Archive for July, 2021

Go Ahead, Do Something

July 21st, 2021

My fellow Albuquerque resident Megan McKenna is an author, storyteller, and theologian who challenges us to imitate Jesus. She writes of the importance of translation when it comes to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words:

The blessings and woes have so much depth and latitude, so many layers of meaning that are unveiled throughout the gospel of Luke, especially in the parables. Even the meaning of the word beatitude is rich and complex when seen from different perspectives. . . . [In Elias Chacour’s book We Belong to the Land] there is a marvelous description of a beatitude that enhances our understanding of what Jesus means when he says “blessed are you.”

Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teaching. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are accustomed to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.”. . .

How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? That man would revile me, saying neither I nor my God understood his plight and he would be right.

When I understand Jesus’ words in Aramaic, I translate like this:

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied.

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. . . .

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples. [1]

Megan McKenna concludes:

The beatitudes mean deeper mercy for those who experience more divisive misery, deeper blessings for those whose hope is dimmest. They give an ultimate authority to certain people and their plight in the world. They signify not just a religious attitude, but a social attitude toward realities that should not exist among humans.

Sara Young

REST IN MY PRESENCE WHEN you need refreshment. Resting is not necessarily idleness, as people often perceive it. When you relax in My company, you are demonstrating trust in Me. Trust is a rich word, laden with meaning and direction for your life. I want you to lean on, trust, and be confident in Me. When you lean on Me for support, I delight in your trusting confidence. Many people turn away from Me when they are exhausted. They associate Me with duty and diligence, so they try to hide from My Presence when they need a break from work. How this saddens Me! As I spoke through My prophet Isaiah: In returning to Me and resting in Me you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

PSALM 91:1; He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

PROVERBS 3:5 AMP; Trust in and rely confidently on the LORD with all your heart And do not rely on your own insight or understanding.

ISAIAH 30:15 AMP; This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 418). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

July 20th, 2021

Preaching “On the Mount”

Popular religious scholar and friend Diana Butler Bass shares how Jesus’ teaching “on the mount” placed him in the lineage of Moses and other revered Jewish prophets. Jesus builds on his own Jewish tradition to call his hearers to transformative living. She writes:

This section [Matthew 5–7] opens with Jesus going “up the mountain,” a deliberate choice that ancient Jewish Christians would have recognized as aligning Moses and Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount opens with blessings—on the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger—in the same way that Moses pronounces blessings on the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of milk and honey in Deuteronomy 28. . . .  

Jesus’s first hearers would have understood what he was doing. Jesus was restating the written Torah, the passed-down law of Moses, in the words of his own “oral Torah,” a practice common in Judaism. In Matthew, Jesus places himself in the line of authoritative voices in the Hebrew tradition. Although this was done throughout the history of Israel by teachers, scribes, and prophets, including the most revered leaders, when Jesus claimed to join the ranks of these teachers, it was a pretty gutsy thing to do. . . .  

Near the end of the sermon, Jesus states the Golden Rule, the foundation of all the commandments: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and prophets” (7:12). . . . The crowds got it—Jesus the rabbi was at work renewing and reinterpreting the law and, in the process, claiming the divine authority to do so: a teacher and a prophet. . .

Jesus does not replace. Jesus reimagines and expands, inviting an alternative and often innovative reading of Jewish tradition. [1]

The German preacher and religious reformer Eberhard Arnold (1883–1935) believed that the people who heard Jesus’ message—both in his own time as well as ours—were obligated to act on the ancient call of God to live the Great Commandment, not simply listen to it. 

It is incredible dishonesty in the human heart to pray daily that this kingdom should come, that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, and at the same time to deny that Jesus wants this kingdom to be put into practice on earth. Whoever asks for the rulership of God to come down on earth must believe in it and be wholeheartedly resolved to carry it out. Those who emphasize that the Sermon on the Mount is impractical and weaken its moral obligations should remember the concluding words, “Not all who say ‘Lord’ to me shall reach the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” [Matthew 7:21]. [2]

Jesus’ Upside Down World

July 19th, 2021

What is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:1–7:29) is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:20–49). What we call in Matthew the Eight Beatitudes, we call in Luke the Blessings and Woes (four of each). Today we will look at the four blessings.

