Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Demolishing the Myth of Past Behavior

Here’s a popular business/leadership axiom that I’ve heard – and experienced – way too many times:

“The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.”

Makes.  Me.  Sick.

I recently saw this axiom used by someone – a Christian – a church leader - yet again, and I just wanted to throw up.  First of all, because the church is not a business.  Period.  And second, because the Kingdom of God is based on these words of Jesus: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), and not on the 21st century Western American business/leadership sub-culture that sadly has come to dominate the Church in the West.

So when church leaders say “the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior,” in any context, they’ve reduced the message of the gospel to, “whatever you were, that’s what you will always be, so know your assigned place, sit down, and shut up.”  Actually that’s not a reduction, but a fundamental obliteration of Jesus’ gospel. 

The very act of Mary conceiving Jesus is summed up in the angel’s words, “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  The message that Jesus preaches is “repent, for God’s Kingdom is here” (Matthew 4:17).  Repentance is to “stop, turn, follow, now” – it is to change the way one lives and to have the very essence of who one is be transformed.  God’s Kingdom arriving now changes everything, for the better.  In God’s Kingdom, the past is most decidedly not an indicator of the future.  Rather, it is the stage that sets up the way for a new and better future.

Tell me again that the message coming from the church should ever be, in any way: “The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior”?  To say so is to completely abandon hope – and when we abandon hope we lose the driving force of our faith and decimate our capacity to love.  How can that possibly be Christian?

Jesus disciples are to be a people who proclaim, “All things are possible.  All things!  When a father seeking help for his boy said to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us,” did Jesus not actually mean it when he replied, “If you are able!’ – All things can be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9:22-23).

And then in John’s gospel, Jesus says something even more remarkable that we fail to take into account and live into as disciples of Jesus (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’ and whoever else might identify with this): 

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (14:12-14).

Greater works.  Than Jesus.  Why do we aspire to…so much less?  So much about the Kingdom of God is rooted in the ‘greatest’ and the ‘least.’  But the Kingdom principles of ‘greatest’ and ‘least’ are totally backwards from the business/leadership culture of ‘greatest’ and ‘least.’ 

The Apostle Paul tells us that faith, hope, and love are what are central to God’s Kingdom, but “the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).  And Jesus tells us that we are to love and serve “the least of these” (Matthew 25) as our primary means of following God’s call on our lives.

So there you have it:  Matthew.  Mark.  Luke.  John.  Paul.  Jesus.  All testify to a very real, very present, and yet still-in-process, still coming Kingdom in which all things are possible as we are called to serve the least of these by doing greater works than Jesus by the greatest power of all:  Love.  Because love is the very essence of who God is (I John 4:16).  And it is to be the essence of who are as well. 

Love “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:7).  All things.  That is a tall order.  But it is what God calls us to, and empowers us to by the presence of Jesus in our lives and in our world.  The past does not have to bind us, unless we choose to let it do so, both for ourselves and for others.  The best indicator of our future as Jesus disciples is not our past, but our faith, our hope, and our love.  When we live out of and into love, all things are possible, and we are changed and transformed – and so is our world. 

It is time to stop letting the past shape our future.  The future is now.  May we “hold unswervingly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the One who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  It is time to serve the least of these, do greater things, and do so by the power of the greatest of these: Love.

What will make the difference?  In the words of James, “you do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
 Jesus spoke of this as well: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

It is time to ask.

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