What Giving Costs Us

When you give to someone that is not in need, There is usually an agenda. It might be small or innocent like making yourself feel good, getting on their good side, or getting the attention of others. Of course it could also be more malevolent. It could be to sway decisions, get something in return, or to prop yourself up in more sinister ways.

When you do not give to someone in need, a basic humanitarian transaction is denied. The Bible outlines this in Matthew 25:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”

Matthew 25: 35-36
  • Hungry.
  • Thirsty.
  • Lonely.
  • Naked.
  • Sick.
  • Imprisoned.

While it may not be an exhaustive list, it was important enough to spell out 4 times in that chapter. Those that Jesus would vouch for honored others as He defined, and those who Jesus claimed He did not know ignored the needs of others. He didn’t say, I wanted to play Nintendo and you didn’t share. I wanted to supersize and you gave me the small. I wanted to travel and you stayed home. I asked for paper and you gave me plastic. Those aren’t really needs.

He talked about things that make us people. The basic physical necessities and a few things that might not seem to fit. “Visited in prison”. “Welcomed as a stranger”. When all of the rest of those can be life or death, how do these two fit in?

First, I think it gives insight into how much God cares for and loves us. He came into this world as a human and allowed himself to be sacrificed for us. He isn’t going to ask us to do something He isn’t willing to do Himself. He was tempted, hungry, alone, sad, neglected, and homeless. He asks us to care about people because He cares about people.

He isn’t trying to be a government over us. He isn’t limited to absolutes. He isn’t content to measure out specific portions to meet our bodily needs, He tends to our soul. Loneliness can be devastating. Solitude, desperation and imprisonment can be epically harsh. Jesus is saying, if you care about me… you care about the people that I love. Guess who that is? Us!!! You and me!

He cares about us. His commands are to take care of each other because He loves us and wants to see our needs met… all of our needs. And make sure you understand that visitation… is a NEED. Compassion is a need. It’s even a need for the criminals. If we aren’t in there meeting the needs of the convict, are we responding to Jesus favorably?

If we give to no one, we are giving to ourselves. It may mask itself in different ways. Wasting money, greed, hoarding. Ultimately, we give to who we care about. Notice this passage doesn’t mention money? It’s about time, commitment, integrity.

If your grandmother called and asked you for help in using the new TV remote, would you get out your checkbook? It’s amazing how many needs we try to cure with money. Over time it has created the adverse effect of not wanting to help because we don’t feel we can financially support new ministries. Is this how we think of grandma? A burden not worth our time because it will eventually cost us?

I hope we all would be excited at the opportunity to help her get her stories working on the picture box (that is old people talk for watching TV). Often, the call to missionary work isn’t an attempt at your bank account. It’s an invitation to live out, first hand, seeing Jesus, embodied in humanity, and needing food, water, shelter, and love.

Visitation isn’t about upgrading the church van, having to buy extra meals, or budgeting for expense reports… it’s about tending to the souls in this world. And, in many cases, the only cost is our time managed by our hearts.

When we make time for God on Sundays and neglect everyone else throughout the week, Matthew 25 claims Jesus will not know us in the end. Some people have the opposite problem. They are honestly good people who love others and cherish the ideology of helping each other out. They are found in soup kitchens, housing projects, and clothing drives.

They visit hospitals and bring gifts to assisted living homes. But they don’t know God. They never step foot in a church and wouldn’t know what to do with a Bible. This group has solved the equation without knowing the question. Christians tend to struggle to answer while knowing the question. So which is it? When do we give? What do we give? To whom do we give?

Jesus answered this in a very unique way. He endured. Nails, thorns, blasphemy, insults, spit in the face, beatings, lies, corruption, agendas, thirst, hunger, greed… He endured. When it came to what He wanted to accomplish, it seemed, to Him at least, to be simple. “forgive them”. All of them.

I’m going to climb on this cross and give up everything I have. I will die… for them. All of them. I will give up everything for everyone. I will take on their sins and pay for them with the ultimate cost. I will give freely of all my blood to cover all their sins.

And when they see me embodied by a poor and lonely soul, what will be a fair response? 10%? A private prayer later? Maybe a few moments just to say Hi? Nothing? “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 40 and again 46). What would you like to do for Jesus today? How can you say thank you? What percentage will you muster for the Man that gave you 100?



Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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My Wife Broke Up With Me

She really did. Of course, she wasn’t my wife then… but she is now. Back in high school I was socially awkward, shy, and really struggled with relationships. So I was just like I am today only much better looking and younger.

We dated for a bit and then she decided it was time to move on. Over 20 years later, we reconnected and got married. Our wedding photo sits next to our prom picture. We often talk about the ‘what ifs’. What if we had stayed together? What if we married 20 years ago?

