Posts Tagged ‘narrow way’

Somehow I have had it my mind that God interrupted Noah while he was about his daily business and said, “I’ve got a job for you, go build an ark.” But now, I am caught up in this idea of people “walking with God” and what that means. I have assumed this walking with God business was a metaphor for closeness. Is that the only choice?

Genesis 9b; 13-14a
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. . . So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark. . . “

The only reason I’m playing around with this idea is that pre-flood, life was different. All the patriarchs were still around, their generations overlapping by hundreds of years. Even Adam was around for at least half of this time. The Garden experience was still part of their vernacular. And one of the most memorable things was Adam, Eve, and later, Enoch (my interpretation), walking with God in the Garden.

And here’s another one, Noah, specifically noted as walking with God.

In an article by Bob Sorge in Christianity Today, he writes, “God created man for the enjoyment of a walking relationship that involved companionship, dialogue, intimacy, joint decision-making, mutual delight, and shared dominion.”

I think that’s true, but I think we will never have the same opportunities as Human had before the flood. Despite being cast out of the Garden, God allowed for intimate relationships with others. God seems to always leave a loophole for Human, that’s how much God wants to ultimately preserve Human.

But it is a narrow way (Matthew 7:13). It is narrow because intimacy itself requires it. Even today, we cannot be intimate with everyone. Most people can only manage a few close friends, a few friends we trust totally, a few friends in whom we have invested our time, energy and even money. And sometimes, if we are lucky, we are married to one of these friends as well.

Noah built the ark because he was familiar with the God who told him to do it. He was not merely being “obedient,” they had probably talked about it already. Maybe there was an Abrahamic negotiation even (Genesis 18:16-33). We’ll never know.

All this makes more sense to me, that God doesn’t drop down edicts or demands or mandates on an unsuspecting follower. These requests come out of relationship, out of familiarity, and trust.

I remember, as a young Christian, I was so afraid that God would “call” me to some egregiously difficult post like the bush of Africa or the ice floes of Siberia or the rice paddies of China. But now I see, these directives come from internal agreement and possibly even a nurtured longing.

Come, Jesus says, walk with me.

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It should be fairly simple to sew something from a pattern. And yet, no matter how many times I’ve tried, I muck it up. Either the directions have vocabulary I don’t understand or I can’t fit the pattern to my body. The other day I found one of these projects, pins and all, folded up in a storage box.

Philippians 3:17
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

There’s a book I read some time ago called Becoming a Resonant Leader by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis, and Frances Johnston. In general, I enjoy books on leadership principles and this text is one of the better ones. However, I hated the very first exercise: “think about how you came to be the person you are today, and think about who helped you along the way. ‘Who Helped Me?'”

This exercise was intended to reveal to me the many people who helped me along my path. Instead, my mind drifted to all the people who didn’t help me. Instead of feeling better and stronger from these memories, I felt empty and alone. Who did I admire? Who mentored me? Who helped me get a job or learn a skill?

Of course, there were people along the way, but it was always in pieces and not the whole. My mother taught me to persevere, my brother taught me ambition, and there were friends who answered questions and held my heart while men and lovers betrayed it.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons I grabbed on so tightly to the cloak of Christ. Here was a flawless mentor.

But then, I ran afoul of the Christ interpreters who laid out Christ patterns before me to follow. Play nice in the sandbox. Be humble. Don’t confess fears or pain that show lack of faith. Don’t swear. Watch what you say. Love your neighbor. Stay married. Submit. Dress quietly. Sing loudly. Speak softly. Dance. Praise. Tithe money, tithe prayers. Let go of dreams. Serve the poor. Go to Africa. Live in the ghetto. Adopt the orphans. Sell everything. Give more. Be strong. Be weak. Be happy. Weep with those who weep.

Nothing really so wrong with any of it. But the patterns were too hard to follow. And so I folded them up and put them away.

The way may be narrow, yes, but the yoke is supposed to be light.

So, here’s what I think today: when I feel lost, I can look ahead and see others who have blazed a trail for such a difficult time as this. There’s a light ahead and I can follow it. But there are also times when I can make my own trail. And, if I look back, there may be people who need my way and my light.

When Jesus did miracles, they were all different. Sometimes he spoke a word, sometimes he laid a hand, and one time, he spat and created mud from the earth. He intentionally avoided a set pattern because life isn’t like that.

Christ patterns are made with dotted lines, not fat magic markers. God allowed each of us to be unique: eyes, nose, mouth, voice, skin color, abilities, etc. Doesn’t it make sense that the way would also be unique? My pattern is not your pattern. My pain is not your pain. My healing is not your healing.

Eyes on the prize from the inside out.

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Following all the rules, obeying all the laws, coloring inside the lines, striving for perfection: these are the phrases that come to mind when I ponder the phrase, “legalistic righteousness.”

Philippians 3:4b, 6
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Actually, to be honest, just the word righteousness all by itself conjures up all kinds of negative vibes. Well, not completely true. I mean, if I connect the idea with God, then the word smooths out. God can carry righteousness as a banner and that seems perfectly natural. God is righteous and always does the “right” thing, says the “right” words, always has the “right” motives.

Not so, human me.

The synonyms are a lot nicer. I don’t have any problem in my desire to be good or virtuous. I also wouldn’t mind being viewed as holy or godly or devoted. How about benevolent, generous, honorable, or honest? All, quite fine.

But righteous? Blech! I see myself standing there with arms crossed as I look down my nose at the rest of the world. It does not feel loving or friendly or considerate of others.

In the name of the “narrow way,” I see other followers of Christ take this stand. There are Christian sects who go from door to door to proselytize their brand of righteousness and when they are shooed off the property or have a door slammed on them, they consider it a blessing, a confirmation of their way.

