Turn that Frown Upside-Out

In Genesis 40 we learn about the cupbearer and the baker.  They upset the king and were tossed into prison.

I can’t be sure what the conditions were like there, but the ESV uses 3 different words to describe the event.  Prison, confined, custody.  None of those sound extremely pleasant to me.  I only point this out because we know Joseph had favor in all things, including with the captain of the guard who put him in charge of the other prisoners.

While this might be an improvement for Joseph (over the other prisoners), 3 things still remain.  He is in prison.  He is confined.  And he is captive.  We get a small window into his desire to leave when he interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and baker.  He asks them to remember him and speak to the king on his behalf so he can be removed from this place.

But before we get to the dream interpretations, one other line stands out.  How long were they in prison?  “They continued for some time in custody”.  I don’t know what the social etiquette for “some time” was back in the day, but this clearly is more than a few nights.  I get the impression that each of the 3 men were settled into their roles and had formed a bit of a relationship.

After both of the King’s officers had a dream and were “troubled” by it.  Joseph immediately noticed.  And he felt compelled to ask about it.  So he walks in, addresses his fellow inmates and asks, “Why are your faces downcast today?”.

Why are your faces downcast today?

In prison… he asks those incarcerated with him… one of whom we find out is essentially on death row, (he dies at the hands of the king 3 days later, per his dream).  This further tells me this isn’t likely a minimum security scenario.  This “prison” is where he put the man who was accused of advancing on the wife of the king and an officer that was killed instead of released.

And after a lengthy stay in jail, a dream that doesn’t make sense changes the demeanor of not one, but two of the prisoners.  Was it because Joseph took such great care of these men that they didn’t have anything else to worry about?  They obviously slept since they entered the REM levels of sleep and had memorable dreams.  I’m guessing they had beds and blankets.

In my mind this all points to Joseph, who while wrongfully imprisoned (for actually doing the right thing, but being accused of the opposite) decided to make the best of the situation.  It sounds to me like he created an environment that was extremely hospitable and easily livable.  The men under his care weren’t scrounging for food, freezing in corners, or fearing the guards.  They were sleeping, dreaming, and sharing their experiences with one another.

While much of this is speculative, he took enough care, that a downcast face in his ward was something that concerned him.  (again…. IN PRISON!).

Does this sound right to you?  Isn’t it considered rude to ask certain things in certain situations?  Can we actually ask:

The prisoner why he is sad?

The hospital patient why she is worried?

The accident victim what could be wrong?

The outcast why they look lonely?

The mourner what is bothering them?

You can when your purpose for living isn’t tied to this world.  When you have a relationship with God and you go about His business, its much easier to understand why Paul found contentment in prison as well.

What can we complain about today?  Traffic.  Responsibilities.  Money.  Relationships.  Health.  Jobs.  Churches.  Politics.  I’m sure, if we brainstormed, we could come up with a few hundred things.  All of those things are prisons.  Each of them has only power in this world, and only the power we allow them to have.

Our friends might not be bold enough, so its a task left up to us.  Spend some time in the mirror each day and ask… what do we have to be upset about?  What could worry us?  What could deter us from the cross?  In light of what Jesus has done for us… how could our faces possibly be downcast?

We can turn that frown upside down fairly easily when good things happen to us here and now.  Joseph turned his inside out by focusing on good things to come.  Eternal things.  They made all circumstances currently endured null and void.  With the hindsight of Jesus, we can do both.

 

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When Should We Pray? Too Late!

I keep seeing it.  Someone calls us out.  All of us.  Our prayer lives are not what God intended.   We all shake our heads.  It’s sad.  We are sad.  It’s not that we choose failure specifically… it just keeps turning out that way.

We see how bad we need to fix it. In our hearts we want to fix it. And yet we go to our heads to try and fix it. Logically, we will attempt to put plans into action when it makes the most sense. When I’m healthy. When I have more time. When I finish this class. When I fix other issues.  We let the brain try and fix a fault that lies in our hearts and souls.

This is not God helping us to better our spiritual life, this is THE devil actively destroying our relationship with God.   To concoct a plan that implements any form of waiting is in direct contradiction to the call to pray without ceasing.  Time and time again, I see this.  It’s a two part answer from two different enemies at odds with one another.  (part 1), “I need to fix this!” This is the good and Godly part  (part 2 comes immediately after without pause and usually in the same sentence), “as soon as I get back on my feet.”

I’m going to pray better tomorrow after I get some rest.

I’m going to pray more once I get the job with fewer hours.

I’m going to spend quiet time with God once I get a bigger house.

I’m going to be more obedient once the kids move out.

I’m going to start reading more during the summer.

I’m going to pray more earnestly when its not so crowded.

I’ll pray deeper once I get healthier, I can pray when I go running.

Do you see what we do?  We take the will of the Father and the will of the enemy and merge them into a single thought.  This is how the devil works.  We see the truth in the will to do right and we think we are being good sons and daughters.  Rarely do we realize we carry out the will of the enemy in our tasks.  His will (that of the enemies) is that we wait.  Postpone.  Prolong.  See if we can get distracted.  Forget.  Get busy doing other things. 

