Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Easier To Be the Rule, Rather Than the Exception

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:23-25

Two weeks ago I was in a discussion with the life group I lead and I asked the question, "Can a rich man make it to heaven?" The overwhelming answer was yes. A discussion then ensued on the issue and these comments and arguments were made: Jesus said it is hard, not impossible; it is not the money, it is the heart; as long as you don't let it be your god; it is what you do with your wealth that matters; wealthy is a relative term; the eye of the needle was a gate in a wall ... etc. (note--my Bible in each gospel account reads "eye of a needle" not "the needle" which concerns me that we too easily rationalize away the literalness of scripture)

Also many human examples of exceptions to the rule were brought forth. This discussion was similiar to every discussion on the topic I have heard or participated in. I imagine this is true for most readers of this blog (if there are any).

The discussion was good and the points excellent, often backed with scripture. If I recall correctly, only one or two people in the discussion actually hinted the scripture should be considered as a very serious warning. Before I go further, I will tell you this group of young men and women have such sincere hearts for Christ, and they are better examples of Christian discipleship than most adults I know. They hold a dear and special place in my heart. They are examples to me.

However, several days later, the discussion and the topic were still weighing heavily on my heart. It occurred to me that we always focus on being the exception concerning this scripture. That is, we don't seem too worried about being the rule or considering the risk. We cannot dismiss the seriousness of Jesus's words. He spoke clearly on the problems of riches and the conflict riches create with the Kingdom. If we take these words literally and seriously, we have to admit that Jesus knows the majority of the rich will fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If this is a fact, then is trying to be the exception worth the risk? Isn't losing my place in the Kingdom of Heaven just too great a price to pay?

My concern is that among Christians, and in the Church, we have shied away from frankly, openly, and seriously engaging in these soul life or death questions. Jesus calls us to be exceptions in the world but also warns us about becoming the rule. I recently read of one very successful businessman, Dennis W. Bakke, who lives on 1% of his income giving the rest away. He is challenging others to do the same, saying this is how our society will prospere, by sharing our wealth. (don't get hung up on the 1%, focus on the intent and the method).

Just so this blog isn't too dire, accusatory, or out-of-context, I include the next two verses, Mark 10:26-27--The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possble with God."

I don't think Jesus was trying to say that with God a rich man can make it to Heaven. This lesson to the disciples was immediately after Jesus's conversation with the rich, young ruler who walked away saddened that he was not willing to give up his riches. I think Jesus was saying that with God, we will be able to let go of our riches.

What are your thoughts, arguments, disagreements?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

A week off

Tomorrow the family and I are going to Disney World, so I won't be blogging this week. This will be Maria' first trip there and her first airplane flight. I think I am more excited than she is. I feel bad for my wife. It is a shame she can't enjoy the trip, having to take care of two kids all week.

Maria and myself!

I hope everyone has a great week.

In Christ,


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

And A Little Child Will Lead Them - Isaiah 11:6

I am constantly taught and ministered to by my daughter Maria. My 4 1/2 year old daughter. I have to share three recent interactions that brought me to tears and to my knees before God.

Every night I read and pray with Maria. One evening after we prayed, with the lights out, I kissed her on the forehead and told her how proud I was of her and how much I loved her because of a specific set of circumstances that I won't bore anyone with. I caught myself on using the world love, however. My wife Anita and I work hard to not use love in a conditional context. I quickly added that "honey I am proud of you because of your actions, but I do not love you because of them. I love you no matter what, whether your good or bad. We always love you."

Maria responds unsolicited with, "God loves us when we're bad, when we're good, and when we are sad, and when we are happy. God loves us all the time and will always take care of us."

I was speechless with tears welling in my eyes and my heart aching with love. After a few moments I recovered enough to ask where she learned this. I didn't remember specifically ever having this lesson with her. "Did you learn that at Church sweetheart? Did we tell you that?" She answered matter of factly, "No. God told me." Now I was crying. Through tears I told her she was right and she should never forget what she just said.

