Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Cost of Being a Disciple (AUDIO)


Her Majesty by the Beatles

Paul McCartney drew the curtain on the Beatles' years with this little throwaway.
I wanna tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a belly full of wine
Her majesty's a pretty nice girl
Some day I'm gonna make her mine
So far as we know, he never did.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Should You Follow Your Heart?

Not so much.

'Which Professions Have the Most Psychopaths?'

That's the headline for a piece from TIME that got my attention when I saw it linked on Twitter a few weeks ago. I wondered: Does my profession have more than its share of psychopaths? I suspected that it did.

But before the TIME article gets around to revealing which professions have the most psychopaths, it defines what a psychopath really is:
...psychopath doesn’t just mean someone who cuts you up with a chainsaw — though the majority of people who do things like that are psychopaths.

[Then quoting Wikipedia, that last word in all human knowledge evidently, we're told that,] "Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality."
The ten professions with the highest incidence of psychopaths (designated with a + sign) and the lowest (designated with - sign), according to both TIME and The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, the book from which the following lists come, are:
And there's my profession, in at number 8, right after journalists and police officers, just before chefs and civil servants.

Frankly, it all looks like a bad case of "pop psychology" to me. Whatever it is, I hope that the lists are wrong.

Think Christianity is Shrinking?

Think again. From The Washington Post:
The center of Christianity has shifted from Europe to the global South.

The religious landscape is particularly changing for the world’s Christians. A century ago, 80 percent lived in North America and Europe, compared with just 40 percent today.

In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than the North for the first time in 1,000 years. Today, the Christian community in Latin America and Africa, alone, account for 1 billion people.

Over the past 100 years, Christians grew from less than 10 percent of Africa’s population to its nearly 500 million today. One out of four Christians in the world presently is an Africa, and the Pew Research Center estimates that will grow to 40 percent by 2030.

Asia is also experiencing growth as world Christianity’s center has moved not only South, but also East. In the last century, Christianity grew at twice the rate of population in that continent. Asia’s Christian population of 350 million is projected to grow to 460 million by 2025.
The global religious wildcard is China. Even today, demographers estimate that more Christian believers are found worshipping in China on any given Sunday than in the United States. Future trends, while difficult to predict because so much is below the religious radar, could dramatically drive down the world’s religious “nones.”
Nones are those who say they have no religion.

So, while the rest of the world is becoming increasingly Christian, the United States presently is moving in the opposite direction.

And, while it's often said that Islam is growing more quickly than Christianity is on the world scene, that's misleading. In fact, Islam's growth is a byproduct of births to Muslim families. But Christianity is seeing hundreds of thousands more conversions to Christian faith. That's real growth. Reports of the demise of Christian faith are not only premature; they're incorrect.

Do presidents need a 'council of historical advisers'?

Graham Ellison and Niall Ferguson, co-directors of Harvard Kennedy School's Applied History Project, make a good argument that our presidents should have a group of trained historians to help in the formulation of policy.

I've always loved the study of history, but I'm not an advocate of the "history for history's sake" school of thought. I study history to learn the lessons it can teach me, as a person and as someone given the precious right to vote. This is what Ellison and Ferguson call "applied history."

History doesn't repeat itself, as some say. But it is true, as King Solomon wrote, that there's nothing new under the sun. Human nature being human nature, there are always analogs in history that can help us navigate the present.

When I was a kid, my parents bought an encyclopedia of United States history for me. It had sixteen volumes, a new volume released each week for four months. Those sixteen volumes became well worn during my elementary school years! President Kennedy wrote the foreword to the whole thing. I was so taken with one line that I memorized the words. I still remember them fifty years later:
A knowledge of the past prepares us for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future.
That's a truth that has never left me.

As Ellison and Ferguson point out, many policy makers are either completely or partly ignorant of history. The result is that when new challenges arise, they, in essence, "fly blind," oblivious to what history might teach them about the options they're considering. Policy decision-makers become like someone pulling the pin from a hand grenade without knowing that doing so is going to blow them and everything around them to pieces. 

