Church Says, Jesus Says
Often time people have asked me to describe the life that Jesus expects one of his disciples to have—the only life that will lead to receiving the power of God’s Spirit to truly transform the believer and all those around her. What does this life look like? What does the disciple say and do? Those of us who have been raised in the Church—in contact with Jesusy things—may have never even considered the question, or, perhaps, we have and answered it incorrectly. You see, unlike in our modern world where we’ll here statements like, “I know my truth,” there are incorrect answers to the question of what Jesus expects the Christian life to look like. This is the beginning of a closer look into what I believe to be the best single text for describing the life of a disincline of Jesus Christ: It is located in Luke 6:17ff.
A few Sundays ago we took a look at the opening five verses of Isaiah 2 (in fact, I think that we’ve touched on them before on this program).
In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob. That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
When we take a little deeper dive into this passage and the verses immediately following, we are confronted with a truth that many Christians seem willing to ignore or dismiss: There will come a time with the very people we expect never to seek God’s presence will, in fact, do that very thing. Isaiah tells us that these peoples will stream up the mountain of God to learn from God, to learn from God’s people, what it means to live a life according to the will of God—to live in righteousness. Are we ready for this happening? Are we ready to say, “Since this is what a Christian looks like, this is what I will be”?
Now if you ask 100 Christians what the Christian life should resemble you will probably get over 100 different answers—particularly if any of them are in ministry or are pastors. Sadly, many of us have never taken the time to delve into the specifics; our assumptions seem to be enough for us. But because of this, those seeking to begin a new life, those who are traveling to the mountain of God to learn righteousness, will encounter murky, oft contradictory, descriptions of Christian life and Christian teaching.
Some will define the the disciple through discipline.
Some will define discipleship by the quantity—although not always quality—of bible study.
For some it’s about prayer.
For others it’s about duty, loyalty, and keeping vows.
For some it’s focused on tradition.
For some it’s service.
And yet for others it centers on finances and attendance.
The same holds true for denominations, the evidence on display in their worship and practices. The focus of Christian life in the Roman Church differs from that in the average Southern Baptist one—the former with an emphasis on sacrament—and work—and the latter primarily on scripture—and work. There are earnest Christians seeking to be disciples of Jesus in both; there are posers in each, too. But there are also some who just plain get it wrong, those whose faith goes no deeper than their assumptions. Yet even though there are vast differences between these two traditions concerning polity, doctrine, and practice, there is still this unity at their core: the words and example of Jesus Christ.
I’ve come to believe that there may be a significant difference between Christian teaching and that of Jesus, himself. This divide between what institutionalized Christianity finds important and what the Nazarene does cannot be ignored through the usual practice of assuming that you know/have all the answers. “I know that I know that I know,” is a common refrain where Christian teaching takes precedence over the words of Christ, the words of scripture, and, even at times, common sense.
Now when I’m talking about Christian teaching I’m speaking about the knowledge that we have received through others; it is our traditional way of receiving information from others intended to bring about an understanding of what it means to be called a Christian. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—and indeed is necessary—but it cannot be the only means of discerning spiritual truth. “Well, that’s just the way it is and has always been.” The words that come to mind at this point are right and wrong—in the sense mental assent, the sense of knowledge, the sense of winning and losing an argument. Put simply, this teaching is institutional. It is needed to define a society, to distinguish the role and place of the Church within the broader culture; but it is not, out-of-hand, synonymous with Christ’s teachings. In some ways, although in practice a necessity, Christian (or institutional) teaching is incongruous with Jesus’.
Christian teaching will invariably precipitate argument. Differences of opinion, understanding, and perspective are not to be avoided as their tension produces growth and change; however, problems can and do often arise when they become dogma. Although these disagreements do not necessarily devolve into contention, dissension, and emotionalism they do little to advance (i.e. to grow) the kingdom of God in this world: Children still awake to and sleep in hunger; the innocent continue to die in wars not of their own making; the lonely and the lost are continually ignored, neglected, and forgotten, even by those with a grasp of Christian teaching. Jesus’ teachings, rather than equipping disciples to win the argument, center upon making love a reality for those in need of it. His words help us to become a blessing. This is why Luke chapter 6 is indispensable to anyone seeking to be a disciple of Jesus Christ’s and not just a churchgoer. Here we find a direct answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” It is an answer with which we must come to terms if we are going to be able to follow the Master into new life and to bring that new life to others.
Escaping Judgementalism: Trust & Release (aired 5.Nov.18)
The last two episodes of FirstDay have focused on trust—on its necessity as a conduit for God’s blessing and the foundation for our ability to participate in God’s promise to the world. When we have trust, we are included in God’s great plan of salvation, and we have a chance to become what we were created to be. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus:
In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.
Joshua 2 and the story of Rahab was our focus two weeks ago—in episode 7. She is a prostitute, likely driven into this occupation by poverty, who makes the decision to place her trust in two strangers serving an unknown God rather than to do what would be considered by most the more expedient and most reasonable thing: Instead of turning the spies who have come to visit her over to her king, she instead helps the two to escape in the hope that their commanders and their God will honor the pledge that they make to her to keep her family safe. This is the same trust that Abram exhibited when he left his home back in Genesis 12—and the same trust through which God’s blessings flow to a world, to people, in need. Trust is the necessary ingredient in God’s use of you and me in his desire “to sum up all things in Christ.” Trust is necessary for salvation.
Trust is the cornerstone of all of our relationships and without it, we are all, each and every one, isolated and alone. We have to trust that God will remain true to the promise; we have to trust that God’s Spirit is working in others as it has worked in us; we have to trust that God has created us and shared with us honor and glory, and because of this we are able do the impossible; in other words, we must trust that God can use us as vessels of blessing regardless of who we are. Remember, a poor, foreign prostitute’s trust save lives and ultimately allowed her to be part of Jesus’ own lineage.
Last week’s program, You Look Marvelous, focused on one of the primary hinderances to trust’s development: superficiality. In a world that tells us to save time so that we have more time for ourselves, it’s hard to muster the courage to risk getting to know other people, because folks are just going to let you down; why waste the time? But it takes time to cultivate trust in others. Since real relationships, real friendships, are difficult, we settle for something quick, shallow, and superficial…a click instead of a call, a brief statement rather than a conversation. “I mean—if she doesn’t put it up on her feed, how can I possible know?” (inanimate objects instead of spouses) Let’s be honest, how many of the things that your Facebook “friends” post do you actually believe? And speaking of FB friends, how easily do you remember the names of the last ten that stopped being your FB friends? Without a willingness to go deeper—to be present in the lives of others—to risk wasting our time on someone—we are unable to cultivate trust. And a lack of trust leads to judgementalism.
Become compassionate as your father is compassionate. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:36-38)
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true. Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance? By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. Yes, affliction and distress will come upon every human being who does evil, Jew first and then Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek. There is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:1-11)
Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [For] one person considers one day more important than another, while another person considers all days alike. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So [then] each of us shall give an account of himself [to God]. (Romans 14:1-12)
(James 4:11-12) Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?