The issue?  It’s the timing.  There is only one time we should attempt to fix our relationship with God, which greatly includes fixing our prayer life. Rather than try and pick a less than perfect word, allow me an example.

Last week I received a bill from my doctor.  This has happened before.  I recognized the envelope.  I paid him in full, up front.  Yet another bill has come.  It’s an injustice.  At best, they are letting me pay for their accounting errors.  At worst, they are a fraudulent and crooked organization.  I didn’t care which it was.  I was not going to let them do this to me!  Who do they think they are dealing with!!???

I tore open the envelope and jerked the thrice folded and neatly perforated paperwork out.   Just undoing one fold was all I needed to get the full story.  This was indeed another errant bill against my favor.  One hand clinched the bill while the other had already started dialing billing services.  A young lady answered the phone and this is when I noticed the envelope was just settling down on the counter from when I ripped it open and flung it out of the way.

Ok, maybe I can’t dial THAT fast, but you get the image?  Like a cartoon I felt capable of reaching through the phone cord and smacking someone across the back of their head.  I felt like I could still see a faint outline of myself as I made my way in from the mailbox.  I was that fast.  This issue was urgent.  It was dire.  It was all about me!!!!

And this continues the pattern I’ve seen before.   When it affects me, I manage to blur the lines of priority a bit.  I’ve learned to take care of myself very well.  Or my loved ones.  I can justify giving them priority over everything.  Everything.  Sadly, that sometimes includes our God.

I believe most of us.  Quite honestly, all of us… need to start attacking our prayer life the same way I attacked that errant bill.  And with the same concern and urgency.  But it needs to be all about Him!!!!

When we let Satan have access to our priority structure, we will never be able to get our relationship together with God.  When we can see His schemes and attempts to keep us apart, our priorities can be realigned.  What could be more important than spending a moment with the Father right now?  The brain doesn’t understand, ‘now’.  The enemy has too much access to that space.  ‘Now’ is a term of the soul.  It’s immediate, and yet its deeply routed into eternal.

When should we pray?  When should we read?  When should we repair that relationship with God?  Drop to your knees and be speaking to the Father before your legs hit the ground.  That is when.  Not just now… super-now!  Faster than that even.  Am I being too silly, or too demanding?  Not really.  You see, every moment you ponder your next move, adds more red text to the statements above.  When you drop to pray and include God in your next decision, you yank the reigns out of the enemies hand (while hopefully leaving a bit of a mark) 😉

If you think, “I really do need to start…” you have already let the enemy in.  If your next thought is, “God and Father in Heaven…” you have already boxed the enemy out.

How about a little nudge…

[God and Father in Heaven, I need You.  Oh how deep and how wide do I need You.  I desire a relationship with You.  A very true, meaningful, and reciprocated journey that You and I will walk together…. ]

Keep it going (and if possible, don’t stop until we reach the throne of God).

Fake Grenades and Popsicles… do we behave like Christ?

I was wondering why Jesus spent 3 days in the tomb.  Jesus had to die to save us.  Jesus took on our sin during that process.  I understand it all the way up to the tomb.  Why even bother with a burial place?  Why be wrapped?  Why the guards?

Couldn’t Jesus have said, “It is finished”, and then 3 seconds later, “Tada!!!!” and then hop right off the cross?  Wouldn’t this have still effectively bought our sins?  He still sacrificed.  He still technically and actually died in our place.

I think He added that extra bit of drama for us.  Not that its a part of salvation, but that He did it for our benefit.  He spent 3 days in a guarded tomb to help clarify what actually happened.

For example.  Lets say Jesus did the bare minimum.  He cries “it is finished” and hangs his head to die.  Then, after breathing His last, he jumps off the cross a fully healed, living God and He whooshes back to heaven proclaiming that we should also carry our cross to follow Him.  In this example, I fear we would see Him as more God than man.  We may even question what pain He felt.

Sadly, we might possibly even question whether a true sacrifice was made.  If the real story of the crucifixion were a personal letter, this theoretical event would be more like a text message.  It’s less personal, less detailed, and the exact meaning is confusing.  We might even debate whether He actually died or not.

I’d like to offer that Jesus came, not only to sacrifice Himself for us, but also to teach us.  He taught by doing.  He only asked us to give as He gave Himself.  And in His final act, He taught us to sacrifice.  And one lesson that is painfully difficult to understand is what true sacrifice actually means.  And He showed us this, while being fully man.

Our foster child went to the ER and refused to take his medicine.  The Doctor told him that if he was good, she would let him pick any flavor Popsicle he wanted.  He screamed, flailed arms and legs, spit up medicine… he was not good.  An hour later when 4 people left the room exhausted and defeated, he asked… “where is my Popsicle?”.

And I know exactly what is going through his mind.  The nurse said, “if you are good”, and he is now on the other side of the event.  In his mind, he suffered.  It wasn’t fun.  But now its over and he is ready for the reward.  Through all the kicking, screaming, and agony he both suffered and caused, what he heard was plainly, “if you make it through, you can have this”.

