BHAGS & Moving Beyond Human Utilitarianism

Romans 10:18-20

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

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I am prone not to tilt at windmills – unlike Don Quixote. He would ride his mule and joust with windmills in a futile attempt to conquer or prove his own metal. I am pretty well committed to avoiding such foolishness. There is obviously no point in taking on a task that is impossible or foolish. But sometimes daring to dream the impossible dream, or taking on a challenge that can be met only with God’s help is our calling.

Then there is the BHAG (Pronounced bee-hag), a term proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. My favorite example is that of Granite Rock Company of Watsonville, CA. They decided to be the premier company of fairness and customer service – a rock company of all things! To accomplish that goal, they chose to implement a radical new policy called “short pay.” The bottom of every Granite Rock invoice reads, “If you are not satisfied for any reason, don’t pay us for it. Simply scratch out the line item, write a brief note about the problem, and return a copy of this invoice along with your check for the balance.” Commitment to this remarkable policy, propelled this company to remarkable levels of customer service. If you don’t embrace fairness and customer service as a core value you don’t work for Granite Rock Company.

What does this have to do with Romans 10? Look at what God does: He champions lost causes! People don’t listen, refuse to believe, or reject him? He continues to come to them with a call to repentance and offer of his love and grace. People who don’t even seek God end up finding him. And those who thought they had the market cornered on God and true faithfulness discover they need desperately to repent.

I have a BHAG beginning to percolate in my heart. It involves the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – October 31, 2017. Five hundred years after Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Think 500. Think 500 again. Then connect it to the 500th anniversary:

  • 500 cities worldwide;
  • 500 expressions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the central theme of the Bible: God’s love in Jesus Christ; in celebration of the
  • 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

There is much to flesh out in regard to this particular BHAG, and that is yet to come. But it is in the spirit of God’s relentless pursuit of his lost people, and his go-to-the-cross commitment to make that happen. The word has gone out to all the world, yet God keeps calling, inviting, showing himself to lost and rebellious people. Perhaps this will be one more way that he does that.

Everyone Who Calls

Romans 10:13-17

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

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Do you know someone who desperately needs to believe in God; struggling with life and with God? I know of such a one, (I’ll call her Jenny) and my heart goes out to her. I pray for Jenny. I yearn for her healing in Jesus. I’m not certain what that healing would look like; there seems to be a mountain of challenges laid against her: financial, emotional, employment, relational. I’m not even certain how to help her. For Jenny the issue seems to be one of surrender. She has heard of God, of Christ, and has even been baptized. But as I consider her situation, she seems totally lost. And the reason for this lostness has little to do with knowing in the sense of head knowledge, and much in the sense of the surrender of repentance. That surrender is a matter of faith. Somehow she needs to hear the word of God and embrace it in her heart to “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

Then there is Ali. He runs a dry cleaners where I recently took my pulpit gown for cleaning before Easter. I asked him about whether he celebrated Easter, and he said no. He is a Muslim. I asked him about special celebrations this time of year and he spoke of the observance of Ramadan (which begins June 28 this year). He confided that he does not observe Ramadan – especially the requirement that no drink is consumed between sunrise and sunset – not even water!

I hope to find a way to talk with Ali during Ramadan about the faith in Jesus which I embrace. While there are significant implications of believing in Jesus, and obedience is certainly an outcome of our relationship with God through Christ, the Christian faith is not about doing things to be right with God, but about celebrating all that God has done for us.

Jenny needs to surrender to Christ’s call, not to gain God’s love, but to experience and embrace the life he has for her. Ali needs to learn of God’s love for him and all people, and the freedom we have in Christ. In either case God’s word is the only means by which faith will come. I’m praying for opportunities to share that word with these dearly loved people.

PS: I need to say this for my own benefit… I’ve started a rather challenging physical exercise routine. Part of that has to do with a new practice of getting out every morning for a walk or a workout in the gym. That has cut into my time for quiet reflection in the early morning. For that reason I’ve not published my blog posts for a couple of weeks. Today is an exception; I am spending the first 90 minutes (got up very early!) in the old way of easing into the day. What’s the conclusion of all this? I’m not certain. I need to get moving in the morning, and I need this time for reflection as well.

Romans 10:1-17

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The Story is Not Over

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]

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Mark’s Gospel ends rather abruptly. Matthew, Luke and John follow the various experiences of the apostles following the discovery of the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to his followers. The best evidence regarding Mark’s gospel ends at verse 8, even though scribes have apparently tried to add a more satisfying ending to the Gospel (v. 9-20). But I like this abrupt ending sans denouement.

Once we learn that the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, the women are to tell the disciples that Jesus is alive, and that they will see him in Galilee, the story ends. No account of the women telling the apostles about the resurrection. No additional appearances. No Great Commission. Just women rushing away consumed with fear.

There’s something very real here: emotions, worry, running, mystery. And in the end fear. I wonder if we have so domesticated the Easter Story that we never have any fear; we’re seldom at a loss to explain it or make any sense of it. But if we let ourselves rub up against the mystery and reality of the resurrection, we may find out just how good this news actually is. Perhaps you might even know someone who is in a place where they need to be told that the Story is not over. And it isn’t…not by a long shot.

