Jesus calls Kingdom candidates to commit with full capacity to be faithful above all else.
CAUTION: To those who want to enroll in the school of Jesus, the wise Professor uncovers 5 reasons His students drop out:
Familiarity ~ Wealth ~ Ego ~ Tradition ~ People
Are you willing to pray, “Spirit of Jesus, show me what’s really behind my ‘I’ll follow you anywhere!’?
Pick from Jesus’ list your #1 hurdle then rise humbly with Him in action this week.
Familiarity – Speak, give or walk outside your “ordinary” ways as Jesus would if He walked in your shoes.
Wealth – Bless a poor person with a ridiculously generous gift.
Ego – Meet with two trusted confidants to confess where you often make it about you.
Tradition – Trade a religious, family or cultural tradition for a totally different way to worship or serve God.
People – Replace an easy, regular habit with a sacrificial act of obedience seeking God’s glory not trying to appease your spouse, parents, kids, boss.
Many claim the badge of Jesus. Few stay through His hard training. Honestly, do we want Jesus to forge His character in us as much as we think we do? Right now, are you ready to quit false starts and half-hearted faith and really follow Him?
A long time ago, in a land not far away (I live about 20 miles from my first home), I was a 14 year old experimenting with ways to ruin my life, partly because I could and partly because my broken family life left me wanting. My risky business could have ended poorly. Thankfully, I met some people who had a mentor teaching them how to live a good life. I was intrigued. Three years later I went from student to novice teacher. 40 years later I’m still helping others learn how to live a good life.
What is a good life?
Imagine if I ran into you at Starbucks and asked, “How are you today?” and you answered “Good”. Typical. What if I responded, “Why?” Yikes, atypical. Make that a double espresso!
Before your first sip of liquid addiction, I engaged your ontology, your definition of being, your reason to get out of bed. If you hastily concluded, “That’s an easy answer”, I invite you to think about what you think about. Many humans stagger out of bed, consume their coffee and go do what they do believing they have thought long and hard about why they do it. Most have not. And when the day is over, how many people say, “Today was a good day!”? Fewer conclude, “What a great day!” Your checklist for “good” or “great” reveals what matters most to you. It’s the fuel driving you to be good at pursuing the “good life”. What is it? Money? Power? Fame? # of Likes? Sex? Controlling all of the above? Why do bezillions of us lay our head down at night discouraged, depressed, sad, frustrated for not having a good day or worse, resenting others who are living the life we want?
Are you living a good life? If you answer yes, please share with the class. If you answer “Mostly, but I hope to live a better life. I long to deepen the quality and increase the frequency of good in my life”, join me as a fellow traveler on a “good” adventure through the blogging wardrobe.
I’m guessing by the blog name – Jesus College – you know who the professor is in front of the class. Historians, educators, leaders of thought and everyday folks agree overwhelmingly the teacher I met over 40 years ago is history’s most famous, most followed and most influential voice.
The Jesus College blog is my pursuit alongside billions today and billions before us who think a good life was best lived and taught by Jesus 2000 years ago. He remains today as the preferred life guide. For many, He is much more. If a better plan came along, Jesus would be the first one to recommend it. Otherwise, could you trust Him to know what is really good?
FIRST, I won’t be religious. I am not trying to convert you to religion. I’m inviting you to discover with me what a good life looks like from the One who has the goods on “good”.
SECOND, I will be practical. I’m not religious but I try to practice what I’m learning religiously. Folks who are good at what they do practiced what they learned for at least 10,000 hours. I read recently “practice makes habit”. Teaching what you’re learning expedites the process. You can’t wing “good”. Good athletes aren’t good because they make good shots. They trained to be good.
THIRD, If you commit to this course, something miraculous might happen. I’ve witnessed thousands of apprentices of Jesus become good people. I’m guessing if you are like me, you not only want to live a good life, you want to be a good person. Students who go to school in the way of Jesus more readily, easily and naturally live a good life because they are becoming good people.
In short, they are good students of Jesus College with a Professor who not only knows good but is good.
New Semester Start
Are you ready to enroll in Jesus College with me? It’s a good school.
