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Friday, August 30, 2013

A Heart Poured Out

I have been in the process of trying to rediscover a truly deep and rich prayer life.  I have practiced the method of Lectio Divina.  First, a passage is read, preferably out loud, several times.  Then you identify a word or phrase and work it over in your mind.  Why did that phrase stand out in your reading?  You think of all the meanings of the phrase and the ways it is used. After reading and pondering with a focus on a phrase, a third step is to pray through your own speech to God.  With the word/phrase and the scripture as a guide, you talk to God.  The fourth and final stage is to be silent for God so God can talk to you.  God should, after all, have the last word.

My rough summary here my seem insufficient and maybe even an offense to those well-practiced in lectio divina.  But right, now this approach is drawing me into a place where the scripture and my prayer life are coming together.  I am grateful.  

I have chosen what might sound to some like an odd starting point - the book of Lamentations.  Today is Friday, the day I typically take with my daughter.  My boys are back in school, and if i take several hours with her, it frees my wife up to do whatever she needs or wants to do.  And, it deepens my relationship with my little girl.  Before my time with Merone today,  I went for a walk and did my reading in Lamentations.

It was Lamentations chapter 2, a sorrow-filled word of acknowledgement.  Zion has suffered terribly and the misery is from God and is deserved for Zion has sinned and God hates sin.  "How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger."  That is the opening line of chapter 2 (as rendered in the New American Standard Version).  It goes downhill from there.  How can this chapter be an inspiration to me as I try to revitalize my prayer life?  I'll tell you how.

Following lectio divina, I narrowed my focus to one line in one verse, verse 19.  "Arise, cry out in the night at the beginning of the night watches; pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord."  I zoomed in on the phrase "pour out your heart like water."  When do I do that?  When am I so emotionally exposed that I pour out my heart like water?  I did last year watching my beloved Detroit Tigers get swept in the World Series.  I have done it many times thinking about my kids or talking about them.  I felt "poured out" on my wedding day.  Sometimes when I preach about God's call to the wealthy on behalf of the poor, I feel poured out.

I went through these times and then thought about how I want my prayer life to be more emotionally charged more often.  I should be as emotional as Jesus was when he groaned and sighed and prayed until he sweat drops of blood.  God should get more of my hear than the Michigan Wolverines.  The verse served as a jolting call to me to give more in my prayer life.

Then, I realized this verse comes in the midst of a string of miserable laments.  The singer/poet is defeated, an exiled Israelite for whom the halcyon days of Solomon's glory are but a fading memory.  At the point of despair, when it has already been acknowledged that the pain is from God and is deserved, the singer tells Israel to turn to the very God who punishes.  The defeated one stubbornly turns to faith in the face of the seeming failure of faith.  When all is lost, pour our your heart.  

Does this make any sense?  Don't we (and here by "we" I mean Christians who have the privilege of education and financial means) have the responsibility to use all at our disposal to solve the world's problems?  Did not God privilege America and its Western allies to be the vicarious saviors of the world?  Shouldn't I give as much as I can, and thinking creatively, achieve the solution to the problems of war and poverty and spiritual depravity that afflict so many in the world?  

Clearly my questions in the last paragraph are soaked in arrogance that is the unique purview of the privileged.  Western, white, male, educated, wealthy (by the standards of 99% of the world), I lose site of how desperately weak I am.  Nothing about my life in smallest way resembles the pain that inspired the prayer of Lamentations.  But that prayer, born in pain, was also inspired by the Spirit of God.  Thus it has force beyond its original context.  I may not be afflicted as the singer was, but I am just as weak, and at times, just as lost.  I fail.  Oh, I fail in so many ways, great and small.

And I tackle challenges that have little chance of success.  Who has the audacity to think that my week of volunteering in Atlanta will make a difference in the lives of kids who are beat up every day?  How can I think that the project my wife and I with our friends the Davids and the Laughners and all our Hope Chest sponsors can really make a difference for 180 Ethiopian kids?  How can we believe that these kids will actually grow in Christ and be empowered to make significant positive changes in their country and in their town?  Do Candy and I really think we can be agents of the Gospel in our neighborhood in Chapel Hill, where so many people are uncertain about God or indifferent as if that were an option?  And the hardest of all - changing my own sinful heart; why even try?