The Story is Not Over

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, ”Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]

Although nearly all biblical scholars agree that Mark’s original manuscript concludes at 1:8, it is still difficult to deal with the abrupt and apparently incomplete nature of this text. Matthew, Luke, and John add oodles of details to the Easter morning event, with as much traffic back and forth from the tomb as some Monday morning commutes. In contrast, Mark’s presentation is stark and simple. Mark focuses his reader on a very specific moment — the empty tomb is revealed and the pronouncement of its significance is announced: “he is raised.” In other words, Mark’s text is less about the disciples who will make up the community of faith, and more about the faith that will make a disciple-community possible — the faith that Christ is Risen.

Having said that, let’s look at Mark’s short account of the first Easter.

  • Women walk and worry.

Mark 16:1-3

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Mark 16:3, 5

3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.

  • “Alarmed, trembling, astonishment, afraid, panic-stricken, shocked”
  • Stone
  • What’s next?!?

 

  • An angel awaits and announces.

o   The tomb is not empty!

o   A young man sits, dressed in a white robe…more fear!

Mark 16:6-7

6 And he said to them, ”Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

All of Mark’s Easter message is contained in the body of this heavenly messenger’s words. In this angel’s message lies the fulfillment and the future of the whole gospel.

  • First, there is the Easter Good News: Jesus “has been raised.”
  • Second, there is the first order to spread this good news: “Tell his disciples.”
  • Third is the prediction that the Resurrected One will be continually involved in the disciples’ mission: “He is going ahead of you.”
  • Fourth is the promise of a personal experience: “You will see him.”

 

A command is conveyed but cast off.

Come see.

Go tell.

They fled, trembling and astonishment had seized them

They said nothing to anyone.

 

  • The end?

 

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]

 

 

Except…

  • The rest of the Gospels show how the story goes on.

Each of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection has features that distinguish it from the others: Matthew tells the story of the descent of the angel (28:2–4) and recounts the mountain scene in Galilee (28:16–20); Luke relates the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13–35); John recalls Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11–18), a sstory of Thomas (20:24–29), and an account of the appearance to the disciples on their fishing trip (21:1–24).

 

  • The lives and deaths of the Apostles witness to “the rest of the story.”
  • The history of the Christian Church testifies to the fact that the story goes on.
  • Your presence here shows that there is more to this story than what we see here.

 

It’s all based, however, on what is recorded here.

The stone is moved

Jesus is risen.

Jesus is not there!

There is a message to share with those who hope in Jesus and good and justice and who may have given up on God: Jesus will meet you in Galilee (the site of the Great Commission).

The story is not over!

 

So what?!?

Be stunned. Get ahold of some of the emotion and grit that surrounds this event. Be undone. Realize that this is an encounter with the most significant work of God in all of history. Something really, really important has happened!

Angels: “Fear not.”

Isaiah’s vision: “Woe to me…”

There is a lot at stake: If Jesus was not raised your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins. We are of all men most to be pitied.

 

1 Corinthians 15 (mash-up)

But Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep. And because of this death has lost its sting. God gives us the spoils of Jesus’ victory. Therefore…

 

Stay hopeful. The story is not over!

Focus

Perspective

Faith

Finances???

Family???

Health???

Job???

Personal trouble???

Private worry???

Lonely frustration???

 

Tell someone!

No guilt trip.

No call to Middle East or Africa

No call to buttonhole.

Maybe a call to someone who loves God but who has lost sight of the resurrection…

The dragon’s tale

Romans 9:30-33

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

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A recent conversation with a life-long dedicated Christian revealed what I like to call the “dragon’s tale.” In my way of thinking most dedicated Christians do not struggle overly with obvious moral failure. We struggle with our inner self, our thought life. Words sometimes slip out when they shouldn’t. Often enough we will catch ourselves regretting not doing or saying something we ought to have done or said. We all sin, and sin damns us. 

But most committed Christians live a morally pure and decent life – stumbling once in a while, to be sure – but without grave moral failure. When we do sin we repent and get back on the path again of godly living. We abhor also how the world seems to be going farther and farther away from the ways of God. Marriage is a forgotten relic of overly-religious morals. Let’s not even talk about gender issues, sexual preferences, the misuse of God’s name, or irreverence toward God and life. The sanctity of life is dismissed in favor of choice. Women’s rights do not extend to the rights of unborn women (or men for that matter). 

So we strongly reject and object to such a moral slide and abandonment of anything truly good. And that’s when the tail of the dragon gets us. Having been delivered from the destructive power of ungodliness, and resisting the temptation to obvious and outward moral failure, we forget that the devil has a long tail that can snag us and pull us down. 

Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings movie where Gandalf faces down the fiery Balrog only to be snared at the last moment by the long tail (or whip) of the evil being. Just when you think all is well, and the battle has been won we learn otherwise. 

