Dying to the World


There was, among the desert fathers, a man who often cried aloud during his prayers: “I have died to the world!” He did so very loudly and very regularly so that the other fathers began to anticipate hearing the man in his prayers call out, “I have died to the world.” Some were inspired by this and began to cry the affirmation out in their own prayers while others were a little annoyed by it.

One day an older father was walking with a young disciple and they heard the man in his prayers call out, “I have died to the world! I have died to the world!” 

The older turned to the younger and said, “Let me offer some advice: Don’t be so sure you’ve died until you’re dead.”

To quote Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride”, “There’s a difference between mostly dead and all dead.”  The process of sanctification, dying to the world and becoming alive in Christ, being more and more conformed to his image, is a lifelong one. Christian perfection is something we must ever strive for as disciples but we must always do so, as the Apostle Paul says, “with fear and trembling.” Sin is always lurking somewhere in the recesses of our hearts ready to mount a comeback and all it needs is a little pride. To walk in the way of Jesus is to constantly be dying to the world and being born anew in him. We are called to walk this way with humility, knowing that as long as we are living, there is always more dying to be done.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Body

The human body doesn’t consist of just one part. It has many parts. If the foot suddenly said, “Because I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body anymore.” That wouldn’t change a thing. The foot would still be part of the body. If the ear spoke up and said, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not part of this body,” it would still go on being part of the body. If the whole body were one giant eyeball, how would it hear anything? If the whole body was just a big ear, how would it smell? 

God, in His wisdom, designed each part of the body for a purpose and put each part in its proper place. If the body was made up of just one part, it wouldn’t be a body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Neither can the head say to the feet, “I’ll get along just fine without you!” Quite the opposite. It seems the most important body parts are also the most vulnerable and the parts which we think of as being less respectable, we take great care to clothe with respect. What’s more, the more respectable members of our body go about naked. God designed the body this way so it can take care of itself. The strong parts protect the weak parts and the respectable parts cover the not so respectable parts. This brings harmony to the human body and each part cares for the other. If one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honored, the whole body rejoices.

The church is the body of Christ and each person is one of the parts. Though we have many different gifts and purposes, we are all united by our love for Christ and our love for one another.

The Apostle Paul had a gift for the use of parable. His letters, written in the 1st century, to newly formed Christian churches, contain some of the most vivid illustrations in the entire Christian tradition. The fruits of the spirit, the armor of God, running to win the prize… these are all metaphors that shape our thinking to this day. Perhaps Paul’s most memorable parable is “the body of Christ.” It’s a startling image when you think about it. Paul is rejecting the notion that unity is found in uniformity. Writing to a church torn apart by divisions, he is reminding them that it is their diversity which makes them strong. We often lose sight of this when we prize certain kinds of talent over others and make vices of the weaknesses that are not our own. No single one of us can be Christ in the world by ourselves. It is only when each part works together that He is made present.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Clay Bowl


Once, on a far off mountain, there lived two hermits. They spent their days worshipping God and they each one knew nothing but Christian love for the other. There on the mountain they had only one possession: a clay bowl, which they shared. 

One day, an evil spirit entered the older of the two hermits. He approached the younger hermit and said, “I can no longer stand to be on this mountain with you! Let us divide our possessions and I will be off at once!”

“I will be sad to see you go,” said the younger hermit, “I’ve treasured our time on this mountain together and it has truly ministered to my spirit to see you each day and learn from you, but if you truly believe this is best then blessings be upon you. As for dividing our possessions… All we have is this clay bowl we share. It’s an extravagance really. I can eat out of my lap. Here. It is yours.”

The older hermit pushed the younger’s hands away. “I don’t need your charity! You insult me and scheme to make me indebted to you when I only want what is rightfully mine. Let us divide the bowl in half so I can leave and be done with your wicked manipulations.”

“Now brother, you are being unreasonable. If we were to divide this bowl, neither of us would be able to use it. What good would that do? Why don’t we cast lots for it. Then one of us will win it fairly and neither will be indebted to the other.”

The older hermit stamped his foot. “Fool! I ask only for what is rightfully mine and you would leave it up to chance. Divide it now, so I can be gone from this wretched mountain where you do nothing but pervert justice.”

The younger hermit was grieved by the older hermit’s words but quietly forgave him. “If this is what you desire then it is what I desire,” he said before dashing the clay bowl against the ground and breaking it into two equal parts. “I’m sorry I have offended you. Take what is yours.”

The older hermit grabbed his half of the bowl and said, “I will not stay for a second longer on this mountain with a coward who won’t even fight!” With that, the older hermit began his descent into the valley.  

This parable from Kahlil Gibran is a sad and humorous reminder that some people can never be made happy. There are people in the world who only want to quarrel and they cannot be pleased. It is important though, not to change our own nature to accommodate theirs. Jesus’ way of self-sacrificial love makes us vulnerable to the world but that is not weakness, it is strength. For those who seek to save their lives will lose it and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted. I once worked at a job where I was constantly criticized and it seemed I could not do right. A mentor of mine told me at the time, “all you can do is be reasonable and reasonable people will see that.” This advice has stuck with me. Jesus might say, “all you can do is be loving and loving people will see that.”  The Way of Jesus is the way of self-sacrificial love. This does not change because the person we are showing love to is difficult. Were we not difficult when Christ tried to freely give his love to us?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Karl’s Answer


