed the point for a long time. Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him?  Because Peter has denied Christ three times just a few days ago. Jesus was reconciling Peter.  Imagine the shame that Peter must have felt after he had denied Christ and acted so cowardly during Christ’s time of need. In spite of his overwhelming joy at seeing the risen Lord, I have no doubt that Peter was still deeply ashamed of himself and his cowardice. This was Christ telling Peter that all was forgiven. He was telling Peter that he was not concerned with the past sins. Peter had temporarily given up on Christ, but Christ had never given up on Peter. God had not forgotten him, and Christ was still going to use Peter to do great things.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Of course Peter is still Peter, and in true Peter fashion he almost misses the point entirely. Luckily for Peter, and us, Christ is patient and makes his point absolutely clear. Jesus had a job for Peter, and he has a job for us as well. He calls us to follow him, and tend to his sheep.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Which Version Of The Bible Is Best?

The other day the question was brought up during a lecture as to what was the best English translation of the Bible. The professor being questioned is one of the most learned men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. His grasp of the Hebrew and Greek language is astounding, especially to someone like me who managed to barely avoid flunking out of Greek 101 by the skin of my teeth. I was pretty confident that the professor was going to say the ESV, since multiple sources had told me it was the most direct translation. To my surprise, his response was not that simple.

“What do you mean when you say best?” asked the professor.

The inquiring student was a little thrown off by this, to him (and myself) it seems as if this would have been an easy question to answer for someone with such a firm understanding of the Greek and Hebrew languages.

“I mean, which one translation do you think is the most accurate,” replied the student.

“Do you mean to say which is the most accurate translation from Greek to English, or do you mean which translation most accurately conveys the meaning of the original Greek?” was the reply question the professor gave.

We never got a definite answer from the professor. I know what version of the English Bible he uses (NASV) but I also know that he regularly points out ways in which the translation could have been better.

I guess what I’m saying is that language is very interesting in that I can say virtually the same thing in English and another language, but that does not mean that it is going to translate over with the exact same meaning. Language encapsulates much more than just words that mean things, it subtly holds ideas and aspects of culture within.

For example, if I were to say someone is “frugal” or “economical” you would probably assume that this person is good at managing money. If I were to say that the same person is “cheap” or “miserly” you would probably picture someone greedy, selfish, and money obsessed. On a technical level there is really no difference in someone who is “frugal” and one who is “cheap” but to someone fluent in English there are very different connotations. There are hundreds of examples in English of words that mean the same thing, and yet they don’t.

There’s also a myriad of idioms and figures of speech that a direct translation could not capture. If I were to directly translate the phrase “by the skin of my teeth” that I used in the first paragraph into Chinese it would make no sense. In the same way if I were to say a Chinese saying like 三人成虎 (Three men make a tiger) you would have no idea what I was talking about. 

In the same way we have to be careful when we read scriptures that we aren’t too literal in our translating. An easy example that usually doesn’t trip up anyone is Psalm 91:4 which reads:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

I don’t think there are any Christian doctrines out there that would take this verse and argue that God is some kind of giant bird in the sky. Most people understand this verse for what it is, but that can’t be said for all passages.

The Bible is more of a library than a single book, and as a result it’s important to remember that not every passage should be read the same way. We can’t read the Apocalyptic literature of Revelation the same way we read the Gospel account of Luke. We can’t read the legal code of Leviticus in the same vein as the Didactic poem of Job.

Meaning and truth are a lot more nuanced than simply translating Greek and Hebrew directly into English. With the Bible we have been entrusted with a massive library of narratives, holiness codes, historical documentation, philosophy, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic prose, gospel messages, and letter writings. The authors that composed these books were not all writing with the end goal of being read by 21st century english speakers, and we have to remember than in our studies. The Bible is an amazing collection of works, all of which seek to reveal something about God and the nature of man, and it must be treated as such.

So which version of the Bible is the best? I don’t really know if I’m qualified to say. I’m a NIV fan myself because it tends to be a good balance between “word for word” and “thought for thought” translations. If you are curious about what version of the Bible might work best for you I found this nifty graph that might help you out:

bible-transchrt-js

Four Stories of Sacrifice and Willingness

Over the past few Sundays I have been leading my youth through the book of Genesis, so when it finally came time to present the story of Abraham and Isaac I began to look into the common biblical themes of sacrifice and a willing heart. In the end my lesson became both an Old and New Testament tale. This lesson spans over four different tales of sacrifice and the lessons we can take from each of them.

abraham-and-isaac-579770Lesson 1: Abraham and Isaac

Abraham is the father of Israel and viewed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as a strong pillar of their faith. At age seventy-five God has promised him a son, but God did not give him a son through his wife Sarah for over twenty-five years. During this time Abraham tried to force God to work several times, and each time it failed or backfired on the old man, but God was good to keep his word and his son Isaac was born to him.

