Transitions

I was reading an old journal from last year today, and came across this Word from the Lord given May 19, 2018:  

“Sit in Me, Son.  Last night you sat in self and listened to the self.  Sit in Me. Abide. Don’t seek life apart from Me. Abide.  Be planted. Tabernacle in Me. Set up house. Find your hope and reality.  

Discover your life in Me. Be, Son. Be.  You are so valuable. 

Rest.  You matter son.  You are so gifted.  I’m proud of you. Rest.  Discover Me. Be still in Me.” 

As we walk this year together, and become a people who are listening together for the voice of God into our hearts and lives, we get to learn to sit in Jesus, to rest in Him. I loved the contrast Jesus painted in this word between “sitting in myself” and “sitting in Him.”  We can “sit in self” in many ways -- through self reliance, through medicating or avoiding emotion, through pride, through any path of addiction, through tuning in to the monologue of the heart and not tuning into the song of heaven. That night a year ago, it was by tuning into my negative heart narratives.  

For us, this next season together, is a season of transition. It is one in which we need to be tuning well into Jesus.  

Transitions and changes are challenging, but are great opportunities to process emotion together, to say the things we have not said and need to say to one another, to practice well what it means to say goodbye to a season.  Saying goodbye is essential in order to say “hello” to the next season yet coming.  

Sometimes we do transitions in life poorly -- we neglect to end one season before entering the new one, in divorce and remarriage that could be called rebounding.  At other times we might want to rush past the discomfort of the lostness or emptiness we might feel before the next season starts, because it is hard!   

In his book called Transitions William Bridges writes about the challenge of doing transitions well.  He gives an assignment to look back and identify places where there was an ending and a new beginning in life.  Here’s his question: “At what points could you use the phrase ‘A new chapter in my life opened when…’?” 

Some of my list were:  Abuse, High school, Switzerland, Bookselling in Iowa, Marriage, Death of parents, Seminary, first pastorate, etc.  

If you made that list, what might you notice about how you did those transitions.  Did you just jump one thing to the next, or did you allow yourself to experience the change in life?  

He writes:  “First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between.  That is the order of things in nature. Leaf-fall, winter, then the green emerges again from the dry brown wood.  Human affairs flow along similar channels, or they would if we were better able to stay in that current. But endings make us fearful.  They break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves, and they awaken old memories of hurt and shame. Growing frightened, we are likely to try to abort the three-phase process of ending, lostness, and beginning…”  (both p 17).  

This is a transition year.  

We all need to be aware that grief will take process for all of us and will look different in each of us.  Remember those stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. They don’t necessarily come in order, and also can repeat.  So, the best advice with the emotions of endings is this: When you hit the emotions, feel them.  

As a transitional time, it is a time to invest into the community in which God has placed us, sitting with one another and remaining in Jesus to listen as He whispers His grace and direction into our lives:  “Sit in Me. Last night you sat in self… Sit in Me.”  

The church council has formed a transitions team which will be meeting to plan how we can work together as a community to walk through the process of ending, or saying goodbye, or finishing well, then through some sense of lostness, and then a new beginning, as you get to welcome a new pastor and new season of ministry together with the person God is bringing.  

To do this year well, to grow through it means we need to all walk together in this. 

I invite you into the real and essential season of transition that we might do well what God is calling us to do together in this season to become the people God desires we become through this season.  

At the end of the year, when July 2020 arrives, we all might need to feel more emotions, especially then.  There is no leap-frog jump into the new, walk slowly, and through all this let’s remember that line I came back saying from my sabbatical camino:  Stay with your feet.  

You cannot be anyplace but where your feet are.  Unfortunately when we “sit in self” we are anywhere but “with our feet.”  So, sit in Jesus, listen for Him to speak and let’s keep walking and feeling together.  

Love to you all -- Brian


Chapter 44 "Spirit of Love: Loving Self"

Scripture: Proverbs 4: 1-27; Romans 12: 3-21; James 1: 2-8; 3: 13-18

McLaren calls us to a kind of self-love that involves self-examination, self-development, self-control, and self-giving.  These, he says, will enable us to love God and others more fully and joyfully (221). 

Sometimes people view God as if God just wants to steal all the joy from life, but in this chapter, McLaren reminds his readers that God invented pleasure, the senses, and the experience of His presence in which people experience a fullness of Joy. So why the rules and warnings which seem to center around areas that give us pleasure?  He says these make sense “when you realize how easily all life’s great pleasures-- food, drink, sex, owning, winning, resting, playing, working -- can become addictive and destructive. When we indulge in pleasures without self-examination or self-control, a great pleasure can quickly lead to great pain-- for the addicts themselves and for those whose lives are touched by their addiction” (222).  

So, what do we do?  McLaren says we must seek wisdom. We must ask questions like “Will this help or hinder me in reaching my highest goals?  Where will this lead short-, medium-, and long-term? What unintended consequences might it entail?  Who might be hurt by this? Are there better alternatives? Is now the best time?”

Imagine what a difference it would make if someone asked those questions before making a purchase that was risky for their budget? Or before drinking and driving? Or before throwing caution to the wind for a one-night stand? Or before working multiple 14-hour days in a row to the loss of family time?  We need wisdom in this life which is about really loving ourselves well in order to live as wisely and lovingly as possible. He quotes Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the well-springs of life.” 

“God, it turns out, isn’t a divine killjoy. God wants you to love you the way God loves you, so you can join God in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation. If you trust your self to that love, you will become the best self you can be, thriving in aliveness, full of deep joy, part of the beautiful whole” (224). 

What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, challenged, encouraged, warmed, helped or surprised you?

Share a story about how a rule, a wise saying, and a mentor have helped you.

Talk honestly with someone you trust this week about how you are doing in the areas of self-examination, self-control, self-development, self-care and self-giving.  

I think of the command to show love for others, this proviso of loving self is a difficulty for many. It has been for me. As someone was sharing on Sunday about the difficulty to even receive the fact that they are loved, I can totally relate.  And I am not alone. I love McLaren’s sharing of how this looks and the call for wisdom. He pictures self love as a walk in wisdom in how to use the freedoms God has given us. Then there is the deeper area of the heart, which scripture calls us to “guard above all else,” which would seem to point to this call to guard against any attitude against ourselves which would be out of line with God’s view of us.  McLaren says, “Imagine those who love you most-- parents, a spouse, friends, children, and God. Now imagine standing with them as they see and love you. In silence and in God’s presence, hold yourself in that kind of love” (225). That is such a generous picture!

Chapter 43 "Spirit of Love: Love of Neighbor"

Scripture: Acts 10: 1-48; 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 

Who is my neighbor?  That was the telling question the lawyer asked Jesus in order to justify the people he chose to love over those he hated.  But Jesus answered with a story that illustrated neighbor is not another but is how we choose to love -- we are the neighbor to another when we love like the Good Samaritan did.  Or as McLaren says in this chapter, “the Spirit wants to break down walls of prejudice and hostility so that we stop judging us as clean and them as unclean, opening the way for strangers and enemies to become neighbors, friends, family” (p. 216).  Loving is the key, naturally, but “the New Testament is serious about translating love into practical, specific, concrete, down-to-earth action.  Because each of us has something to give and much to receive, the term one another keeps popping up on page after page of the New Testament” (p. 218).  He lists many of these occurrences where we are told to be devoted to one another, honor, accept, stop passing judgment, agree with, wait for, have equal concern for, be kind and compassionate to, forgive, encourage, teach and admonish, spur on toward love and good deeds, offer hospitality to one another, etc.  The list goes on and on.  This “loving” is to be made visible everywhere, with everyone.  Start loving! 