So exactly what is it that we are not supposed to be doing? By extension, what does it mean to do the apparent opposite: to forgive? Jesus uses the word ἀπολύω (apoluo) in his command about forgiveness—meaning to release or dismiss. It is interesting that the same word is used in the gospels in reference to marital divorce. Most of us would never equate forgiveness and divorce in any way; in fact, most divorces, I dare say, probably end because of the lack of forgiveness. So can we come to a deeper understanding of what it means to forgive through this link with the act of divorce? Interestingly, the same word is used in Luke 2:29 by Simeon when Sweet Baby Jesus was presented for circumcision. Upon seeing the child he blesses God and says, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
As you can see in the above passages—and as you will surely find in your experience, forgiveness (this letting go, this release) is inexorably linked to the act of judgement. Κρίσις (krisis) is a Greek feminine word “to distinguish, judge”. Broadly the word is understood to mean: 1) a separating, sundering, trial, or contest; 2) selection; 3) judgement (an opinion or decision given concerning anything, especially concerning justice and injustice, right or wrong). (Strong’s #2920) It is linked to the Hebrew מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), a word whose primary association is with courtroom proceedings—and embodies the Jewish understanding of justice—which is the same word, actually. According to Rabbi Julian Sinclair, biblical mishpat, “a justly ordered society,” is foundational to biblical Judaism. Jeremiah 9:23,24 read:
Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.
Only God can bring justice according to Jeremiah 9; only God can bring about a justly ordered society. Only God can bring order to a person’s life. As a Christian, I would say that Jesus is addressing this very thing when he declared himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Only God can do this because only God can act consistently in unconditional love. In other words, when we judge others we are attempting to take God’s place in determining what is mishpat—what is just, good, and orderly. Being judgmental is our attempt to make others conform to the image that we want them to have. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus declares anyone who judges to be a hypocrite because in the very act of judgement, he or she acts against God’s desires. To apply Jeremiah 9: this human judge is boasting in his or her wisdom, might, or wealth and not boasting in God—a God who, according to Ephesians 1, brought redemption and forgiveness through a grace that was “lavished upon us.” This same God revealed his will to us that all things were to be brought together in Christ—that all things might be blessed.
Our judgementalism works against this stated desire and arises from the shallow relationships that come about because of the lack of trust. When we judge others we demonstrate that we not only distrust them but that we lack trust in God’s ability to bring all things together in Christ. Remember, to forgive means to release, to let go, so when we forgive others—when we release them—we are, in fact, trusting that God truly delights in “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” and will see us through. This choice, however, is not without its risks.
When we choose to trust, we risk being hurt; we risk being wrong; so we must ask ourselves if we believe God’s promises to be worth this risk. Trust costs us a lot: control, peace-of-mind, tradition, wealth, position, and maybe even our identities—to trust God might mean turning away from a life that you have grown to love, or at least become accustomed to. There are costs to distrust as well: isolation, stress from worrying about what others will do, all the things others would have brought to the relationship, and the untrustworthiness reflected back at you by those you refuse to trust. Perhaps the greatest cost of all, however, is receiving God’s promises as we live into our calling to be a blessing to all those we meet—even the ones that we would rather not trust. When we take the time to develop trust in all of our relationships we cultivate the ability to forgive others, to release them into God’s care, and we limit the likelihood of developing a judgmentalism that keeps us as isolated and ineffective disciples of Jesus Christ as we walk along the only Way that leads to everlasting love, justice, and righteousness.
Michael Rogers shares this story of the power of trust.
Once there was a businessman who was on a long flight when the first warning that something was wrong came over the PA system. The pilot asked everyone to take their seats and fasten their seat belts.
After a while another announcement came over the PA. The pilot calmly told the passengers that they would not be offering beverage service due to unexpected turbulence on its way.
As the businessman looked around the aircraft he noticed some of the passengers becoming a little worried. Later, the pilot announced that in addition to no beverage service, there would be no meal service due to the expected turbulence.
The plane came upon the storm shortly after this last announcement. Thunder could be heard all around the aircraft and lightening could be seen lighting up the dark sky. Within a matter of minutes the plane was being tossed around like a small toy with passengers becoming more and more fearfully alarmed by every big bump. One moment the plane was lifted and the next it was dropped as if it was crashing.
The businessman was also becoming somewhat anxious and as he looked around the plane nearly all the passengers were upset and alarmed. Some were praying. The future seemed ominous and many were wondering if they would make it through the storm.
Then suddenly he saw a little girl out of the corner of his eye. Apparently, the storm meant nothing to her. She had tucked her feet beneath her as she sat on her seat; she was reading a book and everything within her small world was calm and orderly. Sometimes she closed her eyes, then she would read again; then she would straighten her legs, but worry and fear were not in her world. When the plane was being buffeted by the terrible storm, when it lurched this way and that, as it rose and fell with frightening severity, when all the adults were scared half to death, the little girl was completely composed and unafraid. The businessman was completely amazed!
When the plane landed passengers hurried to get their stuff and get off. However, this little girl sat and calmly waited for everyone to exit the plane. The businessman decided to wait as well so he could talk to this little girl.
After having commented about the storm and the behavior of the plane, he asked why she hadn’t been afraid.
The little girl replied, “Sir, my Dad is the pilot, and he is taking me home.”
Let us pray.
Loving and patient God. Keep us ever mindful of you promise never to leave nor forsake us so that we may devote ourselves to building trust in all of our relationships. Help us to trust in your power to change lives—not only those of others but also our own—so that we can cease judging others and instead love them with the same love that you have shown to us in Jesus Christ. And through our trust in those things that you hold most dear—steadfast love, justice, and righteousness—help us to release into your divine care all those who have hurt or taken advantage of us, in order that all things might be brought together in your precious and holy Son, Jesus Christ—in whose Name we pray. Amen.
You Look Marvelous (aired 29.Oct.18)
During comedian Billy Crystal’s stint on Saturday Night Live he created the character—well a caricature of—Fernando Lamas, who would interview talk-show style in Fernando’s Hidaway. In today’s vocabulary the character’s catch phrase would be said to have gone viral; it even became part of everyday conversation, like the “Whassup” that came and went—though I still hear it from time to time—and the most horrible “dilly-dilly” of today. (Sorry, unnamed beer company, that’s what you get for selling out.) Okay, back to Fernando. His catch phrase was, “It’s better to look good than to feel good, and you look marvelous.” Sadly, the sentiment behind the statement seems to have taken root, and I’m not quite sure that we can move beyond it. Even worse, what at one time was recognized by most as being superficial is thought of by perhaps even the majority of people today to be deeply complex. What you'll find below are some of the notes that I took as I prepared for the episode.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
Resources: Pew Research Center report Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’
In 2014 Pew set out to determine if social media platforms were places where people might find it easier to share “their opinions, thus broadening public discourse and adding new perspectives to everyday discussion of political issues.” In the study, researchers found that people were actually less willing to discuss issues in social media than in person. Facebook and Twitter users were also unwilling to share their opinions in face-to-face encounters “if they did not feel that their Facebook friends or Twitter followers agreed with their point of view.”
