As Jesse and I discussed my readings tonight he started saying all kinds of things that moved me deep inside. I asked if he’d write them for you and he graciously agreed. I’m thrilled that he shared.
I recently finished reading Death by Church by Mike Erre. This book runs a little deeper than I usually go in non-academic reading; for example, he uses the word “eschatological” in a sentence… a lot. But this book brings up an issue that merits mention here, being related to a verse in this section of Luke. Death by Church is about the kingdom of God – recognizing the fact that the Kingdom is already here among us, and exploring how the church should operate in the presense of that fact. I don’t want to get too deeply into the book because there’s a lot there, I’m not sure I fully grasp all of it, and it’s not all necessarily relevant to this passage or this forum. But one of the things I found eye-opening was something I guess I had never really grasped in my heart, or really fully in my head either. It’s that when Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” he didn’t mean, “the kingdom is coming soon,” he meant, “the kingdom is nearby” or “the kingdom is within reach.” It’s a spatial term, not a temporal one. And that’s what we see in Luke 17:20-21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The kingdom is already here.
Now all you tried and true believers probably knew this already, but honestly, in my heart of hearts, it was news to me. Deep inside, I really looked at the kingdom as something coming in the future that I had a seat reserved in — if I didn’t somehow blow it — and in the meantime I had to shuffle along through the trials of this vale of tears as best I could, keeping myself as untrammeled and holy as possible along the way. Erre convincingly explains the gospel as not just salvation in the hereafter but transference here and now from the kingdom of this world (ruled by you-know-who) to the kingdom of God. In practical terms, this means that I honestly have the power in Christ right here and now to do the impossible by following Him in His walk. At the time I read this I had put myself through a devastating bout with addiction… AGAIN… and was feeling horribly crushed and defeated by sin, so having this light sort of turned on inside was a tremendous encouragement and really helped pull me back up on my feet.
The implication of the kingdom being in our midst is not just personal though, it’s also communal, and I feel that’s what God is leading me towards through things that are going on in my life right now. If the kingdom is really here, and we are it, then we need to have the doors open and the lights on. I mentioned in my earlier post that I’m a person who normally would not mix – that’s not the kind of person God is looking for in the kingdom. He’s calling us to do something that runs against the grain – to go out and love the unlovable sinners of this world. And I have to confess that I’m convicted by that calling as well. In my own attempts at recovery I’ve found it too easy to reach a point of “I got mine, forget about you!” That simply doesn’t work, as we see in verse 33: “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” I’m often troubled by my memories of a dear friend in the program who passed away a couple years ago. Steve was a great friend, but he just couldn’t stay sober as long as I could. And for that reason I allowed a lot of distance to creep into our relationship during his last few months. It wasn’t easy to field his drunk, sometimes hostile phone calls. And, not surprisingly, other people encouraged me to write him off. “He’ll drag you down with him,” they warned me. Or they’d tell me I’d grown beyond him, and that he just would never stay sober. For the record, I’ve relapsed four times since Steve’s funeral, so who’s casting the first stone there? Maybe if I’d loved him a little more, I could’ve helped – and if it didn’t help him, maybe it would’ve helped me.
The kingdom needs to be seen in the way we do church, too. I don’t blame anyone but myself for my choices, but it didn’t help me any that the well-heeled and goofy stoners at my high school offered me more social acceptance than many of the kids at my church youth group. And again, I don’t blame those kids – they were just being teenagers. But the setup that was there was one that let teenagers do what teenagers naturally do, instead of what the kingdom of God does. And I have to cop to being a part of many similar setups in many similar church meetings along the way. Shame on all of us for participating in such shams!
About two hours ago Nicole asked me if I had any thoughts on Luke 16 and 17, and I told her I had none. These are my non-thoughts. I hope they make sense to some of you.
Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 18 and 19
My first counseling job after graduation was at a voluntary residential substance abuse treatment program/half way house. And by volunteer I mean volunteer to go to treatment or get sentenced to jail. I’ll never forget my first day. I wore tan Coach kitten heels and Seven jeans while I transported clients from the County Jail and watched a couple dozen women pee in a plastic cup. Needless to say I was over dressed (but the kitten heels, so cute). That was me.
