We don’t really want a God.

So, first a little background. I came to know Christ when I was six years old. Yes, I remember, and yes, it was very real to me. I grew up a Baptist, and I once sat in a chair next to my mom in a good ol’ fashioned Midwest revival tent until I watched the sun come up. I think I was maybe nine. Went to a Presbyterian church in Junior High. Back to Baptist in High School. Assembly of God in college and later on. When I wasn’t walking waaaayyy far away from the Lord in between. I’ve been to revivals and evangelical shindigs of all varieties. I even dabbled in a Vineyard church for a while. That was….interesting.

As an adult I’ve settled into a theology which isn’t neatly categorized, but falls somewhere between evangelical, fundamentalist and…libertarian.

I’ve read the Internet. Okay, not all of it. But, well, a LOT of it. I’ve been on chat boards and newsgroups since they were white text on a black screen. I built websites when you had to write the code by hand. I blogged before there were blogs. I’ve worked for a Christian web ministry and been a lay pastor in a Foursquare church. I’ve waded through a good deal of the emergent church movement and “progressive” Christianity. I’ve looked at Satanist sites, been steeped in apologetics, and run the gamut of cults, one-offs and also-rans in the religious world.

And through it all, I’ve come to the fairly decisive conclusion that as a group, humanity…well…we don’t really want a God.  Not really.

Sure, we talk a good game, but the fact of the matter is that our human pride is just too much in the way.

When I read the Bible, I read about a God that expects to be taken seriously.  I think it’s hard for us in the modern western world to really put God into the proper context because we’ve never lived under a true king. We’ve never lived in a time when one man, sitting on a throne, literally has the power of life and death in his hands. His word is law, and with a mere wave of his hand, he could pass a sentence of death or commute a sentence of torture or banishment. We simply have no concept of that kind of personal power.

And so we have built up this image of a squishy, malleable, approachable, gentle Sunday-school Jesus god who loves puppies and small children and pats us on the head and sends us on our way as his merry giggling children.

We don’t want a God.  We want a camp counselor, a bartender, a friend, who will listen to our problems and our woes. A confidant and confessor; a beer drinking, cigar smoking buddy who slap us on the back and tell us everything is going to be okay. And sure, God in the person of Jesus Christ can be all that and more. And yet. And yet…

In our pursuit of these Kumbaya moments, we quietly and conveniently set aside the aspects of God we find uncomfortable, challenging, even perhaps daunting and scary. We can’t square that with the ideal of the enabling cheerleader we’ve come to expect, and so we decide that that CAN’T be God! Not the god WE want!

Because what we really want is a god….not a God. A god who is just too much like us, who thinks and acts and reacts just a little too much like the way we think he or she or it should.

Instead of a God who called the very universe into being. Who spun together the elements to form galaxies and planets and stars; who brought life to this planet out of nothingness. A God who commands the very atoms of existence to obey His will. A God with the power of life and death in His hands, who can, with a mere wave of his hand, pass a sentence of eternal death or commute a sentence of torture and banishment. We simply have no concept of that kind of personal power.

We think to bargain, and negotiate, and to craft a theology that conforms to our will, crafting a god (or gods) with whom we are comfortable. A god who obeys us, who acts and behaves as WE want it to….and not the other way around.

That’s not a God. That’s an idol, formed by man in his own image.

The Bible shows us a God, not a god. Absolute power and authority, tempered by eternal love and amazing compassion. But…we cannot deny the one and hope to secure the other.

Jesus Christ is God, in every aspect. We have experienced his love, his mercy, his grace and compassion. Let us not forget, however, the very important question asked of Job – “Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth?!”

The problem we have with a real God is that thorny and troublesome word, “obedience.” We balk and chafe at the idea that we must suborn our will, our desires, our plans, to an all-powerful King. In our American ideal of independence and individual autonomy, we have progressively (!) lost our ability…or at least or desire…to “bow” before a “king.” I just seems so antithetical to everything we’ve been taught to value and believe. And so we reimagine and reinvent a god more compatible with this concept of, well, basically….“You’re not the boss of ME!

Problem is…He is. He holds my life in His hands. He brought me into being, and shaped my life around me. I am his child, a son of God. Sadly…that doesn’t mean what it used to either. A child, a son, should obey his father. Trusting in him, believing that he knows and understands things that my childlike mind simply can’t comprehend. Trust. Obedience. Submission. Reverence. Even…unto…death. THAT is what our God calls us to do. And to be. And far too many of us in this modern world have decided that, if that’s what it takes, well then….