Why would this be? Could it be the “like” effect?
In early 2018, according to Pew, 73% and 68% of American adults utilize YouTube and Facebook, respectively. 78% of 18-to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, with 71% of them visiting the platform each day, the same percentage that use Instagram. ONLY 45% of this group uses Twitter. A whopping 94% of 18-to-24-year-olds utilize YouTube!
Nearly three-quarters of FB uses access it daily—a vast majority of American adults regardless of demographics. It appears as if FB is doing a better job at bringing people together than the Church. Only those 65 and older appear to, at least in part, eschew FB and other social media platforms. FB is by far the preeminent social platform—other than video sharing—in the United States; “none of the other sites or apps measured” by Pew “are used by more than 40% of American.”
74% of FB users visit daily—with 51% visiting multiple times per day. Again, this is essentially the same use Pew found in 2016 (76%).
There has been a 12% increase in the number of people reporting that it would be difficult to give up social media since Pew’s survey in 2014. On the contrary, 59% state that it would not be hard to give up on using social media. Although the study notes that with the exception of Twitter—whose use has increased—FB, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pintrest use had plateaued since 2016.
88% of 18-to-29-year-olds; 78% 30-49; 64% 50-64; 37% 64 and older
Of note to me are the numbers on Snapchat usage. 78% of 18-24 use it, but usage falls to 54% of 25-29 year-olds. 63% and 60% of Snapchat and Instagram users, respectively, visit the platforms daily. Daily Instagram use has increased 9% since 2016. In the 18-24 demographic the percentages are even higher: 82% & 71% for Snapchat and 81% and 55% for Instagram.
41% of women use Pinterest (16% men)
50% of college grads use LinkedIn (9% those with only high school or lower)
49% of Hispanics use WhatsApp (14% whites and 21% blacks)
Almost ¾ of Americans use more than one of the eight social platforms measured by Pew. “The typical (median) American uses three.” 18-29 use 4; 30-49 use 3; 50-64 use 2; 65+ use 1.
59% say they could give it up; 29% say not hard at all. 40% say it would be difficult to give it up, with 14% finding it very difficult, although the percentage of those stating that it would be difficult has increased since 2016. These numbers vary with age: over ½ of 18-24 would find it difficult to give it up, but only 1/3 of 50+ year-olds feel similarly.
Only 3% of people put a lot of trust in the information that they get from these sites.
Trust and the Heart of Gold (aired 22.Oct.18)
Why is it so important to trust in God? Was Abram declared to be righteous by God because he simply believed or because he acted upon his trust in God’s promise? Well, that is a rhetorical question; the answer should be obvious. We believe in all sorts of things, but what do we really trust in? Upon what can we completely rely? How we choose to answer this question is indicative of the quality of our relationship with God and the magnitude of our power to bless. When I scoured the internet for quotes about trust—or the lack thereof—I was bombarded with with so many. From Nouwen to Hemingway to Stalin, we have such a broad range of perspectives.
Ronald Reagan’s, “Trust but verify.”
“Breaking someone’s trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it over but it’s never going to be the same again.”
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” – Ernest Hemingway
“Only trust someone who can see these three things in you: the sorrow behind your smile, the love behind your anger, and the reason behind your silence.”
“I trust no one, not even myself.” – Joseph Stalin
“It’s hard to trust when all you have from the past is evidence of why you shouldn’t.”
“It’s good to trust others but, not to do so is much better.” – Benito Mussolini
“Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.”
“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” ― Paulo Coelho
“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”
And the opposite: “How can people trust the harvest unless they see it sown?”
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. – Stephen R. Covey
These are only a smattering. But the final three hit closest to the heart when considering God’s intention. Stephen Covey reminds us that trust is the foundation of all relationships—whether between people, God, or even our stuff. What happened to your “beloved” car that broke down one day and left you stranded on the side of the road in November and in the rain? Even though you loved it, and even had it repaired, your trust in it was never quite the same, was it? And this is just a car! Think about the last time someone you cared about—maybe even your BFF—betrayed you. Still BFFs? Is your level of trust the same as it was before the betrayal? Is the relationship still in existence?
Without trust, there can be no relationship. We can state that we “believe” in God, or someone or something—a cause or an idea—but until we are willing to take that first step in that belief—until we have faith—we really do not have a relationship. In order to have a relationship we must trust one another. I love the quote above that says, “Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.” God’s trust in Abram—and this mortal’s trust in a God that he has never known—is the foundation of the blessing that you and I receive in Jesus Christ. Both God and Abram put their faith in one another and the world was changed. Later in Genesis, God includes Abraham’s advice in making the decision of how to respond to Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin. I think that this mere mortal is included in this process because God wants to see if Abraham can be trusted to strive to be a blessing for all the people of the earth than God intends.
In Genesis 18, beginning at verse sixteen, Abraham pleads with God to spare these two cities know for their iniquity and unrighteousness…think Las and Starkvegas, or Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Just kidding.) Just as Abraham decided to trust God back in chapter 12, now God decides to trust in this mere mortal’s counsel. Maybe God knew what Abraham was going to say but all we can know for certain is that the scriptural text shows that God simply heeds the advice of a human. And I believe that it is at this moment that God truly trusts that Abraham can be what God has called him to be. “Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.”
Back in my waning college years a friend and I made a weekend journey to the Crescent City, NawLins. One day after we had finished breakfast we were sitting on the boardwalk looking out at the mighty Mississippi and a hustler came up to us and bet me $5 that he could tell me where I “got my shoes;” you can probably guess where this is going. Although I “got” (bought) my shoes at a sporting goods store, at that moment I “got” (had) my shoes on the boardwalk; I was afraid to argue semantics with this gentleman and gave him my $5, while he took my trust of strangers for the rest of the trip. But it didn’t have to be that way. Trust is a choice—trust in others, in things, in institutions, and in God. It is a decision.
In Joshua 2 we encounter one of the great stories of trust found scripture: that of Rahab (commonly referred to as the Harlot with the Heart of Gold) and the spies. If you don’t know the story, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. God has parted the Jordan River and allowed Israel to cross over into Canaan where Joshua—the tribe’s leader and Moses’ successor—has begun perpetrating war against the cities there with great success. Before getting to the city of Jericho, Joshua sends out a couple of spies to reconnoiter the situation, and these two soldiers make their way to the the house of Rahab the prostitute—ahem—which was apparently situated in the city’s wall. The King of Jericho hears rumors of Israelite spies infiltrating his city and sends out his people to investigate; the prostitute is told to give them up. Rahab, however, takes the two spies and hides them on her roof and then proceeds to lie to the king’s men about where she saw the spies going. “They went that-a-way.” Following the misdirection Rahab has a conversation with the spies:
“Now then, swear to me by the Lord that, since I am showing kindness to you, you in turn will show kindness to my family. Give me a reliable sign that you will allow my father and mother, brothers and sisters, and my whole family to live, and that you will deliver us from death.” “We pledge our lives for yours,” they answered her. “If you do not betray our mission, we will be faithful in showing kindness to you when the Lord gives us the land.” (2:12-14)
Rahab lowers the men from her home in the wall, and they escape. Later in chapter 6 the pledge made to Rahab by the two spies is honored by Joshua AND by God; she and her family are spared from the fate of the city. So, here’s the question, if you found yourself in a similar situation to hers, would you have chosen to trust?
