Merry Christmas

She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger---there was no room for them to stay in the inn. There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them,
"Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Savior was born---Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
"Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child.

All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said.

There is no Fear in Love

Don Hendricks, my online friend, recently wrote something on his blog that I so agree with concerning the relationship between God and His people. Here it is:
I have a pet peeve about some popular ways we live out Christmas truth. It seems that many still live in a relationship with the Old Covenant. As I preach through the prophecies of Isaiah I see tremendous changes promised....but many are more interested in the God who punished His old covenant people for their sins.

We are not in a community that is punished for being out of line, for the line, ie. the law, was hung on the cross. There is still an inevitable sowing and reaping in our moral decisions, but God in Christ is for us, for all of us. Peace on earth is about God understanding we are pretty much hopeless in the perfect obedience department. Christ became God's perfect obedience, and his faith saves us. It's so simple that we simply miss the core of the good news. God loves sinners, sent His Son to save us.
Thinking about that I am reminded about a Facebook dialog I recently had with an old friend of mine where I responded to his assertion that:
"I should flee with Godly fear from all personal wrong-doing lest I come under his righteous judgment. Thus, the fear of the Lord keeps me from evil."
I pointed out to him, and I do to you today, that God is love and there is no fear in love.

A proper understanding of how the fear of the Lord evolves resembles that of an earthly child and their father. A child's healthy relationship with their (seemingly larger than life) father "begins" with fear. But a healthy relationship does not stay in fear. A grown child should honor and respect their father but should not fear him. So it is understandable, in that context, why a young believer would fear God. But as the believer matures the fear looks more like an awe filled honor and respect of their heavenly Father.

Press On

Dedicated for those who are struggling in this holiday season. I join with you in affirming:

In Jesus name we press on!

Justice comes through mercy - always has.

In his excellent explanation on the differences between "Penal Substitution" and "Christus Victor" Derek Flood examines the concepts of justice and mercy from a biblical point of view. I love the picture that He paints of God. Following is an excerpt from his writing.

Biblically to "bring justice" does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right. All through the Prophets justice is associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Biblically, justice is God's saving action at work for all that are oppressed:
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow". (Isaiah 1:17)

"This is what the LORD says: "`Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed" (Jeremiah 21:12)
The way that we "administer justice", the Prophets tell us, is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. In contrast to what the Satisfaction-Doctrine says, God's justice is not in conflict with his mercy, they are inseparable. True justice can only come though mercy.
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another. (Zechariah 7:9)

"Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice".( Isaiah 30:18)
If we want to understand the concept of justice as the writers of the Old Testament did, then we must see it as a "setting things right again". Thus when Christ comes, the way that he brings about justice is through mercy and compassion. Notice how in this next verse Christ does not bring justice with a hammer, but with a tenderness that cares for the broken and the abused.
"I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations… A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory" (Matthew 12:18-21)
The way that God brings about justice and "leads it to victory" is through acts of compassion - sheltering the "smoldering wick", and the "bruised reed". And what does Christ "proclaim to the nations" to bring about this justice?
"He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
The justice that Jesus ushers in, the righteousness he brings, have to do with God pouring his love out on us, with God showing his compassion for the lost and the poor. With God meeting us in our need and liberating us from sin and oppression. With "setting things right" - that is what biblical justice is about. There is no dichotomy between a "God of justice" in the Old Testament and a "God of mercy" in the New. There is no split in God's character. God has always been a compassionate God, a God of love. Jesus reveals who God is and who God has always been. Justice is about mercy. Justice comes through mercy and always has.

Must Our Illness Be Our Thorn?

It seems rare these days that I find something insightful on the topic of suffering.
This devotional post titled How to Suffer As a Christian – Must Our Illness Be Our Thorn? from the folks at Rest Ministries fits the bill. Here it is in full:

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same
attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” (1 Peter 4:1)

In his book “Surprised By Suffering“, R.C. Sproul says:
“. . . suffering is a vocation, a calling from God.”
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Being called upon to suffer is not something to get excited about, not if we look at suffering within the limited vision of pain and misery. Suffering only becomes something to be valued and useful to us in the light of Christ’s suffering; our suffering gains meaning in the light of Christ’s suffering.

Years ago I sensed the Lord trying to get the message of suffering across to me. I did not want to hear that I would have to suffer, but the fact is, if you belong to Christ, you will suffer, one way or another. To pick up our cross is to follow in His footsteps, and the path He walked was rough and rocky, pain-filled, and laden with suffering.

One thing suffering does fairly quickly is to get our eyes off of this world, to lessen our love for this world and begin to look forward to heaven. If we were given “heaven on earth” we’d have no desire to ever leave this place. Suffering lifts our eyes heavenward, to desire something better than this present world.

I don’t know what you might be suffering right now. You may be enduring one of the worst periods of suffering in your life. I encourage you to look toward Jesus, consider how much He endured, and place your suffering in the light of what our Lord endured for us.

It would be nice (we think), to never have to suffer, to never know pain and hardship, but whether we want to admit it or not, suffering changes us, it enables us to set our priorities correctly, and it causes us to look to, and call upon God for help.

Call upon God to help you through your times of suffering, and know that He is with you no matter what you are going through.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to stand strong in Your Spirit no matter what suffering comes our way. Amen.

About The Author: Karlton Douglas lives in Ohio with his lovely wife. He has suffered many years from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease, and has found God’s grace in the midst of suffering.

This Ole Book

With his permission I share with you a sweet poem from my blogging friend Gregg Metcalf..

This Ole Book

It’s worn and it’s torn and it’s wrinkled from use
It’s covered and its’ smothered with loving abuse
It’s been packed and sacked and traveled this land
This ole book means more to me than a kingdom grand

Every page shows its age and smudges show the place
Where I’ve read and where it’s told the story of grace
I have heard this word through the voice of my God
This ole book means more to me than this earth of sod

That Jesus died and was crucified for me the verses tell
He gave his life and suffered strife to save me from hell
Grace upon grace and a kingdom in glory with the Father
This ole book means more to me than all earthly bother

This ole book is worth a look for its God’s letter to us
Don’t miss the call for it’s worth it all, all of the fuss
Read the story of heavenly glory given as gift to you
This ole book means more to me than any golden hue

When the angels came calling dad by name I knew
Where to find my peace and sweet release in you
Promises of old now cherished as gold I love them so
This ole book means more to me than all I know

Men of old, brave and bold have died to give us this book
Burned at the stake and hoping to break their loving look
At the pages from the ages with the story of God’s care
This ole book means more to me than any pleasant fare

Take all that I own even destroy my home if you must
All that I’ve got will suffer and rot or be given to rust
But leave with me I beg and plea just this one thing
This ole book means more to me than all I could sing

Please check out Gospel-driven Disciples, Gregg's blog, here.