…we don’t want a God. Not really.

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Reclaiming Lost Ground

In my last post, I talked about surrendering to God. Surrendering can mean many things; sometimes it means letting go of something, but sometimes it can mean NOT letting go!

In surrendering ourselves to God, we agree, we resolve, we commit to opposing everything in our life that is un-Godly. Or at least to try. To work at it. To make it a priority. BUT! If I stop resisting something, if I allow myself to become complacent, to just give up and accept it as part of my daily definition of “normal,” then I will have surrendered to it and not to God.

It can be as something as simple as a hardness of the heart that I’ve learned to accept, an area of unforgiveness, resentment, or anger – however justified in my mind – that I have ceased to oppose or worked to resolve. I just accept it as “the way things are.”

In doing so, I accept defeat. In effect, saying, in THIS area, God is not sovereign. In this, I “cannot win”…or don’t want to. In holding on to that anger, in nursing that grudge, in accepting that addictive behavior, I show where have I given ground over to the Enemy.

But the more you give him, the more he will try to take. Each step backward is a foothold for the enemy to advance further into your life.

Victory in Christ means not accepting defeat in your life. Find every piece of ground where the enemy has gained a foothold, and renew the offensive to reclaim it! Turn to God, acknowledge it to Him, then seek and accept his equipping to oppose and defeat it.

Challenge: Lord, show me daily, minute by minute, which battles I’m not fighting that I should be.  What footholds has the Enemy gained, what areas of my life do I need to reclaim? Teach me to live daily in the victory you have secured for me on the Cross.

 

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Embrace The Foolishness!

If you spend enough time on the Internet — not to say that I do of course — but if you do, you’ll find that there are a lot of really polarizing issues out there. Me, I tend to gravitate towards political and religious discussions, and those can get pretty heated pretty quick.

I’ve seen comments about Christians (and about people of faith in general) that run the gamut from enlightened commentators who state with utter certainty that Christians are mislead, ignorant, close-minded and/or foolish, to those who will insist with all sincerity and concern that teaching your children about God is “child abuse,” or that people with a strong faith in God are mentally ill and need to be rescued from their delusions. I could send you links. Really.

It’s sad, but…it’s also understandable. What Christians think and believe can seem kind of out-there sometimes…even to Christians! A God so mighty that He created the universe, and yet somehow notices something as small as me? Not only notices, but cares? Miracles and healing and a Savior who rose from the dead?! Folly! Foolishness! Bah!

It’s not easy to hold onto your faith sometimes in the face of such doubt and derision. And yet, it is essential that we do it.  Our struggle daily is, and should always be, to be more fully conformed to the image of Christ. To worry less about how we are perceived according to worldly standards, and more about how we measure up on the scale of being Christ-like.

Understanding that as Christians we will have a perspective on the world that will seem strange, confusing, even foolish to those who do not know Him, who do not see with His eyes. But maybe, just maybe, that perspective, that lifestyle that I emulate and communicate will somehow become so compelling, so troublesome, so curious that people who don’t understand it…will want to. My faith and compassion and forgiveness in the face of everything the world has to throw at me will frustrate and confuse and bewilder.

But maybe, just maybe, it will also become something so different from what they know that it will begin to take on the form of a mystery that they must solve.

The mystery of Christ.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…for since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong..  1 Cor. 18-27 (NASB)

Challenge:  Am I communicating a compelling vision of who and what Christ is, by how I live my life, by the choices I make, and by the way I love those around me?

Thoughts from my quiet time: Being conformed to His will

Everyday, resolve to confess that you still know so little. That the mysteries of God are far from solved, and that truly, the only way to know God is to spend time in His presence. To be more fully conformed to His will.

Wait…what? What does that even mean?!

Conformed to His will. Taking on His likeness, His countenance, so completely that someone looking at you recognizes Him. Not like a doppelganger, but as someone who has spent so much time with another that they begin to share gestures, mannerisms, turns of phrase. The way a couple can finish sentences for each other, or pass the sugar bowl without being asked just because they know the other so well. An intimate familiarity. Something that only come from time spent together.

It is beyond apprenticeship. It is as a servant who never leaves his master’s side, to the point where the servant knows every quirk, every desire, every mannerism and habit of his master. To the point where it becomes a service not born out of obligation, but of love. But then, even more. For the Master loves the servant so much that he adopts him as a son or her as a daughter, because he wants more than just a servant. He wants an heir.