The truth is I can do none of it.  I am powerless.  But I can pour out my heart, in all its sinfulness.  The singer in Lamentations stopped in the midst of the desperate woes and implored any person of faith who suffers to do just that. Deep beneath the guilt and pain and shame is the unshakable sense that God still listens and still loves us.  That is not stated in Lamentations 2.  God is not called a God of love.  Such a direct declaration does not come until 1st John.  But, the hope that God hears is this sad singer's song.  Also in Job, with all Job has endured, there is the hope that God hears and will respond.  

The worst we can do is ignore God, act as if God does not see and is uninterested in us.  The best we can do is turn to him when we are at our very worst.  I don't think this season is among the worst of seasons in my life.  I think it is among the best.  I have an awesome wife, great kids, and a fantastic job.  However, I have good days and bad.  Sometimes staring at my own sin is hard because I realize I cannot do better.  I repeat mistakes.  But in the dirtiest parts, I know I must pour out my heart like water before the Lord.  I don't know what God will do when I do that.  But I can trust God.  

However, I am not in the act of trusting and the condition of trusting until I pour out my heart - all the time.  I don't mean I am an emotional basket case 24/7.  I just mean God gets all of me, even when it feels exposing.  I pour out myself like water before God because there is no better way to live.

AMEN

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A White Father with Black Kids

A friend from many years ago, Diedre, writes a wonderful blog - "Jumping Tandem" http://www.deidrariggs.com/ .  On it, she asked for stories related to race.  Here is what I shared. 