Our minds haven’t changed much as adults.  Have you ever promised yourself rewards?  If I lose 10 pounds, I’ll get myself a new outfit.  And the weight never leaves, but you still feel like you accomplished a triumphant feat of strength because you drank Diet Coke that one time.  Oh, the sacrifices I made!!!!  We can justify the rewards quite easily.

I think a great many of us do the same thing with God.  He has effectively made the same promise the ER doctor made to my boy.  Roughly translated, ‘if you are good, I will reward you’.  And most of us mean well.  But our definition of “good” can’t in any way be linked to what God actually meant in the Bible.

But… because we went to church, and we sang, and we even tithed a bit, which was a HUGE sacrifice for us… we feel justifiably ready for this reward.  But just like that ER doc… that wasn’t the deal.  Being a faux Christian was not what God asked of us.  He drew very specific, tangible lines.  We are to sacrifice.  We are to give.  We are to suffer.  We are to pick up our cross and follow Him.  We are to stand apart from the world.

It’s because we don’t understand what sacrifice really is.  We think we can act up and still get the Popsicle.  This is why I think Jesus spent 3 days in the tomb.  So we would know that He gave up His actual life.  So we would know He actually suffered.  For sacrifice to have any meaning, a true price must be paid.

In the movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, there is a scene where the tiny Steve Rodgers dives onto a grenade carelessly thrown on the ground by his superior officer.  The officer’s point backfires as the overly qualified military men run for cover, while this unexpected hero jumps on the grenade to save the others around him.

grenade

His life… for theirs.  This is sacrifice.  If the grenade were real, he would have died a hero and all the others would have lived in debt to him.  But he did not know it was a fake grenade.  So even though he performed a heroe’s action, he got up, dusted himself off, and kept living life.  Only now with heroic accolades.  Many of us think that this is true sacrifice.  We are willing to dive on the grenade… but only if its a fake.  When the grenade did not blow, the sacrifice was removed.  He didn’t actually pay anything.

We don’t mind facing peril, but we expect Jesus to intervene and then flash back up to Heaven after we are rescued from potential discomfort.  The mere definition of sacrifice is to give something up. Jesus gave up position when He ate with the poor.  He gave up status when He cured the sick.  He lost empathy when He chose the ‘losers’.  And He finished His lesson by giving up, once and for all, His human life.  Not just temporarily, but eternally.  That is what I think those 3 days are for.

To remind us that the world is filled with sick kids, unpopular people, lonely individuals, and needy folks who will fully deviate us from our path down Team ME.  Most of us are up for some sacrifice so long as we are done and back to normal by 5 p.m.

The enemy is using live ammunition.  There are no fake grenades here.  The call to Christianity is the call to spend 3 days in the tomb.  It’s to fully and without any bartering, give up everything until Jesus comes back to call us out of the grave announcing the beginning of our eternity with Him.  It’s knowing that our lives are meant to be spent.

The great sacrifice isn’t figuring out that we can tithe 10% of our net rather than gross and still feel good about ourselves.  Suffering isn’t sitting through sermons on Sundays.  Mission work isn’t buying a stocking stuffer once a year for a card on a tree.  Jesus could have told us what sacrifice means.  But that doesn’t cut it.  It never will.  Words have no meaning.  He showed us.  And the way we show we learned the lesson is not to speak it back.  We show what we have learned.

The pharisees where a noisy bunch.  Always quoting scripture, always pointing out wrong, always blaming and judging.  Jesus spoke very little.  But His actions are what we are to be known by.  They will not hear it from us… they will see it in us and in our works.

It’s All in the Name

We received a new foster child that will be in our care until the parents sort out a few issues.  In this case he has a great relationship with his parents, so calling us mom and dad is not an option.  With all the stress, frustration, and fear that the child is going through, we have our own issues.  The bigger things matter to us as well, but sometimes the logistics can feel pretty important.

What should he call us?  It’s been a week and 99% of the time he shouts, “Hey guys!” when he wants our attention.  I really don’t care what I’m called, but in an effort to help teach respect for others I’ve really tried to reinforce, Mr. Barry.  It hasn’t landed.  It’s not a battle I’ve really chosen to fight, but he hasn’t grasped the name anyway.

There are multiple anecdotes where he has asked for “the other lady that lives here”, “the person downstairs”, or any other descriptor that fits his recent memory of us.  While playing ball, he decided to make everything into a race.  Of course, with his energy and his rules, he won.  That night at dinner he calmly said, “hey slowpoke, it’s time for dinner!”.  He then used the term later in the evening as well.  Not with a smirk or grin, but just in passing to identify me.

It took a week, but I now have a name.  It’s slowpoke.  Had I known… I might have run a little faster and tried a little harder in the races that preceded it.

We often give ourselves our own names. Sometimes we let the world identify us. They call us mistakes and we listen. They call us loser and almost prophetically we make it so. They call us failure and we wallow in it.  These terms are often handed out with as much forethought as our foster child used.  Spur of the moment with a notable smidge of perceived truth.  And we wrap ourselves in it and display in shame for the world to see.