This puts a different feel on “obedience” doesn’t it? It gets to the point where it stops being obedience, and it starts being love. Where the two natures become so intertwined that you do what is right by the other because you don’t know anything different. You truly become conformed to the other. To look at one, is to see the other. His will is the same as your own. Absolute intimacy and spiritual union.

 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Rom. 8:15-17

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
John 14:6-9

Judgement Is Not Your Job.

I have a question. One sort of spawned from reading this article by Beth Woolsey entitled, “3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin.

And that question is: why do we think we can stop other people from sinning, when we can’t even stop OURSELVES from sinning??

Ms. Woolsey takes us back to the story of the woman about to be stoned to death by the Pharisees, where Jesus says by way of condemnation of their methods,”… let any of you who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Thing is, Jesus WAS without sin. Sinless. And so by his own definition he was completely qualified to stone the woman; to throw the first stone.  And yet he didn’t. He showed her grace, and forgiveness and an acceptance the likes of which she had probably never experienced from anyone else. I think it’s pretty safe to say he had an impact on her life. And probably made a friend that day as well.

How much more then are we — as full and complete sinners who are living our lives an eternity away from the perfection of Christ — uniquely UNQUALIFIED to throw that first stone?!  How DARE we stand in judgement of others? That is a role reserved exclusively for the person of God!

Our ministries should not be focused on stopping people from sinning. We can’t do it. We aren’t qualified!  You know who is? God. The Holy Spirit. The changer of hearts and redeemer of lives. Not us. Not the pastors, not the deacons, not the lay preachers or Bible study leaders.

We. Can’t. Do. It.

What can we do? We can work to bring people into relationship with Christ. And then let Him take it from there.

Can I cure an alcoholic? Nope. Can I get a drug user to stop using? Nope.  Can I get a compulsive, self-destructive gambler to push back from the blackjack table? I can try. I can exhort, beg, whine, condemn, yell, plead.  But you know what? Until he wants to stop, until God works that miracle in his heart…it isn’t going to happen. I can’t shame him, I can’t bully him, and I can’t guilt him into changing.

What I can do is tell him that there’s a way. A way out. A way up. I can SHOW him that way, by the way I live my life, by the manifest witness of what God has done in my own life. AND THAT’S IT.

A great deal of what we know today as “church,” we got from Paul, not from Jesus.  Paul and the disciples were the Tiger Team, the Hellfighters.  They were sent out to make disciples of all nations, and Paul as the designated honcho oversaw the process. He was the project manager.

The thing is, his letters to the churches?  They are, without exception, exhortations to hold fast and to hold true to the path they have chosen – to people WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS!

To the people who aren’t?  To the gambler or the housewife, to the alcoholic or the bus driver, to the thief or the school teacher? It’s a different story.

The unsaved are NOT BOUND BY DOCTRINE! It. Does. Not. Apply. To. Them.

And therefore, we cannot hold them accountable to it!! It is utterly meaningless for me to shake a Bible in the face of “a sinner,” spout a bunch of religious rhetoric and hope to have any impact. Other than perhaps inspiring hostility and resentment.  That’s not the way we reach the lost.

As a matter of fact, the very act of attempting to put myself in a separate camp than ”those sinners” is in itself an act of sin!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   Romans 2:1-6

The law (the scriptures) is there to bring an awareness of sin. It’s there to help you understand how and why we need a savior. To get a glimpse of the eternal consequences for breaking the rules.  If I know that the speed limit is 55, and I go 70, when I get a ticket I can’t say, “well I didn’t KNOW!

But you know what else? It’s not my job to write tickets. It’s not my job to enforce the law. I can’t make that guy in the lane next to me drive any slower by shaking a fist or showing a finger. As a matter of fact, I may very well push the person to drive faster just to show me I’m not the boss of him or her, leading him into further violation of the law! And you know what else? I’ve sinned by even trying.

Matthew 5:22 says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Not very kind and gentle words, are they?  I can’t stop that guy from speeding, but I can guard my own heart. Instead of getting angry and cussing, I can step back, say a prayer for him or her, and let God do the work on that other person in His way and in His timing.

Because it IS His job…..not mine.  Not my job. Not my role.

My job is to love, to try and understand, and more importantly to live every day with the understanding that if God took the same attitude towards me that I am taking towards those over whom I am so quick to stand in judgement, I’d be in some deep doo-doo for sure!

