What I Want From Jesus

kingdom of god

Mark 10 leads us into a wonderful scenario that may be more applicable to our personal faith than we would like to believe possible at first glance. James and John have shown themselves to be good disciples, and in their goodness have found the courage to ask Jesus for special recognition and authority. Jesus seems interested in what they desire and opens the space for them to make their requests known. They ask to be seated on his left and his right when Jesus’ kingdom finally comes to earth. (To be fair Jesus had just proclaimed that no one who had given up their life to follow him would be disappointed in their reward.) Sacrificing for Jesus might mean suffering now, but it will/could mean growth, grandeur, and glory in the end. He says that at that time the first (or highest) in this world will be put in the back of the line and the last (or least) in this world will move ahead like they have been given a golden fast pass. Jesus then offers to give them the desires of their hearts. They are content for everyone else to have those elevated places now in this world, but when the kingdom comes they want what they deserve. Good old James and John seem so spiritual to delay their immediate gratification for a bonus at the end of time.

Jesus quickly tells them that they do not know what they are asking, and to add insult to injury, that what they are asking is not His to give away anyway. They assure him that they surely do know what they have asked for and seem to imply that they know good and well he can supply their demand. Of course, they don’t know what they have asked for. And neither do we. Jesus does admit that they will in fact drink the cup he will drink and will share in the baptism that was poured over him, but seating assignments in the kingdom are not his concern. While Jesus doesn’t scold or belittle them, their colleagues seem to take this opportunity to lay down the thunder on the Sons of Thunder (v 41). I tend to believe that greedy Judas was the lead prosecutor, but it could have been stupid Peter, or even recovering tax collector Matthew/Levi who was surely good at keeping score himself. Nonetheless, James and John are cut down for creating such a mess of the Master’s future plans.

This story is impossible for us to relate to, right? Not one of us would dare think it wise to request a special seat in the kingdom. Nothing we have heard in sermon or song; nothing we have read in ancient scriptures or prayers; nothing we have witnessed in the lives of saints would make us think that we might be eligible to sit next to Jesus at any point. We have been taught the opposite by denying ourselves and taking up a cross. Most people I know are just hoping for a seat in the kingdom when it comes and will be glad to sit in the hallway or maybe even on the back porch. Placement is not critical. Just being picked is the whole deal. We would never ask for preferred status in the kingdom. Sitting on the left or the right never even crosses our minds.

Or does it?

Well, probably not just like that. We probably don’t think of his right or left because we think of it differently. Why sit on Jesus’ right or left when we can get him to sit on our right or left? Our temptation is to be focused on us at the center and Jesus somewhere in our vicinity. At least James and John had the first chair filled by the right person! We, however, sit in the primary place and allow Jesus to take his seat on our right side on Sundays at church, and perhaps on our left side on Tuesday in the staff meeting that is driving us crazy. But we can cover the rest of our week with a variety of other guests close by. We ask Jesus to sit on our right side on our wedding day and might invite him to sit on the left side when we enter into couples counseling. But we fill those seats with friends at every other moment, so we can enjoy life fully. We ask Jesus to sit on our right side when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and on our left side when we are in fear of the evil around us. But the rest of the journey can be managed fairly well on our own. Jesus can have the preferred seat in our life – on the right or the left – when we need him – but only when we need him. He is free to sit elsewhere at other times. Doesn’t he have other people to tend to?

James and John are not bad, or dumb, or even sinful in this story. They are just wrong. Power and preference is not the business or concern of the disciple of Christ. Status in the kingdom is the concern of the true servant who is busy pouring out their life as a witness of the one true God. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t tempted into thinking that we should be rich for choosing Jesus, or that the sun should always shine on the church we attend, or that the mischief of the world will not dust up the life of she/he that steps out in faith. Faith does not promise or provide safety, security, or success in life. All of us can and will drink a cup and share in his baptism of death. But by faith we might find ourselves filled with the fruit of the kingdom vine and washed new for heavenly clothes to wear in this world. Disciples are given the right to lay down a life today for a life of eternity in faith, hope and love.

But this is not a delayed seating plan. It is for today. It is for right now. The glory of God has come! It was at hand in Mark 10. God’s glory is not sitting somewhere out in the future. It is here because Christ is here! And because Christ is here and we are living by faith in him, we are confronted by his words: “What do you want me to do for you?” Let’s not make the mistake of giving our wish away for status when we can use Jesus’ offer to settle issues that spiritually reck us.