Now before you answer I hope that you might consider the following:
It appears that Rahab was living with her family—her “father’s house”—while working as a prostitute. I believe it to be safe assumption that there are very few fathers in this world—either in the present or historically—that would be okay with their daughters choosing this line of work. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Yet, the entire family remained together in their home in the city’s wall—this location suggesting that Rahab’s home was not a palatial estate but rather quite meager. Since we know that poverty forces many people to make choices that they would never make if their economic circumstances were better, I think that it is reasonable to believe that Rahab’s father’s shame is mitigated because of his family’s poverty. It is traditionally the son’s responsibility to financially support the family if the father is unable to work, isn’t it? And isn’t it also true that poverty is stated as the primary reason why most women enter prostitution in order to provide for their families and themselves?
My point is this: If extreme poverty or indebtedness has forced Rahab’s family to accept the necessity of her prostitution—in spite of the shame that is most certainly present—then wouldn’t it have been the reasonable and expedient thing for Rahab to have turned the spies over to the king, a man more than capable of financially rewarding her and her family for their fealty to the city—rather than place her trust in two foreigners who have no real power to secure her safety or in the God who has, up until that point, been helping Joshua do away with her kind (i.e. the Canaanites)?
Rahab makes the conscious choice to trust. She trusts in two strangers when she acts to conceal them from the king’s men and then lowers them down from her home in the wall to freedom. She makes the decision to trust in a God that she has never seen nor heard of before—to entrust to this foreign God her and her family’s lives—to a God who has never made a promise to her people—rather than take her future into her own hands and do what is reasonable. And because this Canaanite woman trusts in God and in other people and not in her own ability to work the situation for her benefit, she and her family not only survive when the rest of the city is laid waste, but this prostitute becomes a part of Jesus’ own lineage (see Matthew chapter one).
“Trusting in you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.”
Trust is the foundation of our relationship with God and with others—we must trust both to truly experience God’s blessing because as we have learned already it is though Abraham and his children that God carries out this blessing. Like it or not, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum! Yet we often don’t trust either God nor others. We tend to hedge our bets with the Almighty by trying to influence God’s will for us in the direction that we want it to go, and, well, we’d rather not deal with people because they’re just gonna screw it up. How’s that go, “If you want it done right, do it yourself”? So we take matters into our own hands and work the situation—work the deal. And of course we strive to do so ethically—all Christianlike—right?
In his Remember Me series of novels, author Christopher Pike writes:
“Relationships are mysterious. We doubt the positive qualities in others, seldom the negative. You will say to your partner: do you really love me? Are you sure you love me? You will ask this a dozen times and drive the person nuts. But you never ask: are you really mad at me? Are you sure you’re angry? When someone is angry, you don’t doubt it for a moment. Yet the reverse should be true. We should doubt the negative in life, and have faith in the positive.”
Over the past several weeks we’ve considered the simple fact that God is constantly moving in our lives—through conviction wooing us to make a change in our lives by taking a chance in trusting Him. You have come to see, I hope, that God is doing something amazing through you and considers you an intricate part of His plan of salvation. We read in our last episode in Psalm 8 that we have been given glory and honor and power to affect change in the lives of those around us, change that can only be described as the blessing that God promised would happen through Abraham all those millennia ago. But this change is contingent upon one thing: trust.
We must trust that God is starting something new is us—is welcoming us into a new creation through the life of Jesus. We must trust that His love is offering us something that is of such inestimable value that whatever it is that we leave behind is measly by comparison. We must trust that God’s Spirit and power is effecting change—or can overcome any obstacle—in others lives and character. God is in the transformation and reclamation business, and this is what He is doing. And we must also come to trust that God is even working in us to fulfill His promise.
He is here….
“We should doubt the negative in life, and have faith in the positive,” because God loves us and is here. Alleluia.
Let us pray,
Gracious, active, and loving God, your Spirit moves in our hearts because of your desire that none should perish and that all may come to know and share in your life. Help us to trust your provision, peace, and protection, and let us seek to find your presence in all those that we meet. May we come to rely upon you more and more each day as we grow into the image of Christ for the sake your kingdom and promises. In Christ’s name we pray, amen
You Are More Than You Think (aired 15.Oct.18)
In this episode I’d like to flesh out what we covered in last week’s program a bit more: the fact that God desires that all the people of the world find blessing in Abraham and his descendants. If you remember from last week, Abram is met by God and informed that he would play an instrumental role in helping God to carry out the Divine plan. We read this in Genesis 12:1-4:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Now we covered the first three verses of this passage—God’s statement of His ministerial purpose—the reason behind everything that God does in the scripture that follows—which concludes with the LORD’s declaration that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” in Abram. God wants the best for Creation, for His children; God desires that none should perish but that all might repent and, consequently, inherit eternal life. (That’s 2 Peter 3:9 by the way.) This desire, I believe, is the underpinning of God’s love—the sure foundation of the gospel that Jesus preached. Of course there are the argumentative types who will declare that I am wrong because it should be obvious that love is the reason why God desires what He does…I have one response: chicken and egg. Now this is going to make the vegan upset, but the truth is that regardless of which came first, they both exist to taste really good and satisfy our hunger…be it through an Egg McMuffin or a Spicy Chik-Fil-A sandwich.
I hope the FCC doesn’t get on to me.
So it is for the world’s benefit that God begins this relationship with Abram. Hopefully as FirstDay unfolds in future episodes we can look a little more closely at this relationship, because it exists for the same reason that God sent His Son into the world—something that we discover in the gospels. In John chapter three, Jesus is having a heart-to-heart with Nicodemus and utters the most quoted—and Magic Markered on poster board—scripture in the Bible:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Maybe the next time you are watching College GameDay and you see “3:16” on a poster board back near the Washington State Cougars’ flag, you’ll remember this episode. Using Genesis 12:3 to frame Jesus’ statement is the only way to really get at the heart of what is being said to Nicodemus. John 3:16 is not primarily about a person’s willingness to believe; no, it is actually about God’s desire to bless. Hear me out on this.
Throughout much of my experience as a Christian, I’ve heard this great message of hope turned on it’s ear by other believers who are, for the most part, I think, earnest in their desire to “save” others. Their emphasis in quoting this verse is not on God’s love—as I believe that it should be—but rather on the other person’s belief. What this implies is that if you don’t want to perish you better come to believe (and more specifically it’s that you better believe what I believe, BTW). This approach appears to ignore the whole tenor of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus up to this point—the drift being that no one can receive eternal life through their own power. Note that Nicodemus comes to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit—and Jesus proceeds to tell tell him that there is nothing that he can. It is all up to God’s Spirit, a Spirit, like the wind, that “goes where it will;” a Spirit that cannot be pinned down or located.
