Religious Lipstick

This Winston Churchill quote came across my digital inbox today:
"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."
Even though the quote is a bit cliche-like I agree with Churchill's sentiments about life being an upward climb. What the quote doesn't say is that we sometimes have to take a step down for every two steps of upward progress. Sometimes we miss this and have a tendency is to view our climb with rose-colored glasses.. we occasionally see sinful, and somewhat evil, behavior and phenomena as being a part of "God's plan" for our "ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path". It reminds me of this verse from Isaiah's fifth chapter:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
I have been guilty of doing this.. of painting a "God's plan" picture over the bad behaviors (mine and others) of my life.. it is like (that popular phrase from last year's presidential campaign) "putting lipstick on a pig" or the saying that the guys in prison used to chant: "Its all good!.

Owning up to my own bad behaviors and realizing how I used lipstick to pretty up my and others' bad behaviors has been a long and difficult journey. I so often want to be "positive" and "optimistic" about my life.. to see the bright side of sin.. to say "It's all good!".. I guess I just love the color of that lipstick :)

One of the problems believers have is misinterpreting this verse from Romans 8:
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
I think that.. on some level.. we want it to say all things are good because God uses them for our good. This kind of thinking leads us to some strange places.. places where we say things like "God is using cancer to teach me things" and inadvertently give the impression that something is "good" just because it seems to be producing good results. Another passage that is sometimes distorted is this one from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Notice that it says "in" (and not "for") everything give thanks. This passage seems to indicate that our rejoicing, praying and thanking are not dependent upon our circumstances.. they are independent of the bad stuff that comes from within creation. I think that our focus in these times is to those things outside of creation and not from inside of creation.

We do not need phony religious lipstick.. we can be real about the darkness.. we can call the darkness dark.. it does not detract from the light.. we need not call evil good.. after all there is only one who is Good :)

Angels, Saints and God's Will

Ever wonder why an omnipresent God needs angels to accomplish His will? Seems that He could simply get it done all by Himself. I submit to you that maybe angels are more like us than we think. Consider these purposes of the angels:
Worship: I love those passages in Isaiah and in Revelation where we see the angels in deep adoration of God and of the Lamb.

Communication: Scripture is replete angelic visitations bringing messages from heaven to earth.

Ministry: In Hebrews they are called ministering spirits. It brings up the images of angels ministering to Elijah and to Jesus.

Protection: I love the term guardian angel and how the most innocent and vulnerable amongst us have an angel watching over them.
I could probably come up with more.. I think that their purposes are very similar to ours. It seems that God has chosen them, and us, to bring his kingdom to earth. He could do it alone but for some reason He has chosen to include His creation to facilitate His will.

Gotta wonder what life after death will look like.. maybe we are more like angels than we think :)


I was thinking today about something my cyberfriend Danny once said. Paraphrasing his words his thought went something like this:
The point of studying and reading the Bible is not to know the Bible ... the point is to know God.
Sad how sometimes we can know biblical details and not really know the living Word. So often we can know all of the biblical stories and miss the bigger story of the bible. We can know the Hebrew and Greek definitions of love and mercy yet live our lives in ways that seem to indicate that we do not understand the words at all.

It reminds me of what Jesus said about wolves in sheep's clothing. Here is the KBV paraphrase of that passage in Matthew 7:
Be on guard when you come across people who seem to know what the scriptures say but do not act in ways that are commensurate with what they seem to know. Evaluate their actions by the standard of the fruit of the Spirit. God's children bear spiritual fruit - phony Christians just don't.
Just in case you are wondering.. here is how the KBV paraphrases that fruit of the spirit passage in Galatians:
The character of an authentic, Holy Spirit influenced, follower of Jesus is replete with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.. they have the law of God written in their heart and their lives reflect it.
I guess that word authentic is the one that I think best characterizes what I am trying to say. Authenticity is the idea that your inner and outer lives are in harmony with each other. For a believer this authenticity is first manifested when we confess Jesus.. this is the KBV of that passage in Romans 10:
Salvation happens when your heart acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that He was raised from the dead and is alive today. The fruit of this inner revelation is telling others what you know in your heart.
From our spiritual infancy a battle rages between our inner and outer being. The outer being is always happy to perform religious acts that cost us nothing.. especially when we are around other religious folks. Unfortunately these acts seldom make a difference in the world because they are seldom reflective of the Spirit's fruit and are usually acts initiated by the outer being.