What I want from Jesus is not a special seat or a elevated identity. What I want from Jesus – and you should want it too – is for him to look at and listen to me with the same patience, gentleness and love that he has for James and John. What I want from Jesus is not judgement or condemnation, sarcasm or cynicism, doubt or disappointment over my inability to be a good disciple. What I want – what I need – is for him to just ask me to walk in his company and share in his glory (emphasis on HIS glory). What I want is for him to remind me that this not-so-perfect-life of mine has been picked up and made whole by his touch. What I want from Jesus is to be assured of his desire to know me and his continued use for me in his kingdom. What I want from Jesus is for him to help me reject my need for the preferred seat in the church or kingdom, and to bless me with the strength to live freely in contentment at the end of the line.

I want this, and I need this. And you do, too. Only Jesus can make it possible. We aren’t able, even by combining our powers and abilities. We simply are not able…but HE is.

For Sunday / October 18, 2015 / Proper 24

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10)

Followship

Get ready. Something profound is coming. You don’t want to miss it. You are going to want to hear this little nugget of news that might actually change your life. Ready? Here goes.

Leaders have good followers.  (Read that again for emphasis)

follow the leader

That does not mean that the leader has necessarily made the followers good or even competent in following. It means that when a leader enjoys success it is in part due to the quality of the people they are leading. A large portion of that quality follower was likely installed over the years and under the leadership of someone else. Leader Jane or Leader John is lucky enough to have inherited some followers who have been well formed and likely well led by others along the way.

So let me say something to followers (and everyone is a follower of someone and/or in some way.)

How you follow matters to the one who is leading you. Good following traits are loyalty, honesty, commitment, courage, faith, and trusting. Bad traits of a follower are being selfish, guarded, individualistic, arrogant, bitter, nervous, and short sighted. Your actions, attitudes and aspirations can be a blessing or a curse to the one who leads you. Your feelings, fears and fraternizing will impact the leader at the top of your chain as well as every other link along the way. Don’t downplay your impact as a follower at home, at work, at church, or in society. Your ability to follow effectively matters to many people.

So follow well my friend and take this test on your following skills:

TEST- Follower Questions:

  • When you look at the picture above can you even see the followers in the photo or do you only see red?
  • Do you follow because you aren’t allowed to lead or because following is really how you are gifted and most capable?
  • Do you follow because you love who is leading or because you don’t have a choice?
  • Is following a stepping stone or sweet spot for your life?
  • What are you expecting in return for going along as a follower?
  • Do you follow as a servant-leader or as servant-seeking-a-leaders-role?
  • When will you outgrow being just an ordinary, indifferent follower and become the world’s best follower for the world’s best leader on the world’s greatest team?
  • Have you ever read a book or watched a video about following well or is your knowledge base solely on maximizing your leadership opportunities?

There is a right and a wrong way to answer those questions. (Admittedly, there might also be a middle way to answer them.) However they are answered we should get immediate self-feedback on how we feel about being a follower. Those feelings likely impact how we follow and consequently impact the leader who is leading us. When we loathe our position in a movement (family, church, work, etc..) we usually aren’t giving our best for the overall success of everybody. We are not fully buying in to what is going on. Our need to be passive aggressive might be trumping our call to be actively invested and all in.

Being a follower is not a punishment or problem. Following is a privilege and a protected class because leading is hard work and carries great responsibility. Following is equally difficult because it requires us to give up some authority and control of what we are doing and where we are personally headed. But yielding authority/control to others may very well save us from our own undoing. Leading and following is both an art and a science, but both lean heavily towards the artsy side. Theory cannot be too far ahead of practice when it comes to leading and/or following. It may be more popular to write a book about leadership, but points and poems about leading have to dove tail with best practices of actually leading or they are wasted words.

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you… But many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.” (Mark 10:28)

Mark 10 is not an equation to help followers see the long term benefit or the payoff of not being first. It is a story that tells how Jesus spoke to those who followed him. His advice to followers was/is not to fret over their place in line or their piece of the pie. His encouragement to followers was/is to focus on the task at hand and give yourself fully to the day’s work without reservation, retort or regret over who is leading or how they lead. If you are following, be the best follower in the group of “followship.” In the end, followers will not lose because they followed well. They will gain because they followed faithfully.

