Grace, More than Once

We have a young foster child in our home.  Recently, he had an opportunity to speak to his parents on the phone.  When they didn’t answer, my wife reached the phone out to him and put it on speaker so he could leave them a message.  Only, he didn’t want to.

His face curled down to sad and his fingers started entangling amongst themselves, while he stared at the floor.  My wife prompted him verbally, visually, and physically and he just sat traumatized before the recording mailbox.

He was given plenty of warning, lots of time, and a plethora of opportunities to speak up.  He refused them all.  So she hung up and then the tears started to flow.  When we asked what was wrong, he wouldn’t answer.  We knew part of it already.  He comes from a background where he always gets his way.  Being offered things that he doesn’t want or like causes some outrageous reactions.

So we started to chalk this up to yet another episode where he is making sure that he is in charge.  His tears turned to fits and his fits soon became bellowing screams.  All because he chose not to talk.  We hadn’t even indicated that any form of discipline was in order.  He simply wasn’t going to talk to his parents this day by his own choosing.

After he calmed down some, we tried to figure out what happened.  He is an excellent communicator when he wants to be.  He let us know that he was scared and sad and that he wanted to try again.  But the problem is that we had already let him know the rule based on many of these outbursts before.  Once he passes up an opportunity and chooses to ignore us, disobey, etc.  He loses that chance for the day.

So here we have a child that refused to do something he actually wanted to do and now is whining, crying, and complaining, because he can’t do it anymore (at least for the day).  And while I’m struggling to not pull out my hair over how he reacts and over reacts and then constantly comes back and wants to try again even though he totally blew it before, I finally realized… He’s just like me.

Ignoring God, thinking I know best, doing my thing, living my own way, my rules, my terms, my conditions… then, when things don’t work out, the whining starts.  Why me?  What have I done?  I don’t deserve this!  It’s not fair!

The saddest part?  All of it, every last piece of it, can in some way be traced back to me not wanting to talk to the Father.  If I spent the right time with the right heart in His presence everyday… none of this would happen.

Buts that not all. I actually thought, this is a great opportunity to teach him grace. I could let him talk to his parents and make him so happy and teach him biblical truth all at the same time.

But I was so scared he would expect grace every time… I let the moment pass.

Because I know how he is already. I know how I am. I need grace every time.  All of the progress we made would be lost, he would become dependent on grace and never act correctly on his own the first time.  He would be just like me.  And I can’t stand that thought.

Desperate to teach this child important life lessons, I refused him the most important teaching of all… the one I depend on every day.  I pray God forgives my ignorance and continues to pour grace over undeserving, frequent offenders.  And I’m thankful He keeps His sense of humor up while teaching me through the foibles of a four year old.

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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.

 

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).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Football isn’t in the Bible

First, let me start by stating that I’m not going to present my political opinions in this post.  Why?  Because you don’t care what I think about those issues.  And you shouldn’t.  What I’d like to challenge you to remember is that others likely view your opinion the same way.

I’m reminded of a well meaning Sunday school teacher.  She wanted to get children excited about the Bible.  Her statement was that anything we could imagine was included in the text.  Then she challenged us to ask what we enjoyed reading about and she would show us where that topic was in the Bible.

As a class of young children, we gave typical childish answers:  dragons, super heroes, talking animals, flying, etc.  and she answered in turn with very unprepared answers that attempted to prove her original point.

She consider the many eyed creature in Revelation to be dragon-like enough.  She passed off the disciples as super heroes and walking on water was parallel to flying in her mind.  Who knew, there actually is a talking donkey in the Bible!

She meant well, but all she really taught me that day is the Bible doesn’t have a story for every occasion.  While there are numerous analogies and examples, even some sports metaphors… the Bible doesn’t get to American football or it’s political implications.

So, how should we, as Christians, maneuver this new found mine field?  We shouldn’t.  And that is exactly point number 2.

Number one is that no one wants to know your opinion in a matter where their side of the story is already deeply rooted, emotional, and immovable.  Think of how your heart aches over the issue.  So does theirs.  The second point is that God never intended us to be arguing over matters of opinion any way.  If this specific issue were important to Him, we could turn to Gridiron chapter 2 and read all about it.