A presidential council of historical advisers, operating like the Council of Economic Advisers we've had for decades, could help presidents in four ways, Ellison and Ferguson say:
  • Were a Council of Historical Advisers in place today, it could consider precedents for numerous strategic problems...
  • The council might study whether a former president’s handling of another crisis could be applied to a current challenge (what would X have done?).
  • A president might also ask the council “what if?” questions. What if some action had not been taken, or a different action had been taken? [In essence, Ellison is here suggesting that the advisers could do after-action reviews that might help in the formulation of future policies.]
  • Finally, the council might consider grand strategic questions... [i.e., Is the United States in decline?]
The ignorance of history, particularly the kind of applied history that Ellison and Ferguson are talking about, has had a destructive impact on our country. Neither American citizens nor American leaders know much about history and, as a result, stupid and often tragic mistakes are made that would otherwise be avoided. I like Ellison's and Ferguson's proposal.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

Luke 14:1-14
An old bit of wisdom says, “Let the buyer beware.”

It’s a good idea whatever we’re in the market for to be careful not to buy a “bill of goods” and to make sure that whoever is trying to convince us of anything is engaging in “truth in advertising.”

Our Gospel lesson from Luke for today finds Jesus engaging in “truth in advertising.” He wants people to know exactly what is involved in following Him, in being His disciple.

God’s grace, His forgiveness and favor, is a free gift; but to grasp hold of it costs us our whole lives.

To take hold of Jesus means to let go of the world’s way of thinking and living. It means also letting go of our own way of thinking and living. Those are hard things to give up!

Jesus wants us to understand that there is a cost to being His disciple.

Take a look, please, at this morning’s Gospel lesson, Luke 14:25-33. Verse 25 starts: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus...”

Whenever Luke references crowds, Luke is talking about people who are interested in Jesus, maybe even hopeful that Jesus will do something for them, but who haven’t committed to following Jesus.

The crowds wanted just enough of Jesus to get from Him what they wanted, but not enough to let Him change their lives. If this is our approach to Jesus, no matter how many good things we do--in church or outside of church--we’re no more Jesus’ disciples than those crowds.

It's important understanding the difference between being part of a crowd acquainted with Jesus on the one hand, and being a follower of Jesus, on the other hand, as we consider Jesus' words to us today.

Read on with me, please: “...and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.’”

In Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke every day, the word hate didn't necessarily imply hostility, but often was a comparative term. It meant to love less, to hold one thing or person as having less importance than another.

In this verse, Jesus is telling us to love our families and our own lives less than we love Him, to love Him more than these things.

Frankly, this command from Jesus has incredible relevance for how we live our lives in 2016. This past week, I saw a stunning Infographic on bigthink.com about 'helicopter parenting,' you know the phenomenon of parents hovering around the lives of their kids, no matter how old the kids are.* They talked to job recruiters, people in charge of finding people to fill professional positions and learned, for example, that "30% of recruiters have had a parent submit a resume for their child." And that "12% had a parent call to set up an interview."

Parents like these think that they're being loving toward their children. But if one of the goals of parenthood is to prepare children for adulthood, then their behavior can only be described as unloving. Helicopter parenting cripples kids and creates unhealthy co-dependencies. And it stems not from love, but from egotism, narcissism, and a need to be needed, which is nothing other than the ancient human desire to "be like God."

The truth is that we will love our families better if we love Jesus most of all.

In commanding us to this, Jesus isn’t expecting more of us than He expected of Himself: It would have been easy for Jesus to listen to His family’s and followers’ plea to avoid the cross. But He ignored them to pursue the will of God by taking the cross, where He loved us and offered us the possibility of salvation through faith in Him, which he couldn’t have given to us had He not given God the Father first place in His life!

I like what a person wrote in an online article a few years ago about the God Who comes to us in Jesus: "God does not offer us a choice. He comes, not hat in hand, but ready for battle. He breaks into the strong man’s house [that is, He breaks into our wills, held captive by sin from the moment of our conceptions] entering into contention against the heart, soul & mind of the [sinner]. The rational free will of [human beings] cannot believe or accept this & as such God always ...appears as the opposite, contrary to our expectations, confounding appeals to choice."

Where do Jesus and His Word found in the Bible fall on your list priorities in life?

Is Jesus everything or is He nothing to you? (Because those are the only two choices before us.)

Read verse 27 now [Jesus is still speaking]: “...whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

One scholar says of these words, says: “Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Cross bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk and ridicule in order to follow Jesus. This commitment is not just a way of life...It is a commitment to a person. A disciple follows another person and learns a new way of life.”