When Christians Are Unchristian

This week I began reading When Christians Get it Wrong, a book written by Adam Hamilton, the leader of the church that I attend.
I thought that it might help me (and maybe even you) if I recapped the book chapter by chapter. Today I'll hit the highlights of chapter one (which has the same title as this post) and add a few comments along the way.

Adam begins by telling the story of John, a young man who is very disillusioned by the actions of Christians that he knows. Adam builds the chapter around the objections of John and others like him. Here are a few points that Adam makes:

Christians sometimes act like Pharisees: Adam tells us that the religious leaders of Jesus' day often acted like hypocrites.. a term that denotes a person who is a pretender. I find this idea of being a pretender an interesting one. It speaks to me of being something that you are not. Here are a few ways that people act this way:
  • Wrong Motives: Adam begins by addressing the heart of the matter. I can relate to doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
  • Pointing out the sin of others without seeing our own: Adam cites Jesus' admonition to take the log out of our own eye before we attempt to remove a speck from another's eye. I think that it is true that we act like a Pharisee when we sit in judgment on another person's soul.
  • Majoring on the Minors: I think that most of us can relate to emphasizing our pet doctrines. My favorite saying in this area is: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity!"
  • Being Two Faced: Adam, referencing the cup that is clean on the outside and dirty on the inside, speaks to the issue of being one thing on the outside and something else on the inside. 
We are all recovering Pharisees: I wish that this is not true but I can relate to the idea of struggling in the four areas above. I agree with him when he says that Non-Christians understand that we are all hypocrites but do not like it when we act like we are not.

Getting it Right: Many do get it right.. they love sacrificially.. are filled by the Spirit and manifest His fruit all of the time. Adam speaks about Kathy, a beautician who regularly cuts hair for homeless people. I loved how he spoke of using our gifts to show the love of Christ to people who do not know Him - it is the way that Christians get is right.. it is the means that He often uses to draw people to Himself.

Responding to the Pain of Loss

Ever think about the questions raised in the book of Job? Ever wonder what the central theme of Job is?
I recently left this comment on a friends blog:
For me, the major theme of Job is grief and the grieving process. He and his wife have lost their children and all they have. Job is grieving those losses and then loses his health. Job is stunned and in shock when he speaks about God giving and taking away and accepting good and evil from God.. he is in that state of denial. As he begins to come out of denial he comes head on with his loss and wishes he was dead.

I have been there.. when my wife died I gave her eulogy and had amazing strength in that first month or so.. but then denial wore off and reality set in.. I was sad like I had never been sad before.. my heart, and my life, was broken in unimaginable ways.. and I began struggle through my grief.

For me Job is written in part to show us how grieving people can respond to great loss and how friends can be so discouraging. All during the book my heart breaks for the way that Job is hurting and people are laughing at him and unjustly casting accusing comments at him.
I think that Job is one of the most hope filled books in the bible because it:
  • speaks to the issue of pain and grief that results from loss;
  • gives me a peek into how a really spiritual man wrestled with loss and pain;
  • displays the sovereignty of God in the midst of great pain;
  • challenges me to trust God even when I am in great pain;
  • shows me that God is faithful to cause good to come out of a bad situation;
  • helps me to see that the latter part of my life will be better than the past.. even if that latter part is simply a place called heaven.
I love it how the bible does not sugarcoat life but rather how it reveals to us that life can sometimes be a painful journey. Also love how the scriptures teach us that God walks with us through the painful parts of life - and He is always there comforting us and inspiring hope in us. The scriptures teach us that our life on earth is temporary and, with regard to the joys of eternity, sorrow and pain lasts but a night - joy comes in the morning.

The Joy Of Bitterness

Ever wonder why some people seem to get a perverted sense of joy out of the negative things in life? It seems that witnessing the hardships of other makes them happy. There is a verse in the Psalms that speaks to this.. it goes like this:
Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.
It reminds me of a time in my life when I was not getting along with my boss at work. It seemed that she did not like me and was always picking on me. One day I was praying about this situation and I became aware.. aware of how much bitterness I had amassed towards her. I was cut like a sharp sword by the news. I began to pray and started to renounce with tears the bitterness that had captured me. As I prayed I asked God to fill me up with love towards my boss. And something happened - my attitude began to change and my relationship with my boss improved.

I think that bitterness is such a deceitful emotion.. the way that it grabs hold of us is so subtle.. the feelings of self-righteousness that accompany it are so powerful. Often when we are hurt or in pain we long for justice.. we want restitution for the unfair ways that we have been treated. And when justice does not seem to come we create a perverted form of justice and welcome bitterness.. and soon bitterness grows from a root to a full grown tree. Once bitterness gets a hold of us we find that it enraptures our life with perversion - and no one can share in it's perverted joy.. even though we freely share it.

I know that I don't usually go to these places here but today I wanted to share this with you because I know the perverted joy of bitterness. I still find myself having to deal with bitter thoughts towards friends and bitter feelings towards God. I wish it were not so but I have found that hardship and difficulties can still set me on a dark path of bitterness. Happily my spiritual radar is a bit more sensitive to bitterness and I find that I deal with it a bit sooner.. but it still sometimes sneaks in under the radar.

If you find yourself caught up in bitter thoughts I suggest that you do what I did.. renounce the bitterness.. call it out and repent of it.. and ask God to fill you with love. Love may not come over night.. sometimes I have prayed many times.. sometimes bitterness is cut down a branch at a time.. sometimes bitterness is defeated one loving act at a time. The good news is that the bitter tree will fall.. evil will be overcome.. as we pray.

The Will of God

Today's post is a reposting of Patricia Nordman's insightful review of Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead's book "The Will of God". I will add a few comments at the end.

"Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14 NAS).

During World War II Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead gave five talks on the will of God to his City Temple congregation in England. Fortunately for the rest of the world, they were published. Every time I hear "It's God's will," I think of this remarkable little book and how it clarified God's will for me.

Dr. Weatherhead separated God's will into three parts: 1) Intentional; 2) Circumstantial, and 3) Ultimate (ICU).