Start by subscribing to my blog. (To say thanks, I’ll send you a free PDF of “Living Worry Free” Jesus College course notes.) You can “attend class” via the weekly blog per your schedule in your preferred attire. Along the way I will introduce you to fellow Jesus College Adjunct Professors who have a good grasp on a good life.
In the Spring of 2015 I was invited to meet with Orange County’s top cop – Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. My new friend Tom Thorkelson, Director of LDS Interfaith Relations, thought I would find the meeting valuable and surprisingly so, I might contribute to it. Reverend Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church, a black pastor with extensive experience interfacing with multi-racial communities, hosted the event. Sheriff Hutchens wanted to proactively engage community leaders before our County faced an event of Ferguson or Baltimore proportions. Her instincts could not have been more spot on and timely.
At the end of the introductory meeting, the Sheriff invited the very diverse gathering of clerics – Protestant, Evangelical, Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Pentecostal and more – to advise her on building relationships within our community. The next gathering was hosted by the Sheriff at their nationally acclaimed training academy. The Sheriff’s brainchild with consult from clerics like Pastor Whitlock gave birth to the OC Sheriff’s Interfaith Advisory Council. We’ve been meeting every other month to build respect and rapport with each other while advising how to best enforce law and order in our county.
The brains and the heart behind the badge integrate a savvy and sincere effort by an astute leader to protect and serve our county-wide community in an increasingly divided nation. Whether it is politicians or pundits, law enforcers or those fearful of the enforcers, suburbanites or urban dwellers fretting in the face of civil unrest, “What do we do now?”, I stand behind Orange County’s badge. My strong advice – follow Sheriff Hutchens lead.
What can we citizens do? Here are nine ways I am striving to bolster the badge to make Orange County fruitful of the good life at a time when America begs for civil unity.
Pray for Cops…by name. No longer just offer “God, bless the police.” Bring up the ones you know and seek to know. I now pray for Sheriff Hutchens, Undersheriff Barnes, Assistant Sheriff Solorza, Recruiting Deputies Curtis & Dolan, Santa Ana PD Sergeant Gonzalez, Irvine PD Chief Maggard added to the cops & CHP I know. Individualized prayers personalize people.
Defend Cops – The next time someone says, “Yeah, cops these days, they’re all…”, speak up for the ones you know personally.
Love Cops – Love means to seek the good of the beloved. Practical ways to love our neighbor become evident when our intent is their well being.
Join Cops – I recently brought six potential recruits to meet with our Undersheriff. I have referred three more to the agency. The OCSD is a dynamic group of community servants with races, roles and backgrounds as diverse as the county we call home. If you want good cops, refer good people to cops.
Befriend Cops – Cops have families. Cops like food. Cops go to sporting events, movies, the mall, the beach. Invite them next time you play.
Celebrate Cops – Bring them up front in your next fellowship gathering, office party, kid’s team meeting, PTA. Cheer them on publicly. Say “Thank you!” to their face.
Serve Cops – There are simple ways law enforcement can benefit from us like gift cards to feed themselves, their kids, clean their car, launder their clothes, fill their tank. Carry gift cards from In-N-Out Burger (my OC native addiction) and you’ll see how much fun it is to give them away. Warning: you might have to be stealth or deploy a 3rd party to accomplish the transaction.
Obey Cops – Pull over when you see flashing lights. You might need their quick response soon. Get out of the car when asked. Provide I.D. Take your hands out of your pockets. Use “Officer” or “Deputy”. This does not mean we do not expect and require law enforcement to be respectful, courteous, safe, prudent, controlled and without prejudice. Interestingly, the OCSD trains recruits to respect everyone they encounter while attentive to what they call “Contempt for Cop” so prevalent today.
Feed Cops – After our first OCSD Interfaith Advisory Council afternoon meeting, I said, “We’re all scrambling to grab a sandwich or salad before we get here. Why don’t we make it a working lunch.” Another council member suggested, “What if one of us hosts each meeting and provide the food?” We have since met at the Sikh Center, a Muslim Mosque and we’re headed back to the A.M.E. Church. We have savored some very tasty cultural food. Each gathering starts with the host offering a brief bio on their religious community. My mentor Jesus presented powerful teaching moments over food…and unleashed some of his most harsh critics because of who He ate with. Food feeds friendship.
