Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Sun Shines on Us All Without Partiality

"This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up . You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 5:38‭-‬48 MSG

I have always loved this scripture!

It is also translated as, "God makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

I love it because I dont see myself as someone who deserves any gifts or blessings from God...but I am humbled and so very grateful that it delights Him to do so!

I have to admit that I also enjoy seeing the self-righteous and self-proclaimed "saints" humbled when God chooses to bless and honor a filthy "sinner" right along side themselves.

The truth is that God is active in ALL of our lives whether we believe in Him and acknowledge Him or not. And if it is Gods desire to bless the "wicked" or the unbeliever then that is what He will do. Being that He IS God I suppose that He can "give his best" to whomever He chooses to without conferring with us!

God, being our example, is telling, COMMANDING us to do likewise.

Don't just extend love, forgiveness and grace to the lovable, but also offer it freely to those who are ignored and outcast as well.

We so often act like children in the way we respond to the implemantation of justice in our own little worlds.

My kids are experts at identifying  injustices around them and seem to be constantly declaring how "unfair" things are!

Furthermore, in certain circumstances they want to know "why are you rewarding ALL of the US together?" when they conclude that they are the only ones who are acting like little "angels". 

Similarly as adults and as "Christians" we also want an explanation as to why God so often rewards the "sinner" right along with the saint?

Our respond, "God, that isn't fair!"

And His response to us is as in the scripture above:

"Grow up!"

"Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you!"

The only thing that isn't fair is our somehow believing that we are entitled to or deserve anything at all that God decides to bestow on his children whether it be His grace, love or forgiveness.

We do ourselves (and others) a huge disservice when we make ourselves the judge of who is worthy of those gifts.

When we fall into that trap we need humbling.

And God humbles us by blessing all of our lives in the manor of grace, not merit.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Swallowed by Grace

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God , “God ! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!

“So, God , if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”

Jonah 4:1‭-‬3 MSG

The book of Jonah is not just a story about a whale as we were so regularly taught about as children in Sunday school. Furthermore, the story's underlying message of obedience to God is simply a sidebar.

The real message of Jonah is Gods incredible grace! Additionally, it is a question of how we will choose to response when God lavishes that grace upon those that we consider undeserving. 

For the uninitiated, Jonah was told by God to go to the rebellious, sinful city of Nineveh and warn them of Gods coming judgment and wrath. As God so often does He was extending a last ditch effort of grace and delaying punishment to give His creation another chance to change their "wicked" ways.

Jonah knowing full well that God would forgive them if the city repented and because he felt they didn't deserve such grace, ran in the other direction.

The story of Jonah is very similar to the parable Jesus told about the prodigal son. In that story, the faithful brother of the prodigal son was dismayed and angered that his father so quickly and readily forgave and restored the rebellious son who had left the family and squandered his inheritance on "sex, drugs and Rock n' Roll".

He wasn't able to celebtrate that his brother had humbly returned and was restored to the family, he could only focuse on the unfulfilled justice and punishment.

It is a powerful and humbling message of the lengths God will go to get our attention and restore relationship with us. Even when we have done nothing to deserve it.

Much like the account of the prodigal son, the narrative of Jonah is a warning to us as believers/Christians to be merciful. To not be so consumed by justice or by what we believe to be the right way to handle such situations and "sinners".

The tale of Jonah is a lesson in extending grace, mercy and understanding. To see the potential in people instead of focusing solely on their flaws.

God sees that potential in all his creation. He understands the obstacles, the deception and the temptations that get us ensnared. He is slow to anger and quick in love! He knows that ultimately it is love and grace that leads people to him, not a message of judgement, punishment and damnation.

So often we want to see a bit of the latter. We want to see justice, rules and law prevail. We want to see "evil-doers" sweat a little bit and pay their dues for crimes committed and wrong done.

That is exactly what Jonah wanted to see, it is also what the "good" brother of the prodigal son wanted as well.

Jonah lashes out at God in anger spewing bitterly "I knew this was going to happen! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!"

It seems a ridiculous accusation to make of God, "hey God, you love too much! You forgive too much! Don't forget about the laws, commands and justice!"

But I see Christians who do the same thing and delve out their own interpretations of justice all too often! "Hey, we are extending too much grace to these people! We need them to obey the laws, we need them to be truly sorrowful for their actions!"