Blessed are you who are poor, for the reign of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One. (Luke 6:20–22)

In this chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has just chosen his twelve disciples on the mountain. These are the very first words recorded that he says to them and to the great crowd that gathered, so they must be important. I think he’s describing what the world would look like if people really followed him. He’s giving us an upside-down version of reality that turns middle-class morality on its head.

Blessed are you who are poor.

What a strange thing to say! Does anyone really think today that the poor are blessed? I don’t think so. Most of us are enthralled by capitalism and think it is the rich who are blessed. We have even turned the Gospel into a “prosperity” message—that if we have enough faith, God rewards us with financial success. That sure doesn’t sound like what Jesus is saying here! Scholars teach that Luke was talking to a poor community, and so in this passage Jesus is affirming the poor directly. He doesn’t soften things like Matthew does for his more well-off community by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Blessed are you who are now hungry.

Jesus seems to be teaching that we need to choose at least a bit of dissatisfaction—which is the human situation anyway—so that we long for God. God alone is the One who will finally satisfy us.

Blessed are you who weep now.

Weeping doesn’t sound like a very positive thing, but people who have gone through major grief often tend to be more compassionate, more forgiving and understanding. Somehow, grief softens the heart.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One.

Talk about an upside-down universe! I’m not happy when people hate me—and some people do hate me. Jesus is saying that we have to find our happiness somewhere other than in people’s opinions about us. If we don’t, it’s just up and down, constantly assessing, who likes me today? If we want to build our life on a solid foundation, we need to base it on God who loves us unconditionally, constantly, and without exception. Then we don’t go up and down. We know who we are now and forever.

An Alternative Way to Live

I am told that the Sermon on the Mount—the essence of Jesus’ teaching—is the least quoted Scripture in official Catholic Church documents. We must be honest and admit that most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing: healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.

I’m grateful that my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Likewise, Francis’ followers, especially in the beginning, tried to imitate Francis. Like the Quakers, Shakers, Amish, Mennonites, and the Catholic Worker Movement, Franciscanism offers a simple return to the Gospel as an alternative lifestyle more than an orthodox belief system. The Sermon on the Mount was not just words for these groups! They focused on including the outsider, preferring the bottom to the top, a commitment to nonviolence, and choosing social poverty and divine union over any private perfection or sense of moral superiority.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount [1], Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words and live the teachings, instead of only believing things about God:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined (Matthew 7:24–27; my emphasis).

Dorothy Day (1897–1980), one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, understood the Sermon on the Mount as the foundational plan for following Jesus: “Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.” [2] She observed that “we are trying to lead a good life. We are trying to talk about and write about the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the social principles of the church, and it is most astounding, the things that happen when you start trying to live this way. To perform the works of mercy becomes a dangerous practice.” [3]

That’s because Jesus was teaching an alternative wisdom that shakes the social order instead of upholding the conventional wisdom that maintains it. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not about preserving the status quo! It’s about living here on earth as if the Reign of God has already begun (see Luke 17:21). In this Reign, the Sermon tells us, the poor are blessed, the hungry are filled, the grieving are filled with joy, and enemies are loved.


July 19,2021

BRING ME ALL YOUR FEELINGS, even the ones you wish you didn’t have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly. Use your shield of faith to extinguish those flaming arrows. Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith. Do not hide from your fear or pretend it isn’t there. Anxiety that you hide in the recesses of your heart will give birth to fear of fear: a monstrous mutation. Bring your anxieties out into the Light of My Presence, where we can deal with them together. Concentrate on trusting Me, and fearfulness will gradually lose its foothold within you.

