Getting out there

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

th-6What this part of the teaching of Jesus doesn’t say is almost as important as what it does say.

It doesn’t say “Be the light of the world,” or “Be the salt of the earth.” It doesn’t even say, “Go shine your light.” It says “Let your light shine.” It’s the passive sense of the verb. The point of the verse is not to make your light shine; it’s to get yourself out of hiding to a place where your light (that you already have) can do some good.

The important thing is not shining your light; it’s being who you are where you put yourself. The light is assumed. Your light is already shining. We are the light, just like we are the salt. We are these things by nature of what we believe and who indwells us. Get yourself out from under that place where you are isolated, and get yourself out into the world. Put yourself out where your life can make a difference.

This is why the Christian subculture has been so detrimental to the spread of the gospel. The Christian subculture has been like a big “Christian” bubble under which Christians have been hiding safe from the world. Indeed, one of the main motivating forces behind the rise of the Christian subculture has been to provide a safer alternative world to the world we live in. But what good is that? What good is light all together in one place? Get your light out into the darkness where it can shine where there is no light. What good is salt in a salt shaker? Same deal. Spread yourselves around where you can do some good.

This is why our relationships are so important. The Gospel of Welcome spreads by way of relationships, but it is limited by us. It can’t go anywhere if we don’t go anywhere. It spreads through us to the world by way of relationships. Your light isn’t this little glow on the top of your head; your light is in you, and it is seen and known as you come alongside people and walk and talk with them. Your light is seen as through a natural course of events as people get to know you.

This teaching is critical to the vision and purpose of the Catch Ministry. If we’re going to introduce the Gospel of Welcome to everyone, everywhere, we’re all going to do the introducing. That’s what every Catch is designed to do … to get us out there and in relationship, walking alongside, being salt and light, because that’s what we already are.

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‘Light up those halos’

201409180137058412083You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

“Light that baby up!” they say whenever the Los Angeles Angels win a game, and last night was no exception as the Angels beat the Seattle Mariners and became the 2014 American League West Division Champions. The “baby” they are referring to is a halo atop a 230-foot sign in the shape of a big “A” that is illuminated following games in which the Angels win (both home and on the road), giving rise to the expression, “Light up the halo!”

But last night, there wasn’t the typical piling on in the middle of the baseball diamond that traditionally accompanies the final out of a major league championship game. That’s because the final out of the Angels game didn’t seal the championship. It was the final out of a come-from-behind victory by the Texas Rangers 500 miles north in Oakland, almost an hour later, that sealed the deal. And for this, at least a third of the Angels fans had stayed, knowing that an Oakland Athletics loss meant the celebration could begin.

And begin it did, with the whole team coming back on the field after donning their 2014 AL West Division Champions T-Shirts and hats, along with a new addition to the celebratory gear: ski goggles, to protect their eyes from the traditional champagne bath that accompanies these landmark victories. They looked like scuba divers surfacing out of their dugout, and circling the stands slapping high fives with fans and spraying them with champagne.

All of this lasted almost until midnight, but it was worth it to see the players, accompanied by their wives, children and in some cases parents, all joining in with the fans for one grand celebration of no small feat that took 152 games to accomplish.

Some of you were probably knowing I would want to write about this victory, and wondering how I would work it into a Catch. Well it’s pretty easy knowing that the next part of the teaching of Jesus is His identifying us as the light of the world — that light, of course, being the light of Christ in our lives.

But far from the self-righteous hypocrisy that accompanies usual references to pious halos, these are rather unholy halos we wear, knowing that along with being the light of the world, we are still the salt of the earth. The halo of Christ is balanced out by the saltiness of our everyday lives and our human foibles. That’s why it’s fitting that these two go together.

So remember that today — that you are not only the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, so “Light up those halos,” everybody, Christ is our light!

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Salty dog

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)

I always thought that what Jesus meant when He said we were the salt of the earth must go something like this:

You are the salt of the earth
You are what gives life flavor
You are the non-boring part of human existence
You are why I made peopleth-1
You are the grit
The rub
You are not top dog — I’m top dog
You are salty dog

You are not complete
You are unfinished — rough
You are poor in your soul
And hungry and thirsty
And hurting
And low to the ground
You are falsely accused
And misunderstood
But your heart is pure
You seek peace
And you welcome anyone
Because you are the salt of the earth

Don’t try to be what you’re not
Then you won’t be salty anymore
Salt that is not salty?
Whoever heard of such a thing?
Salt that is not salty is useless.
It’s lost its grittiness
It’s lost its taste
It’s diluted
Boring
You are there, but you’re not
You don’t change anything
You serve no purpose
You have no personality
You might be refined
But you’re not salty
So what good are you?

