Capital I and Understood You Make Jesus Sad

We do something subtle in the English language that I think speaks volumes to how we think of ourselves and treat others in respect.

The pronoun ‘I’ is the only pronoun capitalized. But this wasn’t the original intention. After very brief research, it seems the only reason it was changed was because i (lowercase) didn’t stand out enough when written. We have the word ‘a’ that remains lowercase, but i became I so it could be more easily noticed.

I might not have thought much more of that if we didn’t also do something peculiar with the word ‘you’. We completely take it away. Its called the understood you. So, I can say, ‘go to the market’ and the ‘you’ remains absent from print because everyone simply understands what I meant, so I shouldn’t have to say it.

Did you catch that? ‘I’ needs to stand out and be noticed, while ‘you’ needs to remain hidden. ‘I’ is the exception to the rule. And we know how to do that so very well.

I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, who after being forgiven his massive debt rounded up those who owed him smaller debts and refused to forgive them. He was a capital I. He sought mercy when he couldn’t pay. It was all about him. And once the mercy was received he sent the lowercase ‘you’s’ to jail because it was still all about the important capital ‘I’. They owed him money.

He simply couldn’t understand how they could be in the same boat he was in. They had families and needs and sicknesses and circumstances and they cried for mercy just as he had. This is exactly what happens when I am capital and you are lowercase… or even worse, you aren’t even on the page with me.

It’s in how we write and talk, It’s in how we drive, how we treat each other online, it’s even seen in the churches… we just can’t stop admiring that tall, slender, capital ‘I’. There are so many scriptures to quote about how God intended for us to treat each other that I feel like just handing over the Bible should cover it. It’s everywhere. It’s in every book, in every timeline, in every parable. Both Old and New Testament, both before and after Jesus..

Even as Jesus hung from the cross he found a moment of compassion and made sure someone would take care of his mother after he finished dying.

We have spent so much time learning how unique and special we are, we forget that everyone else is too. And while there are some good lessons to be learned about how God created us as individuals and why… it kind of lets the air out of the balloon when we consider that if every single one of us is special, then the very thing we all have in common is our special-ness.

In other words…. none of us are special because we all have something special. Special is common among God’s creation. Instead of finding our servant and demanding what is ours, we are meant to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 6:31, John 15:12, Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10… and so, so many more)

What an amazing verse, that Romans 12:10… ” Outdo one another in showing honor ” Its a contest to come in last place. By our standards, we need to concede. We should yield. Words that don’t sound positive at all… lose, forfeit, surrender, sacrifice.

Ah, sacrifice. So many verses in the Bible talk about forgiving as we have been forgiven. Just like the unforgiving servant. A sacrifice has been made for us as well. Should we accept the sacrificial lamb and then refuse to sacrifice for others? I don’t believe that was the spirit of the gift.

I believe we are meant to deflate the I. It’s time to put you back on the page. The most significant man to walk the earth made himself insignificant with us in mind. He did it completely so we could have some significance. Our response is not to demean or belittle others.

There is an age old lie being whispered to your inner conscience. It was told to Jesus when he fasted for 40 days. I will make you a king. I will give it all to you. Others will serve you. You will never want again. Look at how big and shiny that ‘I’ is. Nothing can compare. You deserve this. Those insignificants can’t take that from you…

We are supposed to be fighting. It is a war. But the battle is to lift each other up. To outdo one another in showing honor. To lover greater, sacrifice more, and forgive first.


Photo by Anto Fredric on Unsplash

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God Can Be Such a Chore

Is there something in your life that you just keep putting off? Hour after hour, maybe even day after day you find other distractions to pass the time until eventually, inevitably, you just have to break down and do it? We call them chores. A necessary task that we would rather not do, or at least, its no where near the top of our priority list.

Sadly, this sums up our placement of God in situations. I know there have been times when I only read because I skipped the last few times. I’ve only prayed because I felt guilty. I’ve only asked because I needed something.

