The Better Part

Luke 10:38-42, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What does it look like to be a servant of Christ?  Does it look like following a bunch of rules?  Does it make you worry and stress you out?  If it does, read this passage again.  Read it carefully.

What does it look like?  It looks like listening to Jesus!

I have to laugh at how much we complicate things.  Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Jesus calls for rest from our labors.  We sometimes think, like Martha, that we need to prepare ourselves for Jesus.  In reality, Jesus prepared himself for us.

In Philippians 2, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

We besmirch his sacrifice when we think we need to prepare ourselves for Him.  You gave up music, drag yourself to church every Sunday, don’t cheat on your spouse?  He gave up His godly nature to be with us in human form and was then brutally murdered.  I don’t think we will ever understand that sacrifice. Our sacrifice can’t measure up.  So what are we to do?  Our example is always Jesus.  He said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  Jesus listened to the Father just like Mary listened to what Jesus had to say.

It says in I Corinthians 12 that we, the church, are one body.  In Colossians 1 and Ephesians 4, Paul states that Christ is the head of that body.  How does a body act?  The body listens to the head, the brain.  My cells do not operate independently.  When I want to move my finger, my brain directs it.  So it is in our relationship with Jesus.

What is the glue that holds us together?  Well, His sacrifice gave us His grace.  The word is charis which means “God’s influence upon the human heart”.  Consider Titus 2, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”.  Grace is a teacher.  It gives us the power to say no to sin and yes to God.  As we sit and listen to Jesus, we will naturally gravitate to those things that are holy.  No work required.  It will become part of our very nature.

Midnight

In the story of Cinderella, we are told that she tries desperately to prepare herself for the ball.  But, her family makes it impossible with all their pointless chores.  Despite this, she manages to sew a few things together and actually looks somewhat decent for the ball.  Her step-sisters are livid.  They tear her dress to shreds.  Now she is dressed in nothing but rags.  She runs out to the garden and sobs.

Her voice is heard by a pure spirit who, at first, is just a pinprick of light but soon a person steps through.  She is beautiful and radiant.  With a magic wand in her hand, she promises to make Cinderella ready for the ball.  But, the spell will break at midnight.  Cinderella lights up.  It’s not much but it will work.  She says yes to the spirit and everything is transformed.  Her dress, the mice, the pumpkins are all transformed.  But, again, the spell will break at midnight, the spirit cautions.

Cinderella rides off to the ball for a few hours of enjoyment.  She gets lost in the prince’s gaze.  She dances all night.  But then, the clock tower strikes.  Cinderella, remembering the spirit’s words, rushes out of the palace.  In her hurry, she loses a glass slipper.  She gets back in her coach and they ride off.  Once they leave the palace gate, everything starts to melt around them.  Pretty soon, Cinderella is left walking home barefoot.  Curiously, the slipper is still intact.  She clutches it like a newborn baby.  It’s all she has left of the one night of enjoyment she’ll ever have.

Midnight always gave me problems in this story.  Because, otherwise, Cinderella is the Gospel of Jesus Christ condensed.  This spirit, the Fairy Godmother, enacts a transformation of this girl to make her ready for the prince.  Much like the Holy Spirit transforms our lives and makes us ready to see Jesus.  So why wasn’t the Fairy Godmother’s transformation permanent?  Well, let’s examine the story closer.

In most versions, the glass slipper is left behind.  For some reason, the glass slipper was not changed back.  Just maybe the spell wasn’t what we thought it was.  Maybe there was ‘deeper magic’ at work.

Let’s examine Cinderella.  She has been verbally and physically beaten all her life.  She is an orphan and raised in neglect.  Her identity as a lady of the house has been stripped. Her inheritance stolen by her stepmother.  She now begs for scraps and sleeps by the fireplace in the kitchen.  Her life is one of fear.  She feels she deserves every punishment she gets.  She feels dirty and used.  She feels worthless.