My wife and I have three adopted children, but most people looking at our family would never guess.  Our oldest, Igor, adopted from Russia, is as white as we are.  It's not a stretch for people to look at him and guess which features are from me and which are from Candy.  But the joke is on those who innocently pose such guesses.
Igor shares as much with us genetically as his younger siblings, his brother Henry, 6, and sister Merone, 4.  Henry and Merone are adopted from Ethiopia. 
The three of them act like siblings.  That means Igor, 11, despises, bullies, and in his best moments protects the younger ones.  Merone, like any youngest sister of older brothers thinks she is a princess, thinks the world revolves, and is pretty convinced she is really the one in charge.  Igor also thinks all people exist to serve his purposes.  He might have a future as a drill sergeant. 
            And there is golden-hearted Henry.  This child is one of the happiest, most well-intentioned people I have met.  I came down to the breakfast table the other day and Henry had been the first one awake.  He is most days, up by 5AM, singing, clapping, happy.  On this particular morning, Henry was the only one downstairs.  There were five bowls of cereal, with milk already poured, around the table.  Ah, my Henry.  He woke up and thought it would be nice to have everyone's breakfast ready and waiting for them.  What 6-year-old   does that?
            The Trayvon Martin story, and others told in our local area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) worry me a bit.  Right now Henry is cute, but he is going to grow into a strong young man.  He's already compact and muscular.  He's probably too nice to every play football, but he has a condition I have never had to deal with.  Because he is male, if, when he's an adult, he goes out at night, with a hoody on, I have to fear for him.  I have to worry that my own neighbors will call the police because he outside, at night, with a hoody, and he is black.  When the police come, I have to worry that they will assume he's up to no good.  My golden-hearted Henry.
            Last year, one of our neighbors posted in the neighborhood email list serve this message.  "I just saw two black young men going door to door.  Should I call the police?"  My wife went outside and discovered these were in fact players on our local high school football team selling calendars to raise money.  Many times, white players did the exact same thing.  There was no panicked email about calling the police.  My wife, appalled, called the woman and requested that she not call the police if she ever saw Henry out playing.  The woman, to her credit, immediately recognized the racism in her own actions and came to our house to apologize to Candy in person. 
            Being the white father of black kids has awakened many things in me.  I have mentioned some of the majors, especially regarding Henry.  Simpler things include lotion, shea butter for the skin.  Never in my life have I used any kind of lotion on my skin, save for sunscreen.  I hate.  I hate having my hands sticky or greasy.  Henry and Merone need their skin lotioned every day.  Candy has to make the lunches for school.  I who hates having stuff on my hands have the pleasure of applying shea butter to my children. 
            I asked my friend Emerson about this.  He is black and he said it can be a peaceful, intimate time with your child.  My friend lied.  He raised daughters.  My son Henry gets half greased up with shea butter and then, naked, runs around the house.  Try grabbing someone who is strong, fast, and greased.  I supposed it could be described as intimate, but there is nothing quiet or peaceful about it.  The more frustrated I get, the harder Henry giggles.
            But's that's nothing.  I am a bald man.  What little bit of hair I have is cropped tight.  "Doing my hair," involves zero effort.  Candy has mastered Merone's hair, which is about as curly as you can imagine.  Awesome.  Husbands and wives divide up labor and Candy has Merone's hair duties.  And Emerson, the father of daughters, is right.  That time Candy and Merone have together is special and beautiful and intimate.  And Candy is going to Ethiopia for a 9-day mission trip in October. 
            Who is going to do Merone's hair?  The white bald man who hates getting stuff on his fingers?  One day in August, Candy intentionally left the house early, Merone's hair undone, and stayed away all morning.  She knew I would have to get Merone ready for the day.  She kind of shouted some instructions as she ran out the door.  It was test.  She claims it wasn't, but I know it was.  I got the stuff in the purple dispenser (don't ask me what it's called), and started working through Merone's curls.  I know I was using the correct product.  But I probably did not spend enough time working through the kinks and knots.  And I definitely did not tie the band for the puff tight enough.  Merone's confidence is in tatters.  The four-year-old often anxiously asked about what will happen with her hair while Mommy is in eee-pee-oh-oee.  She asks the question as if I am not home, even though I am sitting next to her while she asks.  Clearly, in her mind, it is not even a remote possibility that I will be of any help.  October 21, Candy's return date, cannot get here soon enough.
            I love my three children.  I love that I live in a time and a town (Chapel Hill, NC) that accepts our colorful family.  I love that they have friends from colorful families.  I love that our church celebrates our family and that there are other interracial families in our church.  I thank God for Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis and so many others who have worked for a better world.  I thank for my Dad, who as a young college student, against his father's wishes, hopped on a bus in Detroit, road to Washington DC, and heard the "I-have-a-Dream" speech.  I bet he didn't think he'd one day have black grandchildren.  But he sure loves them.  I thank God for my mom who taught in Mumford high school in Detroit.  One day her principal asked how many of her students in a class were black.  I don't know, was her response.  Upon reviewing her role, she realized all of them were black.  She had not thought about it.  Because she doesn't form opinions about people based on their pigmentation.  That's the right kind of colorblindness. 

            I have told our story many times.  I appreciate this context in which I can share it again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Now see in a mirror dimly ...

My eyes are getting worse.  I went to the prayer room in our church for my afternoon prayer.  I was going to do Lectio Divina, reading and praying Psalm 23.  I opened my small Bible and then my glasses case.  Whoops!  The case was empty.  I must have left the glasses down in the hall in my office, on the desk.  

I opened the Bible.  Holding it at a distance, I was fine.  But, just for fun, I brought the text closer.  I realized that up close (a distance I used to have no trouble with) I could not see it all.  I knew it was Psalm 23, New Revised Standard Version, but looking it at it, I could not make out anything.  My eyes have become that bad.  So, I held it at arms length and had my prayer time.

It made me wonder though, are my eyes really that bad?  I don't mean my eyeballs.  I mean the eyes of my heart.  Is God at work right around me, in the life I live every day?  Is God touching people and trying to touch me through people?  Am I missing it because I spiritually nearsighted?  

