Monday, August 28, 2017

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, 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!

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!