As the victim in the breakup, I have certain liberties. I get to talk about how heartbroken I was. What if I had responded to that heartbreak in different ways?

  1. What if I decided that because I was hurt, I would never date again?
  2. What if I chose, that since a person hurt me, I would never trust people again?
  3. What if I blamed her parents for how she treated me, and broke the relationship off, permanently, with everyone even remotely involved?

Doesn’t that sound lovely? No more dating, no more extended family, and no more people… ever. Is that a tad extreme?

Some of us respond the very same way to the church when it hurts us. The church is supposed to be this safe place. We expect judge-free zones and places billowing with love, peace, and acceptance. But it’s filled with humans and humans are flawed. So we get just a fraction of what the church is supposed to be. And, to be honest, it’s a shattered fraction at that.

Maybe you were one of those who entered the place of worship with your life tank on empty. You were broken. You were desperate. That was the very last straw. And when you finally conceded to the love of the church, you got a cold shoulder rather than a warm heart. You saw sneers instead of smiles. That pat on the back had a knife in it, didn’t it?

Sadly, this is common. There are a few reasons for it. The blanket statement is simple. We are the church. We are sinners. We make mistakes. We will continue to mess up until Jesus returns to set things in line with what they were intended to be.

So why bother with a church at all? Why subject ourselves to an imperfect plan? Why make ourselves vulnerable to others who could potentially hurt us again?

There are many answers. Several are better than the one I’m going to give now, but I feel its important to ponder this aspect as well, so I’m going to give it anyway… My answer is that we do it for the same reason we keep dating, even after we leave a failed relationship.

We were built, from the ground up (literally if you know your old testament), to have companions in life. God saw that Adam was lonely and He created Eve for Him. So even when Eve tosses Adam the apple, or when my high school sweetheart friend-zones me, we have this inbuilt desire to have a companion that overrides the warnings and danger signs around the thought of another possible failed relationship.

It’s who we are. We are meant to be together, misery and all. Most of us learn, early in life, that when one person doesn’t work out, we keep looking until we find someone that can accept us and deal with us as we are. This is what God does. It does not matter where we are, its the same path and distance to get back to God for all of us. No one has any farther to travel than anyone else.

Because God never leaves us, we all only have to turn to Him. We often think of this long, arduous journey… that is in our heads. God is one prayer away for every last single one of us.

Turning away from God because a Christian hurt you is like blaming your spouses parents because your spouse did something wrong. Most likely, their parents taught them better and they would be on your side anyway. Isn’t it odd that when people act in defiance of God… we blame God? When a Christian gossips and says hurtful things, they are ignoring the love and wisdom of God. And our reaction is to flee from God, the very one who says, ‘don’t gossip and say hurtful things’.

I don’t want to encourage church hopping, but some people need to find a church home. A community of believers that will accept you the same way God does… Just as you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t have some work to do and some changes to make. It means that they won’t judge your past. It means they understand that they are sinners too. Ultimately it means that they want to walk with you and share burdens along the way.

Why? We need the church just like we need our Adam or Eve. We are in-wired with a need for community. There are actually churches out there for atheists, satanists, and all manner of commonality that does not center around God. We know we need each other, we just forget why. When it makes absolutely no sense at all, we find ways to gather together in any semblance of likeness that we can muster.

Why can we forgive our exes, but we hold God eternally guilty? Why can we give a free pass to humanity, and forever condemn the church? Hurt after hurt we go to jobs that don’t appreciate us, seek friends that don’t honor us, and commune with strangers who don’t love us… but the God that defined love and created companions just for us gets a hard pass. We use terms like “never”. I will never let the church hurt me again. I heard someone say to their 4th wife.

God doesn’t need a second chance. He needs the first chance. Our best chance. Your relationship with us humans will always have its ups and downs. One of the problems with going ‘into’ a church is it puts too much emphasis on the people in it. If we seek God first, every thing else seems to fall into place rather nicely.


But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you

Matthew 6:33 ESV

I don’t want to be an example of the church. Especially when I’m driving. Oh how the hatred flows when I’m in the car. No blinkers, late mergers, getting cut off, slow drivers in the wrong lane, speeders, tailgaters, If you are in another car around, I may not like you very much. I don’t like this about myself… how I let the rage step in when people drive like jerks… but it happens. And I don’t want God to be held accountable for when I mess up. And I don’t want anyone else to be either.

If I dressed up like Tom Hanks and did an impersonation of him, but it was terrible, would you stop watching his movies? Would you blame him because you didn’t like the work I did? This works both ways when it comes to Christianity. Not only is it odd to blame God when others are doing poor impressions of Him, but it’s not good when we ourselves claim Christ and then don’t act like Him at all, knowing how the world will react.