So too with our struggle against sin. We stand against immorality, indecency, ungodliness, and irreverence only to fall prey to the idea that we are justified by such heroic feats. We pursue righteousness apart from faith. And that’s a fatal failure. If we would, rather, pursue godliness out of faith in God our pursuit would be far less frenetic, far more powerful and productive and effective. 

We do not earn our identity as God’s sons and daughters by means of our morality, but rather in spite of our moral flaws and failures our loving Father in heaven calls us his children. We obey because we are God’s children, not in order to become God’s children. Likewise, if we are to properly reflect God’s character and express his reign in our hearts, our expression of goodness, truth, and righteousness will always be seasoned by grace, love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and mercy. 

Satan’s long tail entangles all those who would suppose to speak for God in judgment and prideful self-righteousness. But it has no power over those who rest in their identity as God’s sons and daughters by grace through faith in Jesus, and who seek to express the fullness of God’s character of grace and truth. Jesus was constantly confounding the self-righteous and welcoming sinners. That’s because he knew that the tail of the dragon is ready to snag the self-righteous, and has no power whatsoever over the humble and repentant sinner. 

Don’t let the dragon wrap his fiery tail around you!

A Big Step Up

Romans 9:25-26

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

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I still remember the moment. It was at a church convention where one of the persons there made a point. He was a fifth generation Texas Missouri Synod Lutheran. I am a Texas transplant, raised in the Baptist church, and without any claim of family legacy or standing – at least compared to him. Frankly, however, he knows and believes as I do that God calls those who are not his people, “sons of the living God.” That’s quite an honor and a big step up.

But it is quite dangerous to miss such a step – just as it is dangerous to miss a step walking up the stairs. On the one hand you might be able to fake it when it comes to missing a step on the stairs. The recovery might be relatively easy – especially for a physically-fit person. But if we miss the step up to being called “sons of the most high God,” we will be forever sad. Second to that danger, is that of assuming we have a right to be called the “sons of the most high God.” In fact such an assumption leads to missing the step in the first place. In other words, if we presume that we deserve to be in God’s favor, we are in grave danger of never experiencing it.

There may be many ways to be reminded of the high privilege of being God’s sons and daughters. But the best way is to read the Scriptures and be reminded of our utter unworthiness before God – and with that the incredible favor and grace of God by which he bestows that identity on him. That is a big step up, but required an even bigger step down on God’s part. Thankfully, God took that step, so that we could take it too. We are ushered by his grace into the highest realm of God’s love and grace. Thanks be to God!

1000th Post Milestone

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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Those who have viewed my blog posts over the years know that most often – especially of late – the photos do not specifically go with the reflection’s subject matter in any direct or discernable manner. I look for something at least marginally interesting or photographically strong and simply put the photo in the post. It is simply a way in which I am able to express myself photographically as well as expressing my understanding of a particular part of the Bible.

So as I chose the text and photo for today’s post, I wanted to be certain that it meant something to me. I wanted to display a photograph that I feel is strong as well as share a Bible text that is meaningful to me.

This is the verse that my pastor chose for me when I was confirmed at the age of 20 years at the University Lutheran Chapel of Hope at SEMO University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Seven years later Pastor Robert Lange (the same pastor who confirmed me) preached on this text at my ordination service – also at the Chapel of Hope. What a great text! I have a needlepoint version of it on my wall – a gift from a member of a church I previously served.

The most important part of this passage for me is the invitation that Jesus offers: to take his yoke upon me and to learn from him, together with the promise and reminder that he is gentle and humble in heart, and the place of rest for our souls. That means that I am most at peace when I am following and learning from Jesus. That means he is not pushing me, nor is he harsh or demanding of me. It also means that he is seeking to engage me in service to him, but that is a sweet and delightful service in the cause and freedom of the gospel. I do not serve to pull a large load of demands, but in the joy and freedom of God’s love and mercy to me and all people. Whenever the burden gets heavy, Jesus invites me back to him, to his easy yoke and light burden. For in his mercy and love, God invites me to lay my burdens on Jesus. Would that I would remember that.

The photo is actually related to this thought: The spokes are to the wheel of a hay rake. Although the rake does not carry a heavy burden, it does provide a means by which hay can more easily be gathered and therefore provided to animals that would have need of it. The gritty texture of the weathered metal show its long-time use, and the realty of its aging. The spokes radiating from the hub move up and out to allow for a larger circumference of the wheel. The treatment as a B&W image give it a gritty and more – aged look. The light coming from the upper left of the image casts a shadow in the inner part of the two pieces of the hub, making one wish to look further into that part of the image. Some things, however, remain a mystery.

I hope this isn’t self-serving, but at the same time, truth be told it is self-serving. I write this blog for my sake as much as for anyone who might read it. If you are edified by it, I encourage you to do the same: start a blog. I don’t have thousands of followers, nor even hundreds. But I do have the discipline of reflecting on God’s word daily for my own personal edification. If somehow that radiates out to others, that is a blessing for which I give thanks to God.