Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stirred, Not Shaken

Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Service agent, James Bond 007, is well-known for many things, one of which is his martini order. Since 1964, Bond has ordered his martini to “shaken, not stirred.” According to the Official James Bond website, this particular phrase was selected in 2005 as one of the 100 most famous lines in films. I honestly have no idea what the difference is between a shaken and a stirred martini, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want either one. However, I have come across both of these adjectives in Scripture, and thought I might look at the difference between a shaken and a stirred relationship with Jesus. I believe, unlike James Bond, that I much prefer to be “Stirred, not shaken.”

King David affirmed, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Ps 16:8-9 NIV). This is the prayer of a man who knows where he stands, and he knows he is solely dependent on the Lord. He knows that as long as his eyes are fastened on God, he will not be shaken from his foundation. David states this confidence he has in God again when he says, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Ps 62:1-2 NIV). David also advises us to give our cares and burdens to the Lord because he will sustain us. “He will never let the righteous be shaken” (Ps 55:22 NIV).

What does it mean to be shaken? This word gives me a mental picture of an earthquake and buildings being shaken from their foundations, crumbling and falling to the ground in a heap of rubble. The Hebrew words translated in the NIV is “shaken” means “an instance of instability with sudden motion and loss of balance, which the resulting falling motion is then dangerous to the body” (DBL Hebrew 4573). Yes, sounds pretty much like a building collapsing into a pile of rubble in the middle of an earthquake. I do not want to be shaken down to my foundation in that manner. The good news is that as long as I keep my eyes and my focus on the Lord, I won’t be shaken, according to the psalms quoted above.

We don’t want to be shaken, so what does it mean to be stirred, and why would that be better than being shaken? Many things can be stirred up, most of which are not good. We can stir up trouble (Neh. 4:8), conflict (Prov 6:19), war (Ps 140:2), anger, (Prov. 15:1), and jealousy (1 Kings 14:22). But there are good things that are stirred up as well. The writer of Psalm 45 said his heart was stirred to speak poetic words of praise as he addressed the king. The Lord stirred up the hearts of the people who “came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God” (Haggai 1:14 NIV).

Think about another picture of stirring something up. If you have a fireplace (with real logs and kindling, not gas like we have) or a campfire and the fire is dying, you might use a fire poker to stir it up and bring the fire back to life. You might need to move things around or maybe add some kindling to the embers that are still glowing to get them to reignite before they are completely cold and extinguished.

Paul wrote to Timothy about his strong foundation in the faith, which was first cultivated in Timothy’s life by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Paul then told him, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6 NIV). The Voice translation renders this verse as, “This is why I write to remind you to stir up the gift of God that was conveyed to you” (2 Tim 1:6 VOI).

Anazopyreo, the Greek word translated as “stir up” or “fan into flame,” means to “reactivate, formally fan a flame, inflame, rekindle” (DBL GK #351), or “to re-enkindle: --stir up” (Strong’s Greek #329). Paul told Timothy, "Do not let that fire die. It must not go out. Don’t ignore your foundation of faith or the gift of God has given to you. Keep it fresh, keep it alive. Keep stirring up and re-kindling that fire."

When Paul gave these instructions to Timothy, I wonder if he had in mind the instructions given to the priests in the book of Leviticus. God instructed Moses, “The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Lev. 6:12-13 NIV).

Sometimes we may feel as if we are being shaken. We may feel like the very foundation of our life is crumbling beneath us, and we are about to end up as a heap of rubble on the ground, good for nothing but being swept out of the way. At times like these, it is vital that our faith and our hope in God is stirred up and rekindled, that our eyes are redirected onto Him rather than the earthquake going on around us. The fire of our faith and the gift God has given us must not be allowed to burn out. Stir it up. Rekindle the flame. Keep it burning. Keep your eyes on the Lord so the fire will not go out and you will not be shaken.

May we continually stir up the flames of faith, keep our eyes on the Lord, and never be shaken. Let James Bond go with “Shaken, not stirred.” We will be “Stirred, not shaken.” 

Monday, February 5, 2018

"What do you want me to do for you?"

A good friend of mine recently prompted me to reconsider a question that Jesus asked a blind man, as recorded in Mark 10:51. It was a familiar question and context for me, at least to some extent. Just hearing the question, without looking up the passage, I could recall to whom Jesus was speaking, and exactly how the man answered the question. However, surface familiarity with the narrative participants and the words that were spoken is much different than considering how I would answer this question myself.

As a reminder, in this narrative Jesus walked by a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, who was calling out to Jesus for help. The crowd alerted Jesus, telling Him, 'Hey, this man over here is calling for you,' so Jesus stopped, called the man over, and engaged him in a conversation. Jesus asked this blind man, who was in obvious need, "What do you want me to do for you?"

At first glance, this seems to me like an overly obvious question. "Really, Jesus? What do you think the man wants you to do for him? He's blind, for heaven's sake!" And in response to this obvious question, Bartimaeus offered a an equally simple, straightforward answer. He said, "I want to see." I'm thinking, 'Of course you do. That was easy.'

But actually considering what my answer to this simple question might be, were it posed directly to me sparked a great deal of thought and reflection. "What do you want me to do for you?" It's a very simple question, but at the same time, it's a huge, loaded question when asked by Jesus, isn't it? I reflected for several days on what my answer to this question might be. Almost anything I came up with seemed almost trivial, and frankly, not big enough when considered in light of this specific question.