Just like Jonah we believe that God is too easy on people. Too quick to forgive and too eager to gather them in his arms.

But if we are honest isn't that what He has already done for us? He has looked past our self-righteousness, our pride, our graceless hearts and our lack of compassion and He has forgiven us.

Look at the world around us and therevis much to judge, much to frown at and so much to be sorrowful for.

But there is even a greater lack of love, grace, mercy, understanding and compassion in our world!

The Bible says, "where sin increased, grace increased all the more."

We are conduits of Gods grace and love, but we also have the ability to selfishly hinder it!

Choose grace, empathy and love! The attributes of God!

Monday, August 28, 2017

King of Pain

I know this revelation is probably sacrilegious, and might be a bit controversial but after recounting the life of King David I have concluded that I don't like the guy very much!

Which is crazy because as a kid growing up in the church he is the hero of all heroes! If little David can slay the great Goliath, then surely God can turn any regular kid like me with a great imagination into some sort of a superhero!

As a young man David surely had a "heart after God", but as is the case throughout history, power corrupts even the best of us.

Maybe you know the scandalous and disgraceful stories of David's life already.

How King David instigated an affair with a married woman whose husband was off to war and consequently got her pregnant.  In desperation he then orchestrated an elebrate plan to have her husband killed in battle in a way that could never be traced back to him.

Or perhaps you already know how God vetoed David's plan to build God a temple because in Gods eyes David had shed too much blood and was constantly at war during his reign as King.

God seemed to be saying what I would soon come to realize about David, "I love you, but you have too much baggage and their is too much trouble surrounding your life for me to allow this."

Christians often use the sins of David as an example of how God can still use us, bless us and forgive us despite our worst.

And that is great! I am humbled by Gods incredible grace and love that I criminally don't deserve. I can't even wrap my head around the message of grace and how God chooses to still love and bless me despite my only giving him heartbreak in return.

But it doesn't mean I have to like David do I?

Through David's life there are moments of shameful pride, vengeful anger and dishonorable actions. Yet David always seemed to regain his footing and find redemption before God, however, he so often left a wake of destroyed lives and injured people behind him.

That is what is so repulsive at times about King David. The fact that he is restored time and again despite his missteps, yet people seem to be the collateral damage of his actions. So often he moves on seemingly unscathed while people are left behind to mend their own wounds.

The story that really made my stomach turn and quickly sour on David was this.

David had a son named Amnon that had an unhealthy infatuation with his half-sister Tamar.  Much like his father, Amnon also orchestrated a situation in which he could have a woman that he wanted. It was horrible and it was evil what he did to that poor girl! Most everyone was angry, scandalized and wanted justice. Yet although scripture says that David was enraged he still chose not to discipline his Son. In fact, David continued to basically spoil this son because it was his first born, the son he loved!

David had the chance to do the right thing but He didn't. So often this is David's plight, it is his decision-making. Often others suffer and at times lose their lives because of David's poor and often selfish decisions.

King David might be a great example to us of Gods great grace and unending forgiveness to the contrite in heart. However, I would argue that he is not a great example of a father or a man!

None of us is perfect. But what I learn from the life of David is that I want to be a better father, leader, husband and person. If that is what he inspires in us than the life story of David is able to be redeemed in some aspects, but I am not sure he warrants being held as some hero of the faith unless we are willing to balance those stories with some of the terrible truths about his life.

All this to say that perhaps no one should be considered a "hero" of the faith. The real hero in the Bible is Gods grace, love forgiveness and redeption poured out and offered to "bad" people.

That is the good news of the Bible!

Put on your best self!

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves."

Matthew 5:43-47 Message Version

When was the last time someone or some situation challenged you in such a way that it brought out the best in you?

Surely is wasn't something or someone that really tested you or your patience!

It is hardly our best selves that make an appearance when we get cut off as we are driving or when someone challenges our ideas, beliefs or perhaps our stance on a certain subject and certainly not when a co-worker throws us under the bus to our boss.

Patience tested!

Anger present!

Revenge options brewing!

Challenging situations, or flat-out being wronged, rarely, if not never brings out the good in us does it? Let alone could we ever imagine it ever positively impacting our day or lives.