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Challenging words. Especially during rush hour.

You Get To Have The Good Stuff!

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?  I get to have the good stuff?  What about that whole “first must be last” thing, and forsaking the flesh, and…and…

Well, I guess it all depends on how you define, “The Good Stuff.”goodstuff1

There is an unfortunate tendency among far too many Christians to continue to live under the condemnation of sin, to hold on to this notion that we are somehow not just unworthy…but worthless as well.  We believe the lies the world tells us, we listen to the lies the Enemy whispers in our ears; that we are less than, that we are forgettable, that somehow God must have turned away from us because of what we’ve done, or what we haven’t done.

‘Cept that, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We hear that a lot, but what does it mean?  It means that God loves us despite what we are, not because of what we are.  It’s called “unconditional love” and it’s a concept most of us really struggle with, because we see so little of it in the world around us.

Or, to put it another way, God can’t be disillusioned with us…because He never had any illusions about us!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Which of your sins didn’t Jesus forgive, which of your sins, your errors, your misjudgments or your failures didn’t He atone for when He died on the cross…2000 years before you were even born?

I first found Christ when I was six years old. So, was I:  a) forgiven only of those first six years of my life? Or: b) was I truly made a new creation, washed clean for all eternity by the blood of Christ, my life fundamentally transformed from that moment forward? Let me give you a hint:  The answer is: b).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2nd Cor. 5:17)

And that’s where we get back to that definition of, “The Good Stuff.”

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

What does that mean?  What is an “abundant life?”

It means you’re allowed to enjoy the good stuff.  You are allowed to be happy, to do things and experience things that bring you happiness.  That you weren’t put here to suffer, but to come to know an abundant life lived under the redemption of Christ.  Don’t live in fear.  Don’t live in recrimination and doubt.  Set aside the insecurities that rob you of your birthright, and chose to truly believe that God means what He says…that He loves you and wants you to know true happiness.

So…do the things that bring you joy! Putter. Sew. Sing. Paint. Draw. Not for anyone else. Just for yourself. The only person it has to be good enough for is you.

Let yourself giggle as you enjoy the delightfully decadent joy of some wonderful bit of bakery fluff coated with some hoity-toity almond butter slide down your throat accompanied by some far-eastern Darjeeling you bought from that quaint little shop in Pike’s Place Market.  And just savor it. Enjoy it.

Walk in your yard and enjoy the blossoms without noticing or caring about the weeds.

Buy that wonderful hand-knit scarf at the street fair, even though you just really shouldn’t, I know, it’s really just too much, and I’ll probably never have anywhere to wear it, and….do it anyway.  Then make a pretty throw with it for the couch instead.

blow-bubblesMake a bunch of silly scribbles in a sketchbook that doesn’t look like anything, but you really like the way the colors go together.  Then stick it on the front of the fridge with a magnet and smile every time you look at it.

Play the piano, just because you know how.  And sing to yourself as loud as you want, and who cares if the neighbors hear you and think you’re weird.  Draw silly faces on the mirror in dry-erase marker and stick your tongue out at them every morning.

It’s called “rejoicing,” and you can do it a lot more often than just standing in a pew on Sunday with a hymnal in your hands!

I think that sometimes, even as even the most devout of Christians, it’s still hard for us to really, truly believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, especially after some of the things He’s let us endure. But that’s the lesson I’m trying to learn now, to really take to heart….I get to be happy.  It’s okay for me to be happy!  What a concept, huh?  I think maybe we miss out on a lot of blessings and don’t experience more happiness in our life because we don’t believe it.  We don’t look for it, don’t let it in, don’t recognize it when it shows up.  We play this karma game.  We take a worldly look at God’s work and figure He’s just waiting…waiting….waiting with the ruler poised over our knuckles for us to give Him another excuse to drop the hammer.

So, please, also try to take this to heart.  You get to be happy.  And you don’t have to feel guilty or unworthy about it.  Try to get to the place, someday, somehow, where you can really believe that it really is okay for you to be happy.  I’m trying to let go of all the things in my past that are holding me back, bogging me down, things the Enemy takes such joy in using against me.

I hope and pray that you, too, will find a way to let go of all the things that were born out of tragedy or sorrow or abandonment or trials…and just let it be the past. Like an alcoholic who’s quit drinking, a drug abuser who’s quit using and gotten clean…don’t let your past define you.  You don’t have to fix it, maybe don’t even have to “heal” it…maybe you just…let it all go.