This most unusual fellowship of brothers & sisters was brought together by the least expected host – the local Sheriff. I recently attended my first Ramadan iftar. And, I was just invited to a NAACP event. Imagine me, a W.A.S.P.ie kid from Orange County, celebrating with neighbors as new friends.
If you look behind the badge in our fruity county, you’ll find one cop and her posse as a model and inspiration leading a nation into healing and unity.
The invitation to my first Muslim Ramadan “iftar” – the meal breaking the day’s fast – was a privilege afforded me as a member of Orange County, CA Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ Interfaith Advisory Council. I was warmly welcomed as an honored guest to a delicious meal enlivened with engaging conversation. A very informative video explained Ramadan and the iftar meal. I was humbled by the infrequency of the discipline of fasting in my own spiritual journey, let alone an annual, month long, daily dawn to sunset fast.
Here are ten pithy observations from my blindly W.A.S.P. vantage point between a familiar American Christianity and the Muslim faith invoking dynamic conversations worldwide.
ONE – I was greeted by a few Muslim women wearing a “hijab” headdress. Nearly half of Americans including a substantial portion of American Christians support legislation and politicians who empower women’s rights such as the choice to have unprotected sex and then abort an unwanted fetal consequence. Americans embedded in our sexually titillating society deem it incomprehensible for a woman to be compelled to cover her head in public. It seems so religious.
TWO – Admittedly, difficulty pronouncing names encumbers my social interaction. I know, how shallow of me to be concerned over misspeaking a name a few times. Okay, every time. I met a sweet woman Emine named after the mother of their Prophet. Think “Mary”. After concentrated effort, I still garbled her name. When I introduced her to a new Muslim acquaintance, I couldn’t pronounce his name I heard minutes prior. The first gracious woman I met at the door was the event emcee and a board member of the host organization. She said her name twice after I stumbled the first time. Her name was Cassandra. This awkward Anglo’s over-Arabicizing blunder messed up an easy name.
THREE – Confession #2, (#3 if you include my fast-light habits), I don’t have Muslim friends. Not even casual friends like your kid’s team parents you acquaint at the post game pizza party. Our former neighbors across the street were Muslims we didn’t befriend beyond cordial, curbside chats. Yes, she wore a hijab.
FOUR – Ramadan is a Muslim’s discipline of fasting every day of the 9th month of Islam’s calendar. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam along with Testimony, Prayer, Almsgiving and Pilgrimage to Mecca. I believe most American Christians rarely, if ever, fast. It seems so religious. We’re too busy to fast. We use fast to describe food not denounce food. Few practice consistently spiritual disciplines including the “Golden Three” Jesus presumes in the Sermon on the Mount as habitual – “When you give…” (like tithing), “When you pray…When you fast”. Forget the obligation to a once in a lifetime, better yet annually, travel to our Mecca unless Disneyland qualifies.
FIVE – Muhammad was not only a prophet, teacher and leader, he was a warrior. He was more Joshua than Jesus, more President General Eisenhower than Billy Graham. Followers of Jesus join the military but Jesus never led an army into battle. Muhammad did.
SIX – Annihilation of the infidels by ISIS and other radical terrorists is driven by their self proclaimed obedience to Islam. In light of these atrocities, my Muslim fellow Council members, plus every speaker at the Ramadan iftar, stated emphatically the radical jihadists do not reflect their faith. We American Christians have so many flavors of “Christian”, whether the Protestant plethora or Catholic singularity, we easily differentiate from and do not take responsibility for “The Troubles” of the Irish 30 years ago let alone the Crusades a millennium ago. Such distinction is not easily parsed for Muslims.
SEVEN – Separation of church and state in American politics is starkly different from how some see Islam in the purest form through Sharia Law. Christian voters and politicians bring their faith into the public square as values not doctrine. Many consider Islam irrevocably socio-political.
