Archive for May, 2013

Missing Jesus

This is far from theology, simply the fact that the poorest little wood-cutter or peasant on the heath or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration which give him a feeling of an eternal home to which he is near. –Vincent van Gogh

Years ago when Sandy and I were coordinating a summer youth hostel ministry in Europe, one of the missionaries we visited said he was taking us somewhere just north of Paris.  He wanted to surprise us and so he did not reveal our destination.  He drove us to the little town of Auvers-sur-Oise and then to the town cemetery.  He walked us to a plot and pushed away the vines covering much of a stone.  It was the headstone for the grave of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent-Van-GoghPerhaps, you know much of this man’s story.  Born in the Netherlands, he learned art from a very early age, but painting did not capture his heart.  Jesus did.  He was trained as an evangelist and worked among the poor, the working class. Indeed, he adopted their lifestyle and received criticism from his supervisors for doing so.  He became disillusioned by a church distracted from her mission.  The result was that he lost his mission.

Somewhere along the way, the church had lost her humility.  No longer did she see her mission as to love the poor and share the grace of Jesus.  No longer were her pastors to be among the people.  They were too dignified for that.

Christ labored for thirty years in a humble carpenter’s shop to fulfill God’s will. And God wills that in imitation of Christ, man should live and walk humbly on earth, not reaching for the sky, but bowing to humble things, learning from the gospels to be meek and humble in heart. Vincent van Gogh

I couldn’t help but wonder if the church has always faced this temptation: to turn from the humble love of Christ to other things, from the poor to success, and in the end has lost the glory of Jesus.  This morning I am preaching on James 5, the opening verses of that chapter.  James’ letter almost turns bitter at this point because he sees believers turning away from Jesus and his kingdom to live for the kingdom of this world.  He grieves because they have forgotten Jesus.  I worry as I read the text that the “they” is me.  Our culture of wealth and status remains alluring and enchanting.  My heart can so easily be taken captive by it all.  I need to constantly look at Jesus.

I am still far from what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.  I want to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel these bonds. –Vincent van Gogh


…for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly… Numbers 32:12

Are you all in?  Reviewing my to-do list today, I could not help but notice things I’ve been putting off.  Here’s what’s on the list:  calling an old friend to renew contact, getting a colonoscopy (Okay, who ever wants to get around to doing this?), working on a book that’s been in my heart and head for a long time, confronting someone that I love with something pretty important.  I have a tendency to move other things ahead of these on my list.  What’s going on?

I like the way Brene Brown explained in her book The Gifts of Imperfection:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

I agree with Brown, but I often find that positive psychology (that is what she is doing here) has the right thing to say about life, but it does not have the ability to empower us to do so.  It wants us to be brave, to be vulnerable, and wholehearted.  It wants us to risk trusting that we have what it takes to do these things.  It assumes we already have the resources but we just can’t see it or we can’t believe it for some reason.  It assumes we are really worthy of love and belonging.  But, is this true?

yesWhat if we don’t have the resources?  What if we don’t feel worthy?   And besides, who makes us worthy?  I find that positive psychology wants us to go where only the good news can take us.  How can we belong?  How, when we have been forsaken by everyone we know, can we trust that we are worthy of love?  And, if I have had courage and connection from the beginning, why would I be struggling as I am right now?  What is been missing?  Do I simply need to practice these things to discover I already have them?

The passage from Numbers above reflects on the wholehearted service of two men who trusted God in the face of immense challenges.  They had seen the deliverance of the Lord.  They crossed the sea on dry ground when they left their enslavement in Egypt.  They tasted the manna and quail of the wilderness. Their courage resulted from their trust in God.

This is the source of our courage as well. We trust that God made us in his image, and that we reflect his glory, and because of that we have extraordinary capabilities. I am reminded of the story from Maya Angelou’s life as she explains:

One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was twenty four, very erudite, very worldly.  He asked that I read from lessons in truth, a section that ended with these words: ‘God loves me.’ I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, ‘Read it again.’ I pointedly opened the book, and sarcastically read, ‘God loves me.’ He said, ‘Again.’ After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth             in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me.  Me, Maya Angelou.  I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all.  I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things… For what could stand against me with God…?”

What relationship or challenge would you move into if you knew this was true?  If I think about this and then return to my to-do list, perhaps I can call the friend, get back to the book, and having a loving confrontation. Who knows? I might even have the colonoscopy!