Share a story about a time when someone affirmed one of your unique gifts or abilities, and when you appreciated the unique gifts or abilities of someone else.     

How do you respond to the list of one-another’s?

I have often felt that the one another’s in the NT are an invitation to live with others in mind, to not live as if only you mattered but to live constantly aware and looking toward the “others” God has placed around us.  I think the comprehensive opportunity to notice others is immense. Tonight driving through my neighborhood I prayed for every house and the people I don’t yet know who live within.  I prayed for Jesus to impact those families, those lives. I wondered what stresses they are encountering and what joys. I wondered how our lives could intersect. I prayed for Jesus to keep using me in their lives.  

Meditate:  In silence, simply hold the term “one another” before God.  Open yourself to the depths of meaning in this beautiful term.  


Chapter 42 "Spirit of God: Loving God"

Scripture: Psalm 116; Romans 8: 1-17; Ephesians 3: 14-21

Loving God.  That’s the beginning of the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives, McLaren wrote, that we could become a people who actually love God.  For some the name “God” has all kinds of connotations that make the idea of God difficult to love. However, loving God is actually not “so different from loving another human being.”  Here’s how McLaren describes that:

“When we speak of loving another human being, we naturally move toward that person in a special way. We appreciate the qualities of the beloved. We respect and honor the beloved’s dignity. We enjoy the beloved’s company and feel curious about the beloved’s personhood.  We want to support the beloved’s dreams and desires. And we make ourselves available for the beloved to respect, honor, enjoy, know and support us, too, because to be “in love” is to be in a mutual relationship” (p 212).

Then all these apply to how we love and grow in relationship with God.  The bottom line as we grow is to learn deeply that we are not alone, and as people who are loved, we learn to love.  That’s it.

Share a story about a time when you felt most “in love” with God.

The call came at midnight into the dorm where I was sleeping with several other guys attending the Annual Conference of the UMC.  It was 1995. Karen, my wife, and I had just moved from California the previous year with our four daughters. This was before cell phones.  We had wired-in, actual wall phones in each room. It rang and rang before Dexter in the room got up and answered it. He came and woke me. “Hey, Brian.  Karen is on the line.”

“What’s up?” I asked into the receiver as I took the phone, and went into the hallway, the long coiled cord through the door back to the phone on the wall inside the room.  I sat down on the floor. Karen began to cry. “Honey. I’m sorry to bother you. But something happened tonight that I need to tell you about. Now.”

“Great.  I can tell it’s huge.  I’m here. Tell me.”

“I had put all the girls down for bed.  Then I went to sleep myself. I had trouble falling asleep, but managed. I awoke to this loud knocking at the door and Alex barking and barking.  I made my way downstairs turning on the light and spoke through the door: ‘Who is it?’”

“It’s Tina,” the voice responded, “your neighbor from across the street.  I have your little girl.”

“I opened the door quickly then and was astounded to see Gabrielle in Tina’s arms.  She had just been asleep!”

Tina said, “I was sitting on my porch having a smoke when I heard crying across the street. It was dark and I couldn’t see but it looked like a little person in front of the office building of the church.  So, I came across the street and there was your little girl, standing there, in front of the fence, crying.”

I leaned down and said, ‘Honey, why are you crying? Why are you up?’”

“She said, ‘I am looking for my daddy, but he is not here and I cannot find him.’”

“Honey, your daddy is out of town,” Tina said, “but I know your mama is home.  Let me carry you back to the house.”

Karen continued.

“I took Gabrielle and thanked Tina profusely and then closed the door and locked it.  I took Gabrielle upstairs and put her back to bed, in our room, and then went back downstairs and positioned a chair under the door handle of the front door.”

“As I sat down in bed, I journaled out my experience but as I began to tell the story the pictures of what actually had happened unfolded in my mind.  I saw what had happened. I saw Gabrielle leave the house. I saw that she was guarded by a double line of angels, linking arms like a fence on each side of her. She had stopped at the office for there the angels blocked her path.  They broke arms to allow Tina in to pick Gabrielle up, and then closed ranks around the two of them as Tina carried her back to the door. This I saw and the Lord spoke to my spirit saying we need to be praying. God has a plan that is unfolding and we need extra prayers for our kids.”

I was stunned with the story, but believed it for I knew Karen and trusted her spirit.  We prayed together and I felt this immense love for God -- the One who intervenes, cares, and works in all these things of life.  Thinking back to the moment I can still feel the fact of His presence.

How do you respond to the comparison between human love and loving God?

What do you think it means, the phrase, “God is love?”


Chapter 41 "Moving with the Spirit"

Scripture: John 15: 1-8; Galatians 3: 19-4:7; 5:1-26; Colossians 2: 6-7; 3: 1-17

Using the biblical images of the branch attached to the vine, of “walking,” of a fire that needs to be tended in order to keep the flame burning, McLaren invites his readers to keep walking, to stay in step with the Spirit, and to do so daily, moment by moment. He invites us to do so all through our days, from the moment we awaken, to times around the table, to times of traveling from place to place, to emergencies, to expressing our gratitude to God at the end of the day for all that it held.  Walk. Keep walking. That’s the invitation.

He also points out that sometimes people “stop walking” and instead of moving, walking, and allowing the sap of the Spirit to nourish and strengthen, they become bystanders, critical of others, observers not participants encamped together with others who share their critique.  

The calling for us as followers is to walk, day by day, along the path God has given us.  Don’t be distracted, keep walking.

Share a story about how the Spirit has encouraged you through others walking alongside you.

How do you respond to the warning about losing your way and becoming a critical bystander rather than a humble walker?

My blog’s tagline is “Westside Walker,” connected to our congregation’s name and this theme of movement that God invites us into as we “Follow Jesus.”  I find that tag so helpful to remember, I am a walker, a journeyer, one who is also learning day by day to follow, to trust, to believe, to be present to Jesus as I walk.  

I was struck the other day how frequently God speaks into my life through those around me, just by how they talk, what they say, and allowing what they are saying to speak directly into the things I am feeling, dealing with in my own heart.  Sometimes I am broadsided by such conversations. I don’t expect God to show up with a grocery store clerk, or in line at the bank, or at the gas station, or with the tech for my eye appointment. But then, suddenly, in a flash God is there and ministering not through me but TO me.  Right there while Michele, the tech, tells of her discovery that algebra which she never thought she would use past high school is an everyday part of her job, God encourages my own heart saying through her, “I’ve put in place all you need for how I will use you.”

Chapter 40 "Pentecost Sunday: The Spirit is Moving"

Scripture: John 3: 1-21; Acts 2: 1-41; Romans 6: 1-14

Using all the scriptural imagery for the Holy Spirit (eg:  wind, fire, breath, dove, cloud, wine), McLaren demonstrates how Pentecost was a reversal of the ancient account of the Tower of Babel. In that story, God confused the languages to stop the grasp of people for godlike power.  At Pentecost, God brought unity within the diversity of languages, testifying that God intends to bring his power and spirit to all peoples. In this chapter, remembering the work of God throughout history, we are invited to open up to the work and Person of God’s Holy Spirit to fill us.  McLaren writes that through the Spirit we are invited to enter into the death of Christ and be buried with him in baptism, and then raised with him in resurrection. As McLaren wrote: “Let Go! Let Be! and Let Come!” (206).