But this verse is only the first part of Jesus’ attempt to declare a blessing to Nicodemus. It’s the next verse, 3:17, the one that no one ever puts on poster board or quotes to others or—in the case of Tim Tebow-like behavior—write under their eyes before taking the field.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
So we have John 3:16-17, Genesis 12:1-3, and 2 Peter 3:9 all providing us with God’s motivation and desired outcome. And all focus on God’s initiative to start something that is bigger than one person’s life or blessing. “For God so loved the world…” “All the families…” “None should perish…” “all repent and inherit eternal life…” Do you see a pattern emerging? However, without God’s first step, salvation—eternal life—is not possible. It is out of our control. A couple of episodes ago I defined conviction as God’s act of wooing or leading and urging a person to seek to change—to seek to abandon the life of hardship and self-imposed guilt and return home to God, the Father. The place where we really come from. We cannot change on our own; we are no islands; we need God. And as we have previously touched upon, God brings the power, peace, support and acceptance to change through other people.
It is no different than the beginning of or story back with Abram. We are the children of the Promise so that we can be a part of the fulfillment of that promise.
As we start to focus more upon God’s desire and less upon our own, we may, perhaps, begin to have more faith in ourselves—more confidence in the gifts that we each bring to contribute to the blessing.
This brings me to my next point; and this is the one that I really want you to take to heart. Genesis 12:4 reads
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Abram is 75 when he begins the journey that will lead him to be a blessing for all of us. Remember, you and I can stand before God because this old man decided that it was a good thing to trust in God. And if God can do something amazing through him, what can God do through each and every one of us? Remember that those verses in John 3 are first and foremost about God and His love for the Creation and what this love can accomplish. So then what do you think this God will do for you so that you may fulfill your part of the Blessing?
Later in Genesis, God makes a similar promise to the one made to Abram to both Isaac and Jacob. They were the children of the Promise that God made. Now, although the promise made to both Abram’s son and grandson were a little different than the one made to him, the ultimate rationale behind both covenants—their purpose—was no different: (Look it up.)
Paul tells us in Romans that since we believe and act upon God’s promise, then we, too, are Abraham’s offspring and called—no matter how old we are, no matter how long we’ve been away from God, no matter even how un-Godly our lives have been up to this point—to be a Blessing. When we begin to see and care for others in the way that God does, we begin to realize that God is keeping the promise made to us.
1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
2 You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,[b]
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?[c]
5 Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels
and crowned them[e] with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
7 the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
The long of the short of Psalm 8 is that you and I can be what we have been called to be because God has already provided us with the means to do so. God seems to think more highly of us than, perhaps, we think of ourselves. And God trusts us as demonstrated by the authority that has been given to us. God has already crowned us with glory and honor and appears to be waiting on us to make the next move. Developing the same care for others that God has for us is so very important to this mission. If God is willing to sacrifice His Son so that we may have eternal life; if God is willing to do all that has been done to save the world, what can you do for someone this week?
Let us pray.
Most generous and loving God, it is for our benefit that you have moved heaven and earth for the sake of our participation in the fulfillment of Your desire that none should perish. You have changed the world and even our families’ histories to bring us all to this point where we stand today—where we can say to you that we are ready to live into our calling to be your Blessing to those we meet. Help us to have even a modicum of the faith You have in us, so that we might make the impossible a reality. Let us be swept away by your Spirit into the life that is only possible because of your Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
God Know's Why (aired 8.Oct.18)
Why does God want us to have the fullest life that we possibly can have? What's God's angle? The short answer that we most often get is love. Ok. But there's a problem here: People have very different experiences of love; many definitions of this, dare I say overused, word exist. Yes, God does indeed desire our wellbeing because of love, but that reality does not get as to why God desires us to receive grace, comfort, hope, inclusion and forgiveness. What is God's purpose for ministry to creation? God's why and our raison d'être are spelled out rather explicitly in Genesis 12:1-4.
We're Counting on You (aired 1.Oct.18)
Romans 12–in particular verse 2–is key to this episode. In what ways do the Romans 12, 2 Peter 1, and the idea that we all have something to share connect with one another?
1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 2 Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 7 if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 8 if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. 11 Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. 19 Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
The value of what we leave behind pales in comparison to the value of that which we will encounter in our future. Last week we examined the fact that God wants us just as we are. We don’t have to change in order to enter into a new relationship with Him, but we better make sure that our tomorrows look differently than our yesterdays. We have to make the decision each and every day to approach life in the way that we know God expects—This is where that conviction we spoke about a few weeks ago comes into play. Each moment of our lives is a new chance to start meaningful change.
Our presents—our todays—matter because they lead into our future—tomorrow. How we choose to live right now, the choices that we make today, will have ramifications, consequences or benefits tomorrow; today is the day that we start to move past our hurts, hang ups and habits. Today we have to decide if what we are going to leave behind is worth more to us than the life that God wants us to have with and in Christ. Some people will say that it isn’t…at least for only a while I hope.
Like I said on our first show, this choice to enter into a new life—the new creation—doesn’t mean that we’re going to get there overnight; I don’t think that anyone actually can. Keep in mind that even God took time to create the world, to create you and to create me. The best usually takes time. So you don’t get there in snap of the finger, nor do you make your past turn into ash and dust, a la Thanos, either. But…you gotta start somewhere.
As we learned last week, the beauty of the gospel is that no one is too far gone and that God wants us just as we are. As we live the life that Jesus demonstrated to us longer and longer each day, we will eventually come to a place where we realize that the Spirt has changed us to a point that we don’t even want to go back to the way that it was. The value of what we leave behind doesn’t come close to the value of what our futures can be with God.
So, we choose the path less taken, the Way that leads to God. What then; what’s the next step?
“Wait a second,” I can hear someone query, “what’s the first step?” Easy. The first step is choosing to respond to the desire for change that God places upon our hearts through conviction (that’s episode two). Do you desire a newer, fuller, richer, more joyful and blessed life? If so, you shouldn’t expect it to appear as if by magic—like one of those tigers Siegfried and Roy could pull out a can of Coke. This takes time.
We yearn for something different, and once that yearning gets too much to bare, we finally look for something to help satisfy it. That something becomes our desire and is the source of our passion. And passion…Well, that’s the suffering that we are willing to endure to obtain our desire to obtain satisfaction for the yearning in our souls. For example:
Someone has a longing for recognition—they yearn to be noticed. Maybe they‘ve spent their lives being overlooked by everyone, marginalized/pushed to the fringes. This person decides that it is through work, through her job that she will finally get the recognition that she so craves. Her work becomes her passion, her driving force. And she is willing to forego friendships, relationships, family and every pleasure for the sake of her work: the work that will satisfy her soul. But if you’ve been listening to the show or following the podcast, you’ll know that work can’t satisfy her longing—only God can do that—and that any sense of wholeness, if even achievable, will not last. There’ll always be something missing, because all of us long for only one thing really: God. To try to satisfy this yearning with anything else is futile.