Have you ever been in a relationship like this? Has anyone ever told you, “you weren’t my first choice” or “you are the best of what’s left”? I sure hope not. But, if we aren’t excited to great God each day and spend time with Him, I’m afraid we might be on the giving end of this type of neglect.

The phrase sounds harsh, and maybe even a little sacrilegious. But if I’m honest with myself, I have made God a chore at times. He has been a burden to me. Something I only did because I had to, not because I wanted to. But I think that honesty will let me rebuild the relationship. I can confess and bask in the new day God has given me.

We live in a world filled with evil when temptation successfully convinces us to shrug off the only hope we’ve ever had. It doesn’t even feel like an attack at all when it happens. Just a passing thought… I’d rather watch TV, or go to the movies, and hang out with friends, or catch a nap, or maybe even do real chores. I’ll spend time with my creator later… when I’m not so busy.

A simple thought. A passing notion. And maybe even a little productivity in life as we run errands or build relationships with others. But demons cheer. They know something we often forget. We are at war and they just separated us from our defense. They drove a wedge between us and our community of faith. They delayed a mighty prayer.

We grabbed a hotdog and played some Sudoku, but they exchanged high fives and danced a fiery jig. Anytime they can make God into this mystical, distant, abstract thought, they win a massive stronghold in our lives. They like to take the humanity away from God.

God became flesh. He walked this earth. We are already made in His image. When we don’t see the face of God, we tend to think more of Him as an ideal. Maybe even a cause. Sometimes I don’t recycle because the recycling bin is too full, or its too far away. Sometimes I don’t give an extra dollar to cure cancer at the checkout line because I’ve given enough already.

But Jesus isn’t a faceless organization. He is our brother. God sent His Son to embrace us as family. When we reject time with him, we aren’t just telling a stranger that we gave at the office, we are telling a loved one that we found someone else. Something better. Something more meaningful to us.

We need to understand the implications of our priorities. This isn’t a plea to go to church. God doesn’t want people to sigh and exclaim, “fine, I’ll go to church!”. He wants His family to join Him in the victory. He wants what we all want. He wants to be chosen back. We all know what it feels like to be left out, forgotten, and ignored. Can we comprehend that we can do this to the one who gave it all for us?


Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash

We Need More Strange and Dim

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”

Helen Howarth Lemmel (1922)

Those words are from a beautiful hymn and if you haven’t heard it there is a short clip of the chorus embedded at the bottom of the page. You might wonder about a few things. Strange. And dim. Those aren’t typically positive things. Try asking your best friend or spouse if they could start being strangely dim for you. Some of them may be way ahead of the game or already there… others will just look at you weird.

The best way to explain why we want strange and dim in our earthly things can be described in a short camera tutorial.

Examine the picture at the top of this page. You might recognize Emmet from the Lego movie. Hi Emmet! Can I ask you to see what is behind him? I’m going to presume you can’t… even if I tell you. From left to right we have Chloe from Secret Life of Pets, A Camel from Prince of Egypt, the Ghostbuster’s car, Bob the minion, Teddy Pierce from Community and the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard. How many did you get right? I’ll show you another picture in a moment.

That blurriness in the back that you can’t make out is called bokeh and most photographers will pronounce it wrong. It’s pronounced BOH-kay. It is intentionally putting parts of an image out of focus using light and depth of field. You might start noticing that most pictures and even movies and TV use this effect because it makes the subject stand out. It separates items from the background and immediately draws the eyes in to what you want the viewer to look at.

To pull this off you have to do a few things that I will itemize below.

  1. You have to put the subject in focus.
  2. You have to open up the aperture to let in more light.
  3. You have to separate the subject from the background.

Briefly put, you have to put your focus on what matters. You can’t be a good image of Jesus if you aren’t even looking at Him. We must focus. If you have used a camera, you likely know that isn’t as easy as it sounds. You may have to zoom in and isolate the object you desire. You have to wait for lighting, move things around to get them in or out of view. Adjust settings, change positions, etc. You don’t just click a button and walk away. You may need to brace yourself against something to reduce arm shake, or get down on a knee to get the correct angle. Focus means taking time and really studying the subject.

