Looking at the problem will not solve the problem.

Not that long ago, the transmission on our car went out. It was probably my fault: I drove it to Portland and back when it was short on transmission fluid, and when I got back, it was bumping and shifting funny. Sometimes it wouldn’t shift gears, and sometimes it would shift unexpectedly. Sometimes it would drop out of gear into neutral: that was particularly exciting when I was on the freeway in cruise control!

For days, probably weeks, I thought about that problem. I drove the car and listened to the transmission noises. I talked with knowledgeable friends about my stupid transmission. I examined our finances (or rather the lack thereof) and how they would (or would not) apply to transmission costs. I studied transmission problems on the internet, and got involved in some chat groups that helped diagnose the problem. I whined. I worried. I probably cursed. I hated that transmission. It kept me from sleeping for days.

But for reasons that I still don’t understand, the transmission never improved as I examined it and its problems. It kept dropping out of gear on the freeway. It kept shifting funny. The problem never went away, no matter how hard I examined it, no matter how much I worried about it!

Talking about car problems makes this behavior look kind of obvious, but we do the same thing in our personal lives. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people think that talking about their husband’s problems will fix him. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many church members act as if talking about the pastor’s problems will make them go away. When we ask for prayer, we do it in great detail, making sure that the folks we’re talking to understand every detail and feel every pain, to the point that we often forget to pray for the problem ourselves. (Sometimes such a detailed prayer request functions as gossip in a thin disguise; that's another issue altogether, which I am not addressing today.)

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem. I don’t care what the problem is, or how desperately I want it solved. Some of us – and I think this is worse in the church – seem to think that thinking about our problem, or talking about it, or worrying about it, will somehow solve the problem.

We seem to think that if we let the problem slide out of the center of our attention, somehow we’re being irresponsible, somehow we’re not doing our job, that if we worry enough, somehow we’re not responsible for the problem we’re worrying about.

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem; looking at the solution will solve the problem.

I can examine the problem seven ways from Sunday, and I won’t make it better. Until I stop looking at the problem and start looking at the solution, all I’m doing is losing sleep and generating excess stomach acid. Until I stop whining about my problem, all I’m doing is spreading my problem among my listeners; it’s like sneezing in their face: it does nothing good for me and it is likely to make them sick as well.

We live in a day and age when problems are all our culture wants to talk about. (Good thing we know how to separate ourselves from our culture, eh?) The news is full of problems. Gossip columns abound and are becoming more strident in their declarations of the woes of the rich and famous. Television is littered with commercials declaring our problems and why we need to spend our money on their products to solve a problem we didn’t have until they selflessly told us about it. It’s an all-out assault on our souls!

I’m convinced that Hebrews 12 is one of the more important weapons for the season we’re in.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. –Hebrews 12:2-3

There are two commands in here: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and consider Jesus. The anonymous author of Hebrews adds some detail: Jesus had problems of His own. In fact, it will be a whole lot more valuable – the writer encourages – for us to look at His problems and how he responded to them, than it is to look at ourselves.

Look again: in between the two commands to look at Jesus, it describes Him:

o He’s the author of my faith;

o He perfects (or fulfils, completes) my faith;

o He endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before Him;

o He has gone through the troubles and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In other words, I can acknowledge the problem, but I do it from the perspective of the solution; I can look at the problem, but I must do it from His perspective!

If I stop to think about it this whole passage is all about me! He didn’t endure the cross because it seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday afternoon in Palestine. He did it because there was stuff that kept me from Him (it’s called “sin”), and the cross was the only way to move it out of the way. He did it because he looked beyond the pain (the cross) to the joy set before Him. (Yes, Tinkerbelle, I am His happy thought!)

Now if the Incarnate Son of God needed to look past His troubles to the joy on the other side, what makes me think that I need to focus on my troubles? Am I somehow better or stronger or wiser than Him?

One last observation from the passage: the conjunction “so that” indicates cause and effect: do this “so that” that happens. Here, it’s “consider Him so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” If you’re weary, if you’re losing heart, this passage says it could well be because you’re not looking at Him. The solution is to change your perspective – to repent – and to look at Him instead of your own problems.

And that problem transmission? One day, I finally looked at the solution: I took the car to a transmission expert. He took a quick look at it, and said, “Oh sure, I know what that is! Come back in a two days.” He fixed it. And now my transmission is fine.

Looking at the problem will never solve the problem. Looking at the Solution is how to solve the problem.


My Sheep Hear My Voice

I’ve been thinking about one of those assumptions that I encounter pretty often when I talk with church folk. They all say it differently, but it’s essentially this: “I know God spoke to Christians in the Bible, but He doesn’t do that now, or at least not much, and certainly not to me!”

The problem is that I recognize that lie: it used to be mine. For now, let me just say, “Hogwash!”