So I’d like to make a recommendation. Clean the slate. Has God wronged you? Or has a fallen world taken its toll? Crack the pages of your Bible, open your heart to it’s author. Seek His followers as equal companion and sinner. And, don’t walk away from the cure to the pain you are feeling. I know how happy I am that I dated again. It let me find my wife and life has never been better. Plus I get to remind her that she dumped me and that has its advantages too!


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Why Don’t Bank Robbers Steal Tacos?

Imagine, if you will, that you are a lover of money. Your heart’s true desire is to amass lots of wealth. With that in place, I’m going to claim you have chosen a life of surrounding yourself with bank robbers. Why? Bank robbers don’t steal tacos. They rob banks. By definition, their ‘profession’ is to steal money, the thing you hold most dear.

By choosing money, you automatically align yourself against the very opponent to that thing. In other words, you can’t choose to love money AND remove yourself from the stealers of money. They go hand in hand. For every desire of value, there is someone else that wants to take that thing.

If you were to say that Jesus Christ is the desire of your heart, then by default, you are inviting in the enemy of Jesus Christ to attempt to take away all of the good things that decision brings.

This occurred to me when I was contemplating all of the hardship I’m seeing in believers. Sickness, loss, marriages struggling, relationships suffering, pain, grief, loneliness, and so much more. Does this mean God doesn’t love us or He isn’t there? No! It means that bank robbers rob banks.

The enemy goes where there is something to steal. If there is nothing to steal, he has no reason to go there. So if I were to look around the church or the family, or the work place… and there is no antagonist, maybe that should raise a flag?

This is a question for thought… can we do the work of God and yield no opposition? Jesus certainly found opponents. The sound of tears, the comforting hugs, extra prayers for those struggling, in an eerie way, it almost feels like home.

Think of a soldier who earnestly wishes to fight the enemy. He wants to bring about peace and he sincerely wants to protect innocent people from the battle, so he rushes to fight in hopes of ending the conflict quickly. Where does he go? To have coffee with friends? Does he hide in a safe place? I think He runs to the front lines of the biggest battle. He follows the sounds of war in hopes of finding the enemy.

It’s in this vein we need to discern the effects of our adversary. He doesn’t waste much time where there isn’t anything of value to take. In my opinion, we can relent the effects of a fallen world, or we can breathe in deeply knowing that we aren’t pushing the enemy back if he isn’t present in our work. If I don’t sense fear in the enemy… I’m not following in the footsteps of our Savior.

Analogies have their flaws. In this one there is a strong difference between bank robbers and the Devil. If a robber steals all of my money, I have none. It’s a simple math problem seen countless times on Sesame Street. If I have 10 cookies and Cookie Monster eats all 10 cookies, how many do I have left? None! My 5 year old knows that.

But when the enemy of Christ steals my loved ones, messes with my marriage, turns my friends against me, takes my job, and ruins my life… what do I have left? Everything.

I still have everything. Everything of value anyway. This is perhaps the biggest lie the enemy can muster. He can’t take anything that actually has value. Just like the bank robber, he only goes where he can profit… but unlike anything else in history… he can only actually take, what you freely give.

Take heart in the presence of the enemy. He WANTS to take everything away from you. But he can’t when we stand behind the Christ He actually wants to steal you from. Don’t be low hanging fruit for the Devil’s pleasure. It’s a trap, a lie, and a con all rolled into one. Speak the name, ‘Jesus!’ and bask in the gift that cannot be taken.


Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

How Is Your Cake Built?

Teachers prepare young minds to take on new trades. Disciples prepare themselves to be like the Master. If you have ever wondered why we aren’t successful in “teaching” the Bible, it’s largely because no one wants to know the Bible as a profession. God sent His Son, not to share facts, but to define love and point to the Father. If we are His disciples, what is our job? Hermeneutics? Theology? Exegesis?

We can answer this by quoting Jesus in ‘the great commission’. “Go into all the world and make”…. Teachers? Scholars? Friends?… No. “Disciples”. Followers of Jesus. And how did Jesus teach us this? By example. Go into the world and be like Jesus because He came into this world to be our sacrifice after showing us how to live first. Teachers are great at giving knowledge. Disciples enlighten with every decision of every day. Every choice, each breath, and all the words spoken will show the world who we point to.

When we point to the Bible first and foremost, its like insisting that bakers understand how to shape fondant before they know how to mix batter. We want them to be able to whip up amazingly detailed and beautiful cake architecture that is appealing to the eyes… but we forgot to show them how to craft the foundation that holds up the masterpiece we insist they create.