Yet Jesus does indeed proclaim that when we are challenged, angered and feeling vengeful, that we should take that moment to retreat to a quite place for some mediatation and prayer. Find the God of peace before you respond in a way that will be regretful and will only leave us feeling empty instead of justified. This place, Jesus encourages, is where we can find our "true selves".

Jesus reveals that our "enemies" and our confrontations with them can actually be an opportunity to challenge, test and mold us into something and someone better.

Such trials can either sour us, break us or distort us or it can cause us to learn to respond better and allow our character to bloom!

Whether we want it or not, there are opportunities for this to be on display in our lives everyday. In fact, there are stirring examples in front of our faces right now on our social media feeds.

I am encouraged by humanity once again when I see the peaceful displays of "The Kindness" and "No Hate" marches that are taking place across the Country. They are being held in response to some gatherings of racist and hate groups and are absolutely dwarfing them to the point that those groups simply pack up and leave defeated.

And you can't help but to be moved and inspired to see so many people reaching out, working together and risking their very lives for those of strangers in the wake of Hurricane Harveys destruction. The Nation is coming together in prayer, manpower and resources to literally rescue victims of this terrible storm!

It is tangible evidence that bad can be turned into good, because that is how God operates. He is in the business of restoring dreams, families, friendships, lives, loves, jobs and communities. He finds the broken, the discarded and the forgotten and gives it new life.

It is far too easy to stay focused on the negative, the insurmountable circumstances, the bad news all around us and thus drown in it. However, we have options. We can instead allow it to bring out something good in us! We can look for the opportunity to rewrite the narrative, the story and the headlines!

Normal everyday people like you and me are doing just that all around us!

God is always at work editing a better story!

We too have the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Gift

The Bible. Gods Word. Gods gift to humanity. His instruction, His law, His inspiration to us. Full of life, hope and "Good News" and yet also head scratching, pulling your hair out frustration!

I have heard it said many times by the well-meaning, "I just want to find a church that teaches the Bible!".

If only it was as simple as that!

"Just teach the Bible!" They say?

That is great, but whose Bible do we teach and preach? Whose interpretations of those words written down so long ago within a whole different world and culture do we trust?

Words interpreted throughout the ages with thousands of different voices, theologies, teachings and beliefs woven into those interpretations.

Thousands of different churches, beliefs and even religions have been built upon this ONE book.

So, yeah it is not as simple as it sounds to say "just preach the Bible!"

For one thing it is a book that sadly throughout the years excluded the female voice in teaching, interpreting, molding or even writing about the Bible and the faith. Tragically fifty percent of the human population was silenced from having a voice and bringing their own incredible perspectives of the mystery of God and faith!

We are less for it to be sure!

I have recently discovered another, more modern twist in understanding (perhaps misunderstanding) our study of the Bible.

As I have found myself within the busyness of work and life and family, I have found myself with less and less time to sit down and read the Bible to be honest.

My solution has been listening to the audio version of Eugene Peterson's The Message Bible while driving my 20 minute commute to and from my work.

I have found it interesting and enlightening to listen to the Bible as opposed to just reading it.

One of the reasons for this is that consciously or not the speaker has his own personal way of interpreting how and where to passionately place his inflections on certain words within the passages. Subsequently many stories, parables and verses have taken on a whole new meaning by the simple thoughtful or dramtic pause within a sentence, or perhaps even in raising and lowering of the volume of his voice.

You begin to see how easily (and dangerously) the incredible words of God can be minipulated and crafted to say what someone wants them to say.

We can all find our own truths in the Bible if we look hard enough and piece it together just right. Obviously history has been littered with people doing just that as they justified their own horrendous atrocities with the backing of scripture.

The Bible...I believe to be all truth, but the question is whose truth?

Sometimes we can even miss the truth or fail to see it wether intentionally or by deception or mistake.

Gods word is a lifetime study in questioning, doubting, believing and in the end sometimes just trusting and hoping that through it all we at least get the gist, the important stuff right.

If you find yourself studying the Bible and it doesn't produce for you incredible wonder, troubling questions and even gnawing doubt then you are not "studying" the Bible.

"Just give me the Bible!"

And then give us wisdom to sift through the different voices and the filters of our own experiences to find inspiration and hope!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Getting in our own way

"If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation.. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away."