I remember a day from some years ago when I believed that lie, but I didn’t like it. I had just finished reading some story or other in the Bible where God spoke to His people, and I was frustrated. “How come you speak to them, but you won’t speak to me?” I grumbled! Actually, I whined. And I whined for a while. Eventually, the whining wound down, and I heard this little voice in my mind, in my imagination, and the little voice said, “What’s that in your lap?”

“It’s the Bible, why!!?!” I grumped, not even noticing that I was having a conversation.

The little voice, ever so patiently, asked, “What’s it called?”

“God’s Word, why!!?!” I replied.

Oh. Wait. I get it. This is God’s word. He speaks to me this way. I’d always read and studied the Book, but I went after it with new vigor from that point: God says He’ll speak to me from the Bible! Heck yes, I want that!

Since then, I’ve found a few things there that have taught me that this concept of “God doesn’t speak to me” is a lie. Here are a few of my favorites:

· John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Jesus says that if I’m His sheep, then I hear His voice. If I don’t recognize His voice, then that’s just a matter of training, but He says that I do hear it, and He has a reputation for being truthful.

· 1Corinthians 14:31 “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” The context is Paul teaching on how to administrate the prophetic in a church service, but in the midst of that, he drops this little bomb: all of you can prophesy! Nobody is on the list of “can’t prophesy.” Cool.

· Luke 11:11 “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” This is one of those few times where Jesus shows us a prayer that He will always answer: when we ask for a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the answer is always “Yes!” If I ask Him to speak to me, then the answer is always “Yes!” It may not be right now, and it may not be what I expected, but the answer is already given: “Yes!”

Since then, I’ve come to realize that God’s number one goal is relationship. He wants so passionately to relate with us that He’s actually very eager to speak. I’ve heard some believers whine about “I can’t shut Him up!” but they say it with a smile.

That’s our destiny in Christ: to hear His voice, to talk with Him, and to speak for Him to others. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!


Jesus and Money

I’ve been thinking about money; I’m trying to think about it from Jesus’ perspective, not so much what he said as what He did. His teachings are of course good, but we’ve buried them under so many layers of doctrinal lessons that it’s hard to see Jesus through the teachings.
Looking at money through the eyes of Jesus actions is quite interesting, and while there’s not a lot of data, what data there is is very eye-opening. The ways that Jesus dealt with the finances of His own ministry teach me about His values for money.
Professionally, I deal with a lot of ministries just starting up. They have vision for what they want to accomplish, and the hindrance is money, so they think about money a fair bit, and when they think about it, they talk about it. I know a number of churches that have two sermons every service: the first one is always on what is essentially “Why you should give us money.”
First off, let me say that Jesus taught on money a whole lot. It was one of His favorite subjects (along with the Kingdom of God, and the end times; He really liked controversial subjects!), so it’s appropriate for us to teach on money often; if Jesus thought it was needful in that day, it’s probably no less needful today. I don’t, however, hear Him preaching about “give to Me” even once, though there were people who did give to Him and His ministry regularly.
I see that Jesus’ ministry did have a money box, though whether that the plan of Jesus or Judas is unclear. Either Jesus approved of the idea or He tolerated it.
However, when He had a need, such as for an unexpected tax bill, He didn’t go to the money box; He told Peter to get the tax money from a fish. So either the money box was insufficient to supply “a piece of money” (which has interesting implications) or Jesus didn’t want to depend on His savings account (which has more interesting implications). It certainly implies that Jesus didn’t have much money.
That is not to imply that poverty was part of His lifestyle or ministry. Clearly that is not the case. On one occasion He hosted a banquet for “about five thousand men, besides women and children;” think of a restaurant bill of thirty thousand dollars. He was so completely not overwhelmed by the unexpected banquet that He did the same thing a few days later. Extravagant provision was a part of Jesus’ lifestyle.
There’s another example of extravagant expense that makes me scratch my head. While Jesus is having dinner with Simon the Leper (an interesting event on its own merit), Mary brings a jar of perfume worth “a year’s wages,” breaks the jar open, and smears it all over Him, getting it, no doubt, all over herself in the process, particularly since she apparently also wiped it onto His feet with her hair. I don’t know how much that cost, but “a year’s wages” sounds like a lot to me. Judas’s complaints were overruled as Jesus condoned the extravagant and apparently non-productive use of a very large amount of money.
So here’s what I see in all of this:
· Jesus lived extravagantly.
· Jesus appeared to not have money much of the time.
· Jesus counted on miraculous provision, and taught His boys to count on miracles.
Now my challenge is this: How shall I live in relationship to money.
Do I hide behind the disappointing fact that I have little capacity to invoke the miraculous, or do I embrace my failure and live with an inferior financial model? Or do I accept this as yet another challenge to begin to live a supernatural life?