EPHESIANS 6:16; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

1 JOHN 1:5–7; This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the …

ISAIAH 12:2; Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 414). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

A Superior Lens

July 16th, 2021

Today the unnecessary suffering on this earth is great for people who could have “known better” and should have been taught better by their religions. In the West, religion became preoccupied with telling people what to know more than how to know, telling people what to see more than how to see. We ended up seeing Holy Things faintly, trying to understand Great Things with a whittled-down mind, and trying to love God with our own small and divided heart. It has been like trying to view the galaxies with a $5 pair of binoculars, when we have access to a far superior lens.

Contemplation is my word for this superior lens, this larger seeing that keeps the whole field open. It remains vulnerable before the moment, the event, or the person—before it divides and tries to conquer or control it. Contemplatives refuse to create false dichotomies, dividing the field for the sake of the quick comfort of their ego. They do not rush to polarity thinking to take away their mental anxiety. Importantly, this does not mean they cannot clearly distinguish good from evil! This is a common misunderstanding in early-stage practitioners. You must succeed at dualistic clarity about real and unreal before you advance to nondual responses.

I like to call contemplation “full-access knowing”—prerational, nonrational, rational, and transrational all at once. Contemplation refuses to be reductionistic. Contemplation is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material. It is content with the naked now and waits for futures given by God and grace. As such, a certain amount of love for an object or another subject and for myself must precede any full knowing of it. As the Dalai Lama says so insightfully, “A change of heart is always a change of mind.” We could say the reverse as well—a true change of mind is also, essentially, a change of heart. Eventually, they both must change for us to see properly and contemplatively.

This is where prayer comes in. Instead of narrowing our focus, contemplative prayer opens us up. “Everything exposed to light itself becomes light” (see Ephesians 5:14).  In contemplative prayer, we merely keep returning to the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I use the word “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow us to experience faith, hope, and love within ourselves. It is always a form of simple communing! Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.


Sarah Young, July 16

SELF-PITY IS A SLIMY, BOTTOMLESS PIT. Once you fall in you tend to go deeper and deeper into the mire. As you slide down those slippery walls, you are well on your way to depression, and the darkness is profound. Your only hope is to look up and see the Light of My Presence shining down on you. Though the Light looks dim from your perspective, deep in the pit, those rays of hope can reach you at any depth. While you focus on Me in trust, you rise ever so slowly out of the abyss of despair. Finally, you can reach up and grasp My hand. I will pull you out into the Light again. I will gently cleanse you, washing off the clinging mire. I will cover you with My righteousness and walk with you down the path of Life.

PSALM 40:2–3; 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock. and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. …

PSALM 42:5 NASB; Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.

PSALM 147:11; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Offering Your Whole Self

July 14th, 2021

“The Lord your God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul, and your whole strength.” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30, 33; Luke 10:27)

Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014), one of the great contemplative teachers of the 20th and 21st centuries, offers an unusual metaphor to help us better understand what it means to be “pure of heart,” and maintain a single focus when we “practice the presence of God.” It sounds very much like what we might call “being in the flow”!

These four faculties [in Jesus’ commandment above] can be interpreted in various ways. I have, for instance, called them intellect (mind), will (strength), imagination (soul) and affectivity (heart). . . .

Keeping the mind . . . single means keeping our heart whole, keeping our mind whole, our soul and strength [whole], not letting any of them divide in two. So when we pray . . . we try to find our truest self by unifying and keeping whole our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This unification of the consciousness is what is usually called “concentration”: centering together. It is basic to spiritual practice.

How do you do this concentration? You just do what you’re actually doing in the moment, without thinking/feeling about the fact that you’re doing it. When you set your hand to the plow, you just concentrate on plowing and go straight ahead without looking back to see what you plowed or how well you plowed (Luke 9:62).