We are taking an image. A likeness. The more time we spend on the subject, the more accurate the picture will be. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more reflective we will be of Him. We can’t just take a quick glance and claim Christ-likeness, its a lifelong process filled with blessings of pain and hope. And each step along the way we are perfecting our portrait of Him in our lives.

Opening up the aperture is widening the hole that lets light come in to hit the sensor. More light means a better picture and less grain. But as you do this it creates a depth of field. The more light you let in the easier it is to focus on what matters. The subject pops off the screen and looks incredibly sharp as it is contrasted against things that begin to blur away. The more depth of field you have, the more the focal point stands out. We need more light to look like Jesus. He is the light of the world and many of us turn out underexposed when we try and act like Him… without Him in our hearts.

If you need to, scroll back up and check out Emmet again. He is the only discernible thing on the page. The final way this happened is that I separated Him physically from the background items. If they all existed on the same focal plane (i.e. they were all side by side), there would be no way to visually differentiate them to create any depth. They would all be blurry, or they would all be sharp, but either way, no one would like the image. It would just be a jumble of items.

When we focus on Jesus, and separate Him from the garbage of this world, and let His light into our life… the stuff that doesn’t matter begins to blur. The junk disappears. The treasure in heaven becomes sharper, brighter, and closer and the things that will burn up with this world will darken into a distant background.

If what you want is Jesus, there isn’t room for the other stuff. We either take Him and only Him and we push back the lies and garbage that the enemy promises… or we buy the lies and enjoy the temporary treasures of this world. But look at what happens when you leave the camera in the same place and adjust the focus…

Now you can see the cool toys I lined up behind Emmet. But what happened to Him? Like I said, you can’t focus on both. If we make a grab for the strange and dim… we lose the Savior. Focusing on Jesus isn’t easy. But once we realize the things of this world are traps, garbage, and extremely temporary use-once kind of things… We can begin to see how its easy to find joy in seeing them fade out.

What are you focused on? What is keeping your eyes from locking in on Jesus? Why is it so hard to let go of addictions, pride, greed, lust, anger, and all of that trash? We hate it, we are ashamed of it… but we can’t seem to let it out of sight. Try focusing on the Master and letting His light in your life. And when things that seem important now start to slip away… let them! It’s the only way to get Him in clear view. That is when we can start to look like Him and draw others to the one we strive to imitate.

Eating Meatballs With God

Last night my wife made meatballs. They were tasty! Our five year old boy was excited. “Meatballs!!!!!” he exclaimed. As she was portioning out the food to make sure we had enough for tomorrow, she mentioned he was getting 6 meatballs. His excitement turned to concern. “aw… I wanted 7”. He said it again when he heard no response. He was now sad. As he ate his food he kept mentioning how hungry he was and how desperately he needed more meatballs. (of course he was stuffed before he could finish what he was initially given).

If you have any experience with a 5 year old, you know the number does not matter. If she had promised 4 meatballs, he would have wanted 5. If she had mentioned 20, he would have needed 21. But what we can all relate to, even us seasoned adults, is that he did not enjoy his food while he ate because he was preoccupied with what he didn’t have.

Some of us are better about this than others, but I know many adults who still struggle with enjoying what they have and living in the moment. It’s this latter part that is more universal. Living in the moment. Forgetting the past and using the time given to you as you get it to make the most out of life.

We spend so much time idolizing or regretting the past and so much time worrying about or trying to expedite the future, we spend very few moments living in the present. The problem is that God doesn’t promise us an earthly future and He doesn’t care about our past. So the only thing we have that can connect us to God is the now. The moment we live in where we actually have the ability to be Christ-like (Christian).

We can’t connect to God through our past decisions, even the good ones. God doesn’t hold a grudge, He will accept us as we are, but He also doesn’t accept yesterday’s version of you. Our walk with Him isn’t a decision made in the past, its a constant, life changing, on going, daily, adventure where we live and breath while basking in the presence of our Savior.