So. Conviction has forced you to face some ugly facts about yourself—like the many times before that ended in self-doubt and guilt—but this time you’ve chosen to respond in the knowledge that only God can fill the hole in your soul. That is step one. Step two is just as necessary: It is recognizing that the only Way to satisfaction is through the life of Christ Jesus. And you don’t even need to pack a change of clothes before you begin this journey because as you walk along it—as you live it—God’s Holy Spirit will begin to transform your old clothes into new ones. If you willingly cast away the old wine skin, God will fill you with new wine…Episode Two. And how we keep that wineskin new was touched upon last week.
We may come to believe that Jesus’s Way is the new creation—the new life that God wants to give to us—but we won’t make it too far along the path if we sit around and wait for the Spirit to change us with a snap. Two week’s ago I mentioned 2 Peter 1 and the Apostle’s instruction to “augment our faith” with a number of virtues. Now in the Growing Edges page on the FirstDay website, there is a brief discussion of these virtues and some accompanying questions…Go check it out.
2 Peter 1
…[God] has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, 7 devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. 8 If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins.
So Peter tells us here that when we finally come to recognize that Jesus is the only way to the life of God—the eternal life—the only way to share in all of God’s wonderful promises—we begin the process of sharing in the divine nature of Jesus Christ. And as we share in that nature more and more through faith, we fall away from our old lives. But good old Petey realizes that there are a few problems: 1) We can be easily distracted from the path that lies before us by the things that we leave behind—the memories of things best forgotten; 2) and that leads to doubt, guilt and often self-sabotage. But as we add to our faith in Jesus the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, devotion, mutual affection and love, our faith comes to life and begins to change us and everything that we touch. And this is the desire of God, “that none should parish but have eternal life.” These qualities hinder the propensity for self-delusion in thinking that we are fine or that must make due in life with the old wine, that we should only expect disappointment and dissatisfaction.
These qualities develop hand-in-hand with the renewal of our minds, with the change in the way that we engage the world around us. At the top of the show I read to you from Romans 12, scripture that concerns the transformative new creation—a transformation that begins with the change of how we engage the others around us and even a change in our understanding of ourselves—who we are as compared to who God intends us to be.
I’ll have the passage in the show notes section on our Homepage for your to take a longer, deeper look, but please allow me to do a little summarizing.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
This is the starting point in the journey, the first actual step into the new creation. It’s pausing in confrontation rather than reacting. It’s choosing to forgive rather than to condemn. It’s seeing the world through different eyes. As you choose this new way, you just may begin to see God’s presence in your life more clearly.
Paul begins his discussion of the how-to’s of renewal in verses 3-8 with an idea that may seem foreign to some of you. Paul says that this renewal begins with a reassessment of who we are and what we could be in God.
We shouldn’t think of ourselves “more highly” than we ought to think; we need to remain grounded in self-awareness and humility and realize that we don’t have all the answers and—contrary to what Facebook would have you to believe—everything we think isn’t a pearl of great wisdom that needs to be shared. I won’t go into too much detail here, but Paul follows this call for humility with the reminder that we all have been gifted by God to be a blessing for others. We will never feel whole or complete if we do not use these gifts for the good of all those that we encounter. So contrary to what people may have tried to make you think—and maybe even what you have come to believe about yourself—you have been blessed by God with a gift to share with others.
Letting your love be sincere; holding on to what is good; being the first to honor and serve others; rejoicing in hope; and being hospitable are ways that Paul says brings about the renewal that is so needed in the world today.
Now here’s the toughy:
Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but…“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
“You will heap burning coals upon his head.”
So by focusing on you who you can be in God and by changing the way that you deal with others, ”you will heap burning coals upon” your enemies heads. First off, if you keep an enemies list, we need to talk because if you are listening to this you’re probably not a Bond villain or Kylo Ren, so throw the list away. When you make the decision to respond to those who would hate you—your enemies—with the love that Christ has shown to you as opposed to react to them in-kind something amazing happens: You become an instrument of God’s conviction and His engine of change in your community and life. And that’s the most wonderful thing about this: transformation and renewal—the new life—is self-perpetuating. The more that you choose to show love and care, the more that you receive. It’s amazing the think that the God of the universe knows, loves, and has equipped each of us from the very start to participate with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to be salvation to those that we meet.
Let us pray.
Most loving God, you have not only made for us a way to live with you for all time starting right here and now, but you have included us in your plan to bring change and salvation to all who live apart from you. You accept us as we are and promise that we might come to live the blessed life that you intend for us as we strengthen our faith with character through care for ourselves and others. Help us to understand that we are all blessed by you in order to be blessings; help us to maintain a fruitful and life-sustaining faith; and help us to always desire the things of your kingdom to fill the longing in our heart. In Christ’s Name we pray. Amen.
What We Leave Behind (aired Sep.24.18)
Last week I mentioned that You Know Who tells us is that God wants to take away from us the things that makes us happy—that God wants us to be miserable. This is a great lie, of course, but sadly, I fear that this doozy is the most effective that Satan tells in keeping people from experiencing the most that life with God has to offer. And sadly, we Christians don’t really help matters all that much.
Here’s what people are told—the Readers’ Digest version: Straighten up and mend your evil ways so that you can have Jesus take away your sin so you won’t go to hell. I’d love to give you a specific example here to help illustrate the point, but everybody seems always be telling everybody else to straighten up (I.e. behave): so I’ll put it like this: stop doing whatever it is that other people tell you to stop doing so that you can have a relationship with good, church-going people, so you don’t have to smell barbecued you forever. This is the ammunition for the that Satan tells us—Stop doing that so that you can start doing this thing that I—or we—approve of. And because most people seem to really enjoy telling other people what to do, this plays right into the lie and keeps others—and even us Christians— from responding to what God’s Spirit is doing in their hearts.
Some years ago I had a friend that I would spend time with. Although he was not a person of faith, he wasn’t, thankfully, angry about religion and things spiritual. He was intelligent, successful and called a “good man” by most people that knew him. I was working in social services at the time and was able to see him interact with those less fortunate than most people, and he always showed kindness to the people that he met. He would consistently sacrifice his own time and resources and energies for others—most time complete strangers. Yet he never set foot in a church. Some of the community’s church-going folk consistently ran him down in conversations and criticized every move or choice that he made—even though he did more for the lost and the least than they ever did. Once when I asked why this reaction to him, I was told that I shouldn’t try to defend him or even respect what he was doing because of the kind of person that he once was and some of the things that he still did “when no one was looking.” This accuser didn’t take to kindly to when I asked, “Well, if it’s when no one is looking, how do you know what he doing?” “So you wouldn’t want them in church then,” I asked. After a long pause the response given would make the most seasoned politician proud:
“This would be a great place for him, and he’d just come to realize that he is lost and doesn’t have all the answers.”
That person left my church the next week.
Too often those outside of the church hear demands similar to this: Straighten up, get your ducks in a row and you can have a relationship with Jesus. Change your life so that you can change your life.
It’s like when Steve Martin says that he can teach anyone to become rich. “First,” he says, “get a million dollars, and then invest in…”
This is what we’ve become used to everywhere in our world—not just the church. Since we are all constantly having to qualify for this-or-that or someone has to check our eligibility, this bleeds even into God’s Church. And it is misses the point entirely—This attitude ignores the Good News that God wants to be with us in-spite of our ineligibility and lack of qualifications.