EIGHT – Muslims revere the prophet Jesus while American Christians have little regard for Muhammad. To a follower of Jesus, Jesus is the only way of salvation. Muhammad is Islam’s true and final prophet who was preceded by the prophet Jesus but not subordinate to Jesus. Christlike Muslim doctrines and values exist in Islam but Muslims do not resurrect the prophet Jesus as the incarnate God who is Savior and Lord. Descendants of Father Abraham’s rivaled offspring Isaac through Yeshua (Jesus) and Ishmael through Muhammad still struggle coalescing a respectful disagreement for the greater good of our global community.
NINE – As only a child can accomplish, during our meal, a precious, blonde hair, blue eyed, little girl named Fatima brought much life to our table and the gathering. A child with her kind mother (in a hijab) and friendly, bearded father of Turkish descent celebrating a meal as a family in their faith community is a universal picture of the love, joy and peace we all want in and outside our homes. I heard in my mind, “Unless you change and become like a child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
TEN – Jesus’ commission to“Love your neighbor” defined my Ramadan iftar experience eloquently expressed in the unplanned, recurring theme of each speaker. This is a kingdom we can all seek first. Our gracious host Cassandra finished our gathering in tears, uttering softly, “There’s too much killing, too much.” She bid us goodnight from the depth of her heart. The unity of humanity transcended difference and buried indifference.
Pope Francis pontificated, “One is not a Christian if he speaks about walls not bridges.” Donald Trump testifies, “I’m an Evangelical, a Presbyterian.” The central question for any Presidential candidate who claims to be a Christian is this: Are you a disciple of Jesus?
The question unveils two more: First, are “Christian” and “disciple” synonymous? Second, is Jesus more than Savior but equally mentor, teacher and #1 campaign advisor? Consider the questions in reverse order.
Question #2 – Is public profession in Jesus enough or does an “Evangelical Christian” by definition prioritize and practice the teachings of Jesus as a disciple? Is Jesus’ exhortation to the religious, “Get away from me you evil doers” relevant to Christians who believe in but don’t behave like Jesus? Will a believer receive the Master’s welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven without living out His words?
Professed faith does not produce practiced faith. “Un-Christlike” Christians are rampant across American, consumer Evangelicalism. Mean Christians populate pews. Righteous indignation is praised if the anger furthers a partisan agenda. A Trumpvangelical is one who endorses the Teacher but ignores the teaching, a guest in His house on Sunday who disregards His directives Monday through Saturday. NY Times Douthat calls them the Christian Penumbra who are “Christian-ish“.
When the life of Jesus is not disciplined into the fabric of our character, our words and actions tear back the curtain. Sincere yet fundamentally unchanged believers do not resemble the One we claim to follow. Daily habits give the impression Trumpvangelicals dozed off during the Sermon on the Mount.
Are the Pope & I too judgmental? Is my log eye blinding me from removing Mr. Trump’s speck? I am not indicting Mr. Trump, I am inviting him and pews full of Trumpvangelicals to follow Jesus with me and learn His cheek-turning counsel is more than advice for the antiquities.
Who is missing the mark? Mr. Trump and I. We preachers often present a gospel as divorced from discipleship as Donald is from Ivana and Marla. We seek bigger churches not bigger Christians. We offer discipleship as an elective not core requirement. Thankfully, an amazing grace-full invitation to become apprentices of Jesus stands with no fear of being fired. Attendees can become followers when someone walks with them. In addition to a promised, eternal Miralago after life, our next POTUS, if he or she wants to, can learn from the One who shoulders the government how to serve like Jesus if He called the White House home.
I have extended family visiting Hawaii. Bummer, I wasn’t invited. I wish I was there. I like to say, “In my mind, I’m in Hawaii.” I can hear the water. I can feel the balmy breezes. You know, Maui on the Mind.
I remember “talking story” with another friend Jason who reminded me living in the Kingdom of God is like an “Aloha state of mind”. Things are different in the spirit of Aloha. People treat each other more kindly. The pace is slower. The end result is less intense, less obsessed. The process is the prize. People are a gift. Creation is cherished.
There’s a difference between being on vacation in the state of Hawaii and being in an Aloha state of mind. The first is fleeting, expensive, often unobtainable. The latter is available, affordable and adaptable to whatever the circumstances.