How would you build your cake? Start with sprinkles? Watch YouTube videos on piping frosting? Purchase the best fork? That sounds silly doesn’t it? As amazing, powerful, and wonderful as the Bible is, it wasn’t designed to be the first point of contact for the world to meet Jesus.

Try opening it up and reading it like a normal book (which is what normal people will do). After a few interesting chapters we start getting into genealogies, lineages, timelines, geography… and to be quite honest… it doesn’t pick back up for a few hundred pages. What if you went to see the next big summer blockbuster movie and after a few explosions they started detailing new tax laws and math equations?

The firm foundation we build our cake on is Jesus. That personal relationship with Him is everything. With that established, the words penned in the Bible can be life changing. But shouting commands and referencing parables to people who haven’t yet seen the Master will be just as crazy as trying to put a cake topper on before the frosting. We have to show them the Master.

When Jesus wanted to teach us about being servants, He knelt down and washed feet. When He wanted to explain how to love, He ate with sinners and tax collectors. When the Son of God decided it was time to show what a sacrifice meant… He yielded to His accusers and faced the cross alone.

We don’t become like Jesus by quoting scripture. We become like Jesus (Christ-like… aka, Christians) by acting like Him in every aspect of our lives. He came to us and pointed to the Father. How can we be that to the world?


Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash

Thanks for the Gift! What do I Owe You?

Do you remember being excited about an upcoming birthday? Perhaps you still are? My son was. He knew all about the presents. He was pointing things out every time we went to the store. “I want that”. “I need one of those”. “Can I have this for my birthday?”

At the age of 5, celebrations can be all about the presents… some of us older folks can still get wrapped up in the gifts aspect of things. But as the day approached and he rattled off where he wanted the party, who he wanted there, and how the day should go down, he managed to make some bad choices.

Not bad party ideas or bad birthday wishes… bad life choices. He made some mistakes. He messed up. It was frustrating because some of the decisions he made were contradictory to lessons we had laid out dozens of times before.

It never once crossed our minds to not give him the presents as a form of punishment. They were already purchased. No matter what choices he made yesterday it was still his birthday on that new day. We might find an effective form of discipline for when he does act out… but we give him the gifts we want for him to have.

God wants us to have the gift of salvation. Why do we struggle so much with the gift of Jesus? We tend to think that our actions can change His mind… The very mind that was made up when the apple was bitten in to.

We say some pretty crazy things. “I don’t deserve that gift!” Really? What did we do to earn our birthday presents? What accomplishment did we perform? Nothing. Our birth was through no desire or effort of our own, it was a decision made a certain number of years back by other people. And they reward us from their love.

Why do we try and change the meaning of grace? It’s little different. We do nothing to earn it. God provides it out of love. If it was something that required deserving, none of us would have it. Grace was a decision made by God long before our time and He gives it to us because He loves us. If we do something that He does not like, He doesn’t go back in time and pry the nails off the cross.

God has already given us His Son. The sacrifice has already been paid. The pain has already been endured. He isn’t going to return the gift because of our sins… the gift was given because of our sins. We needed it. We couldn’t get to God without it. And the part that seems difficult for us to understand is that God couldn’t get to us without it. We are His desire.

God sent His Son because He wanted to be with us but couldn’t. So He gave this amazing gift to free us from our sin and we think that very same sin exempts us from the gift.

I think we struggle so much with this because we can’t read about grace without binding works back into the equation. We get nervous if we hear about grace and we don’t hear about how we can fall from grace. Some of us believe that too much forgiveness implies ‘once saved, always saved’. So we swing the boat around as fast as possible to include that we can choose to leave God and reject His promises.

So rather than running the race, we are left spinning in circles. God gives grace, but I keep messing up. We think He’s on His way back to Walmart to return the cross because it doesn’t fit us anymore.

We have to leave that door open because we just can’t comprehend how grace truly works. Completely and utterly without us… that is how it works. It is a Godly gift. One that we are meant only to accept, not to earn.

Our circular logic leaves an option ‘B’ on the table. I could either accept grace and I had better be good afterwards… or I could fall from grace and spend eternity in the very bad place.

To me, this sounds like an out. This his how people operate that don’t want to go all in. If I accept this grace and let God transform my mind and I become His servant… what would change? Everything. Absolutely everything would be drastically different in every step of life.

It sounds like cold feet. Grace can’t be THAT good. I could still blow it. I could definitely mess that up, so I better behave. I should be careful. Instead of celebrating, I should spend time in self pity. Instead of praising, I should judge myself a bit. Doesn’t that sound crazy? It’s not like we think it through just like I’m spelling it out, but we reach the same end result, don’t we? I can’t live free in the grace of God because I hate myself too much!