Give yourself permission for that.  Forgive yourself for all of that past, for all of those things.  God doesn’t require any sort of penance from you for it — He’s already paid your penance for you, and more! I am choosing to not let myself be defined by my past.  Make that choice for yourself as well.

Be free!  Be emancipated from all that. The door to your jail cell is open, and has been for a while.  You just need to walk through it and accept (and experience) true freedom.   “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;”  That is the true essence of God’s forgiveness.

See what kind of a life living in true freedom can bring. It’s called “joy.”  Live that life for yourself; live a life fully in the forgiveness of Christ, free from the burdens of the past.

~ Steve

There Is No “Sorta” With Sin

During a recent perusal of various Christian blogs on my reading list, I stumbled across this article from Britain on how to deal with the rise of cohabitating couples, many of whom are in long-term partnerships which include shared assets and property, as well as children.

How should the church approach cohabiting couples? Two perspectives

It speaks of the struggles a partner may face, especially the female, if the cohabitees split up.

How should a Christian organisation, devoted to supporting marriage and family life, approach cohabitation? There is a juxtaposition between advocating strongly, and singularly for marriage, and supporting the millions of children in this country whose parents cohabit, and who could be left vulnerable to financial insecurity and homelessness should the relationship break down.

Though the articles purports to be from a Christian/Church perspective, there is no mention of the Biblical prohibition against adultery.  No mention of sin, or of the inevitable consequences of willful sin.  No, it’s all about how to best address the problems of this demographic by both providing for their needs, while gently suggesting that those in married relationships are more stable and secure.  About how we need a more “enlightened” policy with regards to our cohabitating brethren.

We often see questions like this: How should we approach this or that demographic within our church?  How do we “deal” with cohabiting couples, teen promiscuity or alternative lifestyles? More and more as homosexuality becomes mainstream, churches are faced with the same question of how to approach the issue of homosexuality? How do we treat or respond to homosexuals and homosexuality if we want to be seen as a more approachable, enlightened church?

Answer:  We treat them the same as everybody else.

There are no special categories of sinners.  With apologies to my Catholic brethren, there aren’t categories of sin. It’s not venial or mortal:  ALL sins are mortal.  It’s an all or nothing relationship. Sin is binary. 0 or 1. On or off. Yes or no. It is, or it isn’t. There is no “sorta” with sin.

So, when viewed in that context, homosexual sin is no different, no better, no worse, no more or less under condemnation than heterosexual sin.  Sin is sin.  We don’t get to ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable.

If I’m a man, chilling at the beach, ogling women in bikinis, I’m in exactly the same category as if I’m man, chilling at the beach, ogling guys in their speedos:  Sinner.

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman{or man} with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her{him} in his heart.” Matt 5:28

If a church is conflicted about how to address the problem of cohabiting couples, teen sex, or homosexuality, then it definitely has a problem; but perhaps a far bigger problem than how to tune their outreach ministries to appeal to these seeker-groups.

It’s actually pretty cut and dried.  Reeeeeal basic.  If you are going to preach the Word, then be true to the Word.   The Bible is full of examples, both metaphorical and actual, of people being forced to choose between what they want, and what the Word of God says is permissible; the two being almost universally at odds.

If you have couples living together, sleeping together, outside of marriage,  then they are in sexual sin.  Sounds archaic and overly simplistic in today’s more enlightened, liberated society, but that’s the simple truth.   If we are more worried about keeping people happy (as society defines it), than about teaching them to be obedient to the word of God, than we risk loving them to death.  We are, in the long run, not doing them any favors.  Too often today it comes down to being true to the word of God OR preaching a squishy gospel that soft coats the hard edges of truth in order to be more palatable, more “relevant,” more inclusive.

When faced with the problem of how to deal with sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, the conversation should go something like this:  If you people want to call yourselves Christians, then you need to live according to Christian principles.  What that means is that you move out, find your own places, and stop having pre-marital sex {{insert shocked gasps, I know}}.

If you are teens experimenting with sex: stop.  Plain and simple.  You don’t just cut back — you cut it out.  If you are cruising YouTube for the sexy videos or Webshots for the drunken Spring Break candids…STOP.  Alcoholics cannot afford to just cut back on their drinking, they need to stop, because there is no middle ground.  You are either drinking, or you’re not.  You are either sleeping with your girlfriend, or you’re not.  You are either engaging in homosexual acts…or you’re not.