You put your whole mind onto plowing, the activity, in the moment in which you are actually doing it. You don’t allow the mind to divide into two, half on plowing and half on plowed. . . . And in fact, if you can put your whole mind on the activity, not dividing some part to look back and see what you have plowed, you will cut a beautiful furrow.

You put your whole will into plowing. You do not divide your will in two by partly consenting to plow, and partly resenting and resisting it and wishing you were doing something else. You “give yourself to” this activity totally, as you do it. The act of plowing and the act of willing to plow become the same thing.

Similarly, you do not allow your imagination to conjure up some other scene for you to enjoy in daydreaming while you plod behind your plow. The imagination must . . . “be here now.” This is where you actually are, this is reality. Don’t create a fantasy. . . . Know who you are and where you are and what you are doing and really be there.

Finally, put all your feelings into this plowing because this is where your life is at this moment. You have no other life here and now except this plowing. Therefore feel this plowing thoroughly, feel it in every way you can. Feel it through your body with all your senses, with your emotions. . . . Become plowing. This is you at this moment. This is where you really are and what you are really doing.

That’s how you center yourself, how you concentrate.

Sarah Young……

KEEP WALKING with Me along the path I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of Life.

ISAIAH 40:31 NKJV; 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

PSALM 37:23–24; 3 The steps of a man are from the Lord, and he establishes him in whose way he delights;

PSALM 16:11 NKJV; 11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 404). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

July 8th, 2021

Paul: A New Creation

Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, is a unique figure in the New Testament. About half of the books in the New Testament bear his name, either because he actually wrote them or because other early Christians attached his name to their work.

For Paul, salvation is something that is actually experienced. He wrote about the experience in so many ways because he was always trying to get a handle on it. He sought to put into words something for which he had no ready-made vocabulary. One such phrase he used was a new creation. He wrote, “All that matters is to be created anew” (Galatians 6:15). He himself felt like a new man after his conversion, filled with a new power he had never known before. His other phrase is en Cristo, or “in Christ,” which he uses dozens of times to move us to a collective notion of salvation—with scant success up to now.

Through the Church, in the Body of Christ, God calls us to a new way of living, a new way of relating to God, to others, and to the world. Paul believes the Church is meant to be a community whose way of living runs contrary to the prevailing culture. We would call it countercultural today. It is a way of cooperating rather than competing, a way of giving rather than getting, a way of sharing rather than hoarding, a way of sacrifice rather than comfort, a way of faith rather than knowledge, a way of relationship rather than anonymity, a way of love rather than animosity. Through membership in the Body of Christ, this way of living is a sharing in the life of Christ.

Brian McLaren describes the new community we are called to in the Spirit of Christ:

We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one human community, as brothers and sisters in one family of creation.

That’s why the apostle Paul repeatedly describes how in Christ we see humanity as one body and our differences as gifts, not threats, to one another. In Christ, Paul came to realize that people aren’t different because they’re trying to be difficult or evil—they’re different because the Spirit has given them differing gifts. . . .

More than ever before in our history, we need a new kind of personal and social fuel. Not fear, but love. Not prejudice, but openness. Not supremacy, but service. Not inferiority, but equality. Not resentment, but reconciliation. Not isolation, but connection. Not the spirit of hostility, but the holy Spirit of hospitality.

So the “most excellent way,” Paul said, is the way of love [1 Corinthians 13:13]. Old markers of gender, religion, culture, and class must recede: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:28] . . . [and] “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” [Galatians 5:6]. Where the Spirit is, love is. Where the Spirit teaches, people learn love. [1]

Acts: Knowledge on Fire

July 7th, 2021

In Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is fully bestowed on Jesus, the beloved Son who acts with God’s power, speaks with God’s authority, and loves with God’s love. Through the gift of the Spirit given to Jesus, God’s justice is announced and demonstrated as Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem, freeing the sick from their illnesses, liberating the enslaved from their sins, and enriching the poor with the good news of the messianic banquet open to    all.