The Kingdom of God is now available. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The Kingdom of God is affordable. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
The Kingdom of God is adaptable. “May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done right here in my world as it is in Heaven.”
Pack your beach bag. Slip on the slippas. Hang up the hurried and hang loose, haole. Let’s travel to His Kingdom now. Seek His kingdom first and everything else is no problem, bruddah. We talk story, yah. Sit. Stay. Heal. Mahalo Jesus and Aloha!
I stood at the deli counter next to a solidly built guy sporting a tank top and board shorts likely beach bound on a beautiful Spring afternoon. I overheard him say, “I make the best potato salad from a recipe I got from my mom” as the attendant handed him two large containers of potato salad.
I couldn’t help chiming in. (Well, I could have but my wife knew I wouldn’t.) “With a recipe like that, you’ll be on everyone’s funeral invite list.” He smiled and humored my next glib offer. “My concern is that while people are eating finger sandwiches and potato salad and talking about me at my funeral reception, your potato salad will get better ratings than I will.”
He responded, “I just hope they say I was a guy who cared about people and especially those who didn’t have much. My wife and I have been talking about that lately. What we might do to reach out to those who don’t have as much as we do.”
After the dry salami and swiss cheese landed in my cart, I extended an invitation. “If you ever want to act on what you and your wife are talking about, I spend most of my Sunday mornings hanging out with homeless friends at a motel carport in what the Santa Ana PD tell me is the Felony District. We feed, befriend, clothe and encourage homeless neighbors. You’re welcome to join us for what is always a very real and fresh get together.”
After engaging a candid chat about “hard times” including his first wife dying, he reached out his hand, introduced himself as Lance and gave me a hand shake I’ll remember until the next Sabbath.
“I really would like for my wife and I to come some time. Not this Sunday but maybe next. We’d love to do something of significance in our community.” He repeated, “We’ve been talking a lot about that lately.”
I responded, “You mean a way to love your neighbor?” Lance smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s it.” He shook my hand again. (Now two Sabbaths of hand cramps. I pity the potatoes.)
The “love God & your neighbor” gospel of Jesus is really very simple. Simply follow Jesus and invite others to join us living out His Sermon on the Mount. Trust Jesus will reveal to those hungry enough to eat and thirsty enough to drink He’s more than a role model. I am convinced plenty of our neighbors want to be good neighbors if we stop being “good” cops or critics and give them opportunities to love. The potato salad stories will be served in due time.
The mission of Jesus College to “Lead Apprentices to Master Love” is guided by the words of Jesus, especially John 15. In our steps learning to be His followers, we have come across an agricultural concept that has illuminated our pathway. It is called “Dry Farming”. The parallels are staggering. Consider the concept of Dry Farming, it’s back story, the quality yield and time demands associated with Dry Farming.
~ Dry Farming defined – A soil management technique, the art of working the soil, for drought-resistant crops to grow deeper to find natural water sources and eliminate a dependence on irrigation.
~ The Backstory – “Three decades ago there was very little irrigation going on in Napa Valley. There really wasn’t enough water to sprinkle irrigate. Drip irrigation changed the picture, and not necessarily for the better. Grape growing started to become like growing hydroponic tomatoes– bigger yields of crops with less flavor, because growers were putting more fertilizer on, increasing canopy size, delaying maturity, making the vines more tasty for leaf hoppers insects. Suddenly fruit was not mature because of the unbalanced growing conditions. The fruit needed more hang time because of the green tannins from over-stimulated canopies. We don’t have those problemsin our dry-farmed vineyards, because our vines are in balance with the water supply. It changes the whole paradigm of winemaking.” John Williams, Winemaker
~ Quality – “Dry-farmed land vines are very self-regulating, and the fruit is often superior from these vineyards because natural water availability frequently causes a good balance. By paying close attention and pruning right, the vine will set the right amount of fruit. Some of the best grapes that I purchase come from dry-land vineyards.”John Munch, Le Cuvier Winery
“Dry-farmed potato patches are remarkably tastier, thicker skinned and hardier against diseases and pests than irrigated potatoes.”Nathan Boone, Oh! Tommy Boy’s
~ Time – “When I first started working with the vineyard, the soil was quite depleted. It took awhile before the soil-building program starting having noticeable effects. I call this putting life back into the soil. Wine quality improved as the soil improved.”Steve Tylicki, Steele Wines
~ What we are learning as students of Jesus College – Dry Farming can produce a higher quality yield but it takes more time and effort to harvest a mature fruit that can survive changing seasons and varied water supplies. A new wine harvest of Jesus followers nourished by the Living Water will be less dependent upon the irrigation from pastors and organized church programs as we learn to follow Jesus in our everyday lives. Each week is 10,080 minutes long. A fruitful focus is His church scattered for 10,000 minutes weekly not a church gathered for 80 minutes on the weekend. We’re learning to be less about the “Wow” of our time together and more about the “Who” of Jesus day to day.