The Holy Spirit is a most fascinating member of Trinity. Like the wind He is elusive and hard to track and follow.  He is also immensely beautiful, powerful, and does engage us from the level of our hearts. Following Jesus without the Spirit would be impossible. None of us has within the wherewithal to actually follow without the Spirit of the Living God working within us.  He is essential. He came to the first Pentecost like wind and fire. He made an entrance, which was heard into the streets. This caused an uproar, people running to see what was going on. It brought hecklers. The Spirit came and began to change those first followers with a boldness that only could be Spirit connected.  

Share a story about a time you experienced the Holy Spirit in a special way.

How do you respond to the imagery of death, burial and resurrection with Christ?

Make it a habit in the coming days to take a deep breath and then exhale to express letting go. Then remain breathless for a moment -- to express letting be. Then inhale to express letting the Spirit come to fill you.  

I love the Spirit of the Living God.  When I was first baptized with the Holy Spirit, at 17,  it felt to me as if I had swallowed sunshine. Still when the Spirit moves in my heart I can get all kinds of physical sensations.  But mostly I experience joy, and what I love is that I can hear the Spirit speak and lead and guide in my life. Learning to listen and obey, this has been a lifelong project.  

Sometimes I have heard, clearly, but not followed through on what I had heard, and then have felt badly afterward.  This is also unnecessary, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But still, learning to apply and live into the Word, that takes time.  I still remember the time when I passed up an opportunity to speak to a neighbor boy, he was 18, this was when I was first pastoring. There he was, outside his house, resting on the hood of his car in his driveway.  And the Spirit said, “Go up to him.” It was clear. I hesitated. I had all kinds of thoughts and fears in my head. I didn’t do it. I instead kept walking and went into my house. It might have been a moment like Philip had on the desert road when the Spirit told him to “Go up to that chariot.”  And Philip just did it. I love that.

But that day, I missed the opportunity. That boy has received years of prayers out of my desperate and repentant heart. But who knows what I missed out on that day or what he missed out on.  Hearing and obeying, that is the meaning of the word for “listen” in the scriptures. To listen is to hear and obey. Lord, help me learn to listen.

I love how the Spirit has sent so many other opportunities, which says that God brings many opportunities even when we mess up.   

Chapter 39 "Whatever the Hardship, Keep Rising Up!"

Scripture: Isaiah 40:27-31; Acts 9:1-25; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10; 11:22-33

This chapter is again a first person testimony from around AD 64 as the writer observes Paul’s life and teaching, telling the story again of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9), and teaching about suffering.  He tells many stories from Paul’s life, how he not only met Ananias who was sent to him after he was led, blind, into Damascus, but also, he saw in Ananias, the Lord Jesus, that same Lord he began to meet in the believers in every church he visited and founded.  

In this context he says “Hardships make us bitter...or better.  They lead us to breakdown...or breakthrough. If we don’t give up at that breaking point when we feel we’ve reached the end of our own resources, we find a new aliveness, the life of the risen Christ rising within us.  Paul often says it like this: “I have been crucified with Christ. So it is no longer my prideful self who lives. Now it is Christ, alive in me” (p 198-199).

The chapter ends much like the book of Acts, with Paul in prison, Nero the emperor, and the unknown of what will come next:  “Who knows where the road will lead? God will be with us, and we will make the road by walking, together” (199).

Share a story about one of your greatest hardships?

How do you respond to the idea that we discover God’s strength only through our weakness?

This week, when you’re tempted to complain, look for a blessing that could come from enduring hardship well.

In a strange way, the greatest hardship of my own life has not been the abuse I experienced as a kid, but the inner narratives I have battled, probably rooted in that abuse, as an adult. It has been the temptation to believe and follow the lies within my heart that has been the greatest hardship.  

This inner torture has kept me bound at times, silenced me, bound me in fear, caused me to feel inadequate and unable to continue; it has left me depressed and alone.  Truly, this has been a great bondage.

With the freedom and victory of Jesus, still I have battled.  It is as if this was a thorn in my side against which I had had to learn to fight. I have had to choose truth over the lies that felt more true than “the earth is round.”  I have had to battle the thoughts of failure, and choose to believe that success is borne of obedience and faithfulness. I have had to learn to be vulnerable, for when we let the truth of our hearts out into the open air, then and only then can darkness be dissipated.  The crazy thing, although I can write about this, and although I am not a kid any longer, still I have daily choices to make in this battle to stand, to walk, to have faith, to choose life. Truth is a tough thing to choose when the lies have had a heyday for too long.

Having said this, I definitely believe I am better for the struggle and stronger too.  I agree with the observation that hardships can either make us bitter or better, they will lead to breakdown or breakthrough.  I’m still walking toward the breakthrough.


Chapter 38 "The Uprising of Stewardship"

Scripture: Deuteronomy 15: 1-11; 1 Timothy 6: 3-19; 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15

In this chapter McLaren writes again from the perspective of someone in 51 AD looking at what they were gaining through the impact of Paul’s teaching.  Not only was Jesus entering into people’s lives, but they were thereby learning to live differently. Choosing to put love into action through how they used their time, their finances, their lives.  

Here are two of his insights:

“Stewardship applies to all areas of our lives -- how we use time, potential, possessions, privilege, and power.  Whatever we do, we try to give it our very best, because we work for Christ not just for money” (194).

“When it comes to how we spend our earnings, stewardship means living below our means.  We do so by dividing our income into three parts -- the percentage needed for our basic needs, then, the percentage to save, and finally the percentage, the largest portion we can, for God’s work of compassion, justice, restoration and peace” (194).  That final part went also to help with the expenses Paul and Timothy had as they traveled for the Gospel.

Here are some of his questions.  How do you respond to these? Go ahead and write your response into a comment, or email the office at office@westsidejourney.com:

Share a story about a time when you got mixed up about what really has value?

How do you respond to the idea of dividing your earnings into three parts-- to spend, save and give?

For me, I’ve gotten mixed up about money much of my life. I have attached too much value in some moments and too little in others.  When a young pastor at my first church in San Jacinto, CA, I remember a young woman hitting the straits of her own life, coming and asking for help with rent.  My wife, Karen, still remembers the exact amount, to the penny, that I loaned this woman when we were strapped ourselves. It was around $240. This woman promised that she would pay it back as soon as she got paid.  A story that I have heard hundreds of times since. And she, as is often the case, didn’t. She disappeared. Never saw her again and we never saw our money again. And that month and the next were really stretched for us to the max because of my poor judgment on finances, believing that I had to give everything my family needed, without actually saving for my own needs first.  It was tough for Karen to release that one, but of course, she did release it, except for remembering the amount down to the penny. :-)

One of the lessons I learned, well, I admit, I have had to learn it multiple times since, was this:  I need to be on the same page as Karen when giving. I cannot offer without first coming to agreement with her. I cannot give without her saying yes as well.  This decision has helped her feel a part of the adventure of giving and assisted us with being able to be more free in giving.

Another situation illustrates the opposite extreme.  We were living in Banks, OR, and Karen was making dinner and sent me to the store to pick up Teriyaki sauce.  She was specific: “Get the Veri Veri brand, it will be on the top shelf.”

I left and en route I began to think, “What? Top shelf? Aren’t the most expensive things on the top shelf?”