  1. God's INTENTIONAL WILL is for our good. This is Adam and Eve in the Garden. When God created Adam and Eve, it was His intention that they live forever and be happy. But they sinned and were expelled from Paradise.
  2. His CIRCUMSTANTIAL WILL is because of the circumstances in our lives. It is within this will that we find God's permissive will. This is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is Job 42:2: "I know (faith) that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted."; It is the all of Romans 8:28, that glorious rod and staff of the grieving: "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 know (wisdom) I can (possibility) do (accomplishment) all things whatsoever He asks!
  3. His ULTIMATE WILL is for His glory and our good. This is Christ's resurrection and our resurrection. It is us all in the New Earth.
The wonderful revelation as I read this book is that God's intentional will finally becomes His ultimate will, even as we go through the circumstances of our life. Dr. Weatherhead gives the example of the young man in London whose intention was to be an architect but, because the war changed his circumstances, he joined the Army. At the time this was the honorable course. The young man could not control the evil circumstances of Hitler and his desire to conquer the world, but he could control his reaction to them.

As I read the book I was comforted in the fact that nothing falls outside the circle of Divine Providence:
  1. the knowledge of God embraces it;
  2. His power is sovereign over it;
  3. His mercy holds it creatively.
The key here is God's goodness. The parent does not will evil for his or her child; neither would a perfect God will evil for His children. At the time Dr. Weatherhead gave his talks, the people in England needed desperately to know that there was a living and loving God in spite of the horror going on.

We need to understand God's will and its components before we tell the person prostrate with grief that "It's God's will." As I read this incredible treatise, I viewed us as being in God's ICU unit and God taking care of us as only He can do, no matter what our circumstances.

Thank You, Father, for being our Physician in Your ICU unit!

I liked the three divisions. It does seem that there is a permissive aspect to the will of God. Here is an excerpt from something I wrote about God's will a few years ago:
God's will is so inclusive and is so greater than our religious ideas often lead us to believe. There is truly no delineation between the sacred and the secular. Each of us have a sacred call in, and of, our heart. Connecting with that heart call and desire takes a bit of courage.
Sometimes when I think about the will of God I go to the verse that follows the one in the eighth chapter of Romans that speaks of God causing all things to work together for good. It speaks of the reason that he does it.. it says that God works all for our good so that we might be like Jesus. In the end I think that this is the overarching will of God for humanity - that we would be like Him.. and I add my amen to that.

On being completely poured out and drained..

Sometimes someone says something that is so healing and life giving. Following is such a thing. It was written in an email by a guy named Mike to my blog friend Jill Hollis whose body is being ravaged daily by an evil disease called ALS.
What I am hearing is not that you hate your LIFE, but that you hate what your BODY is doing to you and its consequences. Unfortunately, when things go way wrong with your body then it seems like it is your whole life. In my mind, that is not only normal, but if you didn't feel that way, something would be seriously wrong. I don't think the Scriptures that say to "give thanks in all circumstances" mean you must always enjoy what you are experiencing or not feel depressed. When Jesus was in the garden, I think he HATED what was happening to him and how he was feeling, too. He wept....repeatedly. He was so wrought with emotion, blood beaded up on his forehead. When he looked for comfort from his best friends, they were sound asleep. When he prayed, he asked that the future be different, knowing all along that it wouldn't be.

Hating what is happening, wishing it were all different, being disappointed at how those around you are dealing with your circumstances...Jesus felt and experienced all those things and the remarkable thing is that God never once chastised him for having those feelings. It's okay to be completely poured out and drained. What God hopes and expects from us is that when we get to our lowest, we will simply do what Jesus did and talk to Him - honestly, openly, and with complete sincerity about what you are feeling.
Thanks Mike! This is such wise and compassionate counsel. Could not have said it better.

Defeating Sin: An Issue of Inner Strength

Just a few brief thoughts this morning about defeating sin in our lives.
Here is how I commented at Jeff's blog this morning:

I think that the issue of sin is an issue of keeping our innermost being strong . If we feed and exercise our innermost being then we will be able to defeat sin because sin happens when our outer being is in control. So the issue is one of strength.. if we are strong on the inside then we can exert control over sin.

My favorite verse about sin is James 4:17:
"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."
Our innermost being knows the right thing to do. Sadly our outer being sometimes wins.. and we sin.

Redeeming Pain and Relationships

My blogging friend Mike recently posted about Joseph and his struggle to rise above his beginnings. Here is the comment I left on his blog:
Whenever I think about Joseph I remember that he was a teenage boy who lost his mother to death and had a hurting father who saw Joseph's pain and tried to help by giving him a wonderful cloak.

Another wonderful aspect is the way that God changed his heart after his brother's showed up in Egypt. I love it how God helps us to let go of the past and find something redeeming about it.
Just a few short thoughts about redemption.. how our pain often needs to be redeemed.. and how God can work in redemptive ways to restore broken relationships.

I can relate so well because I have a son who once lost a mother when he was a teen.. and a ten year old daughter who witnessed, with her brother and father, her mother die.. I can relate to wanting to ease their pain with gifts.. and I can relate to seeing redemption in the midst of that pain. I am amazed by God's redemptive purposes.

How Many?

Today's post is written by a guest blogger..

How Many?

A man shuffled in the back of the church, his shoulders drooped and bent
Standing awkward with hat in hands, his pride was finally spent
All alone he stood and gazed at the cross upon the wall
Years of being beaten down, there was no where else to fall

He slowly made his way down front, his eyes fixed on the altar
The closer he got, the slower he walked and his feet began to falter
Clearing his throat, he nervously spoke, "I know I shouldn't be here.
I don't deserve to kneel before you, but it's good to know you're near."

"I know this ain't a Sunday and my clothes ain't clean and new,
But I'm so tired of running Lord, and I need to talk to you.
I can't come in on Sunday, cause the people turn and stare,
I just don't meet their standards, with my beard and scraggly hair."

"I've been down this road before and I know just where I stand.
I may be rough around the edges, but wouldn't you still shake my hand?
There's more like me, than people think...that want to come inside,
But so many folk, can't see beyond...they just close the door and hide."

"Just as I am", that song is old, but don't they sing it anymore?
Do I really have to fit their be welcomed at the door?
I don't know much about the Bible, but I'm hoping that it's true,
That through your eyes I have potential and you can make me new."