In the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, that same Spirit is bestowed on a body of God’s sons and daughters who surrender their own lives to God’s love. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit overcomes you, and then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and  even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The spiritual truth is this: there is a difference between knowledge “on ice” and knowledge “on fire.” For many Christians, their belief is often just knowledge “on ice,” not experiential, firsthand knowledge, which is knowledge “on fire.” Even though we call them both faith, there is a difference between intellectual belief and real trust. There is a difference between talking about transformation and God’s love and stepping out in confidence to live a loving life. Only the second is biblical faith: when our walk matches our talk.

The Spirit teaches us this new walk. When Jesus died, the apostles didn’t have a Spirit-filled faith. Though Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stayed, all but one of the men deserted Jesus on the cross. The apostles were demoralized. They lacked conviction. They had no aim or purpose. But shortly afterwards, they were transformed. Changed from within, they acted, lived, and walked in a new way. These lukewarm followers began to act like people “on fire.” Or as Acts describes them, they are “the people who are turning our whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Brian McLaren writes about the need for the fire of the Spirit today:

In the millennia since Christ walked with us on this Earth, we’ve often tried to box up the “wind” [of the Spirit] in manageable doctrines. We’ve exchanged the fire of the Spirit for the ice of religious pride. We’ve turned the wine back into water, and then let the water go stagnant and lukewarm. We’ve traded the gentle dove of peace for the predatory hawk or eagle of empire. When we have done so, we have ended up with just another religious system, as problematic as any other: too often petty, argumentative, judgmental, cold, hostile, bureaucratic, self-seeking, an enemy of aliveness.

In a world full of big challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion. We can’t try to contain the Spirit in a box. We need to experience the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost. We need our hearts to be.   made incandescent by the Spirit’s fire.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional

TRUST ME IN ALL YOUR THOUGHTS. I know that some thoughts are unconscious or semiconscious, and I do not hold you responsible for those. But you can direct conscious thoughts much more than you may realize. Practice thinking in certain ways—trusting Me, thanking Me—and those thoughts become more natural. Reject negative or sinful thoughts as soon as you become aware of them. Don’t try to hide them from Me; confess them and leave them with Me. Go on your way lightheartedly. This method of controlling your thoughts will keep your mind in My Presence and your feet on the path of Peace.

PSALM 20:7; Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

1 JOHN 1:9; If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

LUKE 1:79; to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

July 6th, 2021

Luke’s Good News:
God’s Justice

For Luke, while the ultimate meaning of the good news is still the nearness of God’s kingdom, he says it differently. He speaks not of God’s kingdom but of God’s justice, and he especially emphasizes the privileged position of the poor. Luke’s Gospel is sometimes called the “Gospel of the poor” or the “Gospel of mercy.” He stresses the freedom and liberation which come from living simply and humbly, in right relationship with others, under the reign of God. He sees Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

When we think of justice, we ordinarily think of a balance: if the scales tip too much on the side of wrong, justice is needed to set things right. But God’s justice does not make sense to human ideas of justice! We define justice in terms of what we’ve done, what we’ve earned, and what we’ve merited. Our image of justice is often some form of retribution, which we then project onto God. When most people say, “We want justice!” they normally mean that bad deeds should be punished or that they want vengeance. But Jesus says that’s simply not the case with God. The issue is how much can we trust God? How much can we stand in the flow of God’s infinite love? How much can we let God love us in our worst moments?

What is God’s justice? It is certainly not our Western image of a blindfolded woman standing with a scale and weighing the different sides. God’s justice is delivered simply by God being true to God’s nature. And what is God’s nature? Love. God is love, so God’s justice is in fact total, steadfast love, total unconditional giving of love. (Many of us now call this “restorative justice” instead of retributive justice.) 