The brilliant love chapter closes with these lines:  
"8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

What did the Apostle mean 'we know only in part?'  What parts did he not know?  What parts do we not know?  Dallas Willard believes the Kingdom of Heaven is not far off, but simply on a different perceptual plane. Willard supposes the Kingdom is no farther away than the stretch of my arm, but I only see into when God reveals it.  And he wants to.  God wants to show me the Kingdom around me.  God calls me into right now, even as I live this life.  

Jesus goes to prepare a place for us (John 16:3).  In his magnificent book Divine Conspiracy Willard develops his thought of Heaven around us.  In A Fine-Tuned Universe Alister Mcgrath mentions string theory, the idea from physics that there are (or were) 10 or 11 dimension, far more than the three our senses can perceive (p.115).  Willard's implication is that this indeed true, and than God is the one who occupies and fills these dimensions.  There is no empty space.   All around us, there is spiritual activity.  Frank Peretti also imagines this idea in his novel This Present Darkness.  

But, can make ourselves more perceptive?  If God is going to reveal himself as Jesus did for James, John, and Peter at the transfiguration (Mark 9:2ff and parallels), can we do anything in developing our prayer sensitivity to increase the odds of us receiving such a revelation? My first short answer is "no."  God will reveal what God decides to reveal at God's initiative and no amount of spiritual dullness or dimness on our part will prevent us from seeing what God wants us to see.  Conversely, God will withhold what God desires to withhold, and no amount of work in the spiritual disciplines ('Spiritual training' Willard calls it) will enable us to see things God keeps hidden.  No, we cannot develop through spiritual disciplines and thus polish up the glass that is so dim.

However, we can sharpen our spiritual senses.  We can, through lectio divina, intense, focused worship, Bible reading, and other disciplines heighten our own spiritual sensitivity.  We cannot make God talk.  But we can be alert listeners when God chooses to talk.  I do believe we can miss it if our head is in a fog of earthly things, profane and sin-stained.  We need to "seek things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).  When we do, we hear.  And we know.  And even God blesses us with wonderful Heavenly surprises, they will be of the type that come with being surprised by the familiar, like seeing an old friend after many years.  The surprising joy is soaked in something very recognizable.  Fred Craddock calls this the shock of recognition.  

My eyes will keep getting worse.  Father in Heaven, help me stick with prayer and Bible reading and worship and fellowshipping with strong believers so that day by day, my spirit sharpens.  


AMEN

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Roads to Zion Mourn


Bring on the day you have announced,
    and let them be as I am.
22 Let all their evil doing come before you;
    and deal with them
as you have dealt with me
    because of all my transgressions;
for my groans are many
    and my heart is faint.

Not much of a prayer, is it?  I copied it from Biblegateway.com.  It is Lamentations 1:21c-22.  The title of this post comes from Lamentations 1:3.

Why am I lamenting, spending my prayer time in such blue verses, clouds of doom hanging low, swallowing me?

My wife and I are reading a book about Lectio Divina, praying the scriptures. To put into practice what I have read and to bring new life to my prayer life, I have practiced Lectio Divina.  I have read the passage over and over (a month ago Lamentations 1:1-5 and today Lamentations 1:21-22).  I have read each aloud, over and over.  In between readings, I do deep breathing.

Then, I listen for a word given, and pour over it in my mind.  I think about it, uses of it, where it comes from, what it could mean.  

After reading and thinking, I pray directly to God.  In terms of "the roads to Zion mourn," I thought about cities.  This first came home to me in doing missions back in July in Atlanta.  The inner city kids we tutored in the literacy camp took a lot out of me.  While we there, the news came that Detroit was bankrupt.  My is from Detroit, born and raised until young adulthood on 7 Mile Road.  She studied at Wayne State University and taught at Mumford High School.  My mom was Detroit.  

And we would go back there every Christmas and throughout the year.  We lived in a suburb, Clawson, between 14 and 15 Mile Roads.  Then in 1982, I was 12, and we moved to Roanoke, Virginia. Still the trips back to Detroit were frequent.  

