School Spirit

Every week, one of our faculty writes a short article that goes out with our school letter. Last year, I got by as the “newbie,” and didn’t have to write one. Alas, this year that is not the case.

But I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. So here it is:

The Eighteenth Week after Pentecost

The Scribe replied, “Teacher, You have spoken the truth. For there is one God and only one God, and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves are more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice we could ever give.” Jesus heard that the man had spoken with wisdom. “Well said; if you understand that, then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Nobody asked Jesus any more questions after that. – Mark 12:32-34 (The Voice)

Eighteen Sundays have come and gone since the Church celebrated Christ’s ascent to the right hand of the Father and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit. The fourth week of school is in full swing. For clergy, students, parents and teachers alike, a certain sense of the ordinary has settled in. The rhythm of school and work and sports has, for the most part, become routine as our calendars and watches seamlessly synchronize with the activities in which we find ourselves engaged.

For each of us, though, every day is an opportunity for illumination. As many churches around the world pause to reflect upon the liturgical selection found above, I too pause to reflect on what it means to be teachable in the midst of the ordinary. Do I, as the scribe, ask questions for my own ends? Do I seek the knowledge of God’s kingdom to justify myself, or to know Jesus intimately? Therein, of course, lies the rub. Just as the scribe who questions his yet unrecognized Messiah, I must genuinely assess whose kingdom I am truly serving.

Yet this story offers hope, especially for those of us with obstinate natures. John Calvin notes, “…it is worthy of notice that, though he had attacked Christ maliciously, and with the intention of taking him by surprise, not only does he silently yield to the latter, but openly and candidly assents to what Christ had said. Thus we see that he did not belong to the class of those enemies whose obstinacy is incurable,” (Harmony of the Gospels, Volume XVII). I have always loved Calvin’s phrasing: silently yielding, candidly assenting. Here, in Mark 12, we find an individual who not only knows when truth has been spoken, but who also allows that truth to melt any agenda that had hardened his heart and mind. That is what it takes to not be overcome by the rote or the mundane; this is the attitude needed to overcome the feeling that we have it all figured out.

As a teacher, this is often an acute struggle for me, and I am sure many others feel the same sting. Yet illumination is a daily opportunity. As I read, I begin to wonder: am I willing to hear the difficult answers when I ask a question? Are we, as a community, open to having our priorities shifted or altered so that we are aligning ourselves with God’s Kingdom? Do I allow my own comfort or malaiseto rob me from seeing God’s redemptive work in the regular days of my life? Are we lost in the ocean of the ordinary, unable to find our way off this unspectacular route that seems so endless?

The answer, I believe, is found in the words of Jesus: “if you understand [the great commandments], then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Love God. Love people. That is our compass which points to the abundant life, the life less lived (John 10:10). I’m reminded of Chuck Colson, a man who thought he had it all figured out until he allowed the truth of Christ to melt his own agenda into something kingdom-oriented. At the end of his days, Colson had this to say: “One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder if what I do matters. I live every day to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God.”

May each of us incline our hearts and minds to Jesus, that we may be co-conspirators in His Kingdom.


Am I liberated?

Jesus liberated us from mind games. If we are into philosophy we might have a hard time with Jesus. He does not lend himself to our games. Jesus preferred solitude and silence over study. He did study the scriptures, but whenever He wanted clarification He went away, alone and apart from the crowd. – Richard Rohr, Jesus as Liberator

Brother Rohr is not my favorite author. I enjoyed Wild Man to Wise Man, but his blogs, articles, and daily meditations often leave me frustrated (the same can be said of Jim Wallis’ writings, but that’s for different reasons). My most common thought is this: “if that’s true, why don’t you back it up with Scripture?” I know that this isn’t the Spirit of Discernment at work, but rather the spirit of division. And so, I continue to read those I don’t agree with (as well as thosethat I do) believing that I don’t have everything figured out. And every now and then, this kind of thing pays off.

In Rohr’s meditation for today, he touched on a subject that I have given a lot of thought to recently. When Jesus needed clarification or rejuvenation, He went off alone (i.e. Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:47, John 6:15). I’ve been mulling this over in my head quite a bit. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it the need for “Scripture meditation, prayer, and intercession.” The idea is a simple one: we need time away from everything. Not vacation. Not time off. Rather, time to renew our mindsand strengthen our resolve.

This isn’t something I’m particularly good at accomplishing. But I’m working on it. Simple steps, like riding in the car without music (and without constant planning going on in my head), are a start. Refusing to constantly have Netflix playing in the background is another beginner’s move.

We all need solitude. Mainly because, in truth, we’re never completely alone. However, when it’s really just me and God, that’s when I can really listen.

Free me, Lord, to hear Your truth. Teach me to relinquish the day’s cares. Your grace and mercy are so magnificent, Lord. As Your truth permeates my spirit, may the rivers of life that You so graciously provide spring forth from the innermost parts of my soul. Free me, Lord, that I may in turn help free others.

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.