Sure enough, it was the most expensive of all the brands there. I could have bought one from the middle shelf that was $3 cheaper, but instead, after a huge struggle with my will, picked up the Veri Veri brand, bought it and headed for the door.  As I was leaving, I was thinking, “I’ll get it, Karen, but when I get home I will tell you what I think about this extravagance!”

You remember, I was the one who could give away hundreds of dollars, but now could not spend $3 to bless my wife?  Looking back, I find this ridiculous, but it shows just how off I was with money, how much I got the equation wrong on what it meant to be a wise steward of God’s provisions.  

I drove out of the Jim’s Market parking lot thinking about what I was going to say when I got home, when Jesus intervened.  

“You will not say a thing!” I heard in my heart, loud and clear, is if out loud in the car.  

“Not say a thing?” I complained!  “Jesus, this is a horrible waste of money?”

But Jesus wouldn't budge. That was the longest short drive ever, as Jesus said to me:

“Don’t you think she deserves this?  What has she done for you? Raising the kids. Schooling them. Helping them get to all their events. Creating a home. Caring for you…” Jesus’ list went on and on.  By the time I reached Depot Street, I was thoroughly humbled.

“Ok, Jesus, I won’t say a word.”  I walked into the house and offered her the sauce, she thanked me, and gave me this big hug. And Jesus and I continued our conversation as I learned that I needed to walk in humility.  

Money -- I’ve dealt with mythical thinking being a miser and an extravagant giver, but have learned, slowly, over the years how to simply deal with money as a tool that need hold no part of my heart captive.  John Wesley used to say, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” In his own life he managed to die with nothing but pennies to his name, yet had built many chapels and churches, schools, hospitals, and multiple ministries along the way out of his own earnings.  With his book royalties, Wesley in today’s dollars made in the neighborhood of $160,000 annually, yet he lived on what would be comparably $20,000 annually and gave the rest away. “My own hands have been my executors,” he wrote. Remarkable in many ways how Wesley was a steward of all the gifts of time and money God had given him.

Chapter 37 "The Uprising of Partnership"

Scripture: Psalm 146; Matthew 10: 16-20; 11:28-30; 28:16-20; Acts 16:11-40

In McLaren’s book it is AD 51 and he again retells this story from Acts 16 in first person narrative to re-experience the occurrence from that account about the life of the Apostle Paul.  It’s that great experience of Paul and Silas, arrested for doing a good deed (delivering a young girl from a demonic spirit that was earning her owners a fast buck), thrown into prison, and put in stocks in an inner cell. These two don’t grovel but instead sing praises to God at midnight when God shakes the jail with an earthquake that instantly unlatches all the prisoners’ chains and unlocks the doors to their cells.  The jailer running to see what had happened, seeing the doors unlocked, imagines that all have escaped, takes out his sword to kill himself, but instead is stopped by Paul, who says they are all still there. The jailer falls to his knees before Paul and Silas then asking them for this life they have. He and his household are converted that night.

God is on the move liberating people and we are all his partners, McLaren says.  How true. He writes it in this manner: “We are partners in an earthquake of liberation!  As we move forward together in this partnership in mission for peace and freedom, injustice at every level of society will be confronted and people at every level of society will be set free” (p 190).  

Share a story about a time you felt like one character in this story.  Or, reflecting upon the fact that Paul and Silas were engaged in protest and civil disobedience in Philippi, under what circumstances would you risk arrest, imprisonment, or death (for the sake of the Gospel)?

The second question caused me to pause when I read it, for I think that I hesitate to share my faith for all kinds of reasons.  I hesitate to perhaps take a stand again for all kinds of reasons. NONE of those reasons are about the rise of arrest, imprisonment or death.  None. I don’t take my life into my hands EVER. This fact took me out the door today. It took me into a conversation with a neighbor I never would have entered had I not been challenged by this thought. It took me into conversation with a worker at Freddies while on her break, because I knew I was not risking ANYTHING by sharing my faith with her.  It took me into praying for a couple homeless guys on the street. Again, to encourage, and without risk to my life. So much of life is risk-free, especially in regard to actual risk. So, I’m grateful for this question. Two people heard the gospel and another two experienced the demonstration of that gospel because of it.

Go and Tell!


Chapter 36 "The Uprising of Worship"

Scripture: Psalm 103;  Acts 2: 41-47; 1Cor 14:26-31; Colossians 3: 12-17

Writing another first-person narrative, McLaren imagines what it might have been like about a year after the resurrection.  He observes that by then the disciples were convinced that what mattered was not so much for Christ to appear TO them as for Christ to appear IN them, AMONG them, and THROUGH them.  “Jesus wants us to be his hands, his feet, his face, his smile, his voice… his embodiment on Earth” (p182).

Here in this chapter he discusses the four main functions that early worship included.  First, teaching either through a letter from the apostles being read, or a reading from Psalter, Prophets or the Torah.  The early church was also in the practice of each person bringing with them a song or scripture to share in worship.

Second, bread.  The church met, whether in homes, public buildings or outdoor settings, and broke bread together, either as a full meal, or a simple meal, called a love feast, often incorporating the meal of communion.  One thing that the body of believers modeled early on was inclusion of everyone at this table, poor, slave, free, male, female, Jew and Greek, city-born or country-born, no matter, all were loved, “all welcome as equals. We even greet one another with a holy kiss.”  This would have been unheard of in any other part of society. McLaren observes, “we say the words Jesus said about the bread being his body given for us, and the wine being his blood shed for us and for our sins. Those words “for us” and “for our sins” are full of meaning for us. Just as we take medicine “for” an illness, we understand that Jesus’ death is curing us of our old habits and ways”  (184).

Third, Fellowship.  “We share our experiences, our sense of what God wants to tell us, our insights from the Scriptures. We also share our fears, our tears, our failures, and our joys.  There is a financial aspect to our sharing as well. … None of us are rich, but through our sharing, none of us are in need, either” (184).

Fourth, prayer.  The gathered community prayed giving God praise, thanksgiving, confession, bringing needs to God, praying for healing, seeing God move.  

“This is why, even when we are tired from long days of work, even when we are threatened with persecution, even when life is full of hardships and we feel discouraged or afraid, still we gather to rise up in worship” (185).

How do you respond to the four functions of gathered worship:  teaching, bread & wine, fellowship and prayer? or Share a story of a time when your heart was full of worship?

One experience of worship stands out to me occurred more than 25 years ago.  I was speaking at a Christian Ashram in the mountains of California. One of the mainstays of the Christian Ashram is the 24-hour prayer vigil.  All who attend sign up for various hours. I had signed up for one of the early morning hours, so I was in the prayer chapel, that stood in the middle of this redwood-tree filled property at around 2 in the morning. I had prayed through all the requests and was lost in praising God, worshiping, singing, and then began to sing in an unknown tongue.  Suddenly someone else, who had come in during my loud praise, and was sitting in the back of the chapel joined in praise as well, also singing in tongues, and as if she had been taught the unknown melody.

We joined in a harmony that was ethereal, beautiful and incredible, for neither of us knew the song.  We sang on, carried into praise by the Spirit, and worshiping God with a heaven-sent song. It was one of those prayer moments, and one of those moments in worship that I’ll never forget.  It was incredible. Eventually the song ended, both of us trailing off, and I turned to see who had come, greeted this stranger, not part of our camp, and gave thanks for her coming to share in worship.  Soon my hour was over, but the song, the praise, the sense of God’s presence in that prayer chapel stayed with me. I think every experience of worship seeks to echo that one from long ago.