You are the salt of the earth
You flavor this existence
You preserve this thing called life
You are not perfect, but you are the point
You are the meaning
You aren’t perfect, but you’re salty
And I like you that way
You old salty dog

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Changing the world from below

th-15In his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory A. Boyd argues that legislative power and the kingdom of God operate on two completely different levels. One exerts a power over people as it seeks to amass public opinion, gain votes and change structures of government, but the kingdom of God works on a power under basis — it is based on serving and lifting people up.

That power under form of bringing change to the world is best exemplified by the teachings of Jesus summed up here in these Beatitudes we have been studying. Blessed are the poor in Spirit; those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who show mercy because they need mercy; those who quietly make peace; and those who are persecuted, misunderstood and falsely accused, for these people walk in the kingdom of God. These are all power under attitudes and attributes that are God’s way of changing the world. We change the world by connecting our own need to the needs of others and helping them before we help ourselves.

By the way, the kingdom of God — sometimes referred to as the kingdom of heaven — is not the same as heaven. The promises made in these Beatitudes are not fulfilled some day far off somewhere; they are fulfilled now. Jesus already proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come. He brought it; and through His Spirit, we can walk in it.

Jesus didn’t come as a political king to set up His rule and change the world by decree; He humbled Himself, became a servant and suffered and died, and that power under is now loosed in our lives by the Holy Spirit. He changed the world by example. We change the world by following Him.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Washing His disciples’ feet was the ultimate display of a power under way of changing the world. And Jesus commanded His disciples to do the same. We are His disciples too if we do what He has asked us to do.

This is the way the Gospel of Welcome advances in the world — through each one of us as we serve the needs of those around us. The gospel is not spread by decree or by mass media (power over), it is spread by coming alongside and lifting people up, one by one (power under).

Think of some ways you can exert some power under today. Whose needs can you connect to today, and how can you serve them? When we use whatever resources we have to better someone else’s life, we are stepping into the kingdom of God. When we connect our need to the needs of others, we become a part of God’s solution. This is how we change the world.

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Blessed are the needy

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

th-12These last of the “Blesseds” have to do with bad things that happen to you because you are following Christ. These apply to us, but not to the degree that they did to the early Christians, many of whom were martyred for their belief. Nor do they apply to us as they do right now in parts of the world where people are suffering intense persecution — some losing their lives — because of their faith in Christ.

Sometimes Christians try to apply this blessing to themselves when it is not because of Christ they are suffering, but because they are being fanatical, or they have to be 100% right all the time, or they are pushing their values on society and getting “persecuted” as a result. That doesn’t count. This doesn’t say, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for being insensitive.” It has to be because of Jesus, not because of us.

It’s really justice Jesus is talking about here. Blessed are you when you are unjustly treated because of me. I notice. I will set that straight. Leave your case with me.

Here’s the thing you can’t help but notice about all these “Beatitudes” or blessings Jesus lays out in this, His earliest teaching. They are not — any one of them — anything we would naturally consider a blessing. The poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the unrighteous, the merciful, the innocent, the maligned and misunderstood … these are those who are blessed. Oh really? Doesn’t look like it on the surface.

Jesus is evening the score. He is raising up the lowly and bringing down the proud. It is for us to realize this and focus on our need, because that will always lead us to our inheritance in the kingdom of God.

What is Jesus doing here, if He’s not turning our value system on its head? We tend to set aside the successful, the popular, and the wealthy as those who are blessed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The teachings of Jesus necessitate a new way of thinking.

Let’s just say, generally, that the needy are those who are blessed, and that means needy in every sense of the word. Are you sensing your need today? Are you needing mercy, righteousness, comfort, peace, innocence, and justice? Consider yourself blessed. It is our need that tethers us to Christ. That’s when He becomes our only resource, and that’s why we end up blessed: We end up with Jesus.

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What God did

IMG_3856Yesterday, in the hospital where she works as a Physician’s Assistant in orthopedic trauma, my daughter was repairing a tendon in the finger of a man when she found out he was a guitar-playing pastor. So she asked him if he had heard of me. “YOU’RE DAD IS JOHN FISCHER?” he exclaimed, a little too loudly for anyone’s comfort – his enthusiasm undoubtedly bolstered by the morphine she had administered. “I’M A CHRISTIAN TODAY BECAUSE OF YOUR DAD!”