I went into the kitchen and told Anita what had just occurred. She said, "that's interesting. A few months ago Maria said something very similiar about God and when I asked where she had learned this she said an angel told her.

A second incident happened a few nights later. After she said one of her nightly Psalms, she began to whisper extremely softly. I amost did not notice the action. Intrigued, I asked her what she was doing and she replied, "I am talking very quietly to God. God can hear us when we talk without words. People can't hear us, but God can. God can hear us when we don't even talk, but people can't. And that was on my heart and I just had to get it out."

It was just on her heart and she had to get it out!. I was just amazed and tearing up again. The student teaches the master.

The third incident happened last night. We were watching a DVD (The Lion of Oz) and a character in the story was afraid. Out of the blue Maria says, "we don't need to be afraid because God will take care of us." "How do you know that", I asked? Nonchalantly and shrugging she answers, "it's just in my heart."

I know she is telling the truth with these answers because usually when we ask where she heard or learned something she tells us at Church, from my teacher, you said it, or from a DVD or from TV. I do believe God told her these things. Maybe not with a voice, but by imprinting them on her heart and into her being as a truth. She does not understand how they got there, nor does she seem at all concerned with the mechanism, she just knows these things and she knows the source. At what point in our lives did we lose this purity as adults?

He [Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." -- Mt. 18:2-6.

I now realize that my main job as a parent is not to teach my child about God, she knows HIM! My primary job is to not corrupt or undermine her pure, unconditional, naive love for God and our Savior Christ.

I am very humbled.

Note: root derivation of naive is natural, native. Webster's: not suspicious, credulous--implies a geniune, innocent simplicity or lack of artificiality. Also implies a lack of "worldly" wisdom.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Tale of Two Men

Today I read in the business section of The Tennessean that Lipscomb University president, Stephen Flatt, is leaving to become the Sr. VP of Development with National Healthcare Corp. Lipscomb University is a Church of Christ supported university. I don't know what Lipscomb pays Dr. Flatt, but I believe it is safe to say he would make substantially more in the same position at a secular university. Certainly his earning potential has greatly increased as he moves into the corporate world. Prior to Lipscomb, Dr. Flatt was a Church of Christ minister.

Also note that Lipscomb encourages faculty and staff to contribute a portion of their wages back to the institution. Most everyone who works for Lipscomb will tell you that the motivation to serve God is a critical factor to staying there, because you will make a financial sacrifice in doing so as compared to similar workforce positions.

Now let me introduce DS. I do not name him because his situation has not been publicly announced, I have not asked his permission to do so, and because he would not want attention called to himself. Until recently, DS was the head of ice cream sales for a very successful and enduring dairy company. This company, although local to the Nashville area, was noted for having one of the most successful brand identities, ranking right with companies such as Coke and Nike in brand recognition in its respective market. They were so successful that they were bought by a national dairy who kept the local name. The parent company did not change or attach its name so as not to jeopardize this brand identity.

Obviously, this man's career was doing well and his potential was better than ever. In March, our elders announced that DS had resigned his position with the dairy to accept a key ministry position at the church (a significant decrease in money and lifestyle). DS told us of his struggle with this decision, but that God would not leave him alone about it. In fact, if you know his whole story you will realize this has been a long walk of faith preparing him for this decision. He has walked away from what the world considers success and security--what many Christians would say was a reward from God to the corporate Christian. Yes, health and wealth gospel is alive and well, whether we call it that or not.

Which one of these two paths is true discipleship? Both? Which path would the university namesake and founder, David Lipscomb, have endorsed or have followed? Well, we know which one he followed most closely. I am not making value judgments on Dr. Flatt's life or decisions. He has to make his choices based on his relationship with God. But, I cannot ignore the dichotomy of these two men's decisions. I am very proud that DS is my second cousin.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Daily Prayer for Discipleship

Dear Holy Father, I empty myself of me. Please fill me with your Holy Spirit and let Christ live through me. Heal my broken nature Father. God give me the wisdom to discern Your will and the strength to execute it.