We can’t connect to God through our future. It hasn’t happened. We can’t control it. We can’t make it happen quicker. The future is futility. Each moment passed is another future moment just out of reach. Tomorrow simply becomes tomorrow the next day. Even worse, Not only do we still have a tomorrow after tomorrow, but now we have another yesterday to pile on that we will likely regret or overly cherish.

So when do we enjoy life? When do we commune with our Lord? When are those moments that build up a fruitful and successful life? We miss them so often because they are so rare. Not rare in quantity but extraordinarily rare in our ability to choose them. They are the moments we have. The time that is given us. The present. The now.

We are given them every day. We have one right this minute. But when we fervently try to refuse the moment, it goes un-lived. Our nose is stuck in the rear view mirror while our foot has the gas peddle mashed in. We live only for the future while trying to change the past. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t live in two time frames at once.

This is not a new struggle. We have been cautioned to ‘stop and smell the roses’. But we have sped up. Stopping isn’t enough anymore. We need to get out of the car. Its the notion that we have control. We can back up and move forward at will and with great speed. And while we think we are having an effect while doing that, all we really accomplish is spinning the wheels over every useful moment until they become yet another regret in our mirrored past.

This might all make sense if our God who became man was still buried in a tomb. It would be fitting that people who seemingly worship the past would be the followers of an ancient god that once lived but now rests in a sealed crypt forever. We could ponder what he once was and how it could have been.

But since we are the followers of a risen King… a living God… our monument’s door is open and the insides are kept, clean, and EMPTY… so, past tense doesn’t really work for us. He wasn’t god… He is God. He is alive. And so our worship is to Him. It is with Him. Now. Today. Right now.

Our minds have become tombs of their own. Past conversations… what I should have said, what I would do if I had the chance, how I felt. They aren’t just full of regrets, but feelings, memories, expressions. One of the first things we need to do as we don the label of Christian, which means Christ-like… the first thing we need to do to resemble Jesus… is to blow the door off our own graves and let out the past.

Free it. Let it go. That isn’t us anymore. We can’t be the transformed person God wants us to be if we are clinging to the past. We can’t be renewed if we are prisoner to our mistakes and missed chances. Through Jesus, we have died to that life. When we climb out of that mausoleum, we are faced with the now. The moments that actually matter… the ones that contain that magical ability to live. To actually live free from regret and worry.

This is when we can grasp the Savior’s hand and walk with Him. And when we do that, there is no fear or worry, because our future becomes every waking moment, thoroughly enjoyed and gracefully lived to the fullest. This is where we can taste the meatballs and enjoy them in the moment. No taxes, no root canals, no bills, no traffic… just savory goodness.

Because this moment right here… it’s all we have… and it’s where God is. He isn’t in the worry over things not seen, and He isn’t found in the regret. He wants to eat meatballs with you, but we have to rise to our new life in this open, unclaimed moment and pick up the fork with thanksgiving.

We can all shovel food down our throats and effectively accomplish the task of eating. Each of us knows how to breath and we can turn oxygen to carbon dioxide with the best of them. But that doesn’t mean we are LIVING. The living God left his tomb behind. We are meant to join Him.


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

When Will God Fix My Life?

One of the more difficult tasks I face as a Christian is to see the perfect and holy plan of God play out in a fallen world.

There are some great selling points in the Bible. Lining up behind God means I never have to fear again. God is my rock, my strength, my resting place. Rest! Oh, how I love the sound of rest. Peace is also promised along with never having to worry again.

Verse, chapter, and book, all line up to show the amazing, wonderful, and awesome life of a Christian. Sign me up twice!

Then I have a bad day at work. The car breaks down. The kid gets in trouble. My friends are all on sabbatical, I get sick, A loved one dies, moths have taken up residency in my wallet, and in this crowded world with so many people in my face I can hardly breath… I feel all alone.