Broken.  Lost.  Poor.  Uneducated.  Simple.  Sinner.  Trash.  Some of these terms come about innocently enough.  They are never intended to carry such poisonous barbs.  But the wrong person overheard, or we were just trying to be funny, or we simply didn’t think before speaking.  What a lesson we could learn in how we treat each other.  But some of them are more hurtful.  More intentional.  In our current social climate we toss out such hate and slander.  Bigot, racist, hateful, evil, monster, …

I’d like to say we don’t have to accept the names given to us by others.  And its true that we don’t.  But, I also know how psychologically difficult it is to shed the perceptions of the masses once that hook sinks into our hearts.  But what does carry great weight, and what should lift those unnecessary burdens off of us, is that we are promised a new name.

Listen to just a very tiny list of only a fraction of the names that belong to God:  Healer, Savior, I Am, Lord, God, Almighty, Truth, Light… Father.

The God of many, many names…. one of which is our Father, has a new name for us.  Each of us.  It’s not a title or a credential.  It’s not our profession and it doesn’t relate to our social status.  It’s a unique, handpicked name just for you.

May I encourage you to live for THAT name.  To let only God define who you are.  To proudly stand against all the sinners who throw that useless tag at you… because you know that Jesus wore that tag on the cross.  It’s been spent.  It’s over.  You are no longer that person.  That name, the old one, has been ripped off and burned in fire.  You will be called something new.  From the lips of your heavenly Father, you will be called it.  Just for you.  Set aside.  Set apart.  Special.  Fashioned with love.  Solely for you.

Just like the tried and true ‘kick-me’ sign, Satan has attached to us something that doesn’t belong.  We can ignore that temptation and brush it off knowing the full truth.  Or we can accept that lie and bend under the weight as the world accepts his faulty claims.  As always, its our choice.

Leading the Target

If you are a quarterback throwing a pass, you have to release the ball before the receiver is in place to catch it.  You will throw the ball to a place where the receiver is not yet.  He will be en route, but not quite there.  This is why there are so many incomplete passes in the sport.  If the receiver gets bumped too far off the line, or if he runs the route too wide, or if he gets off to a slow start, or if a boost of adrenaline sends him too far… Many factors come into play for just the receiver.  But the QB has his own issues.

The defense could blitz, a lineman could miss a block, His intended target could draw double or even triple coverage… Each player on the field, both offense and defense, add exponentially to the list of issues that could thwart any given play.  But we should also factor in non-human obstacles.  Wind, rain, crowd noise, bad umpires (definitely not human!!!).  When you really start to understand the complications behind all the different positions of this sport, you stop seeing incomplete passes as mistakes, and you start seeing completions as a thing of beauty. 

larry-fitzgerald-catching

Hitting a moving target is a very difficult task.  It’s what Quarterbacks work on every day.  If you are a hunter, you have to employ the same tactics.  It’s call leading the target.  If you aim and shoot at where the target is currently at, you will miss every time.  You have to think ahead.  It’s never about where is my goal now… it’s about where it will be when my object arrives. 

So many things in life work this way.  In order to drive without incident you have to learn to break before you need to turn or stop.  You don’t break at the light… you start slowing down well before.  It’s about visualizing and understanding what comes next as a consequence of your actions (or even inaction). 

Life is hard.  In football there are only 22 people on the field.  In life, we have no control over all of the people that can impact our days.  And exponentially the stress adds up.  Family expectations, friendship struggles, relationship pitfalls, job training, bills, taxes, scheduling conflicts, personality conflicts, co-workers, deadlines, illness, transportation breaks down, financial issues, credit card gets stolen, computer gets hacked, dog runs off, clothes don’t fit… And we really haven’t scratched the surface, have we?

With so many moving pieces and so much going on, we really do need to stop looking at our mistakes as such tragedies.  Instead, we need to learn to see and appreciate our successes.  They are miracles amidst an evil world at work to tear us apart.  Forgive yourself.  Dust off.  Let a teammate help you up.  And run the next play.  Each team in a football game averages between 60 and 70 plays per game.  That leaves a lot of room for mistakes, and yet still win the game.

Pop-Screen

Thanks to the love of Jesus, we have an opportunity every day to start over.  But its more often then that.  We don’t have to wait until tomorrow.  A new day is a beautiful analogy, but its really about the moment.  The time, the precise second that you realize that you weren’t built to tackle life alone and expected to perform with perfection 100% of the time.  Even elite baseball players walk back to the dugout over 60% of the time.

Companies are selling cloud based storage and they charge based on the time you use it.  They started off selling by the hour, but this wasn’t very appealing to consumers who may only use the service a few minutes at a time.  They were billed an entire hour every time they turned on the feature.  In the highly competitive market, companies took notice and reduced billing to per minute billing.  I would have thought this should satisfy everyone.  What takes less than a minute?

Apparently some things do, as those companies now offer per second billing.  And just today I saw someone advertise, “better than per-second billing”.  How do you get better?  It takes me longer than a second just to think of the word, “second”.  This is how time is with God.  There are no finish lines.  There is no cut off.  There is no retest.  You don’t have to wait until Sunday.  God isn’t more reasonable on Easter than any other day.  You don’t even have to wait until tomorrow.  Your next thought can be what reciprocates the relationship back to Jesus.