Binary. Either/or.   Yes or no.  Do, or do not.  There is no try.

There’s no easy answer for the “issue” of homosexuality.  So much of our culture these days is so affirming, and tolerant, and supportive, and all be-true-to-who-you-are.  “Baby, I was born this way!” sings Lady Gaga.

Except that, the practice of homosexuality is quite simply forbidden by the Bible.   So where does that leave you? The same place as everybody else:  with a decision to make.

Do you be true to yourself, or true to God?  If God doesn’t allow promiscuity or adultery between heterosexual couples, do you think that homosexuals get a “bye” because they’re special?  A highly vocal chunk of society would have you think that, but it’s simply not true.

The Body of Christ should respond in love to those struggling with sin of any kind, but a love based on the truth of the Scriptures.  Granted, we risk being branded “intolerant” or “haters” if we do, but the truth is that there is no one more intolerant of sin than God.  God HATES sin.  But he loves us enough that he sent Christ to die in our place, that we might have a way out of the sin and death towards which our earthly wants and desires will inevitably lead us.

~ Steve Berven

A Fierce and Dangerous Faith

Some think Faith foolish,
To boldly tread where there is no bridge or path.
They consider it the height of prudence,
To require each step laid out in advance.

Others find Faith too awful,
A fearful and trembling place of danger.
Without first knowing the script, the plot, the final scene,
They step not upon the stage.

Some find Faith as a soothing balm,
A warm cup of tea that comforts a dark night.
It abides in the quiet moments of trust,
Strength for the simple task of facing each day.

Then there is the Faith with wild, unkempt hair,
Locusts and honey, facing giants with a stone.
It calls us to step across a river, into a land unknown,
And instead of fear, we know only fierce anticipation!

This is the Faith which moves mountains,
Which calls to the fiery tempest in our souls,
It is the burning bush, the pillar of fire,
The restless call upon our hearts to follow God’s call.

Today I want to trade my timid Faith,
For one more unsettled and unbound,
I want to feel the rush of God’s wind through my hair,
Feel the heat of His furnace upon my face.

For in those wild, incautious moments,
When I abandon rational hope and empirical surety,
To step instead along the path God has set before me,
That is where Life truly begins!

Lord, today give me the strength,
To step out of the boat, and meet you amongst the waves.
Let the wild winds blow, and tempest waters broil,
And I will cry out, not in fear, but in exultation.

Lord, in Faith, take me to the unsafe places,
The rugged, ragged edges of life where others fear to tread.
Renew in me a heart eager for adventure,
With the dusty sandals and calloused hands that say…

TODAY, I SERVED THE LORD!

Just One Little Thing

Wow, March 9th, 2010 was the last time I posted anything here.  One might suspect I wasn’t taking this web ministry seriously.  And I haven’t been.  I’ve let far too many things get in the way.  There’s always something, one little this or that which gets in the way.   I’m always too busy doing other things, letting other things come between me and God.   Turns out, I’m not the first one to have this problem.I ‘m sure we’ve all heard and read the story:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:18)

This story is almost universally used as a warning and admonition against greed, excessive wealth, and coveting possessions rather than seeking after God.  And sure, there may be a piece of that here; but I think such a narrow interpretation actually misses the broader point Jesus was trying to make.  Jesus wasn’t so much warning against the dangers of money or wealth specifically, but rather, he had narrowed in on the one thing that was coming between this man and his relationship with God.  While in this case it happened to be money, it could be anything, really.  This rich, young man came to Jesus with what seemed to be a genuine desire to serve…but also a strongly-developed sense of his own piety. In his mind, in the finest Pharisaical tradition, he had faithfully kept all of the Commandments; and perhaps he had…all except for one:

“Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”

I think that Jesus saw both the man’s genuine faith (given the gentle way in which He spoke to him), as well as the man’s rather self-sufficient pride.   Jesus could tell that, despite his profession of conscientious obedience to the Law, this young man still wanted to be able to keep a hold of This One Thing…in this case, his money.   The Bible tells us that God is a jealous God who wants to be first in our life.  He wants it all, everything about us: our hopes, our dreams, our desires.  He wants to be first in all of this, and yet, so many of us try to work out a deal.  We bargain with God, trying to hold back just This One Thing that we don’t want to give up.   It might be our daily office gossip, or a root of bitterness at an ex, an addiction to alcohol, pornography, crude jokes or anything else outside the nature of God that we try to hold onto. We hold back on that one “little secret” that we figure maybe God will let us have.  After all, we’ve been so faithful in so many other areas, right?  We tithe, we go to church, we don’t cheat on our wives or steal or lie.  We “DO” all the right things, so we figure we can probably hold on to this one, little indulgence, and God won’t really mind.  Right?