Do you ever flip through the pages of your Bible like you just signed a bad agreement with a used car salesman? I have. This isn’t what I thought I had bought. Is there fine print in there? Where are the parts that talk about fun, freedom, and constant happiness? I could have sworn those were in there somewhere.

Part of my problem is my ability to selectively read. When its positive, I tend to take it as literal and immediate fact. But when the Bible mentions picking up my cross and following in the footsteps of Jesus… the one who stepped through torture, and death, I tend to feel like this part is more symbolic.

When the disciples faced fear while Jesus was in the boat with them… or when we are told that prophets are never accepted in their own home towns, or even when Jesus promises suffering and persecution… well I thought He meant that for everyone else.

When we look at Christianity as a fix to our problems we end up being sorely disappointed. It’s not a cure for sickness, nor immunity to pain or loneliness. God isn’t our genie and Jesus didn’t die to take away our pity parties. With Christ we still suffer and we will all die.

Jesus didn’t take away death, he defeated it. He took away its sting. He turned it upside down. Instead of death being the end, its now the beginning. Where it once was the defeat, its now the victory. Funerals have become celebrations.

When Jesus said, “it is finished” as He died on the cross, He created the ability for us to do the same. We get to bury our loved ones knowing they are in rest. They have now gone to a place where pain can’t get to them. After a life of loss they have passed into an eternity of gain. They will never be taxed, cheated, or mistreated ever again.

No more alarm clocks, no sickness, no barking dogs, no crying babies, no traffic… we retire from the pains and losses of this life. Jesus made this possible by going first. He heaped our sins on Himself and paid the price.

He didn’t sacrifice Himself to cure hangnails or stop cars from breaking down. He came to us to take the permanency away from death. His empty tomb is the real promise made. Yes, life is better with Jesus. Yes, God can and will do amazing things in this life… but we will still suffer. We are still human. We still live in a fallen world with a terrible enemy that wants to destroy everything.

The promise Jesus made is that one day, our grave will be empty too. And because Jesus paid that ultimate price for us, we get a choice. Do we want to spend our eternity on the other side of death with the one who causes pain, promotes sickness, breaks up families, destroys lives, and deceives… or do we embrace the man who meekly climbed on the cross?

The man who cured blindness, raised the dead, walked on water, prophesied the future, and exposed the true hearts of all He encountered… just calmly allowed human men to torture and execute Him. Why? I mean, really… why?

We have to grapple with that question and come to terms with our own understanding of why someone capable of commanding the weather and the seas would simply give up Himself. The answer I have come up with is that He loves me. He loves me so much, He wants me on His side of eternity. He loves me so much He doesn’t want me to be sick anymore. He doesn’t want me to lose loved ones. He can’t stand seeing me in poverty.

And His solution is Heaven. He is going to take us home. To the place where we belong. With death defeated, we will still die… but the grave becomes a cheap hotel on the way to an amusement park. It’s the temporary place holder until the amazing and indescribable happens.

So today, I’m going to stump my toe, deal with a headache, work a tiresome job, offend someone unintentionally and get offended. Soon, I’ll lose a loved one, get sick, and eventually die myself. And that is what I live for. I have a relationship with God that assures me that life begins with Jesus’ return.

Until then, there is an enemy who has everything to lose. More specifically, he has me to lose. He will lie, corrupt, and kill to get at me. But I love the one who loved me first. The man who gave it all to me… I will give to Him. He will call my name and I’ll run out of that grave.

But this choice we have… it isn’t made at the gates of heaven with one of the saints holding a list, like we see in so many cartoons. The choice is made while we still live. It’s the decisions we make in spite of the pain. It’s how we respond, how we act, and what we do with the minutes afforded to us.

If there was a really long line to get into a great club, would a complete stranger invite you to skip the line and stand with them? Would they give up their spot for some random person wandering by? No. But a friend might. I believe Jesus plans to vouch for His friends. He is going to mark our sins as “paid” when He recognizes those that chose Him in those darker moments of life. He has every incentive to because He chose us in His absolute darkest, most lonely, moment.


Photo by Hunter Haley 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?

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