Chapter 35 "The Uprising of Discipleship"

Scripture: Psalm 25; Luke 10: 1-11, 17-20; John 21: 1-15

McLaren pictures the scene from John 21 of Jesus with his disciples at breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as a transformative experience, a reminder of the fact that Jesus discipled these first followers firsthand, in daily relationships, not unlike this picnic scene.  McLaren notes that to be a disciple meant to be a learner, a follower, a student, an apprentice, and one who learned by imitating the Master.

“You can imagine the honor, for uneducated fishermen like us, to sit at the feet of the greatest teacher imaginable.  And now, we feel it is an even greater honor to be sent out to teach others, who will in turn teach and train others in this new way of life. This revolutionary plan of discipleship means that we must first and foremost be examples. We must embody the message and values of our movement. That doesn’t mean we are perfect -- just look at Peter. But it does mean we are growing and learning, always humble and willing to get up again after we fall, always moving forward on the road we are walking.  As Jesus modeled never-ending learning and growth for us, we will model it for others, who will model it for still others. If each new generation of disciples follows this example, centuries from now, apprentices will still be learning the way of Jesus from mentors, so they can become mentors for the following generation” (p. 179).

This summarizes what he is speaking of in this chapter, and what a great picture of Jesus and his method of working with 11 guys who in turn would lead a movement to reach the world.  Here we are centuries later still doing the same thing -- modeling, praying, learning, leading, reaching.

Questions from the book:

  1. Share a story about how you have been drawn toward discipleship through another person.   

  2. How do you relate to the story of Peter with its dramatic ups and downs?  

I know that my own story of discipleship is manifold.  I admired Karen, when we first married, for she seemed to have a pattern to her devotional life which I lacked.  I tried to adopt what she did, and learned from her. But I also felt that it was not enough, so I expanded it out.  I pursued others to see what they did to grow in Christ, and imitated them too. At one time I had overloaded myself with too many things, too many directions, too many distractions.  Then another friend advised me in reading the Bible through once a year, and his witness took hold in my heart. I began that pattern of reading the Bible through more than once in a year and held to it for many years.  

I didn’t have any single person who was a constant mentor in my life along the way, but have had many, many people God has used to raise me up. Beginning in 1978 my friend David Luce became one such mentor.

It seems God has been determined to grow me up using many, many people along the way to help me grow.  I can totally relate to Peter with his fitful stops and starts, his solitary boldness to call to Jesus, “Lord, just say the word and I will walk to you on the water!”  And his thorough defeat with denying he knew the Lord at all. I have found comfort over the years in Proverb 24:16 that says, “For though the righteous man falls seven times a day, he gets up again.” I have needed this encouragement.  I think discipleship then for me hasn’t had one shape or form, nor does it take only one form through my life. And Jesus is constant in his desire to use every circumstance to grow me up.

How about you?  How do you respond to one or both of these questions?  


Chapter 34 "The Uprising of Fellowship"

Scripture: Psalm 133, John 20:1-31; Acts 8: 26-40

This was a total Holy Spirit thing that this chapter, this particular focus should follow Easter and land on the Day of Action -- our day of community service, a beautiful picture of fellowship.

McLaren begins by observing that the account of the resurrection differs slightly between the gospel accounts.  Actually, when looking for witnesses, if police found that several people had exactly the same account of something witnessed, they would be less likely to believe them. It is the slight differences in story between the evangelists which brings out the veracity of what they say all the more. These stories were kept orally first before being written, however, do not mistake this as the modern game of “telephone.”  For in the times of Jesus, storytelling was an art form that demanded accuracy.

Focusing on John’s account, in John 20, McLaren tells how the disciples might have connected the events with Jesus in the upper room, following the resurrection with other events in Scripture.  He calls the whole resurrection event an “uprising” -- as in a movement that began at this point in time. And it is such an event. In those upper room encounters with the risen Christ the disciples received the Holy Spirit, and their commission to take this gospel out to others.  Beginning that night the disciples realized they had entered a movement, an experience of fellowship unlike previously experienced-- one that was “not based on status, achievement, or gender, but instead is based on a deep belief that everyone matters, everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved, no conditions, no exceptions… a community where anyone who wants to be part of us will be welcome.  Jesus showed us his scars, so we don’t have to hide ours.” (175). This fellowship, this new community was based around the real, living person of Jesus-- it was in him they believed, and He created this unity they experienced.

Questions:   

Share a story about an experience of true fellowship.  

How do you respond to the idea that Christian fellowship is for scarred and scared people-- without regard to gender, status or achievement?  

In my life, I have had many experiences with what I would call true fellowship.  Many of you know I have been part of an accountability group with the same guys since 1997.  Another dear friend, Mike, whom I met in 2002 has been an extension of this group, another brother with whom I have deep fellowship and honesty.  Some of these accountability group times, and some of the times Mike and I have shared talking across the nation by phone rank highest to me in my experience of fellowship.  There have been times when the presence of God is so thick in those small group times and those phone conversations, that the presence of Jesus is tangible. For years the guys and I in our accountability times began with prayer and worship and a time of listening for God to bring words for the members of the group before that person shared.  What we heard which spoke beneath the surface of what a brother planned to share, and often proved powerful. Sometimes Mike has called at just the right moment to help upright my thinking and my heart. These conversations are gifts. For me fellowship means a deep communion with others. So, it can happen anywhere as we are together with others in the Body of Christ.  

How about you? When have you experienced fellowship?  

Chapter 33 "The Uprising Begins"

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Luke 24:1-32; Colossians 1: 9-29

If you want to experience this chapter, read Luke 24 in its entirety.  For McLaren this week relives that passage, tells it again as if one of the disciples.  The experience of the resurrection by the women, the disciples and then the two on the road to Emmaus.  These experiences and how those two disciples may have viewed the meal of communion thereafter form the content of the chapter. In wondering how the two disciples may have unpacked their experience of recognizing Jesus in the broken bread, McLaren writes,

“We recall Jesus’ words from Thursday night about his body and blood. We remember what happened on Friday when his body and his blood were separated from one another on the cross.  That’s what crucifixion is, we realize: the slow, excruciating, public separation of body and blood. So, we wonder, could it be that in the holy meal, when we remember Jesus, we are making space for his body and blood to be reunited and reconstituted in us?  Could our remembering him actually re-member and resurrect him in our hearts, our bodies, our lives? Could his body and blood be reunited in us, so that we become his new embodiment? Is that why we saw him and then didn’t see him --because the place he most wants to be seen is in our bodies, among us, in us?” (p. 169-170).

How do you respond to this kind of idea around the meal of communion, that it is transforming us into a community of resurrection?  

I live this reality. I believe that communion is just such a holy reality, a beautiful meal, a gift.  It is the taking into ourselves the reality of Jesus’ work on our behalf. It does re-member us to His holy person, and re-attaches us to his might gift.  This is what I experience. It is not just memorial. It is real presence. Come to the table and meet Jesus. Receive God’s kiss. There is powerful transformation available in the meal.  Come and sup.