"I hope that it's ok with you, if I go ahead and kneel,
Cause even if I'm still a mess...I'm doing this for real.
Here's my heart, please clean it up and free me from any pride,
Cause a "clean outside" don't mean a thing...with a "dirty heart inside."

Standing up, the man turned around to walk back down the aisle
Still just as just as long, but on his face...a smile
The change in him only God could see, for the moment and that's fine
He's in the race for all he's worth and he'll cross the finish line

How many times? How many people? How many...young or old?
How many lost ones just stay lost...cause they didn't "fit the mold"?
God forgive us for "how many", you know each one by name
Clean or doesn't love us all the same

Merissa Lee Kelley
November 15, 2001

What Is Required

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. -- Micah 6:8

I love this passage - it is so simple yet so hard to walk out.
I believe the essence of this verse sums up the 10 commandments and, what Jesus called, the great commandments ... to love God and to love each other. This verse adds some clarity to loving ... says a little bit about what love looks like.

To act justly. The dictionary defines justice as "The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law." God is a deeply concerned with how we treat each other. When we love each other we are also deeply concerned that others are treated fairly. Jesus said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you ... this is the heart of acting justly.

To love mercy - oh how the standards in God's kingdom are high. Jesus confronted the leaders of His day by telling them to discover what it means when God says He desires mercy and not sacrifice. We, like the leaders of Christ's day, often can't see the proverbial forest of mercy for the legalistic trees of our traditions. How we often judge each other when it is on God's heart to show mercy. Isn't it interesting how it says to love mercy ... could it be that we show our love when we are merciful?

To walk humbly. I have often said that humility for a believer is not optional ... you humble yourself or God humbles you ... and we all know that the former is much better than the latter ... He lifts us up when we initiate humility. I think that it is only when we walk in humility that we can truly act justly and love mercy ... humility at it's core is just and merciful.

What is good. Justice, Mercy and Humility ... they are good ... they are required ... they are not optional. Jesus personified each for us ... the most just ... the most merciful ... and the humblest man that ever lived. May our lives reflect Him in justice, in mercy and in humility.

Eternity and the Heart

Ever think about the future? Ever wonder about the afterlife? King Solomon when he was old thought about such things when he wrote Ecclesiastes. He wrote:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)
Interesting that, in context of eternity, Solomon says that He has made everything beautiful. That is good news because life before death is often not too pretty, much less beautiful.It is interesting that we all seem to be born with this concept of eternity but really cannot understand it, even at a superficial level, with our heads. I guess that is because we cannot grasp timelessness.

I know that I cannot imagine a place where there are no seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks or years. What I find interesting about this idea of eternity is that it is a concept of the heart not the head. It is a concept that confronts us at a heart level. It causes us to wonder at a gut level. Sad that many take eternity, try to discern it with their heads, and arrive at some strange places. Maybe this sort of cogitation is a way to handle an unanswerable question with a non-answer?

Guess I'm just rambling now so I'll wrap up another brief post with a question. What does it mean to you to have eternity in your heart?

The Sermon on the Heart

A few years ago I had an opportunity to preach at one of our local jails. I shared a synopsis of the Sermon on the Mount (from chapters 5, 6 & 7 of Matthew's gospel) and it's relationship to the heart / innermost being. Here are a few of the highlights:

Matthew 5:3-16: The Virtues of the Heart

Jesus starts His message with the beatitudes - what a life lived from the heart looks like. In this section he talks about heart issues like mourning, mercy, gentleness, passion, justice, purity and peace (to name a few). He also talks about persecution - something that often results when we live an integrated heart life. He ends this section using the metaphors of salt and life. I believe that this is Jesus charge to live from our heart and not be afraid to let people know who we really are.
Matthew 5:17-48: The Heart of the Law
Jesus states that He is the fulfillment of the Law. This is another way of saying that He is the giver of the new heart. This new heart enables us to live the law from our hearts and not our heads. He goes on to address the inner issues of the law. He says that the external is motivated by the internal – murder, adultery, revenge, and enemies are all manifestations of inner heart issues.
Matthew 6:1-7:6: Invisible Heart Living
Moving from the negative aspects of transgression Jesus now addresses our heart motives with respect to giving, fasting and praying. Here he hits religious people where they live. He instructs us to lead invisible lives. He indicates that disciplines are truly spiritual when they are done in secret. He tells us to seek the invisible and God will take care of the visible. Lastly He blasts those who judge others - only God knows the heart.
Matthew 7:7-28: The Heart of Faith
Jesus talks about praying persistently and not giving up when we pray. He talks about people who seem to be spiritual on the outside but are not spiritual at a heart level. He ends his discourse reminding us that heart faith obeys - standing on the scripture not hiding behind it.
Here is the reaction from the crowd when He is finished:
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)
I echo this sentiment. I am in awe of Jesus - I understand the crowd's amazement when I read "you have heard" ... "but I say to you". Jesus' heart message is an encouragement to all people wanting to be inwardly spiritual but not outwardly religious.

Step Into Your Pain

Been thinking about these verses lately:
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)

In his "Notes on the Bible", Albert Barnes gives us a historical perspective on the phrase "take up his cross":
'When persons were condemned to be crucified, a part of the sentence was that they should carry the cross on which they were to die to the place of execution. Thus, Christ carried his, until he fainted from fatigue and exhaustion.'

'To carry it was burdensome, was disgraceful, was trying to the feelings, was an addition to the punishment. So “to carry the cross” is a figurative expression, denoting that we must endure whatever is burdensome, or is trying, or is considered disgraceful, in following Christ."

Can you relate to the idea of losing your life? It is a somewhat alien idea for most of us who grew up in the me generation. Jesus speaks to us and says that we cannot live unless we die. He emphasizes the point by speaking of gaining the world and losing your soul - pretty sobering stuff. For me this idea of losing my life got practical when I was confronted by the loss of my first wife Ellen - enduring and experiencing loss of any kind engages us in the grieving process. When I think of grief I always think about my grief recovery group and about it's leader Chaplain Mike who told us that grieving is a proactive process - no one grieves passively. I vividly remember Mike's challenge to "step into your pain". So often we spend so much energy walking around our pain instead of walking through it. This is particularly true of emotional pain.