I was thinking about the old versus the somewhat improved me, as I read through Luke 14:7-11. Verse 8 says, “ When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.” When I first started counseling in my Coach heels I was taking the seat of honor. Not only had I gone to school to get the degree I had also lived through addiction and therefore thought I had all the knowledge and put myself in a position to dispense it. As I matured in my role I realized that I didn’t deserve the seat of honor and that I was NOT the most distinguished guest.
My second counseling job was working with families who had a child with a severe mental health diagnosis. This was a program through community mental health so many of our families were disadvantaged and had been beaten up by the system. Ours was an in-home program meaning we went into the clients house and did our sessions in their own environment. Sometimes that environment was a suburban home, other times it was a mobile home, occasionally it was a jail or psychiatric facility, and sometimes it was a motel room. I loved that job.
It was in those motel rooms, apartments, and psych wards that I truly experienced verse 11 for the first time in my life, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I never wore the Coach heels at this job and I never pretended that my education or my perceived status entitled me to a place of honor. I had learned from my Coach heel days that I didn’t know the first thing about other peoples lives or experiences. Instead of coming in as the “expert” I made an effort to go in as a servant. In the few years that I worked in that program I learned more about life, resilience, hope, faith, determination, and compassion than I could ever have learned in a college text book. I was humbled by the privilege to go into someone’s home, whatever kind of home that may be, each week and try to figure out the tough stuff of life with them. And I has honored and exalted for the opportunity to intimately know some of the most amazing people I will ever meet in my life.
By the way, while I think I am somewhat reformed I still wear Coach heels (I love them and am very short so cut a girl a break).
What have you learned through humble service? What comments do you have on Luke 14 or 15?
Tomorrow I will start reading Luke 16 and 17
Nicole has graciously allowed me to guest write for her today. I was glad to do it because I was struck by a a couple of passages in Luke 10-12 which dovetailed with a message we just watched online from Francis Chan, whose book “Crazy Love” and whose messages have deeply challenged me.
The recurring message I see in this part of Luke’s gospel is of trust in God. It starts with the sending out of the seventy-two, who “carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way” (10:4). Can you imagine? Not even a change of clothes. If I walk out the front door of my house without my wallet, I feel like I’ve walked out naked, whether there’s money in there or not. And my keys are ALWAYS in my left front pants pocket. If they’re not there, something’s wrong and I drop everything until I find them. Seriously. Could I even walk out of the house without my keys for Jesus? Yet these men left everything and took nothing with them, trusting God completely for everything they would need.
Sometimes I wonder if I truly trust in God. I trust in God to produce the outcomes I desire, sure. That’s great, when he does. What about when he doesn’t? Do I hedge my bets? I sometimes feel like I live as though God weren’t really sovereign, which of course he is – and I’m not just talking about sin, I’m talking about faith. Am I trusting my Creator, or a direct deposit payroll? My Maker, or a socioeconomic system that’s placed me in a position of comfort relative to most of the world? For me, one of the hidden blessings of hard economic times can be an invigorated faith. The AA Big Book puts it this way: “freedom from fear was more important than freedom from want.” Jesus has shown me this many times, but sometimes I still want to cling to the false security of mammon.
Francis Chan was talking tonight about boldness, which I think is a part of that trust in God. Another quote from the AA Big Book: “We are people who normally would not mix.” That statement describes me perfectly! I am a person who normally would not mix. With ANYONE. I have so many fear-of-rejection and fear-of-abandonment issues that I have spent most of my life emotionally curled up in a little ball keeping everyone at a distance. And in the past couple of weeks God has been pushing me into relationships with people. Just today, I finally learned the name of my next door neighbor whom I’ve lived by for, um, three years now. Yesterday my son dragged me down the block to meet some other neighbors because the guy was fixing something on his (my son’s) bike. And after all, how can I be a witness for Christ to anyone (or for that matter have any purpose on the earth) and not be bold about reaching out to other people. In many ways lately, I’ve felt God challenging me to crawl out from under my rock — even if the sunlight turns me to dust.
Of course, as Nicole (who is now apparently my editor) has pointed out, all of this isn’t about me. I’d like to think that it is, but it isn’t. In Luke 10:1 we see that he “sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.” They went out to stay in the homes of those they were ministering to, building relationships with them (vv. 7-9) until He Himself came behind them. And verse 17 tells us the result: they “returned with joy.” They went out boldly, and He didn’t fail them. That’s an inspiration.
Jesse, thanks for writing today’s post. Next I will be reading Luke 13 and 14.