Forgive yourself.  Your mistakes aren’t as serious as you think.  And stop shooting at targets that don’t move.  Those are mediocre, low hanging fruit, that lead to bad places in life.  Setting goals so low that you can’t fail, effectively means you don’t ever want to win.  Winning requires risk, effort, and genuine failure.  Winning requires failure.  The kind where you gave all you had and still fell short.  That is how you win.  By giving it all, failing, and then trying again.  Bettering your aim, learning from your mistakes, and envisioning where your goal really needs to be.  Then throw into the future and nail it.

We were God’s goal.  Look at what He had to do to hit us.  He didn’t fail either, though I wonder if He thinks we gave Him a good run with all of our efforts that could have deterred Him.  With God, we will not fail.  Our mistakes are just that.  Mistakes that quickly diminish into the past and become steps to build on.  He is our guaranteed win.  All we have to decide is how many seconds do we want to lose before realizing our mistakes will not keep us from Him, nor will any part of our past.

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Stinks, Do it Anyway

I went with a minister to visit someone in the hospital.  This man’s wife was in bad shape.  We first met with the man.  Ready to take mental notes I witnessed this seasoned pastor ask some of the strangest questions.

“Have you eaten?” was one of the first.  I thought, OK, probably not the strongest start but maybe its a warmup.  We are gonna chase the enemy clean out of this hospital at any moment…you’ll see!

“Will you eat if I get you something right now?”.  Yeah!, take that spiritual warfare!!!!… wait… what?  The man refused.  OK, he’s not hungry, lets stop messing around now.  The preacher asked the man to sit.  He had been standing for hours.  “You have to eat, even if you don’t feel like it”.  The man started to fight back tears… “I can’t” he exclaimed.

Having been through this level of trauma on many occasions the preacher knew several key things that had never crossed my mind.  First, we have to eat.  Not because food tastes good or because its socially correct, but because we need fuel.  When we get wrecked, when our life is turned sideways or upside down… we don’t think about the most basic things.

If this man doesn’t rest his legs and put some food in his body, then he risks having health issues on top of what his wife is going through.  What if she needs him and he has passed out?  What if she wakes, or has a complication and the doctors need his permission and he is too delirious to give a coherent response?  It happens.

And so this minister cut right to the chase.  If you want to be helpful, you have to help yourself.  Lets start with the most basic.  Get yourself on a steady regiment of fuel.  And not just once, but all throughout the process.  He trained the man too.  And if anyone else shows up, make sure they eat.  Its not thoughtless, its not tacky, its doing what is best for your wife.  And that is something they could all agree on.

He asked other helpful questions… Are there pets at home?  Anything turned on that needs to be turned off?  Any children need rides?  Any major assignments or events due immediately?

The next thing I learned from this preacher, is that there is a time to preach and a time to not preach.  This man didn’t want to hear how great it was from a heavenly perspective that his wife was in pain.  He didn’t want to know the Biblical reasons that his life was shattering.  He didn’t need to hear a psalm or someone’s favorite verse.  He needed to think.  He needed physical help.  He needed tangible hands and feet.  Healing would come later.  Right now, he needed human, practical, love and intervention to help him accomplish the things a man in shock can’t take care of.

Cramming God into a void rarely brings about healthy fruit.  In most cases, it has the opposite effect.  Ecclesiastes was right… there is a time for all things.  The man who rests his legs and feeds his stomach is prepared to deal with the coming battles in life.  He can’t be caught off guard if he is prepared.

Eat, even when you think you can’t.  Rest, even when you don’t want to.  What if we carried that same lesson to our walk with Christ?  What if we read our Bibles and studied His word even when weary?  What if we prayed even when angry?  The same principle applies.  If you prepare your spirit, it will be ready when needed.  If you neglect it, for whatever reason, you will risk being dried up when the real attacks occur.

The enemy, who just happens to know how spiritually depleted we can get, will wait for just the right time to attack.  Wouldn’t it be great if we never allowed him that opportunity?  If we never left that window open for him to whisk in and take advantage of?  We can do that by staying fueled.  Steady doses of biblical and Spiritual energy and we can make the same suggestion to loved ones around us.

I think, in some ways, this is what scripture is talking about when it talks about being prepared.  So we aren’t taken advantage of by a thief in the night.  We are told to stay sober, alert, even in cooking we should not expect to have time for the bread to rise.  Preparation.  We can prepare for the coming of the end times, and we can also prepare for any of the enemy’s attacks.  We do so by putting on the full armor of God, and by constantly communing with Him.

What if the next time we didn’t feel like reading, we saw that as a threat from the enemy?  What if the next time we didn’t have words for God or thought it best not to pray, we remembered how desperate he is to separate us from the Father who protects us?  “I’ll catch up tomorrow…”  May very well mean disaster is on the way for tomorrow.

But in case I lost my point somewhere, I’ll sum up.  We need God more than we need food and rest.  If it makes sense to keep our bodies going even during times of weakness or sickness, how much more important is it to keep our souls in check?