I think that when Jesus says "take up his cross" He is speaking about stepping into painful areas of our lives. He is talking about believing in the midst of difficult circumstances - trusting and remaining in Him when everything in you is screaming run. Pain won't let you stay who you are - it will change you ... it will make you bitter or better. Here is Jesus' three step approach to losing your life:
  1. Deny Yourself: Thayer's Greek Dictionary defines the word translated 'deny' like this: "to lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests". This is the heart of the sacrificial life. No one ever sacrificed for another and held on to their own interests. This is our call - to lead lives of sacrifice for Jesus and for each other.
  2. Take Up Your Cross: Embracing hardship, difficulty and pain is often where the sacrificial life gets real. It can be said that sacrifice is not sacrifice unless it hurts. These are the times that try us and sift us. Jesus says of these things: "Pick them up and embrace them"!
  3. Follow Jesus: The path of our cross was modeled by our Lord in a profound way when He picked up His cross for us. When we follow Him we follow this path. When He picked up His cross He stepped into pain ... physical pain ... emotional pain ... spiritual pain. It was intentional. His pain bought our redemption and provided for our reconciliation.

Being an active believer is often not an easy road because it is the path of sacrifice ... it is the way of the cross ... it steps into pain. Next time you are tempted to take an easy route just follow Jesus' 3 steps instead. You will be better for it.

We Get Up

I love the message in this song that my blogging friend Kelli introduced me to. It rings so true. It is not that we do not fall.. in a sense falling is sometimes a consequence of walking in faith.. stepping out into new territory can be risky. It speaks to this from Proverbs 24:16..
though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again
Perseverance is the heart of faith. Obstacles confront us.. trials besiege us.. we occasionally fall.. sometimes fall hard.. even so.. we get up.. we press on following Jesus.

Worry, the Brain and the Heart

My blogging friend Gregg, at Gospel Driven Disciples, recently posted about worry and the bible. Here are my thoughts about worry that I posted in the comments:
Generally I found that I did not worry that much in my early life.. I was pretty resilient and even when my wife went blind when I was 22 I do not remember worrying that much.. I do remember crying though.

As life goes on though we do see a lot of bad stuff happening.. bad stuff happens to us.. my wife died when she was 43.. other bad stuff followed.. my kids acted out as they grieved her loss with all sorts of bad behaviors.. I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that caused disability in my joints.. my second wife got real sick and is now in a wheelchair.

So when I think about the future I sometimes wonder what God will allow to afflict me.. not sure that it is worry.. but I do ponder the future.. always a problem when our brains are engaged. But when I engage my innermost being I find that I have hope.. not that bad stuff will not happen to me.. but that God will be with me if it does. And IMO that makes all of the difference.

Jesus said that we would have trials.. He also promised to be there when we do.. a message from His heart to ours.. now if I could just disengage my brain :)
I think that worry is a natural response from our brain because, generally speaking, we worry about the things that we have no control over. We worry about our future, our health and our kids.. and the futility of worry becomes so evident over time.. yet we continue to do it instead of engaging our innermost being. Some lessons are so hard to learn

Not a Holy It

I like this article from Charisma magazine and thought it would be a good reminder for us.. regardless of our denominational disposition.

-by J. Lee Grady.

We charismatics celebrate the Holy Spirit, yet our theology of the Spirit is often off balance.
Two popular charismatic speakers stood on a stage two years ago and decided they should demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. One guy pretended to throw an imaginary "fireball" at his friend, who promptly fell over as if he had been zapped by the divine power. Then, feeling equally playful, the guy on the floor stood to his feet and threw the "fireball" back at his friend—who fell after the "blob" of God hit him.
Everybody laughed and had a hilarious time at this outrageous party. There was just one problem. The Holy Spirit is not a blob, a fireball or any other form of divine energy that can be thrown, manipulated, maneuvered or controlled.

This scenario happened in a charismatic church—a place where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presumably honored and understood. It's incredibly sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity. At the risk of sounding way too elementary, I'd like to offer this basic layman's guide to pneumatology—the study of the Holy Spirit and how He works:
  1. He is the Spirit of the Lord. He is not a force (as in Star Wars), a magical power or an "it." The Holy Spirit is God, and we should revere Him as God. The concept of the Trinity doesn't make sense to the human mind. Yet Scripture reveals God as a triune being. As theologian Norman Geisler writes: "God is one what (nature) with three whos (persons). This is a mystery but not a contradiction."
  2. He is our Regenerator. Jesus told Nicodemus that we are born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). True conversion is the most supernatural thing we will ever experience! When a person puts his faith in Christ for salvation, it is the Spirit who opens the heart and quickens divine life. He then indwells us. While this is an invisible process, it is no less miraculous. When we are converted our hearts cry out, "Abba! Father" because the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15); He gives us confidence that we are now children of God.
  3. He is our Empowerer. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit we are "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49, NASB). The Spirit who already indwells us fills us to the point of overflowing. Jesus said the Holy Spirit's power would flow out of us like "rivers of living water" from our innermost being (John 7:38). This overflow releases supernatural boldness (Acts 4:31) as well as the anointing for various gifts of the Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.
  4. He is the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit has access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. When we abide in Him, He leads us continually into truth—causing us to grow and mature spiritually. He wants to fill us with the treasures of heavenly revelation. We can fully trust Him because He never does anything to violate the Word of God. As our teacher (1 John 2:27), He knows the difference between truth and error, and those who depend on Him will walk in discernment and avoid deception, pride and carnality.
  5. He is our Counselor. This word is also translated "Advocate," "Comforter" or "Helper." The Greek word, parakletos, means "one called alongside to help." It implies that the Spirit comes to our legal defense when we are accused or troubled; it also means He is a close friend who offers encouragement, consolation and direction when we face any difficulty. He is truly a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
  6. He is our Intercessor. This is probably one of the greatest miracles of grace. The Spirit who lives inside of us "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). Even when we don't know how to pray, the Spirit prays the perfect will of God. No matter what kind of dark difficulty we face, the Spirit travails for us until we emerge on the other side.
  7. He is our Unifier. Like the master conductor of an orchestra, the Holy Spirit pulls together each individual Christian—with all of our diverse gifts—and causes us to flow in synchronization as one body. The Spirit distributes His gifts to individuals (1 Cor. 12:11) and He brings about the "fellowship of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 13:14)— a supernatural, loving harmony among believers that overcomes jealousy, envy, strife and bitterness.
  8. He is our Refiner. The Spirit took the form of a dove at Christ's baptism, but He is often portrayed in Scripture as a fire. He is the "refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2-3) who purifies us of selfishness, pride and wrong motives. The Holy Spirit is indeed the fire of blazing holiness, and He can be both grieved (Eph. 4:30) and quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) when we disobey His promptings.
As we prepare to celebrate the day of Pentecost in less than a month (it's on May 23), let's meditate on all aspects of the Spirit's work in our lives—and invite Him to fill us in a fresh way.

