Monday, March 19, 2007

The Way of Jesus: Finding the Centre

Have you ever said about someone, "That's a very centred person." The kind of person where “ministry flows out of being”?

Love as a commodity versus love as a magnet

We sometimes take a Darwinian approach with love—if we are against somebody's ideas, we starve them out. If we disagree with somebody's political ideas, or sexual identity, we just don't "pay" them. We refuse to "condone the behavior" by offering any love.

This approach has created a Christian culture that is completely unaware what the greater culture thinks of us. We don't interact with people who don't validate our ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. This mindset is hardly a breath of fresh air to a world that uses the exact same kinds of techniques.

The opposite is biblical love, which loves even enemies, loves unconditionally, and loves liberally. Loving selectively is worldly; giving it freely is miraculous.

I think of love like a magnet. When people see it given in the name of God, they're drawn to it. If I withhold love, then people believe I have met a God that makes me a hateful and vicious person. And they're repelled.

I have two responsibilities to this world, the first is to love; the second is to speak the truth. I can tell somebody such and such a behavior is sin, and still love them. Why not? Why not bring them food, why not hug them, why not have them over to the house? Won't this only help them understand the truth?
Don Miller

Only a person centred in Christ can really live that.

I'm convinced that it takes only one thing to put Christ in the centre, and that is willingness- a special kind of willingness—a willingness grounded in the longing that tugs at your heart—not a legalistic striving: "I OUGHT to put Christ first.. I SHOULD put Christ first... I MUST commit to putting Jesus in the centre." I'm speaking of a longing so deep, an openness so wide, so basic to the soul's survival, that it feels like the thirsty deer spoken of in Psalm 42, who longs for flowing streams.

A quiet centre cannot be panicked. The Quaker theologian Thomas Kelly called it making a “mental habit of internal orientation.” It’s cultivating a quiet space that cannot be disturbed.

If you want to identify me,
ask me not where I live,
or what I like to eat, or
how I comb my hair;
but ask me what I am living for,
in detail, and ask me
what I think is keeping me
from living fully for
the thing I want to live for. Thomas Merton

Last week we looked at the Notre Dame Rose window as a symbol of the centre. The medievals loved the circle- it was the perfect shape for God- no beginning and no end.

There is another Rose window in the Amiens Cathedral that depicts the Wheel of Fortune, long before Pat Sajack and Vanna White made is so famous.

At the top is a king. His face shows a confident and powerful expression. He is daring anyone – even life itself – to challenge his power and dominion. There is a single Latin word written beneath his countenance, a word that sums up his sentiment with clarity and precision – REGNO – I RULE.

At the 3 o’clock position is a second figure. His features are similar to the mighty king. Yet he is a monarch who has lost his crown, and is tumbling in free fall from the side of the wheel. He is desperate and frightened, stunned and clearly out of control. His sudden reversal of fortune has left him looking dazed and disheveled. There is a second Latin inscription by his face, a word carefully chosen to capture his “has been” status. The word is REGNAVI – I have ruled.

At the bottom of the wheel a third figure dressed in rags. He is no longer kingly, his face being poor and pathetic, a living lamentation, and there are three words inscribed by this figure that capture the pathos of this hapless individual - Sum Sine Regno – “I have no power.”

At the 9 o'clock hour we find a cunning young prince, stealthy and ambitious, eagerly clawing his way to the top of the wheel. His gaze is fixed on the mighty king as he climbs to the top of the wheel. The Latin inscription beneath this figure captures the sentiments of this eager creature. Regnabo – “I will rule.”

That’s life. Didn’t Frank Sinatra sing, “You’re riding high in April and shot down in May.”

“One day you’re the toast of the town and the next day you are toast?” Alan Simpson

At the top of the wheel you live in anxiety- when will it all end? When does my 15 minutes of fame flame out?

You can’t control it. On the wheel there are many up’s and down’s. But at the centre is the figure of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t change. Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t live your life on the rim of the wheel; live your life in the centre; in Him”.

Even as your life changes you have detachment from any point on the rim when you live from the centre. A saint is one who lives in the centre; who is detached from any point on the wheel- how ever good or bad.

Back in 1990 André Agassi was a 20-year-old tennis phenom that operated with the slogan, “Image is everything”. That’s life on the rim baby. After a short time he flamed out and so many people lamented the waste of such talent. No one believed him when he said he wanted to get back in shape. He was lazy and overfed. But he trimmed down, worked hard, returned to form. He said that you have to be light on your feet. The detached person is light on their feet. Even lighter without hair!

John Lennon seemed to understand the Wheel of Fortune. Back in 1965 at the height of the popularity of the Beatles he was miserable. What was it like for him? Awful. He was first exposed to drugs around that time. In 1965 he wrote, “Help”.

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone, help

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me

He intended it as a dirge, a lament, but their producer said it needed to be an upbeat Beatles song, so we got the version we’re familiar with.

In the mid ‘70’s the Beatles broke up and Lennon faced his dark night of the soul. In the early ‘80’s Lennon was back with a new album called “Double Fantasy”. One song in particular is noteworthy: Watching the Wheels-

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry...I'm just sitting here doing time,

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

He was shot to death a short time later. John Lennon understood the the Wheel of Fortune.

Get off the merry-go-round. Listen to the words of the most-centred person of all time, Jesus Christ:

Luke 6:20-22
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Blessed are you who are poor…what a weird God we have here. The word translated literally means, happy, even lucky! Lucky are you if you are not attached to material things; otherwise you live in anxiety.

We are wired for God, to need Him, to desire Him. If you hook that desire up to anything else in this world, you are set up for addictions. It’ll satisfy you for a while, but then the high wears off. So you search for more; you strive for more approval whatever it takes. You get another buzz. More, more, more…now you’re on the wheel of fortune.

How lucky, how blessed you are not to get caught up on the rim of the wheel.

How many people in the world are there who say, “all my dreams have come true but I’m miserable.” Lots. Look at Hollywood; or professional sports. I have the big house, big bucks, but I’m miserable! Did I just quote Chris Pronger's wife?

How lucky you are if you weep.
How lucky you are if you are not addicted to good feelings.

Have any control issues? Don’t be afraid of weeping.

How blessed are you when people hate you. What is that? Lucky you are if you are not addicted to the approval of others.

Who do you need to approve of you? Who are you trying to please? Pleasing that voice from the past becomes an addictive drug, but the buzz will wear off.

How lucky are you…to be light on your feet when you live in the centre.

Another way to summarize this teaching in the beatitudes is to love what Jesus loved on the cross and to despise what Jesus despised on the cross.

Get off the wheel. Pick up a cross.

At the climactic moment of His life Jesus is stripped naked on the cross. He was nailed to the cross. He can’t grasp at anything material. Adam and Eve grasped at the knowledge of good and evil, wanting to be like God; so Jesus undoes their grasping on the cross.

He’s naked and abandoned. Any good feelings on the cross? People will hate you and despise you. Despise what Jesus despised.

What Jesus despised on the cross were all of those worldly goods—pleasure, wealth, and esteem of others, material things—that can distract us from attaching ourselves to the ultimate good.

And this gave him the consummate freedom to love the one good worth loving above all others: the will of the Father. He loved the will of His Father. Jesus Christ on the cross becomes the centre of the real life. He shows us how to do the one thing that matters: the will of the Father.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, when I came to you, brothers and sisters, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Find your centre in Jesus Christ.

Jesus be the centre
Be my source be my light Jesus
Jesus be the center
Be my song Jesus
Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in my sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus Jesus
Jesus be my vision
Be my help
Be my guide Jesus


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