What I ate vs. who saved me

I’m perplexed by Christians in social media.  When someone posts about their promotion, their new car, or even their latest trip… likes, loves, and thumbs up stream in by bucket fulls.  When someone posts, “God is good” (or some variation) I see a fraction of activity on the post.  (your mileage may vary, but I generally see 1 – 5% of the normal responses given to a religious based post from the same account).

Why is that?  Maybe I should preface that in the circles I’m noticing this in, most of the audience is a Christian based audience.  So it’s the saved that are liking the picture at the park.  It’s the redeemed that “LOVE” the bacon wrapped hot dog someone posted.  It’s the Children of God that scroll right past the posts that mention their very Savior.

I’m not insinuating that we have any sort of obligation… but shouldn’t we want to be about more eternal things?  I know there might be some logistical concerns such as fueling the fire of the ‘Jesus Freak’  or maybe we are being bombarded with too many positive messages (which I find harder and harder to believe these days)?

My fear is that there is a deeply rooted shame of the gospel.  And the very people I’m referring to would instantly reject such a claim.  And I think they would honestly believe it too.  And for those people… for YOU… answer for yourself.  Why don’t you want your mark on a post that glorifies God?  Why won’t you comment on matters of the eternal soul?  Why are you abstaining when your King is mentioned?  And whatever answer you come up with, will you do me one favor?  Will you say a prayer to God and mention your reason directly to the face of God?  How would He feel?  How would you feel in sharing why you don’t want to be on record for the Lord?

I suspect some of us have a preconceived notion about ‘that guy’.  And we don’t want to be him. He is a bit too happy.  He is strangely holy.  He is oddly optimistic.  And that might be just enough to get him on the societal outcast list.  We want to be educated bankers, intelligent accountants, thrifty teachers, etc.  We want to be known for what humanizes us so we can blend in with the world we identify with.

Two major problems here.  First, we aren’t to identify with this world.  Our identity is God.  Second, we aren’t supposed to look normal.  We are supposed to look odd, abnormal, and like we belong somewhere else… because we do.  We DO NOT BELONG HERE…. why is it so important to look like we do?

But we have Christians who understand this wanting to get more info on the latest gadgets but don’t want to be seen colluding with the weirdos who talk openly about God.

I’ve noticed that the Bible only seems to focus on active people.  Zacchaeus climbed the tree to get a glimpse of Jesus.  People carried sick relatives to Jesus, touched his robe, washed His feet.  Some of these stories include crazy antics… remember the one where they lower the paralytic through a hole in the roof?  A hole they cut!!!  You know what you don’t remember?  It’s easy, because the Bible never addresses them.

It’s the quiet bystander.  The people who just watched and did nothing.  They have no place in the history of Jesus.  And matching with other scriptures we can read about the activists… the Hot.  The people actively trying to get to Jesus.  And, we can read about the antagonist… the cold.  The people trying to stop them.  But the lukewarm… they have no place in this story, just as Jesus said they have no place with Him.

Actively trying to get to Jesus.  Bringing gifts across the desert, climbing trees, pushing through massive crowds… Is liking a post the point?  No.  Are you actively trying to live a life that follows Jesus?  How does that look?  How does the world know you belong to Him?  Is it because you smile?  Is it because you don’t use certain words in your vocabulary?  Is it because you follow a certain stereotype?  No.

Does your politeness make Jesus jump up and down?  “Yeah!!!!  I died on the cross and they decided to hold the door open for someone… count that one as mine!”.  The atheists know how to be polite.  The agnostic can feed the hungry and donate blood.  The truly lost can be good neighbors.  While all of this might be good to live out, its not what is called out.  We aren’t just called, we are called out.  To step out and reject the norms of this society.  To say its not enough to be nice, its not enough to be kind.

It’s time to be separate.  Different.  Special.  Holy.  Godly.  Like Christ.  Christian.  Remember the shame of Peter?  “you were with the man weren’t you?”…. “no, no… NO!!!”.  Are some of us shaking our heads at how Peter could do such a thing, while at the same time we leave no tangible evidence that we are saved by a mighty God and called to a life of love, sacrifice, and saving others along the way?

I’m not shaming you if you don’t click like on Facebook posts.  I’m not calling out Twitter ghosts.  That is a small habit that may point to a bigger issue.  Are you proud of your heritage?  Do you honor God?  Can you post about your hiking trip, but the journey with the Savior feels weird?  Can you share your favorite recipe, but your favorite scripture never makes it out?  Do you recount endless tales of the exploits of your best friend, but what Jesus has done for you never crosses your mind to share?

If this post burns a bit, or seems accusatory, don’t fret.  The solution sits at your fingertips.  The cure is in your heart.  What makes me want to share Jesus is the forgiving love He gives where my past matters not.  What I kept to myself yesterday, I can shout out today.  What I was ashamed of yesterday can be my identity today.   Jesus doesn’t just forgive.  He restores.  He renews.  He redeems.

 

 

We are Who We Worship

I see a worshiper fall into that eternal space between worlds.  As she sings her voice trembles over the notes that her powerful vocal chords effortlessly blew through moments ago.  But now, her emotions no longer control her.  She has passed through that threshold between worshiping to God and worshiping at God.  She invited God’s presence and it consumed her.  Hands shaking, mouth quivering, the song continues with new strength and yet with more humble awareness.