Chapter 32 "Peace March"

Scripture: Zechariah 9: 9-10; Psalm 122; Luke 19: 29-46

Asking what this might have been like, that day, to experience Jesus directing disciples to get a donkey, a colt, for this triumphant ride, experiencing the celebration, the shouts, hearing Jesus say that were people not to celebrate him, that rocks would shout instead!  What might it have been like to hear him begin to weep, sob over the city of Jerusalem, with that picture of intimacy and a desire to offer mercy, but unable to do so because the people did not recognize the day God visited them? What might we learn of Jesus’ own awareness of Himself, his mission, by this very reference of comparison between His visit and God’s? What might it have been like to enter the temple with Jesus and see him heal, the pharisees reject, and the people celebrate him again?  There Jesus declared it a house of prayer and lamented that the religious leaders had made it a den of robbers. What might that have felt like to these followers? Here McLaren asks what were those things that made for peace that day? And how had the people rejected and missed these things?

All this.  

McLaren observes:  “It’s not more weapons, more threats, more fear that makes for peace. It’s more faith, more freedom, more hope, more love, more joy.  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

war quote.jpg

How might we be purveyors of hope and peace in this world that leans toward warfare?  

Clearly this day is a day which exalts that Jesus is king, The King, the long awaited King. But a different king.  A king who makes for peace.  As McLaren wrote, “It’s not more weapons, more threats, more fear. It’s more faith, more freedom, more hope, more love, more joy,” that is needed.  And I would add, “Peace. we need more peace.” And Jesus is the way to such peace.

As you ponder this -- Palm Sunday is a peace march, and also a day of celebration and a day of intense sadness as Jesus weeps over the city that stones those sent to her.  Indeed as Jesus entered the city that day, he rebuked those in the temple for taking “My Father’s House,” and making it into a den of thieves not a house of prayer for all nations.  So, what a day of contrasts.

McLaren invites readers to reflect:

Share a time when you were a part of a parade or public demonstration. What did you experience?

This week, look for moments when you, like Jesus, can see with grief that people are choosing a way of conflict or violence instead of peace.

What’s a thought or idea from today’s chapter that intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?

This day continually is a surprise to me for I don’t expect it to be anything but a great, happy parade.  It starts out that way, and somehow, I expect it to always end that way, but it doesn’t. It does end with healings in the temple, and a cleansing there, but it is filled with rebukes -- the pharisees’ rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus’ rebuke of the religious system in Jerusalem.  It is filled with sadness and rejoicing. Children are celebrating Jesus, yet some adults are not. So for me, this day is a surprising one, and one that continually reminds me that nothing in life is all one texture. That joy and sadness do get mixed together. That peace is accompanied by times of violence.  That people will always have varying opinions about God and how God interacts with humanity. In the season of the church with the battles coming out of the General Conference Decision in February, this seems poignant. We still serve the same God, the same Jesus as then. And that God is as active now as then.  And still today there are strong opinions on all sides of this and every disagreement. The question is whether we will see the day of God’s coming to us. The question is whether we will be able to witness and celebrate God’s coming to us, into our lives and embrace God that day or not. That’s the question. I hope that I am able to see and embrace God’s coming.    

Chapter 31 "The Choice is Yours"

Scripture: Matthew 7: 13-29

McLaren observes there are Two paths, Two vines (or kinds of fruit), Two groups and Two types of builders -- each contrasted to the other, each challenged to not just listen to Jesus but to be people who take everything He said and translate it into a way of living a new life, a way of being alive.  

We have long heard of the narrow and the wide ways, those contrasting types of life, like roads that are supposed to be ways to get through a mountain pass, but only One Road goes the whole way.  It is not the wide highway, for that one actually cuts north, and is yet unfinished, ending in a cliff, but the two-lane, winding, narrow, treacherous looking road. That’s the Way.

He warns us against believing everyone who claims to speak for Him, saying, we need to look for the fruit of the proclamation.  Not their words but their lives are the litmus test of the message. And what of those who claim to belong to Jesus, who again may use the right words but have no relationship?  Jesus says they will be surprised on that last day when Jesus tells them:

‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here’ (Matthew 7:23, The Message).

Jesus tells us “Do what you hear,” in other words, “practice this message.”  Put into practice what you hear. We have heard to love enemies, pray for those who persecute us, give, fast, pray secretly in order to change the world.  It is not a message of applause but of deep relationship.

Rather than being in any way overwhelmed by this powerful, life-challenging message, the crowds were delighted. Here at last was someone who taught as one having authority.  He was saying: this is the way it is. Live it. And they were delighted.

As you ponder this message, this “Sermon on the Mount,” what images or impressions are you left with?  

How do you think that you are “doing the Word” with how you live your life?

Where do you need to step up your obedience, or, where do you need to engage more fully in relationship with Jesus?  

For me, this message keeps going deeper. I don’t really think a summary captures all Jesus accomplished. The structure of the message beginning with the “Blesseds” and contrasting the lives we will live in Him with what was lived by the religious authorities was simple yet immense.  This was not your average, do this and you will live, message. Instead, Jesus says, “With me, here is what you look like, here is how you live, here is how you will stand out, and here is what is required.” Wait, Jesus, What? You are making OF me what I cannot make of myself? I guess I get to the end and just say:  “Wow. Ok. I submit to you, Lord.”

Chapter 30 "Why We Worry, Why We Judge"

Scripture: Matthew 6: 19-7:12

McLaren unpacks the three core problems we encounter as people.  These can turn us into dismal grouches and keep us from enjoying the life God has given us.  In unpacking Jesus’ teaching, McLaren sees these as

1.  Anxiety:  This unchecked worry about our bodies, our need for food, clothing and security can lead us into grasping, dissatisfied kind of life missing the very abundance God has placed around us.  Jesus points out how nature alone could teach us this is unnecessary -- if God cares for the birds of the air and the grass of the fields granting them abundant provision, won’t he likewise care for you?  

When we worry we miss out on what is available for us to receive.  Our hearts are focused on what we believe we lack. McLaren says Jesus’ antidote to worry is to seek God’s Kingdom and His justice (right living), and reminds us of his startling promise.  That everything we need -- food, clothing, provision, security -- will be given us.

However, when we fail to check worry, that kind of anxious living creates a heart worried that someone is judging them, will constantly be judging others.  And that’s the second core problem:

2.  Judgment:  “Anxious people are judgmental people” (142). McLaren takes us in this discussion to the two trees in the garden. One the tree of Life, of abundance, a place of trusting in all God has given.  And the other the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, “whose fruit we grasp to know and judge everything and everyone around us as good or evil. ...we constantly judge us as good and condemn them as evil.”  

Haven’t you experienced this kind of judgment -- when we want to clean someone else up, but don’t want to look at ourselves?  The antidote to judgment is self examination. Just as when dealing with adultery, Jesus pointed out that we need to deal with our own tendency toward this-- if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, etc, here Jesus says, to take the “plank out of your own eye.”  The picture is that something inside you is hindering your ability to see, that your judgment flows from your own brokenness. So, clear up your sight.

McLaren says this all comes back to how we see -- looking at others to judge them is a kind of “seeing” which makes us blind to anything else.  It is like when people wanted to break relationships with former close friends after the 2016 election, when they discovered how their friend had voted.  Their judgment -- making this person all one color because of a decision that the other person disliked -- blinded them to all the good qualities in that person they’d previously appreciated.  I was in many conversations encouraging people to simply be open to curiosity and ask questions to learn what else they thought and believed.

