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!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gods questionable math

“He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

Matthew 20:13‭-‬16 MSG

Here Jesus tells a parable representing Gods grace, forgiveness and love in which labourers who are hired at different times throughout the day that all end up getting paid equally at the end of that day. The ones who have faithfully put in a full days work are obviously upset because the others who have only toiled for a couple hours end up getting paid equally to them.

Gods math is different.

Gods grace changes the arithmetic.

Grace messes with our rules and our interpretations of what fairness should look like.

"Are you going to be stingy because I am generous?" Or it could also say "gracious" here.

This is a warning to us not to be stingy in offering love, friendship, forgiveness and grace by our own calculations and measurements of what we believe someone deserves.

And if we are honest with ourselves than we can admit to being stingy. We can and do withhold love or forgiveness to help balance out what we perceive to be good justice.

So often we will compare our spiritual health, growth and well-being to others of our choosing. Which is convenient and serves the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves. We tally up all of our spiritual accomplishments and put together a glowing resume and then sit back feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

However, God views us all on equal ground as his children, with no child being better than another. Borrowing a scripture passage from my last post the Apostle Paul says that "we are all in the same boat".

All of our goodness or righteousness is mere trash compared to Gods. Because God pours out love, grace and forgiveness without strings attached, without any prerequisite on our part.

Very often grace looks unfair, or fair depending on how you look at it.

In the end we all get rewarded equally and receive the same measure of Gods love, grace and forgiveness.

That is perfect math! 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sheep in wolves clothes

"Basically, all of us start out in identical conditions...we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it: There’s nobody living right, not even one...whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place!...We’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else. Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin."

Romans 3:9‭-‬20 MSG (edited for length)

So good!

In fact the most impactful verse I have encountered yet in my quest to read through the Bible this year!

This scripture is it!

This verse should hit us right upside our self-righteous heads and wreck all of our Holier than thou thinking and living! Hopefully it does what is intended and wakes us up to reality. All of us are simply people in need of Grace and forgiveness!

Currently we reside in a very volatile, fragile world. Our society is in constant danger of erupting into the chaos of flames like a lit match by a tinderpile. One single accusing pointed finger or word spoken poisoned by anger instead of grace and the spark is ignited, a wildfire looms.

"Whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us"

Too often I hear Bible scriptures used like weapons against certain people or groups of people. Scriptures delicatley and purposely pick out to expose someones wrongs and thus it is used to "instruct" them in how one person believes God intends for another person to live. Perhaps we see someone that we judge to be living in sin, or simply our interpretations of sin and we trot out a list of verses to convict them, correct them and instruct them.

Effective? Hardly! Loving and compassionate? Try cold and calculated!

When you look at Scripture it is important to look at the audience the instruction or the rebukes were intended for.

Some of Jesus' harshest words, criticisms and judgements were directed directly at the religious leaders, the "insiders", the church. And some of His most inspiring examples and words of grace, comfort and forgiveness were saved for the "wretched" world all around him. Inexplicably to the religious leadership of the time, the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners were the recipients of Jesus' patience, compassion, understanding and encouragement. Jesus viewed them like sheep without a Shepherd, like orphaned children without parents. The religious elite however, are the ones God saw more  as wolves in sheep's clothing. Powerful metaphors of the way God often views the relationship between the churched and the "outside world".

The often times unforgiving, unmerciful and yet in the strictest sense, law abiding religious leaders or zealots caught the brunt of Jesus ire. "You weigh people down with heavy burdens that you yourselves are unwilling to carry!" Was Jesus' charge against them.

So often when I read Biblical warnings of impending judgement and destruction I view it as the church being the recipients and not the "sinners" or outside world. Very often that assessment is true.

I believe God views the whole thing like we the church should know better. Not only do we know more or less morally what we are to do but we also know better in the sense that we have been "lost" too. We should be even more merciful, sympathetic and empathetic to those who may be struggling because we have been there too. We should recall what our struggle was like and extend the same grace that we so undeservingly received.

As a Christian I am no better than anyone else. Like this scripture states, "we are all in the same boat", or hand basket as they say.

First and foremost when we read the Holy scriptures we must remember that it is speaking to us the reader. Yet what we turn around and do is take what we are reading and apply it to other people,  to other groups. We see it speaking about our opponents or our enemies and having nothung to do with ourselves. However, if we are not reading it, digesting it and then applying it to our own lives first then we are doing it wrong. If we are not allowing Gods words to challenge us and allowing it to make us better people but are only reading it and using it to challenge, even oppose other people, then we are being hypocritical and misguided.