The Swiss theologian Karl Barth was one of the most highly respected theological writers of his generation and has gone on to be considered the greatest protestant thinker of the 20th century. He wrote volumes upon volumes of important exegesis and biblical commentary and influenced countless schools of thought with his systematic approach to the Bible. Karl Barth appeared on the cover of Time Magazine twice! Something not many theologians achieve. Barth’s retirement was actually a pretty big deal. He participated in a lot of interviews asking him to weigh in on spiritual matters once more before retreating into his retirement. During this time, he was asked by a reporter to share the most profound and important thing he had learned in all his years of study. Karl’s answer was simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Sometimes, we Christians can make things really complicated. Doctrine is important. Praxis is important. But neither are the main thing. The love of Jesus and the love of God revealed in Jesus is the main thing. That’s the thing that transforms lives and gives people hope. That’s what the whole Christian thing is all about. The rest is merely academic.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The One Who Stayed


THE ONE WHO STAYED

You should have heard the old men cry,
You should have heard the biddies
When that sad stranger raised his flute
And piped away the kiddies.
Katy, Tommy, Meg and Bob
Followed, skipped gaily,
Red-haired Ruth, my brother Rob,
And little crippled Bailey,
John and Nils and Cousin Claire,
Dancin’, spinnin’, turnin’,
‘Cross the hills to God knows where-
They never came returnin’.
‘Cross the hills to God knows where
The piper pranced, a leadin’
Each child in Hamlin Town but me,
And I stayed home unheedin’.
My papa says that I was blest
For if that music found me,
I’d be witch-cast like all the rest.
This town grows old around me.
I cannot say I did not hear
That sound so haunting hollow-
I heard, I heard, I heard it clear…
I was afraid to follow.”

Shel Silverstein

This haunting poem by Shel Silverstein reminds us what adventures we forfeit when we are crippled by fear. The child in the poem hears the music but cannot bring himself to leave his comfort zone and now the world grows old around him. It is often said that our biggest regrets are not the times we’ve failed but the chances we never took. For the disciple, this poem is also a reminder of the courage it takes to follow Christ. It can be tempting to stay behind when we we hear God calling us to an extraordinary life beyond the bounds of everything we’ve ever known. In the gospels, Jesus does not wait around. He says, “Put your shoulder to the plow, and don’t look back,” “let the dead bury their own dead.” When you hear the music calling you, will you be afraid to follow?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Squirrel


A pastor called the children of the church down to the front to join him for a special Children’s Sermon. In his hand, he held a photograph of a squirrel he had printed off of the computer. He had in mind to teach a lesson on “responsibility” using the furry rodent who stows away nuts as an example. When the kids were all seated in front of him, he held the photo close to his chest and said, “I have a picture here and I want you to guess what it is before I show it to you. I’ll give you some clues and see if you can figure out what it is.”

The kids all smiled and the pastor continued:

“The thing I have is gray and it has a big bushy tail…”

The pastor was just sure he’d see some hands shoot up immediately but the kids were all silent. So he kept going:

“This thing has little buck teeth and really likes to eat acorns…”

Still no hands were raised. In fact, most of the kids looked confused.

“It’s small and loves to climb trees…”

Nothing. Just blank stares and heads turned sideways.

“Does nobody want to guess?” the Pastor asked. “I think I gave you all the hints you need…”

Finally a little girl in the back raised her hand tentatively. Relieved, the pastor immediately called on her. The girl looked down at her lap as she spoke.

“Pastor, I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus but it sounds an awful lot like a squirrel to me.”

There is actually a profound challenge hidden in this humorous little story. How many times do people come to our churches expecting to hear about Jesus and leave confused that we seemed to be talking about everything but? I’m always struck by the polls conducted every four years around election time. While pastors on the left and the right clamor for the right to endorse candidates from the pulpit, polls overwhelmingly and consistently show that’s not what the people in the pews want. If I had to guess, they’d rather hear about Jesus. We who communicate love to chase squirrels, sharing our opinions on the great issues of the day, but we serve people who are hungry for the timeless truth of the Gospel. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to fix their eyes upon him and not look back. We are called to preach Christ and Christ crucified. We are called to seek first the Kingdom of God. Everything else is… well… you can guess.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Dear Paco


Once in Spain, a father and his young teenage son, “Paco”, had a falling out. After a huge fight, the boy cursed his father and ran away from home to make his own way in the city of Madrid. After a year went by, the father’s heart softened toward his son and he grieved his absence. He set out to go search for Paco and bring him home but he soon learned that it was near an impossible task. Madrid was such a large city that looking for a single boy there was like looking for a needle in a haystack. He spent day and night searching but made no progress. Finally, not knowing what to do, he took out an ad in the local paper before returning home. The ad read:

“Dear Paco,
All is forgiven.
Meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday.
Love, Papa.”

When the fateful day came, Paco’s father took the train to Madrid and walked from the station to the Hotel Montana. When he got there he was stunned by what he saw: a crowd of about 700 young men named “Paco”, each one waiting to be reunited with his father.

There is something at once beautiful and sad about this little parable found in Earnest Hemingway’s short story: “The Capitol of the World.” It describes so perfectly the human condition: one of alienation from our Father, in desperate need of forgiveness. Jesus once said to his disciples, “the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.” He urged them to be “fishers of men”, and he told them stories about a shepherd in search of a single lamb and a father waiting by the door. To walk in the way of Jesus is to continually bear an invitation of love and forgiveness to a world of Pacos waiting to come home.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…