February 20, 2008

Don’t Mess With Me (or Texas)

Even a preacher understands how easy it is to neglect the Scriptures. Hey, life happens … especially for persons with other lives under their care.

But when those of us who have been Christians for some time (read "those of us who should know better"—myself included) let many months go by without so much as a glance at an open Bible, I wonder if this may be because we instinctively recognize that this volatile yet vivifying word about Jesus will, to put the matter plainly, mess with our lives (Hebrews 4:12-16). Show me a fool with symptoms-a-plenty who deftly avoids a trip to the doctor and I'll show you a man smart enough to know that if he goes he'll have to make some changes. Familiar misery will usually trump any future in which we are not in control.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not really change that we fear. It's death. Specifically, with regard to engaging the Scriptures, we fear the death of those persons/places/things we doggedly believe can save us. Perhaps we hold on to them so tightly because a nice, well-worn idolatry—however poorly it may actually be working for us—is always safer and more comfortable than a comprehensive Easter transformation. (Psalm 32, Colossians 3:1-17)

After you read a demanding passage in, say, the gospels, or in one of Paul's letters, the really good questions to ask of it are not, "How can I make this speak to my life?" or "How could this possibly be relevant to my world?" That's likely trying to cross the bridge in the wrong direction. To have any chance at all of hearing a word from the Lord, the better questions to ask of the Bible are: "What would have to change in me for this passage, promise, or prayer to be true?" "What in my life would have to die?"

It's not that Jesus takes pleasure in our pain. It's that until we get to the bottom of our "don't mess with me" neglect, we'll have no ears to hear what he has to say.

One day one of the local officials asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to deserve eternal life?" Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good—only God. You know the commandments, don't you? No illicit sex, no killing, no stealing, no lying, honor your father and mother." He said, "I've kept them all for as long as I can remember." When Jesus heard that, he said, "Then there's only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me."

This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.

Luke 18:18-23 (The Message)