And still other faithful, perhaps their God has a different name, and yet, they too act out of a strong sense of righteousness to the point of death for the cause.

Righteousness is elusive. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. . . . ” [Luke 18:19] Here is the heart of true righteousness, in God alone and thereby, through the Spirit within. Any righteousness or “right living” that is grounded in my own efforts is, by its very nature, “legalistic righteousness.” It’s a show and a sham.

Keep me mindful, O Lord, of your presence within so that my words and actions are joined by the threads of your Spirit. Selah.

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What is joy? Do I know by experiencing it or is it merely a concept, a word that we Christians use carelessly and even assume it’s a given: we should be feeling joy or manifesting joy or understanding joy. Right?

Philippians 1:22a, 24-25
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. . . . but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith . . .

After all, this is the season when we all say and sing, “joy to the world.” What does it mean? It’s a wish and a blessing, I understand that. But what does this kind of joy look like? Am I capable of recognizing joy? In myself? In others? In the world?

When will I know joy is here?

Some people define joy as “lasting happiness” or a “state of happiness.” Joy in this definition is pleasure then, and gaiety, delight or even satisfaction.

But Paul is talking about joy as something that can grow incrementally. Nehemiah [8:10] says “. . . the joy of the Lord is your strength” while Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,. . . .”

Joy and faith work together, as well as joy and strength. These are birthed through Christ as we accept that Spirit within. It’s part of becoming a follower of Christ and a believer. To believe in that Holy Spirit life within is to count on the outcomes. According to Paul, the process of growing joy, faith, and strength are part of the journey and we can count on it.

Our culture is constantly presenting alternatives to this kind of joy. Usually, it’s about the stuff. All the commercials show us: this car will make you happy, this flat screen television will give you hours of delight, these clothes will enhance your feelings of beauty and contentment. Even though we all know these feelings are fleeting, we get sucked into the message. This way is the “wide gate” {Matthew 7:13].

I want joy, true joy. I want it to grow inside me like a time lapse flower unfolding within me.

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What is my weakness? Is it my besetting sins or lack of will power? Is my weakness in my aging body that can no longer do what it used to do? Is it my fears? Is it my lack of resolve? Does it matter?

II Corinthians 12:9a, 12b
But he [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”. . . when I [Paul] am weak, then I am strong.

Another enigma to chew on today. What is weakness and what is strength? Why is weakness held up to be a good thing? Isn’t it weakness that opens a door to people hurting me, either physically or emotionally? Won’t people take advantage of me if I am weak? Won’t I be chastened for not carrying my share of the burden?

Who proclaims weakness as a good thing? That’s crazy!

Or is it? How many times have my “strengths” gotten me in more difficult circumstances? How many times has my confidence become pride? How often have I tripped while running too fast, like a little kid at the pool?

St. Paul was a natural in the “strength” department. At least, that’s how he started out. He had money, power, education, and ambition. He was a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” He was undoubtedly being groomed for great things.

When he was called into the ministry of Christ, these attributes of his had to be shed in order for him to experience more fully the power and strength of Jesus–a different kind of strength. Not Paul’s way but the way of Jesus, the way of paradox, the unexpected path, the narrow road.

We are not called to be like Paul. We are called to be like Jesus. And what does that mean for each person . . . for me?

The appearance of strength is not strength; nor is the appearance of confidence, the real thing. Underneath all of the bluster is weakness. It’s not like I have to “become” weak to be strong in Christ. I already am. I just have to be willing to reveal it.

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What does this look like . . . working hard “in the Lord?” I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday. I’m thinking the essence lies in the word sacrifice – a sacrifice of time and energy.

Romans 16:12
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Truthfully, there isn’t much we can “give” to God since everything we have is gift from God already. Except for time. Granted, time is also part of God’s creation, and yet, we have free will in our use of time. It cannot be repaid and it cannot be controlled. Time marches on. Time is the qualifier to all of our lives. Time is our ultimate measuring stick.

How do I use my time?

To work hard within the constraints of the time given to me is, according to Paul, worthy of acknowledgment. The time I give to the things of God has more value than the time I give to anything else.

To work hard in the Lord then means I use my time for God. There are no surprises here: prayer (in all of its forms); helping the poor, widows & orphans; practicing koinonia with other believers; sharing our story (our witness); studying; teaching; and loving the unlovely.

Working hard in the Lord is not setting up church programs or retreats, cooking and serving a ladies’ luncheon, practicing skits, or building a building.

Instead, working hard is going against the easy way. Working hard is the way of the seed in soil or the caterpillar in its chrysalis. Working hard is transformation.

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What is allowed: much more than I used to believe. My faith in God has grown exponentially and with that expansion, so has the umbrella of God’s grace grown in like manner.

Romans 14:22a, 23b
Your personal convictions [on such matters]–exercise [them] as in God’s presence. . . For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin [whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful].

This passage is full of personal freedom as long as faith is the foundation. Too many Christians have browbeaten one another into believing in a very small and narrow God who is watching and waiting for the followers to step out of line. I don’t think so anymore.

In my last Bible Study class, one of the participants said her family calls these rules the “makey-uppies” and I agree with her 100 percent. Like the Pharisees of old, many start making up additional interpretations of the law to keep the road as narrow as possible. Perhaps the scriptures about the way being narrow [Matthew 7:13-14] have caused believers to create a tiny, tiny door for faith. And as they squeeze through, they pat themselves on the back for being so narrow.

Here’s a better picture: the narrow way is more like the Tardis from the stories of Doctor Who. On the outside, his vehicle looks quite small, only as big as a British style phone booth, but once inside, it’s expansive and full of rooms and possibilities. This is the way of Jesus.

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