Archive for November, 2009

How is your posture?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my posture lately…maybe do to the pinched nerve I suffered about a month ago.  I’ve been forced into a good physical posture thanks to that exciting little event.  Perhaps it is my physical condition that influences my question this morning, “How is your posture?”

Luke 18:10-14 subtly asks this same question but in regards to how we posture ourselves before God and our fellow man.  It’s the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 

In my most recent readings of the text, there are two things that strike at me the most.  One, is the difference in the posture of both of these men in prayer.  The Pharisee stands up to pray in the Temple.  Before we judge too quickly, it must be known that it was the tradition to stand in prayer with outstretched arms and looking up to heaven.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  That’s not the posture I’m talking about.  The heart has a posture.  Jesus has entered into this parable for a good reason.  There were those in the crowd who were making quick assumptions about a question Jesus had asked in verse eight: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  To those who were confident that they were the “yes” to this question Jesus tells the present parable.  He tells this parable to identify those who are the “yes.” 

Now, its not wrong to be the “yes.”  I want to be the yes.  The question is how do we become the yes.  The problem with Pharisees was the assumption that their moral living and adherence to all things Torah was the key to becoming the yes.  This is the assumption of the Pharisee in the parable who fasted 2x a week (well more than the 1x required by the Law – Day of Atonement) and he paid a tithe on everything he acquired (on the gross and not just the net!).  In addition he is not like these “other” people (i.e., robbers, thieves or even this tax collector).  The ironic statement in all of this is that he begins his prayer with an “I thank you God,” but by the time the reader hears his prayer one wonders what he was really thanking God for?  All he had succeeded in doing was voicing all of the great choices he had made in life and how he had not stooped to the level of the reprobates around him!  Why did God need to be thanked?  This guy doesn’t need any grace, he’s perfect already!

On the flip side, a tax collector has entered into the Temple to pray, knowing that his mere presence in the Temple would have been considered a disingenous act by those around him.  He is an object of scorn.  He has made a poor decision morally and socially to take up the career of tax collecting.  But he is a beaten man who does not presume to be the “yes” to anything.  He knows if he has any hope at all in this world it is contingent on the mercy of God.  So he refuses to look up to heaven.  While he may be standing he is not standing with outstretched arms (as was custom), but he beats his chest.  He takes himself only before God and petitions, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus tells the crowd, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

To consider our posture before God is essentially to ask the question, “What is the basis for our relationship with God?”  In our heart we must never forget that is always been and always will be the mercy of God that resides as the foundation for our relationship.  The Bible is littered with examples of the beaten, broken, immoral, drunkards, murdering, lying, lustful men and women who came to their senses and threw themselves on the mercy of God.  This encounter with God certainly changed the trajectory of their lives, shaping the decisions that they made going forward.  It would be ludicrous for us to believe that after the God encounter they would begin to believe that it was their moral virtue that was to be thanked for their status in God’s eyes.  God went after them in the pit of despair, finding them in the darkest corners of their lives.  If I know one thing at all its that what was needed to get me out of darkness is precisely what is needed to hold me close to him these 17 years later…HIS MERCY! 

If we are not a people whose posture leads us to see the mercy of God then we are indeed in a dangerous place.  The Pharisee needed the people he despised, particularly this tax collector, to be who he was.  (Read that sentence again.)  Essentially, his whole basis for finding favor with God was the spatial distance between him and “other” people.  What if everyone around him were morally upright?  What would he have had to say?  Since he knows no other way to perceive his relationship with God, I would imagine that this man would have worked to separate himself from the other “moral” people as well.  He would have found something to split hairs over that would have made his brand of righteousness superior to those around him.  Because he fails to understand that his relationship with God hinges on God’s mercy alone, it not only changes his posture before God, but his fellow man as well. 

I’m wondering, how is your posture today?  How are you defining what real relationship with God is all about?  Is it based on your worth?  I hope not.  I mean no offense, but you are pretty worthless when it comes to the price that was paid for your entrance into the presence of the King.  Let’s be a people who continually, always, only throw ourselves on the mercy of our Lord.

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The Greatest Risk

Preaching on the Parable of the Talents this morning (Matthew 25).  In my studies I’ve been reminded that the greatest risk in life is to take no risk at all.  To allow God’s commission for how we share our lives to bow down at the throne of insecurity is the height of unfaithfulness.  When our fears trump God’s ability to sustain us on his mission for our lives, we have failed to grasp the full meaning of the Gospel. 

Unfortunately, if we take an honest look at the three servants in this parable, we share much in common with the servant who buried the Master’s property in the ground.  I used to think the servant did this b/c he was upset that he was only given one talent and the others had 2 and 5 (an assumption I made b/c of poor knowledge regarding Bible $$).  When I realized that the least of these had been given the equivalent of 20 year’s worth of a common man’s labor to invest with (talent=6000 denarii, a denarius=1 day’s labor, 6000 days=approx. 20 years work), it dawned on me that each in this story had been given a tremendous amount.  This is true of the disciple, isn’t it?  Some of us are certain to realize the gift we have been given more than others, but even if we realize a fraction of the gift…it is a large sum!  Just as the seed that dies and produces a crop 100 times that which was sown, those who invest this gift are sure to see a return (“to him who has will be given more”). 

If it is true that to him who has,more will be given…it is certainly true that if we do not invest the gift given to us by the Master that what we do have will be taken from us.  We should not be surprised by this.  It is impossible to know the Gift that has been given to us and to NOT re-invest in the world around us.  If we are not investing it in others through service, through our choices, through our speech, etc. etc., then it is as if we never had the gift to begin with…we have buried it in the ground.  Thus, we illustrate that we never knew the nature of the gift we received or the Nature of the One who Gave the Gift. 

Therefore, the Greatest Risk is to take no Risk at all.