This sounds like a prenuptial agreement to me. One of those documents you sign with your fiancé because you either don’t trust them or you know you aren’t trustworthy. It’s a legal declaration that you believe that something bad could happen. It says, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but should either one of us change our minds, here are the rules for how that will play out.

Isn’t that romantic? They will write poems about our love, but if I see someone I like better, I want the toaster. I trust you with all of my heart… sign this.

And we take this same approach with God when we don’t immerse ourselves in the free gift of grace that He has given us, clearly based on His love for us and not on our works for Him. We create an out. Every time we utter that phrase that we aren’t good enough, we push back on the gift. Gifts aren’t purchased by the receiver!

If we had an obligation to the gift, it wouldn’t be a gift. It would be called a purchase. In this case, grace was purchased, but it was paid for by someone else. Jesus paid the price. But the grace was given freely to us. Grace is not a loan, its not an IOU, its not bought in installments, and its not a balloon payment. It’s free. It’s a gift. Given to us. And we are meant to do one single thing. Accept it.

If you are struggling with thoughts about all the effort that goes into accepting grace, I fear you are missing out on this precious gift. We do not change our behavior to receive grace… once we have received grace, and we truly accept it as an un-earnable and Holy gift… we are wholly transformed by the love of God and the relationship we build with Him.

When I gave the presents to my little boy, who had acted poorly, do you think he handed them back and said I didn’t deserve these? I honestly believe the thought never once entered his mind. He tore open the paper and danced in the ribbons. He played with each and every toy until they broke and since he is a 5 year old boy, they all broke.

And I believe this is meant to be our response. Swim in the wrapping paper that is grace. Tear open the gift and embrace it. Snuggle in bed with it at night. Carry it to breakfast. Sneak it into your backpack and take it to school. Give it a seat at the table. Love it as the gift that it is. Our behavior is not wrapped up into grace. That happened so long ago and is freely given as a pre-purchased gift. If you insist on finding a place in this thought about your behavior, that has much more to do with your relationship with God.

If you find that you and Jesus look nothing alike, start by embracing grace. Nuzzle up to the feet of His throne and make peace that you are His child and He both loves you and longs for you. He gave a mighty gift that came at great cost to Him and His Son. He did that for you. Before you even knew who you were. He didn’t pay that price just to withhold the gift.


Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I’m Picking Your New Years Resolution

January of last year I decided it was time to get in shape. Some time in February I determined that round was a shape and considered it a successful mission.

There is nothing magical or even supernatural about a new year. Being a Christian, we can experience new beginnings at the drop of a prayer. But a new year isn’t any less God ordained either. So if our human minds help us understand that we aren’t stuck to the patterns of our past… take advantage of it!

One of my favorite songs is Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here. One of the lines reads:

” To be overcome by Your presence, Lord “

The word, overcome, is a powerful word that deserves some attention. In what context do we use this word? To overcome addiction means to root out a significant part of our lives never to return. To overcome a foe implies conquering that enemy. When we overcome obstacles, we rise up over them and improve our lives in spite of opposition.

Every version of ‘overcome’ I can find has a negative spin on it. The end result might be great, but that greatness comes from success powered only through adversity. If we are overcomers, we were once strugglers, failures, and forgotten.

So how are we overcome by the presence of God? I would claim its all of the above. To be overcome is to throw off critical aspects of who we are that don’t line up with who God made us to be. It’s to be vanquished by unbeatable foes only to walk out unscathed. It’s to be brought to our knees before a Savior who wants to see our very best.

To be overcome is to be wrecked. It’s to be turned upside down and inside out. It’s to say I don’t want this life, I want eternal life. I don’t want what I like, I choose what God desires. I know that I don’t overcome, but God does.

To be overcome by the presence of the Lord is to be destroyed and made new. Think of a dam bursting. The water can be contained no longer. The power has built up and the blockade simply can’t stand against the weight. It may trickle out for a time but eventually man-made materials will give way and water will pour forth in epic fury.

We have a barrier that often keeps God at a distance and limits His desire to work in our lives. To be overcome is to let the water in. Let it explode into us. To be drown in the Spirit. To be drenched in love, soaked in grace and waterlogged in new life.

To be overcome means we may dig in and fight back, but we cannot succeed. We will topple and give way. My new years resolution for you is simple. Choose to accept the overcoming love and cleansing wreckage that God’s grace provides. Be renewed in the presence of a mighty, living God.

God’s new years resolution? It’s you! He wants you. He sacrificed for you. His desire is you. His love is for you. Will you keep playing the game called “Christian” or will you let Him build in you the creation He originally intended? Will you bend knee, ugly cry, and let the holy wrecking begin?