Wrong.

The message in this passage is not just about money, but about WHATEVER it is we are letting come between us and true faithfulness to God’s calling in our life.   Hebrews 4:12 tells us:

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Jesus looked into this man’s heart, his soul, and saw what his “One Thing” was: his wealth.   So Jesus zeroed in on that, and basically told him to put his money where his mouth is; be faithful not just with your words, but with your wealth.  Again, for some of us it might be the magazines we shouldn’t be reading, the TV shows we shouldn’t be watching, the websites we shouldn’t be visiting.  It doesn’t even have to be anything overtly “sinful,” but simply anything that we covet or obsess over, anything that takes the place of a fuller relationship with God in our heart. It could be the football games on Sunday that won’t “let” us go to Church.  The favorite TV drama that only comes on the same night as the small group Bible study we’ve been meaning to attend, but…

This passage emphasizes what we should already know:  that Jesus can see into the deepest, most hidden corners of our heart.  We aren’t hiding anything from Him; we aren’t fooling God. There’s no drawer, closet, cupboard or box we can hide our “This One Thing” in that God won’t find it.  Maybe you think you’re hiding it from everyone else…but HE KNOWS.  He’s always known.

Moreover, I think it’s important to note where Jesus says, “hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Trust.  Trusting in something else besides God as the source for our strength, for our security, for our guidance and our hope can also be that “one thing.”  Do we listen to the words of Oprah or Dr. Phil more than those of Jesus?  Do we rely more on Stephen Covey or Rick Warren to find our purpose than we do on God? Do we want to do it our way, throwing in a prayer every now and then to keep God updated on how it’s going, maybe ask for a little help in what we’re doing, not even questioning if that’s what God really wants for our life, for fear that the answer might turn out to be “no?”

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all those “one little things” that might be coming between me and my Lord.  Considering that there shouldn’t be anything on that list at all, it’s rather disturbing.  And humbling.

I also find it interesting that upon hearing Jesus’ response, when the man turned and walked away in sadness, Jesus didn’t chase him down, back-pedal on his answer, or try to find a little more “seeker friendly” message.  Jesus simply preached the Truth.  What the man chose to do with that information was up to him.  The man chose to reject the message; and Jesus let him walk away.  Jesus didn’t water down his message, didn’t soft-coat it or dance around the hard facts.  Communicating the Truth was more important to Jesus than meeting this man’s “felt needs.”

In this interaction, Jesus acknowledged to his disciples that many will hear the Truth, will fully understand the implications of His message…and still choose to hold onto the world instead.  Choosing to rationalize and justify, to hem, and haw, choosing to hold onto what they want instead of reaching out for what God has in store for them.  Compare and contrast the response of the rich man here, with another famous rich man.   A certain Zaccheus who, upon hearing the word of the Lord, couldn’t wait to get right with both God AND those he had wronged, doing so with a joyous heart.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  (Luke 19:8 ESV)

In response, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:9 NASB) I think this shows that it’s not the condition of your wallet or your bank account, but the condition of your heart that matters.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

So when we think we are being righteous, and faithful, all the while stubbornly holding on to just This One Thing,  we need to remember:

It only takes one.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

It’s that time of the year again. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Two-for-one, and an extra 15% off if you buy before Saturday. The more you buy, the more you save.

I honestly wonder why we haven’t yet seen an advertisement for a Christmas sale with swarthy-looking bearded gentlemen, a big smile on his face, holding up his arms as if he was on a cross, but in each hand he has shopping bags with a store’s name on them, with the caption underneath, “When Jesus shops here, JESUS SAVES!!

Come on. You gotta admit, it’d be catchy!

I propose that perhaps one of the reasons that Christmas has become so completely secularized with the all Santa Clauses and reindeer and trees and gluttonous commercialism we see today, is that it was never really a Christian holiday to begin with. It is not a day of the Lord; at least, not OUR Lord.

The use of the evergreen tree as a central element likely harkens back to the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. The “Christmas” tree became a part of the modern observance after the Catholic church designated December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth in order to better co-opt the pagan converts into their new religion.

