“If a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother back. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every word may be verified by two or three witnesses. If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the church. If he also ignores the church, then treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt 18:15)
The obvious question here – which I never once thought about until recently is, “How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?” Hmm….
Today I return to Maryland for two days before flying to Hungary on Friday to teach in the School of Worship at YWAM Budapest.
The fellowship of believers here in Florence is becoming more beautiful by the day. I seriously hate to leave such rich conversations and affectionate friendships.
Last Friday in class we reflected on Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, and I saw a fresh flash of beauty that has escaped me for a lifetime. (Don’t you love it when God does that!?)
For the past thirty years I’ve been reading the Prodigal story and asking myself which character I am most like: the ungrateful, younger son of rebellion, or the iron-hearted older brother with an attitude, (pictured standing at the right). Sadly I invariably conclude that I have been and will likely continue to be a mixture of both. But the point I saw on Friday is that we are to be like neither, but like the Father, filled with excruciating compassion and yearning for the return of the boy. It’s a story about love, tenderness and mercy, and we are to be ever scanning the horizon with the Father in hopeful anticipation of prodigals.
But the real zinger came three days later when Vishal Mangalwadi explained to us: (this will be a loose quote)
“The Moral Majority in America became the moral minority because it had the spirit of the older son, and not the spirit of the Father. Many of the America’s prodigals know they are squandering their father’s wealth, but they would rather live in a distant land than to return to the home of the older brother.”
I wanna be like my Father: broken-hearted and waiting at the door without an ounce of judgment.
A few our our Justice DTS students helping me celebrate my birthday.
Something about the idea of “living the Christian life” puts me off. Conjuring up visions of checklists and performance charts, it leaves me thinking “Oh dear. I don’t know if I can pull that off.”
But enjoying a relationship with Jesus is another thing altogether, kinda like the difference between “being a good husband” and “being in love with your wife.” One follows the other, but to frame the thing in terms of “being a good husband” seems to miss the point altogether.
I’ve never been particularly successful at “living the Christian life.” It wears me out and leaves me choking for air. But walking with Jesus has proven to be a constant adventure of discovery and shared joys, bumps, foibles, lessons and laughter. And I don’t remember Him ever sitting me down for a good chat about “living the Christian life.”
For those who have been wondering, the outreach to DC was powerful and intense. We partnered with Justice House of Prayer and YWAM DC, interceding in various locations over such issues as justice, compassion, the sanctity of life, government, and the strongholds at work within our nations capitol. It was a rare treat to partner with young people who are committed to praying until the mountains of injustice are moved.
Midnight prayer watch at the Supreme Court.
I’ve been reading The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight. Essentially the “Jesus Creed” says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
McKnight says that when the Creed is translated into prayer, it becomes the Lord’s Prayer. When it’s translated into a story it becomes the good Samaritan, and when it’s translated into a society it becomes the table of hospitality, which includes tax collectors, prostitutes, notorious sinners, and people we normally wouldn’t invite into our homes.
Years ago God put it in my heart to invite the residents of a neighborhood “boarding house” over for a proper meal. The across-the-street residents of the home were well known cast-offs, drug users, handicapped, and loners who had no place else to go. So they lived in these cheap quarters, paying weekly rates for a roof over their head.
It turned into a rich evening of friendship which remains in my memory as one of those sweet moments of Jesus’ presence. I had no agenda, I didn’t present the Four Spiritual Laws to them, nor even try to manipulate the conversation around to giving a gospel presentation. Still… not long afterwards, one of the guys called me over to talk about his need for Christ. He was an addict, and he suspected he may have been HIV infected. But he knew Jesus loved him, and he wanted to make his peace.
I miss doing radical things like that. Now I stay in an upscale neighborhood, (compliments of my generous friends who’ve welcomed me into their pool house), and spend almost all my time with my church family, who are positively amazing people! But I’m longing to re-engage with people on the outside of the church circle again. I’m not doing a very good job of that since leaving Sarajevo. And I miss the way I invariably meet Jesus in those settings.
I’m staggered this morning by the notion that according to John 17:23, God the Father loves me “as much as” He loves Jesus.
“…so that the world shall be knowing that You sent Me and You loved them just as You loved Me.” (Analytical – Literal Translation)
“…that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.” (Authorized Standard Version)
…so that they may become completely one. Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me. ” (Contemporary English Version)
What do we do with that? It feels dangerous to even imagine it.
It’s no small gift that my friends who drop by to visit here allow me to speak openly about loneliness, struggles, and disappointments. Jesus, (I’m pretty sure of this), places a far greater value on truth than he does on “victory.” Heck, one of the greatest “victories” of my life was the day I found the guts to stop answering polite inquiries with religious slogans and start telling the truth.
In fact, I do get lonely. But loneliness is no cause for alarm. It simply confirms the idea that I was created in the image of God, who exists eternally in Trinitarian relationship. My yearning for inclusion is a telltale reminder that ultimate reality, (the Trinity), is in essence relational. Would not the Father or the Son feel the same “loneliness” if either was deprived of the company of the other?
Trouble is, none of us can experience complete “oneness” with the Father, Son, Spirit, or anyone else this side of eternity. “Now we see only a blurred reflection in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Cor. 13:12) Today I experience relationship only by degree.
But I’m happy to report I have begun to experience it this week even in the anthill busyness of America: little pockets of people and random conversations where friends have taken the time and trouble to remove the masks and visit. “Behold how good and pleasant it is … for there the Lord commands a blessing” (Ps. 133:1)
I’ve been thinking about three passages: “Be holy as I am holy,” (1 Peter 1:16) “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) and “Be compassionate as your Father in heaven is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36) And I’m wondering if maybe they’re not all saying the same thing. Some Bible commentators have even suggested that God’s holiness and perfection is completed in the compassion of Jesus.
If the most foundational thing about God is indeed the stunning love between Father, Son, and Spirit, and since the one way that Jesus suggested we would be known was by our love, (rather than by our moral perfection), and since the greatest commandment is to love God and love others, then I’m wondering if God’s holiness might be more expressed by loving inclusion and compassion than in spotless moral perfection. If that’s really the case, then I can say with all humility that I’m beginning to experience some personal growth in holiness. My heart is being enlarged towards others in ways that are fresh and exciting.
Had a spur-of-the-moment picnic on the mountain yesterday. As you can see from the photo, it’s beginning to cool off in Sarajevo. These friends are deeply loved by the Father. Some of them know it, and others haven’t realized it yet.