But you might be thinking there are applicable scriptures for the current climate.  And, you are right.  They are scriptures written to Christians (not to unbelievers), and they talk about, not what we shouldn’t be talking about… but what we SHOULD be talking about.

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49

Another translation in lieu of “in my Father’s house” is, “about my Father’s business”.  Either way, the point was, Jesus was telling the people, they should have known where He was by His very nature.  He was here to point people to God.  He accomplished that both by His works and via the temples and synagogues of the day.  What did Jesus spend His time doing?  Praying, healing, teaching, setting examples, spreading the gospel.  When it came to matters of government, He had one comment:

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” – Matthew 22:21

They wanted oh so badly for Him to weigh in on the conversation.  The whole thing was a trap.  They specifically asked Him about taxes.  It didn’t matter who He sided with, they would have Him the second His political stance started dripping from His mouth.  But instead, He showed again where His time would be spent…. Giving things to God.  What a clever way to answer, leaving them, the deceivers, to decide what actually belonged to each, Caesar and God.  Look at how accurately and specifically our Bible gives us direction in the real world today.  Are we not baited in social media every moment to counter political, social, and territorial injustices?  We don’t have to ask what Jesus would say today… He has already said it.  And it was effectively, ‘I’ll not join in. ‘

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  – Exodus 20:3

This one is a bit before Jesus’ time.  Straight from God to Moses and then carved in stone was this command.  We know there is only one true God.  The capital G necessitates personal specificity.  The lowercase, gods, are not real.  But, people worshiped them anyway.  We do the same without always realizing it.  Our gods might be internet surfing, social media, food, money, status, etc.  They are things that would take a place before the God.  We don’t have to say a prayer and ask WWMD to worship money.  Making money a priority in our life is a form of worship all on its own.  God wants to be our priority.  If people know us by our politics, then I might suggest we have a god before our God.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”  – Mark 16:15

Another word for “Gospel” is the good news.  But not just any good news.  A dog having puppies isn’t the gospel.  A successful fish fry fundraiser isn’t the gospel.  Cancer all gone?  Fantastic!  but that isn’t the message (at least not in whole).  The good news is that Jesus died for our sins and He rose again defeating death for all of us if we choose to accept that gift by following Him.  Does that sound ANYTHING like the mess we see on social media today?  The good news doesn’t come in condemnation, correcting, or argumentatively.  The gospel is hope and love.  Period.

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  John 17:21

Jesus’ prayer was for unity.  Topics cannot both divide and unify.  And most of these verses seem to be reaching towards other comparable scriptures like being lukewarm.  You can’t prioritize both God and politics.  You can enjoy politics, but you can’t divide humanity over your viewpoint.  To say you love God and you also hate man that disagrees with you… that is lukewarm.  It’s trying to keep a foot in two camps.  All of this boils down to having a single identity in Jesus Christ.

Does what you say and do point to your Master, your Creator, your Savior?  Or does it point to what YOU think, believe, or want to see this temporary world become?

I could go on for quite some time listing fruits of the Spirit, parables told by Jesus, examples the disciples learned by following.  The Bible is quite clear and consistent about where our politics lie.  Always behind God, and always in a loving, unifying, God glorifying way.  This means 99.9% of us need to shut up.  And I mean that in the good, Godly way of saying it 😉

Can we be Christians and still talk about politics?  Can we be Christians and still be rich?  Possibly.  But this is where many will fail.  Trying to justify that we have successfully done both.  Its not that it’s impossible, its that its really hard.  So hard, that Jesus often tells us to give the money away.  It’s too much of a burden to juggle the wealth and the ideal Christian spirit.  Can some pull it off?  Yes.  Do most?  No.  So whether possible or not, we can see the recommendation from scripture to avoid the temptation altogether:

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”  – Matthew 18

Satan, the great liar, will start right now to convince you that the other side isn’t playing fair.  The other side isn’t caving any.  The other side is… I could spend days just listing the lies he will use to convince you that what the world needs is another uninformed political opinion.  (Dare I say you might be uneducated in the world of politics?)  Yeah, if your source is second hand or lower (and a HUGE majority of us are likely 5th hand or lower), then yeah.)  Isn’t that just like the devil?  He has us fighting over someone else’s beliefs that they obtained from other resources we have never once been privy to.  Why?  Because God wants us unified and Satan wants us in Hell.

