At risk of being wrong

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?

Matthew 6:25

Most of my life has been mediated by worry. It has often prevented me from acting decisively. This text in Matthew is one of my favorites, and it still surprises me every time I come to it. Do not worry, Jesus says; your life is important. Your body is important. And do not worry about them.

The truth is, things can still be important if you don’t worry about them. Worry doesn’t gives something it’s value. And refusing to worry doesn’t indicate a lack of care.

We all act blindly. None of us knows the future or makes decisions knowing all the information. In my experience, worry has consistently capitalized on this blindness and prevented me from moving toward goals for fear of it being the wrong goal, or having the wrong motivation.

In conversation with a good friend last night I was reminded that action leads to learning, and that boldly doing the wrong thing can teach and refine you, giving you clearer direction toward a better thing.

Today I turn 30. This year I’m thinking it’s time to start acting, even with my blind spots. God, please set up bumpers for me to bounce between as I fumble along the way.

Thank God for bad things

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

I now love to thank God for bad things.

A few days ago I was particularly upset, and couldn’t take my mind off of what was bothering me. Just before bed I started writing, telling God “thanks” for the thing I was upset over. I started thanking God from all the different angles of the problem–for the experience itself, for the lessons learned, for the people involved–and within a single sentence, I started feeling happier. After a paragraph, I was smiling. I think I experienced the fastest positive mood swing of my life.

Thanking God for whatever upsets you removes the power of that thing over your life. When you decide to be grateful for everything, you stop being the victim and you start to live free again.

Nothing has the power to ruin your life unless you give it that power; and with God on your side, with the big picture in mind, why would you ever do that?

Instead, thank God for bad things.

Who is a neighbor to you?

Luke 10:25-37 contains an interaction between Jesus and an expert in the law–the story famously called The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Until last year, I thought the main lesson was about the Christian definition of “neighbor”. After all, the parable comes in answer to the expert’s question, who is my neighbor?

However, with that perspective, the conclusion never sat quite right with me. The point was fine, but the logic of it seemed a little off. Strictly speaking, Jesus doesn’t answer the expert’s question. He doesn’t end the story by telling him who his neighbor was. Instead, he ends it by telling him who was a neighbor to him–and that’s a significant difference.

I love that Jesus gets to the root of our questions. If you read the entire story, from start to finish, you notice that who is my neighbor? is not the expert’s first question. By looking at the expert’s first question, you can get a handle on his primary concern. It’s something deeper. The expert’s first question is, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

In this context, the expert asks his next question about neighbors in order to clarify more precisely what he must do to inherit eternal life. He wants to be saved, and he wants to know exactly who he has to love in order to achieve that.

And this is where Jesus blows my mind.

Instead of indulging the expert’s craving for self-justification, Jesus changes the subject. After all, those in need of salvation can’t save themselves–that’s axiomatic. So instead of ignoring the axiom and pretending the expert can save himself by doing something (or loving someone), Jesus puts the expert in his true position: that of the beat-up man. At the beginning, the expert recognized he needed salvation. Now, Jesus tells a story about a man that needs salvation. The expert is the beat-up man.

With this in mind, Jesus isn’t pushing the expert to love Samaritans or to expand the boundaries of who he sees as neighbors. Jesus isn’t telling the expert what to do. Ignoring the expert’s second question, Jesus returns to the root question, reminds him of what he can do to be saved–nothing, just like the beat-up man–and in the process reminds him of how different Jesus is from people. Jesus is the Samaritan.

And instead of tactlessly pushing him to love people that he doesn’t naturally love, making him feel guilty or, worse, driving him to soothe his conscience by manufacturing some counterfeit love for people he really doesn’t love, Jesus gives him an opportunity to look at himself as the unlovable one that was loved by someone different than him, and from there, Jesus lets love do its work.

Job was holistic in his commitment

“I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban.”

In addition to wealth and justice, Job was known for his purity. He’s the one who said “I have made a covenant with my eyes,” isn’t he?

In Job 29, he says that he wears righteousness and justice. They are always with him. They are the closest thing to his body at all times. He has full integrity with his commitment to the vulnerable–integrity that extends even into the private areas of his life.

But how does someone become that complete?

Job was action-oriented in his commitment to the poor

“because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing.”

Yesterday I wrote about how Job was known for his commitment to the poor and vulnerable more than he was known for his wealth–a point that, for me, was lost until last weekend.