That person Who calls us to a different way of life is Jesus.

Discipleship means breaking with the world’s values in order to follow Jesus and His Word alone.

After saying these provocative things Jesus tells two parables, each meant to urge those considering following Him to count the cost involved.

In one, Jesus says that farmers, who in first century Judea where He lived, often built towers to give themselves early warning about marauding thieves or wild animals, would be crazy not to figure out whether they could afford the structures before starting to build them.

Similarly, Jesus says, a king who didn’t know about the strength of an opposing army would be foolish to start a war with that army. Again, Jesus wants us to know that following Him isn’t easy.

Then, in verse 33, Jesus says what may be the most dumbfounding thing of all in this lesson: “...those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

What do we make of this? In James 1:17, we’re told: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”

Every penny that comes into our possession, no matter how hard we work for it, is a gift from God to be used not just for our own needs, but for the glory of God, the sharing of the Gospel, and the good of others.

We may say, “I earned the money through brain and brawn and hours of over-time or extra work.”

But who gave you the brain and the brawn and the power to put in extra time?

Who made the resources from which our daily bread and our luxuries are made?

Jesus is not asking every Christian to take the vow of poverty. He’s calling us to allow His grace to change our attitude about our money and possessions. He wants to be the Lord of our money, our life, our families, our intimate relationships, our work, our everything. We can have nothing of Jesus’ kingdom unless we are willing to let Him be King over every part of our lives!

And make no mistake: Jesus has every right to demand that of us! On the cross, we were bought out of slavery to sin and death by Jesus’ suffering and death.

In response to such unfathomable grace, He calls us to give Him the final say on how we spend not just our time and our lives, but also our money.

The old saying tells us, “You can’t take it with you!” That’s true. But we can invest it in the kingdom--in sharing the good news, in expanding the ministries of churches, in helping the poor. In short, we’re to use our money for the same purposes for which we’re to live our lives as grateful recipients of God’s amazing grace: To love God, love neighbor, love the Church, tell the good news that all who believe in Jesus Christ have everlasting life with God. To...

Reach up,  
Reach in,  
Reach out!

Now, if these words of Jesus for this morning are as daunting to you as they are to me, I want you to consider some very good news. Three times in our lesson, Jesus uses the phrase “cannot be my disciple”: in verses 26, 27, and 33. In the original Greek, the same words are used in each place, giving the verses this literal meaning, “You do not have the power to be My disciples unless you put Me in first place, take up the cross, and give Me access to your whole life.” Jesus uses that word for power or ability in another place in Luke’s Gospel. It comes after Jesus tells the disciples that it will be harder for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom than it would be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. The disciples, who to that point, thought that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, ask Jesus, “Then, who does have the power or ability to get into the kingdom?” Jesus says, literally, “The things that human beings cannot do [or don’t have the ability to do], God can do.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, those who follow Jesus have all the gifts He came into our world to bring: forgiveness of sin, lives lived for good purposes, strength when we’re weak, eternity with God.

But unless Jesus rules over our lives without rival, these gifts cannot come to us. The good news is that your ability to follow Jesus, the Savior Who died and rose for you, doesn’t depend on you.

If you want Jesus to take first place in your life, all you need is to make yourself available to Him and ask Him to help you do just that. Give Jesus room to work in your life and He will work in your life. Right now. Every day. The Holy Spirit Jesus sends into open lives and open wills can take care of the rest!

Now, if you’re anything like me, immediately after you tell the Lord something like, “I’m available, Jesus; be first in my life,” you’ll start making your own plans, dreaming your own dreams, obsessing on your own thoughts, maybe even committing your own favorite sins. Keep asking Jesus to take first place in your life. He is faithful, even when we’re not.

But, just as the buyer should beware, the would-be follower of Jesus should be aware, too: Let Jesus into your life and He will start to make of you what cannot make of yourself. Despite the temptations you face, despite the sins for which you must repeatedly repent, as you turn to Jesus, He will relentlessly, lovingly, and in ways you yourself will be unable to perceive or understand, turn you into the person God wants all people to be, the person our secret hearts most yearn to be.

Do you know what Jesus will make of you? He will make you His disciple.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was shared during worship with the people of Living Water yesterday.]

*Thanks to writer and blogger Leslie Sholly for sharing this Instagram on Twitter.]