Living an authentic spiritual life is what I think the scripture means when it says to walk or live in the Spirit. I think that it is difficult to live an authentic spiritual life because it is so easy to live from our outer being and to lean on our own understanding.. authenticity is not that easy.. guess that is why we need to trust Him with ALL of our hearts.

Love is an Orientation

Check out my other blog for Michael Spencer's review of this book. These excerpts from his comments tell a bit of the story:

"Marin tells stories of being rejected by gays he wanted to befriend. But he makes it clear that the defining experience for thousands of gays was their treatment by Christians, and that treatment wasn’t speaking the truth in love, commitment, perseverance and kindness."

"Many gays are angry and hurt. Most of them were mistreated by people like me."

The Prayer Question

Today is the US National Day of Prayer. My cyber-friend Chris wrote a post titled: Does Prayer Really Do Anything? Here is the comment that I left on his blog:
I guess what I read here Chris is that prayer works as long as we leave the results open to God. I kind of like that!

I think that people would pray differently if they embraced an idea where we present our needs and then somehow find the ability to trust God to answer or not answer the way that He wants.

Unfortunately the picture is often painted in the scripture is of folks like Elijah praying for rain and God answering his prayer exactly how he prayed. I struggle with this biblical picture because it presents a formulaic picture of prayer.

What do you think about people who pray for years for a specific (good) thing and never seem to get the answer that they pray for? Should we just say that Elijah got lucky or should we give them a cliche type of answer (like it must not be God's will) that makes excuses for God?
What do you think? Do you think that we should ask God specifically or generally when we pray? A few years ago I wrote about this idea in a post titled Letting Go of the Answers.. here is an excerpt from it:
So often I focus my prayers on answers and really don't put myself in a place of vulnerability and humility. I come to the Lord knowing what I want. I have a specific answer to my prayer in my mind and really don't want God to answer in any other way.
Prayer is so often so difficult when we are desperate, in pain and in need of God. Back to the question: Do you think that we should ask God specifically or generally when we pray?

Faith that Rests

This whole idea of "rest" had been a mystery for me in years gone by.. my thinking about it has gotten a bit less fuzzy in recent years. Recently I said this to a friend in an email message:
I think that when we are living from a simple faith.. believing that God is already in us (if we are spiritually reborn) and already working in us.. we (as it says in Hebrews) cease from our labors and enter into a rest filled faith that is no longer preoccupied by keeping the law.
Here is that scripture in the fourth chapter of Hebrews that I was referencing:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
I have found that I can really rest in faith when I embrace the idea that God is "already" in me and "already" working in me and through me. When I think about this whole idea of resting I think about another scripture in the second chapter of Philippians:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
It is a paradox of sorts because Paul instructs the Philippians to work but then says that it is really God who is doing the work. So what then is the work that Paul speaks of? What is the work that we should do? Another scripture comes to mind when I think about the kind of work we should be doing:
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [John 6:29]
Jesus speaks to this whole idea of works because much of Jewish tradition emphasized the "doing" of the law.. He says that the real work is simple belief and not religious performance.

So.. tying these things together.. I think that when we work the work of faith (i.e. believe in Jesus) we are at  rest because our work is all about believing that God is already working. Any actions that we have are simple responses to the voice of God that is already in us working (sometimes this feels like our conscience speaking to us). We do not have to worry about doing stuff.. we only need respond to the God that is already inside of us. It is not that hard if we can simply train ourselves to trust in the Lord that is in our hearts and to not lean on our own understanding.