I hear it thrown around a lot that we are to "love the sinner but hate the sin". I have yet to find the verse that says this specifically. Why are we often so much more concerned about another person's sin than our own? In fact, many times we hate someone else's sin more then we do our own sins. We have that backwards. We must confront our own struggles and our own garbage first. Then when we have been honest with ourselves, it will give us understanding of where other people are at. Thus we can be compassionate and merciful towards them, their sins and their struggles. It is so much more effective and meaningful because we then "get it", we have been there in the depths as well and we have fought our way out too.

"We are all in the same boat."

Yet, because of their own misguided hatred of someone else's sin many people pour their energy and passions into combating or eradicating that particular sin from society. However, we can not legislate someone's morality, but we can reach a persons heart!

With that in mind there are people who utilize that same energy and passion that others do in "combating sin" to focus instead on the person. With empathy and understanding for that person they are able to love them, not overwhelm them. A more effective approach wouldn't you agree? A more compassionate and loving approach as well!

"Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done."

Romans 2:1‭-‬2 MSG

In these times when this world appears to be so divided and everyone wants to blame everyone else, it is important to remember that we are all complicit "in everyone else's sin".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Selfishness that benefits me

As Abraham drew near to Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, “Look. We both know that you’re a beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you they’re going to say, ‘Aha! That’s his wife!’ and kill me...Do me a favor: tell them you’re my sister. Because of you, they’ll welcome me and let me live.” When Abram arrived in Egypt, the Egyptians took one look and saw that his wife was stunningly beautiful...She was taken to live with Pharaoh. Because of her, Abram got along very well: he accumulated sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, men and women servants, and camels.

Genesis 12:10‭-‬17 MSG

There is so much happening here in this story!

Perhaps overwhelmed by the fears and the potential dangers of being in a new city,  Abraham fabricates a story to tell his new neighbors that His wife is actually his sister. Thus, Sarai being as beautiful as she is, is brought to the palace to live with Pharaoh.

Abraham willingly traded the dignity of his marriage (furthermore the dignity of his wife), possibly placing his wife in harms way and put his very marriage in jeopardy for the sake of his own safety, wealth, comfort and positive social status.

He selfishly used Sarai in an act of self preservation and consequently he accumulated riches and fame in return.

Perhaps he truly did this out of fear and survival in the very beginning, however as the wealth started pouring in it must have gotten easier for him to sleep at night. As time went on he could justify his lie and the compromising of his principles when surrounded by riches and comfort. When things are going well it makes it easier to tune out the nagging voice of our conscience.

And in a moment of self-evaluation (as I judge Abraham while looking down my nose at him) I have to be honest with myself and admit that at times I too have made concessions to my morals. That I have found ways to justify some of my actions and decisions that benefit me in a positive way. Especially when, like Abraham that means being safe, comfortable and accepted in the world that surrounds you.

Somehow through it all Abraham still becomes a "hero of the Faith", an iconic figure.

The actions of our predecessors in the faith are often so unspeakably despicable and selfish, yet if we are going to be honest with ourselves the same terms could be used to describe some of our "best moments" as well.

However awful and appalling the behavior, they are still moments that God somehow views as forgivable,  unfathomable as that may seem.

This is Grace! The undeserved favor of God!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Do you believe in Miracles?

“Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’

“‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’“

Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.

Luke 16:29‭-‬31

Have you ever witnessed a miracle?

I am not talking about witnessing the birth of a child or an underdog sports team defying the odds to win a Championship, but a real miracle at the hands of the divine.

Or has God ever blessed you with a sign that undoubtedly proves of His  existance?

I have asked God for a sign plenty of times in my life (I think we all have). And I have pleaded for miracles or in the very least divine intervention at certain desperate moments.

When all else fails, "brake glass in case of emergancy" right?

Last year for instance I had a toothache causing me the most incredible pain I have ever felt. That day (along with taking WAY too many Ibuprofen) I begged God for a miracle.

And when my wife labored for over 24 hours with our first child, I desperately and helplessly gasped some of the most heartfelt, scared and real prayers I have ever prayed.

When sickness or impending death makes an unwelcome visit in the lives of our friends or family members prayers are offered up, often even by the most doubtful and faithless person.

The closest thing to a miracle or a glimpse of the divine I have ever experienced was in witnessing the slow, and yet peaceful and blessed  passing of my Grandfather, Edward Reeves. The doors between the worlds were being opened to allow my Grandfather in and I  felt a draft of its glory!

God is most often felt in our most broken, scared and helpless moments!

Now I have seen many answered prayers, although the skeptic within me will counter that things just broke the right way.