So in July of this year, a city was confronting me - Atlanta.  And my memory confronted me - Detroit.  (And none of this accounts for the many years I spent doing ministry with kids in inner city Washington DC).  When I returned home to Chapel Hill from the wonderful and draining and hard week in Atlanta, I got into the Lectio Divina, and began reflecting on cities - Zion, Atlanta, Detroit. Recent events have called other cities to mind - Damascus, Cairo, Terhan, and Pyong Yang.  And of course, there is the city that newly forced its way into my heart, the city of my middle son's birth, Addis Ababa.  

God loves cities.  I don't have any specific prayer.  I went before God on behalf of Detroit and on behalf of my kids in Atlanta.  And Addis.  And ...

But really, I had nothing to ask for (and everything to ask for).  I just sit with God, thinking about cities, trying to join my heart to his.  And I grieve.  

I know God sees.  God sees the injustice and there will be day of reckoning. Setting things right is my job.  I couldn't handle it.  I'd mess it up in an awful way.  But I can love those who hurt.  I can hug and cry.  I can rally people to educate or contribute $$$ to the education of children who would not get it without help.  I can care.  I can sit with.  I can pray.  I can go.  

Bring on the day, Lord.  Bring on the Day of the Lord.  Until then, I pray and I sit with you.



AMEN

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jesus-Made People

Jesus Made People (Luke 12:13-21)
Sunday, August 15, 2010

          Last week I visited my parents’ church, the church where I spent my high school years.  I saw a lot of people I knew, but it has changed over 25 years.  Most of the people I saw were unfamiliar.  Many knew me, but I did not recognize them.  Or, I forget their names.  Time marches on for people and for churches.
          I sat in on the class my dad teaches.  Candy and I were the first ones there and then Jerry arrived.  I did not know Jerry while in high school.  My only relationship with him is one that has formed on those occasions when we chit-chat while I am in town visiting. 
          Jerry is retired, I think. 
          What does retirement mean?  Free time?  Aches and pains.  Grand children?  Rising bills to be paid on a shrinking income?
          Candy, Jerry, and I made small talk until others arrived.  “Jerry,” someone asked, “are you still volunteering at the rescue mission?”
Aha.  Is this what retirement means?  Roanoke has facilities downtown, a non-profit, the Roanoke Rescue Mission.  Mothers who have fled abusive husbands, people of all ages who live on the streets enslaved by addictions, and others who are without home for any number of reasons – they all gather at the Rescue mission for a bed and a hot meal.
For Jerry, retirement means giving his time away – giving it to the Rescue Mission that, in the name of Jesus, serves the needs of the Homeless.  “Jerry,” one of his Sunday school friends asked, “what do you do at the rescue mission.”
“Transport,” he said.  “I drive people to doctor’s appointments; job interviews; Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; appointments with probation officers; anything you can think of.  I drive them.”
I wonder if Jerry envisioned himself retired, back in his hometown of Roanoke after years away, taxiing homeless people around?  I wonder if he imagined he would leave Roanoke?  Or, when he left, did he believe he’d be back?  What was Jerry’s vision for his life? 
What’s your vision for your life?