I Regret This

The notion that God can do more is something we need to work well within the fabric of our daily lives.  One of the most tragic offenses I believe we make to the Creator is that we simply don’t expect enough.  We limit Him. 

It’s often seen as a lack of faith and while it may not stifle His abilities, it certainly cripples the effect of His gifts in our lives.

We pray that God heals cancer when we could be asking God to heal the entire body, cleanse the soul, give supernatural gifts, and spread His name to generations through this event. 

Peter had faith… at least for a moment.  When He saw Jesus walking on the water, he cried it out.  I want in on that!  Let me do that with you…. and he did. 

And I think that is a good explanation for our troubled times.  We are content to not get in the water with Him.  We let Jesus do the water walking and we will stay and guard the boat. 

Peter was on to something.  The problem with the boat is that Jesus isn’t in it.  He is walking on the water.  He is turning over tables in the temple.  He is boldly sharing His Father.  He is headed for the cross.  All of those sound scary don’t they?  Is that why Peter sank?

When he saw the waves and took his eyes off Jesus was it because he realized what his request really meant?  He exclaimed, ‘I want to follow you’, but he didn’t really want to go where Jesus was headed. 

I think ‘more’ scares us.  We don’t want it.  We want our current lives, but just better.  Jesus calls us to reject what we have and take on something new.  And that is a difficult thought to consider. 

We struggle with the math of ‘more’.  We think in terms of our current understanding.  “I can’t change the past” is something we often bemoan.  At best it means We are going to quit stressing over something we can’t control, but often its an exhausted exclamation of regret. 

Just like our weak prayers, we throw it off to the side and maybe ask for forgiveness.  We completely drown out the whispers of God beckoning us to ask for more.  No, God won’t change the past, but he can do better than that.  He can do more than that.  He can empower us to explode towards a better future. 

He can take that static past and use it for good.  He can mold us through it, He can touch lives with it, He can bless in spite of it.  When we properly understand our relationship with God, we can understand why the Bible would say ‘do not dwell on the past’. 

Jesus was frustrated at the comment that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus been there.  They simply didn’t expect more.  They were living in the past.  The moments that they couldn’t control were the culprit.  It was about what Jesus could have done or where He should have been… not what He could do right now. 

Our God creates.  Our God heals.  He calms, teaches, loves, protects, and blows the doors off tombs.  We can agree with scripture that He has defeated death… but we just can’t believe that our tomorrow can be better.  We are certain that our mistakes and trials are life defining. 

Sigh!  Can you hear the desperate exhalation from God?  Why won’t you ask for more?  He won’t change that thing you did, or even the stuff that has happened to you… but He can lift you above the waves.  He can do so much better, so much more, than our simple desires to undo the unwanted events of our lives. 

When the disciples of Jesus sat in prison, they didn’t asked to be removed from jail… they brought Jesus into captivity with them.  When Jesus hung from the cross, He didn’t say, ‘get me off of this thing’, He chose more.  An end to His pain wasn’t enough.  He could do better than that.  So, instead, He prayed ‘Father forgive them’. 

Nails through His veins and He thought of us instead.  Can we begin to comprehend that we are the ‘more’ to Him?  He wants us.  Praise God Jesus didn’t look to the past while He was on the cross.  The lies, the greed, the disobedience.  I believe He looked ahead.  ‘This is for them’, He must have thought.

Do we honestly believe that the God who turned His tortured Son into eternal joy for those who killed Him… Do we think He can’t use our pain for something better tomorrow?  Why regret yesterday when God can do ANYTHING today?


Free God from the Bible

I wrote a short ‘review’ on a children’s Bible that I found to be a little harsh for the target audience.  It was obviously my opinion, but I wanted other parents to know that this book jumped right into the gruesome bits of our history and for a “First Bible” I thought that was on the questionable side.

Are ALL of the old testament stories important?  Yes*  You see that asterisk?  That is important.  My son is going to start off his journey with Christ… and this might be difficult for some to understand… with Jesus.  He is going to develop a personal relationship with God.

Will he learn about wandering Israelites, drowned sinners, and beheaded disciples?  Of course.  But those are far behind the most important messages of his eternity.  First, he is learning who God is.  What God does.  How to pray.  How God works.  Etc.  My whole point in the review and in my parenting opinion is that we get the cart behind the horse.

If I were to teach you about baseball, do I start with how they stitch cowhide around cork to assemble the ball?  That may interest you, that may even help you in some way, but not until you have a rudimentary love for the game.

And that is where I feel this needs sharing.  Do we have a fundamental love for our creator?  Or do we start with the genealogy and try to work our way backwards?  I think point one is that we need to make certain that we aren’t logically following human translated rules and histories.