And people I know and trust claim they were healed of sickness and disease However, the added presents of medicine, doctor's and even hope plays a role in recovery thus clouding the results, so I don't always know how to respond to such claims.

I have also witnessed some weird things in Church services that some would call miracles, that merely left me scratching my head more perplexed than before.

I have heard people pray in unexplainable and mysterious languages not their own.

And strangers have approached me with wisdom into personal matters that they should have no way of knowing unless God whispered it to them himself.

I have witnessed healings or were they hoaxes?

I have seen people fall down involuntarily under the weight of Gods presences or perhaps they simply locked their knees.

All of these crazy, unexplained and often beautiful experiences I have observed or had myself, but no, I cannot say without a shadow of a doubt that it was God. Neither can I claim that I have witnessed a verified miracle or seen an undeniable sign of His handiwork.

We are evolved! We have science!

We can explain and reason away why certain incredible  things may have happened and we can discover the roots to all mysteries!

We can throw a bucket full of doubt on the fire of the miraculous and simply discount the acts of the supernatural. Like the above scripture says, even if God were to raise the dead we would find a reasonable explanation that excludes the hand of the divine.

We ask God for a sign of His existence and yet He is actively involved and intervening in our lives everyday, yet we fail to see or acknowledge it. Sadly the miracles that surround our lives daily become mundane. We allow the excitement of our first  love grow stale, we let sunsets fade without admiring its amazing beauty and we let the warm smiles and greetings from strangers go unnoticed.

My wife and I had the most incredible group of people come hang out at our house every week a few years ago. We called ourselves the Misfits because none of us really fit into the typical church setting. We had dinner,  laughed and cried together. But the highlight of every week was when we went around the circle challenging each other to name a place where we had seen God active in our life that  previous week. It forced us to be aware of God and look for him in even the most mundane moments. And sometimes we had to admit that we felt Gods absence, failing to recall Him in our lives at all.

When you make it a point to actively look for God there is a very real chance you will find Him. Maybe not in a measurable or tangible way, however often times in a small sign like a tatered relationship mended or new hope springing forth watered by encouragement from a friend. Sure, instances that can easily be explained away if you wish to, or perhaps it really was God.

Because God is there! And He is more concerned with our well-being, our day-to-day lives and our sh-- than we are!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The weight of responsibility on the irresponsible.

God spoke:

“Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible.”

Genesis 1:26‭-‬28 MMSG

The most terrifying thing in the world is raising children!

The hard part is not just that they are so often helpless, messy, misguided and dangerously putting themselves in harms way on a consistent basis. The difficulty is knowing that every interaction with them, every time you haphazardly scream a correction, every time you forget to pick them up from school, every time you unknowingly give more attention to one over the other, is slowly molding an adult person.

In moments of clarity I shiver in fear that I am responsible for four future adults!

God have mercy on them!

And He does! And gracefully His mercy extends to me as well!

So outnumber, my wife and I often look at each other and say jokingly "what were we thinking?" Obviously we wouldn't trade one of them in. There are those rare moments when sunlight does break through the clouds and one of them will catch you by surprise and gift you with a hug, a handmade card of affection or perhaps just fifteen extra minutes of sleep. And that somehow makes it all worth it.

Having a child and becoming a parent means becoming responsible, whether you like it or not.

In the same vain God created us to be responsible for this earth, for everything in it! Responsible not only in how well we combat global warming or how great we are at separating our garbage into recyclables and actual trash, but we are accountable with how we interact with humanity as well.

Life is about relationships, about people and how we cultivate and care for those relationships and those people. The greatest and yet often most difficult investments I have made in my life is in other people. The times you bite your tongue to refrain from speaking and simply listen, the times you break through your own discomfort and give a sympathetic hug to someone in need of one, those times that you do something for someone else which actually costs you something.

I have to be honest, this whole idea of having some piece of accountability in my relationships and friendships with other people makes me uncomfortable. It is so much easier to avoid people, draw the shades and take care of my own comforts and concerns. When it comes right down to it my greatest struggle is selfishness, because I love myself much more than anyone or anything else.

However, what if we looked at those around us, our family, friends, coworkers and casual acquaintances and weighed how much influence and impact we actually do have in their lives? As painful and uncomfortable it is, what if we invested more in them for no other reason than their betterment and not just our own? We cannot grasp how meaningful, how powerful that could be.

The world is a better place because of such people. I see them every so often and they inspire me! The people who buy a cup of coffee for the stranger behind them in line, the person who stops to casually chat with that "weird" neighbor that everyone else tries so hard to avoid, the person who answers the phone against all their better judgement when that one "draining" friend calls because they know no one else will.