            Consider the guy who works on computers.  After wild-living in his 20’s he earned a 2-year degree in computer repair and now at 32, he’s finally got a good job and a great wife.  They’re nearly done paying off the debts he ran up in his rougher days.  They have a 3-year-old and a baby on the way.  Ask him, “What’s your vision for life?”  He says he hopes that by the time he’s 40, when their children will be in school and the bad debt nearly gone, then his wife can go back to work full-time.  At that point, they’ll be able to stop renting, buy a house, and starting saving for retirement. 
          That would not be a bad life, not bad at all.  I have no criticism of it.  I only hope to expand that story and any story we might write on our own because Jesus calls us to a bigger vision, one that is more significant, lasting, and purposeful.  There are things – experience, possessions, relationships – that people want, and they envision these wants as the life they will have in the future if they work hard enough. There’s nothing wrong with that.  God calls us to more.
          The central verse of Luke 12 is verse 15.  Jesus said, “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  The life of a disciple is different; possessions exist to serve the purposes of the Kingdom of God.  In the Kingdom of God, homeless people find homes, hungry people find bread, disciples of Jesus who have time volunteer to drive those who don’t have cars to the places they need to go.  In the Kingdom of God, disciples live out God’s story by giving of themselves.    
Jesus tells the parable of the barn builder in the midst of a drama in which he’s living out a grand story – the story of the salvation of the world.  Jesus wants you and me to be players in the story too.  He wants us to step beyond the routine cares of life and into the kingdom of God.  Life in the kingdom, life with God – that’s the bigger story. 
          In Luke 12, we read that the crowds gathered by the thousands to hear Jesus, so much so, that they were trampling one another (v.1).  His fame had achieved rock-star levels.  John Lennon was wrong – he and the Beatles were never bigger than Jesus Christ.  They trampled over each other to hear him teach. 
          To that throng, hungry for a word of salvation, Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but, whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).  He had, at this point, had enough confrontations with authorities and Pharisees, that people knew to speak for Jesus, to acknowledge him, was to take a side.  Many wanted to stay anonymous in the crowd, but Jesus said that would not do.  If someone was taken into custody and charged with being a follower of Jesus, they should admit it gladly, no matter the cost.  If someone out of fear of the consequences denied Jesus, he would deny knowing them at the judgment. 
Of course we know he gave Peter a second chance.  Jesus was a giver of multiple chances.  Still he wanted everyone to know something was at stake and everyone has to choose.  There is no hiding anonymously in the crowd, then or now.  There is no private faith.  He calls us to boldly stand and declare our loyalty. 
He also calls us to make the day-to-day stuff of life secondary.  Jesus wants our faith to be what we live for.  Houses, careers, relationships – all those things are carried out in service of and defined by our Christianity.  We aren’t professors, janitors, teachers, bankers, doctors who happen to be Christians.  We are passionately devoted followers of Jesus who reject small, safe little lives and instead step courageously onto the disciple path.  We clean houses, teach students, handle investments, operate on patients, and live as husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and all of it is done in such a way that it is an expression of Jesus in our lives. 
Jesus is teaching this captivated crowd, calling them to a world-changing faith.  He says,
11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how* you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’ 