What happens when a girl like that is given a pretty dress and shoes and told to enjoy herself?  Fear like no other.  She feels she doesn’t deserve it.  She still feels dirty and used.  She fears what the spirit will do to her if she messes up.  The spell will break at midnight?  Better be home before then.  You see, the transformation is only physical.  A physical makeover can never replace years of psychological abuse and scarring.  But what does change that?  Seeing a glimpse of what you truly are.  Seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you.  That’s what the Fairy Godmother hoped to accomplish.  She hoped that when Cinderella saw how the Prince and everybody else looked at her that the pain of the abuse would start to fade away.  Maybe she would start to see herself as a treasure.

But that still doesn’t answer the question.  Why midnight?  I believe deeper magic was at work.  If you watch the Disney version, Cinderella doesn’t start to change back until after she leaves the palace gate.  It is only when Cinderella runs away that the spell is broken.  The slipper doesn’t change back as it’s still at the palace of the King.

At the palace of the King, we see ourselves as we truly are.  Radiant, beautiful creatures of divine light.  It is when we leave that we start to listen to other voices like the stepmother who tells us that we’re dirty and rotten.  So at midnight, Cinderella had a choice to make.  Who would she listen to?  Unfortunately, Cinderella listens to her stepmother’s voice and leaves.  As evidenced by the slipper, I don’t believe Cinderella would have changed back if she had stayed.  The spell was meant to make her examine what she really was.  Was she a servant who smelled of pigs and ash and worthy of every beating?  Or is she much more?  It is a good thing that the Prince is always in pursuit of us.

The Prodigal Son

Oh how typical…  A Christian writing about the prodigal son.  Well, hopefully, this is a new perspective on the old parable.

I wrote a couple months ago about attaining Heaven without relationship in a post about the Twilight Zone.  In a particular episode, an old man won’t be separated from his dog even in the afterlife because the dog saved his life once.  He even appears to give up a chance at entering Heaven only to find that he was being tricked into entering Hell and that Heaven was up the road a ways.  It was the old man’s relationship with his dog that saved him from Hell.  John 17:3 echoes this, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  True Heaven comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Kingdom of God was never meant to be a stationary thing.  It was meant to move in and through us.  It is not “up there” or “over there”.  It is right here.  Think of it this way, if Heaven is where we go when we die then who/what is our savior?  In that case, death becomes our salvation.  Yuck!  No, Heaven is revealed as we walk with Jesus.

I said before that in modern Christianity, we sell out Jesus to get Heaven.  We sell him as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  I referenced Satan’s temptation of Christ.  Satan was trying to get Jesus to attain Heaven outside the will of His Father.  But Jesus doesn’t do anything apart from the Father so Satan was denied.

So what does this have to do with the famous prodigal son?

Well, first, we need to back up and look at all the players in the story.  There is a father and two sons.  The father owns a large estate with many servants who are well-fed and cared for.  While the focus of the story appears to be the younger brother who squanders the family fortune, I believe both sons are in a precarious position.  They both exploit their relationship with their father.  Pretty bold statement, right?  Don’t we always think a little higher of the older brother for sticking around?  I used to.  Let’s examine a little closer.

The younger son is the one we’re familiar with.  He takes his part of the family fortune and runs away.  His actions basically say to his father, “I wish you were dead.”  This is much like a lot of modern Christianity as I spelled out above.  “Let Jesus die so we can have our inheritance.”  The younger son wants the benefits of being a son without actually being one. But the older son is not better. He receives his double portion but what does he do? He goes to live with the slaves. He squanders his fortune in a different way. He does it by pretending he doesn’t have one. There are two extremes in Christianity: license and legalism. The brothers play out these extremes to a tee. License gets its inheritance and goes wild. Legalism thinks he has to work for every cent that’s been freely given to him. License doesn’t see the father. Legalism doesn’t see the inheritance. Both lack relationship and communication. It’s all about getting Heaven without relationship.

So why is the younger brother more celebrated then? Because he began to see that it was his relationship with his father that really mattered. As soon as he made this headchange, the father was running to greet him. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Heaven without relationship will only get you so far.  If we only strive for the inheritance, we are missing out.  We will become strung out, stressed, empty.  It is only through a continuous relationship with the father that we are tapped into an endless supply.