Romans 2:17‭-‬24 The Message

We see this passage represented so often in our world today. Unfortunately, as children of the King (God) we become unjustified in our arrogance and pride much like a spoiled child. Instead of seeing "outsiders" or "sinners" as our siblings, children of the same King and also worthy of a place of royalty in this life, we see them instead as peasants to be trampled on, taken advantage of and looked down upon.

Sadly we don't look at another persons situation, "valley in life" or plight and say to ourselves "there but for the grace of God go I". Instead we choose to see a person who is selfishly squandering their inheritance.

We see our brother or sister reaping exactly what they deserve. As we misguidedly delve out our own perverted justice while sadly withholding sympathy, empathy and grace. 

And so often we smirk in judgement.

Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son who takes his share of his fathers inheritance and selfishly squanders it all. Yet a forgotten character in this parable is the "good son". I think he is the example to us and point of the story to be honest. So often we are that loyal son who stayed behind and obeyed his father but failed to see the joy, grace and mercy in his fathers restoring his "backslidden" son who eventually finds his way home again broken and humiliated.

The good son doesn't find his fathers forgiveness, grace and mercy fair or just, and in the same way we ourselves are often dismayed that God could forgive so freely, so blindly and so extravegently to those who have squandered their own gifts, blessings and lives so selfishly.

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

A quote often attributed to Gandhi, although it is disputed that he actually ever said it. However, many people have thought or voiced a similar refrain upon having bad, abusive and unChristlike interactions and experiences with so-called Christians. 

Believers in Jesus are meant to be Gods representatives to everyone around us of His incredible grace, mercy, love and forgiveness! The scriptures say that God "didn't send Jesus into the world to judge or condemn it, but to save and restore it". Similarly God doesn't send us to judge but to extend Jesus' controversial message of love, forgiveness and grace to the world.

If the world is "down on God" as the above passage says then perhaps we need to take inventory of our own lives and interactions with others. We are too quick to put the blame of the plight of the world on Liberals, the media or Hollywood or a million other places, but we don't over ever stop to think it could have something to do with us.

If the world is failing and we hold the answers to the test, then whose fault is it really?

"It's because of you (Christians) that the outsiders are down on God"

Some heavy stuff to ponder!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Too much Bible, not enough God!

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me !  And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.

John 5:39‭-‬40 MSG

Could you ever imagine that Jesus would warn us about having our faces in our Bibles or our bottoms in the church pews?
The truth is that it can be dangerous if our spiritual acts merely become a part of our daily religious routine.

Years ago I spent so much of my time in the church and in the Bible. My commitment was sincere and for better and sometimes for worse it consumed my life.

I was working with the youth of the church and my desire at the time was to make "full-time" ministry my career, to make it my life's work. But circumstances and reality forced me to seek secondary employement out in the "scary/dangerous" world. It was not the glorious, saintly job or future I had envisioned for myself. Actually I viewed this as a demotion, a step backwards, a lose and a waste of my time to be doing mundane work when God had better things for me to do in the ministry.

But as I began to work outside the church and socialize outside of the safety of it's "four walls" and the security of the church I realized that this is actually where Jesus was! I wasn't living my life to its fullest or allowing my life to be intertwined with others when it was limited to just those within the church.

My face was in the Bible, my bottom was in the pew but I was missing out on opportunities to see Jesus at work in the world. "Here I am, standing right before you", but you are overlooking me because your head is in the clouds, or the Bible or church, Jesus seemed to be saying to me.

This reminds me of when Jesus talked about when we are helping quench the thirst of the thirsty, giving food to the hungry, clothing the naked, giving a bed to the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned, that "Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me".

It also fits in with a lyric from the band King's X that went:

"I had to run,
I had to hide,
In the world outside.
A better chance,
Out there
If God is everywhere"

If you want to see God at work in the world around you then He is out there to be found in the eyes of the hurting, the hungry and the homeless. He is present in your interactions with co-workers and He is there in the midst of your social interactions within the "four walls" wether it be a church, a restaurant, a bar or a living room.

Don't let your religion become religious, don't let your faith become a part of your routine. If it is alive and real, then take it with you wherever you go! And for goodness sake, Go! Get outside of everything that is comfortable and safe to you and experience life.

You will find God there!