In reading over this passage the last few days, I’ve been impressed by the action-orientation of Job’s commitment. He rescued and assisted people. Not only that, but he was close enough to hear their cries, blessings, and songs.

There’s been a lot of political advocacy in Jesus’ name, and I’ve often been drawn into it. However, the most important lesson Job might be teaching me–a lesson exemplified even better by Christ himself–is the primacy of doing justice over convincing others to do it. Personal action over advocacy.

The commitment that made Job famous

“When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” -Job 29:7-17

Job was famous in his time, and he still is in ours. I suspect that today, for most people, Job’s name is synonymous with wealth; until this weekend, that would have been my first thought whenever I heard his name. Yet that is not what he was most known for in his lifetime. Until this weekend’s sermon, which came from Job 29, I had never quite realized how committed Job was to working for the poor and the vulnerable, or that he attributed his reputation to that commitment. Based on this chapter, the respect he enjoyed was due not to his wealth, but to his work for these people.

That really makes sense. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you meet a powerful person devoted to helping the powerless. Lots of people talk and write fervently about helping the vulnerable–how many of us devote that same energy into actually helping?

Keep it.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. -Proverbs 4:23

One of my good friends tells me he doesn’t preach on something until he has had the chance to practice it for at least a month. He makes sure he only speaks passionately about what he really knows.

That has been such a good lesson for me. I tend to be affected by new ideas very easily, and I want to speak out about them, or write about them, as soon as I can. But my friend’s lesson goes so deep. Not only does it keep him from piling heavier loads on the people who hear him than he himself is able to bear, like Jesus once accused some religious leaders of doing, but it also protects his heart.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”

It’s more important to love God today than tomorrow.

“’Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ’You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” –Mark 12:32-33

Yesterday I identified, more clearly than before, my own personal tendency to love God more with my future plans than with my current life. I realized that I am more in love with God in my dreams than when I am awake.

I have often found myself occupied with determining the most powerful way I can serve God in the future—how I could plant churches or start programs or give my life for people—but alarmingly unconcerned about the implications of loving God today. It makes me think of the parable of the sower in Mark 4: “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Who knew the “other things” could include plans for future service?

So right now, I’m trying to change my perspective. Instead of worrying about how my convictions right now should shape my future life, I’ll be thinking and praying about how my convictions right now should shape my life right now. I’ll still look to the future to prepare for things—I still love to dream—but I’m going to try to love God right now, first.

Two thoughts from White’s Acts of the Apostles.

“Before ascending to heaven, Christ gave His disciples their commission. He told them that they were to be the executors of the will in which He bequeathed to the world the treasures of eternal life.” -Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles p. 27

In chapter three of Acts of the Apostles, Ellen White has just given me a new way of understanding our commission: “to be the executors of the will in which He bequeathed to the world the treasures of eternal life.” Suddenly, the whole task seems quite a bit simpler. An executor doesn’t own the inheritance, or decide who gets it, or have any say in what the inheritance actually is. The primary thing an executor is responsible for is seeing that everyone identified in the will is notified and receives their portion of the deceased’s estate.

I’m excited about this because, first of all, it’s just good news. The core of the message Christ wanted us to give is that everyone has an inheritance in Christ. He came so that everybody could live eternally. That’s what he wanted to leave with the world. And that’s the main thing we’ve got to tell people. Jesus wants you to live forever. Probably, the times Christians are accused of hate come from the times we have not given that message a central place in our preaching.

Second, the role Jesus gave us has the potential to be a lot of fun. The executor of a will is responsible for contacting all of the heirs and letting them know what they have coming. I’ve never done this, and certainly the joy of it has to be dampened by the fact that the person being contacted was probably very close, in some way, to the deceased. So I have some other examples: in Cambodia, people don’t use the postal system much–it’s not very accessible. So when anyone has a wedding, they and their friends have to hand deliver every invitation. Or, as I discovered on my recent trip home, everyone has something to send to, or has something they want to get from , the US. So they send it by person. And sure, maybe tracking people down every time there’s a wedding or every time you go to the US doesn’t make your life easier, but it is awesome to be the person giving the gift or the invitation. You paid nothing for the gift yourself, but you get all the joy and good feelings of being the one that gives it and seeing the expression on the face of the recipient. And that’s what we get to do. We get to let people know that they can have eternal life if they want it.