We need to deal with how we see, we need to take the step with our own eyes.  Like when Jesus told his listeners that if they are at the altar bringing their gift and there remember that a brother has something against them, he said to leave the gift and go first be reconciled, then return to give.  The call for us to act not to wait upon another. Get the plank out of our own eyes first, then we will be able to see to remove the splinter. Interesting that in Jesus’ hyperbole, when we judge we are noticing what is a splinter in comparison to the plank of judgment in our own eyes.  Clearly-- dealing with our own stuff is essential.

The posture of life is to continue to seek God -- asking, knocking, seeking -- for God will always respond.  This is the posture that underscores the third core problem for us people.

3.  We do not realize how deeply we are loved:  For if we did, we would consistently seek God in this life.  That we don’t says we don’t really, deeply understand how deeply God loves us, and will respond to us with the good that we seek, as any human father or mother would only give the best to their child.  

This passage ends with the ultimate advice from Jesus -- to simply do for others what you would like them to do for you. This can flow from a heart free from anxiety and judgment, a heart that knows, bottom line, he or she is deeply loved.  Then we can give. In giving we will obviously receive.

McLaren says, “next time you’re grouchy, angry, anxious and uptight, here is some wisdom to help you come back from being ‘out of your mind’ to being ‘in your right mind’ again.  Try telling yourself, My own anxiety is more dangerous to me than whatever I am anxious about.  My own habit of condemning is more dangerous to me than what I condemn in others. My misery is unnecessary because I am truly, truly, truly loved.  From that wisdom, unworried, unhurried, unpressured aliveness will flow again” (143).  Good advice.

McLaren asks us to respond to this chapter by asking several questions.  Here are a couple for you to ponder:

  1. Share a story about a time you felt anxious, judgmental or both.  We all have that kind of story, probably from this week!  

  2. How do you respond to the idea that our deepest problem is we don’t know we are loved?  In what ways does it help you to think of God’s love as fatherly, and in what ways does it help to think of God’s love as motherly? Are there ways that imagining God as a loving friend helps you in ways that parental images for God don’t?

  3. What is special for little children about having their parents around?

Anxiety-- although I missed that word in my 8th grade spelling bee and lost to Bonnie Hubbard because of it -- I’ve been good at anxiety all my life. I don’t practice worry, nowadays, and have grown so that I don’t dwell there. But I have come from a place of feeling anxious about many things.  What will they think? How will they respond? Will I be liked? Will I be chosen for the team? Will I get the scholarship? Are they ok? Have they all died in a crash somewhere, that’s why there is no word? I’ve been through all these and more. The curious thing about feeling anxious is simply this:  in the end nothing was impacted except me. It did not impact the scholarship committee, nor the team captain, nor the people around me. It only impacted me. We can kid ourselves, however, saying: “Think of how much worse this might have been had I not fretted about it?” The truth is like I said, anxiety and worry impact only me, only us experiencing them.  They impact our health, our mental state, our spiritual lives. Someone wiser than me said to worry is to pray to ourselves. Phew. Is it any wonder Jesus taught so plainly about it, or that it is approached frequently in scripture from Psalm 37 and 73, Proverbs 3 (especially 3:25ff), to Philippians 4. Just do not do it!

Chapter 29 "Your Secret Life"

Scripture: Matthew 6: 1-18

McLaren takes us into these verses with the observation that Jesus is inviting us into practices, “disciplines,” which may feel beyond our ability. However, he observes, that not many of us without training could walk a marathon, however with training, and enough time, we could master it, as many people have proven.  So, practice makes a habit that can change our lives. Once we are changed, the world can be changed.

“Jesus shows us how to be the change we want to see in the world,” McLaren notes (p 136).  

These disciplines in the area of giving, fasting and praying are to be practiced in secret, in other words practiced not in order to be seen by others but to be seen by God, so that the blessing may be experienced in the open.  Jesus is all about changing us. What he sees being done are “spiritual practices” which are more for show and for applause than they are for connection with God.

He summarizes the Lord’s Prayer as four movements like this:  First, we orient ourselves toward God. Second, we align our greatest desire with God’s greatest desire. Third, we bring to God our needs and concerns.  Finally, we prepare ourselves for the public world into which we will soon re-enter.

As you think of the Lord’s Prayer can you see these movements in it?  How do you respond to this summary?

McLaren ends this chapter with this observation:  “The world won’t change unless we change, and we won’t change unless we pull away from the world’s games and pressures.  In secrecy, in solitude, in God’s presence, a new aliveness can, like a seed, begin to take root. And if that life takes root in us, we can be sure it will bear fruit through us...fruit that can change the world ” (p. 139).  

This last line:  “The world won’t change unless we change, and we won’t change unless we pull away…” for me really states the reality of the calling upon us here.  It is a necessity to draw away. This morning even I was feeling a need for more of God’s Word flowing through my life so I listened to the first 10 psalms en route for a meeting. By the time I arrived, a new perspective had dawned upon me.  It was like the Word itself had washed over me. It is incredible to me that change actually happens in secret, within, in our hearts as we open up and allow God to impact us through Word, song, silence, prayer, action. God works within us.  Sometimes what I know is the toughest thing to actually “do.” This week, how about if you simply open up and let God’s Word flow over and through you. This week, how about if you pull away and practice silence for a season. This week, give in secret to some need and watch what God does.

This happened decades ago, but we received $50 in the mail.  The enclosed note simply said, “God told me to send this to you, but not tell you who it was from.  Love, Jesus.” It was a typed note. No chance to recognize the handwriting. But the gift, the surprise, the $50 in an era when that would buy two week’s worth of groceries was immense.  And we had need. And God had prompted a friend (we eventually discovered the angel in disguise) to touch our lives with a gift in secret. It was such a blessing. Be the change.

Share a story about a time you did something good -- but for a less-than-ideal motive.  What happened?

Decide whether you’d like to experiment with giving to the poor, fasting or praying in secret.  But don’t tell anyone!

Chapter 29 "Your Secret Life"

Scripture: Matthew 6: 1-18

McLaren takes us into these verses with the observation that Jesus is inviting us into practices, “disciplines,” which may feel beyond our ability. However, he observes, that not many of us without training could walk a marathon, however with training, and enough time, we could master it, as many people have proven.  So, practice makes a habit that can change our lives. Once we are changed, the world can be changed.

“Jesus shows us how to be the change we want to see in the world,” McLaren notes (p 136).  

These disciplines in the area of giving, fasting and praying are to be practiced in secret, in other words practiced not in order to be seen by others but to be seen by God, so that the blessing may be experienced in the open.  Jesus is all about changing us. What he sees being done are “spiritual practices” which are more for show and for applause than they are for connection with God.

He summarizes the Lord’s Prayer as four movements like this:  First, we orient ourselves toward God. Second, we align our greatest desire with God’s greatest desire. Third, we bring to God our needs and concerns.  Finally, we prepare ourselves for the public world into which we will soon re-enter.

As you think of the Lord’s Prayer can you see these movements in it?  How do you respond to this summary?

McLaren ends this chapter with this observation:  “The world won’t change unless we change, and we won’t change unless we pull away from the world’s games and pressures.  In secrecy, in solitude, in God’s presence, a new aliveness can, like a seed, begin to take root. And if that life takes root in us, we can be sure it will bear fruit through us...fruit that can change the world ” (p. 139).  