Father in heaven, before temptation sets in, please guide your believer’s to your voice and away from the lies of the enemy.  Remind us who the true enemy is.  The true enemy does not want our taxes or our votes or our bumper stickers.  He doesn’t want donations, up-votes, or cult followers.  The true enemy wants our soul.  Bless us to hear and follow only your voice and that we may be irrefutably your children in every word and deed.  May our lives bear only good fruit for You.  Lead us away from this destructive temptation that divides us up for the enemy to ensnare one by one.  Let us find unity in You.  Let the desire of man fade from our hearts and allow us to follow the almighty God and live in Your blessing and love.  Let the world see your love in your followers and not the division of those who only claim you in name and not in deed.  Amen.

One final thought (P.S. p.s….) don’t share this post with unbelievers.  Don’t go and wag scriptures at unbelievers.  Jesus called out the Christians who didn’t get the message when He spoke and corrected them.  When He spoke to the unbeliever, He spoke with love.  He shared the good news with them.  If they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, they aren’t living life by the same book.  Throwing that book at them won’t help.  Doing life as a living example of the Son of Man will do just that.  But they have to see Jesus as the true priority in our lives.  When He comes out second or third… the message is fully lost.

 

Hate is always Hate

If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are not living your life right.

If you have to stand up to be noticed, you are fundamentally and categorically flawed.

…he gave no answer.  – Matthew 27:12

But Jesus made no reply. – Matthew 27:14

And yet, what name is known more than His?  If you want to change the world, drop the signs and pick up a Bible.  Stop chanting and start praying.  Put down the binoculars and spend some time at the mirror.

If we really want to make a difference… we have to stop screaming, “me, me, me!” and start living like Him, Him, Him.

Hate, for noble and good reasons, is still hate.

When I was younger, I remember saying I hated someone very evil.  My mom told me that was not acceptable.  “We don’t ‘hate'” she would say, “its OK to dislike someone, but never hate them”.  I replied once, “well then I dislike them to death!”  It was a hard lesson for me to learn.  Hating seems very natural, but it’s anything but, its a status of the heart.

The lesson my mom learned in her walk with Jesus is that Hate, even for seemingly good reasons, is still hate.  When the Bible tells us to walk 2 miles, what it means is that someone will come to us and demand we go one mile.  That is hate.  It was a form of slavery and societal hierarchy.  And so the response is to go twice the distance expected.

In a similar verse we are told what to do when slapped in the face.  Striking someone on the side of their head is most definitely a hate filled action.  The entire world would unanimously approve and even applaud a return strike.  But Jesus shows us that even when justified, hate is hate.   So how should we respond?  Turn the other cheek.  Let them strike the other side.  Why?  We don’t hate.  All hate is hate.  All hate is wrong.  All hate is from the most evil one.

Jesus has the most perfect response to hate.  He called it love.  And He spent His life showing it to others.  Mastering it in our sight.  Letting others document it over and over how He always chose the natural way of things.   God’s way of things.  The path of love.

And when His story was finished… when He had shown true love over and over again until His whole legacy was a lifetime of love and compassion… He spoke no more.  What else was there to say.  In a final act of love and sacrifice He lay still while hammers injected the world’s hate into his veins.

Fully loving, completely sacrificed to us, we can change the world in a very similar fashion.  We need only stop pointing to the world.  Stop trying to keep the hate scale even on both sides and let it tip over off the table when we collectively stop hating back.  Show the world a love they haven’t seen in years.

And some may look at the world and say that the death of Jesus didn’t have an impact.  Look in your mirror and ask yourself… “is that true?”.  And if it hasn’t… couldn’t it?  God didn’t put a timestamp on love.  It doesn’t spoil.  You can fully utilize it right now no matter how longs its been.