34 years ago I had a fleeting moment of brilliance divinely timed with a young woman’s fleeting moment of blindness. I asked her to marry me, and amazingly so, she said yes.
I did not marry my wife because she was single even though I married her because she was single. I could not have married her if she was not single but her singleness was not the focus of my proposal. I wanted to spend my life with her as my wife.
About 1953 years prior to our betrothal, another young man after many years of running a small business as a humble tradesman became a rabbi. He then invested 3 years living an unparalleled life of grace and truth only to die a brutal death falsely accused by a corrupt legal system. His case would have been thrown out today. What happened three days later altered history forever.
Jesus died for our sins but He did not die only for our sins. His purpose to live, die and rise again, the occasion we followers celebrate as the holiest day of our year, was not solely redemption no more than marrying my bride was to remove her singleness. With Jesus, atonement was for betrothment. The Cross was the ceremony. The Resurrection is the marriage. Jesus died for His bride to be without spot or wrinkle cleansed by His Word to take her for Himself with splendor.* It’s as if the Father said to His Son, “Go get yourself a bride knowing it will cost you everything.”
Watchman Nee declares, “The outcome of the Cross is shown to be a single person: a bride for the Son. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it.” **
Creation’s first marriage occurred when Adam went to sleep and woke up with a bride. Creation’s perfect marriage happened after Jesus was “asleep” for three days and awakened to give His new bride what Eve never received. Adam later followed his wife to the Tree of Knowledge resulting in death. Jesus chose a tree of death to lead His wife to life. Adam chose his own soul. Jesus chose His bride’s soul.
Easter’s amazing grace takes away our sin before God as a mandatory and crucial act but not the final outcome. As divinely timed, Jesus engaged the Cross and disengaged the Tomb to share His joy with His bride forever. Amazingly so, His brilliance removed our blindness.
* – Ephesians 5:25 ** – Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, p. 214
Ten years ago on the proverbial freeway to Damascus, Jesus apprehended me. I wasn’t blinded. I gained sight. I began to deconstruct, unshackle and leave behind my will for God’s life. I found a wardrobe into a Kingdom that had been there all along. I started learning how to simply follow Jesus.
I became painfully aware of church-goers convinced a forgiven past and a fortified perpetuity was the full promise. Many who know the gospel belief system hardly resemble the One we claim to follow.
A human catalyst (i.e., conspiratorial gadfly) was used by the Master to unveil His Kingdom among us. His humble spirit, insightful teaching and detoxing exhortations opened a door too narrow for my baggage. This Master’s senior apprentice dethroned my vocation of growing Christian franchises populated by consumers of church goods and services. I am learning “followship”– a reckless abandonment of the outcomes into Jesus’ hands. This tutor left me undone yet far from finished:
“Jesus, the actual teacher of his people, has disappeared from the mental horizons of our faith. In that capacity He is not a part of how we “do” our Christianity today. [We need to] face this fact of the absence of Jesus the teacher and to change it.”Dallas Willard
A cross shaped gauntlet was thrown down prompting…
the following – local Jesus followers striving to live our lives as Jesus would if He were us.
The Carport Church – poor in spirit, homeless neighbors turned friends teaching me how the Kingdom of the Heavens is theirs.