"What do you want me to do for you?" 

Here are a few of my reflections on this question:

1. My first thought was: "Nothing, thank you. Jesus, You've done enough for me already." And this is true. He has. But if He really asked me this question, as He did Bartimaeus, I should give Him some other answer besides "Nothing." But on the other hand, shouldn't I be happy and fulfilled just resting in His presence? Shouldn't that be enough? It should be, but we all still have a need, as did Bartimaeus, or even a list of needs and wants we could ask Jesus for.

2.  Related to the answer above: Why would Jesus ask me what I want Him to do for me? He has already given me His life, His love, His blood, His forgiveness, His grace, and His Spirit. I should be the one asking the question. I should be asking Him what I can do to express my love and gratitude for what He has already done for me.

3. My next thought was that maybe my answer should be the same as Bartimaeus' response: "I want to see." I'm not really in need of physical sight. As long as I have my contact lenses in, my eyes can see just fine. I'm referring to a different kind of vision. I want to be able to see His plan, to see what He has for me to do, and who He has for me to reach. I want to see His face. I want to be able to see the world and other people as He does, through His eyes. I want to see.

4. If Jesus asked me, "What do you want me to do for you," I would want to sort through my prayer list and weed out all the non-essentials. I would want to eliminate all the things that I can (or should) do for myself. If I am offered help from the King of Kings, I should make a request for something big...something that I have no hope of accomplishing on my own...something so big that it can only be accomplished by God...something as big and impossible as a blind man asking for the ability to see. In answer to this question, Bartimaeus could have asked Jesus for a job, a decent meal, a bed, or a friend. All of these things are good and necessary, but they are fairly easy requests to fill when compared to sight for the blind. Bartimaeus, the blind man, asked for the impossible. He asked for the ability to see. Do I ask Jesus for what seems to me to be impossible?

5. Of course, asking for something so big that it seems impossible to me doesn't mean it is something in line with the will of God. There are things that I want, that would be good, but maybe they are more the equivalent of Bartimaeus forgoing to opportunity to ask for sight, in favor of asking for a meal. Do I ask for what is good, or what is best. I know what seems best to me, but it may not always be the best for the Kingdom. I want to know the difference and ask for the best, which goes back to #2: I want to see.

6. Bartimaeus also asked Jesus for something very specific. When I come to Jesus and share what it is I want Him to do for me (or for my friends, family, co-workers, etc.), I should just go ahead and tell Him. Be specific rather than praying phrases like, "Be with them/me, bless them/me, guard them/me." Instead, Jesus I ask you for physical and emotional healing of my friend and her young-adult daughter who fell prey to a drug dealer and sex trafficker; for physical healing of a friend who is battling a very aggressive form of cancer; for successful surgeries; for complete freedom and healing of family and friends struggling with all manner of anxiety, mental and emotional battles; for the restoration and strengthening of struggling marriages; for true, deep-seated, unshakeable joy in spite of the confusion of life's circumstances; for the comfort and mutual encouragement of close friends in community with one another; for clear vision and purpose for those struggling with direction; for specific doors of opportunity to open; for wide-spread, effective influence for the Kingdom; for wisdom and discernment.

After several days of reflecting on possible answers to this question, I pulled up Mark 10 on my Bible app to read the narrative in context one more time, and I was struck by another verse that I had previously highlighted. This verse appears just prior to the narrative about Jesus and Bartimaeus. Do you know what Jesus said in the immediate context before this encounter? The last thing Jesus said before His encounter with Bartimaues, according to Mark, is "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Does this context hit you upside the head as it did me? Jesus said that He came to serve, and then he asks Bartimaeus 'how can I serve you?' Jesus said He came to serve, but He didn't come to serve us coffee and biscotti or other niceties of life. He came to serve through giving His very life as a ransom. How can anyone give more that that? Immediately after this statement about coming to serve, the very next words of Jesus that Mark recorded for us are His calling Bartimaeus over for a conversation and asking him, "What do you want me to do for you?" His entire life was one of giving and serving.

A final observation on this question is that when Jesus asked Bartimaeus this question, Bartimaeus had to give Jesus an answer to the question. If he had doubted Jesus' ability to help him and give him his sight, if he had not answered the way he did, would Jesus have healed him and granted him the ability to see?

Why do you think Jesus even asked Bartimaeus what he wanted? Didn't Jesus already know? Did He ask him in order to test Bartimaeus' faith? Did He ask in order to find out if Bartimaeus had the courage and faith to ask Jesus for what he truly needed and wanted? Or to find out if Bartimaeus was aware of his deepest need?

Jesus asked the question, and Bartimaeus answered the question in faith. He had faith that Jesus could deliver the answer and Mark tells us that "Instantly, the man could see" (Mark 10:52 NLT). Jesus said that it was the man's faith that healed him. If Bartimaeus had asked Jesus for money or for a job instead of his sight, I'm sure Jesus would have answered that request. After all, Jesus asked the man what he wanted. Answers like a job or a decent meal required a lower level of faith to request them, and Jesus' response would have been to give him what he asked for, which would have been a lower level of healing. Perhaps Bartimaeus would have enjoyed a good meal or the ability to provide for himself without resorting to begging, but the bottom line is that he would still be blind. His deepest need would have gone unmet.

What do you need that only Jesus can provide, that requires great faith for you to even have the courage to answer this question...

"What do you want me to do for you?"