I don’t believe Jesus meant that we can’t defend ourselves when threatened.  But I do believe that we have interpreted our freedom into a chip on our shoulders that says its OK for me to get mine!  I’m allowed to be first.  I’m not going to be treated that way.  I’m not going to allow this.  I’m…. Me… Mine… My….  see the problem?  If we are on our knees before the king trying to do the Father’s business… we wouldn’t even notice the disparity.

Look at our posture.  Standing at the ready.  pointing at each other.  Anger filled, Hate fused.  Look at the posture of Jesus.  Kneeling in prayer.  pointing to the Father, washing our feet.  Love filled, overflowing with grace.  To be Christian means to be like Christ.  How far do you have to go?

 

Listen to your Donkey

We don’t hear about this much from the pulpit… but there is a talking donkey in the Bible.  The owner’s name is Balaam and the donkey is called… his donkey.  If you aren’t familiar with the story, you might take a second to get caught up:

Numbers 22:21-33

In my Bible, the heading of that story is interesting.  It’s titled, “Balaam’s Donkey”.  After reading that story, I would have thought the angel with the sword was pretty cool… and very important.  But Balaam didn’t even notice him.  You know what else Balaam didn’t notice?

THAT HIS DONKEY WAS TALKING!!!!!  Read the text.  After the donkey asked why he beat him so, he simply responded and then added a threat to the donkey to boot.  I also think its interesting that the word says that God opened the donkey’s mouth.  Note the words it spoke,

What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam wasn’t beating God or the angel.  He was beating his donkey.  And the donkey spoke.  Why ME?  Not, why HIM?  Not, leave that Donkey alone… it was, “you beat ME”.  And the donkey speaks in first person again.  Later, Balaam sees the angel and the angel references the donkey directly as a 3rd party.  And while all of that is interesting, Balaam responds to the donkey’s questions as though it was a normal conversation.

We don’t receive any physical description of fear, surprise, shock, awe, or confusion.  Balaam is so angry at this creature that when it asked why he would hurt it, he had explanation prepared and shouted it readily.  Balaam wasn’t quoted with a stutter, nor were any follow up questions mentioned.  I was expecting something along the lines of:

“you can talk!?!??!?!”  Or how about an, “I’m so sorry!!”.  Speaking tends to humanize things a bit, but Balaam was wishing he had his sword to teach this animal a lesson.

This situation screams out crazy.  Who could tell this story and not end up in a white jacket after?  But I believe that we re-enact this on an extremely regular basis.  Consider the following:

  1.  We follow our own path.
  2. We keep our head down and pay little attention to what is going on around us.
  3. Circumstances try and steer us clear, but we complain, point fingers, blame, and otherwise try to work around these “obstacles” that are actually there to help us… in hindsight.
  4. Something amazing happens.  Perhaps even miraculous.  But it wasn’t what we wanted, or our way of doing it, or in our timing, so we kick it, fuss at it, and wish it harm.
  5. God performs a holy double face-palm at His efforts to put us on track and our inability to see Him through our own small thinking.

Even when I’m trying to do good, I go about it MY way in most cases.  There are two things I think we could all do better:  (look and listen).

  1.  Keep your eyes out for sword wielding angels.  God cares so much for us.  He loves us to death (His Son’s death) and He would, and has done, anything for us.  This includes working in our lives today.  Keep that head up and look for signs, opportunities, noble paths, people in need, etc.
  2.  Keep your ears open for talking donkeys.  Don’t be so entrenched with what you want, that you can’t even hear or notice that God is clearly talking to you.  If you are open to the will of God, then you need to be always prepared to step back from the worldly way of doing things.  We need to be prepared and expect speed bumps, road blocks, detours, bridges out… If these things derail us emotionally, we will never experience the miracles off the beaten path (which will be most of them).

We can get so wrapped up in our world, we don’t even recognize it when donkey’s speak.  Balaam didn’t.  Not that I can tell.  But I can recognize his exasperation for the situation.  It’s a laser focus mentality that refuses to acknowledge anything other than plan A.  Balaam was on a mission and this stubborn beast was not going to get in His way.