Someone gets up from their seat and walks across the auditorium.  They want to pray for someone.  That person is just over there, so their feet follow their convictions.  Uncomfortable, inconvenient, distracting?  No, those thoughts never enter his mind.  He wants to pray, so he goes and prays.  Tapping his friend on the shoulder mere words are spoken before an embrace occurs followed by broken, heartfelt, emotional prayer.  Deep prayer.  Honest.  Cleansing.  Godly prayer.

Three families gather around rows of chairs to take communion together.  The layout of the building isn’t consistent with what they are wanting to do, but chairs get moved, people step out of the way, and compromise gets them all huddled together to sample a meal of eternal proportions together.  Each one bows, prays, and honors their fallen and risen King.

This is the church.  Family.  We chose each other when we chose God.  Now we live life together.  We pray together.  We confess to each other.  We support each other.  We are Christ to each other.  We strengthen and encourage.  And then we go into the world sharing the amazing love of God to all humanity.  The pharisees followed rules and policies.  I’ve been to many churches that structured 3 songs, a prayer, a sermon, etc.  Jesus seemingly did the opposite.

Not that structure is wrong, but He seemed to always find Himself opposing the religious elite.  It wasn’t about the temple, it wasn’t about their status, it wasn’t about their order and structure… and they were deeply offended.  But He kept on.  Washing the feet of a woman, eating with the sinners, healing on the sabbath, speaking against human created traditions.  He didn’t have time for customs, He had a world to save.  And while the power comes from Him, He passed that torch on to us.  “Go into the world…”.

And I can’t help but wonder, what does God think of this?  It’s for Him.  His commands followed.  His will sought.  His name praised.  We know He doesn’t puff up or get ego issues.  Will this act receive the “well done, my good and faithful servant” we all long to hear?  Will He cry?  Will He well up with Fatherly pride?  I can’t say for sure because those are our actions.  Those are the things sinners do when we share in a glimpse of something good and right.  But what does an almighty and Holy God do when He is worshiped?

Let me offer something that might not sound right at first.  We are who we worship.  And by that, I don’t mean we are part of the trinity God-head.  I’m not elevating us to equality.  But in a different way, we do tend to become like those we cherish.  Have you ever noticed you talk like your idols?  Does your accent change when you spend a few years in a new region?  You’ve certainly heard the phrase, “you are what you eat”?  And just like that phrase, I’m not suggesting that we are literal peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the flesh.

But, if that is all we eat, we do take on the attributes of the food.  High carbs, high fat, high calories… so are we if that is what we choose to eat.  We take on the characteristics of the choices we make.  What happens when you switch to lean meats, veggies, water, and fruit?  You shed off the old food and become the new food.  Fat is lost.  Calories are lost.  Carbs are lost.  Old clothes don’t fit any more.  People look at us and say, “WOW!!!!, you look like a different person!!!”

And this is what happens as a result of worship.  When we truly worship, we commune with God.  We are in His presence.  Just like eating the bread and drinking the cup during our Lord’s Supper, we take on the attributes, we consume them.  We put Godly things into our lives.  We invite the Spirit into our lives.  And we change.  We start to take on those Godly attributes and before we realize it… impatience is lost.  Greed is lost.  Pride is lost.  Hate is lost.  Sin is lost.  Our old lives don’t fit us anymore and before we even realize it, people look at us and say, “WOW!!!!! you look like a different person!!!”.  And we really are.

We died to our old way of living and now have a new lifestyle that is fully enveloped by Jesus.  So, in a way, we are what we worship.  To the greatest extent that we fall under grace.  We aren’t God… but we are Godly.  We aren’t Christ, but we are Christian.  We aren’t perfect… but we are forgiven and made right… and that puts us right back at the beginning of this blog…  How can we not worship Him with ALL of our heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit?

A relationship with God is not extra credit.  It’s not optional.  It’s critical to the entire plan of salvation.  Don’t let worship be your vocal talent and nothing more.  Don’t believe that your extravagant prayers are flattering to God.  He wants to be consumed.  He wants to be eaten up (so to speak) 😉  If you aren’t getting anything out of church, ask what you are putting into it.  If you aren’t sharing with your fellow believers, start today.  If you are ashamed or embarrassed to invite people to your family of God that happens to meet in a random building… you might not be the relative you thought you were.

It’s OK to be in these situations… as long as we understand its not OK to remain in them.  If you don’t love your church… you have witnessed your first red flag.  Start with God, open your honest heart to Him and work your plan and His from there.  He gave His Son, our response in worship is our thankfulness for that gift.  It CANNOT be stale, uninspired, or Spirit lacking in nature.  Worship like we are mere men and women.  Worship like we address a God.  Worship as though He not only came to us, but He brought an unbelievable gift.

 

Can God get lost?

 

I love our GPS, I chose a British accent and she says things like “Boolevard”, or “Object Ahead” (like an objection instead of an actual object)

I’ve grown very dependent On the GPS.  Much like spell checker has reduced my ability to spell on my own, I don’t think I could find my mailbox from the front porch without an electronic gadget telling me how to get there.