The presence of mistletoe, stockings by the chimney, and the tradition of Santa Claus or “St. Nicholas” are also elements co-opted from early pagan, druid or secular/cultural traditions having absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. The laurel wreath we hang, the ornaments and candles on the tree are likely a holdover from the Roman celebration of the feast of Saturnalia, part of the worship of their Sun god.

Even the act of placing our gifts beneath the tree, while the manager scene sits of to the side, is a strange custom if you think about it. Whereas the Magi of the Biblical account came an placed their gifts at the feet of Christ, we place out gifts at the feet of a…tree. Again, mirroring the pagan act of worshipping the creation, rather than the creator.

If you actually look to the Biblical timeline, the birth of Christ is much more likely to have occurred somewhere in the September/October timeframe. Not December.  So, there’s very little reason or historic justification for holding “Christ’s Mass” on December 25th.

So, SHOULD Christians celebrate Christmas?

Sure!  Yeah! Go for it!  I have a lot of warm and fond memories of Christmas growing up, and plan to build more of the same in years to come.  Christmas is a great time in so many ways, and I plan to make it a part of my December, as always.  However.

I propose that Christians celebrating modern Christmas is much like Christian parents taking their kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. If you can successfully turn a blind eye to what is really at the roots of All Hallows Eve, and just treat it as a fun, cultural event with no religious or “spiritual” meaning, then that’s your decision. We took our kids out this year, not because we were trying to appease the lost and angry spirits, but because it’s just a fun time for them and for us.

But they didn’t dress up as demons, devils, ghosts or vampires, either.

I, for one, have decided that I am not going to get the least bit bent out of shape if some cashier or bagger wishes me a “Happy Holiday,” because that’s all it really is any more. A holiday. An excuse for a party. It’s two extra days off of work if I’m lucky, and overtime pay if I’m not. It’s a chance to give and get some nifty presents, and have another big feast just as I’ve shaken off the last vestiges of the food hangover from Thanksgiving.  To make nice with family and friends I haven’t seen, and for a couple of days at least, pretend that there’s still hope for this crazy, mixed up world.

I’m also going to consider our religious forefathers’ attempts to overlay a thin veneer of Christianity onto what was clearly a pagan ritual a complete failure, and move on.

So yes, I’d say, go ahead and have a Merry Christmas; I certainly plan to!  Just as long as you realize that it’s really become more of a cultural event than anything of Christian significance. 

And don’t go getting in someone’s face because they wish you a “Happy Holiday,” or threaten to boycott a store because they won’t print “Merry Christmas” on their flyers and banners promising you 25% off all the STUFF you are going to go BUY BUY BUY, mostly out of obligation, to fulfill all the expectations our culture has placed on you. 

Should we really be all that upset that Christ’s name ISN’T being put on that stuff?

We should be picketing outside demanding that it’s NOT, not demanding that it IS. I don’t want these stores cheapening the name of my Savior in the interests of making a quick buck!! Talk about WWJD!?! Christians should have a major problem with having the words “Christ” and “One Day Sale” in the same sentence — not getting their feathers all in a fluff because the Lord’s name ISN’T being taken in vain as a marketing ploy.

I would love to see more Christians do the homework to get into and really understand the Messianic roots of so many of the Jewish feasts and festivals, to find a time and way to celebrate the true birth of Christ in a way which honors God, and denies the “form of this world.” So much of what “Christmas” has become cannot be pleasing to God, even when we toss in a manger scene and a few religious Christmas carols.

We need to return to our Biblical foundations, and honor the birth of our Savior in a way that is honoring to HIM, not profitable for Wal-Mart and Pottery Barn.

Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances, given gifts by people he had no way of knowing, gifts the significance of which he (at the time) couldn’t have known. These gifts were given because they had a prophetic significance, given to honor him, to proclaim him as the Messiah, and ultimately foretelling his death…not because he was the only left on the Magis’ shopping list. “Frankincense? Myrrh? AND they’re on sale? Woot! Shopping DONE!”

I think we should do everything we can to GET the name of Christ out of modern Christmas, and maybe claim another day as our own. Get it on the calendar as “Birth Of Christ (Observed).” Let them have their X-Mas. Let’s write it off as a lost cause, and get back to worshipping God, not mammon.

UPDATE:

Here’s a very detailed article going into the various dates and histories behind the birth and death of Christ.  Good reading!

How December 25 Became Christmas