Brian McLaren reflects on Luke’s Gospel and God’s justice through the stories of Mary and Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancies [Luke 1]. He understands these stories as invitations to join an adventure with God in which another world is possible:

What if their purpose is to challenge us to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible? Could we ever come to a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares? When the predatory people in power—the lions—would lie down in peace with the vulnerable and the poor—the lambs? When God’s justice would flow like a river—to the lowest and most “god-forsaken” places on Earth? When the brokenhearted would be comforted and the poor would receive good news? If you think, Never—it’s impossible, then maybe you need to think again. Maybe it’s not too late for something beautiful to be born. Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine.

Matthew’s Good News: The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

July 5th, 2021

This week I will continue to share portions from my early tapes and books on the Great Themes of Scripture. While these talks first launched my public teaching ministry in 1973, I hope they still contain some relevant wisdom for today, especially when paired with insights from my friend and CAC teacher Brian McLaren.

The great themes of the New Testament continue those of the Hebrew Bible, and one of those “great themes” is the Gospel itself. In ancient times, a “gospel” was a sharing of good news. Why did the Gospel writers choose to use the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news”? I think it’s because the story of Jesus was the news that transformed their lives. It was Good News of unconditional love, that we are loved, and that our entire lives can and should be based on the absolute love of God. That centers and grounds everything. What a tragedy that so much of Christianity has been made bad news, and has joined with the bad news of Empire, scapegoating, racism, war, sexism, and destruction of the planet. How far we must be from the experience of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!

Matthew wants to show that Jesus has come to proclaim and to establish “the kingdom of God.” Jesus says, “Turn around! The kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). The realm of God is right here, right now, in the present tense. The relationship with God’s love that sets us free is in our midst. We have to have the humility and trust to turn around and see it.

Here’s how Brian McLaren describes it:

Jesus forms a movement of people who trust him and believe his message. They believe that they don’t have to wait for this or that to happen, but rather that they can begin living in a new and better way now, a way of life Jesus conveys by the pregnant phrase kingdom of God. Life for them now is about an interactive relationship—reconciled to God, reconciled to one another—and so they see their entire lives as an opportunity to make the beautiful music of God’s kingdom so that more and more people will be drawn into it, and so that the world will be changed by their growing influence. [1]

It is a much greater message than just individual salvation, which has not gotten us very far at all.

Jesus preaches to “turn around,” or in Greek metanoia, which literally means to “change your mind. It does not mean self-flagellation or being really down about ourselves, which is what the word “repent” has implied for most of us. It always involves an attitude of trust, letting go, and surrender. Originating with the Hebrew prophets, the biblical idea of metanoia is that of a change of mind and heart, a full turning around, a whole new transformation of one’s mentality and level of consciousness, more than “going to church” or following a new moral code.

Mark’s Good News:
A Secret Message

At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, he announces that he is proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). But in the first half of the Gospel, it is the evil spirits who recognize who Jesus is, and Jesus warns them not to reveal his identity (Mark 1:34; 3:11–12). When Peter and the Twelve recognize that Jesus is the Messiah in the eighth chapter, Jesus again admonishes them not to tell anyone (Mark 8:27–30). He tells them that the Messiah must suffer and die, but they don’t understand (Mark 8:31–33; 9:31–32; 10:32–34). When Jesus is finally arrested, they all run away (Mark 14:50–52). In Mark’s Gospel, it is not until the crucifixion that Jesus is recognized (by a Roman soldier!) as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

Why did Jesus want to keep his identity secret? Was it perhaps that he didn’t fully understand it at that point himself, or because he didn’t want to be accepted for the wrong reasons? He wanted to lead people to a way of greater love and suffering service to others, not be reduced to the role of a magician, or a wonder worker. We see this first come to a climax in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus puts the question to Peter and the disciples: “You, but who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).

Brian McLaren has written about Jesus’ “secret message,” which is the loving, transforming, nonviolent, and revolutionary message of the Gospels, that institutional Christianity has so often missed or kept hidden. He writes:

What if Jesus had a message that truly could change the world, but we’re prone to miss the point of it? . . .

