Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Making upside-downers, Part 2: Greatness

Some laws of nature seem upside-down to me: 

What goes up, must come down. 
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 
Opposites attract. 

So it should make sense that the Creator of these laws of nature would be consistent in the laws of Life-As-It-Was-Meant-To-Be. To us, Jesus' teachings seem upside-down... but what if he is teaching was it right-side-up, and we're the ones who are living upside-down? 

Here's another teaching that is hard to grasp - Matthew 20:26-27: "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." 
Upside-down philosophy #2: If you want true greatness, become the least.

Jesus made a point of lifting up the humble and bringing down the proud, during his whole ministry. And in Philippians 2, we read about how Jesus stepped down from greatness and "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." So I think that once again, He meant what he said, and seriously wants his disciples to obey.

Confession: I want to be great. I want to be special, and I want my life to matter. I don't care about being a queen or president or award winner, but I want to go down in the history books as someone who did something exciting and significant to change the world. But when I read the stories of the people in history who I respect the most, I don't think "greatness" was a priority for them. In fact, many of them walked away from greatness or chose against greatness, to become servants and risk being anonymous forever. And frankly, I don't like that idea! I don't mind serving people, but I want it to mean something - I want people to see it and remember it.

It seems like, lately, all my attempts to pursue my own dreams of greatness have been squashed by God. I think, "Surely this isn't where I'll stay, this isn't what I'll do, this isn't my life's work forever, is it?" It's not dreadful, but it certainly isn't glamorous or exciting either. But I think every time I feel sorry for myself, and look around and try to find my own great story, God is reminding me that this is where he wants me right now; this is where I'm learning to be a servant, the last, the anonymous faithful disciple that he calls me to be. And until I surrender and submit to that, I will not experience true greatness.

Jesus' teaching is not just about my actions, but about my whole mindset - I need my mind to be transformed and renewed, so that I serve people because I love Jesus, not because I'm seeking praise or recognition. If I have nothing but Jesus (refer to philosophy #1), then he is the only one I should be seeking to please. He's slowly cutting down my field of vision when it comes to my motives - it is not about history or the future, it is not about what my friends think, or the general public, or scholars, or my posterity. It is all about Him - following him, obeying him, and serving and loving those He loves. It is about choosing Him in this moment, for the sake of eternity.

True greatness goes beyond the history books, and can only be found in Christ. As John the Baptist said, "He must increase, and I must decrease." More of you, and less of me, Lord. Teach me how to be a servant today, and to put myself last, so that you are the first in my life. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Making upside-downers, Part 1: Treasures

Have you ever thought about how hard the Great Commission is to obey? Jesus told us to "make disciples." Disciples are actually students and apprentices, people who learn the teachings and study closely the ways of someone whom they want to be more like.

It's easy to make converts - walk someone through the ABCs of salvation and a "sinner's prayer" and congratulate them on knowing their sins are forgiven and that they will go to heaven some day, and send them on their light-hearted way. But to make disciples, you've got to walk through the details of the time between that prayer and their last breath... and the more I study Jesus' life, and the lives of people who were truly his disciples throughout history, the more I find pain, persecution, loneliness, and loss. And that is hard to convince people to willingly step into! Except... these difficult lives are the most powerful, beautiful, inspiring, adventurous, passionate, remarkable lives ever lived.

Because Jesus' teachings and his life are dizzyingly and terrifyingly upside-down.

Let's consider just one of his teachings: Mark 10:17-21. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 
Upside-down philosophy #1: If you want true treasure, sell everything you have.

This goes against everything we learn in this world! To give away your valuables makes you look foolish and weak. The more you have, the more power and respect and success you have. And the more of that you have, the happier you will be.

It's easy to dismiss this philosophy as being Jesus' call to just one person. But I notice that it was a pattern in his ministry: some left their nets, some left their tax collecting booths, some left their families. Jesus was poor himself. And his disciples throughout history have all had to give up the things that were valuable and precious to them in this life.

And what I've experienced in my own life is that this is a constant refining process - a daily sacrifice. Here's how it goes: I tell God that I want more of him, that I want his treasure above all else. So he points out something in my life that I value too much, and he tells me to let it go - in fact, to sell it so I can't take it back - in fact, to sell it and use whatever I gain in its place to benefit others. So I naturally have a temper-tantrum and say that I don't want to, and he reminds me that I already said I did want to, and after much whining and fighting, I do what he asks, because he is right. Then just as I start to feel good about what a great disciple I am, he points out something else. And the struggle happens all over again, as he slowly chisels and burns away my earthy treasures.

I'm pretty sure I didn't take Jesus seriously in the beginning of our relationship when he said, "sell EVERYTHING." But he did mean it, and if I am committed to being his disciple - his upside-downer - then he will make sure I sell everything I have, even if it is only one thing at a time and takes my whole life to accomplish. He is so patient with me. He knows this is a difficult teaching to carry out, a mission not for the faint of heart. And he knows I cannot possibly do it without his help.

The Bible says that the poor "rich" man went away from Jesus, and he was sad. He had so much to lose, and when he counted the cost, he decided the price was too steep. Other people walked away from Jesus, too, when his upside-down philosophies became too much. And many people still do. And when I think of some of the things He has asked me to give up, my heart still aches and sometimes I wonder why I continue to follow and sell and sacrifice... But my soul reminds me, through those beautiful words of Peter, of the truth that I know beyond anything else:

Lord, to whom could I possibly go? Only You have the words of life. If I have nothing else in the world - when you have taken everything away, and it is all sold - You are sufficient. You are my treasure.