Be open to the whims of the donkey… it may just be spying a sword wielding angel ready to slice you down.  Did you see how the angel talked to Balaam?  He told the man that he would have killed him if he kept going… and he would have spared the donkey.  The donkey saved his life (and tried to 3 times).  Perhaps when things don’t go our way, instead of asking, “why me!!?”, why not pray about what blessings are about to happen?  Or what warning needs to be heeded?  Balaam learned, in the oddest way possible, to be thankful for unexpected inconveniences.

I know that for me, the next time I blow a tire, I’m going to be looking around the area.  Is someone else around?  Is there an opportunity here?  Should I go another way?  Should I turn around completely?  Does the hubcap have something to say?

 

 

 

It is Well… no, really!

The best, most wonderful, precious and amazing thing we can do is pray.  But what happens when we don’t feel like it?

Most of my blogs are about prayer.  Jesus spent a huge amount of His time in prayer.  The answer to all things Christian is prayer.  The modern Christian has little else to do but pray… But there are circumstances where prayer just seems out of reach.

We aren’t worthy, we haven’t been answered, we feel let down, we are stuck in a rut, angry at God, need a break, it hasn’t yielded positive results in months.  And… etc.

Christians aren’t called to be perfect, but we are made to endure.  The song “It is Well”, if you aren’t familiar with it’s roots, was penned by a man who just lost 4 children in a boating accident.  He didn’t have the strength to do much.  So he wrote.  When peace is with me… it is well.  When trials come… it is well too.

His wife, who couldn’t comprehend the devastation, said “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”  She was having the same moment her husband was.  It was an ‘it is well’ moment.  Devastating, horrible, unfathomable, gut wrenching, and yet… not eternal.

They knew death has been defeated by Jesus.  They knew eternity and real life starts with death.  But, as the living, we mourn the loss of those we love.  And in those moments where our hearts are floating in the abyss we can’t muster the attitude that says, lets move on, lets celebrate!  Instead, we trust God just enough to know that it is well.  Or maybe for some… it will be.

Each day can bring a new season in your life.  You may be happily faithful.  You may be being stretched and prepared for great things.  You may be in an ‘it is well’ moment.  And while we will all endure each of these, it’s very important we don’t give up.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my children, but God has gained them.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my job, but God will provide.

It is well, means… I’ve received the diagnosis, but today is not the end.

It is well, means… I’m in prison, but I can minister to my captors.

It is well, means… I’m on the cross, but its for them.

It is well, means… whatever my lot in THIS life, my soul’s path is unchanged.

It IS well.  It really is.  But there are times when our inner resources need a moment to process and catch up.  We don’t live for the playing of taps, we eagerly await angels blowing trumpets.   Tears at a graveside isn’t the end of life, shouts from the heavens are where it simply begins.

It is well, means… the tomb has been sealed, but it was empty days later.

It’s about the victory that is to come, but isn’t quite here yet.  We can’t let go of that.  The loneliness, the bitterness, the emptiness… it will create a vacuum of pain.  That is when we need it is well the most.  Not quite the power to dust ourselves off and march onward, but enough faith to know that God will deliver in His perfect timing.

One of the greatest misunderstandings in the Christian faith is why we suffer.  And why suffering builds character.  And how suffering molds us into receptive and strong foes against the enemy… how it prepares us for future needs.  How one loss prepares us better to deal with another.  And how these moments are NOT created by God… but we are guided through them, by Him.

As cliched as it sounds, don’t despair.  It is well.  God turns water into wine.  He turns blindness into sight.  And, He turns tombs into celebration.  All we have to do is weather the storm.  The end of the story for the writer of this song???  His wife gave birth to 3 more children.  But that was just a momentary pause in the story.  The end hasn’t happened yet.  He awaits, along with us, for what the true ending will be.  All he knew in life, was the ending would be worth it.  How much so, is still eagerly anticipated.

But due to their faith… because she knew God knew…  because He knew THE day was about a heavenly battle already won… they rested their hopes on days to come.  This day will pass.  A new dawn will rise.  Tomorrow brings fresh opportunity.  With time, healing abounds.  It is well.

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Small portion of the story found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Spafford