I have grown up a Christian and grown up in church, and I have never happened into one were the people there didn’t want their church to grow—even the big ones want to keep getting bigger. Yet the Church continues to shrink—that’s Church with a capital C. Sure there are some congregations that are growing, but overall fewer and fewer Americans want anything to do with the church. There are so many reasons for this, obviously, but—as we learned last week—since the conviction to change our lives is from God—and since we all still feel it from time to time—this contraction of the Church ISN’T because God has stopped reaching out. God is still moving; God is always knocking, so He can’t be blamed for people not joining—and more so even leaving—the church.
So why? “Well,” some may say, “it’s because people don’t want what God is offering.” But as we covered in last week’s episode, Paul writes to the Roman chapter 8:
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (8:19-21)
And all people are part of creation. All people, whether we recognize it or not, long for God to fill that God sized whole in our spirit…But most of the time we don’t know how. And this is were conviction comes in. Deep down we all want what God offers.
So why? Why the decline? Could it be that we have tried to fill our churches with those that meet certain eligibility standards and quality based on our criteria? Jesus puts it rather bluntly in Matthew 23:13
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”
Yowzah! The churched reject the unchurched “just as they are” (because they don’t meet the eligibility requirements) and the unchurched reject what they really want because change is hard…See episode one. And then there’s the big lie of God not wanting you to be happy and the other that pushed off on the churched that “those people” don’t really want Jesus. It is a viscous cycle.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up part of the church, and I grew up singing a hymn that encapsulates my point perfectly: Just As I Am (O Lamb of God) Pay close attention lyrics and I think that we all might find a little of that conviction that we all so desperately need.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings and fears within, without
O Lamb of God, I come, I come
On the one hand we need to remember that none of us are in the church today because we qualified. Isn’t that Jesus’ precisely stated reason why the Pharisees are wrong? None of us met a single eligibility requirement. We need to remember that the point of Jesus’ ministry and life is to show us that the only way to be changed, to experience new life is IN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. We don’t change before we meet him; we can’t. We begin to change as we participate in the process, as we being to live life—as we journey along the Way.
Remember that highway that I mentioned in our first episode—the highway found in Isaiah 35?
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
but it will be for his people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it.
No lion shall be there,
nor any beast of prey approach,
nor be found.
But there the redeemed shall walk,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning flee away.
Don’t you see? As we journey along the holy way, we shed—we leave behind—all those things that cannot last, those things that prevent us from life in its fullest. Just as you are you can begin the journey. And just as you are, you can start toward that place where joy and gladness meet and sorrow and mourning flee away, because you have decided to let the God’s Spirit do for you though Jesus what you could never do for yourself—what you were never qualified to do.
Let us pray.
Please God, we ask you to remind us of your awesome presence and of your desire to share with us your life in Jesus Christ. Help those of us who are in a relationship with you to remember that it is because you came to us and found us—and accepted us—just as we were that we are now on this wonderful journey that leads to eternal life. And help those of us who are still tossed about by a sinful world, those still in conflict with the Spirit’s conviction come to realize that what is impossible for them to change is possible with you and that you want nothing more than to bring to them new life…Just as they are. Amen.
Overcoming Inertia (aired Sep.17.18)
Deciding to take the first step into new life—the new creation—that is available to us is a rather difficult one to make; in fact, it is impossible to do on our own. How difficult has it been to change your life? Even as believers, can we really point to any significant transformation in the way that live our lives? Can we honestly say that as we look in the mirror we have the change to see the image of Christ staring back at us?
There are times in all of our lives when we experience conviction, the need for change. This happens to all of us, regardless of our relationship status with God. We all have growing edges—places where we need improvement. The conviction that we feel in those moments is proof that God is with us. But what comes of that conviction is entirely up to us. Do we act upon it? Do we allow it to prompt that long and necessarily difficult look at ourselves? Sadly, because of our unwillingness to act at these times, Godly conviction is transformed into debilitating guilt, doubt and, maybe, even self-loathing. I convince ourselves that we cannot experience change—we cannot be transformed or renewed—and we decide to just limp on in life, never fully experiencing all that God has to offer to us. This is pride disguised as humility. We convince ourselves that we are so bad that we are beyond saving, or that we are so bad that even God can do nothing. Sadly, this attitude becomes habitual.
2 Peter 1:4-9 holds the key to helping us get past these self-inflicted wounds and destructive habits and attitudes. Take a closer look over in Your Growing Edges. We are reminded here victory had already been achieved if we only choose to realize it and allow God's Spirit to guide us home. A wonderful example of this is found in the Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). I encourage you to spend some quality time in this story, where we learn much about God's character—a character quite different from that of the many of us Christians who claim to understand it. Consider the conviction that the prodigal son feels, his response, and the result.
God is doing everything short of making us return; all we have to do to go home is accept the fact that God loves us more than we hate ourselves.
Let There Be Light (aired Sep.10.18)
The beginning of our story is the beginning of creation’s story. Genesis tells us: “When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, ‘Let their be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.”
In the beginning, there was nothing—a blank slate. And God, not one to leave well enough alone, decides that there must be something—that it is good to create something new. According to Genesis, this creative act begins over a six day period as God lays the foundation for you and for me—the beginnings of our lives right now. God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be all that we can be; our Creator called the light out of the darkness—God made something from nothing because of this love. And there is proof of this in the beginning of Jeremiah when God says to the prophet, “Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; before you were born, I consecrated you.” And in Psalm 139 we see that God knows us even before we exist (14-16):
“It was You who created my conscience; You fashioned me in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am awesomely, wonderously made; Your work is wonderful; I know it well. My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the recesses of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book; in due time they were formed to the very last one of them.” (Even though you saw my mistakes and questionable choices You did it anyway.)
This is the question that often works its way into our hearts. Why? In spite of knowing us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs—even before creation itself—God still chooses to create us and to create for us. God values us even when we don’t value ourselves. There are times when we may lose faith in God, but God never loses faith in us. God believes that we can—and perhaps even that we will—come home. In fact that tends to be message that we hear persistently from God through the prophets: That there will come a time when God will call to and bring His children back to the Promised Land. And I think that is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the only Way, home.
Have you ever heard the expression, “My name is Mudd”? Although we hear in Genesis chapter two that that’s essentially where we come from—mud/clay/dust—the place from where we started has very little bearing on our future life—where we are going—when we embrace our potential as the children of God through Jesus Christ and seek to live as He did. Job 8:7 reads, “Though your beginning was small, your future will flourish indeed.” Didn’t Jesus start off life in an animal stall?
Who we once were—where we came from—our pasts—amount to nil when we take something we are told in 2 Corinthians to heart: that “In Christ, there is a new creation…[that] the old has passed away and [that] the new has come.” First Day is about taking the first step into that new creation.