God had promised that through Isaac, Abraham would become the father of a great nation that would eventually be a blessing to the entire world. Isaac was not only Abraham’s son, but also his hope for the future and a physical incarnation of God’s promises being fulfilled. So when the events of Genesis 22 come around they come as a shock to the reader.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

– Genesis 22:1-2

This seems like madness to many of us. Abraham had been faithful (mostly) to God for his entire life and Isaac was the promised child that Abraham waited twenty-five years for. Isaac was the one who would form a great nation that would produce a blessing for the entire world, so how is it now that God is asking Abraham to sacrifice all of this? Abraham is not only being asked to give up his son, but also his legacy, and all the promised gifts of God. Despite being given this incredibly difficult task, we see that Abraham complied:

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

-Genesis 22:3-10

At this point we are looking at what is potentially going to be one of the most powerful moments in the Old Testament. We are bearing witness to a father about to slay his son with a knife and offer him as a burnt offering. This is a father who is willing to give the greatest gift God has ever given him back to the Lord as an act of total obedience. The pain Abraham must have been feeling in this moment must have been unimaginable, and fortunately the story does not end the way most people would have expected.

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

-Genesis 22:11-18

Abraham proved his obedience to God by showing his willingness to give up the thing he loved most. Abraham proved in this act that he held God in a higher position than anything on earth, and as a result he is remembered today by millions today as the father of their people.

Lesson 2: The Rich Young Ruler

heinrich-hofmann-christ-and-the-rich-young-ruler

Where Abraham shows a great willingness to follow God, the “Rich Young Ruler” shows us a glimpse of one who was completely on the opposite side of the coin. In this story, a rich young man wants eternal life but is unwilling to part with some earthly treasures to obtain it:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said,“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

-Luke 18:19-29

This story of sacrifice (or an unwillingness to do so) seems pretty cut and dry to most of us. This young ruler was pretty full of himself having thought he had kept all the laws since he was a boy, but in the end he still had something that he was not willing to give up. This young man wanted eternal life (not to follow Christ, but simply to reap the rewards) but in the end he wasn’t willing to part with his wealth and earthly comforts even for life eternal. What a fool, holding on to shiny coins when he had to opportunity to follow the Son of God and join in eternity, but before we are too quick to judge we must consider how we would respond if put in a similar situation. Are we holding on to stuff so much that we will be unwilling to part with it if God calls on us?

Lesson 3: The Family Men

jesus-and-disciplesIn an often misunderstood story we see that Christ can, and will, sometimes call us to give up more than just our personal wealth and possessions. In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus makes it clear that even something like family should not stand in the way of you answering the calling God placed in your life. In this account two men are given the opportunity to become disciples of Christ, but before they commit the both claim they have family matters that need to be resolved first. Jesus makes it clear that even something as wonderful as a good family cannot take precedence above serving the Lord:

 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

For many readers Jesus comes off as a bit of a jerk in this passage. Surely he was not in such a rush that he couldn’t wait for a son to bury his recently deceased father, and what kind of person would ask someone to leave their life behind and follow him without even the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones? These men weren’t greedy like the rich young ruler, they were family men who wanted to honor their loved ones. The problem here is not a willingness to sacrifice, but a hesitation. Where as the disciples we know from scripture dropped everything and followed the Lord, these men hesitated. They wanted to follow the Lord, but they valued their family more, and when the time came they put their family first. In most cases putting family first is considered nobel, but when it hinders your willingness to further the Kingdom of God then you have made an idol out of your family. By asking the Son of God to wait for them to deal with family matters first, they essentially were saying “I’ll get around to following you God, but first I have some more important things to deal with.” Like the rich young ruler, these men were holding onto gifts so tightly that they completely missed the one who had given it to them. I have no doubts that as those three men lived to see their wealth or wonderful families gradually fade (as all earthly things do) they must have looked back on the day they had a chance to be a disciple of the Son of God and wondered what could have been.

Lesson 4: A God Who Sacrificed

Rugged-CrossSo we’ve established that following God means that sometimes we are called to make sacrifices. On cannot live for himself (or for any other cause) and still be fully devoted to God, or as scripture says:

“A man cannot serve two masters”

-Matthew 6:24

Our hearts need to be fully devoted to God and furthering his kingdom. I am not saying that wealth, family, or worldly things are always bad, but I am saying that we need to remember never to put any of them before God. To say that this is a difficult task is to majorly understate just how impossible it is for us to live this out. We are selfish and worldly. You and I will fail at this, and thankfully God is merciful and delights in forgiveness. The thing we have to remember is that we don’t worship a God who just makes demands and calls for us to sacrifice all the time (although in our selfish worldly mindset it can sometimes seem like that). Let us never forget that it was God who gave you life and he create every wonderful and beautiful thing you have ever experienced. Best of all he willingly sent his beloved son to die so you would be spared the pain of death. This is the fourth, and ultimate story of sacrifice and willingness:

“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

-John 3:16-17

So if we ever find ourselves wondering how on earth God could call us to give up ______. Remember what he first gave up for you. God gave of himself to suffer and die to take the place for you and your sins out of love. God is always in the business of providing what’s best for his children, and sometimes that might require us to suffer through things we don’t understand or perhaps give up some things we love. Growth sometimes is hard and often times what is best doesn’t come until we give up some of the lesser things we so often king to. God has a great plan for you, but in order to get there you might have to be willing to give up somethings, but I promise you that following God will be infinitely better than whatever it is you are afraid to lose. We worship a God who was willing to hang on a cross for you, so shouldn’t we be willing to make some sacrifices for him?