I hope we can all see how there is a strong difference between, “I’m not supposed to do that, so I will regrettably refrain, though I would really like to do that”.  And, “God made me a new person that seeks Him and His will isn’t leading me anywhere near that”.  The first person follows a book while the second has a relationship with their Maker.

It’s very important that we aren’t following a set of rules, but that we actually follow the living God.  What good is it to know how old Methuselah was if we have fear in our lives?  How is it helpful to quote Proverbs if we are alone and hopeless?  So just like my child, I want to encourage all of us to start with what is most important.  Engage in a living relationship with your Father in heaven and solidify that reciprocating love before you dare venture into anything else.

This leads to point 2 (and hopefully you understand I believe that continuous study of the Bible is extremely important, it just doesn’t mean much without the Spirit that wrote it in your life.  Read.  Read daily.  But read in a context of that real and personal relationship with God).

One individual read my short caution of the book and responded that I was in fact wrong.  In a public forum they questioned my faith, called out my parenting, and said I was doing exactly what the Bible warned against.

Is this the “good news”?  Is this what the world needs to see when they see “Christianity”?  Are people allowed to disagree?  Absolutely!  Could they have disagreed with their opinion publicly?  Of course!  But when we judge each other… publicly… as strangers, we not only violate many of the tenants God set forth in the very Bible we were discussing, but we proclaim to the world, “This is what Jesus died for!”  This is what matters!  This is what is important for you to know!

Oddly, much of the world isn’t interested in debating and condemning each other over arguably insignificant details.

He could have disagreed.  But he chose to judge.  And this is what so many of us do when our opinions hit the open air of the internet.  ‘It’s not that you have a different opinion than me, its that you are going to Hell.’  That was rarely the message of Jesus (the only one fit to sit in the judgement seat).  The good news is about salvation.  The great news is about forgiveness and eternal communion with God.

Freedom from debt and punishment.  Undeserved grace.  Love.  This is the gospel.  Is this the message we share?  Is this what your Facebook feed is full of?  Is this what Twitter and Pinterest and Slack and even you weirdos still using Myspace 😉 … is this the message you share?

It’s so terribly easy to see why the world rejects Jesus.  They are rejecting us.  And we are to be Jesus to this world.  But who we call Jesus and who Jesus actually is gets too far apart to be recognizable at times.  This isn’t my personal gripe about someone who disagreed with me on the internet.  This is my plea for us to put first what matters most.  God and God alone.

Some of us have God trapped in the Bible.  He is locked in the stories of old and used only as a weapon against each other.  ‘My God said this…’  ‘Jesus would never condone that…’  I’m not suggesting we don’t read the Bible.  I’m not even insinuating we wait on reading.  I’m offering that we should free Him from the shackles we place on the book and get some separation between the pages that list our history and the actual God who lives and works in this world today.

Right now we have a God who loves us and works to reach us.  He paid dearly for us.  If we develop that relationship as intended the next part gets much easier… to show the real Christ and His good news to the world.

 


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When God says, ‘No’… or, Chase vs. Pokemon

Our son gets an allowance.  He typically wants the first thing he sees in the toy section… or maybe even the end-cap before the toy section.  Like many of us, hes a “stuff” centered kid.  He’s an amazing, good-hearted boy, but he likes toys.

When he saw the Chase stuffed animal, he fell apart (in a happy, good way).  He has allowance money so we confirmed that he wanted it and he happily exclaimed, “YES!”.

As we continued shopping, he hugged the animal, told it he loved him, and was pretty much as happy as he could be.

But when we reached the checkout isle, he spotted a Pokemon key-chain.  First you need to understand that he has never seen Pokemon.  Not the show, not the movie, not even the commercials.  His only reference to Pokemon is that his friends at school (most of whom are older) like it.

Any parent knows, this now means he likes it too.  Even though he has never watched an episode, touched a toy, or has any reference to it whatsoever.  But that doesn’t matter in the eyes of peer pressure… even at just over 5 years old.  “I want that!“, he shouted exuberantly.

I clarified he was talking about the key chain and then parenting kicked in.  (albeit newbish, frustrated parenting).  I thought, ‘this will be quick’ and asked the question.  “Well, which would you rather have, the animal you have been hugging for the past 30 minutes or this keychain?”  Before I could even finish, he blurted the answer… “POKEMON KEYCHAIN!!!!!”.

I screamed as loud as my internal brain could scream to itself without letting any actual words out, … “YOU DON’T HAVE ANY KEYS!!!”

This could have gone down a few different ways.  It’s his allowance and we generally try and let him decide how its spent.  He tithes a little, but we also let him make some mistakes as well to try and get those lessons in him about how he spends his money.