I know that beginning something new is hard—especially when it requires breaking with the past—but it can be accomplished when we consider each day a new step in the journey towards the fullness of life that God desires to give to us. Believe me, I know it’s tough. If I had a dime for every time I started an exercise regime or a new money-making hobby or taking up some life altering activity that I no longer practice I would be wealthy enough to call Jeff Bezos poor white trash…But I’m not and he isn’t. Ask yourself how many times you’ve started something new with the hope of great future achievement only to let yourself down and to abandon the journey all together. We get so wrapped up in our future expectations and so bogged down by our past mistakes that we lose our way in the present…And since we forget where we are, we lose sight of our goal: which is living the life that God wants us to live right now.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul wrote this to the church in Rome a church full of Christians that were bogged down by their old lives as Jews and Gentiles and are forgetful of their new identity in Christ Jesus.
Have you ever been on a trip where you fly out from one place where the temperature is in the low teens but you get off the plane where it’s in the 90s? Would you still be wearing your parka? My point is this: If we know that we want to go to a place where we can experience the fullness of God’s life, why do we try to bring the old life with us?
In Luke chapter five, Jesus says:
“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wine skins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins and be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (36-39)
Living this new, joyful life—a life a blessing—is the point: drinking the new wine—experiencing the newness of the Spirit that God so eagerly wants to give to us. But God isn’t going to pour it into old wineskins…into our old selves. Remember, that in Christ there is—or you are—a new creation. Beginning a new life is, therefore, an imperative.
But Jesus tells us here why all those New Year’s resolutions don’t tend to make it past the two week mark, and why most of us Christians don’t seem to ever experience the fullness of life that is available in God’s Spirit. We find it far to easy to say, “The old is good…good enough for me.” We get complacent and comfortable and never quite get to the point where we become so dissatisfied with our old clothes that we throw them off for the new garments that Jesus offers. Or even worse, we come to believe that meager is all that we deserve.
My wife and I used to watch a television show that aired on TLC called What Not to Wear. If you are unfamiliar with it, the show’s premise is simple enough: Find the grubbiest, schlubbiest, most disheveled dressers in the world—find out why they don’t seem to care about themselves—and then with the help of their friends lead those poor souls to a place where they do start to care—to a place where they do start to realize that they can be (and can experience) more. Low self-esteem, dwelling on poor choices, self-imposed, unrealistic expectations and doubt were just some of garments that clothed them.
I am reminded of line from the movie Kung Fu Panda. “You are too concerned with what was and what will be. There is a saying: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” I know. I know. It’s an animated movie about a talking panda that, well, learns Kung-fu, but that doesn’t make this saying any less insightful. How many times do we give up on our journey to this better life because we get bogged down by past mistakes or temporary setbacks or become disappointed when out tomorrows don’t look like what we expected them to. There’s a saying in the preaching biz that reminds pastors that the best church that that they can serve is the one that they are currently serving. Back to the show.
There were two big turning points in each episode. The first came when the show’s hosts literally threw away these people’s entire wardrobes. Sometimes they’d let them keep a little something, but usually it was all tossed in a garbage can. What was it that Jesus said about the new cloth not matching the old cloth? The second turning point came with the haircut/restyling…Real tears were often shed before the first snip of the scissors; yet the vast majority of the time, after it was all said and done, when the person was reclothed and had learned to stop dwelling on their past poor choices—to let go to their doubt—when they had decided to seek to become their better selves—they often began to fuller, more joy filled lives. And this change came only with a haircut and some new shoes; think how much grander your life could be if you allowed yourself to be clothed fully with Christ’s way of living. Being reclothed is quintessential.
Scripture gives us the details of the life that God promises to those who live faithfully—we even see it in Jesus’ life—so we know how wonderful this all can be…Yet some memory creeps in from the past, or we end up pausing—if not altogether stopping our journey—when we screw up and make a poor or rash decision: We become “too concerned with what was or what will be.” However, there is a somewhat successful football coach that offers a solution to this problem.
It’s called the Process. Simply put: You determine your goal and map out the way to get there and then you take it one step at a time…You commit to the process, participate in it, and complete the journey. Simple. One day at a time…Hey, that would be a great title for song: One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus. Well. I think that title is already taken. Seriously though, Wilkins and Kristofferson, who penned the song One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus hit the bullseye with this song—particularly the chorus.
One day at a time sweet Jesus
That's all I'm askin' of you
Just give me the strength
To do every day what I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
Lord, help me today, show me the way
One day at a time
Every journey, even the one to God, begins with one step and continues with the next step. But unlike that unnamed, successful coach who has to re-develop and refine his Process every year, we already have our Process to God…we already know the direction of our journey.
At the beginning of John 14:1-6 Jesus says to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. 4 Where [I] am going you know the way.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
If we want to begin the journey towards living the best life that God desires for us, we must first do the only thing that we can, take the first step toward God through Jesus. I can imagine some furrowed brows right now. “What does that mean? What did you just say?” Preachers, like other professionals working in their respective fields have their own vocabulary that those outside of the profession may have difficulty following. It’s like teachers using the word pedagogy, mechanics saying solenoid, or computer programmers saying Ubuntu. Yea, what? (It may be a subtle way of making sure we keep our jobs. Make it so confusing that folks don’t know what’s going on and they have to keep you around.) Taking the first step towards the life that God intends for you through Jesus simply means to strive to do every day—one step at a time—one day at a time—one encounter at a time—what Jesus would do. If you live more and more like Jesus each day, one day you will look up and find that you are exactly where you hoped you would be: in that place that Jesus went ahead to prepare for you. Living like Jesus is the Way; it is the process; and it is the new creation.
And because it is a the new creation, you need to remember that God didn’t create everything in a single day—with a single snap of His fingers. God took six days to complete the work; six days from the beginning to his rest on the seventh day. You mustn’t expect to get there overnight. No one can. But you can start the journey to God in Christ with a first step—which will lead to another and then another and then another. I promise that if you start this journey into the new creation, you will experience life as you never thought possible. Now, I’m not promising riches and wealth—silver or gold—since Jesus had none of those things. But what I am promising you is that at the end of journey, you will look up from that final step and hear those wonderful words of eternal life, “Well done my good and faithful servant…Enter into your Father’s joy.”
But alone, this journey will be impossible to complete. The Process that lead to God requires others—even Jesus had His Father and the Spirit present with him through His entire life but for that one moment when He takes our sins upon himself. None of us can make this journey alone, by force of will. Please remember that the old life—the old way of living—is comfortable like the old wine, and it will be tempting, if not second nature, to cool our jets or abandon our steps altogether at the first setback. Find others to help you remember whose life you are seeking to live; let others help you along the Way that lead to your Heavenly Father.
On the first day of creation God created light; on the first day of the new creation Jesus brought life; what happens next in your journey home to God depends a lot upon you. Consider today and every day a present and your journey along the Way to God will be a joyful one.
Let us pray
Gracious and Creator God, we thank You for all the opportunities that you give to us each day to come a little closer to your as we walk ever closer to Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. We ask you to make us forgo the old wine for the new; to seek a new and fuller life in You rather than to remain comfortable where we are. Help us to shed our doubts and our fears and to be reclothed in Christ. Give us the courage each day to take one more step along the Way that leads to You. Amen.