His Glory Awaits

My brother's wife Fran passed away last week. She was 63 years young and left a husband, 3 married children and seven grandchildren. She was a believer.

Today an anonymous commenter left the following at a friends blog who is facing a painful death at the hands of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). I found it to be an uplifting message, especially in light of Fran's passing, and wanted to share it with you.

There is no death! This does not seem as though Reality to you right now.

Our Lord Jesus conquered death for us. When our temporary flesh becomes no more, the most alive you have ever known greets you and encompasses you. It is like being in Christ Jesus our Lord in a most profound living, indescribable joy.

Love and Life of our Father is so beyond magnificent; you will not want to even consider going back to the clay of yesterday. I tell you, an abounding Glory of Life and Love await you! An incredible warmth of Holy Love of our most awesome Father is nothing to fear, dear sweet one.

You will never trade it to go back into the clay. Fear not, for His Glory awaits those in Christ Jesus, with the death of the temporary body comes Life as you have never believed it could be. A Life that is truly living; you will thrive in Him, who is Life, Love, and Light-Christ. You most certainly will not be alone, nor cold; Glory and you become as one, you live; He lives. You live eternal, just not in the current clay.

Inhaling and Exhaling God

Heard a great sermon from a young preacher yesterday on the breath of God. Here are the three scriptures that he used in his message:
The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. [Genesis 2:7]

This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. [Ezekiel 37:5]

Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit". [John 20:22]
Love the imagery of how we inhale God's Spirit into our lives - that is the first half of the message. The second half was how we exhale God's breath in the things that we say and do. I think that the world is longing for the breath of God.. even if it comes from us. Reminds me of this great scripture in the seventh chapter of John's gospel:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Again we see the another symbiotic relationship - when we are thirsty we come to God for a drink that others might drink from that same living water as it flows from our innermost beings. Amazing!

Building Inner Strength

Riding down the road today I began thinking about these two passages from Galatians that deal with the way that believers build inner strength:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (5:22-23)

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (6:7-9)
In the first passage we get a peek into the character of God in the Christians life. The second passage tells us how we can develop those inner qualities.

To be patient we must sow seeds of patience when we are tempted to be impatient. To be strong in love we must defy the gravity of hate when we lift the barbell of love. When we exercise self-control we sow seeds that will make us spiritually stronger. It is true with each aspect of God's fruit.. we reap what we sow.

It is not a matter of fleshly works that we figure out with our heads - it is simply responding to the voice of the Holy Spirit in our heart. We are growing spiritual fruit with each seed that we sow.. we are growing in the ways of the Spirit as we, in faith, plant spiritual seeds. It is a kingdom thing.

Instructions from the Cross

Many have written about the last seven things that Jesus said while He was hanging on the cross. I think that, in a sense, Jesus was not only setting an amazing example for us but He was also giving us instructions for living. In the following brief sharing I will try to look at those things he said in light of how He instructs us to live"

"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

In saying these words Jesus was giving us a true picture of what forgiveness looks like. He was telling us that our forgiveness is not dependent on the nature of the heinous act that is perpetrated against us or even if the offender really knew what they were doing or not. Hanging there on the cross Jesus simply forgave.

"Woman, behold, your son!" ... "Behold, your mother!"

Jesus so loved His mother.. a sermon in and of itself. In these verses we see that Jesus looked past His excruciating pain and showed care for Mary as he entrusted her to his friend John. It reminds me how at the beginning of humanity Cain, speaking of his murdered brother Abel, challenged God saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" From the cross Jesus seems to be answering Cain's question.

"Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

What can be said about the thieves on their crosses that hasn't been said before.. one cursed at Jesus and the other simply asked Jesus to remember Him when He came in His kingdom. And Jesus assured the latter of Paradise. It is almost too simple for even me to accept. Maybe that is the instruction in this verse - keep the gospel simple.

"I am thirsty."

Jesus speaks to us from the cross of His humanity, His suffering and His pain.. and in this verse of His thirst. He reminds us of His description of the poor being those sick, imprisoned and thirsty.. and of His instructions to care for such as these. When we care for them He tells us that we care for Him.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These are difficult words to read.. something deep inside me resonates with what Jesus is saying and how He is saying it. Many wax theological about this and point back to Psalm 22 and seem to think Jesus is just fulfilling prophetic scripture. I think that He is giving us a glorious example to follow when we are in pain. He shows us that trusting the Lord sometimes involves questions and sometimes involves feeling alone. His words comfort me.

"It is Finished."

In these three words the Son of God settles salvation and ends the reign of Satan on earth. The world has been different since this moment. Because Jesus finished what He started people have hope. In these words Jesus instructs us to endure and finish the course we are on until that day when we can say, like Paul, that we have finished the race.

“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit”

With His dying breath Jesus instructs us about living. In a sense He is instructing us to commit ourselves each day to the Lord. He instructs us to trust the Lord even when things are the darkest.. even when the pain seems more than we can bear.. even when everyone has forsaken us. I think that there is no better way to live or die.

Making His Ways Ours

The twenty-first chapter of proverbs speaks to us about how our ways are not like the Lord's ways. In this chapter we discover that God's ways are patient ones bearing with us as travel life. It speaks to us of His heart for the poor and His desire for us to be kind, work hard, speak positively and not complain.

"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs te heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin." (v1-4)

I love the way that these verses blends the ways of the Lords with the ways of a person. I think that it is so wonderful how God is portrayed as more of an influencer than a controller. He is interested in working with us to refine our attitudes, strengthen our innermost being and bring us to a place of humility.

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death." (v5-6)

I have often thought of how the ways of kingdom living have no shortcuts. We can not get to where God wants us to be when we use sinful shortcuts. I think that even prayers can be an attempt at shortcutting God's purposes when we offer them for selfish purposes.

"It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. ... It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman."(v9, 19)

I think that child or husband could be substituted for wife.. living with a complainer can be hard. That said I have to say that I live with a non-complainer - Ann could spend her days bemoaning the wheelchair she spends so much time in or the physical difficulties that she daily wrestles with but has chosen a path of being positive. Is so appreciate my wife's inner (and outer) beauty.. her discipline and attitude often puts this complainer to shame.

"Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (v13)

I have had a lot of dialog with my friends about whose responsibility it is to care for the poor. I consistently say that it is "our" responsibility. I hope that one day we believers will put the government out of a job - even if it is just a little bit.

"Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. ... The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back." (v17, 25-26)

I have been concerned for some time at the growing fixation on pleasure in our society. It seems that the days of people working hard and supporting their families have given way to video games and online social networking. I pray that America will one day regain the prominence we once had in research, development and industry.

"Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor." (v21)

I love how righteousness and kindness are linked together in this verse. Possibly kindness is an evidence of real righteousness.

"A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust. Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride." (v22-24)

I think these three verses all involve our speech. I can often tell when I am most proud when I pay attention to what I say.

"No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord." (v30-31)

I sometimes think that I am a pretty smart person.. I have lived so much of my life from my brain.. but so often life reminds me that I am not very wise about the most important things in life.. it is why I so desperately need to seek the Lord. Our ways are not His.. our love is not like His.. His ways do not fail.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Listening to Your Emotions

This ten minute video features Dr Matthew Elliott talking about his book, "Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart." I like the focus in the video on listening to and not following our emotions.. I use emotions and not "heart" because I think that it is a clearer term.. so often in scripture the heart is mentioned as a reference to our innermost being.. the place where the Holy Spirit lives.. that part of us that we should be following. Here are a few clips from Dr Elliott from his post on the Jesus Creed blog:
I was with a woman this morning who lost her son to tragedy three years ago. This intense, strong, vibrant follower of Jesus told me that she had almost left the church because people spoke theology and empty Christian platitudes to her instead of feeling and weeping with her. It was terribly empty. She found comfort from those who would share her pain. That is the way God made us.
We think our job is to control our feelings and in our church culture we are uncomfortable when people feel deeply. In our desire to distance ourselves from feelings, we do great damage to souls and our own ability to feel love and compassion.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the doing we forget that, to God, the core issue is the state of our hearts. Feelings have much to say about the true state of our hearts, that is why they are so prominent is Scripture
Our most powerful witness is often not what we say but how others see we feel our faith. The world is not asking us for perfect answers and ultimate logic. What people are asking Christians is: "Do you love me? Does the life you say you have in Christ bring you the joy and hope I want in my life? Can I see it on your face?"
The imagery of "feeling and weeping" with someone is one that many feel so uncomfortable with. In a sense I think that feeling another's pain is a way that we can love them. I have often cried with others and have had folks cry with me - in each case I have felt a bit more whole.. a bit more human.. a bit more loved.. a bit more connected to God. I think that people need us on many levels.. my prayer is that each of us will be open to the Holy Spirit's ministry of loving others in this compassionate way.

Following where You Do Not Wish to Go

This funny picture from ASBO Jesus represents how I sometimes feel about following the Lord. In the last chapter of John's gospel Jesus says this prophetically to his friend Peter:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go."
Sometimes life is like that isn't it? Sometimes we like Peter find ourselves living out a future that we had not ever imagined. Jesus continues his thought to Peter with just two words:
Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!"
Oh my.. did you catch that.. it is like Jesus is saying to his friend that He knows hard times will come.. even imprisonment.. even death.. in spite of all that Jesus tell Peter to simply "Follow Me!"  Of course, Peter now understands where following God has led Jesus.. he witnessed Jesus' prayer in the garden.. he heard Him beg the Father to let the cup pass.. he heard Him say "Not my will but yours be done".. Peter had counted the cost of following Jesus.. and yet he still pressed Jesus by asking this about his friend John:
So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?"
His answer to Peter is brutally frank:
Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!"
Ouch! Nothing like God to put you in your place and help you to understand your role in the relationship.. it is a very difficult directive but one that I believe leads us to a place of peace about our circumstances.

When I think about my life it is so easy to go to the "woulda shoulda" places and bemoan what might have been or what could be - I sometimes forget about how Peter and all of the Apostles save John died.. I forget that Jesus' promise to them and to me is to never leave or forsake us when we follow Him in places where we do not wish to go.

Knowing that truth calms me and produces a sense of contentment in my life. Sometimes life happens and we find ourselves in a place where we never dreamed we would be. In seasons like that it is good to know that God has providentially brought us to these places and His promise stands - He is with us.. even in those places where we do not wish to go.

Masks of God

According to this article bearing the same name as this post and written by Gene Edward Veith: "God works through you in your vocation, whatever it may be." Here is how it begins:
When I go into a restaurant, the waitress who brings me my meal, the cook in the back who prepared it, the delivery men, the wholesalers, the workers in the food-processing factories, the butchers, the farmers, the ranchers, and everyone else in the economic food chain are all being used by God to "give me this day my daily bread."

This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone— Christian and non-Christian—whom He has given life.

Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face—our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor—but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.

The other side of the coin is that God is hidden in us. When we live out our callings—as spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, citizens, and the rest—God is working through us. Even when we do not realize it, when we fulfill our callings, we too are masks of God.
I love the idea that we are the masks that God wears as He ministers in the world. Here is the way that Dr Veith wraps up his teaching:
If we are masks of God, even when we do not realize it, it is also true that God is masked in our neighbor. Particularly when our neighbor is in need—when he or she is sick, hungry, thirsty, naked, a prisoner, a stranger—Christ Himself is hidden. "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren," the Lord says, "ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40).

In serving our neighbors, we end up serving Christ after all.
I so resonate with this. Regardless of who we are.. even if we do not have a "professional" title.. we can minister His love to those who are made in His image. We are the masks He wears and the gloves He puts on to minister His love to broken and hurting people.

On Judging Sinners ...

Been think of late about the whole tension that exists amongst religious folks and sincere people of faith. Consider the contrasts presented in this story from the ninth chapter of Matthew's gospel:
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"

But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: ' I desire compassion and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the
righteous, but sinners."
Here are a few of my thoughts about the contrasts in the passage:
  • Matthew: There is something wonderful in the simple way that Jesus called and Matthew followed.. I think that it reflects the heart of Jesus.. and Matthew's response is reflective of his heart as well.. imagine what it must have been like for an outcast of religious people to be called this way.. simply wonderful.
  • Pharisees: There is something dark and sinister about the way that these folks reject the call to sinners.. I think their judging attitude is reflective of people that have dark and hard hearts.. the religious elitism and arrogance is so repugnant.
  • Jesus: Once again our Lord amazes us as He confronts the issue head on rebuking the religious people and instructing them about how they should be responding to sinners.
I think it sad that religion prevented some sinners from answering Jesus call. I wonder what it is about religion that caused us to harden against God? It reminds me of what James says about real religion:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Notice that James mentions nothing about judging sinners or keeping the law.