In this case, I just couldn’t do it.  Something he loved and adored versus something he didn’t even understand on multiple levels.  He has no keys, there is no way to really ‘play’ with a keychain, and he doesn’t know the first thing about Pokemon.

So I had to be the bad guy.  (for about 3 minutes).  The simple fact is, I know better than he does.  I’m not smart or better or special.  I just have more experience than he does.  And I know that keychain would have been buried in a toybox never to be seen again after about 10 minutes of looking at it.  And the next time we went to the store he would have wanted the Chase stuffed animal with no allowance available to buy it.

So I said no.  I said he couldn’t use his own money to buy something.  I think the picture above shows how he handled the event.  Sad at first, but he has fed his stuffed animal, let him do his home work, watched movies, slept with it, and pretty much hasn’t done anything without Chase by his side.

I knew something he didn’t.  I knew how much more happiness would come from a “no, I’m not gonna let you do that”.  He experienced 3 minutes of sadness while we stared at that dangling, shiny key chain during checkout.  But once the car was packed in the parking lot, he had already forgotten about it.  Days later, he loves every life moment with Chase glued to his hip.

It’s easy to put myself in dad-mode and bask in how happy my son is with some swift, logical parenting… but like in most parables, I’m not the parent in this story.  I’m the boy who wants things that aren’t good for me, wastes stuff, covets, and gets sad when things don’t go my way.  MY way.  God… He is the one who knows whats best.  He is the one who lovingly withholds, carefully plans, and masterfully executes things I may never understand.

God’s “no” is so much more loving than any man’s “yes”.  Not only loving, but good for us.  We often have the freedom to make our own mistakes, and we can usually learn a good lesson when we do.  But praise God for the “no” answer.  That wonderful experience where He steps in and decides that against our better judgement, He isn’t going to let us mess that up.

Thank you, God… for all those times you save me from myself.  And please forgive my response, which often isn’t eternally focused.

Do You Really Only Have One Shot?

I have always been amazed at how photographers can capture such amazing, seemingly magical moments by pressing a button at the precise moment that a breathtaking event occurs.

My recent exploration of cameras has pulled back the curtain as to how this actually happens.  First, there is a portion of time that is less than a second.  What I mean by this is you don’t just have one second to take a picture.  You can take pictures in fractions of a second.  One of the cameras I want to buy can take over 20 pictures in a single second.

Humans typically blink in a tenth of a second.  So you can quickly see how over 20 pictures during that second can get around one of many problems that can occur if you were to only snap a shot one time.  Cameras also come with a buffer.  This can hold those 20+ photos that are coming in every second for multiple seconds.  The camera is taking in pictures faster than it can permanently write them to storage so it needs a place to hold them while you are still capturing.

Once the buffer is full, or once you are done taking the pictures, it will then write the pictures captured to the camera storage for you to sort through later.  This can amount to hundreds of photos all captured in a matter of seconds.  And this explains how its done.  They just hold down the button and let the moment unfold before them.  A bird in flight, a baseball swing, a shooting star, that perfect smile…

I used to think that photographers had to stop, pull out their camera, turn it on, point, focus, and then press the button one time and hope that they were lucky enough to catch something good.  And if they missed.  If they were too early or too late… it was gone forever.

I tried photography years ago and found it frustrating because my images were always blurry and I felt like I missed every opportunity.  I feel like many of us live our lives like this.  We think we only get one shot.  And if we muster up enough of whatever we need to take it and it doesn’t go so well, we are through.

We only give our marriages one shot.  We give our friends one chance.  This situation gets only one round from me.  And if it gets painful, or hard, or frustrating… I’m out!  Maybe we give it two chances or three, but the end result is the same.  We know how to quit.  We are experts at giving up.  Wasting time on fruitless things is not something we like to do.

Whats worse is we give up on ourselves just as easily.  We get tired of making the same mistake over and over and over and we can’t comprehend how anyone could accept such failure.  Peter said that he does the things he should not do and he does not do the things he should.  I appreciate him sharing that.  It gives me hope.  I get the sense he is constantly at odds with himself.

God is the God of second chances.  But also third chances, forth chances, hundredth chances, and beyond.  Much, much beyond.  We cannot out-sin God’s grace.  It doesn’t mean we should try to, it just means we have hope if we desire a fresh start with our Father in heaven.

I want to encourage us to not only give others a chance, but to give ourselves a chance… lots of them.  God’s buffer never fills up.  If we can understand how He extends grace to others, remember that works for us too.  Bluntly put, we aren’t the exceptions we often think we are.  He loves us and forgives us when we seek that.  All of us.