I gave a word in church about a month or so ago.  It was about the reasons we come to Christ.  In earthly relationships, we are often attracted to what the other party can do for us.  It’s a sad part of human nature.  It doesn’t happen all the time but a lot of the time.  It is no different when we come to Christ.  We are often first attracted to what He can do for us.  A lot of us stop ourselves from going to God because we recognize this in ourselves.  A lot of us get in trouble and don’t think we can go to God because the only reason we’re doing so is that we’re in trouble.  I believe this is erroneous.  Any reason to go to God is a good reason.  The key phrase I said in church that day was, “Just come and Jesus will sort it all out later.”  The prodigal son in the story just wanted a place to sleep and eat.  What a selfish thing!  But it is all the father in the story needed to go running to the son.

I’ve talked a lot about Heaven without relationship.  That doesn’t mean if you go looking for Heaven then you won’t find Jesus.  You will always find Jesus this way.  You can’t help but find Jesus this way.  You may not want this person named Jesus but you want out of trouble, you want peace, you want stability.  Search for those things and you will inevitably end up finding Jesus.  Your search for a miracle will ultimately end up at the feet of Jesus.

I haven’t said much about the older brother.  I believe there is a similar celebration waiting for him.  When the younger brother came back, he wanted to be put with the slaves, where his brother was.  They really were brothers, I guess.  The father wanted sons, not slaves.  The older claims he was never given the chance to celebrate but it was only through his ignorance.  The father says, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”  Don’t be this person! If you have put yourself with the slaves, come out of there!  Our place is with the Father.  Our celebration is ongoing.  We can celebrate whenever because everything He has is ours.

Thankfully, our walk with God is not a choice between license and legalism.  Both leave us stressed, strung out, and empty.  We must transcend this dichotomy.  Christ died for our freedom.  We are free from sin (license).  We are also free from performing for a supposedly disinterested Father (legalism).  We are free to pursue Him even as He pursues us.  Before Christ, we were powerless to turn to Him.  We fell to license or legalism.  Now, we are free to be one with Him.

Holes

I think we all experience some hole in our lives that we try to fill.  It’s innate in us this feeling of separation.  Some of us fill it with the things we are passionate about.  We fill it with money, status, material possessions.  We even fill it with people such as friends, family, our spouse, our children.  We will pour our lives into these people to fill this nagging emptiness.  We will pour our lives into our career or education.  We will pour our lives and money into the next best thing.

In the church, we say something like, “Nothing can fill that hole but Jesus.”  I’m writing today to challenge that notion.  I think the assumption is that the hole is still empty.  I think the assumption is wrong.  I think the reason so many don’t seek Jesus on their own is that they think that hole is filled.  What am I saying?  I’m saying that for a lot of people it is enough to raise their family, be good at their job, have a lot of things.  They can sleep at night.  They will admit their lives aren’t perfect but they are generally happy people.  This isn’t a post about drug addicts and perverts who need Jesus.  This is a post about regular, 9am-5pm people who need Jesus.

So, if the hole is filled, what is it filled with?  Well, Jesus told a parable about wineskins at one point.  The content is really beside the point. Wouldn’t you be mad if you went for the wineskin and it was filled with water?  Now think of your life as the wineskin.  Are you filled with water or wine?  Water is good and lifegiving like those passions we cultivate in life.  But wine, it intoxicates, lowers your guard a little, and makes you a little giddy.  It alters our consciousness.  That is Jesus.  God should be a mind-altering experience.

I wouldn’t be writing this if it I didn’t need this advice in my own life as well.  Think about this the next time you are in a “dry season” or you are spiritually seeking.  The question I asked myself this week was this: Would I still be happy if I didn’t have my school, my job, my electronics?  Would my relationship with Jesus be the same if I didn’t have those things?  This isn’t a “burn all your bad books, movies, and cds” post.  Passions are good in life.  But they shouldn’t be the center.  They’re water, not wine.