Changing the World from the Inside Out

For many years I have loved to read and collect quotes from all sorts of people.. famous and not. A while back I read this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
For many of my earlier years I would have embraced that comment - my life was all about impacting the world.. making a difference.. being someone! Then one day I gradually came to that same realization that Solomon did in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes:
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Lets take a look at his words point by point:
  • Each of us have our own roles to play in the world.. no one is insignificant;
  • Our work in itself is a thing of beauty;
  • We are bigger than what we do.. there is a sense of eternity in our heart;
  • God's ways are beyond our intellectual capacities;
  • Our response to God and life is to rejoice and do good;
  • The simple things like food and work are God's gifts to us.
So often we people of faith, like Gandhi, embrace an arrogant and self-important view of ourselves thinking that we are God's gifts to the world when in fact the simple things of life are His gifts to us. We often seem to live out tired cliches like:
"If it is to be, it is up to me."
The truth of the matter is that even God the Son could do nothing on His own. Consider this:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
I think that lasting change can only come from the an inner heart level.. only when we are changed from the inside out. In a sense Gandhi was right.. we have to "be" changed on the inside by the Holy Spirit.. but we do not have to embrace a philosophy says that somehow being is all about outward acts and appearances.

The Question of God

I have been having a great conversation over at my other blog with a commenter called Happy.. here is a part of one of his comments.. it hits to the heart of his response:
All I am stating is that the model of a omnipotent and ultimately moral God is inconsistent with what we observe in the real world. My point is that only a Utopian world can be consistent with such a God. In my humble opinion the very reason that we do not live in such a Utopian society leaves us with the following options: Either he does not exist, or he exists but is not omnipotent, or he exists, is omnipotent but simply unwilling to help which would make him immoral.
I think that many have this kind of view of God's role in the universe and those folks are stymied when people think differently. Here is one of the responses I had for Happy:
I guess my reactions to much of what you are saying is that I think that your image of what God should be is that of a divine manipulator of creation.. a God that has created a robotic existence.. a God who is afraid of pain.. a God who is not interested in having a relationship with His creation.. a God who doesn't understand what it is to love. That kind of a deity does not attract me at all. Okay if it does you though.
I think that many times people come out of painful situations blaming God for their pain.. many times this sort of reasoning is felt to be consistent with who we imagine God to be. The truth is that God created humans in His image and as such we have the capacity to choose our responses to pain.. we are free to choose His ways or we can choose our ways.. and our choices are a reflection of us and not Him.

The Erroneous Theology of Job

Last year my son and I were in the car and he advised me that he thought I was a modern day Job - I had to chuckle as I told him that Job had nothing on me. Of course we all have a story and mine is not all that different than many.. it is just different than folks who have not dealt with the death of a spouse.. or a parent who has not dealt with grieving children.. or a person who has not struggled with a disabling disease that has attacked their spouse.. we all struggle.. and our struggles are ever so personal.

So when I think about the story of Job in the Old Testament I first think about two parents who lost all of their children and their possessions.. and my heart breaks for them. I also think of a man who struggled with a disabling disease that inflicted him with boils all over his body.. a man who had friends.. and a man who was trapped by a bad theology.. a theology that yet disables many even today. It is the theology of divine judgment.

Job and his friends argued about the reasons for his hardships.. his friends blamed him.. Job asserted his innocence.. but at the heart of their cumulative thinking was the idea that someone was to blame for what happened.. and God was judging Job and his wife for some secret sin that they had committed. Even though Job asserted his innocence he did not contest the basis of his friends claims. Job also believed that his hardship was God's judgment.. he just did not believe that he was guilty of a sin worthy of the judgment.

Of course Job's hardship was not initiated by Job or by God.. the story tells us that Job was not being judged.. it says that Job was blameless.. and it also says that Satan (not God) killed Job's children and afflicted Job with a disease. Even so Job and his friends believed that God's judgment was involved.

This theology of divine judgment often rears it's ugly head even today. When bad things happened to New Orleans four years ago religious pundits were speaking about the judgment of God on this area. More recently religious prognosticators were embracing Job's theology and speaking oracles of divine judgment when a massive earthquake hit Haiti. These religious folks seem to have embraced the erroneous theology of Job by saying that hurricanes and earthquakes were God's reaction to somebody's sin.

Interesting that in Job's story God shows up at the end of the story speaking from a whirlwind.. but the wind did not seem to hurt anyone or damage any property.. perhaps God's winds are of this sort? The end of Job's story also teaches us that "sometimes" hardship ends okay - I say okay because even though Job was healed, his fortunes restored and new children were born there were still many lives lost in tragedy.

The moral of Job's story is that things are not always as they seem.. bad things happen to  blameless people.. and it is foolish to blame God or invoke a theology of divine judgment when hard times come. I reject that theology on a personal level and I also reject it for the people of New Orleans and Haiti.

Sins of a Weak Heart

The seventh chapter of proverbs is focused entirely on the temptations and consequences of sexual sin. It is so compelling to consider that Solomon, one of the wisest of all men, thought it so important to drill this information into the mind and heart of his son in so many proverbs.

"Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend” (v4)

I have often said that wisdom is an inner quality.. something that only your heart or innermost being can possess. The mind is a great tool for accumulating and assimilating information but it is not equipped to lead you in wise and insightful ways. It takes a humble heart to navigate life. It takes a strong heart to defeat sexual sin. And it is good to remember that a strong heart comes only from pumping spiritual iron.

"I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense"(v7)

In this verse we see the definition of a fool.. one who is simple and lacking in sense about the consequences of sexual sin. The remainder of the chapter is an indictment against such fools.

"With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life." (v21-23)

Throughout the psalm Solomon weaves imagery like those of these verses in warning that the path of sexual sin is the way of death. In each psalm I have considered so far Solomon has warned his son to keep himself sexually pure.. it is like he wants his son to escape the heartbreak and death that this kind of sin has wreaked on his own life.

If you liked this post then please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Remembering Martin

To celebrate the day I thought that I would share a few quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.. sometimes I forget that he was first and foremost a Christian man.. many of these quotes reflect the beautiful heart of a very young man..

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live.”

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'

That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.