This last line:  “The world won’t change unless we change, and we won’t change unless we pull away…” for me really states the reality of the calling upon us here.  It is a necessity to draw away. This morning even I was feeling a need for more of God’s Word flowing through my life so I listened to the first 10 psalms en route for a meeting. By the time I arrived, a new perspective had dawned upon me.  It was like the Word itself had washed over me. It is incredible to me that change actually happens in secret, within, in our hearts as we open up and allow God to impact us through Word, song, silence, prayer, action. God works within us.  Sometimes what I know is the toughest thing to actually “do.” This week, how about if you simply open up and let God’s Word flow over and through you. This week, how about if you pull away and practice silence for a season. This week, give in secret to some need and watch what God does.

This happened decades ago, but we received $50 in the mail.  The enclosed note simply said, “God told me to send this to you, but not tell you who it was from.  Love, Jesus.” It was a typed note. No chance to recognize the handwriting. But the gift, the surprise, the $50 in an era when that would buy two week’s worth of groceries was immense.  And we had need. And God had prompted a friend (we eventually discovered the angel in disguise) to touch our lives with a gift in secret. It was such a blessing. Be the change.

Share a story about a time you did something good -- but for a less-than-ideal motive.  What happened?

Decide whether you’d like to experiment with giving to the poor, fasting or praying in secret.  But don’t tell anyone!

Chapter 28 "A New Path to Aliveness"

Scripture: Matthew 5: 17-48

Especially coming out of the recent General Conference choice of the Traditional Plan, this chapter seems especially powerful.  Jesus mapped a way that was not like the rebel, throwing off all constraints, nor like the traditionalist, simply holding to the law, the line in the sand. In his view, the traditionalist while holding to the letter of the law missed the real point - Him!  He was coming to fulfill all the law and the prophets.

In this chapter McLaren illustrates how Jesus wants us to fulfill the law, by what McLaren says is to extend tradition to its full potential. Then Jesus illustrates what he means, which he does with a series of statements: “You have heard it said...but I say to you.”  And therein begins to construct a new “way” for the people -- a way that was to take them far beneath the well-known command to the deep, heart-level desire of God for the people to begin to change the world. “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees,” he tells his listeners, “you will not enter the Kingdom of God.”  Jesus would be shocking his hearers with this statement, for in their minds, no one could ever “adhere to the law” like those groups!

As the listeners heard his contrasts of “you have heard, but I say,” what might have been going through their heads as Jesus unpacked violence, sexuality, marriage, oaths, revenge and finally love that is not just for those in our sphere of affection but for those hated outsiders?  McLaren unpacks a degree of this and asks how this might impact how we live with others around us.

For those in Jesus’ audience, they would have known that Jesus was encouraging them to break the law, to challenge the oppressors in their midst (the Romans) by doing good, by going the second mile.  The Roman soldier had strict oversight. The backhanded slap was allowed, but the fronthanded was not allowed. To “turn the other cheek” the offended would be inviting the soldier to break the law. The soldiers were allowed to force someone that first mile, but the second mile was not allowed, it was against the law, and might have the soldier begging the one who had carried the gear one mile to stop before he got in trouble.   Jesus is challenging people to live in such a way that upturns wrong authority not by evil but by going good.

Go to the heart.  Change from the inside.  And all that Jesus is writing falls back under the category also of his first sermon:  “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Here it is a turn away from simply obeying the letter of the law to obeying the deep, underlying intentions.  It was taking the law from drawing a “line in the sand” I’ll go this far and no further, to not drawing a line at all for anything would fall short of the intention of the kind of care for another demanded by loving your enemies, by turning from anger, by turning the other cheek.  

As McLaren wrote:  “For us today, as for the disciples on that Galilean hillside, this is our better option -- better than mere technical compliance to tradition, better than defiance of tradition.  This is our third way. God is out ahead of us, calling us forward -- … to fulfill the highest and best intent of tradition, to make the road by walking forward together” (p. 134-135).

McLaren invites us this week to “share a story of a time when someone knew you had done wrong but loved you anyway.”   

Immediately the small ball from Sprouse Ritz came to mind.  There I am standing by my dresser in my room and my mom is standing next to me and asking me the toughest question ever:  “Where did you get this ball? I was putting away your socks today, and discovered it.” She knew all the toys I had. She knew the limits on my spending money. She knew where I went.  She knew it all. I didn't have a way to weasel out. There was no creating some story. I knew my only option was the truth. The bare, honest, “oh no, I’ve been caught,” truth. I began to cry, for I was overwhelmed with the reality of what might follow, and said:

“When I was walking with Caroline (an older girl from church) in Sprouse Ritz, she dared me to take something from the store.  She took something and I took the ball. Then we snuck out. But then when I got it home I didn’t know what to do with it. You’d know that I didn’t own a ball like it, so couldn’t play with it, so I hid it in my drawer.”

She loved me for the truth.

And said the worst possible punishment I could ever have imagined.  “Bring the ball, Brian, for you and I are going for a little drive down to Sprouse Ritz and you are going to talk to Mr. Richland and tell him what you did and we will see what he would like to do as a consequence.  He may want to call the police to report you.” As she said this fear cascaded over me, I froze, sobbed more, begged for alternatives to this action, but was marched to the car and driven to the store and was walked in with her beside me.  Through my tears I handed the ball to Mr Richland and told him I was so sorry I had taken it without paying, and I would like to return it.

Mr Richland, who was this big, round, usually jolly man, looked gravely and seriously at me and said, “Brian, shoplifting is a crime, you know.  I could call the police and report you.” He paused. I died a 1000 deaths inside. “But since you have seen fit to be honest, to return the ball I am going to ask you to make me a promise that you will never steal anything from a store ever again. Not just this store, but any store in the future.”  

I nodded and said, “I promise.”  I imagine that he and my mom probably had communicated volumes over my head while I was dying from fear.  But through that experience of boundaries and love, I’ve never even desired to steal anything, no matter what the “Carolines” of the world have said.

What about you?  Do you have a story of love shown to you when you had done wrong?  Send in your story to office@westsidejourney.org or write it in a comment on our Facebook page, Westside UMC.      

Chapter 27 "A New Identity"

Scripture:  Matthew 5: 1-16

Imagining the scene, McLaren invites the reader to realize just how revolutionary Jesus’ words would have sounded and felt as he declared not a new religious movement, but a whole new way to looking at others and a new identity.  In a few seconds, Jesus turned “our normal status ladders and social pyramids upside down” (128). It is an abruptly different way of seeing life and others.

McLaren says that Jesus intends for us to “stand apart from the status quo, stand up for what matters, and to stand out as part of the solution rather than part of the problem” (129).  

I think this is great language.  In a few sentences Jesus has painted a picture of who we will “become” as we follow Him.  It is the opposite of what the disciples may have been expecting for Jesus, rather than using this moment in the sun to declare who He was, he instead declared who THEY were to become with him; indeed, He declared who they WERE, right then.  It must have been staggering to them and impossible. It was something new and incredible. This is what we are invited into with Jesus.

As you re-read this passage today, ponder. Share a story about someone who has impressed you with being the kind of salt and light Jesus spoke of.  Or share, how you respond to the reversal of status ladders and social pyramids described by Jesus’ words?

When I think of light, and a person being the light of the world I think of Jeanne Cochrane, a woman who was a member at the Banks Community UMC.  She has always seemed the same age to me although I have known her for 25 years. She was dear, sweet and precious then and still is now. She was a Sunday School teacher there when we arrived and all the girls longed to be in her class.  No one was like Jeanne, and she loved Jesus immensely. She was and still is a person of such glorious light. She shines, and yet has always named me and my family the “Shining Shimers.”  That’s just the kind of person she is.