          Then someone in the crowd stands up and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (v.13).  What?  Has this guy heard anything?  Jesus just talked about being arrested and dragged before authorities to testify to the truth knowing one could die.  Everything he says here plays out in the book of Acts.  The Apostle James was beheaded living a bigger story, answering the call to a bigger vision.  The Apostles were imprisoned – Peter and John, Paul and Silas; the bigger vision is a risk-taking vision, a countercultural vision, a see-from-God’s-not-man’s-perspective. 
          It’s a wonder Jesus even answered the man, but he did because many then and now have such small vision.  He paused in the midst of his speech with its audacious claims and sweeping ideas to address something small because often we choose small lives and reject the grand life God calls us to.  We just want our share of the inheritance and then, leave us alone.   We don’t want to testify before courts and kings, neighbors and people in the public.  We don’t want to make a big deal of our faith.  We just want to be unassuming and we don’t want the Spirit of God imposing anything on our lives. 
          This will not in discipleship.  To be a disciple is to follow Jesus – in everything.  Discipleship requires that Jesus be lord of every part of life.
          Jesus promises us abundant life, a life only realized when we experience the joy of walking in step with God and living in love relationships with one another.  Jesus would not give the man a verdict in the inheritance dispute.  Instead, he gave a story.
‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

            The man in the parable worked for what he had.  Jesus did not paint the picture of a criminal.  He was a success.  He worked hard, earned a lot, saved what he earned, and planned to retire in ease and enjoy his old age.  It’s not what he did that was wrong.  It was his failure to (1) acknowledge God in his success, and (2) he failed to understand his wealth in relationship to other people.  This is not a rejection of retirement accounts or saving money or wise handling of finances.  It is a declaration that the Jesus-made life is bigger than retirement.  Jesus is not a part of our retirement or our careers or our parenting or our pleasures.  Our pleasures, our parenting, our careers, and our retirement are part of our life in Christ.  In all those things we serve the Lord.  In all those things we live out our discipleship. 
          The man in the story said “I” a lot.  What should I do?  For I have no place to story my crops.  In all the “I’s” and “my’s” the man never saw anyone else.  His vision was so small, his story was limited; there was only room for one person – himself.  His was a type of idolatry with himself as the object of worship.  He made his own destiny the end all and be all; his own happiness was the standard by which he lived.  He was a self-made man.  There is no place for the self-made man in the kingdom of Heaven.  Only Jesus-made men and Jesus-made women are admitted. 
Jesus-made people are gentler than they are tough, but tough when they need to be, just not a Rambo-type of toughness.  Jesus-made people sacrifice themselves; they don’t smack down the enemy, they love the enemy.  Jesus made people don’t go out of their way to rub elbows with big wigs and superstars; Jesus-made people are on the street with the addict, driving him to his appointments helping him turn his life around and doing because they are following Jesus and Jesus led them to this work of mercy.    
Are we living Jesus-made lives?  The parable could have played out differently.  Are we living the grand story he would write for us?  Are we answering the call to a bigger vision?  Listen to the parable if it were told of a rich man who was also a passionate, devoted Christ-follower.  Jesus might say,
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I see there are many in the land who are hungry, even starving.  God has blessed me with health and has blessed the land with great produce.  I will do this: I will pull out half of my stores of wheat and oats and other grains.  I will load it into wagons and drive throughout the country.  In each town, I’ll go to the synagogue and then invite all the hungry of the land – Jew and Gentile alike.  Everyone will be fed.  Then, I will come home and see what is left.  19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; are there more people you can help?  Are there more you can feed?  ” 20But God said to him, “My child.  You have done your part.  This very night your life on earth is over and you are being called home.  Well done my good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your master, for you have stored up 21much treasure in Heaven.’

            Do you suppose the guy who asked Jesus to arbitrate in the inheritance dispute got the message?  Luke doesn’t tell us.  Luke’s real concern is do we get what Jesus is saying?
          Imagine the computer tech, the guy we discussed earlier.  Imagine him as a disciple doing what disciples do – living a Jesus-made life.  First, turning his life over to Jesus was a key in his recovery and his victory over addiction.  Now, with a Christian wife, they go forward together.  They raise their children to love Jesus.  They do their jobs with excellence and build their marriage on Christ.  They will buy that dream home, and it will be a place where his old friends, from the party life, can come for short stays and piece their life back together.  They will together set as their part in the grand story of the Kingdom a role of encouragers as they help people leave addiction behind and walk forward into the disciple life. 
          Pastor and author John Piper has the best illustration for living the big vision verses accepting a small, godless, insignificant life.  He tells about a husband and wife.  They are retirees.  Like the barn builder, they enjoyed prosperity and were able to retire with financial means.  They then bought an RV and traveled throughout the country.  They especially liked coastal towns.  In visiting the ocean often, they built up a collection of sea-shells.  And when they die and meet God, God will say to them, “I gave you 20 years of healthy retirement, 20 years unencumbered with other responsibilities.  What did you do with what I gave you?  Who did you help?  How did you work to make the world a better place?”  And they will say, “Look God.  Look at all the pretty sea shells.” 
          Not Jerry, the guy from my Dad’s Sunday school class.  I would guess when he was 20 “volunteer at the Roanoke Rescue Mission” would not have been one of his life’s top five ambitions.  But you should have seen the twinkle in his eye and the color fill his face when someone asked, “Jerry, what do you do at the rescue mission?”
          That same animation came over the Apostle Thomas when he met the resurrected Jesus face-to-face and declared, “My Lord and my God!”  In that moment, when we realize following Jesus may not be the life for ourselves but is in fact immeasurably more than we could have hope or imagined, in that moment we know the Jesus-made life.  And we would live know other.  We know God will fill our barns as we follow the path he sets before us.
AMEN