It seems to me that if we had more quality followers available then we would likely see a better pipe line of leaders emerging, but in a very healthy natural way. And the world would be much better off. There should be zero shame or embarrassment for displaying a consistent gift to be the most dependable, stable follower in the crowd. Just make sure that who or what you are following is on the right path and headed in the right direction.

Inside every leader is a former follower who hopefully remembers life in the second chair (or third, or fourth.) Inside every follower is the temptation to lead the pack their way even if they aren’t ready and the fit isn’t good. In an ideal world both leader and follower would see the success of their effort as their common cause so that personal pleasure, gain or control can be sacrificed for the greater good. Leadership is not about machismo and followship is not about being a doormat for big personalities or bullies. They are both intimately connected and focused on doing something together that can’t be done apart.

Look around your life. Think about those who are leading you. Think about how they lead and what success they have had as a leader. What does their leadership success say about your following ability?

For Sunday – October 11, 2015 /  Proper 23B 

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  ( Mark 10)

Tick-Tock Parenting

melting-clock

On any given day I will make 3 to 5 trips to the schools to pick a kid up, drop a kid off, and sometimes shuttle their friend here or there. To be honest that doesn’t fit all that well with my schedule and being inconvenienced has not been a favorite past time of mine at any point in my life. Most often I see those trips as a “have to do” and not a “get to do.”

Jamie is the opposite. She loves to take a kid here, take a kid there. And the kids like for her to take them although they don’t always like arriving in her minivan. On these trips they sing, talk, laugh, and sometimes get lost or forget where they are going. But they are fun trips that she loves to “get to do.”

Yesterday, after I made 3 trips to the high school after work, I also had to go and watch a homecoming parade. One kid was marching with the band and the other was marching with his football team. The parade was scheduled to go around the high school and end up in the football stadium for a pep rally with all school sports and activities participating. Parents, siblings, and friends were to watch and cheer along the way before assembling in the stadium to again watch and cheer. Seemed like a big pile of “have to” to me.  Jamie rushed home from work, rushed Julia to church, dropped a meal off for a family in need, and rushed back to join me in the gallery. She couldn’t wait to “get to” watch those boys do their thing.

As those two young men passed in all their youthful glory it occurred to me that these are the moments I have been waiting for. This isn’t wasted time at all. This is time spent in the best way possible.  Standing in the grass, fighting the TX heat, missing a replay of Seinfeld on TBS may seem like inconveniences to me, but they are the not. They are small details in moments where my life’s work is on display. Parenting (and friendships for that matter) are about seeing a moment for what it is and enjoying it to its fullest.

Moments invested in the celebration and/or support of others – especially our children – are the moments we have to put into slow motion and capture every frame. Being hurried, inconvenienced, or bored will carry us right past memories that we were born to be forever touched by. While watching what happens we will not capture the exact moment that he/she does the unbelievable.

We don’t waste time when we are available for our kids when they need us.  Time is wasted when we choose to be inconvenienced by their need.

We don’t waste time when we celebrate the work of our kids in band, sports, academics, or just being a good kid. Time is wasted when we ignore their accomplishments and think about “what could be.”

We don’t waste time when we invest in their friendships by being nice and available to those they feel connected with. Time is wasted when we are bothered by how odd or different their friends are and try to isolate them socially.

We don’t waste time when we take the moments to teach, to correct, and to discipline our kids. Time is wasted when we ignore their behavior and hope they get it right next time. (They likely won’t without our input.)

We don’t waste time when we are honest with them about our failures and faults in life embarrassing as they may be. Time is wasted when we let them think they are the only ones in the family to ever mess up or to ever struggle with temptation or trials.

We don’t waste time when we are concerned enough to talk to, pray with, and cry over how they are doing. Time is wasted when we rely primarily on social media for ideas on what to do with a kid in trouble.

We don’t waste time when we try to slow down the growing up time so we can enjoy the moments we have with them. Time is wasted  when we do all we can to speed up time to get them to a place where they can care completely for themselves.

We don’t waste time when we just stop and listen to them, laugh with them, and/or look at them in amazement. Time is wasted when we choose to live in a blur and let our time belong to everybody else but our family.

Time spent well with our kids is time well spent in our hearts. We can never get back those missed moments, but we can plan to miss as few as possible. Better to short ourselves of personal time, choice, and say so than to short our kids of the very real presence of a parent invested in their success and happiness. Those moments should be “get to do” moments as often as possible. In the future, we won’t remember what we “had to do” anyway.  We’ll only remember the moments where we “got to” tell people they were “ours.”

Fathers/Mothers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)