But, I’m curious… Did you watch the clip?  Has that ever happened to you?  Obviously, not to that extreme.  I don’t expect you to have actually driven into water at the advice of a computer.  But I would also wager you have been led to the water.  Has your GPS ever misled you?  Mine has.  Quite a bit.

When I listen to the GPS and follow it to a successful destination, I feel good about myself.  I chose to listen.  I saved time, gas, wear and tear.  I’ll sing it’s praises.  But I’ll also take some credit.

When the GPS is wrong, I want to toss it out of the window and never use it again.  If I had followed my instincts, I would have been home by now.  The GPS is always to blame when it’s wrong.  And it can be all sorts of wrong:  it can tell me to turn too late, mispronounce the street name, the volume is too low, “unverified area”, “make a u-turn if possible”…

So what happens when we choose to follow God and we end up getting lost along the way?  This place isn’t what I signed up for.  I didn’t mean to turn down here.  We passed my exit miles ago.  Why did God lead me here?  There is pain here.  There is emotional distress.

One of the bigger problems with this way of thinking is that we don’t fully know where God plans to take us, even if, we properly submit to His will.  When you are living in a relationship with God, there are no wrong turns.  Did you catch that I didn’t go for the obvious cliches?  I could have referenced Jesus taking the wheel or how we take turns driving (so many obvious comparisons while we journey down this road of life)… God doesn’t want a copilot, he doesn’t want passengers, He let His Boy die on the cross for us so we could be His family.  His companions.  Journeying with Him.  Growing together.

So when in a properly nurtured relationship with God, there are no wrong turns, there are no miscalculations.  We find the path off the main road because that is part of our flight plan.  Miracles don’t happen where they aren’t needed.  There has to be a storm before you can calm it.  There has to be a disease before you can cure it.  There has to be pain for healing to take place.  Jesus said it Himself, He didn’t come to heal the healthy people.  He didn’t come to bless the rich.

So often we look around and cry out at our circumstances.  We don’t want to be in the poverty or the sickness, or in the path of the storm… but then we ask why God isn’t using us to do His will.  When you end up in the lake, don’t throw out the GPS, start looking for the type of thing Jesus would have done in this very situation.  When we look around and loved ones are dying, family is chronically sick, friends are in despair, good people are suffering… its easy to shake that fist and claim that God needs to stop and ask for directions.

Or we could follow that awe-inspiring example of Jesus, roll up our sleeves, and make ourselves at home in this little hovel off the beaten path.  We are where we need to be if God is our Father.  If we truly want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, its time to start looking for His footprints.  We wont find those in many of the places we’ve been looking.  He was with the sick, the misunderstood, the needy, the exhausting.  When that temptation sinks in to cry out, “why!!!” to God… think instead and ask “How”.  How can we be Him in this place in our lives.

Click Here NOW! Amazing-est News Ever!

It’s called click bait.  Headlines like “Breaking News”.  Terms like, “You won’t believe what (insert controversial person of the day) said…”  Colorful adjectives like “Destroyed”, “Shredded”, “toppled”.  Polarizing descriptors similar to: “And no one cared…” or “It blew everyone away”.

We see this a lot now.  Media meisters are preying on some people’s inability to separate fact from heavily loaded emotional appeal.  If you have fallen victim to this strategy, you already know why I use the term victim.  The headline sounds like something the entire planet should be up in arms over, but the actual meat of the article is trivial at best, and often a far stretch, even to be trivial.

So why does this work?  Why do we (collectively as humans) fall for it?  I’m going to say its because we live in fear.  When we hear those tagged words, they trigger our deepest concerns.  “what now?!” we wonder, and some of us cry it out as we can’t handle any more.  We know deep down that anything can happen, and we often play along and assume it just did.

Consider this.  We serve a God who does not fear.  He does not wake up in the world and have to search to see what horrible things happened while we slept.  He is not shocked by the disasters and He is not paralyzed by the sickness of man.  And this is who hears our prayers.  I’m comforted to know that our Lord does not need the news to keep up.  He loves us, each one, and is very interested in our lives.

I’m also happy to know that God loves us all.  So we don’t have to worry about our shapes, sizes, colors, accents, personal preferences, or birth marks to know whether He cares or not.  I think God’s news feed would throw out all of the nonessential buzz words and cut right to the chase:

“You are hurting… I am here”

“You are lonely… I am love”

“You are abandoned… I am Father and Brother”

“You are accused… I am justifier”

“You have sinned… I wash dirt off feet and darkness off souls”

“You are tired… I am rest”

“You are overburdened… I carry your cross”

“You are un-salvageable… I am salvation”

There is a reason the Gospel is called “The Good News!”.  Oh how it stands apart from what we think news is today.  Can I encourage you to share the good news today?  To ignore the bad.  To resist the temptation to spread the lies and the bait.  It’s really not a call to do or not do anything… its an issue of focus.  What gets your attention?  “Click Me, I’ve got some juicy stuff!!!!!”, Or, “Let me show you what it means to love unconditionally”.