The truth is we benefit for our "sacrifices", for our investments in the lives of others. We grow, we learn, we stretch ourselves beyond what we ever thought we could withstand and we thus become someone a little bit better.

God said “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature". We reflect God, in the very least we present a very small glimpse of Him when we put other peoples needs before our own.

If you want to know if there is a God, if you want to feel his presences in your life again or if you have as much doubt as you do faith then invest yourself in relationships, friendships and in people in general. It is at the heart of what Jesus did. He spent his precious time hanging out with humanity, simply sharing life with people in the mundane everyday and turning it into sacred moments.

God gave us everything on this earth, and thus made us answerable for it all! We only do it justice when we offer it right back to Him,  admitting that we do a horrendous job with it. We need supernatural guidance just to keep this world turning, just like our children need us to keep them alive!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Fall of Humanity (God as a negligent parent?)

Then God planted a garden in Eden. The Tree-of-Life was in the middle of the garden, also the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil.

God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”

Genesis 2:8-9 and 2:16‭-‬17 The Message

During his act the actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis, in a serious and reflective tone, says:

"I like to read the bible in public places where people are watching me read it."

After a dramatic pause for affect he continues,

"and I like to murmur out to myself: 'Oh BULLS---!'

Some Christians might view such a statement as a slight, an insult or a subtle attack dripping in irreverence and sacrilege. However if we are going to be honest about the Bible, then we have to admit that there are so many cringe worthy moments that makes you want to put it down (or maybe throw it across the room in disgust) and simply walk away. It is honest and real and full of human beings acting out in all kinds of selfish, arrogant and disgusting ways.

We come to the story of a talking donkey or all of these adorable couples of the animal kingdom finding their way to the safety of a huge boat captained by a bearded "madman" and even if not audibly, we think to ourselves "no way! I am calling bulls--- on that!

It is okay! God understands and is compassionate and tolerant of our doubt, our questions and our flat out refusal to believe. It is a much healthier place to be, because it is honest, it is broken, it is messy and it is troublesome. 

And it didn't take me more than two chapters into the Bible to have one of these minor/major crisis of faith.

Forget the talking snake for a minute, honestly that is a discussion I could hardly care to have. 

A wise cracking snake you say? fine! No problem! I can reason with that somehow. 

What really rattled around in my brain for a few days was this whole "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" thing.

My question (perhaps "complaint" is a better word) is why is this "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" so accessible? Why is it not surrounded by thorns, or the fruit protected within some kind of coconut shell or better yet, the tree guarded by angels wielding swords with burning flames?

It is hard not to read Genesis 2 and not feel a bit of bitterness and distrust at God, feeling that we have been a part of some heartless experiment without our consent. That we are simply exhibit A in some kind of a sick test.

Who tests the legitamicy of their childrens love and obedience this way? This cannot be Gods intent can it? 

As a parent, or even if you are someone who is not, we all understand how easily children get their little hands into everything. You have seen childproof lids on cleaners and medicines right? These don't taste good! But for whatever reason leave it within the  reach of a child and they are trying everything within their power to get at what is inside and eat it!

Why the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil"?

Really all we can do is speculate, which only makes it more confounding and troubling.

I do believe that God gave his creation free will to choose for themselves whether to believe in Him or not, to have a relationship with Him and whether to love Him. He didn't create mindless drones but thoughtful, creative people able to think and act for themselves. He could have removed all obstacles, dangers and temptations but what would that make us? Would we be as beautiful, loving and forgiving, despite all of our fatal flaws?

We will never know for sure why God placed the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the garden. Although I have my theories (weak as they are) and also my reservations and doubts, I have to trust that He had a good reason and that it somehow was for humanities best interests. Again we are only two chapters in, and it won't be the last time we question Gods intentions. 

Don't be afraid of calling "bulls---" on God, on faith and on the blessed words of the Bible. That is an honest, real faith. Remember that in their own ways so many heroes of the faith in the Bible had serious doubts, crisis of faith and wrestled with Gods plans, including Jesus himself.

Seeking truth and answers through gritted teeth (and sometimes curses), doubt and questioning only makes our faith sturdier, healthier and stronger.

So often in frustration I want to throw up my hands and yell "God, what are you doing?" You can call me naive, but I cling to the threads of faith that I have left hoping that this will all make sense one day. That God is working all things out for the good.

"When you set the table

And when you chose the scale

Did you write a riddle

That you knew they would fail?

Did you make them tremble

So they would tell the tale?

Did you push us when we fell?"

-David Bazan from the song "When we fell".