Now, how cool is that? Not that I did anything, but that I got to find out about it. That’s what’s unusual about this story. Getting to find out about what God did.

Actually I didn’t do anything here specifically in relation to this guy. I just did what I do. Had this encounter never happened, I would not have known anything about this. That’s because God did this; it’s His secret formula for spreading His truth and getting things done eternally.

This is true for every one of us. There are people whose lives have been touched forever in some way by you, and you don’t know anything about it. That’s because the affecting of a life is not because of what we do; it’s what God does through us while we are doing everything else, that will change the world.

I know I can say with confidence that whoever you are, whatever you do, God has and will touch someone through you. I know this because this is what God does. He uses all of us, and it seems to be mostly when we don’t even know it, or aren’t even trying. We are all pieces of the puzzle that, when fit together, tells the story of God’s redemption of the human race. Someday you might find out what God did because of you, but that’s not important. What’s important is that God did it.

And now I know of a man who can still worship God with his guitar today because of my daughter, and that’s pretty cool, too.

Following is a piece by Marti that gives a window into the mystery of how God works. This is how we see ourselves as God uses us in the world.

So what is true prayer? 

by Marti Fischer

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)

The tax collector’s prayer incorporates little; he recognizes himself as the lowest, worse kind of being – a sinner, and, as a sinner, he realizes he will never be any better in and of himself.

There is no account of him adding: “But … a sinner of merit, or a sorry sinner, or a reformed sinner because I am going to be different from now on, or an honest sinner because I am willing to tell you the whole thing, or a praying sinner as I humble myself before you.”

He proposes no joint ventures: “Lord, I have a part that I can contribute which you desperately need, and I am willing to invest my two cents in this enterprise if you will do the rest.”

Rather he recognizes that he has absolutely nothing to contribute to God’s cause. He is praying out of utter bankruptcy.

He begs, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He is not prideful, trusting in his own abilities rather than trusting God, nor is he regarding other people with contempt and disrespect, nor is he praying to himself about himself, nor is he laying before God his faithful service or casting himself wholly upon God during emergencies only, nor suggesting that he is a marvelous blessing to God as the Pharisee did, “I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector, nor does he point out what he has done for God as did the Pharisee, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

The tax collector understands, as we must, that he has no abilities in himself. We, like the tax collector, never feel adequate to meet any situation apart from Jesus Christ. Prayer, therefore, is an expression of an awareness of helpless need that can only be met by God.

The tax collector comes from a place of apprehensiveness with a humble heart and simply begs for mercy before a holy God. He is aware that the only way he has access to God is through divine mercy (Daniel 9:18-19). Such access is not earned; it is the product of God’s grace.

Therefore, join other members of our Catch community, and me, as we beg, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
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Child of God

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

th-11When I went looking for a picture to go along with yesterday’s Catch, I typed “peacemaker” in the image search engine, and got an array of pictures of a gun. Not quite what I expected. Apparently “peacemaker” is the name of a popular gun collector’s item, a Colt 45 that was the U.S. Army official service revolver from 1873-1892. I also found pictures of a very large aircraft — the Convair B-36 bomber — the largest mass-produced piston-engine aircraft ever made, and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. It was designed specifically to carry nuclear th-8weapons long distances and could travel almost halfway around the world without refueling.

In both of these instances, “peace” was maintained by way of the threat of destructive force. You will be peaceful because I’ve got the gun and I can blow you away. Or, Your country will be at peace with us because you know we have the capability of wiping your entire nation off the face of the earth.

Not the kind of peacemaker Jesus was talking about, and yet it is the kind of “peace” many Christians have taken up in the last few decades. There is a militant strain of Christianity that has evidenced itself ever since Christians gained power socially and politically in America. Under the guise of a culture war, Christians have taken to trying to win back lost values by force, as if a Colt 45 in hand would make the country a more Christian nation.

When Jesus talks about making peace, He means to come from a humble, sacrificial place, not a place of superior firepower. Our weapons are not protected by the NRA; they are weapons of righteousness and the power of love.

We’re not going to set back global conflicts or generations-old hatred, but we can bring peace to our sphere of influence. We can return good for evil, and pray for those who set themselves up as some kind of personal enemies. We can spread goodwill everywhere we go, and treat everyone with respect — no exceptions. We can take the lower place and lift up the fallen and the downcast. We can be peaceful and make peace with everyone who will accept it.

We have the most powerful weapons in the world at our disposal: they are the fruits of the Spirit, and they are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

This is the way we change the world as followers of Christ and representatives of the Gospel of Welcome, and as children of God.

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