What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted? What if many have sincerely valued some aspects of Jesus’ message while missing or even suppressing other, more important dimensions? What if many have carried on a religion that faithfully celebrates Jesus in ritual and art, teaches about Jesus in sermons and books, sings about Jesus in songs and hymns, and theorizes about Jesus in seminaries and classrooms . . . but somewhere along the way missed rich and radical treasures hidden in the essential message of Jesus? . . .

What if Jesus’ secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn’t come to start a new religion—but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world? [1]

Christ is asking each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” We each have to come to that moment of deciding who Christ/God/Ultimate Reality is for us. It means nothing if we intellectually accept that there is a God. The only moment that has any effect or revolution for us is when we acknowledge God’s active presence in our lives and the power of unconditional love.

Sarah Young: Jesus Calling

DRAW NEAR TO ME with a thankful heart, aware that your cup is overflowing with blessings. Gratitude enables you to perceive Me more clearly and to rejoice in our Love-relationship. Nothing can separate you from My loving Presence! That is the basis of your security. Whenever you start to feel anxious, remind yourself that your security rests in Me alone, and I am totally trustworthy. You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones. Be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you.

ROMANS 8:38–39; For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, [] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of …

PSALM 56:3–4; When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

ISAIAH 43:19; For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

God is Always Choosing People

July 2nd, 2021

Much of the Bible is largely character development and transformation of persons and institutions. It usually begins with an experience of “election” or chosenness. There’s no getting started, it seems, without somehow knowing oneself as special and empowered. Then the character—of people and groups—will indeed and always develop. We cannot begin the journey on a negative or problem-solving note like “sin management.” It all begins with an experience of chosenness, just as in marriage and friendship.

Think of the many, many stories of God choosing people. There are Moses and Miriam, Abraham and Sarah; there is Deborah, David, Jeremiah, and Esther. There is Israel itself. Much later there’s Peter, Paul, and most especially, Mary. God is always choosing concrete people. First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be and to image God in this world.

God needs images. God needs people to be willing instruments. It’s essential, though, for God’s instruments to know that they are not alone, that they are not just doing their own thing, but rather are doing God’s thing. When God chooses someone in the Bible, the standard opening line is “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 15:1), and the final line usually includes the promise “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

Being chosen doesn’t mean that God likes one over another or finds some better than others. Almost always, in fact, those chosen are quite flawed or at least ordinary people. It is clear that their power is not their own. As Paul will put it, “If anyone wants to boast, they can only boast about the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

The paradox is that God’s chosenness is for the sake of communicating chosenness to everybody else! As in the Jonah story, this often takes people a long time to learn. Here is the principle: We can only transform people to the degree that we have been transformed. We can only lead others as far as we ourselves have gone. We have no ability to affirm or to communicate to another person that they are good or special until we know it strongly ourselves. Once we get our own “narcissistic fix,” as I call it, then we can stop worrying about being center stage. We then have plenty of time and energy to promote other people’s empowerment and specialness. Only beloved people can pass on belovedness.


LET ME SHOW YOU My way for you this day. I guide you continually so you can relax and enjoy My Presence in the present. Living well is both a discipline and an art. Concentrate on staying close to Me, the divine Artist. Discipline your thoughts to trust Me as I work My ways in your life. Pray about everything; then leave outcomes up to Me. Do not fear My will, for through it I accomplish what is best for you. Take a deep breath and dive into the depths of absolute trust in Me. Underneath are the everlasting arms!

PSALM 5:2–3; Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

ISAIAH 26:4 AMP; So trust in the Lord (commit yourself – Bible Gateway So trust in the Lord (commit yourself to Him, lean on Him, hope confidently in Him) forever; for the Lord God is an everlasting Rock [the Rock of Ages].

DEUTERONOMY 33:27; The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He drives out the enemy before you, giving the command, ‘Destroy him!’ The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 380). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.